Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This Church year, this year of grace, began last November with the First Sunday of Advent. Since then, we’ve been through Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord. Today is our first “green” Sunday, actually the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time. (The First Sunday of Ordinary Time is actually the Baptism of the Lord). So, on this first Ordinary Time Sunday that we’re celebrating, we have a Gospel reading that sounds suspiciously like the Gospel reading for the Baptism of the Lord. Confusing, isn’t it? Whenever this kind of thing happens, though, we should ask ourselves what it is that the Church is trying to do, what is it that She is trying to teach us with these readings.

And the first place to start, usually, is by looking at the whole Liturgy of the Word today. When we do that, I think, we find a group of readings that speak of beginnings, which, as it turns out, is not a bad way to start out our celebration of Ordinary Time. But before we launch into a look at the readings, let’s talk a bit about Ordinary Time. There’s a tendency, when we hear that phrase, to think of these Sundays as just “ordinary” or “blah” – nothing special. That’s what the term “ordinary” means to us English Speakers. But that’s not what the Church is going for. A better translation would perhaps be “ordered time” a time that is marked out, set aside, and always observed. That means we don’t have permission to skip them, and that we ought to keep them holy. At its core, “Ordinary Time” Sundays are Sundays made sacred because they are connected to the death and resurrection of the Lord. They are ultimately a celebration of the Lord’s Day through and through.

So on this first of the “ordered time” Sundays, we have a look at some beginnings. The first of the beginnings is the commissioning of the servant in our first reading from Isaiah. The servant may actually be Israel, and if so, God seems to be speaking to the nation while they are in Exile. He is calling them back and foretelling that not only will they be God’s servant to bring back and restore and reunite Israel and Jacob, but they will also bring salvation to all the world. This might not have been real good news for them, perhaps, because presumably that would include the very nation that had been oppressing them while they were in Exile. But nonetheless, whenever we receive a gift, it is never just for us, so it wouldn’t do for God’s servant to just restore what’s familiar to them, they must go out to all the world and bring salvation.

The Psalmist follows up on that notion, giving the servant’s response: “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.” Let’s take a look at what goes on in this Psalm. First, the Psalmist seems to be involved in some sort of difficulty for which he has been waiting on the Lord. The Lord, for his part, has taken notice, stooped toward him and heard his cry. The response of the Psalmist to his deliverance is one of witnessing. He announces the justice of the Lord and does not restrain his lips.

The second reading from the beginning of First Corinthians is a little strange in some ways. All we get are the first three verses of Paul’s letter to them, and it seems to just be a simple greeting: From Paul to the Corinthians, grace and peace. But these few verses tell us a bit more than that. They speak to the vision that Paul has of his own vocation, and of his belief in Christ. First, he proclaims himself to be an apostle. This is important, because an apostle is more than just a follower or even a disciple. An apostle is one who is sent with the full authority of the one who sends him. Paul has never met Jesus, at least not in person, but he had an experience that clearly revealed Jesus to him, and sent him forth with a mission. Paul then tells us what he believes about Jesus. He never mentions Jesus without referring to him as the Christ, that is, the Anointed One, the Messiah. Jesus for him was no ordinary person. If that were true, Paul would still be out persecuting the Christians instead of leading them as an Apostle. Jesus is the one the Jews were always hoping for, the one to bring salvation. Jesus is the Christ who sanctifies his people.

And finally we come back to John’s version of the Baptism of the Lord. In this version, from the Gospel of John, we don’t see the actual moment, but hear John the Baptist’s take on it. He stresses that he did not know who Jesus was; he mentions that twice in his account. The way he came to know that Jesus was the Christ was through revelation. He was told ahead of time what signs to look for, and when he sees the Spirit come down upon Jesus like a dove after he comes out of the water, then John knows that Jesus is the one he was told to look for. So finally he becomes the herald of the Lord, the mission he was called to from his mother’s womb. “Behold the Lamb of God,” he says, “who takes away the sins of the world.” Now he sees and testifies that Jesus is the Lamb of God.

So we have three beginnings today. We have the beginning of Israel’s call to be a servant of the Lord, to bring his salvation to the ends of the earth. We have the beginning of Paul’s correspondence to the Church at Corinth, telling them that they are God’s holy people, having been sanctified by Jesus the Christ. And we have the beginning of the recognition of who Jesus is in the Gospels, one anointed by the Spirit at his baptism, one who takes away the sin of the world. It is appropriate that at the beginning of our celebration of ordered time, we would celebrate these three beginnings.

What we need to get about time itself is that it is not pointless. It’s not some meaningless trip through the ages that gets us nowhere. Time is not a waste of time. For the Christian, time is sanctified by God who entered into time with salvation through Jesus Christ. And so today, God blesses our beginnings. What is it that we need to begin these days? Is there a call to something deeper as a disciple that we have been putting off? Is our relationship with God at a turning point, and do we need to get out of our comfort zone to explore that relationship? Are we being called to take our careers in a new direction, becoming people of greater integrity to witness to the Gospel in our workplaces? Are students being called to take their studies more seriously, learning the great wonders that God has placed before them? Are parents being called to bring their families to a holier place this year, remembering that all that they have and all that they experience is a gift? Whatever it is that we need to start right now, God is sanctifying that beginning by reminding us that all of time is holy and that all of time is a gift.

We must make use of this present moment, this sacred space of time, because we can never get it back once it’s passed. It’s not too late to make resolutions, and it’s certainly not too late to start working on the ones we have already made. Today is a day of beginnings, beginnings not just for Israel and Corinth and Jesus, but also beginnings of our own histories, entering into the time with which God is blessing us. Our offering today is an offering of these beginnings, looking at them as gifts of God, and responding “Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.”

St. Anthony, Abbot

Today’s readings | Today’s saint

We people of God have a certain responsibility. And having been given that responsibility, and the Spirit with which to carry it out, we had better be ready to fulfill our duties, because the consequences are just too great. St. Anthony the Abbot – this is not the St. Anthony who is the finder of lost objects – was a man who knew well the urgency of fulfilling his responsibilities to the Lord. He gave everything and pursued a solitary life of contemplation, and later developed a rule of life for monasteries. He lived a life of voluntary poverty and complete devotion to God.

But then there’s poor Eli, the subject of today’s first reading, and really yesterdays. Because in the first reading yesterday, we heard all about the call of Samuel, and of Eli teaching young Samuel to respond to the voice of the Lord by saying “Here I am.” But in the verses that got left out, we have the reason for the disaster that happens in today’s first reading. God has found Eli and his sons guilty of abdicating their responsibility. The people of Israel have become depraved, have worshipped idols, and Eli and his sons have done nothing to turn their hearts. That was their only responsibility, and they failed to accomplish it. So what happens? Not only does Israel fall to the idolatrous Philistines, but the Ark of the Covenant, the great symbol of their commitment to God is taken from them. That’s almost okay though, because the Israelites had long since abandoned the covenant! And then, in the part of the reading we don’t have today, Eli on hearing the news falls over and breaks his neck. His daughter-in-law practically dies in childbirth and names her son Ichabod, a name which means “the glory is gone from Israel.”

We people of God must take absolute care to fulfill our responsibilities because the cost is just too great. We must proclaim the message far and wide as did the overjoyed leper in today’s Gospel. We must be people of forgiveness and mercy. We must reach out to the poor, needy and oppressed. We must preach the Gospel through every word and action. Because the cost of not doing so is just too great.

Tuesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Jesus rebuked him and said, ‘Quiet! Come out of him!’
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.”

It is always interesting to me how clearly the unclean spirits see who Christ is. For them, Christ as the One who represents God the Father inspires fear and rebellion. But even these unclean spirits, hearing his voice, begrudgingly obey. Jesus teaches with authority, as the people standing by admit of him. This is a teaching that cannot be ignored. Each person may hear it and respond differently, but they do respond. Many hear his voice and follow. Others turn away.

In these early days of Ordinary Time, we essentially have the continuation of the Epiphany event. We continue to see Christ manifest in our midst, and continue to decide what to make of him. Today we see him as one who teaches with authority and who has authority over even the unclean spirits within us. Today he speaks to our sinfulness, to our brokenness, to our addictions, to our fallenness, to our procrastinations, to whatever debilitates us and saddens us and says “Quiet! Come out!”

This Epiphany of Christ as dispossessor of demons is an epiphany that does more than just heal us. It is an epiphany that calls us out of darkness, that insists we come out of our hiding and step into the light, so that the light of God’s love can give us rest from all those demons that possess us.

St. Andrew the Apostle

Today's readings | Today's saint
[Mass for the school children.]

Today we celebrate the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle.  Is anyone here named Andrew?  If so, this is your special feast day.  But it is also a feast day for all of us Christians because we are all called to do the same kinds of things that St. Andrew did in his life.

The story we just heard about St. Andrew from the Gospel today is just one of the stories we have about him.  In another Gospel, St. Andrew is said to be a follower of St. John the Baptist.  One day, as Jesus was passing by, St. John the Baptist pointed Jesus out and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  Because of that, St. Andrew was interested in Jesus and, along with another of John’s disciples, went and followed Jesus.  When they caught up with him, Jesus said to them, “What are you looking for?”  Andrew said to him, “Master, where are you staying?”  Then Jesus said to them, “Come and see.”  So they went with him and stayed with him that day.

The next day, Andrew went and got his brother St. Peter and told him all about Jesus.  St. Peter was interested in Jesus too, and Andrew introduced Peter to Jesus.  That’s how St. Peter, who was a great Apostle for Jesus, came to know Jesus in the first place.  It was because his brother St. Andrew introduced them.  Later, Peter and Andrew both came to be Apostles of Jesus as we hear in today’s Gospel story.

How many of you have brothers or sisters (or both)?  Today St. Andrew’s life tells us how we should be with our brothers and sisters.  St. Andrew loved his brother Peter, and knew that Peter would want to know all about Jesus.  So Andrew brought him to see Jesus and a very special friendship was born.  That sounds nice, but it’s important to know that you too should bring your brothers, or sisters, or friends to see Jesus.

How can you do that?  Well, Jesus isn’t walking around today, so it’s not like we can physically introduce someone to Jesus.  But we can bring them to Jesus by bringing them here for Sunday Mass, or by spending time with them, or by standing up for them if someone is picking on them or bullying them, or by helping them if they are having a problem with their school work, or by cheering for them when they’ve done something good, or lots of other ways.  Every time you let other people see Jesus working in you to do good things, you are bringing them to see Jesus.

St. Andrew was an Apostle of Jesus.  He did his work by preaching the Gospel and introducing people to Jesus.  You can do the very same thing if you let other people see Jesus working in you.  You can sure let everyone know who Jesus is by saying “Come and see” and letting them know that Jesus works in your life every day.


Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Two are being asked to speak on behalf of their faith today. The first is Daniel, who was asked by King Belshazzar to interpret the handwriting on the wall. (You’ve heard that expression “I can read the writing on the wall” … well this is where that expression comes from.) Daniel doesn’t have good news for the king. In fact, the news is so bad that the other wise people the king called on first were either unable or unwilling to interpret it or say it out loud to the king. No one wants to be the bearer of bad tidings, but Daniel knew what he had to say and did so with courage, rejecting the king’s offer of great gifts in the process.

The second one to be asked to speak on behalf of their faith today is you. Well, us, really. In today’s Gospel, we are told very clearly that we are going to have to give testimony before both the rich and the powerful, and those who know us. We’re not going to have terribly good news to give them, well, it is Good News, but not the kind of news they are going to want to hear. We will indeed be hated for the news we must bring, but we dare not think of clever ways to couch our words or turn a phrase to avoid that hatred. The Holy Spirit will tell us what we must say when we must say it, and we are called upon to trust that.

And, really, this kind of thing is not exactly first nature to us. How often do we avoid the discussion of religion with social contacts so that we will not give offense? Witnessing to our faith with our words can be extremely difficult, so much so that we might even miss the opportunity to speak against something that is clearly wrong. Today’s readings tell us that the disciple doesn’t have that option. We must speak the truth in love, according to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, when the time arrives. That’s the only way to save our life for eternity.

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You know, every time we hear this story about the widow’s mite, the story is equated with the call to stewardship. That’s the classic explanation of the text. And there’s nothing wrong with that explanation. I might even go so far as to preach it that way myself on occasion. But honestly, I don’t think the story about the widow’s mite is about stewardship at all. Yes, it’s about treasure and giving and all of that. But what kind of treasure? Giving what?

I think to get the accurate picture of what’s going on here, we have to ask why the Church would give us this little vignette at the end of the Church year, in the very last week of Ordinary Time. That’s the question I found myself asking when I looked at today’s readings. Well, first of all, it’s near the end of Luke’s Gospel so that may have something to do with it. But I think there’s a reason Luke put it at the end also. I mean, in the very next chapter we are going to be led into Christ’s passion and death, so why pause this late in the game to talk about charitable giving?

Obviously, the widow’s mite means something else than giving of one’s earthly wealth. Here at the end of the Church year, we are being invited to look back on our lives this past year and see what we have given. How much of ourselves have we poured out for the life of faith? What have we given of ourselves in service? What has our prayer life been like? Have we trusted Jesus to forgive our sins by approaching the Sacrament of Penance? Have we resolved to walk with Christ in good times and in bad? In short, have we poured out everything we have, every last cent, every widow’s mite, for our life with Christ? Or have we held something back, giving merely of our surplus wealth?

In this last week of the Church year, we have to hear the widow telling us that there is something worth giving everything for, and that something is our relationship with Christ.

Our Lord Jesus Christ the King

Today’s readings

ChristTheKingI have to admit that this solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King is a funny feast with which to end our Church year. First of all, we Americans don’t get the whole king thing. The monarchical top-down method of government is not what we have had as our heritage for over two centuries, so the idea of kingship is pretty foreign to us. Secondly, and I’m speaking objectively here, even if we had a king, the king we are presented with in the Liturgy of the Word today, and over the last couple of Sundays has not really been the kind of king we might want to follow. Over the last couple of Sundays, Jesus has warned us that we will have suffering in the world, so we know we cannot rely on our king to make that suffering go away. And today, here is our king, hanging on a cross between two hardened criminals. That one of them thinks to ask Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom is almost laughable, but, well, there it is. There is our king. This feast leaves us on the very last Sunday of the Church year with more questions than it can ever possibly answer.

But only if we’ve been napping this entire liturgical year. Because Jesus has been very clear from the beginning as to what kind of king he would be and what his kingdom might look like.

A king who has been pre-ordained from birth would arrive with great fanfare and be born amidst opulence. But to the casual observer that wasn’t true of Jesus. Oh, we know that he was foretold by an angel and that kings bowed down to worship him and shower him with gifts. We know all the prophecies that pointed to his birth. We know of Herod’s jealousy that led to the slaughter of the innocents. We know that stuff. But to the average person in first century Palestine, well, his birth went pretty much unnoticed.

And even when people started noticing his ministry when he came of age, they were pretty disappointed. “Who do you say that I am?” is the question Jesus asks Peter. Peter acknowledges that he is the anointed one, the Christ. But right on the heels of that very revelation, Jesus emphasizes that the Anointed One must suffer and die in order to bring his kingship to birth. Peter’s reaction is predictable. Oh no, Lord, that can’t be right. Don’t even say such a thing! But Jesus is the one who came not to be served but to serve, and identifies himself right from the beginning as the Suffering Servant of which Isaiah speaks.

This wasn’t the kind of thing the Jews were expecting, of course. They had long been expecting an Anointed One, but never one like this. Their whole picture of a Messiah had been one of political greatness and military strength, one who would restore the sovereignty of Israel and reestablish Jerusalem as the great political and religious city that it had once been. That was the Messiah they were looking for, but what they got was one who was so much of a suffering servant that he ended up on a cross. Pilate’s inscription, “This is the king of the Jews” was sarcastic and completely offensive to them, which of course is exactly what he intended.

So it’s easy to see why the Jews might not have noticed that this one was their king. It’s easy enough to even see why they would have chosen to ignore his kingship. But we can’t miss it: we have heard the Word proclaimed all year long and we know that this is the way that God chose to save the world. There are times, of course, when we could do with a bit more opulence and certainly a lot less suffering. But Jesus is the king of our reality, not of our fantasy, and so he is not ashamed to herald the cross as the gateway to the kingdom and the instrument of our salvation.

Because we are a people who need a king like this. We might want a king to give us greatness and rest from our enemies, but that’s not real. What’s real is our suffering, whether it’s illness, or grief, or job dissatisfaction, or personal troubles, or family strife, or broken relationships, or any other calamity. Suffering happens, and that’s why Jesus chose the image of the Suffering Servant as the motif of his kingship. St. Paul says today in our second reading from his letter to the Colossians that “in him all things hold together.” Even when the world seems to be falling apart for us, we can trust in the Suffering Servant to walk with us and hold everything together.

And he holds it all together with a strength we could not possibly imagine, opening the way to a kingdom that goes beyond all our imaginings. I want you to listen very closely to the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer today because it describes a kingdom we all have to be hungry for: “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” That’s a kingdom of mind-boggling greatness, brothers and sisters in Christ, a kingdom no other ruler could ever hope to promise you.

On our baptism day, we were anointed with the sacred Chrism oil, an oil that has almost the same name as Christ, which means “Anointed One.” If you’ve been to a baptism or Confirmation recently, you’ll know that the Chrism oil is the only one of the three holy oils to have a fragrance, because it is intended to be the fragrance of Christ. Just as Christ himself was anointed priest, prophet and king, so we too were anointed in that same way. What this means for us today is that just as Christ had to suffer, so we too will have to suffer in this life. But just as Christ was intended for the glory of the Kingdom, so we too have that same destiny, if we but join our lives to his and follow his way.

That means, of course, we have to go down the ugly way, through the gateway of the cross. In this Kingdom there is no glory without passing through the way of suffering. There is no cheap and easy grace. But there is grace, a grace that walks with us through the hard times and leads us to the joy of the kingdom of truth and life, the kingdom of holiness and grace, the kingdom of justice, love and peace. Our home here on earth is but a temporary dwelling. Our true home is in that kingdom.

The religious leaders in Jesus day never figured this out. They couldn’t, or perhaps wouldn’t fathom it. But the good thief realized all of this at the very last minute, practically as he was taking his dying breath. His last words of prayer might be our very own words today. “Jesus remember me,” he says, “when you come into your kingdom.”

Friday of the Twenty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Well, with Thanksgiving yesterday, we’ve taken a bit of a break from the readings we have had all week from the book of Maccabees. Today we rejoin the story but it seems things are quite different. On Monday, we heard about King Antiochus Epiphanes and his repulsive plan to blot out the Jewish way of life, with all of its traditions and laws, and with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in favor of making alliance with the Gentiles and observing their base way of life and worshiping their many gods. On Tuesday and Wednesday, upright Jews are choosing death rather than give in to the demands that they eat pork and offer sacrifice to these gods. And today, there is great rejoicing. So what have we missed?

What we missed was Thursday’s story about Mattathias and his sons, brave men who were filled with zeal for the law and for God. They put to death those who gave in to the demands of the Gentiles and they waged war on their oppressors. They were so successful that Judas and his brothers are able to celebrate victory today. Today, right on the heels of Thanksgiving, we see a thanksgiving celebration of another kind.

All week long, the message we were getting was that there is something more. Maybe eating a little pork, or tossing a few grains of incense on a coal in worship of an alien god would save one’s life, but upright Jews like Eleazar, and the Maccabean brothers insisted that that life was not a life worth living. The something more to life is our relationship with God, and living without God is not really living at all. Living without God divorces us from who we are and forces us to live in a vacuum.

Today we can celebrate that our identity as children of God is worth fighting for, or even dying for. We give thanks with Judas and his brothers that God has called us to be his children, that he will not abandon us, and that he gives us the grace not to abandon him and abandon who we are. God is faithful and sovereign and if we persevere, we can rededicate the Temple of our lives to the God who made us and gave us life.

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Well, the story we started to hear in yesterday’s first reading about Israel has festered a bit. You may remember yesterday that king Antiochus Epiphanes began to lead the people to follow the ways of the Gentiles: covering over their circumcision, attending schools in the Gentile way of life, abandoning the holy laws. Today it’s become ugly. Eleazar the scribe, in his nineties, is being forced to eat pork in violation of the law. When he refuses to do so, some of those who know and respect him urge him to pretend to eat it so as to escape punishment.

But Eleazar is a man of wisdom, and he knows that if he pretends to violate the law to save his life, he will be leading others astray. Those of lesser years than he would be led to scandal and sin because of him. He may save his life, but theirs would be forever ruined on his account.

What we are hearing in the book of Maccabees these days is that there is something more important than our own lives. Life is sacred and a wonderful gift, but it is completely meaningless if we live it at the cost of our spiritual lives. And when it comes right down to it, is that really living at all?

Martyrs throughout the ages have given witness to the fact that there is something more, that this life is not all we have. For Eleazar it was the law. For Christian martyrs it is Jesus Christ. But it is always, always about God who made us for himself, who created us that we might live on this earth, but also live forever with him.

Monday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Terrible affliction was upon Israel. That’s what we’re told in today’s first reading. Why? Well, because they forgot they had a God who could take care of them. Because they were afflicted by the foreign occupation, they thought the best way to overcome that was by making alliance with their persecutors rather than remembering that God was faithful and would save them.

Look at what they did. They introduced the way of living of the Gentiles. In days gone by, they would have thought such a thing completely repulsive. They became atheists in a sense: they rejected God completely. The gymnasium they erected wasn’t for sport, it was for learning. In those days a gymnasium was a kind of school that taught a complete way of life, one very different from the one God had laid out for them. They covered over the mark of their circumcision. The sign that they belonged to God was essentially blotted out so that they would know longer be known as God’s people. Then the evil Antiochus Epiphanes made the transformation complete by giving the Temple over to the worship of pagan gods. Israel’s crisis of faith caused them to reject the God who had loved them into creation.

The point is, when life starts oppressing us and everything seems like it is going wrong, there are two choices for people of faith. One is the way Israel went under Antiochus Epiphanes. The other is the way of the blind beggar in today’s Gospel who humbly cried out: “Son of David, have pity on me” and “Lord, please let me see.” Please God let us all be able to see the big picture, the triumph of our God over the foe, the relief our hearts have longed for.

The lament of the Psalmist today is the way the disciple chooses: “Indignation seizes me because of the wicked who forsake your law. Though the snares of the wicked are twined about me, your law I have not forgotten.”