Scripture in Church, September 2020

September 04, 2020

Scripture in Church, September 2020

Sundays and Festivals
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
6 September 2020John F. Craghan

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Mass

In view of today’s First Reading and Gospel the liturgy accentuates the role of involvement in the believer’s life. Faith demands that one not stand aloof and let the Church leaders do everything. Rather, faith requires that the individual believer assume his or her position within the community and thus contribute to the common good.

Invitation to Repentance

We must face the reality that all too often we have not lived up to our baptismal commitment. Too often we refuse to play our part in the life of our faith community. We are somehow seduced into thinking that we are mere bystanders, not engaged participants. Aware of these shortcomings, we approach both our God and our community for forgiveness.

Lord Jesus, you call us to assist our sisters and brothers. Lord, have mercy.

You challenge us to view ourselves as contributing members of the community. Christ, have mercy.

You call us to consider the needs of our community as our personal needs. Lord, have mercy.

Headings for Readings

First Reading (Ezek 33:7-9). The Lord calls Ezekiel to assume the role of sentinel for the exilic community. He must warn the community of the enemy’s approach so that they can seek safety. He has to be on the watch for the depressed and offer them hope through timely warning.

Second Reading (Rom 13:8-10). Paul underlines the obligation of mutual love. Instead of being one value among others Paul insists that such love is the very heart of Christian existence that fulfils all the other commandments.

Gospel (Mt 18:15-20). Matthew deals with relationships within the local Christian community. He discusses the order to be followed in dealing with a sinful member of that community. He also deals with the efficacy of common prayer, insisting that the risen Christ is always present at community gatherings.

Prayer of the Faithful

President Aware that we are called to be involved members of our faith community, we address these petitions to the Father through the Son.

Readers For all the members of our faith community. May we always regard them as our sisters and brothers and see their needs as our own.

For all those, both living and dead, who continue to show us that we must be willing to assume our vital role in the ongoing life of our community.

For the realization that prayer is not a purely private enterprise but an essential element in our contribution to the common good.

For all those who worship God in different ways. May we learn from them that we must seek to resolve the problems and concerns of our sisters and brothers.

President Gracious and loving God, you have called us to be members of your extended family. Enable us by your grace to become more aware of our family obligations. Help us to see that we cannot be content to be isolated individuals. Empower us to discover your image in the members of our community so that, by assisting them, we acknowledge your presence. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Invitation to the Lord’s Prayer

In recognizing God as our Father, we confess that we are members of his family. As family members, we must be especially willing to forgive all those who have wronged us. To be reconciled with each other is to demonstrate that we have taken this prayer seriously. The Kingdom is truly alive whenever family members dismiss all grudges and seek to live in harmony and peace.

Introduction to the Sign of Peace

Our gesture of peace must impact our lives outside the worship space. It must find a place in our work spaces, in our social life, and in all segments of daily living. Peace must mean that we consider each other as sisters and brothers and, therefore, that peace is the family emblem. In the final analysis our gesture of peace is a call to action, not an idle nod or handshake.

Communion Reflection

In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 Paul insists that Eucharist is a family affair. In that setting we proclaim the death of the Lord (v 26), namely, Jesus’ self-giving for all. Eucharist insists that we take and apply this self-giving in addressing the needs and concerns of our community. Eucharist must never become a purely private exchange between a believer and Jesus. Rather, Eucharist challenges us to see the bread and the wine as the empowerment to address the needs of sisters and brothers. To sit down to eat and drink with Jesus is to rise up and become food and drink for others.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading(Ezek 33:7-9). In the year 585 B.C. Ezekiel entered upon a new task in his prophetic office. He would no longer be a scolding person (see 3:26), hurling judgment at his exilic community. He would now be a sentinel or watchman, concerned with the ongoing life of his community.

In 33:1-6 there is the parable of the sentinel or watchman. His function is to keep a sharp lookout and warn the community of the approach of the enemy, so that those in the fields may find security within the city walls. By its very nature sentinel/watchman means identifying in terms of the common good. In 33:3-9 (anticipated in 3:17-19) the Lord, not the citizenry, appoints Ezekiel as sentinel. The focus of his efforts is found in the words ‘sentinel for the house of Israel’ (v 7). When the prophet learns something from the Lord, he does not sound the trumpet. Instead, he seeks to admonish and to win the individual over to God’s scale of values. Not to perform the office of sentinel is to incur guilt for irresponsibility towards the community.

Language such as ‘he shall die’ is the cultic language used at the threshold of the Temple. Only those whose moral life, especially with regard to social justice, was right with God were allowed to take part in community worship (see Pss 15; 24). The apparently wooden style of the prophet was the invitation to live, not die, namely, to be on terms of intimacy with the Lord.

Second Reading (Rom 13:8-10). In this exhortatory section of Romans Paul considers the obligation of charity. He does not deal with rights, but stresses duties. The obligation to love one another (not just fellow Christians) is not one particular virtue among many. It is the very heart of Christian existence that must inform all Christian conduct. The Mosaic Law is brought to fulfilment in this commandment of love. Paul develops his position by citing some of the Ten Commandments. He narrows everything down to only one commandment (Lev 19:18), that in turn gives meaning to all the others (see Mk 12:28-34). (For Paul, Lev 19:18 embraces everyone.) According to Romans 10:4, love is the end of the Law; here it is its very essence, so that law ceases and love becomes the norm of Christian life.

Gospel (Mt 18:15-20). Matthew 18 deals with relationships and hence problems within the local Christian community. Matthew 18:15-20 is a collection of once independent sayings (vv 15-17, 18, 19, 20) that are brought together here to bear on the needs of the local church.

Verses 15-17 show the order to be followed in dealing with a sinful member of the community (see Lev 19:17-18; Deut 19:15). The first step is a purely private correction designed to save the reputation of the individual. If this fails, a few more witnesses are brought in to prevail upon the sinner. If this is unsuccessful, the admonition of the full assembly of the local community is the final step. If the person ignores the full assembly, he or she is to be excommunicated and regarded as a non-member (Gentile) or a public sinner (tax collector). Verse 18 attests that God ratifies the decision of the local community (see Mt 16:19).

Verses 19-20 were originally concerned with the efficacy of common prayer. In their present place they relate to the decisions of the local community. Here size is insignificant. The presence of merely a few is sufficient to ensure the hearing of the prayer. Persons gathered around the person and words of the Lord are Christ. The risen Lord is present whenever the community gathers (see Mt 1:23; 28:20).

Reflections towards a Homily

Perhaps this theme will appeal to the homilist: to be a believer is to be involved. Here it is helpful to register our initial reactions to such a theme. For example, we see Church organizations and conclude that, as individuals, we are unimportant. We observe Church hierarchy and reason that, as individuals, we have nothing to offer. We witness Church activities and think that, as individuals, we are inconsequential. Yet, even as individuals, we are Church. To be a believer is to be involved.

In the First Reading Ezekiel’s office meant being involved. He was to be a sentinel, not simply for his own interests, but for the house of Israel. Though he was outside the structure of government, he was called upon to serve that structure. He had to be a lookout for those who would opt for death, namely, breaking off the ties of intimacy with God and the community. He had to be on the watch for those who were depressed because of the exile and had given up the will to be members of the community of Israel. As an Israelite, especially as a believing prophet, Ezekiel was necessarily involved with others. To be a believer is to be involved.

Matthew’s community was not sinless. However, belonging to that community implied being involved. In the case of personal wrong, being involved meant correcting the sinner in private and, if necessary, gathering others to win back the wayward member. Being involved implied joining in common prayer, especially in situations where the whole community was called upon to act as a body. Being involved meant the realization that the least private act was by its very nature ecclesial. To be a believer is to be involved.

Here the homilist may opt to apply this theme to the audience. For example, husbands and wives who see their married love as their gift to community living have realized the Christian message of involvement. Parents who offer their family the contagious example of Christian living and are not content to foist

Christian education solely on the structure have captured the Christian sense of involvement. The unmarried who reach out to those not covered by the system – the lonely, the derelicts, the unchurched – demonstrate their faith by such involvement. All those who see their ‘personal’ gifts, such as prayer, temperance, and chastity, as communal gifts thereby recognize that they are involved in community. To be a believer is to be involved.

Eucharist may also play a part in this theme. Eucharist presents the concerned, involved Jesus to the community as its model for living. It understands the Eucharistic gifts as the sacrament of Christian involvement. To believe in Jesus’ Eucharistic presence is to allow that presence to permeate the other dimensions of daily life. To eat and drink with the community is to become food and drink for the community. To be a believer is to be involved.

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
13 September 2020John F. Craghan

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Mass

Mutual forgiveness is the centerpiece of today’s liturgy. The readings and the gospel are the clarion call to resist our egotistical impulses and to reach out to forgiving all those who have hurt us. To celebrate this liturgy is to resolve to reach deep within ourselves and to formulate the liberating words of forgiveness.

Invitation to Repentance

We must acknowledge we find it relatively easy to ask God to forgive our faults. However, it is much more demanding to forgive the faults and failures of our sisters and brothers. Aware of our unwillingness to do so in the past, we now call upon God and our community to change our hearts.

Lord Jesus, you are the model for our mutual forgiveness as we interact with others. Lord, have mercy.

You give us the example of your Son who implored forgiveness for those who crucified him. Christ, have mercy.

You challenge us to be willing ministers of mutual forgiveness. Lord, have mercy.

Headings for Readings

First Reading (Sir 27:30-28:7). Ben Sira/Sirach urges forgiveness of the faults of others as the means of avoiding divine punishment. He adds that to forgive one’s neighbor is to experience the forgiveness of one’s own sins at prayer

Second Reading (Rom 14:7-9). Here Paul appeals to the liberating experience of Jesus that implied the death of all egocentricity. To die and rise with Christ is to live for God and others.

Gospel (Mt 18:21-35). In the parable of the unforgiving official Jesus teaches that to be forgiven means to forgive others. This official falls from grace because he refuses to share grace.

Prayer of the Faithful

President Realizing that we are all ministers of reconciliation, we address these petitions to the Father through the Son.

Readers For all religious and civil leaders. May they shun the example of the unforgiving official by their generosity in seeking to be reconciled with all those in their charge.

For all the members of our local faith community. May we recognize them as our sisters and brothers by seeking to forgive them as we ourselves wish to be forgiven.

For all those, both living and dead, who teach us the life-style of Jesus by their willingness to overlook faults and to pursue peace through forgiveness.

For all those who worship God in different ways. May we learn from them how to effect peace in our community by our efforts to foster reconciliation.

President Gracious and loving God, you have called us to make the lifestyle of your Son our own life-style. Through your grace kindly enable us to die to the egocentric forces of our nature by seeking to forgive all those who may have hurt us in any way. Help us to realize that, as your Son died and rose for us, we in turn must die to ourselves and rise by reaching out to be reconciled with all our sisters and brothers. We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Invitation to the Lord’s Prayer

Here we ask our Father to forgive our trespasses ‘as we forgive those who trespass against us.’ By reciting this prayer, we renew our resolve to make the kingdom a reality through reconciliation. We state our willingness to follow the example of the king in today’s parable who did not hesitate to forgive the huge debt of the first official and then reprimand him for not showing similar compassion to his brother. Reconciliation is the way of the kingdom.

Introduction to the Sign of Peace

‘I forgive you’ is the most powerful expression of peace. By offering reconciliation, we tear down all those barriers that preclude the possibility of peace. We are urged to make our liturgical sign of peace more realistic by forgiving all those who may have hurt us in any way. Where there is reconciliation, there peace prevails.

Communion Reflection

We begin our celebration of Eucharist by asking God to forgive our sins. Since Eucharist is a family gathering, we must recognize all participants as our sisters and brothers. This, in turn, demands that we promote family peace by our willingness to forgive each other. To eat and drink with Jesus is to be nourished for living as a family and hence for fostering peace through reconciliation.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading(Sir 27:30--28:7). This section from Ben Sira/Sirach, the Jewish sage of the early second century B.C., is a short tract on divine punishment and forgiveness. The word ‘sinner’ (27:30) is the point of departure for his discussion. Not accepting an afterlife and, therefore, admitting retribution only in this life, he urges the forgiveness of the faults of others as the means of avoiding divine punishment. He remarks that those who harbor vengeance will incur the Lord’s meticulous vengeance. To forgive one’s neighbor is to experience the forgiveness of one’s own sins at prayer. Moreover, it is illogical to hold a grudge and then expect the Lord’s forgiveness, to refuse mercy to a neighbor and then anticipate mercy from the Lord. Mere mortals who remain angry eliminate all possibility of their own forgiveness.

In 28:6-7 the author suggests two more motives for mutual forgiveness: the thought of death and the covenant with the Most High. To acknowledge one’s covenant relationship with the Lord should lead a believer to forgive those who are partners to the same covenant.

Second Reading (Rom 14:7-9). In 14:1-6 Paul deals with the attitude that the more progressive members of a community should display towards the more conservative ones in the matters of eating meat and observing holy days. In verse 7 he appeals to the liberating experience of Christ, one that entailed the death of all egocentric activity. The Christian must identify in terms of service to God and hence others. Both in life and in death the Christian is dedicated to the Lord since the Christian belongs to the Lord. In verse 6 Paul emphasizes the death/resurrection experience of Jesus as the very opposite of an ego trip. It was designed to enable humans to live for God. As a result, the Christian must pursue this attitude with regard to other members of the community. To die and rise with Christ is to live for God and one another.

Gospel (Mt 18:21-35). Verses 21-35 conclude Matthew’s discourse on church order in chapter 18. It is probable that the question and answer (vv 21-22 – repeated forgiveness) was separate from the parable (vv 23-34). Quite likely the final verse (v 35) is the work of Matthew himself in order to make the point all the more telling.

Peter’s question seeks to establish limits, although somewhat generous limits. Jesus’ answer (see Gen 4:23-24) refuses to establish any boundaries at all. Boundless forgiveness is the way of the kingdom.

In the parable the first official owes a boundless debt (10,000 talents). However, his prostration and entreaty move the king to boundless mercy. After all, it was utterly impossible for him to pay the debt. Unfortunately the first official does not experience any change at all. When the second official pleads in the same position and in practically the same words, the first official shows no mercy, although the debt of 100 denarii was payable. The first official finally falls from grace because he refuses to share grace. In Matthew’s community to be forgiven means to forgive others. However, it cannot be something merely mechanical; it must come from the heart. Such is the way of the kingdom.

Reflections towards a Homily

Perhaps this theme will resonate with the homilist: to forgive is to sing ‘We shall overcome!’ Here it is useful to reflect on our human reaction to such a theme. For example, people hurt us by slander and gossip, so we react by refusing to forgive them. People offend us by constantly putting us down, so we retaliate by hardening our position of non-forgiveness. People wound our feelings by not giving us a chance to succeed and show our talents, so we reciprocate by excluding them from our world of pardon. We wallow and fester in our self-love. We are the prisoners of our own ego. We adamantly refuse to liberate others and to be liberated from ourselves by saying, ‘I forgive you.’ Yet to forgive is to sing ‘We shall overcome!’

In Romans Paul urges his audience not to repay injury with injury and, positively, to conquer evil with good (12:17-21). In today’s reading Paul provides the theological basis for forgiveness. Jesus’ death was death to all forms of egoism. The Christian who shares in that death through baptism shares in that liberation from egoism. To die and rise with Christ is to die and rise for everyone. For Paul, the person who forgives experiences the liberating power of the death/resurrection of Jesus. For Paul, too, to forgive is to sing ‘We shall overcome!’

In Matthew the first official’s experience was not liberating. Although his huge debt was cancelled, he did not learn to cancel the debt of his brother. In Matthew, to receive mercy means to show mercy, to be forgiven by God means to forgive each other. To refuse to forgive is to condemn oneself to a hell of isolationism (death) and to be cut off from the community where repeated forgiveness is the life-style. To tear down the barriers of ego that preclude forgiveness is, for Matthew, to adopt the boundless, limitless liberating life-style of Jesus. Matthew concurs that to forgive is to sing ‘We shall overcome!’

The homilist may now choose to apply this theme to the audience. For example, husbands and wives who can deflate their egos of hurt to nurture new beginnings know the meaning of liberation. Neighbors who start to talk to each other again and so express forgiveness experience the way of freedom. Business people who are big enough to pardon the oversights, harsh words, even the injustices of others, understand the openness of Jesus’ life-style. Priests and religious who can say to the people of their world, ‘I forgive you,’ learn the power of ‘I am free.’ All are challenged to discover that to forgive is to sing ‘We shall overcome!’

Finally Eucharist must enter the picture. Eucharist is a liberating experience. It recalls the liberating message of the man who prayed, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ (Lk 23:34). Eucharist takes place within community, the locus of hurt feelings and offended pride. But to eat and drink with others is the challenge to share the liberating experience of forgiveness. Eucharist is the call to be totally freed. Eucharist also teaches that to forgive is to sing ‘We shall overcome!’

Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
20 September 2020Columba McCann, O.S.B.

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Mass

Today God’s word invites us to let go of our all too narrow view of God. We do have to work at being Christian, but God’s compassion and generosity far exceed anything we could possible earn or even expect. This means that wee need not be afraid of owning up to our faults and problems, because we know we are in the presence of one who can lift us up and put us back together. God forgives us when our loving falls short.

Penitential Rite

Lord Jesus, your Spirit draws us ever close to the Father. Lord, have mercy.

Christ Jesus, your love frees our hearts to love our neighbour. Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, your word holds before us the promise of eternal life. Lord, have mercy.

Headings for the Readings

First Reading (Is 55:6-9). Now is the time to seek God, call to God, turn to God, who is close, and full of compassion.

Second Reading (Phil 1:20-24. 27). St Paul, writing from prison, faces a very uncertain future, faces life or death. But the closeness of Christ is so vivid for him that either option is good. This way of living is on offer to us too.

Gospel (Mt 20:1-16). God rewards us for our efforts, but the parable we are about to hear suggests that, quite often, the reward will turn out to be outrageously generous compared to our narrower human calculations.

Prayer of the Faithful

President The Lord is close to all who call on him. In faith and trust let us call on him from our hearts.

Readers Let us pray for mission of the Church: that God may continue to send workers into his vineyard.

Let us pray for governments around the world: that they may deal wisely with the challenges of the global economy.

Let us pray for those who are unemployed: that their dignity and rights be upheld.

Let us pray for those whose kindness has supported us on life’s journey, that they may know the abundant generosity of the Lord.

Let us pray for those who have died, (especially…): that they may enter fully into the glory of Christ. Lord, hear us.

President Lord our God, who revealed the hidden wisdom of your love in Jesus Christ, look with compassion on all who seek you: make us new in mind and heart, that we may know the joy of your kingdom. Through Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Sign of Peace

As we exchange the sign of peace, may we see with eyes that are kind and compassionate.

Before the Final Blessing

‘The Lord is close to all who call on him, who call on him from their hearts’. In the coming week let us call continually on the name of Jesus, the name above every name, and enter into the joy of our master and teacher.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading (Is 55:6-9). This passage is part of the conclusion of the ‘book of consolation’ addressed to Jews in exile in Babylon. God’s thoughts, ways, plans, are so much more full of life than ours. For the exiles their thoughts may be been mostly of a despondent nature, and needed lifting up. The presence of God was, for them, something perhaps mostly associated with the past: the abandoned temple of their homeland, where they once had their own king.. But God is not ‘back then’ or ‘somewhere else’; surprisingly, God is near, right now, even in the moment of exile. Note the varied invitations into the ways of the Lord, the love of the Lord: ‘seek’, ‘call’, ‘turn back’. This invitation remains just as urgent for us now. Notice also the poetic style, with attractive pairing and balancing of ideas. Does this passage distinguish any characteristics of the Lord as quite different from our all too ‘human’ approach? Yes: pity and forgiveness.

Responsorial Psalm (Ps 144:2-3. 8-9. 17-18). This psalm, in praise of God as King and Creator, dates from after the exile. From a psalm of 21 verses, the lectionary picks six, balancing God’s greatness and majesty with God’s kindness and approachability, and emphasizing more the latter than the former. There is the reverence for the Lord’s holy name, expressing the mystery of presence: near yet utterly transcendent. There is striking universalism: the Lord is good to all, compassionate to all his creatures, close to all who call on him. The best human response matches the omnipresence of kindness and compassion: I will bless you day after day, and praise your name for ever. If the First Reading insists that God’s ways are different from ours, these verses form a beautiful credo of what those ways are really like.

The psalm response picks up the invitation of the First Reading: ‘Call to him while he is still near.’

Second Reading (Phil 1:20-24. 27). Writing from prison, Paul faces the uncertainties of his future, including death. But amid the shadows of uncertainty there shines out the presence of Christ with Paul no matter what happens, because living is Christ, and dying is going to be with Christ in an even more immediate way. Even if he prefers to go, remaining on for his beloved Philippians is a service in Christ. Is Paul really puzzled about what is best, or is this a rhetorical device? Either way, it gets the Philippians, and us, thinking. The final sentence of the reading, rendered in a negative manner in one translation (‘Avoid...’) is a positive invitation into a similar way of life. The original Greek suggests a kind of ‘citizenship of Christ’ which takes precedence over any other social bonds, of empire, society or anything else. Living is Christ. The way we think about life (First Reading) will need to be completely transformed.

Gospel (Mt 20:1-16). Found only in Matthew, this parable shows that the Lord is indeed ‘just in all his ways and loving in all his deeds.’ The owner is just to those whom he paid a denarius, a good daily wage, for a day’s work, and at the same time loving with those who have no work, attending to their needs while at the same time allowing them the dignity of in some way appearing to ‘earn’ it. The image of the vineyard, associated traditionally with Israel, hints that the owner is in fact God. In the minds of the original readers, the wholesale hiring of many hands might have suggested harvest time and, with it, the question of God’s final judgement. Commentators refer variously to the two groups (the first and the last) as Jews and Gentiles or, more simply as those who have been faithful for a long time as against those who turn to God rather late. We can think also of the two brothers in the Lukan parable of the ‘prodigal son’, and of the promise of paradise given ‘at the eleventh hour’ to the repentant man on the cross, whom Luke described as ‘an evildoer’.

Reflections towards a Homily

The human mind is an extraordinary miracle. In the stone age humans were weaker and slower than so many animals that were powerful and fast. But human intelligence made it possible to survive. Down through the millennia, the creativity of the human mind and the ability to discover the secrets of creation have unfolded in amazing ways. The human mind has discovered stars, galaxies and black holes that are millions of light years away, while at the same time reaching down into sub-atomic level of everything around us. Great orchestral symphonies, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the plays of Shakespeare, and the magic of the internet have all come from the human mind!

Even more wonderful is that the human mind is an antenna for God. The human mind reaches out towards God, and God, with infinite kindness, delights in being found. To neglect this while doing everything else would be like having a Formula-1 sports car and using it only to drive to the shops to buy the papers! For centuries the saints have been telling us, from their own experience, that the journey of the mind towards God brings delights that are so wonderful they cannot be put into words.

The human mind is very powerful, but like nuclear power, has to be carefully managed; otherwise the effects can be devastating. Think of the immense tragedy and suffering brought about in the last hundred years by twentieth-century ideologies.

The first appearance of human evil in the pages of the Bible occurred on the level of human thought, when Adam and Eve became convinced that God was not to be trusted, was ultimately mean, depriving them of something which they could reach out and grasp on their own. When our mental antenna is not turned towards God, our thoughts lead eventually to dead ends, conflict and human suffering.

God’s ways, God’s thoughts, Gods plans, are infinitely better than our own. The owner of the vineyard was both just and kind: giving a just wage to those who worked a full day, while being lavishly kind and generous to those who were unemployed. Those who complained were suffering from envy, a disease of the mind: what they had was fair but they were still unhappy because they started to look with envy at how others were treated. In the parable of the prodigal son the elder brother couldn’t stand the fact that his father was so generous to his wayward son. When he complained he received from this father a gentle response, perfumed with the same loving generosity: ‘My son, you are with me always, and all I have is yours.’

If I don’t continually turn my mind to God I will fall into the same trap. I won’t see the world around me, or the people around me as they really are. When Samuel went to choose a future king from among the sons of Jesse, he was fooled by the impressive appearance of strong, hefty men. But God looks at the heart, and because Samuel was also tuned in to God, he finally found the real hero, young David, the shepherd boy out in the fields.

St Paul himself confessed that early on he saw Jesus himself in an all-too limited human way that was blind to the full reality. Only later did he come to recognize Jesus in the Spirit. When Peter came to recognize that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, Jesus exclaimed that it was not flesh and blood that had revealed this to him, but ‘my Father in heaven.’ (Mt 16:17) But how quickly our thoughts get derailed! Only a few lines later Jesus will say: ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

Only a mind that is turned towards God will see things as they really are! Without a continual turning of our attention God-wards, we will see only the speck in our neighbour’s eye and not notice the plank in our own The psalmist says, ‘My eyes are always on the Lord, for he rescues my feet from the snare.’ (Ps 24[25]:15).

In courtrooms around the world, the jury, the judge and the public look at the one pronounced guilty with disdain, contempt, maybe even disgust. But the defendant’s mother, though she knows her child is guilty, sees someone whom she loves. She sees the history of failed attempts, of sufferings, of waywardness, and still loves. How much more does God see the beauty deeply hidden even in the most awful circumstances! God’s thoughts are not ours.

Constant contact with Scripture helps us to ‘put on the mind of Christ’. The seemingly displaced generosity he dreamed up in the parable of the vineyard workers played itself out later on for real. The so-called ‘good thief’ (Luke called him an ‘evildoer’) turned to Jesus, not at the eleventh hour of his life but at a minute to midnight. What Jesus gave him was not a fair wage, not even just a generous gift, but paradise itself. The same gift is on offer in the Eucharist: his body ‘given up for you’, and an everlasting covenant of forgiveness in his blood.

In order to live this gift fully, a continual re-tuning of our instincts towards God is necessary. In the words of the First Reading, we must seek the Lord, turn to the Lord, call on the Lord. With the psalmist we can learn to bless the Lord, not just every now and then but ‘day after day’. We can praise the name of the Lord, not just sometimes but ‘for ever’. We call on the name of the Lord, and bless the name of the Lord, the name above all other names, the name of Jesus. ‘The remembrance of the Name of God utterly destroys all that is evil.’ (Barsanuphius) ‘Through the remembrance of Jesus Christ, gather together your disintegrated mind that is scattered abroad.’ (Philotheos of Sinai)

Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
27 September 2020 Fintan Lyons, O.S.B.

Celebrant’s Guide

Introduction to the Mass

The entrance chant for this Sunday says: ‘All you have done to us, O Lord, you have done with true judgement’. As the readings today make clear there are objective standards by which our lives are judged. But in our weakness we can rely on the example of Jesus’ life as an inspiration and guide.

Introduction to the Penitential Rite

Let us prepare then to celebrate this Mass by acknowledging our sins, our failings, our unwillingness to know ourselves, and call on the Lord for mercy and compassion.

Lord Jesus, by your humility and obedience you have shown us the way to the Father. Lord, have mercy.

Your life of humble service inspires us to face the truth. Christ, have mercy.

Grant us the grace to acknowledge you as Lord of our lives. Lord, have mercy.

Headings for Readings

First Reading (Ezek 18:25-28) The Israelites’ complaint against God’s declaration of forgiveness for those who repent is rebuffed by the prophet, who sees the insincerity of their attitude.

Second Reading(Phil 2:1-11) This hymn from the worship life of the early community shows how deep the early understanding of the incarnate Christ was.

Gospel(Mt 21:25-28) A parable from the final period of Jesus’ ministry invites his opponents to reflect deeply on their intransigence in face of a call to conversion.

Prayer of the Faithful

President We have been challenged and consoled by the Word of God, so let us pray:

Readers For the Christian community and its leaders throughout the world, especially Pope Francis: that the example of Jesus may inspire all to live lives of humble service and witness to the truth.

For the peoples of the world, north, south, east and west: that all may live their lives safe from internecine conflict, disease and famine, especially those suffering from the effects of the recent pandemic.

For political leaders: that governance, economic planning and the administration of justice may recognise and respect the laws that God has established.

For the sick, the underprivileged and all unjustly deprived of freedom: that they may feel the supporting touch of the risen Lord in their sufferings.

For the dead: that the light of God’s face may shine on them so that they may grow into fullness of life in his presence.

President You know our deepest needs, Lord, and we are confident that you hear our petitions as we pray to you in the power of the Spirit through Christ our constant intercessor at your throne.

Commentary and Reflections

Commentary

First Reading(Ezek 18:25-28) This very short passage must be considered in the context of a change in the prophet’s message concerning the judgement God had pronounced on the exiles to one bringing a new offer of salvation, the creation of a new people in whom God’s will to love will find its end. But among the exiles there are many who are not content with this promise of a new order. Instead they cling to the previous understanding of culpability passed on to the next generation: ‘the fathers have eaten sour grapes and their children’s teeth are sent on edge’ (18:2). Whether they are champions of orthodoxy or are unwilling to surrender a weapon to use against the prophet’s call for repentance, they go on asserting the son’s inheritance of inherited guilt. The prophet goes on the offensive. All criticisms of God’s way of executing judgement come from a general dissatisfaction with the way he acts or from resistance to being made to change one’s mind.

Second Reading(Phil 2:1-11) Paul’s appeal to the Philippians to live in unity and harmony – something found in many of his writings – is here based on the precedent Jesus has set for them, a life of total dedication to God’s will. Paul says elsewhere that with Christ it was always ‘Yes’. To make clear the greatness of this precedent, he gives a very careful description of who Jesus was and how he acted. The use of the Greek term morphe for the ‘form of God’ instead of schema – meaning an outward changing character – is to indicate Jesus’ unchangeable nature which in all circumstances remains the same. Paul then goes on to talk of the actual changes that occurred in Jesus, and uses the powerful term ‘emptied himself’, where the Greek term can mean pouring out until nothing is left. This is his way of indicating the reality of the Incarnation and he uses the term morphe to new purpose, because now it applies to the form of a slave, not something outward and changeable but touching his very identity. The Jerusalem Bible translation then states that ‘he became as men are’, a rendering of the Greek to indicate a state which is not permanent. Paul has in mind the future glorification of Jesus after his humiliation. God has in fact raised him up and given him a name above all other names, that is, a power beyond that of all others. His status is succinctly stated as ‘Jesus is Lord’, and it is worth noting that this was the first formulation of the Christian creed.

Gospel(Mt 21:25-28) The gospel passages for the Sundays around this time are taken from the later part of St Matthew and convey an atmosphere of tension in the exchanges between Jesus and the religious authorities. For Matthew, the setting is Jerusalem following Jesus’ dramatic gesture of cleansing the temple and the challenges this evoked. The story of the two sons in today’s passage is a barely concealed comment on the intransigence of the authorities in not accepting the prophetic role of John the Baptist, after Jesus had cleverly diverted their questioning of him by introducing John into the argument. In the passage to follow, Jesus will tell the parable about the owner of the vineyard who entrusts it to tenants. Now the focus will turn back to himself, though his opponents may have been slow or unwilling to recognise that the son of the owner of the vineyard was himself and they the ones who would be responsible for his death.

Reflections towards a Homily

Jesus’ question to the chief priests and elders: ‘What do you think?’, in the gospel text, may create an opportunity. The normative practice perhaps up to a generation ago was that the preacher did not use the term ‘you’ in addressing the congregation – though it is clear that in early centuries people like St Augustine and St John Chrysostom did. The preacher today may have less reserve than in the recent past, and may consider it opportune to ask the congregation that direct question, ‘What do you think? In any case, it is good to be invited to think, to participate more actively in the event which is the homily and work out the possible message in the gospel passage, opening the way towards new thinking, a new mind.

The starting point is the story Jesus tells. It is straightforward and very pointed. Jesus has been declared a prophet by the ordinary people, but his authority is being challenged by the chief priests and elders, and they well understand that he is describing them when he talks of the son who promises to obey and doesn’t. He creates a striking contrast between these elders and people they would consider unacceptable to God - tax collectors and prostitutes. These others have in fact believed and turned to God in obedience on hearing the preaching of John the Baptist. ‘Obedience, disobedience’; ‘belief, unbelief’, these ideas are clear in the story and they create a sense of contrast, illustrated by the parable of the two sons.

Jesus invited his hearers to judge between the two sons, but people listening to that gospel today can avoid the need to judge whether one who said a clear, maybe a defiant, ‘no’, and subsequently changed his mind was any better or worse than one who said a ready ‘yes’ and didn’t follow it up. When we reflect on our own lives, our inner selves, we need not put obedient and disobedient in separate categories, as if we were one or the other, the first son or the second. Really, the two co-exist inside us, because of the ambiguities that cling to our decisions and actions.

Last Sunday, the focus was on the unambiguous goodness of God’s decisions and actions; the un-hesitating generosity of the landowner, unaffected by the difference between those who came only at the eleventh hour and those who bore the burden of the day and the heat. Today’s gospel turns attention from the beneficent landowner to us, the workers, to our need to reflect on our ambiguities, on what kind of people we are, in effect, our need to know ourselves, to have true self-knowledge.

A great theologian of the sixteenth century Reformation, John Calvin, began his principal theological treatise with the assertion that the sum of wisdom consisted in the knowledge of God and of ourselves, and that we couldn’t know God without knowing ourselves or ourselves without knowing God.

Now we seem to know a lot about ourselves, perhaps for the reason that we spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves. But we may not spend much time critically examining our perception of ourselves, and may only come to question it when it is clear that others think differently of us. Again we may have an image of ourselves based on a muddled introspection that examines our thoughts and our words, but is blind to the significance of our actions. People can be very careful to say the right thing, without realising that their actions, even their body language, say something different.

Most people do recognise the importance of being authentic. A popular way of putting it is to say they know it is important to be true to oneself. The advice of Polonius to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet is very well known: ‘This above all: to thine ownself be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man’. We can see the point, but more appropriate to put it this way: to thy better self be true, and then you will not be false to anyone. We have to recognise that the self is ambiguous in its actions - it is myself who does evil as well as good. The Letter of James reminds us that we are lured and enticed by our own desires (James 1:14). Unlike God’s unambiguous goodness, there is an ambiguity in us which results in us not really knowing ourselves and therefore, sadly, not really knowing God.

Knowing Christ, sharing his mind, was for St Paul the way to knowledge of God and of oneself. That is why, in the second reading, he appeals to the Christians of Philippi, ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’.

Coming to have the mind of Christ is the way to a new knowledge, of God and of ourselves in our human condition. In Christ, the unambiguous goodness of God – for Christ was divine – was matched by the total dedication of a human life to God’s will. Paul says elsewhere that Christ was never Yes and No, with him it was always Yes (2 Cor 1:19). And in the reading today, Christ’s human life is described as one of total obedience. Having the mind of Christ in us must lead to the same obedience. Now Jesus’ question in the gospel, ‘What do you think?’ becomes ‘How do you think, do you think with the mind of Christ?’

In the Second Reading, Paul has spelled out how a community of people who have the mind of Christ will live in mutual love and obedience. ‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit…. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others’. In other words, be self-effacing, be obedient to one another. Paradoxically, it is only by not thinking of ourselves, our self-interest, that we can come truly to know God, and come to be our true selves.

Reflections for weekdays and Saints’ Days
Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
31 August – 5 September 2020Bernard Treacy, O.P.

Monday of Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 2:1-5). Despite his claims to the contrary, Paul uses the tricks of rhetoric to excellent effect in this debate. The picture of himself as a vulnerable preacher, lacking in rhetorical or philosophical skill, may have its foundations in fact, but it is intended to win him the attention of those who need reminding that their faith is based, from first to last, on an appeal to the power of God.

Gospel(Lk 4:16-30). From today until the end of the current liturgical year, our daily Gospel readings are taken from Luke.

We start with the sermon in the Nazareth synagogue, a symbolic proclamation of a new kind of year of jubilee. Three prophets are mentioned: Isaiah whose words provide the text for the sermon, who stands at the end of the prophetic tradition, and its two great early leaders, Elijah and Elisha. All three shared a universal vision that included the Gentiles. So, Jesus’ ‘year of favour,’ which will stretch beyond a calendar year, will also include the Gentiles.

Tuesday of Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 3:1-9). Paul now undermines the claims of his critics. Despite their intellectual curiosity, there are enigmas philosophy cannot solve. Human beings are mysteries to themselves, he reminds them, and only the all-knowing Spirit of God can plumb the depths of the human spirit. That mystery will come to resolution in Christ, but only those who have accepted the revelation of the Cross will be able to grasp it.

Gospel(Lk 4:31-37). The year of favour proclaimed and rejected in Nazareth will be implemented in Capernaum. Armed with the prophetic powers of healing of Elijah and Elisha, Jesus heals a possessed man. News of the healing and the prophetic word that accompanies it, spreads throughout the region of the lakeside.

Wednesday of Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 3:1-9). Paul turns on his critics with a withering put-down. The reason he used simple language in his preaching was because they were not ready for anything more! They were like babies, needing to be breast-fed. They have made little progress in the meantime, as proved by their readiness to fall for the latest intellectual fashion. Their readiness to enlist Apollos, the recently arrived theological heavyweight, on their side is proof of the divisiveness this group are fostering in the community.

Gospel(Lk 4:38-44). The healing mission at Capernaum continues with the cure of Peter’s mother-in-law, and the crowd that gathers when the Sabbath has ended at sunset. After spending the early morning in prayer, Jesus has come to a decision that the time is ready to extend the call to the year of favour to the other towns of the lake-side region.

Thursday of Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 3:18-22). Mention of Apollos (see yesterday’s reading) raises the question of the role of Christian preachers. Unlike teachers of philosophies whose livelihood depends on attracting students and who are in competition with each other, Christian missioners like Paul, Apollos and Cephas (Peter) are not rivals. They are servants of a foolish God at the service of people who must learn the foolishness of the Cross.

Gospel(Lk 5:1-11). Luke’s version of the call of the first disciples seems to owe something both to the Synoptic account of a meeting with fishermen working in their boats after returning from a fishing trip (Mk 1:16ff), and to John’s account of the miraculous catch of fish after the resurrection (Jn 21).

Thursday, 3 September: St Gregory the Great, pope and doctor • ‘Ever since humanity was driven out of the joys of paradise and entered upon its time of exile in the present life, the human heart has been blind in understanding spiritual things. If the divine voice were to say to this blind heart, “Walk after God!” or “Love God!” as it does in the Law, this cold and sleepy exile would not understand what it is hearing. That is why it is through riddles that the divine speech reaches the cold and drowsy soul, and starting from familiar things, it begins to suggest secret thoughts of love, about which it knows nothing.’ (St Gregory the Great, Commentary on the Song of Songs)

Friday of Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 4:1-5). The theme of the meaning of Christian apostleship continues. They are stewards, and what is most important that they be found trustworthy. There is a flash of Paul’s fighting spirit when he tells his critics that he cares little for their criticism as their judgement of him is irrelevant: what counts is God’s judgement, and his conscience is clear on that account.

Gospel(Lk 5:33-39). This is the first piece of controversy to darken the unfolding of the year of God’s favour. In reply to criticism of his manner of acting (no fasting, short prayers, attendance at feasts), Jesus replies that the joy of the jubilee he has come to inaugurate, is so new that it can have no other human accompaniment than the joy of a wedding feast.

Saturday of Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 4:6-15). The argumentative nature of this passage is particularly evident in the series of questions directed at the opponents and their claims. Almost in exasperation, Paul argues from the poverty of the missionaries to prove that there is something stronger than human respect and hunger for success that sustains them. He uses an image drawn from the victory parade of a victorious general, familiar to the former soldiers of Corinth – at the end of the parade, the captives were on display. It is among them that Paul and his like take their place in the victory parade of Christ, and only for the sake of the ungrateful Corinthians.

Gospel(Lk 6:1-5). Another controversy story, this time about whether plucking ears of corn and rubbing them on the hands constituted Sabbath work. Jesus shows a certain Pharisaic skill in interpreting the force of one scriptural text by citing another that might seem to point to a milder interpretation. The parallel here is David’s conduct in violating a law in time of need.

Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
7-12 September 2020Bernard Treacy, O.P.

Monday of Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 5:1-8). Paul now proceeds to address some practical issues in the Corinthian community. The community’s leaders have asked him for guidance on some of these, but several others he has heard about through concerned members of the community, like Chloe.

The ‘father’s wife’ is most likely a young widow of the father, with whom the man is living after his father’s death. Paul is aghast at this, but still more shocked by the way in which some of the community seem to have taken such a flagrant breach of order as a sign of their spiritual maturity. He leaves them in no doubt as to how they are to deal with it.

Gospel(Lk 5:1-8). Sabbath healing is a recurrent motif in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ miracles. Knowing that they are looking for evidence to use against him, Jesus gives no quarter to his critics: he does not even touch the man lest this be taken as Sabbath work. Instead, he simply orders him to stretch out his hand and show that it has been healed.

Tuesday, 8 September: Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary Feast

‘We celebrate today the birthday of the Mother of God, a necessary antecedent to the incarnation of the divine Word. A virgin is born and nourished and formed to be a fitting Mother for the divine King of the everlasting ages. Let all creation sing and dance, therefore, and contribute its fullest measure of joy to today’s celebration. Today heaven and earth join in a single festival and make merry together. For today a shrine is fashioned for the world’s creator! Today a new dwelling is readied by creatures for the Author of all creation!’ (St Andrew of Crete)

Tuesday of Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 6:1-11). The second case Paul addresses is that of a community member suing another through the public law courts. The community had internal means at its disposal to resolve such disputes (see Mt 18:15 ff.). To have recourse to a civil court is an admission of failure on the part of the community, and believers must be prepared even to be ‘hard done by’ rather than bring the community into public disrepute.

Gospel(Lk 6:12-19). Luke prefaces many of the key moments in the life of Jesus with reference to an extended period of prayer. The call of the first apostles is so central to the unfolding of his mission that it is preceded by an entire night of prayer. The apostle-list begins with Peter and ends with Judas the betrayer.

The conclusion prepares the way for the Sermon on the Plain, Luke’s shorter counterpart to the Sermon on the Mount.

Wednesday of Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 7:25-31). The Corinthians have raised the question of marriage. The precise question they asked may be somewhat more complex than the lectionary translation suggests: Does it refer to arranging marriages for young members of the community? Does it ask whether newly married members of the community may engage in sexual relations? While leaving them in little doubt about his preference for the unmarried state in view of the closeness of the Lord’s return, Paul is careful to insist that they are free to marry if they so desire.

Gospel(Lk 6:20-26). Like Matthew, Luke opens his great sermon with a series of blessings. Unlike Matthew he pairs the beatitudes with a corresponding set of ‘woes’. Predictions of misfortune on the rich and powerful are common in the prophets, so perhaps we should think of Luke as wishing to emphasise here that Jesus continues to speak like a prophet in continuity with the opening sermon of his ministry in the synagogue of Nazareth.

Thursday of Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 8:1-7, 11-13). The next practical problem Paul addresses is that of eating meat sacrificed to idols. On many occasions in Corinth, the meat on sale in butchers’ shops may well have come from sacrifice on civic occasions. For some Christians, this raised an issue of conscience: others, the ‘advanced’ thinkers, saw no problem and ridiculed the delicate conscience of the scrupulous. Paul insists on freedom, but he also vindicates the right of the weak to have their consciences respected.

Gospel(Lk 6:27-38). Although Luke’s Sermon on the Plain is relatively brief, at its centre is a proclamation of the ethic of Jesus, founded on love of enemies and non-violence. Love of enemies takes its origin in an overpowering sense of the divine compassion, the compassion the Father lavishes on each of his children.

Friday of Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-27). Paul may have been a little touchy about his status as an apostle. He did not belong to the first generation called by Jesus himself, but he has no doubt about the dignity of an apostle. It is not marked by a superior human status within the community, but he has made the decision to become the slave of all, even of his most bitter critics in Corinth.

As their city was the venue for the Isthmian Games, an early competitor with the Olympics, the Corinthians would be familiar with the punishing schedule to which would-be athletes submit themselves – that, says Paul, is the same kind of discipline to which an apostle dedicates himself but for a heavenly prize that will last forever.

Gospel(Lk 6:39-42). The short parable about the two blind men attempting to guide one another, and the other about the man with the log in his eye who offers to remove the splinter from his companion’s eye, are intended to remind us of the right way of seeing. Right seeing requires attentiveness, above all, to the things in ourselves that others find offensive or limiting.

Saturday of Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 10:14-22). 1 Corinthians is remarkable among New Testament letters for the amount of time it devotes to a Eucharistic catechesis. Paul here underlines two important aspects of the Eucharist. Through partaking of the bread and cup, we enter into communion with Christ. Since we eat and drink at the common table, we can only enter into communion with the Lord through communion with one another. Because a single loaf is broken at the table of the Lord, the community forms a single body with him.

Gospel(Lk 6:43-49). The Sermon comes to an end with a number of sayings about sound trees and sound fruit and the right foundations on which to build a house. It is clear from the context that these are intended as calls to examine the very basis on which we build the house of faith. The need for purity of heart is a value to which Jesus returns frequently. It is the firm rock on which to build not just one’s own house but the dwelling of the community.

Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
14-19 September 2020Bernard Treacy, O.P.

Monday, 14 September: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

First Reading(Num 24:4-9). Most cultures inculcate a fear of serpents. Yet many also use the serpent symbol in a more positive way. Sometimes, the serpent’s shedding of its old skin was seen as a symbol of new life or resurrection. This is seen in one of the traditional symbols for medical services being the staff intertwined with two serpents.

Second Reading(Phil 2:6-11). Paul is probably quoting from an early Christian liturgical hymn. It portrays the event of salvation in two movements. The first is downward, towards the humiliation of death on the cross; the second is upward, towards the acclamation of Jesus as Lord in virtue of his obedience to his Father.

Gospel(Jn 3:13-17). Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus reveals the utter graciousness of the gift of new life and of the love which underpins all creation.

ReflectionThere are times when we are left helpless before events. We feel bereft and stripped of everything. Not just in times of loss – when we are hungry, afraid, facing the expected or unexpected death of a loved one – but also before moments of sudden giftings. The moment of love is a breaking. We are trusted to another, entrusted with another. Into another’s hands we commit ourselves. There is a risk and daring in the giving. The extremes of love and loss are times of discovery. We only know ourselves and others under the pressure of life lived to its raw edges. Today’s feast, the Triumph of the Cross, is an exploration of that edge in Christ’s life – when the enfleshed God went freely to the cross of our creation. Then, in that depth and death, he was to know the dark moment of abandonment. There, in a terrible silence and blackness, he trusted. And there found triumph. In our crosses, if we trust, we will know the Calvary God. (Patrick O’Brien)

Monday of Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 11:17-26). The factions Paul has targeted in the Corinthian community are seen at their most destructive at the celebration of the Eucharist. Since the Eucharist would have been hosted by a member of the community sufficiently wealthy to have both a house large enough to accommodate the gathering and the money to defray the cost of the common meal, divisions between rich and poor would be more likely to surface then. Paul recommends a simple meal in which no distinctions are made and to remember that the Lord’s Supper is a memorial of the saving death of Jesus.

Gospel(Lk 7:1-10). Luke has a soft spot for centurions (see 23:47, Acts 10:1; 22:25; 27:1 ff), perhaps because there were several of them among his Gentile converts. This little story is a story of patronage: the centurion has acted as a patron to the Jewish community at Capernaum and he now expects its leaders to act as honest brokers in his attempt to get the healer to act on behalf of his servant. Like the centurion at the crucifixion, he expresses a remarkable faith in Jesus.

Tuesday, 15 September: Mary, the Mother of Sorrows Memorial

‘Were not the words you heard, “Mother behold your son,” more than a sword penetrating your heart and reaching the divisions of soul and spirit? What an exchange! John for Jesus, servant for Lord, disciple for Master, son of Zebedee for the Son of God, mere man for true God. How could such words fail to be a sword to your loving heart, when even our stony hearts are torn by recalling them? (St Bernard)

Tuesday of Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 12:12-14, 27-31). The teaching on the Eucharist as becoming one body through sharing in the broken body and blood of the Lord has prepared the way for an extended treatment of the Church as Body. The figure of the state as a body was already current in political thought by the first century. Paul presses that idea into service here to insist on both the unity of the body as a single person and the distinctiveness of the functions of its many parts.

Gospel(Lk 7:11-17). The account of the raising of the young man at Naim is unique to Luke. It has several points of contact with Luke’s favourite prophets Elijah and Elisha who also restored the sons of widowed mothers to life. The crowd perceive rightly that the raising of the dead boy is a sign of God’s ‘visiting his people’ through the ministry of a great prophet.

Wednesday of Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 12:31-13:13). The ‘hymn to love’ is rightly considered to be one of the most memorable pieces of the New Testament. Placing it in its context in 1 Corinthians may add still more value to it. Paul has been struggling with this infuriatingly lively community to put aside their divisions and aspirations for ‘advanced’ spiritual insight and experience. He grants that their aspirations are right, but there is a still higher way, the way of patient and caring love, which alone will survive in the life to come.

Gospel(Lk 7:31-35). The new ‘year of salvation’ Jesus inaugurated was not always understood by his audience who continued to hark back to older models of holiness, particularly the ascetic way of the Baptist. They rejected the Baptist, however, as one possessed, and Jesus has little success in his pro--gramme of table-fellowship. The children of Wisdom are those who can grasp the newness of God’s reaching out.

Wednesday, 16 September: St Cornelius, pope, and St Cyprian, martyrs • ‘I have learned of the splendid proofs you have given of your faith and courage and I have received with joy the news of your noble confession of faith and I share in your merits and the praise that was given to you. For since we have one Church, one shared purpose and one harmonious charity, how can one priest not rejoice at the praise earned by a fellow-priest as it at his own? What sort of brotherhood does not rejoice in a brother’s joy? (Letter of Cyprian to Cornelius, urging him to be steadfast in persecution)

Thursday of Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 15:1-11). At the heart of Paul’s engagement with the Corinthians is the right understanding of the Gospel. His brief outline of the tradition of the death and resurrection of Jesus is the foundation both of his claims to be an authoritative teacher and of his teaching of the true meaning of the resurrection body. He is careful to place himself in the succession of witnesses to the resurrection, even though he did not know the earthly Jesus during his ministry. The energy of that encounter has sustained his extraordinary missionary endeavour.

Gospel(Lk 7:36-50). The story of the anointing of Jesus by the unnamed woman in the house of Simon gathers neatly several of Luke’s main themes. There is, first of all, the meal as the setting for teaching. This theme may reach back to the portraits of the famous philosophers who did much of their teaching in such a setting, and forward to the Eucharistic setting of Luke’s community. There is, too, the tension between pious insider and sinful outsider who grasps more immediately the offer of salvation. Finally, there is the emphasis on the inner moment of conversion – the woman is capable of this extraordinary sign of love because she recognises that her many sins ‘must have been forgiven her’.

Friday of Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 15:12-20). Christ’s resurrection is not a ‘one-off’ event. It is, rather, the sign and promise of the fullness of resurrection in which all believers will partake. He is the first-fruits, the first sheaf of the harvest. The celebration of that harvest will be possible only when the last of the sheaves has been gathered in.

Gospel(Lk 8:1-3). Today’s Gospel reads like a footnote that Luke adds to the tradition. He is the only evangelist to name these women, though women from Galilee who ‘ministered to him’ are known from the account of Calvary (see Mt 27:55, Mk 15:41). Luke’s women are a socially diverse group – Mary Magdalene, who had once been ‘possessed’ (not a former prostitute, despite the best efforts of legend), the upper-class Joanna, the otherwise unknown Susanna, and ‘several others’ who also appear to have been women of means.

Saturday of Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(1 Cor 15:33-37, 42-49). We end our liturgical reading of 1 Corinthians with a reflection on the nature of the resurrection body. It is impossible to imagine its form, Paul insists: all we can do is draw a lesson from the ways of nature herself. Seeds are sown in the earth as dried up grains but are transformed by death in the soil into a glorious new creation. He concludes with a reminder of how the creation story of the first Adam, ending in defeat, has been transformed into a story of victory by Christ, the Second Adam.

Gospel(Lk 8:4-15). The seed image of the First Reading receives a new twist in the parable of the sower and the seed. From the explanation of the parable, the Evangelist wishes us to identify the seed here as a symbol for the Word, which will bring forth yields of different value depending on the quality of soil into which it falls.

Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
21-26 September 2020Bernard Treacy, O.P.

Monday, 21 September: St Matthew, apostle and evangelist

In our Gospel account of the call of Matthew we find a sentence which shocks us to recognition. Jesus, aware that people resent his time spent with ‘tax-collectors and sinners’ says to them: ‘What I want is mercy, not sacrifice’. ‘Mercy’ is a word which throbs at the heart of the Bible. We apply it to God, to Christ. We have no single word in English to translate its resonant call. St Paul, in our Reading today, gives a useful definition: ‘Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience.’ Matthew, up to this moment, had never known such mercy. In its place he had met hatred, anger threats. When Christ called him the veils lifted from his bruised spirit. There are Matthews sitting in the despised custom houses of our lives. They await the mercy of our thoughts and actions. They await the believer who in ‘complete selfless, gentleness and patience’ will call them to the merciful Church of a merciful God. (Patrick O’Brien)

Monday of Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(Prov 3:27-34). The first readings this week offer us a ‘taste’ of some of the main themes of biblical Wisdom.

Today’s reading from Proverbs is a kind of ancient version of ‘how to win friends and influence people’. It emphasises the importance of having a good role-model, and urges the young to be careful in choosing the pattern of right conduct.

Gospel(Lk 8:16-18). Jesus, too, speaks the language of proverbs. The opening saying about lights and lamp-stands seems as obvious as Proverb’s view of how to cultivate good human relations. The way of discipleship is the way of wisdom. Discipleship is attentiveness sharpened by a contemplative attitude to life, that grows more insightful with constant practice.

Tuesday of Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(Prov 21:1-6,10-13). Today’s liturgy selects ten proverbs from the vast store gathered by Israel’s wise teachers. But life does not always follow the neat logic of the proverb. The wicked do not always get what they deserve: the good do not always prosper. The final proverb warns of the need to be attentive to the demands of justice.

Gospel(Lk 8:19-21). For Luke, the mother of Jesus is, above all, the pre-eminent disciple. From the beginning of the Gospel, we have seen her as one receptive to the Word. It is this quality of loving attention to hearing and practising that her Son commends in today’s Gospel.

Wednesday of Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(Prov 30:5-9). This section of Proverbs is ascribed to the otherwise unknown non-Israelite wise man Agur. The concluding part takes the form of a prayer to be preserved from both falsehood and poverty by walking a middle course between ostentatious wealth and grinding poverty.

Gospel(Lk 9:1-6). One of the major concerns to Luke’s two-volume work is to describe the miraculous spread of the Gospel. It begins here in a humble way with the mission of the Twelve in the villages around Galilee. Luke emphasises the note of urgency which demands that the preachers travel light. A similar note of urgency will characterise the mission in Acts. How does the Church of our time experience this urgency to proclaim the Kingdom?

Wednesday, 23 September: St Pio of Pietralcina • ‘Is it not, precisely, the “glory of the Cross” that shines above all in Padre Pio? How timely is the spirituality of the Cross lived by this humble Capuchin. Our time needs to rediscover the value of the Cross in order to open the heart to hope.’ (John Paul II: Homily at Canonization of Padre Pio)

Thursday of Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(Eccles 1:2-11). The Hebrew word translated here as ‘vanity’ might be better rendered as ‘a puff of wind’, a ‘breath’. The writer of this book, the most sober in the entire Bible, is preoccupied by the contrast between the impermanence of the individual human life set against the solidity and continuity written into creation. Qoheleth, the writer, is not looking for easy solutions. What makes the book memorable is its capacity to ask hard questions and to reject easy answers.

Gospel(Lk 9:7-9). All the Synoptics record Herod’s alarm at hearing of Jesus as a kind of new Baptist. Only Luke mentions his desire to see him. That wish will be granted by the end of the Gospel, but then he will see, not a wonder-worker or a persuasive preacher, but a tortured prisoner he will cloth with a garment of mockery.

Friday of Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(Eccles 3:1-11). Ecclesiastes tries to come to grips with some of the most intractable mysteries of human life such as time and its limits. Today’s reading is probably its best-known text. Life seems like a tennis game with the ball bouncing between positive and negative, birth and death, tears and laughter. After a long life, the sage is forced to admit that he does not have the answer: only God can unravel such mysteries.

Gospel(Lk 9:18-21). Luke places Jesus’ challenge to the disciples to say who he is within the context of prayer. In the prayers of the passion the true identity of Jesus will be revealed as the One who has the inner strength to forgive enemies, to hand over his life in its final moments to God’s keeping. It is in prayer that the disciples of Jesus continue to learn who he is.

Saturday of Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(Eccles 11:9-12:8). This lament for beauty that is passing pictures the ageing process as if the body were a noble house now decaying from neglect and lapsing into silence. Beautiful things are fragile – silver cords can snap, golden lamps or fine pottery get broken. So too the once-youthful and vigorous body. St Augustine recognised how we long for the ultimate beauty but will only encounter it beyond the limits of earthly existence: ‘you have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.’

Gospel(Lk 9:43-45). As they bask in the admiration of the crowd, Jesus reminds his disciples, for a second time, of the uncomfortable fact of the cross. They do not get the message, but they have some intuition that it is an uncomfortable truth best ignored. But uncomfortable truths do not go away quite so easily.

Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time
28-30 September 2020Bernard Treacy, O.P.

Monday of Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(Job 1:6-22) Job’s story begins with what looks like a reckless wager between God and the Satan to test this apparent model of virtue. In the figure of Satan the author may have been thinking of a kind of royal undercover agent who kept an eye open for his master’s interests and informed him of any unreliable person who needed watching. Job passes the first test with flying colours. He meets the loss of property and children with adoration. Is he too good to be true? Does he feel no pain? In the rest of this remarkable book, Job will debate with his friends and his God about the meaning of suffering.

Gospel(Lk 9:46-50). Luke’s picture of the disciples jostling for the best positions might be a metaphor of one of the temptations disciples always face, namely access to power and influence. Jesus reminds them that genuine disciples make place for the defenceless, even children, and are ready to acknowledge good even when it is done by someone who is not ‘one of us’.

Tuesday, 29 September: Sts Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, Archangels

Angels are reflections of how the life and mystery of God can appear in the human world. Michael, appears in both the Old Testament Book of Daniel and the New Testament Revelation as the commander of the heavenly armies protecting God’s faithful: the name means ‘who is like God’. Gabriel also appears in Daniel as Daniel’s interpreter and in the Gospel of Luke as the divine messenger of the Incarnation. The name means ‘God is my champion’. Raphael appears in the Book of Tobit as guide to the young Tobias and as healer of Sarah and Tobit. The name means ‘God is my physician’.

Tuesday of Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(Job 3:1-3; 11-17,20-23). The calm Job of yesterday gives way to a man who breaks out into a great howl of pain. It is witnessed by three friends who sit with him as though he were a mourner. What Job is lamenting is the dying of the light – the light of old certainties that must be replaced by a new faith that has plumbed the depths of tragedy.

Gospel(Lk 9:51-56). Jesus’ face is set resolutely for Jerusalem, the place of rejection but also of ultimate vindication when he and his cause will be ‘taken up’ by God. The road leads through another place of rejection, Samaria. The disciples want to teach the inhabitants a lesson by calling down fire and brimstone like another Elijah (see 2 Kgs 1:10). That is not Jesus’ way and he calmly leads them on to another village.

Wednesday of Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

First Reading(Job 9:1-12.14-16). The approach of Job’s friends amounts to a case-study in how not to offer counselling or help. They come in with their own agenda of how God is and how Job ought to react. While Job agrees with their theology – that God’s ways cannot be questioned – he insists that integrity of mind and spirit demand that he face the genuine puzzle of how it is that the innocent can have to suffer.

Gospel(Lk 9:57-62). A disciple must be ready to prefer the demands of the Kingdom of God even to the appropriate and necessary obligations that arise in family life. Commitment to Christ is not is not rational in the sense that we can set conditions to it, reasonable though they may appear to be.

Wednesday, 30 September: St Jerome, priest and doctor • ‘If, as St Paul says, Christ is God’s power and wisdom, and if one who does not know the scriptures does not know God’s power and wisdom, then ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.’ (St Jerome, Commentary on Isaiah




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