Sunday Scripture

Sunday Scripture Readings

SOLEMNITY OF CHRISTMAS,

DECEMBER 24-25

Vigil Mass: Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 89; Acts 13:16-17,
22-25; Matthew 1:1-25

Midnight Mass: Isaiah 9:1-6; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14;
Luke 2:1-14

Mass at Dawn: Isaiah 62:11-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7;
Luke 2:15-20

Mass during the day: Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98;
Hebrews 1:1-6; John 1:1-18

As you can see, there are four sets of readings for Christmas.

For pastoral reasons, they are now interchangeable. Consolidating these four sets of readings, we get the full story of Christmas.

"While all was in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Your almighty Word, O Lord, came down from heaven from Your royal throne" (Wisdom 18:14-15).

Jesus, the Word of God, becomes flesh. "Today is born to you a Savior."

In the first readings, from out of the darkness, Isaiah sees a great light and deliverance for his people when a child is born, a son is given. Christ has come to make a holy, redeemed people. How beautiful and welcome is he who brings this good news.

In the second readings, emphasizing Jesus as the light, Paul tells us that in the birth of Jesus, the grace of God has come to make us ready for His coming in glory. While in the past, God spoke to people through signs and prophets, now He speaks to us through His own Son — the Word made flesh. He came to each of us when we were born in Him at baptism.

From the Gospel readings, Matthew gives us the genealogy of Jesus and the call of God to Joseph to marry Mary, who as a virgin will conceive a Son and call Him Emmanuel, which means God is with us. Then St. Luke gives us the ever-beautiful story of the birth of Jesus in a manger in the midst of the darkness of night in Bethlehem. The good news — "Today is born to you a Savior" — is given by the angels to the shepherds who quickly go over to Bethlehem to "see this thing that has come to pass."

What a staggering condescension of God! St. John in the Gospel at Mass during the day says that "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us." He who is the eternal and almighty Word of God, He who made the universe — the heavens and the earth — becomes man in order to save us.

The Church invites us to reflect with Mary on the great mystery. With Mary we are invited to bring God’s light to today’s world. It is a mission which never ceases and which continually finds new forms of expression.

While birthdays are happy events, the most important birthday ever in the world is today — not simply because of the sentiment of the manger, but because it offers eternal life to every man, woman and child from the beginning of the world to the end of the world.
Happy birthday, Jesus.

FEAST OF MARY, MOTHER OF GOD

(NEW YEAR’S DAY), January 1

Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67;

Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21

A mother who had been unable to speak for six years, due to paralysis of the vocal cords, had been praying to the Blessed Virgin Mary for a cure.

Sometimes God brings healing in ways we don’t expect. This lady was cured and discovered she could talk when she let out a scream after a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary fell off the wall above her bed and conked her on the head.

On this octave day of Christmas, this first day of the New Year, we honor Mary, the Mother of God. Christmas is so important that the Church is trying to keep it before our minds.

We can never comprehend the awesome truth that the eternal Son of God became human like us in all things but sin, that He was actually conceived in Mary’s womb, born into our world, nursed at Mary’s breast and introduced to a full human life.

This truth is so astounding that even some of our fellow humans cannot bring themselves to acknowledge that Mary, a creature, a woman, could be called and actually be the Mother of God.

We honor Mary today because she brought into our world the Son of God and named Him Jesus, which means God saves or Savior. So as we continue to celebrate Christmas, it is very appropriate to honor Mary, Jesus’ Mother, the Mother of God.

Today being New Year’s Day, spiritually we are reminded that Bethlehem marked a new beginning for the world and its people and Mary made this possible. Scripture tells us that Jesus is the new Adam who by offering His precious Body and Blood has brought about a new creation.

So we are invited to begin this New Year inspired by the example of Mary and her Son, Jesus. Jesus entered our world to take away sins, to span the gap that separates us from God, to break down the barriers that isolate people, to reconcile us to one another in the family of the Church, to unite us with God our Father and bring about peace.

So today is also World Day of Prayer for Peace.
When we fully accept Christ for who He is and for what He accomplished, we receive the gift of peace. This gift flows from a union with God and harmony with each other. In spite of the fact that earthly peace is always incomplete with turmoil of various kinds, we pray for peace in our hearts, peace in our homes and peace in the world. We are praying that we will all embrace a true, active faith in Christ.

In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that Jesus came among us precisely to bring us peace and salvation. Jesus lives within our hearts, and we are to let His light shine through us to others.

The first reading is a famous Old Testament blessing that Moses’ brother, the priest Aaron, would give to God’s people.

Today Mary holds up her divine Son in that blessing over us and our new year: "The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord let His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace."

A happy and blessed new year to all.

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

Sunday Scripture Readings

PENTECOST, MAY 30

Acts 2:1-11; Psalm 104;

1Corinthians 12:3-7. 12-13; John 20-19-23

OUR GOOD NEWS: The meaning and mission of the Church, today revealed as the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost means "50" days after Passover. This second of three major Jewish (originally harvest) festivals in Jesus’ day was associated with renewal of the covenant made with Noah, then with Moses at Mount Sinai. Since Luke understood Christianity as the new Israel, he fittingly placed its beginning on the feast day celebrating the formation of original Israel. "The brethren" (literally "all") in today’s first reading refers to the whole company of 120 people, not just the 11 apostles. The Holy Spirit remains invisible, because He’s divine, and can only be described in terms of effects. Moreover, like every supernatural occurrence, the language used is analogous and symbolic. Thus, to say that the Spirit was like wind and fire is analogy, with real, although limited, meaning.

Luke has focused on symbolism, not spectacle. Elsewhere the Spirit is likened to "wind," a suitable comparison since the Greek word pneuma can mean either spirit or wind. "Fire" recalls Old Testament theophanies (divine manifestations) such as on Mount Sinai, but the primary allusion is to fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prophetic promise that the Coming One would "baptize in the Holy Spirit and in fire." Thus, at Pentecost Jesus’ faithful followers were "baptized" or "filled" with the Spirit.

The Spirit is a gift given for the practical reason of building up the Church. "Foreign tongues" were unnecessary to communicate with "devout Jews," since both groups were mostly familiar with Aramaic and/or Greek. Here, Luke anticipates the rest of his story in Acts of the Apostles — missionary outreach to pagan nations, represented at the first Pentecost by diaspora Jews from countries lying to the east and west. Their "astonished amazement" is partially clarified by what they witnessed and heard, even before Peter’s subsequent explanation. Pentecost was recognized as the latest of "the wonderful acts of God," Savior of his people.

In Old Testament times, when God wanted to save His people, He bestowed His Spirit upon kings and prophets. The gift of the Spirit to the whole Christian community at Pentecost thus climaxed God’s salvific work on behalf of Israel. It also represented the fulfillment of Jesus’ primary and farewell gift to His followers, and formally constituted the Church. Thus, the whole biblical story comes to focus in this event. Luke tells the Pentecost story (first reading) to explain what the Church is and should be in every generation. We are a Spirit-filled community gathered together and proclaiming the Good News to people from every culture and language group.

John’s Easter Sunday evening gift of the Spirit (third reading) complements Luke’s Pentecost event. He interprets it as reconciliation of sinners with the Father, and the commissioning of the newly formed Church to mediate that forgiveness to others. Jesus thus fulfilled God’s promise to recreate His people and did so by establishing His Church. For this purpose He "sends" His disciples, empowered by the "sending" of the Holy Spirit, to continue His salvific mission as an ongoing task.

Sunday Scripture Readings


BAPTISM OF THE LORD,


JANUARY 12


Isaiah 42: 1-4, 6-7; Psalm 29;


Acts 10:34-38; Mark 1:7-11

OUR GOOD NEWS: Now at last - Here's Jesus!

Today's feast fittingly concludes the Christmas season. We have liturgically "remembered" - actualized in our own lives - Advent hope and expectation, then greeted the Lord in His comings to the Chosen People (Christmas) and to the Gentile world (Epiphany). Now we center our attention on implications of Jesus' birth and subsequent ministry. Jesus' baptism by John occupied a crucial place in the unfolding plan of salvation. This event revealed Jesus' divine sonship and served as the occasion for His anointing and appointment to messianic office. We gratefully acknowledge Jesus' freely chosen solidarity with our guilty human race, making possible our receiving forgiveness and a share in His divine sonship.

With today's psalmist we experience God's power and majesty in the marvels of creation, but especially in His coming to bless us with fullness of life "upon the waters" of baptism - Jesus' and ours. We join with earthly worshipers, inviting supernatural beings - "sons of God," attendants at the heavenly throne - to recognize and extoll the divine majesty. God's glory or visible presence became palpable through a thunderstorm moving inland from the Mediterranean, God coming over "vast waters" that symbolize chaotic forces subdued by His creative act. God's imperious "voice" is heard in the awesome roar of thunder. "The God of glory thunders!" At the storm's height human and angelic creatures together acclaim with cultic shout ("Glory!") the Lord enthroned in His "palace" - heavenly abode/earthly temple.

The storm passes, dying away in the distance; but "the Lord (remains) enthroned as king" forever, His absolute authority extending even over the primeval ocean-abyss ("flood"). Through the responsorial verse we beg blessings of "peace" - shalom/fullness of life, health and happiness - for ourselves and for all "His people."

Today's selection from Acts emphasizes that outreach to Gentiles was neither an afterthought nor betrayal, but implicit from the very beginning, when Jesus was formally commissioned as God's "Servant." Jesus came in fulfillment of Isaiah, "anointed with the holy spirit" ("I have put my spirit upon him") "and with power ("called for the victory of justice")

In Acts' telling, Peter addressed a pagan rather than a Jewish audience. Universal salvation prophesied by Isaiah was realized in Cornelius, Roman centurion and (according to Luke's schema) the first Gentile to accept salvation in Jesus. Peter expended much prayer and reflection upon Old Testament texts, especially Isaiah, during an extended, doubtless painful, quest for God's will. Now at last, "I begin to see" that God wanted Gentiles among the Christians. This was painful for Peter, since non-Jews were worshipers of pagan gods and often lived immoral lives. Today's passage describes how Peter's eyes were opened to this truth. What we consider self-evident only dawned upon him with difficulty and over a period of time.

Sunday Scripture Readings

PALM SUNDAY

APRIL 9

Mark 11:10 or John 12:12-16 (procession with palms);

Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22;

Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

Bible scholars tell us that the Passion narratives were the first part of the Gospels to be written.

From the start, the Christian community wanted to preserve faithfully every detail of the Lord’s suffering and death. They saw it, as Christians still do, as the fulfilment of Isaiah’s words in today’s first reading about a mysterious "Suffering Servant" who says: "I gave my back to those who beat me ... my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting."

In the reading which follows, Paul says that because of Christ’s acceptance of humiliation and suffering, "God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend ... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord." Those stirring words are the earliest form of the Creed, in which, in greatly expanded form, we profess our Christian and Catholic faith at every Sunday Mass.

Mark, whose account of the Lord’s passion we hear today, says nothing about Jesus’ birth and infancy. But he devotes approximately a fifth of his Gospel to Jesus’ passion. For him, as for all the Gospel writers, the cross is central.Take the cross out of our religion and you have ripped the heart out of it.

The late Archbishop Fulton Sheen illustrated this truth with a personal experience from the somewhat chaotic time immediately after the second Vatican Council.
Some readers may be offended by Archbishop Sheen’s story. But the cross has offended people from the start.St. Paul called it "a stumbling block to Jews and an absurdity to Gentiles" (1 Corinthians 1:23).

In his posthumously published memoir, "Treasure in Clay," Archbishop Sheen tells about receiving a phone call one day from a Jewish jeweler in New York City whose shop the bishop had often visited. "Would you like to see a large number of silver crucifixes?" the jeweler asked.When Archbishop Sheen visited the shop, the jeweler showed him a little brown bag with dozens of silver crucifixes about four inches high.

"Where did you get them?" the archbishop asked.

"From Catholic sisters," the jeweler answered. "They brought them in to me and said they were not going to use them any more — wearing the crucifix separated them from the world.They wanted to know how much I would give them for the silver."

The jeweler added: "I weighed them out 30 pieces of silver. What is wrong with your Church?"

"Just that," Archbishop Sheen replied. "The contempt of Christ and his cross which makes it worldly."

Fulton Sheen would not have been the man he was if he had not concluded the story by writing: "Those words became the channel of the Holy Spirit working in his soul. I explained to him the cost of redemption, the blood of Christ. He embraced the faith, and died in it."

To learn the deepest meaning of our faith, we must take our stand beneath the cross and contemplate the one who hangs there.

All the great lessons of life are learned at the foot of the cross.

Father Hughes, a retired priest of the St. Louis Archdiocese, is in residence at Christ the King Parish in University City.

Sunday Scripture Readings

Twenty-sixth Sunday in ordinary time, September 26

Amos 6:1, 4-7; Psalm 146;
1 Timothy 6:11-17; Luke 16:19-31

OUR GOOD NEWS: We must heed the awesome danger and responsibility of affluence.
Thus says the Lord the God of hosts: "Woe to the complacent in Zion!" God’s Word through Amos, earliest of the prophets, was spoken more than 2,750 years ago, but its relevance for us Americans could not be more immediate and disturbing. Divine condemnation is pronounced upon mindless, selfish consumerism. Amos’ original audience would have protested in self-justification (and we along with them?). They were only enjoying what they had earned or inherited. What’s wrong with having a good time when you can afford it?

In today’s first reading Amos depicted the life of selfish, irresponsible affluence with unusual concreteness. In ancient times party-goers reclined upon "couches," here described as plush ornamented with precious ivory inlays. Guests lay "sprawled" in a stupor from overeating and drunkenness. Only the finest gourmet meats (lamb and veal) were served. They consumed wine by the gallon instead of the cup, and wasted large sums on beauty aids and body care ("best oils"). Feasting called for music, but their drunken "howling to the music of the harp" and boisterous "improvising" were more bedlam than entertainment.

The biblical tradition doesn’t oppose enjoying the good things of life, and Jesus was condemned by the straight-laced pious for being "a glutton and a drunkard" (Luke 7:34). But through His prophet God here denounced unjustified extravagance, an immersion in pleasure-seeking that distracts the prosperous from thinking about the injustice involved, since their revelry had been paid for through exploitation and oppression of the poorer classes. Amos concluded with terrible divine judgment against well-off citizens of the northern kingdom of Israel (Samaria). Those pacesetters who insisted on the "first" ("best") body creams would be "the first to go into exile" and slavery. The orgies of the "sprawlers" would be "sprawled" ("done away with"). "Suppressed is the spree of the sprawlers!"

Amos’ appalling prophecy came true within a generation when Assyria captured and destroyed the northern kingdom. Eventually his words were carried south and applied to the surviving kingdom of Judah. "Woe to the complacent in Zion (Jerusalem)!" Judah’s upper classes should have heeded the lesson, but instead of being "made ill by the collapse of Joseph (Israel)," they repeated the northern kingdom’s folly, bringing destruction and exile upon themselves through the Babylonian army.

Jesus (Gospel) challenges us with His disturbing story of an anonymous rich man’s gruesome fate. His sin was commission — selfish conspicuous consumption — but mainly omission, what he didn’t do. He wasn’t moved — hardly noticed — the suffering and want of Lazarus at his door. Jesus calls us to awareness of, and practical concern for, the world’s needy.

This Scripture reflection is reprinted from the Sept. 28, 2001, Review because Father Cleary is recovering from an illness.

Sunday Scripture Readings


SECOND SUNDAY OF EASTER,


APRIL 27


Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 118;


1 John 5:1:3-6; John 20:19-31

OUR GOOD NEWS: We express our wholehearted faith in God through mutual, caring love for fellow human beings.

In the first reading, Luke interrupted his narrative of the earliest Church to summarize, for our edification and example, life in the earliest stage of Church history. "The community of believers thought the same things and wanted the same things" - literally, "were of one heart" (center of intellectual activity) "and of one mind" (seat of will). This description should apply to the Church community in our own time no less than then.

Luke then described an attitude toward personal property rather than canonized any economic system (free-enterprise capitalism, socialism). "They all shared with one another everything they had": while continuing to possess personal belongings. "No one said, 'What I own belongs just to me.'"

This passage offers an ideal to be striven for rather than a fond memory of a once-model past. Moreover, it allows for living the command of practical love of neighbor within various economic and cultural systems. Recent popes have made it clear that the Church favors no one system over others, even-handedly criticizing social injustices in socialist and capitalist countries. American Christians assist the poor, sick, aged and unemployed through tax revenues as well as collections under Church and other private auspices for specific needs. Luke asks: What else must be done to measure up? How can we draw upon secular skills and unevenly distributed resources to care for the world's needy?

A second theme running through today's first reading concerned the proper role of authority within the Christian community. "With great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus." Divine grace worked within the apostles, enabling their preaching; and also within hearers, empowering a wholehearted response of selfless generosity. "Great respect paid" leaders thus flowed from God's grace, rather than merited by personal managerial skills. On the other hand, authority structures exclusively served the common good, in this case organizing the distribution of money intended for all in need.

In the second reading, a baptismal theme introduced in Lenten readings continues through succeeding Sundays. By this rite we Christians are literally reborn, becoming God's children while professing faith "that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah)."

This is the proper context for love of neighbor enjoined in today's first reading, something different from non-Christian humanistic social concern grounded upon the "dignity of humankind." Others are actually or potentially "God's children," with reverence for the dignity of God as found in all fellow human beings. "Like parent, like child." It also follows that obedience to divine commands never permits escape from responsibility for one another: "We love God's children whenever we love God and obey His commandments."

This selection takes issue with modern disinterest concerning credal orthodoxy - the notion that details of personal belief don't matter. A vibrant faith life is possible only within a community whose personal and corporate existence has been molded by solid doctrine grounded in authentic Christian tradition.

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