Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings


HOLY FAMILY, DECEMBER 29


Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Psalm 128;


Colossians 3:12-21; Luke 2:22-40

OUR GOOD NEWS: We're called to holiness in everyday living.

"Happy are those who fear the Lord and walk in His ways." Today's psalm celebrating daily life reminds us that as God-fearing persons we should find fulfillment in the ordinary and everyday: in work, family and community. "For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; happy shall you be, and favored." Putting in a day's work is our privilege as well as obligation. Biblical thought disagrees with a modern attitude that the good life is to be found exclusively in leisure. That is why Church teaching insists on everyone's right to meaningful employment.

"Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home; your children like olive plants around your table." "Vine" and "olive" are biblical symbols for the good life, wine delighting the heart and oil healing life's hurts. The psalmist thus invites us to personal and family self-examination. Is our home a place for genuine intimacy, the primary source of joy and refreshment for all members? By extension, our parish should be a home to people of every age and state in life, a center radiating God's blessings both to members and to the larger community.

More broadly understood, the opening line of today's psalm (also used as the responsorial verse) extends the range of application to embrace those living alone - the unmarried, widowed and divorced. "Those who fear the Lord" include all faithful members of local churches (parishes). These show reverence and awe toward God during private and liturgical prayer, but also through community involvement, serving and sharing with the needy. Such concern mediates God's blessing, because individual good fortune ultimately depends on community prosperity.

"The Lord sets a father in honor over his children, a mother's authority he confirms over her sons." The obligation to lifelong honoring of both parents is divinely mandated rather than merely social custom. Significantly, this inalienable right is independent of personal behavior. The psalmist doesn't limit our obligation to worthy or good parents - however different our "honoring" should be.

Sunday Scripture Readings

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT (LAETARE),

MARCH 26

Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23; Psalm 137;

Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

On this middle Sunday of the penitential season of Lent, the readings tell us to rejoice.

Why? This touching story from Msgr. Arthur Tonne’s book, "Five Minute Homilies On the Sunday Gospels," may give us the answer.

Msgr. Tonne writes that one of the best known poems in the English language is "The Hound of Heaven" by Francis Thompson, who tried to run away from God. Thompson compares God to a hound dog chasing a soul. It is really the story of Thompson’s own life.

As a boy, he wanted to become a priest, but his father enrolled him in medical school instead. He developed a drug habit that almost wrecked his mind and body. He became a beggar in the slums, earning a living by shining shoes, selling matches and holding horses.

Through the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Wilfred Maynell, who recognized his talent and inner goodness, he was caught by God’s love. How he tried to run away from God’s love, how God "hunted" him, how divine love caught up with him are the themes of his poem "The Hound of Heaven."

While today’s first reading tells the story of Jerusalem’s destruction, it also talks of God’s power and loving mercy and how God raised up Jerusalem and gave it new life.

St. Paul was much more direct in the second reading: "God ... is rich in mercy." In his kindness and loving mercy, God gave us at our baptism a share in his own divine life that we call grace, and he adopted each of us as his own children capable of doing good deeds because Jesus is able to live right within our souls.

But the outstanding proof of God’s love for us is expressed by Jesus in the Gospel: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him might not perish but have eternal life."

All this is why we rejoice today. In some churches, the rose-colored vestments are a sign of this rejoicing. Further on, Jesus says: "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." The "world" here means each of us and all who accept Jesus’ salvation.

Then Jesus speaks about light and darkness on a spiritual level. Light means the way to God the Father in heaven, the gift of salvation which Jesus offers us. Darkness means sin, everlasting death in hell.

Jesus says: " ... the light (meaning himself) came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light, because their deeds were wicked." If we live and act in the light of Jesus, we will be saved because Jesus made atonement for our sins. He reconciled us to God through his sacrificial death on the cross.

Because sin is an offense against God, a divine being, no ordinary being could offer satisfaction to the Father for it. So it was necessary that a person who was both divine and human offer complete satisfaction. That divine person is Jesus who also has a human nature.

So Jesus says to us that the ways of the world form darkness. Don’t choose them. You may have to bear with it, but don’t choose it. "I am here to give you light and joy. I am here to lift the burden and to drive off the dark skies. I have infinite mercy on your sinful condition. Please give me a chance to help you. Choose me."

It is this message that gives us encouragement and joy today. And our celebration provides us with the opportunity to reach out and choose Jesus. In choosing Jesus we will be in his light and share his joy. Rejoice.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

TWENTY-FOURTH SUNDAY

IN ORDINARY TIME,

SEPTEMBER 12

Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14; Psalm 51;

1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-32

OUR GOOD NEWS: God’s forgiveness is limitless.

Before today’s first selection, Israel had been richly showered with divine blessings. Liberated from degrading slavery in Egypt then miraculously led through a hostile desert to Mount Sinai, the Israelites there entered into a covenant relationship with God as intimate as marriage. Moses then ascended the mountain to received two tablets of the "testimony," specifying Israel’s expected response in this new relationship.

But the people below immediately committed an act of adulterous infidelity by giving their allegiance to fertility gods represented by a "molten calf." The Lord recognized that His people were "stiff-necked,"
incapable of the commitment He had offered them, and

He proposed an annulment. Divine punishment is not so much arbitrarily imposed as a ratification of sinful human rejection. Israel owed her very existence to God; by renouncing Him she chose destruction.

Amazingly, God asked Moses’ permission for the "divorce." In effect, God was allowing Himself to be talked out of it and even hinted at the strongest argument to use. At the same time, God tested Moses like a parent buying off a favorite child; He could replace Abraham as father of a new Chosen People. The primary task of Old Testament priests and prophets was to lead prayers of intercession on behalf of Israel.

The greatness of Moses, intercessor par excellence, is revealed in his willingness to represent the people rather than his own interests.

Moses selflessly bartered for them; instead of excusing or mitigating their sin, he appealed to the divine honor with four arguments. Israel is "your own people," not Moses’ (as God implied in the opening verse). Second, the "great power and mighty hand" exerted in liberation from Egypt would be wasted. More importantly, by destroying those He had delivered, God would bring shame and mockery upon Himself from the Egyptians.

The final and most telling argument picks up on God’s hint, His promise to "make (of Moses) a great nation. Using this very language, God swore in an oath to the forefathers, promising numerous descendants and a land of their own. Israel’s God is nothing if not faithful to His word!

As a result, "God repented" (changed His mind or purpose). Rather than vacillation and weakness, this gives profound insight into God’s nature as loving and caring. God is a dynamic, living person (instead of mechanical, impersonal being) who lovingly, sensitively responds to human needs and situations. Merciful and gracious, in the Old Testament He withheld deserved punishment for any of three reasons: intercession by a mediator (here), repentance of the people (see Jonah 3:9-10) and his own compassionate nature (Judges 2:18; 2 Samuel 24:16).

This reading assures us that God is faithful in spite of our infidelity. No matter how serious our sins, He always wills to forgive. The story also challenges us that changing our minds can be virtuous!

Sunday Scripture Readings


EASTER SUNDAY,


APRIL 20


Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalm 118;


Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9 (Mark 16:1-8*)

(*This conclusion to Mark's Gospel, read at the Easter Vigil, may also be proclaimed on Easter Day)

OUR GOOD NEWS: Easter Sunday is "Ladies' Day" - faithful even in apparent defeat, the three women are models for all disciples and apostles.

"When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought perfumed oils with which they intended to go and anoint Jesus." In Mark's telling, these three women had also been present at Jesus' crucifixion, two of them "observing where he had been laid out" After all male disciples took flight from Gethsemane (as Jesus predicted), women assumed the expected role of faithful followers, providing necessary continuity between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Their journey began in pre-dawn darkness and ended at sunrise. "They were saying to one another, "Who will roll back the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?" Rather than implying lack of foresight, their verbalized quandary summarizes the situation from a purely human point of view. Jesus was dead and buried, His tomb closed by a ponderous stone. Nothing further could be done. But that didn't block the women from saying a final farewell!

"When they looked, they found that the stone had been rolled back. On entering the tomb they saw a young man sitting at the right, dressed in a white robe." The women bravely entered to encounter a figure whose clothes identified him as from heavenly realms - unearthly "white" reflecting divine radiant glory, like Jesus' transfigured appearance.

"This frightened them thoroughly, but he reassured them. ..." The women reacted at once with shock and fear, the same Greek word that described Jesus' profound emotional state in Gethsemane. Such is the typical human experience of the supernatural, in this case the awesome mystery of God's raising Jesus from death.

"You need not be amazed! You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the one who was crucified. He has been raised up; He is not here." The New Testament authors never tried to describe the actual Resurrection or delineate qualities of resurrected life. Jesus rose into the fullness of final-age, a transformed existence utterly beyond human understanding. The angelic messengers proclaimed what the empty tomb and other facts can never prove. Faith in the resurrected Lord must be accepted on the authoritative testimony of the Church. Even in Easter glory Jesus is acclaimed "the crucified majesty of God."

"Go now and tell His disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you to Galilee, where you will see Him just as he told you.'" These loyal women were officially commissioned as apostles - literally, "those who are sent" - bringing Good News to male disciples and their leader. "Galilee," with its large pagan population, alludes to the Church's subsequent mission into the Gentile world.

"They fled from the tomb bewildered and trembling; and because of their great fear, they said nothing to anyone." The selection ends with a curious twist: The women are left distressed, overwhelmed by their mandate. But a temporary inability to obey testifies to the universal need of Jesus' ongoing but invisible presence among us, without whom our faithful witness remains humanly impossible.

Sunday Scripture Readings


second sunday of advent,


december 9


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

THIRTEENTH SUNDAY

OF ORDINARY TIME,

JULY 2

Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24;

Psalm 30;

2 Corinthians 8: 7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5: 21-43

Little Jimmy was unusually afraid of the dark. One evening when his mother asked him to bring in the mop from the back porch, Jimmy whined, "It’s too dark out there."

Mother tried to explain that there was nothing in the dark to be afraid of. "Besides," she said, "you know that Jesus is everywhere, even in the dark. Why, he is on the back porch."

Very carefully Jimmy opened the door just enough to put his hand out as he made this trembling request, "Jesus, please hand me that mop."

Little Jimmy was in need of healing. Both the first reading and the Gospel today indicate that Jesus came to undo the devastating damage wrought by the devil in the garden of Eden.

The first reading from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom tells us that God formed humans to be imperishable, but death entered the world through the envy of the devil. In the second reading, St. Paul says that for our sakes Jesus became poor so that we might become rich by his poverty — rich especially in spiritual, emotional and physical health and also in helping others to that point.

In commenting on today’s Gospel, Father Charles E. Miller, CM, in his book "Sunday Preaching," shows that Jesus, who is God, has time for each of us, whether rich or poor. While Jesus was preparing to preach to the crowd, Jairus, an official of the synagogue, asked him to go with him to his home to cure his little daughter who was critically ill. St. Mark, whose Gospel we are hearing from this year, leaves it to us to imagine the frustration of Jesus in being called away from his ministry of preaching; but he shows that Jesus responded with compassion to the man’s plea.

In the longer version of the Gospel, a woman from the crowd interrupted Jesus by touching his cloak. The woman was suffering from a hemorrhage. Jesus insisted on knowing who had touched him, not to admonish the woman but to be able to tell her tenderly that her faith had cured her.

When Jesus arrived at the home of the official, he was told that the little girl was already dead. Undaunted, Jesus spoke to her the words of life, "Little girl, I say to you, arise." The little girl arose.

Imagine the scene. The parents, crying and laughing at the same time, hugged their little girl and danced around the room with her. Jesus, always attentive and aware of human needs, became very practical. He told the parents to give her something to eat.

St. Mark delighted in showing Jesus as a person who understands us and sympathizes with our needs — the humanity of Jesus. Jesus had time for both people — important people like Jairus, a synagogue leader, and the poor woman whose name Mark couldn’t even remember.

As Catholics, we believe that Jesus is still conscious of his healing power whenever we attend Mass or receive the sacraments. We all learned that a sacrament is an outward sign of Jesus giving life, strength, healing and nourishment. In a way, it is a sign that reveals how Jesus feels about anyone who suffers in any way.

Our needs touch his heart and stir his compassion. Father Emeric Lawrence, OSB, in his book "The Holy Way," writes that the human condition which we all share is generally the need of healing. There is a lack of wholeness in us. It may be physical, spiritual or a combination of them all.

We are often fearful like little Jimmy, insensitive, unforgiving, vengeful, unappreciative of goodness in others or in the world of nature. Each of us knows our own weakness. We want to be healed and made whole again.

In the Gospel, Jesus indicates two requirements on our part: Fear is useless. What is needed is trust. Faith in Jesus is essential. But with that faith we also need confidence in ourselves. We have to believe that we are worth being helped and healed by Jesus.

This is not always easy. We may have a poor self image because of national origin, lack of education, physical infirmities or sins of the past. In Jesus’ mind, none of these is valid. All that matters is who we are; we are children of God whom God has created, known and loved from all eternity.

There is a little prayer that may help us put these two conditions together: "Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you and I together can’t handle."

With all our human weaknesses and imperfections we are not only worthwhile to him but also essential to him and his Church and to our world because through our suffering and dying we share Christ’s redemptive mission. Because of each of us, this has to be; with Jesus it will be a better world.

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

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