Daily Reflections by Father Bert

Jan 17
Lectionary Hebrews 3: 7-14. Psalm 95: 6-7, 8-9, 10-11. Mark 1:40-45:

Who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews? In Catholic tradition it is said to come from Paul, but scholars and theologians have brought up different names because of the excellent literary Greek used in this writing. I follow the teaching expressed by Fr. Ceslas Spicq, O. P. who taught the seminarians in Fribourg, Switzerland. He suggests like Martin Luther, that it could have been a companion of Paul from Alexandria named Apollos. He may have been an Alexandrian Jew who converted to Christianity who was well steeped in the Septuagint and knew of Philo’s writings as well as St. Paul since he is mentioned in I Corinthians.

He is contrasting the person of Jesus with the angels and is familiar with some of the important messianic psalms as well as psalms used very frequently in Temple services. We are experiencing in this first reading in the liturgy what his insights and comments are on Psalm 95. There are four psalms that we use for invitatories or a call to daily prayer in the Church. These same psalms may have been written by the Levites and the priests who lived in apartments near the Temple. Each day, I pray Psalm 95 as the beginning of the Prayer of the Church called the Office of Readings. It is called an Invitatory Psalm. I substitute one of the following psalms from time to time since they are called invitatories : Psalm 24, Psalm 67, and Psalm 24.

The author of Hebrews focuses today on the expression of hardening of the heart to the word of God which takes us a way from prayer of the heart and good deeds. We are being encouraged by Apollos or whoever wrote Hebrews to have a great confidence in God by becoming partners with Jesus in the ministry of the word of God by teaching, preaching, and putting into action the prayer or thought of the inspired writers. We try to live out our Baptism by entering into the prayer indicated by this author of Hebrews: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

We repeat the same passage we heard recently from St. Mark about one of the first miracles of Jesus given in greater detail than the general mention of healing, exorcising, etc. found in the short summaries of what Jesus did at the beginning of his ministry. The healed leper does not listen to Jesus to be quiet. He is so happy to have been cleansed of his leprosy that he goes to the priests and proves it be true. How could he keep it secret? Some call this attitude of Jesus not wanting to flaunt his miracles as being the “messianic secret.” We see that it does not work when it comes to those who are healed by Jesus.

During the time of Mark’s writing (70 A.D.) this passage probably was a catechetical example for the readers to proclaim Jesus in word and witness to him be their lives. Amen.

Jan 15
Lectionary Hebrews 2: 5-12. Psalm 8: 2.5.6-7, 8-9. Mark 1: 21-28:

Hebrews continues to contrast Jesus’ superiority over the angels who are the messengers of God extolled in the psalms and in salvation history. Jesus is even greater than the superior angels who are named in the Bible: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. Yet, because of his human nature Jesus is lower than they are but through his divine nature, so clearly expressed in Hebrews and in John’s Gospel, he is greater.

As our leader, he is also called our pioneer, he is one with us and takes on the weakness of humans with all of its side effects of sufferings, rejections, illness, etc. This is how Jesus shows and convinces us that he loves us beyond all that we could ever imagine, want, or expect. He dies for us and then is made more glorious after his resurrection from the dead to be our glorified Lord and Redeemer.

In Mark’s Gospel we have the first miracle worked by Jesus at a gathering in a synagogue which at that time was a place of study, gathering, and worshipping God. He rebukes the man possessed by a demon thereby showing his power over the demonic world. That demon knew Jesus to be the Holy One of God, but Jesus tells him to be silent and to come out of the man. Jesus is showing his authority both by his teaching and his power of evil.

Mark writes quickly in a journalistic style that makes the story move along quite rapidly as he presents one vignette after another in this opening chapter. This will continue. Scholars have pointed out that Mark uses “and” the most in the New Testament which often is accompanied by another word Mark uses, namely, the word “quickly.” In Greek they are kai and euthys. Mark has the symbol of a Lion for his Gospel. He roars out the message of Jesus with strong, rapid, and clear presentations of what Jesus said and did. Amen.

Jan 14
Monday in Ordinary time - Lectionary readings Hebrews 1:1-6. Psalm 97: 1-2, 6-7, 9. Mark 1: 14-20:

At each Eucharist we recall the Paschal Mystery of Christ which is the soul of the Liturgy. This sacrament enables us to live our lives in union with Christ and learn how to become more conformable to him. Keeping in mind the Paschal Mysteries, we have an overture that covers all that the Gospels are telling us about Jesus. We see the bigger picture in the light of Jesus’ life, sufferings, death, and resurrection and glorification (The Paschal Mystery). God’s creative redeeming power is what the Liturgy of the Word unravels for us day after day, year after year.

I was glad to see that the opening of this new liturgical season of ordinary time begins with the mystery of Christ in the reading of the first six from the Epistle to the Hebrews. We need to ponder over these verses again and again. These introductory verses are similar to what John’s prologue does for the rest of his Gospel by highlighting what is to come. They are our north star to which we may wish to come as we move through the readings from Hebrews.

In this poetic and mystical prologue Jesus is presented as the origin of all creation. He is Lord of all creation superior to the angels and all other forms of creation. There are some symbolic words used that need to be explained to help us understand the third verse: “ Reflection of God’s glory and exact imprint of God’s very being. Wisdom was seen as working alongside God at creation; reflection (as of an object that returns light exactly as it received it) and imprint (as of a coin that exactly reproduces the contours of its originating mold) are ways of expressing the Son’s transmission of God’s nature without any flaw. Glory, Hebrew “kabod” was a quality frequently attributed to God.” (Commentary of Pamela Eisenbaum, p. 407).

Our Psalm with its response contains the mention of the angels which is also strong in the first chapter of Hebrews. Jesus is far superior to the angelic realm. “Let all his angels worship Him.”(Response verse 7).

Mark’s opening chapter is a perfect entrance narrative into ordinary time. He cites the words of Jesus to reform our lives so that we may become apostles of Jesus. Then Mark immediately names the apostles who first come to follow Jesus and are immediately named in his Gospel after the call to conversion. Simon Peter, Andrew, John, and James are always the first four in our listing of the disciples except for the Fourth Gospel which does not list the twelve. These four leave their nets (we leave our attachments) that could tie them down so as to not follow the Lord who shows them they will have another role in becoming the fishers of humankind. They are called that they may be sent. Amen.

Jan 13
Lectionary for The Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist: Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11. Psalm 104: 1b-2, 3-4, 24-25, 27-28, 29-30. Titus 2:11-14; 3: 4-7. Luke 3: 15-16, 21-22:

With today’s solemnity of the Baptism of Jesus we come to the end of the Christmas-Epiphany season with this great mystery of Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist. Why would one who is divine and all holy need to be baptized? This even puzzled the New Testament evangelists as we see in some variants on the text trying to explain it. However, it is a great event that makes us realize how important our own baptism into Christ’s mysteries is.

From a liturgical point of view the Baptism of Jesus is the hinge that leads us from the beginning of Jesus’ presence in birth into his active ministry as an adult who will then be a model for us in all of the events, words, and deeds Jesus will perform that are recorded in our gospels. We take time to bless God for all the graces and gifts of the past year knowing that God flooded us with mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and extravagant love through Jesus, the Son of God.

Jesus’ baptism is attested to by all four evangelists with each writer having a different perspective. You can compare them and discover how John has the Baptist see Jesus being baptized in a prophetic vision. He does not record the fact of Jesus’ Baptism. The other three state the fact do but have their own perspectives on it. For example, in Mark it is Jesus who seems to be the one who sees the image of a dove and the voice from the heavens declaring him to be the beloved son of God in whom the Father is well pleased. This “multiple attestation” is a sure sign of the authenticity of Jesus’ baptism. We have a similar multiple attestation in the feeding narratives which are six in number!

It is from our own baptism modeled on that of the Baptist that we have our initiation into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus and our beginnings in the life of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. We will also be confirmed in another sacrament where we are made strong through the Holy Spirit to live our Christian lives and share them with others.

This year’s selection comes to us in what is called the liturgical season of cycle C which is dedicated to readings from St. Luke on Sundays after Pentecost. Jesus’s baptism is the start of his earthly ministry as our Savior. Luke helps us to see it as a universal call to holiness for those who are baptized. We join the people who were all baptized in the account of Luke. Jesus was baptized as were the people. Jesus also was at prayer. God is telling us, “You are my beloved sons and daughters. It is on you that my grace and favor are poured out upon you.” Amen.

Jan 12
Lectionary for Saturday of Epiphany week: I John 5:14-21. Psalm 149: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6. 9. John 3: 22-30:

Our Gospel reading is a perfect preparation for tomorrow’s great solemnity of the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John the Baptist. We turn to John’s Gospel for helping us understand more the role of the Baptist in providing Jesus with a number of his own disciples and for the information that Jesus, too, was baptizing people in the Jordan! We had no information about this other than John’s narrative prior to the baptism of Jesus himself. Often scholars are amazed how much history there is in this Gospel and often are only discovering it now as the literature and commentaries grow exponentially on the Gospel of John.

John the Baptist’s disciples are concerned about the fact that Jesus seems to be infringing on their master’s ministry to all the people including the Romans! Why would Jesus be baptizing and calling for reform in people’s lives? Is Jesus not taking away from his leadership by even having some of the Baptist’s disciple leave him and follow Jesus as their teacher and leader? This is probably due to their astonishment and surprise than that of being envious or selfish about their leader.

The narrative helps us to see the respective roles of John and Jesus. We discover how humble and truthful John the Baptist is when it comes to who he is. He is not the Messiah, but a voice in the wilderness calling out to prepare the way for the Messiah according to words of the prophet Isaiah. We were already aware of this during Advent and Christmas where John and Isaiah helped us to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption.

John also shows his baptism is one of a purification ritual and a call to repent and reform one’s life. The baptism that Jesus offers is one of the Spirit with fire as well as with water. The Baptist is in no way jealous of Jesus neither in what he is doing nor in the fact that some of his disciples are leaving him to follow Jesus. He points out to them that Jesus is the Lamb of God (In Aramaic talyah “lamb” also means “servant”). John’s role is that of a prophetic witness to the truth of who Jesus is. I am amazed at the honesty and humility of the Baptist who clearly says he is not the one people are looking for, namely, the Messiah. Jesus is the one whom John has been preparing for. Therefore, he can allow his disciples to leave him and follow Jesus as we have seen in John 3: 35-51. I like the metaphor that John the Baptist uses to explain his role as witness and preparer:

“He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom , who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3: 29-30). I found this statement by a Johannine scholar helpful: “John the Baptist, like the mother of Jesus, has been presented as an example of authentic belief, laying himself open to the word of Jesus.” (John 3: 30). Francis J. Moloney, S.V.D., John, Sacra Pagina, p. 107. Amen.

Lectionary of Epiphany week: I John 5:5-13. Psalm 147: 12-13, 14-15, 19-20. Luke 5: 12-16:

Clarity, simplicity, and focus came to mind as I read the readings for this day in the Liturgy of the Word. We learn from I John, the Psalmist, and Luke about these characteristics within their sacred inspired writings. They form our prayer and our spiritual nourishment for this day.

In John we are nearing the end of his clear and simple message. Tomorrow we will finish the last paragraph of his First Epistle. John is giving us an excellent summary today about love, belief in Jesus, and the Truth that God is. We have learned well that God is love, that Jesus is the Son of his love who has come to make us victors over darkness and the antichrist.

Jesus is among us and witnesses to this by the symbol of water (Baptism), the Spirit (confirmation in and through the Spirit), and the blood or his sufferings, death and resurrection. This is the way John presents the Paschal Mystery of Jesus. Jesus. John clearly states, “The testimony is this: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son; whoever possesses the Son possesses eternal life.”

Our witness flows from the Spirit and both as individuals and as a community of believers proclaims and witness that God is love and God’s testimony is true through his Son Jesus Christ.

Psalm 147 belongs to the last five great Halleluiah psalms in which we praise God and find joy and peace in doing this. This psalm is very helpful during stormy and dark days. It lifts our spirits to see beyond the weather and obstacles of the day.

Luke with his great skill in writing gives us another miracle of Jesus who listens to the plea of a leper. It is a perfect example of a miracle story which has the same literary genre as other miracles in Luke. The clarity and simplicity of Luke’s narrative brings home the point to us that we, too, can approach Jesus as this poor leper did. He trusts in Jesus that if he wills to heal him, he can. This does happen when we learn that we must have such trust in our petitions to Jesus. We need to ask for favors, graces, and healing. If Jesus wills to answer our prayers for these needs we may be surprised how often he will. Amen.

Jan 10
Lectionary I John 4: 19-5:4. Psalm 72: 12.14-5.17. Luke 4: 14-22:

We usually attribute four or five writings to St. John who in tradition is considered the Beloved Disciple of Jesus who rested on the heart of Jesus. Who better than he could then speak of love? In his Gospel and First Epistle there are two over-arching themes: that of faith in Jesus and love of God and God’s Son. Faith is emphasized in the first part of John’s Gospel which is called the Book of Signs (chapters one to twelve) and love seen in the Book of Glory (chapters thirteen to twenty-one). The reverse is true in his First Epistle, where love predominates with faith as the second major theme.

Perhaps, in the whole framework of the Gospel and the I Epistle of John there is a different tone or method, if you will. The Fourth Gospel is a series of encounters making people decide whether they believe in Jesus and are then led to love him. This is written through narratives that are dramatic. Whereas in his epistle we have a more contemplative presentation with John as a divine revealer who thinks in an ascending spiral circle above the points of love and faith; always seeing them in a new and higher way as one ascends in his writing with the spiral thought about faith and love ascending more and more up the imagined staircase. Focusing on the word faith and lovein I John one can appreciate what the writer is doing.

Psalm 72 is again a fitting psalm for the Epiphany season. It is a hymn that focuses on a royal messianic king. The prayer of this psalm leads us to join in the inspired author’ blessings upon the king. We have seen the psalm being used extensively this past week for the Response in the Liturgy of the Word.

Luke gives us his “signature story” at the beginning of Jesus’ active ministry in Nazareth. The first part takes place in a synagogue and is quite positive, but this rapidly changes when Jesus mentions the Gentiles over his own people in the sequence to the story. This description of what is happening in the synagogue may be the oldest reference to the worship service of the first century and thus is of historical interest. The fact that he is reading from a scroll of Isaiah is significant for it shows that the Prophets were read as a haftarah after the Torah and that it could be chosen by the reader just as it says in the text where Jesus rolled his eyes down the text to what he was looking for. The word for the reading of the prophets is a conclusion called the haftarah. We are in admiration of Jesus’ use of the prophet Isaiah for telling us what his role will be in bringing the kingdom into their midst: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Isaiah 61: 1-2). This announcement of the role of the anointed one shows Jesus will be concerned about the poor, about justice, and about peace.

I find this passage a very helpful guideline for reading the signs of our times in our ministry and our social concern for the common good. Release of those held in bondage touches upon our immigration problems which are not only national but global, for a call for justice to have leaders who will not be blind to the burning issues and needs of the poor throughout the world, and finally, for our need to bring about peace on Planet Earth. Amen.