Scripture in Church, August 2020

July 31, 2020

Scripture in Church, August 2020

Sundays and Festivals

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

2 August 2020 • Bernard Treacy, O.P.

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Mass

Today the Church invites us to come and eat and drink at a banquet prepared by God – food and drink freely given to meet the hunger of the human spirit to be possessed by God’s love.

Invitation to Repentance

God wants all creatures to experience the depth of infinite love prepared for them.

Lord Jesus, you see the needs of your people and you are moved with compassion. Lord, have mercy.

You encourage us to share your life with others. Christ, have mercy.

You do not turn us away. Lord, have mercy.

Headings for Readings

First Reading (Isa 55:1-3). The prophet assures the exiles in Babylon of the providence and unceasing care of God for his chosen people.

Second Reading(Rom 8:35,37-39). Nothing can come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Gospel(Mt 14:13-21). Jesus instructs the disciples to give the people something to eat.

Prayer of the Faithful

PresidentJesus intercedes for us continually before the face of God. May our prayers be united with his as we pray.

ReadersFor the Church: that it may be an effective sign of your concern for the hungry and the needy.

For political leaders: that they may be inspired to share the resources of the earth fairly among all people.

For ourselves: that, nourished with the bread of life, we would share the gifts of God with those we meet.

For the gift of prayer that enables us to see the world according to God’s vision and desires.

For all the people in our lives who have shared their food, love, hospitality, knowledge and faith.

PresidentBountiful and compassionate God, you place in the hands of your disciples the food of life. Nourish us at your holy table, that we may bear Christ to others and share with them the gifts we have so richly received. Through Christ our Lord.

Invitation to the Lord’s Prayer

As we gather around the table of the Lord to partake of the living bread that came down from heaven, we turn to our Father and pray.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading(Isa 55:1-3). The anonymous prophet who lived during the sixth century exile in Babylon, usually referred to as Second Isaiah (Isa 40-55), brought hope to the people in exile. These chapters open with the commission to the prophet to ‘console my people, console them’. And today’s text, from the final chapter of his sermons, reflects his urgent call to the people to put their trust in God, and to be nourished by his word. There is a sense of urgency here, depicted in the triple repetition of the invitation to ‘come’ and of the command to ‘listen’ or ‘pay attention’. The banquet, an eloquent representation of the communion of life between God and his people, can also stand as a symbol for the gift of instruction given to the unlearned or to those who are prepared to submit themselves to the guidance of God. The wisdom aspect of the banquet is heightened in prophet’s argument that it would be foolish to spend hard-earned wages on food which fails to nourish.

Resopnsorial Psalm(Ps 145:8-9.15-16.17-18). This psalm of encouragement reflects the prayer of those who call to God in their trouble, isolation or pain, and emphasizes the compassion of God for those who suffer. God’s compassion is shown as sustaining all creation and not just human beings.

Second Reading(Rom 8:35.37-39). Every Christian who has been reconciled to God by the death and resurrection of Jesus experiences a peace that trials, distress and persecution cannot disturb. Reconciliation replaces all forms of estrangement, symbolised by the mention of sword, dangers and hunger. The reference to the heights and depths may indicate the proximity or distance of stars which, some believed, could influence the fate of people; the sphere of grace won by Christ’s death and resurrection remains unshaken even the face of such adverse powers. The result of the peace which the Christian experiences in the face of difficulties, engenders the additional gift of hope – God’s glory shining through apparent defeat. Because the believer is convinced of God’s had powerfully at work in all events, the tribulations of life enable a certain strength of character which reinforces the hope emanating from the presence of God within the person. Nothing can separate the believer from such a presence.

Gospel(Mt 14:13-21). Jesus’ decision to withdraw on hearing of the murder of John the Baptist may have been prompted by the need to cope with such distressing news. The question was unavoidable of whether the opposition to him already building up in Galilee would inevitably result in him meeting the same fate as John. His search for solitude in a ‘lonely place’ is frustrated when a crowd turns up seeking him. There follows a day of healing. It was expected that the Messiah would repeat Moses’ miracle of feeding the people in the desert. Here we see the compassion of Jesus for the crowd, how he heals and feeds them like a true shepherd. The story of the multiplication of the loaves uses the language of the Eucharist – ‘taking the bread, raising his eyes to heaven, saying the blessing, breaking and sharing the bread’ – and so reflects the liturgy of the early church. The account also emphasizes how Jesus involves his disciples in his work of feeding the people by distributing the broken pieces and collecting the fragments afterwards.

Reflections towards a Homily

The crowds were so attracted to Jesus that hey put themselves in a precarious position following him and remaining with him for such a long time without a supply of food in a desert place.

Jesus’ heart was moved by their hunger. Perhaps, the hungry are a privileged class in that they need God to fill them with what they need. But those who are already full – what need have they of food or drink or the presence of God?

In feeding the multitude Jesus comes across as the true shepherd of God’s people, the compassionate ‘new David’ foretold by Ezekiel, who would care for the flock of God (see Ezek 34). Through the leadership of Moses, God shepherded the people in the desert. He fed them with manna and gave them water from the rock. It was expected by many that when the Messiah came he would repeat the miracle of Moses and feed the people in the desert. Jesus here fulfils that role.

As the plight of the people becomes obvious, Jesus challenges the disciples to give them food. They are overwhelmed at the challenge. The little food they had, when given to Jesus, became through his word and action an endless supply, like the miraculous catch of fish when they put down the nets at his word.

The story points to the deeper meaning of Jesus’ mission, his shepherding role in teaching, healing and feeding not only on the physical, but also on the spiritual level. It emphasises the graciousness and unexpectedness of the gift. Nor was it a gift for just for that one occasion. Unlike the manna of old, this food was to be available at all times, a fact symbolized by the baskets of fragments that remained.

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

9 August 20020 • Terence Crotty, O.P.

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Celebration

We hear today of the Prophet Elijah being invited to listen very intently to God speaking, as if in silence. We too are here to listen to the Word of God in the silence of our hearts and are being invited by Jesus not to doubt but to have a strong faith. As the Prophet Elijah recognised God in the sound of a gentle breeze, let us also recognise him in the signs of bread and wine, where he comes among us with the same gentleness.

Headings for Readings

First Reading (1 Kgs 19:9, 11-13). Elijah meets the ‘God of surprises’ on Mount Horeb where God provides comfort for him, but not in the way he would have hoped for or expected.

Second Reading (Rom 9:1-5). Paul expresses his intense personal anguish at the fact that his fellow Jews have not followed Christ, and at the same time reminds his readers of the glory of the Jewish nation before God.

Gospel (Mt 14:22-23) This famous passage speaks of St Peter attempting to walk on water. His faith is strong, until he meets obstacles, and then fails completely. It is a lesson for him and for us all to cast our doubts away and to grow in faith in Christ day by day.

Prayer of the Faithful

PresidentLet us pray for the Church throughout the world, that all her people may be a light to the nations of the world by an authentic and joy-filled witness to the goodness of God.

ReadersLet us pray for our country: that we may increasingly place our hope in God, who has plans for us which are greater than we can understand.

Let us pray for all those who, conscious of their spiritual poverty, stand in need of meeting the Lord in a new way, like Elijah in the reading today. May they recognise the gift of his presence and have the grace to place their trust in him.

Let us pray for our beloved dead: that as Christ came into the world as our Saviour, so may they live in the light of that salvation for ever with the Lord.

PresidentGod of all power, your sovereign word comes to us in Christ. When your Church is in danger, make firm our trust; when your people falter, steady our faith. Show us in Jesus your power to save, that we may always acclaim him as Lord, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Invitation to the Our Father

The Gospel today speaks of the disciples in the middle of a storm, and so recognising that each of us has stormy periods to go through in life, let us pray together to the Father in the words our Saviour gave us.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading (1 Kgs 19:9.11-13). The Prophet Elijah is often considered the greatest of the prophets, although he has no book attributed to him among all the books of the prophets. He is so for two reasons. Firstly, he is the first of the ‘classical’ prophets – people called by God with a personal, surprising call, rather than people who inherit the title of ‘prophet’ as a profession; and people who are called to challenge Israel to greater and greater faith in God rather than simply being, as the old prophets were, part of the mechanics of a pagan or semi-pagan society, answering questions about crops or weather or warfare. Secondly, Elijah single-handedly turned Israel from its syncretistic ways, in which the people honoured many gods, and especially Baal, the great ‘god’ of the region, back to Yahweh the true God of Israel, who is, as Elijah pointed out before his time, the only true God.

We meet him here in the wake of his victory over the prophets of Baal and Astarte on Mount Carmel, followed by his flight in fear from the murderous threat of Queen Jezebel to ‘make your life as the life of every one of them by this time tomorrow’ (1 Kgs 19:2), after he had slaughtered the prophets. So, up and down goes the life of Elijah, from stunning divine victories, to a panic-stricken fear and flight into the desert and a wish to die in despair (1 Kgs 19:4). But his flight takes him in the right direction: he goes to Mount Horeb, otherwise called Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, there to cast his worries upon the Lord. And God speaks to him. God had spoken to Moses on this mountain, in booming thunder, in flashes of lightning, and in fire (see Exodus 19, 24). So much drama! Here Elijah, no doubt, expects as great a drama, but the Lord is not in the earthquake, and not in the fire, and not in the wind that rips the rocks apart. But he is in the ‘sound of a gentle breeze’. What does that mean? It would be tempting to look for a clear answer, but the whole point of a ‘gentle breeze’ is that the Lord speaks to those who listen and doesn’t force his message on the unwilling. Drama, fire, slaughter, panic: these all have their place in Elijah’s life and mission. But the truth ultimately will belong to those who listen. As another prophet, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, will say some centuries later, ‘Morning by morning he wakes me, to hear like a disciple’ (Isa 50:4).

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 84). The psalm, as always, sings what the Old Testament reading has said in prose. ‘I will hear what the Lord God has to say, a voice that speaks of peace.’ It is the complement to what we have heard Elijah learning of in the First Reading, to listen.

Second Reading (Rom 9:1-5). Perhaps the most famous sentence in the Letter to the Romans was Paul’s statement that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and so God has justified us by a free gift in Christ, received in faith (Rom 3:20-22). If this is true of both Jew and Greek, as Paul insists, we are left with the question as to ‘what advantage has the Jew?’ following on centuries of divine revelation to the chosen people.

Added to this is Paul’s personal anguish, necessary in someone who lived life so passionately that he, above all, should feel the sorrow and bewilderment of the fact that the Jews, for centuries the chosen people of God, cultivated by the Word of God like a garden, should, at the climax of divine revelation in the coming to earth of Jesus Christ, be found ultimately unfaithful and outside the universal fold created by the Good Shepherd. ‘My sorrow is so great,’ says Paul, ‘my mental anguish so endless,’ because of this. ‘What advantage has the Jew’ in the face of this terrible sorrow?

And so Paul gives a most impressive potted history of divine favours to the Jews, culminating in the fact that God incarnate, ‘God for ever blessed!’ was one of their number when he became human as the man Jesus Christ. This passage is the opening verses of the three-chapter discourse which remains to this day the seed ground for the Christian viewpoint of ‘the mystery of Israel.’ In it Paul speaks as a Jew, as Baruch did (Bar 1:15-2:15) or as Azariah did in his heartfelt prayer in the Book of Daniel (Dan 9:4-20): it remembers the many favours of God to Israel, Israel’s sins against God and, finally, places its trust that God will be faithful to the end and that, in the end, his loving desires will triumph.

Gospel (Mt 14:22-33). It is standard among the Evangelists to associate the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes with Jesus walking on water. As the laws of creation have been miraculously surpassed in the feeding of many thousands, so time and space are suspended as Jesus walks amidst the waves on the storm-tossed lake. But there is more in common between the two scenes than that. As the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes couldn’t but remind those partaking of the manna in the desert, Jesus as a new Moses feeding the people with bread from heaven in the wilderness, so too the walking on water reminds them of the Red Sea, and Moses leading his people from slavery to freedom. Peter attempts to follow, but he is a ‘man of little faith’.

The Gospel passage is directed, therefore, both towards Peter personally and towards all disciples of every age. Peter attempts to take a leadership role: he initiates the extraordinary ‘sign’ by himself desiring to walk on the waters. He is confident that this act is a natural progression from the miraculous power which Jesus freely dispenses, and in which he seeks to share. Matthew, together with the other Evangelists, sees Peter as being welcome to take on this leadership role: it will soon be eloquently affirmed before the rock at Caesarea Philippi. But Peter’s role, imaging Christ on the waters, sharing in his miraculous power, will not be realised without faith. And not just the faith that allows him to step out of a boat as the waves rise and fall from above the level of his head to beneath his feet, but a faith that withstands also the howling force of the cold wind. Without this faith he sinks.

The passage has a second destination, which is for every reader. If we wish to follow Jesus as he leads, Moses-like, from slavery to freedom, then, like Peter, we cannot afford to doubt. Even if we do not step out like leaders into the sea, but wait in the boat, the Evangelist still invites us to bow down before Jesus and to react appropriately to what we have heard: ‘Truly, you are the Son of God.’

Reflections towards a Homily

A living faith is a faith that questions. God has revealed himself to us in Israel and in Jesus, but also in the world as seen by our rational minds. God, in other words, makes sense, and this use of our intelligence is key to our faithfulness. So a living faith is a questioning faith. There is a difference between a questioning faith and a doubting faith. Faith, of its essence, is intellectual assent to the proposition that ‘Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father’, to use St Paul’s words. Once we have given that intellectual assent – the assent that is required of adult converts before Baptism – we should question. But no longer question whether it is true, but how it is true.

St John Henry Newman used the distinction when speaking of ‘private judgement’ and the Catholic Church. He was responding to the accusation that to become a Catholic meant leaving his intellect for dead. And he speaks of private judgment as being necessary to take him into the Church, as a lamp is necessary for a man on his journey home through the night. But then, arriving home, to a house full of lights and chandeliers, why keep his lamp burning? And so we too should doubt as we come to faith, but when we’ve conscientiously taken Jesus as the light of the world, what do our doubts count for in the face of his life and his radiant teaching? We question in order to understand this life and teaching more deeply. I seek in order to believe, and in believing more, I am drawn to seek all the more.

This Gospel is endless in its meaning, through all the different details and twists and turns in it. Jesus walks on the waters, and calls Peter to walk on the water like him, if only he will have faith. Peter, by the power of Jesus, will have power over all the elements of creation, down to that which is most chaotic, the rough and turbulent waters, which are simply like a plaything in his hands – he walks on the waves, up and down, effortlessly, as the rise and fall, and commands them to be peaceful, and they obey. But Peter must not doubt. He has stepped out of the boat in faith, and then he will only sink if, after this remarkable choice, he turns again and doubts. The disciples in the boat, seeing it all, bow down and worship Jesus, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ And well they might: they have put their finger on the real meaning of this passage. The reference to ‘bowing down’ or ‘worshipping’ Jesus (either translation is equally good) is a favourite of Matthew in comparison to the other Evangelists (Mt 2:2, 11; 28:9, 17).

But consider this: at the beginning of this Gospel, Jesus goes into the hills to pray alone – at the end the disciples bow down and pray to him. He is God, and yet we have this beautiful image of him at prayer, the Son to the Father, as if the Holy Trinity, that love between the Father and the Son that is outside of time, eternal and without beginning or end, present on the hills of Galilee. And then we too, the disciples, live this prayer of Christ to the Father by praying to him and live this worship of the Father by the Son by worshipping him.

No greater gift could God have given to men than in making his Word, by which he created all things, their Head, and joining them to him as his members: that the Son of God might become also the Son of man, one God with the Father, one Man with men; ... and it is one Saviour of his Body, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who both prays for us, and prays in us, and is prayed to by us. He prays for us, as our Priest; He prays in us, as our Head;he is prayed to by us, as our God. (St Augustine)

Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say, ‘There is only one true prayer, one prayer that pierces the heavens, and that is the prayer of the Son of God.’ And we too should remember that when we pray something amazing is happening: it is Jesus himself who is praying in us, praying for us, and being prayed to by us, because he is God, who has taken us up into himself in his love, and so as he prays, then our prayer too pierces the heaven.

Dormition / Assumption of Mary

15 August 2020 • Thomas McCarthy, O.P.

Vigil mass

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Mass

As a church community gathered to worship the Lord in gratitude for the salvation we are offered, we focus this evening on one we call ‘Mother’, the mother of Jesus but mother too of each of Jesus’ disciples. Over the centuries, the Church has expressed in its devotion to Mary the belief that no earthly tomb could imprison the body of the one who had earlier given birth to ‘Heaven’s Prince’. She was, in the disciples’ belief, raised to that fuller union with her Risen Son.

Penitential Rite

Lord Jesus, in your Incarnation in Mary’s womb you came to reconcile us with your Father: Lord, have mercy.

Christ Jesus, your mother recognised the great things done for her from on high: we pray to receive your healing blessing too: Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you enable us yearn for a share of the glorified life your mother now enjoys: Lord, have mercy.

Headings for Readings

First Reading (1 Chron 15:3-4.15-16; 16:1-2). The Ark is the religious symbol par excellence for the Chosen People of God’s presence among them.

Second Reading (1 Cor 15:54-57). Paul is clear that the victory that can be ours was won for us by Jesus. As the Church’s faith developed, belief grew that we ought to honour Jesus’ Mother as one already raised in victory to that new life in the comany of the Risen Lord.

Gospel (Luke 11:27-28). Mary not only gave birth to Jesus but also listened to the Word of God and kept it.

Prayer of the Faithful

PresidentHaving heard the word of God and reflected on it, we will shortly take bread and wine and do, in memory of Jesus, what he did and say what he said about those memorable foodstuffs in the course of what was later known as the Last Supper. But we pause first to recall the intentions of prayer that are close to our hearts. We trust in our divine Lord, and repeat: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

ReadersFor the society in which we live and for its constant growth in generosity and a sense of justice and fairness for all its citizens: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For all chosen to lead and guide in society and also in our own Church of disciples, that they may all be true to their task and be guided by the Divine Spirit, Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For all who find themselves struggling to go on, who discover the weight they are asked to carry is too heavy, and for all whose health is frail or even just beginning to be a worry: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For the safety of all who travel, and also that they may perhaps later appreciate once more the value and beauty of home and family: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

For all who have lived in this world, that in your divine compassion they may share the joy of your Mother and the saints of all ages: Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

PresidentGrant, O Lord of life and glory, that as your faithful ring out our joy on this feast, we may listen to the word of God and keep it. This we ask through Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer

In our prayer we often seek to find our own words to express what lies within our heart; but on other occasions we return to tried and trusted words of the Bible. Now, when the time is right for our prayer to the Father of all, we take the words Jesus taught some of his disciples and make them our own.

Invitation to the Sign of Peace

Our hope for life after our time on earth includes a full communion in the presence of our divine Saviour. We wish this for one another as we wish one another peace at all times.

Communion Reflection

As we nourish our inner life in our eating and drinking of the sacramental Body and Blood of Christ, we recognise it is this very Christ who seeks to continue to nourish and support us as we maintain our pace along the camino of life. Mary, we are told, accepted the invitation and challenge set before her to be the mother of the Saviour. ‘Be it done unto me according to your word’, she reportedly said to the divine messenger who took to her the news that she was called to be the mother of him who would save ‘his people’ from their sins. Having again received the divine compassion we needed and prayed for, we are invited to continue our path, with resolve and with trust in Him who nourishes us that we may stay on the path. A path that lead to a fuller Communion with the Saviour.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading(1 Chron 15:3-4.15-16; 16:1-2). The Ark is the religious symbol par excellence for the Chosen People, a people now returned after the Babylonian Exile. Fidelity to the Law of Moses is demanded of this people, a people ‘returned’, given, we might say, another chance. Later, in the late first century AD, John would contrast Moses and Jesus, pointing out that ‘while the Law came through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ’. Mary is the Saviour’s Mother.

We can note some words of the ancient Christian preacher St Athanasius, in order to see how and why a text about the Ark of the Covenant is chosen for the First Reading on this solemn eeast of Mary’s Assumption. Athanasius speaks of Mary as ‘clothed in purity’ itself rather than merely the (pure) gold of the Ark. In her is found the true manna, that is to say she is the mother of him who later spoke of himself as the ‘bread of life’.

Resonsorial Psalm (Ps 131:6-7.9-10.13-14). The psalm includes the line (and the belief) that the Lord God had ‘chosen Zion for his dwelling’. Mary’s Son, much later, was God’s presence, no less, and in Zion.

Second Reading (1 Cor 15:54-57). Paul’s belief in the Risen Life of Jesus leads him to consider the meaning of the life and death of each of us, and also to note how radically different the ‘situation’ is now from a world dominated by the ‘Law’ of Moses. Victory is in and by Christ.

Gospel (Lk 11:27-28). A shouted greeting, heard not just by Jesus but by whomever recorded it for use later in the Gospel according to Luke is met by an equally memorable retort by Jesus himself. Mary is the one who bore Jesus and provided his early nourishment from her breasts. How blessed is she! Yet, the Son of that blessed mother points out how even more blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it (by their way of life). As readers of the Gospel according to Luke will have already read (in Chapter 1), Mary did indeed notably listen to the word spoken to her from on high, attend to it and accept its implications: hence her memorable maternity.

Reflections towards a Homily

In this vigil we mark already the event for which Christian disciples have for centuries rejoiced and chosen to mark, the entrance of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, into the risen presence of her Son, her Saviour whom she bore and with Joseph reared. The Acts of Apostles recounts the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of the Lord, and Mary was among them… She too had received the power of the divine Spirit – a Spirit than will have enabled her and the apostles to witness to the Risen Life of her Son. We too long for that ‘homecoming’ when we are in God’s time welcomed to the share in the risen life our gospel message has always promised as a destiny outlined and enabled by our Saving God.

Our trust in the risen Lord is crucial as we walk on, each time we receive at the Eucharist the Bread from heaven, and thus we share that trust, we invite others to join us in the joyful expectation of the revealing of life’s fuller meaning.

If, as we believe, divine love is eternal and unfailing, we are constantly in the divine ‘memory’. The Lord looks after us, enables us to witness by how we live… and so to take our place in that camino which Mary has already completed. We, like Mary in important ways, can reveal Jesus to a waiting world, a world that longs for inner stability and peace.

We have been invited to share, like Mary, the definitive fulness of salvation, to be ‘perfected’, shall we say, by the one who is Perfect and enabled Mary to remain sinless. In this sense, the Solemn Feast of the Assumption is a prophecy, indicating what may and can indeed lie ahead for us as a community, a church of disciples, to be fulfilled. We are called to enter, each of us, into the life to which Jesus rose at Easter.

MASS DURING THE DAY

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Mass

It was to one of his closest disciples that Jesus said at one point, ‘where I am going you cannot now follow me but, later, you will’. The path is a different one for each of us, for each is unique. Yet the invitation comes from the same Lord and is a call to the same union with him. In today’s solemn feast, we celebrate the passing of Mary, Jesus’ own mother, from this world to the next, and rejoice with a sense of hope, in anticipation of our own destiny, as an assembly, as the Church coming to perfection.

Penitential Rite

Lord Jesus, you were obedient to Mary and Joseph. Lord, have mercy.

Christ Jesus, you bless with your presence those who are both honest and humble of heart. Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, as sinners we cry, knowing that you long to raise up the lowly. Lord, have mercy.

Headings for Readings

First Reading (Apoc 11:19; 12:1-6.10). This woman, imagined in the apocalyptic dream, is (still) pregnant: as with all her sisters and brothers, whose redemption by Christ is ever being revealed, the best is still to be and to be made known.

Second Reading (1 Cor 15: 20-26). The risen Christ is the first fruits of the divine harvest of new life for all: ‘all in their proper order’, starting in our tradition with Mary, Jesus’ own mother.

Gospel (Lk 1:39-56). Today’s discipes are called – like Elizabeth did early on – to recognise Mary and the dignity granted her, who was ‘of all women the most blessed’.

Prayer of the Faithful

PresidentGod, our loving Father, continually satisfies the thirsty soul with the divine presence and its impact. In this belief, we stretch our hands to pray, filled as we are with trust.

ReadersMary showed support for Elizabeth and solidarity with her when they were both pregnant. The support of our prayer is with all mothers and expectant mothers: may we be of help in every possible way that is supportive and timely.

Each person has set goals to be approached and achieved. Let us never forget the long-term goal of union with our loving Creator and Redeemer, but be assisted and also encouraged by one another in our short-term plans too.

Family life can prove a wonderful gift, thanks be to God, and it does on occasion also provide stern challenges and options that are not easy. We pray as a family of faith for all families, for their healthy living together and for their growing sense of the value of each member of the family.

For those who have left this world, that they too will hear the ‘welcome home’ words that Mary will have heard as she ‘slept in the Lord’ and was assumed into the divine presence.

PresidentGod of grace, whose name is holy and whose mercy reaches from age to age, show the power of your arm in granting these and all our prayers which we make in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer

Nurtured by Joseph and Mary and likely inspired too by what he learned in the Nazareth synagogue as he grew, the adult Jesus was then able to inspire his own disciples with words that have remained precious to us as we pray with one voice.

Invitation to the Sign of Peace

As each of us approaches to receive Holy Communion, let us share good wishes for peace with one another, as fellow disciples of the one Lord, the Prince of Peace.

Communion Reflection

We began our celebration of the Sacred Eucharist by confessing our sins, that constant need for divine forgiveness and forbearance. And we have rejoiced in the grace from on high granted to Mary. Our constant hope is that our joyful, though partial, communion with Jesus, Mary’s Son and her Saviour, will steer us more steadily toward the lasting communion of heaven, once we have loyally remained on the camino with disciples of Jesus and activists for the gospel message and its challenge. Our resolve to be loyal to the gospel and its demands is strengthened each day by this sacramental communion with our Lord Jesus.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading(Apoc 11:19; 12:1-6.10) When, as revealed in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, the world had been created... God looked and ‘saw that all was good’. There were further episodes of this story still to be told, so that for much of our history life has been the stage of ‘war’ between good and evil. Here, in this apocalyptic vision, the battle is still underway, and only right at the end do we hear that ‘victory... [has] been won by our God’. Our other readings will fill in details, so we too can rejoice in this victory, in which we, like Mary, can share.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 44:10.12-16) We are all either daughters or sons of the Most High. The choice of this specific psalm for today’s solemn feast sees Mary among the favoured ones, who may now ‘pass within the palace of the [divine] king’.

Second Reading (1 Corinthians 15: 20-26) All humans will be brought to life in [the risen] Christ. We share the call, and will in our turn join them who, like Mary, who have been brought to life by the God whose will she faithfully carried out as Mother of Jesus.

Gospel (Lk 1:39-56) Mary’s next recorded ‘event’ after the Annunciation is to head off straightaway and visit a cousin who is in a considerably later stage of pregnancy. And when Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit and speaks words in praise of Mary, Mary herself is keen to rejoice precisely ‘in God my Saviour’, looking away from herself and rejoicing in the blessings received from on high.

Reflections towards a Homily

The Saviour of all, Jesus Christ, was the son of Mary, and at the end of her life Mary was granted by God the eternal presence of her Son, of the one who had gained salvation for her and for all. From the earliest Christian times there have been traditions, stories and eventually artistic depictions of what the ‘Assumption of Mary’ might mean.

Mary bore Jesus and stayed very close to her Son – we have no evidence otherwise. She will have been puzzled, at least, by things he said as he spoke openly in synagogues and in the open air, by the sometimes revolutionary suggestions he made about what notions like the ‘Kingdom of God’ meant, about what was the first commandment of the Law and how from a particular point of view that Law could be set aside. But we understand she remained close to Jesus. In the account found in John’s Gospel, Mary is depicted as being there to the end, at the foot of the Cross as her Son died, executed at an early age. And in the Acts of the Apostles, Mary is present still, now in the company of the apostles of Jesus, on the occasion when the gift of the Holy Spirit’s fire comes upon them, a fire that sets them alight to speak to the people about the meaning and value of the life and death of Jesus.

Mary is seen by the disciples as being close to them too, as she was close to her Son. She is seen in the Church’s tradition as interceding now on our behalf, as she begged her Son (again in the Gospel as told by John) to do something helpful when the wine ran out at a wedding reception in the Galilean town of Cana. And she has been seen and understood as having been honoured immediately with welcome to the Paradise where her Son actually awaits all his disciples, in due course.

The Church has not yet reached the end for which the Lord intends it, as Lionel Swain says. We are invited still to ‘walk’ in the Lord, rather than enjoy that ‘rest in the Lord’ we associate with Mary who was taken up. Hope is about fulfilment: ‘Be it done unto me according to your word’, Mary is understood to have said in response to the revelation that she was to be the mother of one who would ‘save his people from their sins’. Fulfilment. Our prayer for fulfilment is a prayer that like Mary we can enjoy the immediate presence of Jesus. When the time comes.

Mary is painted in today’s Gospel passage as one who responds to God’s word, and does so immediately and with generosity. She has been raised into the Lord’s presence and is presented as a model for us who still ‘walk’ in the Lord on terra firma.

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

16 August 2020 • Terence Crotty, O.P.

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Mass

Faith, a gift we receive from the Holy Spirit, gives meaning and joy to our lives by teaching us that God so loved the world as to send his Son to save each of us. This is a gift given to all nations without exception, itself a sign of God’s lavish love. In this Mass, we celebrate that love and share it anew in communion, the saving sacrifice of Christ being made present for us. Let us acknowledge our sins and so prepare ourselves to celebrate these sacred mysteries.

Headings for Readings

First Reading (Isa 56: 1, 6-7). This is a revolutionary reading for the Old Testament. Here, hundreds of years before Christianity, God says, through the prophet Isaiah, that people of all nations will serve the God of Israel and will ‘be joyful in his house of prayer’. As we listen to it, let us remember that we are the people the prophet is speaking of.

Second Reading (Rom 11:13-15, 29-32). St Paul reminds his Christian readers here, people who were pagans and are now converted as first-generation Christians, that our faith is a gift to us from God, and a sign of God’s mercy to us.

Gospel (Mt 15:21-28). The faith we profess counts for more in the eyes of God than our identity, as this pagan woman discovers in the Gospel when she wins Jesus’ favour by her act of faith in the face of what seems like the silence of God.

Prayer of the Faithful

President As a community of faith, let us trust that our prayers will be granted.

Readers Let us pray for the Church throughout the world: that we may all have a persevering and humble faith in Jesus like the Samaritan woman had.

Let us pray for our country and for its leaders: that they will promote unity among the people through respect for each person’s conscience and each person’s needs.

Let us pray for the people of Israel: that the merciful plan of God, who chose them from among all nations, may be fulfilled.

Let us pray for all those who suffer violence, and especially those who suffer violence because of their Christian faith, that the Lord may protect them and give them his consolation in their hearts.

Let us remember our beloved dead in prayer: that they may live with the Lord for ever and for ever savour his sweetness to them.

President God of the nations, to your table all are invited and in your family no one is a stranger. Satisfy the hunger of those gathered in this house of prayer, and mercifully extend to all the peoples on earth the joy of salvation and faith. Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer

Since we are the one people of God, formed from many nations, let us pray to the Father of all people in the words his Son, our Saviour, gave us.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading (Isa 56: 1, 6-7). The Book of the Prophet Isaiah takes us from the depths of the eighth century b.c., from wars and apostasy in Israel, to a bright, prophetic vision of a future world in which a Saviour will come who can say of himself, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.’

Many remarkable passages occur in the meantime, and among the most outstanding is this passage, our First Reading today. In the context of the Old Testament, the Scriptures of Israel, which focus so much on the Temple and on its purity of worship, on the land and the special love of the Lord for the nations, we are amazed to see such an explicit prophecy of a universe in pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When the salvation of the God of Israel comes and his integrity – as opposed to the sinfulness of Israel – is manifest, an effect will be that those who will be welcome in the Temple in Jerusalem are not only the people of Israel, but all the nations. ‘Foreigners who have attached themselves to the Lord’ to serve him and love him, ‘these I will bring to my house of prayer.’

Among the courtyards in the Temple in Jerusalem, up to the end, was the Courtyard of the Gentiles, beyond which no foreigner could go. When Paul is arrested in Jerusalem it is on the charge of bringing Greeks, foreigners, into the Temple, and so defiling the sacred place (Acts 21:28-29). A mob scene ensues. But in this prophecy, the worship of the people of every nation, as long as they love the God of Israel in their hearts, is acceptable: ‘I will make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their holocausts and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar.’ Clean and unclean will no longer have a place when all are equally redeemed in the New Covenant. In our edited passage here we do not read the next sentence: ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.’ (Isa 56:8)

Jesus will echo this himself, when he speaks of himself as the Good Shepherd, ‘And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd’ (Jn 10:16). It will form the verse for the acclamation of the Gospel today. Jesus therefore consciously fulfils this prophetic passage, and the universal nature of his Church is the realization of his mission.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 66). In its original setting this psalm would have had in mind the submission of all the nations and peoples to the religious ideas, and probably also the political sway, of Israel as the head of the nations. It was only in the mind of God, expressed in prophecy, that the nations would praise the God of Israel on their own terms and not as subject nations to the Israelites. As the Evangelists and Apostles were happy to preach in the years following Pentecost, the faith of Israel was a flower that blossomed in the salvation of every nation across the earth.

Second Reading (Rom 11:13-15, 29-32). The Gospel turned everything on its head. A change which doesn’t mean much to us now, but was beyond belief in its time, was the fact that the Jews, who for centuries had been the Chosen People, were left unbelieving – to Christian eyes – while pagan Greeks and Romans took their place by the act of faith.

The central question in this was whether the God of Israel had been unfaithful to his people in the end. Paul struggled with this and, in these chapters of the Letter to the Romans, gives his definitive understanding. Israel’s place, he said, was only ever by God’s favour: should God decide otherwise, nobody could complain. More than this, though, the people of Israel have shown themselves to have preferred their own understanding of righteousness to that which God gave. Their refusal to believe in Jesus was entirely their own choice. And, finally, God has a plan. ‘I want you to understand this mystery,’ Paul says to the Romans (Rom 11:25), by which he means the long term plan of God. God uses the belief of the pagans to make the Jews jealous, as Paul says here, ‘to make my own people envious of you, and in this way save some of them.’ But more than that, there is an ultimate plan that will see the Jewish nation restored to God in the fulness of time. For ‘God never takes back his gifts or revokes his choice.’ They also ‘will enjoy mercy’ from God again when all God’s plans are fulfilled.

Christians cannot afford to be complacent. As the Jews were chosen purely by grace, and lost the grace of faith by refusing belief in Christ, so every Christian has little to boast about except the sheer grace of God. Like the Cannanite woman in the Gospel, we receive the scraps from the Jewish table, but even these are life-giving, so great is the grace of the Lord.

Gospel (Mt 15:21-28). Few scenes from the Gospel are more easily misunderstood than this. All sorts of details need to be kept in mind in deciphering its subtle meaning.

Matthew, although writing as a Jew, has in mind from the beginning the universal dimension of salvation offered by the coming of Christ into the world. The last line of the Gospel is the Great Commission of Christ, ‘Go teach all nations, baptising them’ (Mt 29:19). And so, when we read Jesus refusing this woman on the basis that ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel,’ we should know that there is something more subtle and complex going on here than a simpleton’s racist remark. Secondly, this passage has a twin: in chapter 8 of this Gospel, a centurion, another foreigner, asked Jesus to come and heal his servant. Like this passage, Jesus heals at a distance, at the request of a third person, and in both stories it is faith that is triumphant. Jesus’ response at that time is to speak of the coming of the nations to the salvation which belonged to Israel: ‘I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven’ (Mt 8:11).

Since the two passages are twins in their details, the story in Matthew 8 already gives us a key to interpret this story of the Canaanite woman before we begin. Immediately before this Gospel passage, Jesus has tackled the ultra-orthodox Pharisees by pointing out how their teaching ‘makes void the word of God’ (Mt 15:6). This story of the Canannite woman precedes the story of the second Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. The way Matthew tells of this multiplication brings in symbols of the nations: while the first was Jewish in its details (Mt 14), here it takes place for the nations, on a mountain in ‘Galilee of the nations’ (see Mt 15:29-38), but this crowd ‘glorified the God of Israel’ (Mt 15:31). So we see a mixture of Jewish features being applied to ‘the nations’. It is all part of the movement of the Gospel according to Matthew: the religion of Israel is a flower which blossoms with salvation for all the nations.

The Canaanite woman, a foreigner, calls Jesus by a distinctive Jewish title, ‘Son of David’. She sees more than the Pharisees have! Jesus’ refusal to answer her is met by a riposte which shows that she does not expect to receive his favour because she is a Jew, but because the inheritance of the Jews is so great that even its left-over scraps would suffice for her. Her faith is dogged and persevering and, like the centurion in Matthew 8, this is what wins the day. Jesus has refused her on the basis of her nationality, but faith in him has superseded everything: he has granted it on the basis of her faith. She has inherited the heritage of Israel through faith.

Such is precisely the message of St Paul and of the rest of the New Testament writers. The nations who made up the early Christian Church had nothing to offer to God. They were, as the Letter to the Ephesians said, ‘having no hope and without God in the world’ (Eph 2:12). The Canaanite woman likewise comes as a mere beggar with no claim on Jesus’ mercy. But she has faith, and that elicits the divine healing. St Paul will put it more explicitly: the gospel ‘is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith, to the Jew first’ and also to the foreigner (Rom 1:16). What Paul makes explicit, this story makes implicit, as Jesus tests the faith of the woman and, in her perseverance, grants her the inheritance of Israel, which came, indeed, to the Jews first, but has come equally to the foreigners through their faith in him.

Reflections towards a Homily

The First Reading today reminds us that our belonging to the people of God is something that God prophesied and planned many centuries before Jesus made it a reality and that our being ‘joyful’ in his ‘house of prayer’ is itself a gift that has long been in the mind of God. We often speak of ‘our faith’ and ‘our Church.’ It implies a sense of ownership of faith and Church and the identity we receive from them, and there is something very good about this. It shows that we treasure that identity to the extent of making it our own, and that faith has become inculturated in us. But imagine if we were like the Canaanite woman, and realised that we had no right whatsoever to the spiritual blessings we have received by our faith in the Gospel. Imagine that, as St Paul says to us, that our Christian lives are really a case of us having been ‘shown mercy,’ would it change things for the better? Would it make us more humble and more grateful for the chance to pray and worship and live in a Christian manner? The centre of our Faith is, of course, eucharist, which is a Greek word meaning ‘thanksgiving,’ and the readings today lead us along that path: to know that every sign of the cross we make is a gift, and every Amen we say should be treasured.

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

23 August 2020 • Thomas O’Loughlin

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Celebration

We have gathered as disciples of Jesus; we declare that he is present among us; we are about to share his table. Who is the One we follow? That is the question posed in today’s gospel, and we hear Peter’s resounding answer: ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Let us spend a moment asking the Father to reveal to us a deeper awareness of who it is in whose name we have assembled and into whose presence we have come.

Rite of Penance

Lord Jesus, you are the Christ. Lord have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you are the Son of the Living God. Christ have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you are the Christ. Lord have mercy.

Headings for Readings

First Reading(Isa 22: 19-23). This reading recalls that God chose many individuals to minister to his people during the time of the first covenant.

Second Reading(Rom 11:33-36). We all try to imagine God, we all have images of God in our heads. But Paul now reminds us of a basic truth: God is always greater; God is greater than everything we can imagine.

Gospel (Mt 16:13-20). This gospel poses a question to each church and each believer: who do we, as disciples, believe Jesus to be?

Profession of Faith

Since the gospel is concerned with the Church’s profession of faith, it is appropriate that this be highlighted today in some way. One easy way is to replace the declaratory form with the question-and-answer form we use on Easter Sunday. The whole text, including the introduction ‘Dear friends … ’, can be used as every celebration of the Eucharist is an activity of the Church within the Paschal Mystery.

Prayer of the Faithful

PresidentWe have gathered here because we are the people who declare, with Peter, that Jesus is the Christ. Now as the Christ’s priestly people let us stand before God and make our needs known.

ReadersFor the whole Church of God: that we will always confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

For this church, gathered here today: that each day we will grow in our relationship and knowledge of Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God.

For the Bishop of Rome, Pope N, for all the patriarchs, and all church leaders: that they may confess with Peter the identity of Jesus the Christ the Son of the living God.

For our bishop, N, and everyone called to preside over local churches: that they may help us to know and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

For all our sisters and brothers who are suffering on account of their profession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

For all those who persecute the holy Church of God: let us pray for them to the Father in Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God.

For those who have yet to come the knowledge of the identity of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God.

PresidentFather, we are assembled in the name of your Son as the church founded on the rock of the apostles; therefore we ask you to hear our prayer and grant our petitions. Through Jesus, your Son our Lord.

Eucharistic Prayer

Given the gospel, the appropriate preface is Preface of the Apostles II that speaks of the foundation of the Church upon the apostles Use Eucharistic Prayer III and today include Peter’s name in the gap for including particularly appropriate saints’ names.

Invitation to the Our Father

As the church founded on the apostles, let us pray with one voice to the Father in heaven who has revealed himself to us in the Christ:

Invitation to the Sign of Peace

We are here in the presence of the Christ, the Lord’s anointed, the Prince of Peace; let us celebrate this gift of peace with one another.

Invitation to Communion

Behold the Anointed One, the Christ, the Son of the living God; happy are we to be called to his supper.

Conclusion

The Lord has founded his Church on the apostles

May he bless you through the prayers of St Peter. Amen.

The Lord has set us firm within his Church built upon the rock of Peter’s faith

May he bless you with a faith that never falters. Amen.

The teaching of the apostles has strengthened your faith

May God inspire you to follow their example and give witness to the truth before all. Amen.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading (Isa 22:19-23). This is a prophetic justification for a transfer of power from one high official (Shebna) in the palace, referred to as the House of David, to another (Eliakim). It is probably the most pious description of a political downfall or palace coup ever written! What is interesting is that we see the rituals that were used at the time of Isaiah to invest high civil servants (Shebna is referred to elsewhere as a ‘scribe’ which is the generic designation for all those involved in the palace-based administrations of the ancient near east) with their responsibilities. He becomes a key-holder and is given authority to judge cases himself.

Second Reading (Rom 11:33-36). This is the conclusion of the doctrinal section of the letter (1:16–11:36; and, as such, it is a doxology which is at once a prayer and a summary of basic belief. It is sometimes referred to as a ‘hymn to the merciful wisdom of God’. Some have suggested that it may be a liturgical item that Paul has incorporated into his letter, and so it has a unity that makes it ideal as a lection.

It makes two central points about our belief in God: first, God is not another element in the universe but its origin, its sustainer and its end; second, the divine infinity means that our thoughts, ideals, and words are but shadows. In every age we have had to create theological short-hands to express these ideas (e.g. creatio ex nihilo or ‘the non-mutual real relation’ for the first point; ‘that than which nothing greater can be thought’ for the second point); but these fundamentals have probably never been expressed with such elegance as here.

Gospel(Mt 16:13-20). This text has such a history as a ‘proof text’ for (1) the apostolicity of the church; (2) the unique place of Peter in ‘the apostolic college’; (3) the role of Peter as Christ’s vicar; (4) the Power of Keys; (5) the Tridentine understanding of the Sacrament of Penance; and (6) the perception of the papacy, that trying to read it as part of Matthew’s preaching is, for many, well-nigh impossible. However, we have to try to dig down through these later issues which used it as ‘a proof from Scripture’ and attempt to see what was being preached by Matthew in the churches of the later first century.

The text forms a unified item of narrative within Matthew’s gospel, but we can see it is made up two items: first, the confession of the identity of Jesus (vv. 13-16) which is common to all three synoptic gospels; and second, the blessing of Peter as the new Eliakim within the House of David which is found only in Matthew (vv. 17-19). These two themes cannot be separated, however, in Matthew’s preaching for it is in the second section that we find the source of his ability to confess the identity of Jesus (v. 17). The fundamental starting point for reading the ‘confession’ is to note the context in which Matthew locates the question – ‘Who do they say the Son of Man is?’ In this formulation, it is not a question about people in general, or even the Jews in Palestine that is the concern, but who do those who follow Jesus say that he is.

It is the churches who have this adequate view of Jesus, and the kind of kingdom that he announces that are well-ordered households of God. And what is the sign of such a well-ordered household? That it has been given the traditional sign of God’s care for the House of David: the keys mentioned in Isaiah 22:22.

Reflections towards a Homily

1. There are, at least, three different directions that a homily based on today’s gospel can go down: first, the confession of who Jesus is, and then the homily focuses on Christology; second, who/what the church is that was founded on the apostles, and then the homily focuses on ecclesiology; or third, the focus is on Peter and/or the keys, and the memory of Rome and the papacy, and then the homily will have an apologetics or ecumenics focus because this Petrine ministry is an aspect of the Church that is not just disputed with the churches of the Reformation, but with the ancient churches of the East (e.g. the Greeks and the Syrians) and of Africa (e.g. the Copts and the Ethiopians).

The problem is that all three of these themes have to be given some attention; but if you try to give all equal prominence, then you overload the whole system. More pointedly, if in a homily of less than 10 minutes, you try to cover all, then you will probably fail to communicate any one of them. The nature of human communications decrees that you choose one of the three possible directions and focus on it in the homily, and then let the rest of the liturgy draw attention to the other themes.

2. I am opting here for the theme of Christology, because there are more likely to be many in an average congregation with a defective understanding of who we believe Jesus to be; and sound doctrine on this core of Christian faith (as this gospel itself makes clear) is the presupposition of concerns with ecclesiology or ecumenics.

3. Let us begin, just as today’s gospel does, with a question. Who is Jesus? There are, of course, a raft of answers: some from those who dismiss him, some from those who are vaguely interested in him or in religion, and some from those who have encountered his message and have followed him in one way or another. It is this third group that are our concern. Jesus did not ask disciples an open question (e.g. What do you think people make of me? To which they might have replied: ‘Well, the Romans think you are just another Jewish hot head; while the priests in the temple think you are another heretic; while the followers think you are great!’), but rather he asked them about who the followers – that is those who knew him as the Son of Man – thought he was. This is a question about the integrity of our belief and our preaching as his Church.

4. The range of opinions (John the Baptist, Elijah, a prophet) held by Jesus’s followers among those who first heard the gospel may be far closer to ways of viewing Jesus held in the average congregation today than you would expect!

5. The first position is that Jesus is another John the Baptist. Jesus was influenced by John; but while both proclaimed the closeness of the Kingdom, they presented very different visions. John preached repentance for the coming of the kingdom would be the great crunch when God would mete out his justice. Jesus came saying the kingdom was at hand when the Father would mete out forgiveness and mercy, and inaugurate the reign of peace and love. Jesus ate with prostitutes and tax collectors, and was criticized for this (Mt 9:10-11). John spent his time telling these people about the wickedness of their lives and warning them of the future retribution. Many then, and now, would prefer such a finger-wagging, ‘tell it to them straight,’ type of religious leader than the incarnation of the gentleness and forgiveness that is the Lord.

6. The second position is that Jesus is another Elijah. When we hear words like ‘lord’ we thing of a mighty leader who can march his men on to victory over opponents. If God is going to save his people, we sometimes imagine, the best way to do it would be with a great wonder-working person who can intervene, stop things happening, and get things moving. That was exactly how Elijah was remembered. When he took on the prophets of Ba’al, they were roundly shown to be frauds through God’s power, gathered up and slaughtered ‘and not one escaped’ (1 Kgs 18). This is a powerful type of saviour whom people must respect, and who shows who is really in charge. And, deep down, many of us would like Jesus, just now and then, to show the world just who is in charge. You may think this is not so; but consider the fact that the legend of St Patrick is based on him being another Elijah; while many private revelations (St Margaret Mary or Fatima) have elements of John the Baptist and Elijah bound up in them. But just as Matthew presents Jesus as very different to John, so also he presents him as very different to Elijah; at the moment of his arrest Jesus asks: ‘Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?’ Those who like an Elijah-style Christ would have had the twelve squadrons ‘buzz’ the scene, even if they do not go all the way and call in an air-strike!

7. The third position is that Jesus is just one more wise religious leader who calls or recalls people to the faith they already held. Jesus’s work was not just a ‘re-heating’ of the religious wisdom, but the establishment of a new community, a new covenant, a people intimate with the Father. Jesus is the ‘new wine’ (Mt 9:17) who has established the new relationship between us and the Father, and between us as sisters and brother.

8. This gentle, forgiving Christ offering us adoption by our loving Father – so unlike the expectations of religious people then or now – is revealed to us, not by flesh and blood, but by the Father himself.

Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

30 August 2020 • Thomas O’Loughlin

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Celebration

In today’s gospel we hear the call of Jesus to become his followers. This is no easy invitation: ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ We enter into the cross of Jesus, and begin our following of him, when we are baptized. Because at that moment we become members of this body, we can gather at the Lord’s table, and it is the grace of Baptism that sustains us on the difficult road of following the Lord of life, and goodness, and truth. So now let us recall the fact that we are a baptized people, and ask God to bless us and strengthen us to continue following his Son.

Headings for Readings

First Reading(Jer 20:7-9). Jeremiah reflects on the suffering that has come his way as a result of answering the divine call to be a prophet.

Second Reading(Rom 12:1-2). St Paul reminds us that the way we live our lives is our offering to God.

Gospel(Mt 16:21-27). Jesus himself tells us that being his disciples is no easy task.

Prayer of the Faithful

PresidentSisters and brothers, following the Way is the task we have taken upon ourselves. Let us pray now for ourselves, other members of this Church, and all who call themselves Christians: that we may be given the strength to be disciples.

ReadersLet us pray for whole Church of God scattered across the world: that we may have the strength to take up our cross and be followers of Jesus.

Let us pray for those Christians, our sisters and brothers in Christ, who are being persecuted for their faith: that their suffering will cease and that they may have the grace of perseverance.

Let us pray for all who have been called to special ministries of leadership among God’s people: that they may have the wisdom and strength to teach their sisters and brothers the way of discipleship.

Let us pray for those who have joined the Church recently or who are young members of the Church: that they may be given the strength to continue in the path of discipleship they have set out upon.

Let us pray for ourselves, gathered at this Eucharist: that we may have the strength to continue each day as disciples, taking up our crosses, remaining faithful in prayer, and constant in works of love.

Specific local needs and topics of the day.

Let us pray for those who have gone before us as disciples marked with the sign of faith: that they may enjoy the harvest won by their faithfulness in bearing their crosses.

PresidentFather, your Son taught us to follow the way that leads to you. Hear our prayers and grant these requests for we make them as the community baptized into union with Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.

Invitation to the Our Father

It was immediately after our Baptism that each of us first called on the Father in union with the community of the Church; let us now do so again.

Invitation to the Sign of Peace

In becoming disciples of the Lord we became sisters and brothers in the community of the Church, committed to acting together in peace and love. Let us express that faith now in offering each other a sign of peace.

Invitation to Communion

The Lord Jesus has gathered us around his table as disciples, and now wishes to offer us the food that will strengthen us for carrying our cross as his followers. Happy are we who are called to this supper.

Communion Reflection

The poem ‘The Call’ by George Herbert. The text can be found in the Breviary, Poem 78 (vol. 3, p. 786*).

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading (Jer 20:7-9). Jeremiah reflects on how his own life is symbolic of the message God wants to impart to the people (18:1–20:18). His own experiences of being rejected and despairing of his work communicate something of what it is to be faithful. This section of the book reaches a climax in 20:7-18 and it is the opening verses of this section (‘What am I and Israel to learn from my situation of despair?’) that form today’s reading. The prophet has been brought into the work of God by God; yet now he is suffering. Why is this and how could this come about? The reflection does not give an answer, but shows us a pattern in God’s dealings with his prophets. So the prophet complains to God of the cost of his discipleship, for being a bearer of the Lord’s word has brought him insult and derision.

Second Reading(Rom 12:1-2). These are the opening verses of a new section of the letter which contain exhortations to take up the demands of an upright Christian life. This first of these exhortations is that Christians can now engage in the true worship of the Father, involving the whole of their lives. So their sacrifices are not confined to specific offerings in a fixed temple. In the whole of their lives and in all that they do they can be praising God with even greater effect than those sacrifices which are offered in the temple of Jerusalem. Through Christ, the whole world has become a temple and every life’s true work a sacrifice.

This is a major theme in early Christianity, famously summed up in the words of Minucius Felix (early third century): ‘we Christians have neither altars nor sacrifices.’ By this he meant that access to the holy was no longer circumscribed by places or people or specific acts, but all life could be brought into the presence of the Father through the entry of the Christ into the creation. This aspect of early Christian thought has been obscured, however, by a tendency to identify any mention of ‘altar’ and ‘sacrifice’ with the Eucharist, while forgetting that this is a major strand of Christian faith covering the whole of life, and that it can, indeed, be used as one of the ways by which we explain to ourselves our gathering around the Lord’s table. So if you chose to preach on this text, note that it is the whole of life that is capable of being brought into the presence of God, i.e. brought into his ‘sanctuary’/ ‘temple’, i.e. ‘sanctified’; and anything that is brought into that holy place is, by being brought into the holy place, ‘an offering’, i.e. ‘a sacrifice.’ It is the essence of our faith in the incarnation that the Word has entered the whole of the creation, and so in every place there is openness to the holy and every aspect of life can be ‘brought’ into that presence, i.e. made an offering. So the theme announced by Paul is the theology that would one day be captured in the slogan: ‘make your work-bench an altar.’

Gospel(Mt 16:21-27). This is a far more complex piece of this gospel than it at first appears. Let us begin by not looking at it, but at Mark 8:27-9:1 which is the textual parallel of Matthew 16:13-28. In Mark, Peter’s confession of the identity of Jesus is followed directly by the first prediction of the passion, that is followed by the rebuke to Peter, and that, in turn, leads to sayings on the cost of discipleship. However, Matthew, while keeping all that material, adds a couple of items that shift the focus decisively. First, in 16:21 he adds ‘from that time’ which breaks the chain of events as found in Mark. The prediction of the passion stands alone, followed by the rebuke, followed by the sayings on the cost of discipleship. Matthew is making a key point: this warning is not a one-off moment in the life of Jesus, but an on-going aspect of discipleship. Discipleship and the cross are intimately and continually linked.

It is this break in the sequence of thoughts in Matthew, in contrast to Mark and Luke, that makes the starting point of today’s gospel a good starting point for a reading. In so far as we can tell, Matthew intended this portion of his gospel to be read as a unit of sense (alas, that unit ends with v. 28, the fifth of five sayings, but for some reason it has been omitted in the lectionary which means that today’s reading has a less than ideal ending). Second, Matthew adds that Jesus is to suffer in Jerusalem, and is the only evangelist to identify the city. This presents Jesus within a tradition of prophets who have suffered there and presents his sufferings in the context of the temple: his suffering will be part of the life of God with his people.

Matthew presents ‘the cost of discipleship’ sayings as five distinct statements. The first three of these can be read as his commentary on the commands on how to love God as seen in the temptation scene in 4:1-11. Then follows two apocalyptic sayings (only one of which is included in today’s reading) in which the central figure is ‘the Son of Man’. In this combination we see an aspect of his Christology which he shares with Mark while giving it added weight (Mark and Luke mention the Son of Man only once, Matthew repeats the title): Jesus is not only the teacher of disciples, but the one who leads his people into the presence of the Father and is their eschatological priest. His followers are not just another theologian’s sectarians, but the community of the final (in every sense of the word) revelation of the Father.

Reflections towards a Homily

1. Think about these statements:

– Christianity is about discipleship

– Christianity is about community

– Christianity is about doing the heavenly Father’s will.

When we relate these statements to one another, we start to glimpse that Christianity is not a ‘well-designed consumer product’.

2. Discipleship. This is never easy because we like to imagine that we know the best way to our own happiness without being guided. This is even more problematic for us because we are left in no doubt that following is a matter of the cross. ‘From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’

We look forward to new life, but it is not something that just happens or to which there is an easy road. ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’

3. Community. Community is problematic for us as we are convinced that others get in our way and limit our choices. Most contemporary visions of a happy ‘society’ are based on the notion that everyone will be happy if there is as little restraint on their activities as possible (and the only limit is that we should not get in the way of others doing their thing). At the same time, we are people who crave companionship, crave acceptance, and fear being alone. A pretty mixed-up situation!

But Christianity is built on the notion of being gathered from being scattered and lost individuals into a community. We talk about the importance of caring for one another; loving self, indeed, but to the extent that we love others; acting as sisters and brothers in the family of the Father, and gathering each week as a community not because we as individuals like the idea, but because this is the will of the group.

Being disciples also involves community, for we are part of a group around our Teacher and we become his body by working together.

4. The heavenly Father’s will. This also is hard for us because while our society is very good at noting the affective side of religion (it gives people a sense of ‘where they are’) and the individual choice aspect of religion (‘this religion suits me’) we have problems with the notion that there are demands to act with justice, to bear witness to the truth, to oppose wickedness. This is where religion ‘pinches’.

5. All these ideas come together in what we say about the formal act of becoming disciples: Baptism.

Baptism is about following Jesus by joining him in death and resurrection

Baptism is about joining the community and declaring that we wish to belong to it

Baptism is about becoming daughters and sons of the Father and praying that his ‘will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

6. Are we ready now to declare that we wish to renew our baptismal promises?

Reflections for Weekdays and Saints’ Days

Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

27 July – 1 August 2020 • Valerie Warren

Monday of Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Jer 13:1-11). We continue to read the story of Jeremiah’s ministry. Jeremiah, who understands himself to have been called by God, even before birth, experiences and records an extraordinary intimacy with God. What happens in the everyday events of his life, discloses to him the presence and guidance of God. The image of a cloth clinging to the body reveals that intimacy. That we frail, fragile, faulty, humans can somehow contribute to God’s glory is a staggering and sobering thought. May our goal and our joy be God’s glory, revealed in the way we live.

Gospel (Mt 13:31-35). Because we are God’s creation, there is in each of us the possibility not only to progress our own lives and understanding, but to provide shelter for others. The teaching that the smallest, the least of us, has the capacity to become the largest, is both inspiring and challenging. Jesus assures us by pointing to something that can be seen and known, that this growth is not beyond us. If a tiny mustard seed can become a tree, why would we be prevented from becoming much more than we are at present? Jesus reveals our hidden destiny by telling us stories. We must seek to live those stories.

Tuesday of Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Jer 14:17-22). The tears and distress experienced by those who witness all that is wrong in the world is acknowledged by the Lord as a ‘most grievous injury’. Recent events have confirmed, that though we may bear the name, we are not yet converted to living as Christians. Our acceptance of injustice, our unwillingness to give up our comfort for the sake of security for others, betrays our belief. We might wonder if we have been rejected by God, if God has somehow let us down by allowing us to suffer the consequences of our choices and decisions. We may have our questions; still our hope is in God.

Gospel (Mt 13:36-43). In all our lives, the good and the evil intermingle, we are intimate with both. The struggle to allow the Spirit and word of God to have precedence in our daily living, is an ongoing effort, as the gradual unfolding of the ways we avoid, neglect or even reject his command to love one another reveal themselves to us. The parable Jesus explains to his disciples in this reading, assures us however, that God’s patience with us endures right to the end of our lives.

Wednesday of Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Jer 15:10. 16-21). ‘Your word was my delight and the joy of my heart’. Jeremiah’s lament echoes in the hearts of all who seek to live a life that is authentic and inspired by faith in the God of love. It is not easy to be true to ourselves and the call to be faithful to the one who gives us life. There is a price to be paid for integrity. Jeremiah wonders why must it be this way. Is God really to be trusted, can he/we depend on God? He receives reassurance that ‘they will not overcome you because I am with you’. God is constant and caring and always present.

Gospel (Mt 13:44-46). The gospel parable responds to Jeremiah’s question to God in the First Reading. When we come to a realisation of the value of the faith we have been gifted with, everything we have considered important up till then becomes relative to that gift. If it helps us hold on to the gift, the ‘precious pearl’ of the parable, then it is put in service of the gift. If not, it is to be sold or discarded as worthless. The real advantage for us is in recognising the greatness of the gift we have been given. That recognition what allows us let go of the lesser treasures.

Wednesday, 29 July: St Martha • Gospel is proper: Jn 11:19-27 or Lk 10:38-42 ‘Martha received Jesus as a guest, just as the Lord does when he makes his servants God’s children and his own brothers and sisters, who ransoms the captives and makes them coheirs with himself. But do not say, “How fortunate are they who have received Jesus into their own home!” Do not be sad that you live in an age when the Lord is no longer seen in the flesh. He has not deprived you of Martha’s privilege, for “when you do it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it to me”.’ (St Augustine)

Thursday of Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Jer 18:1-6). Jeremiah demonstrates a willingness to listen and to follow the way that God sets out for him. At the potters house he watches and reflects on what is happening, ready to recognise the word or action that comes from God. The skill of the potter lies in being able to rework and reshape the clay until something purposeful is produced. We have the opportunity to recreate our lives when circumstances open up a better or more authentic road to follow.

Help us, Lord recognise those opportunities when they are presented to us.

Gospel (Mt 13:47-53). The message of the great love of God for humankind and the open invitation to enter into and live in this kingdom, is one which many initially welcome as the good news that it is. Yet, the parable of the dragnet reminds us that we are not always ready to live in the manner the kingdom demands of us. Our first enthusiasm will not necessarily carry us all the way. It needs to be strengthened by prayer and practice if we are to be capable of running the race to the finish.

Friday of Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Jer 26:1-9). In yesterday’s reading, Jeremiah was called to watch and learn. When Jehoiakim comes to the throne however, he is called to act. For the new king had rowed back on the reforms put in place by Josiah. Jeremiah must speak to all those who come to worship at the Temple, those who identify themselves as God’s people. Therefore, Jeremiah is preaching to those who already believe, or who say they believe. Believers however, are not always willing to hear that they may be required to change their ways. Still, God is always ready to suspend his judgement if the people repent and observe the law.

Gospel (Mt 13:54-58). Parents will often say something like, ‘I tell her that all the time but when her teacher says it, suddenly its gospel’. Human beings have a habit of overlooking the uniqueness and wisdom of the ones they are familiar with. Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, then at least a lack of attention. An expert is always someone from the next parish, or county or country. Certainly not our next-door neighbour. That Jesus was not unaware of this phenomenon is demonstrated in the story we hear today. Prophets are not usually recognised in their own place.

Friday, 31 July: St ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits • ‘We live in times when great importance is attached to planning, and Christian people are apt to catch the infection from their surroundings. We must revise, we must reorganise, we must have a plan or we are lost! But I do not think St Ignatius would encourage us to echo that cry. Rather he would find fault with our half-heartedness – ready to believe, to do, to spend just so much and no more. But the fire of love has never enough.’ (Ronald Knox)

Saturday of Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Jer 26:11-16.24). The social context in which Jeremiah now finds himself is open to listening to God’s challenge to change. Because he has told them what they do not want to hear, the people seek to have him silenced. Jeremiah insists that it is the Lord who calls them through him. It is the Lord who seeks their repentance. Regardless of what happens to him, Jeremiah, as God’s true prophet must speak God’s word.

Gospel (Mt 14:1-12). In having John the Baptist beheaded, Herod has done something he knows is wrong. He has gone against his own conscience. The knowledge of this truth makes him anxious and fearful. Was there ever a situation in which we have said or done something to show off in front of others without considering the consequences? If we are true to ourselves and our own inspiration, we can be at peace. However if our conduct is dictated by the desire to be all things to others, we can very easily be led far away from the truth.

Saturday, 1 August: St Alphonsus, bishop, doctor, founder of the Redemptorists • ‘God is so devoted to your interests. It is as if Providence existed only to aid you, omnipotence only to help you, the divine goodness and mercy only to sympathise with you, to do you good, to win your confidence by the delicacy of his affection. Open your inner world to God with perfect freedom and pray that he guide you to do his holy will perfectly. Let your every desire be directed to the discovery of God’s good pleasure and how to give joy to the divine heart.’ (St Alphonsus, Way of Conversing with God as with a Friend)

Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

3-8 August 2020 • Valerie Warren

Monday of Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Jer 28:1-17). Two prophets speak to each other ‘in the presence of the priests and of all the people’. The two represent the true and false prophets. Some people prophesy because God calls them to help guide God’s people on their journey. There are also those whose prophecy is inspired by the confidence of their understanding of political situations. The false prophets proclaim the peace that people hope they will hear. The true prophet, since s/he is God’s mouthpiece, is often called to proclaim disaster and ruin, regardless of any inclination or desire to do otherwise.

Gospel (Mt 14:13-21). It seems that Jesus had hoped to be alone with just his close friends when he learned the fate of John. However, not for the first time, he surrendered his own desires to those of the people who needed him. Sometimes we are called to leave the path we would choose for ourselves, in order to serve the requirements of the kingdom. Interestingly, Jesus, when requested to send the people away, did not say, ‘Don’t worry I will feed them.’ Instead he challenged his followers to do the feeding. He would provide the miracle, they were asked to provide the faith needed to demonstrate what Jesus can and will do for his people.

Tuesday of Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Jer 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22). The command to Jeremiah to record the word God has spoken, acknowledges the distress and suffering God’s people have undergone. That their suffering is the self-inflicted consequence of their sin, does not lessen it. However, God’s mercy is always greater than our failures and the people are promised a restoration, a rebuilding of their city and the community. Their ruler will be one of their own, one who will be close to God and will support them in their efforts to be faithful.

Gospel (Mt 14:22-36). Having fed the multitudes who followed him, Jesus sent his disciples ahead to the other side of the lake. The fourth watch was between 3 am and 6 am, so it seems he spent a long time in prayer before joining his friends ‘far out on the lake’. It is hardly surprising that his disciples should be fearful when they saw him approach, appearing to walk on the water. All were afraid, but Peter addresses the fear by calling on the Lord who invites him to trust. Trusting in God can sometimes require a lot of courage and, like Peter, we falter.

If we keep our eyes on you, Lord, we will find the courage and the healing we need.

Wednesday of Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Jer 31:1-7). The joy of those who ‘have found pardon in the wilderness’ rings out all through today’s reading. In the wilderness, the desert, the place where life is difficult, where we are stretched to the limit, we learn to let go of those things that do not give us life. We recall once again that the love of God is everlasting and we are filled with hope. After dejection comes joy and celebration and faith in the future built by belief in God’s goodness.

Gospel (Mt 15:21-28). We have a very uncharacteristic portrait of Jesus in his encounter with the Canaanite woman who comes asking for his help for her daughter. In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Canaanites had come to represent everything that was wicked and godless. In addressing Jesus as ‘Son of David’, however, this woman acknowledges his mission as God’s Messiah. Perhaps she also helped him understand that God’s mercy extended far beyond the boundaries of Judaism when she demonstrated the depth of her faith. Perhaps we also might be challenged and encouraged by the woman’s faith to put our trust in God’s mercy.

Thursday, 6 August: The Transfiguration of the Lord

There have been churches on Mount Tabor from early as the fourth or fifth century commemorating the event of the Transfiguration and it is likely that the commemoration of the event on this day can be traced back to the dedication festival of one of them

First Reading (Dan 7:9-10,13-14). This is a fragment of an apocalypse probably written either during or shortly after the Jewish struggle for religious freedom in the Maccabean period (c 168-165 BCE). It contained a message of hope, viz., that the ‘ancient of days’ (God) would send a heavenly protector, possibly an angelic figure (‘one like a Son of Man’) to defend Israel in its time of crisis. Early Christian readers took over the description of ‘one like a Son of Man’ and applied it to the victorious Jesus who would return at the end of the days as judge of the nations.

Second Reading (1 Pet 1:16-19). This contains a brief account of a revelation which seems to be similar to that described in the Gospel of the day.

Gospel (Mt 17:1-9). Gospel Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration is framed by a short description of Jesus bringing the three chosen disciples to the summit of a mountain and returning with them to rejoin the others. The splendour of the vision moves Peter to cry out that it is ‘wonderful for us to be here.’ The vision is only given momentarily, for a ‘bright cloud’ – a paradoxical use of language, covers them with its shadow and the heavenly voice proclaims Jesus as the Beloved Son. The phrase ‘beloved son’ occurs several times in Genesis 22 where Abraham is called to offer his ‘beloved son’ Isaac in sacrifice and may be an allusion to the forthcoming sacrifice and humiliation of Jesus the Son of God until he is finally shown in the glory of the resurrection.

Reflection • The Orthodox liturgy regards the Transfiguration as a ‘lesser epiphany’ that has clear links with the Great Epiphany of the Baptism e.g., the voice from heaven, the overshadowing cloud, the presence of the three persons of the Trinity (Father’s voice, the Word and the Spirit overshadowing them in the cloud). It is also regarded as the great feast of the monastic life whose object is to strive to be transfigured into the likeness of the risen and glorious Christ. The light of the transfiguration is the uncreated light. According to St Gregory Palamas, ‘the uuncreated light is the light where God makes himself manifest to those who enter into union with him.’

Thursday of Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Jer 31:31-34). Our final reading from Jeremiah is the promise of a new covenant. After dejection and distress, after the wilderness, there is a chance to begin again, to remember where the source of our life and joy is. A chance to acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate the gift of God that is deep within us. The God of all creation is the God of Israel, is our God. This God is not some foreign, uncomprehending outside source, but the truest, deepest meaning of our being. For we are made in God’s image, and when we live by the covenant of love we reflect that image of God in the world.

Gospel (Mt 16:13-23). There are various ways we can respond to Jesus’ question, ‘Who do you say I am?’ We might point to our participation at Mass and the creed we recite each Sunday. But if words were not the measure we used, what would our way of living say about what we believe to be true? Peter’s spirit inspired insight ‘You are the Christ, the son of the living God’, demands a lived response. Peter’s response was to learn from the Master to be like his Master. We cannot say with our mouths that Jesus is the Lord for us, and, at the same time, allow ourselves to live in a way that betrays all that Jesus stood for. Our way of living, our way of looking at the world and the people in it, must reflect his way.

Friday of Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Nah 2:1,3; 31-3, 6-7). The book of the prophet Nahum is one of the twelve Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible. It contains only three chapters and is concerned primarily with the coming destruction of Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire, which for centuries had oppressed the people of Judah. Just as people rejoiced and celebrated the fall of Nazism at the end of World War II, so the prospect of the destruction of Nineveh would bring hope and celebration to those who had lived under its domination.

Gospel (Mt 16:24-28). There is an immense and even unimaginable reward in living by the truth that Jesus truly is the Messiah. In yesterday’s gospel reading we heard Peter profess his faith in Jesus as ‘the Son of the living God’. Today his disciples, including us, are reminded that there is a price to be paid for being a follower. In seeking to live that profession of faith, all of us have to be willing to ‘carry the cross’ with Jesus. Human beings have a need for purpose and direction: ‘If you don’t stand up for something you will fall for anything’ is a modern proverb. Faith in Jesus gives us meaning and purpose; it also challenges us to a level of truth and justice and mercy that may disrupt our comfort and disturb our thinking. We must be willing to hear and heed that challenge.

Saturday of Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Hab 1:12-2:4) The perennial problem for those who believe in the God of love and mercy and justice, is addressed in this short book by the prophet Habakkuk, another of the twelve minor prophets of Israel. Why do bad things happen to good people? The prophet offers his lament on behalf of all those who look at the world we live in and wonder: Why does it seem to be, that just people are swallowed up, while wickedness seems to be rewarded? The prophet faces the question rising in his mind and heart by committing himself to stand watch and wait to see what answer God will give. We too need to set aside time to pray and listen in silence, so that God can speak to our hearts and help us live in faithfulness.

Gospel (Mt 17:14-20) The plight of the poor father who had to witness his son’s wretched state is echoed by parents all over the world and in every time. For some the wretchedness is the result of an illness, for some it is because of destructive behaviour, for some it is in situations of war and conflict that cannot be avoided. For whatever reason, we suffer, on our own behalf or in the necessity of witnessing the suffering of those we love, Jesus calls us to prayer. Prayer arms us with strength and courage to face even the most difficult of trials.

You are our hope, Lord.

Saturday, 8 August: St Dominic, founder of the Order of Preachers • ‘He would read [the Scriptures], letting the sweetness of what he read touch his mind, as if he heard the Lord actually speaking to him, as it says in the Psalms, “I will hear what the Lord is saying to me.” It was as if he were discussing something with a friend. At times he would seem to be racing on impatiently in his mind and in his words. At other times, he would listen quietly and discuss and argue, and then laugh and weep all at once, and fix his gaze and bow his head, speaking quietly again and beating his breast.’ (The Nine Ways of Prayer of St Dominic, 1260/1288).

Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

10-15 August 2020 • Carol Dorgan

Monday, 10 August: St Laurence, deacon and martyr

Laurence desired to be the companion of Pope Sixtus in his martyrdom. St Leo the Great tells us that, when he was ordered to hand over the treasures of the Church, he gathered together the poor whose food and clothing he administered and presented them to the tyrant. Three days later in 258, his faith in Christ conquered the flames, so that the instruments of his torture became the path to his triumph. His body was buried in the cemetery of the Campo Verano, which has since been called by his name.

Tuesday of Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Ezek 2:8-4:4). Ezekiel, deported with many leading Judean dignitaries to Babylon in 597 B.C was the first to receive his prophetic call outside the Holy Land. He believed that the future of Israel’s religion lay among the exiles, since Nebuchadnezzar had threatened the final destruction of Jerusalem. This happened in 587 B.C. He is instructed to eat a scroll full of warnings and lamentations, thus internalising God’s Word, and to communicate its message to his own people.

Gospel (Mt 18:1-5,10,12-14). This passage has much contemporary relevance. Social media, for example, can make one famous or ‘liked’ in a few seconds. Lasting recognition is on a different level. It is clear that the disciples don’t really understand their own question. The values of the Kingdom can’t be grasped or lived by those looking for fame or world-wide attention. Children just ‘are’. We can learn from them more than from the big names of media stars. The one at the bottom is often more precious than those at the top of the queue.

tuesday, 11 august: st clare, religious and founder • She followed St Francis as the first of the Poor Ladies of the Order of Friars Minor. She led a poor and hard life in Assisi in Umbria, but was rich in her works of charity and piety. She was an outstanding lover of poverty, from which she never swerved in either need or sickness. She died on this day in 1253.

Wednesday of Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Ezek. 9:1-7.10:18-22). Ezekiel, ‘in a vision’ finds himself in Jerusalem. Since he was a priest, the Temple and all its worship had been central to his life. Like much of the writing here, there is a deep symbolism. The appalling slaughter is an effort to convey the gravity of the crimes and sins committed by Israel.

Gospel (Mt 18:15-20). The community, gathered in Jesus’ name, is very important for Matthew. It is not just a casual grouping of individuals, attending, more or less as a weekly obligation, and watching the clock. As members, we find our friends and neighbours once again, we pray for those among us who have died or who are sick or in crisis. But we may also be saddened by the lack of care to what we are celebrating; the routine of actions and prayers, the half-muttered singing. Why turn up every week? Because each of us is a brother or sister, and we are responsible to and for everyone else. The burden isn’t the celebrant’s alone. When even a few gather in Jesus’ name, God is present among us. That is how important it is for us all.

Thursday of Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Ezek 12:1-12). Ezekiel is asked by God to perform a prophetic action in full view of the people. He is to pack a few essentials and leave the city in the evening, making a hole in the surrounding mud wall. Then he is to announce the meaning of his actions: all the people will be forced into exile, and the king, Zedekiah, will escape through a hole in the wall only to be captured, blinded and exiled also, for all the people are ‘rebels’ in God’s sight.

Gospel (Mt 18:21-19:1). We sometimes hear a person say, ‘I will never forgive X’. Then we hear of others saying the opposite, having suffered some grave injury. What would we all do without the possibility of forgiveness? The contrast in Jesus’ story is a way to illustrate the enormity of the gift of God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness is always an extraordinary gift, which Jesus willingly shares with us. He knows its depth and extent. The corollary is that none of us can judge another’s intentions. The Kingdom exists wherever forgiveness is experienced.

Friday of Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Ezek 16:1-15.60.63). God’s forgiveness is constant, unwavering, no matter what crimes or sins we may have committed. This text is a beautiful parable reflecting that truth, and can remind us, perhaps of the Gospel parable of the Prodigal Son. Rebirth, rescue, forgiveness, restoration are the keys.

Gospel (Mt 19: 3-12). Jesus is now journeying towards Jerusalem for the last time. Some Pharisees pose a question, but it is not an innocent one; they want him to take sides in an ongoing debate. Jesus gives an unambiguous answer. Not only is divorce against God’s will, but it also victimises the woman, while the man is guilty of adultery. The shocked reaction of the disciples seems to show how common divorce was, and how easy it was for the husband to release himself of any responsibility for his wife. Jesus warns his listeners that marriage must be taken seriously, in full realisation of its obligations.

Friday, 14 August: St Maximilian Kolbe, priest and martyr • A priest of the order of Conventual Franciscans and founder of the Militia of Mary Immaculate (Blue Army), he was arrested by the Nazis and sent to different camps. In Auschwitz, near Cracow in Poland, he surrendered himself in place of a fellow prisoner and died on this day in 1941, thus confirming his ministry as a holocaust of love and an example of faithfulness to God and neighbour.

Saturday, 15 August: The Assumption of Mary See p. 25.

Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

17-22 August 2020 • Carol Dorgan

Monday of Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Ezek 24:15-24). It is not easy to be a prophet! God tells Ezekiel that his beloved wife is about to die, but he is not to show any traditional sign of mourning. Ezekiel reports this to the people, but they demand an explanation of why he is acting as if nothing had happened. The Lord is warning you, he says, that your revered Temple, in which you have taken such pride, will be destroyed, and you, too, will also fade away because of your sinfulness. I will be the sign you require, and you will then know who God is.

Gospel (Mt 19:16-22). One can sense the eagerness of this young man. He has all that he needs, but feels there is more to life. So he comes to Jesus. He wants to ‘possess’ eternal life, but, sadly, not at all costs. What more should I do, is his question. He doesn’t understand that following Jesus is not about ‘doing’ or ‘doing more’. We’re all good at that! It’s more about letting go and allowing ourselves be led by Jesus. During the Coronovirus ‘lockdown’ those of us not medics, care workers or others in essential services were told that the best, most loving, service we could perform, was to do nothing! No social meetings, no chats over a cuppa. No offers of help to others. Walk on the opposite side of the street if you see someone approaching. The young man went away, sad, but truthfully acknowledging what he could not do. Perhaps at a later stage he had a change of heart? How would I answer Jesus?

Tuesday of Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Ezek 28:1-10). Tyre was a pagan city, whose leader was extremely wealthy, and as a result, he felt impregnable. Ezekiel’s denunciation is addressed not to the people, but the king. He has traded skilfully, and as a result of all he has amassed, considers himself equal to God. However, this will end in disaster, and the king will die a violent death. There are many warnings against wealth in the Scriptures, and this one does not lack clarity.

Gospel (Mt 19:23-30). The Gospel takes up the same theme. In an economy of scarcity, the wealth of the rich is gained at the expense of everyone else. Yet everyone aspires to become rich. The disciples are astounded that Jesus warns about the dangers of wealth. Who can be saved, then, they ask, wonderingly? Peter betrays his mixed-up motives for staying with Jesus: what are we going to get out of this? Love is its own explanation, but the disciples have not yet fully learned that lesson.

Wednesday of Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Ezek 34:1-11). We are familiar with Jesus calling himself the ‘good shepherd’. It is a very clear metaphor. Everyone knew the difference between a good shepherd and a bad one. Ezekiel the prophet warns the self-seeking leaders that God will strip them of all their privileges and become the people’s caring leader instead. A thought-provoking passage for all exercising pastoral responsibility.

Gospel (Mt 20:1-16). Yesterday we heard how Peter wanted to know what reward he would get for following Jesus. This story is one, shocking, answer. What would a trade union say about this treatment of the latecomers? Can we take this God seriously? Seriously enough to follow God’s example? What is incredible to us is that God is good to everyone, not just to those who, we think, deserve it.

Thursday of Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Ezek 36:23-28). This is a consoling and hopeful message. God, once again, shows his faithfulness: good to everyone, as we heard yesterday. Jeremiah echoes these words at a slightly later date. The people are to be claimed by God, transformed by a ‘new heart and a new spirit’, becoming a nation united by a renewed love. It echoes the pledge of God’s covenant of fidelity, the foundation of the relationship between God and the people.

Gospel (Mt 22:1-14). A banquet is a frequent image of the Kingdom of God. Among people always on the breadline, it is easy to understand why. But those invited ‘were not interested’, not even offering excuses. Yet God’s invitation is an open one, extended to everyone that can be found. No one is to be excluded. The ending seems harsh, the wedding garment of good deeds is required. We are all called, but not everyone says ‘yes’.

Thursday, 20 August: St Bernard, abbot • ‘Those who have received the spiritual kiss from the mouth of Christ even once will long for the pleasure of having it again. It is hidden manna; whoever eats it, will hunger for more (Sir 24:33). It is a sealed fountain that does not yield its water to strangers, but whoever drinks from it will still be thirsty.’ (St Bernard Sermon 3 on the Song of Songs)

Friday of Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Ezek 37:1-14). This is a wonderfully, dramatic passage. Ezekiel is taken away to a great valley, full of dried bones, an immense, open grave, and is asked if these bones can live. It seems an impossible idea! But he is ordered to call all these bones back to life, and then to let the breath of life enter them once again. God is the God of life. The Coronovirus has brought much death, despair, fear and great loss to every country. Is new life possible? Our ‘yes’ must come from what is deepest in us, our true identity as believers.

Gospel (Mt 22:34-40). The scribes taught that there were 613 commandments in the law. How could people find their way through such complexity? Jesus is asked which of these is the most important, and answers unhesitatingly: to love God wholeheartedly, but adds another: to love one’s neighbour ‘as oneself’. The ‘proof’ of our love for God is how we love others at every level: individual and collective. That is why Christians are active in public life, and in efforts to protect creation. ‘The love of Christ urges us’, said St Paul (2 Cor 5:14).

Friday, 21 August: St Pius X, pope • As pope, he took as the mark of his governance of the Church to restore all things in Christ. He fulfilled this task in simplicity of soul, poverty and fortitude. He promoted the Christian life of the faithful by their participation in the Eucharist, the dignified celebration of the liturgy, and sound doctrine. He died on this day 1914.

Saturday of Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading (Ezek 43:1-7). This is part of a long description of the Temple, and describes its restoration and the re-entry of God ‘from the east’, as the earth ‘shone with his glory’. Perhaps it is the time of sunrise? God promises to dwell for evermore among the people. As always, God is faithful.

Gospel (Mt 23:1-12). Jesus always warned against hypocrisy. There are teachers whose words are sound, but their actions belie their words. The Catholic Church is still struggling to address this, as are many institutions. Appearances are very important: expensive vestments, customs originating in royal courts, excessive reverence all survive in some places, in opposition to the simplicity of Jesus’ lifestyle. Jesus reminds his listeners that he is their only life-long teacher. We are all disciples, no matter what our social standing. No special privileges!

saturday, 22 aught: queenship of mary • ‘Memorial day of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen, who bore her Son the Prince of Peace, of whose kingdom there will be no end and who is saluted by the Christian people as Queen of Heaven and Mother of Mercy.’ (New Roman Martyrology)

Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

24-29 August 2020 • Bernard Treacy, O.P.

Monday, 24 August; St Bartholomew, apostle

First Reading(Rev 21:9-14). The vision is one of hope for the persecuted community. The mention of the twelves apostles together with the twelves tribes implies a people. In this new Jerusalem God will dwell with the people face to face. Our reflecting God’s presence in our community will offer a message of hope.

Gospel(Jn 1:45-51). As Christian reflection developed, the Nathanael whom Philip brings to Jesus came to identified with Bartholomew because in three lists of the Twelves, the name of Bartholomew follows Philip.

Though sceptical because of hearing that Jesus comes from Nazareth, Nathanael is willing to accept his friend’s suggestion to approach Jesus. There is a beautiful moment of mutual recognition: Jesus accepts that Nathanael has a pure heart, free of any duplicity, and Nathanael proclaims Jesus as the ‘Son of God, the King of Israel’. The ‘greater things’ promised to Nathanael are Jesus’ works, especially his death, resurrection and ascension.

Tuesday of Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(2 Thess 2:1-3a. 14-17). This short letter gets down quickly to the business at hand: rumours of the Lord’s return, even if based on purported letters of Paul, are mistaken and mischievous. Living in the in-between times now, as then, means living a life of fidelity to a living tradition, not to dead ways of the past, but to the living word as it discloses itself to us in the community of brothers and sisters that is Church.

Gospel(Mt 23:23-26). As covenant, the Torah bound Israelites to cherish one another, and ensured equality for the poor. By scrupulously extending the range of crops to be tithed to include a few small plots of herbs for domestic use, the legalistic interpreters of Torah have missed the point. They have missed it, too, in their obsession with ritual cleanliness at the cost of inner purity of heart.

Wednesday of Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(2 Thess 3:6-10.16-18). The generous table-fellowship of the community was open to abuse by those who claimed that the imminent day of the Lord relieved them from the obligation of work. The writer recalls Paul’s practice of combining a trade with the burden of preaching and lays on the Thessalonians, and on all subsequent generations of Christians, responsibility to contribute realistically to the goods of the community.

Gospel(Mt 23:27-32). A possible reason why the Pharisees whitewashed tombs was to warn the unwary against contacting ritual defilement by touching them. There is a savage parallel between the sparkling exterior of the tomb, the abode of the dead, and the outwardly impressive zeal of the Pharisees and their inner corruption.

The key-word ‘tomb’ leads to another charge – those who embellish the tombs of prophets and holy men would have been among those who murdered them rather than receive the message they brought. Matthew has in mind their coming complicity in the death of Jesus.

Thursday of Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 1:1-9). The opening words of First Corinthians remind today’s readers that they, too, are ‘called to be saints’. Paul has many anxieties about this lively but divided community, but he lays them aside momentarily to concentrate on thanking God for the richness of grace that lies beneath the troubled surface of this community.

Gospel(Mt 24:42-51). Matthew emphasises the virtue of watchfulness. Not in the sense of extended vigils of prayer, though that was certainly the inspiration many groups in the early Church took from it. Right watchfulness is best exemplified by the householder who suspects there might be a burglar active in the neighbourhood, or the dutiful servant who waits the master’s return. Matthew may also have in mind Church leaders who, forgetful of the Master’s return, have abused their position of trust at the expense of members of the community.

Thursday, 27 August: St Monica • ‘[W]e glimpse a genuinely impressive woman – very much what her son would have liked himself to be as a bishop: restrained, dignified, above gossip, a firm peacemaker among her acquaintances, capable, like her son, of effective sarcasm … Above all, she was a woman of deep inner resources: her certainties were unnerving; the dreams by which she saw the course of her son’s life were impressive, and she was confident she could tell, instinctively, which of these dreams were authentic.’ (Peter Brown: Augustine of Hippo)

Friday of Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 1:17-25). One of the problems that might have divided the Corinthian community was that some of its more advanced members sought a more sophisticated Gospel. They might have thought they had found it in the preaching of Apollos, who was more rhetorically gifted than Paul. Paul reminds them at the outset that God’s revelation in Christ can never be adequately expressed in philosophical terms but it must be experienced in all its power in the message of the Cross and Resurrection, which proclaims God’s victory over what passes in worldly terms for wisdom.

Gospel(Mt 25:1-13). Yesterday’s theme of watchfulness is continued in the parable of the bridesmaids waiting. Matthew has already used the language of wedding feast and bridegroom to refer to the messianic mission of Jesus (see 9:15, 22:2ff.). All ten girls belong to the Kingdom, but five have failed in watchfulness and so are not ready when the Lord appears.

The concluding command to ‘stay awake’ is addressed to all who have heard the story, and they are reminded of the need to stand ready for the unpredictable moment of the Lord’s arrival.

Friday, 28 August: St Augustine, bishop and doctor • ‘So let us sing alleluia, not in the enjoyment of heavenly rest, but to sweeten our toil. Sing as travellers sing along the road, but keep on walking! What do I mean by “walking”? I mean, press on from good to better. The apostle says there are some who go from bad to worse. But if you press on, you keep on walking. Go forward in virtue, in true faith and right conduct. Sing up – and keep on walking!’ (St Augustine)

Saturday, 29 August: The Passion of St John the Baptist

‘This great man after a long agony of captivity, ended his life on earth with the shedding of his blood. He who preached the freedom of heavenly peace was thrown into captivity by wicked men. He who was called a burning and shining light by Christ the light, was imprisoned in darkness: he who was granted the privilege of baptising the Redeemer of the world was given baptism in his own blood.’ (St Bede the Venerable)

Saturday of Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 1:26-31). Corinth was a new town. Its population was composed of military veterans who had been settled there on leaving the army, or ‘blow-ins’ who saw opportunities in new place. It was prosperous, but the prosperity of ancient cities was built on slavery. Few of Paul’s Christians belonged to the upper stratum of society, though it seems many of them had social and financial pretensions. Paul begins by showing that in God’s upside-down world, it is the people at the bottom of the social heap who have the greatest claim on his love.

Gospel(Mt 25:14-30). Like the parable of the bridesmaids, the parable of the talents is about how to live during the time of the Lord’s ‘real absence’. The tragedy of the servant who hid the talent is the tragedy of the fear to take a risk. Even though he knew his master’s reputation, he played for safety. To understand Matthew’s intention, we need to read this parable in the light of the labourers in the vineyard. God is generous, but there is also an obligation to respond to that generosity by being ready to live dangerously. There are no cowards in the Kingdom.




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