Daily Reflections by Father Bert

June 3
Lectionary: II Timothy 1: 1-3, 6-12. Psalm 123: 1-2, 3. Mark 12: 18-27:

We can easily sense Paul’s great love for Timothy in this second letter in the Thanksgiving part where we are in touch with the innermost thoughts, prayers, and emotions of Paul as well as in this same section that gives us the theme of the writing. If you want to see Paul at prayer you need only go to the first chapter of each of his letters (except that of Galatians) where he expresses more his anger or disappointment of the Galatian community. Of course, if you want his deepest treatise on prayer then go to chapter 8 of Romans which is very Spirit-filled.

Paul calls Timothy his dear child. It was Paul who loved Timothy and had him circumcised probably giving in to the more rigid of the newly converted Jews about this question of circumcision. Paul knew of Timothy from his earliest years as a boy in the home of his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. Tradition has it that Paul was helped by Timothy when he was being stoned at Lystra. The father of Timothy was a Greek who had already died. Timothy’s mother taught him to read the Scriptures; she was a convert to Christianity from Judaism and probably sheltered Paul at Lystra on his most difficult of missions.

In today’s firs reading we see how Paul continues to form Timothy in his faith under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I thought of this section of Paul’s letter as a perfect prayer for Father’s Day. Paul cherishes Timothy as his dear son and realizes the great potential this convert would be a great leader. He reminds the mature Timothy in this second letter to stir into flame the gift God bestowed upon you through the anointing and laying on of Paul’s hand in preparation for his apostolic mission. This father-son relationship would continue till Paul’s death.

Psalm 128 is a call to praise and offer reverence to the Lord as a family. It is a psalm that is sung or said as families made their way up to the Temple in Jerusalem on one of the great feasts—Passover, Pentecost, and Booths. The response verse introduces the theme: “Happy (Blessed) are those who fear the Lord.” (verse one). This happens to be one of the rare occasions when the Scriptures (Psalms) where we actually envision children happily seated at table in a peaceful home.

Mark presents us the third of five controversies with another wild story about marriage in heaven. This is done either mock or trap Jesus again in another surprising controversy, however this time with the Sadducees who do not believe in resurrection. They ask Jesus about an imaginary case of a woman who outlived seven men who were brothers in rightful levirate marriage; seven brothers! It is a fantastic and even outrageous idea. Whose wife they ask Jesus will she be in the resurrection? We see in action the difference between the questions of the Pharisees and the Herodians here. The Sadducees only accept the Torah of the Scriptures that means they believed only in the first five books from Genesis to Deuteronomy and did not believe in spirits or angels or the devil and his minions, and denied the resurrection of the body and life after. They were of the upper priestly religious group and seemed to be similar in belief to the Samaritans as well. We know them only from the New Testament and Josephus’ famous description of the groups of the first century. They are not a political group but rather a religious secular minded group more focused on themselves than others. They also seemed to be merchants and land owners. They no longer appear after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Judaism took on a continued new life through the Pharisees.

In the Gospel of Mark we see that Jesus does not defend himself by mentioning his own resurrection, instead he shows them how foolish their question is and tells them there will not be marrying in the heavens and that a new and higher life of relationship with God will be the future life of those who were married in a life similar to that of the angels. Jesus in my mind defends the perpetuity of marriage but in a different higher manner of relationship than what was on earth. We all who believe in the resurrection and communion of saints want to see and relate to our parents and our relatives. Husbands and wives desire to communicate with each other even after the death of one. God alone will provide for us humans which Paul tells us is beyond all what we could imagine.

God alone is the basis for life after death. “The text bases the doctrine of resurrection to the power of God and on communion with God (“I am the God of Abraham”). Resurrection is a gift from God. It is a vindication of the righteous who remain faithful to God in times of testing and suffering. And Jesus becomes the first and best example of his own teaching… Fr. John Meier argues that Mark 12: 18-27 may represent the teaching of the earthly Jesus on the resurrection of the dead.” (Sacra Pagina, page 353, t hen 352 (Meier) –Daniel Harrington, S.J.

June 2
Lectionary Ordinary Time starts with the readings taken from the Ninth Sunday of Readings: II Peter 3: 12-15, 17-18. Psalm 90: 2, 3-4, 14-16. Mark 12: 13-17:

II Peter is written long after Peter had died but it represents the thought of the great leader among the apostles whom Jesus has built his Church. This letter is the last book chronologically in the New Testament and is thought to have been finished in 125 A.D. The writer tells us to live as though we are in the last times—a theme that is not hard to imagine these days. Peter tells us that the Lord has great patience and that the justice of God will reside with us. He makes us look to the future at the end of journey with Christ in time. His message is for us to grow in the knowledge of our Lord through the grace given to us for our salvation through Jesus.

Psalm 90 reflects upon the time when Israel was suffering in the forty years in the desert. It is a practical wisdom psalm with lamentation from the whole community of Israel. It reflects on the vulnerability of life and how so few reach beyond seventy or eighty years in age. It is a good psalm for the senior citizens like me. Maybe since we are vulnerable we also strive to be venerable! Verse one is our responsorial verse; it helps us realize no matter: what our age is, “In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.”

The origin of Mark’s writing that is favored today is Rome. He has more Latin words than any other writer in the New Testament. Modern scholarship links him also with Alexandria and Galilee. Donahue and Harrington in the commentary they wrote on Mark in Sacra Pagina tell us, “Mark seems to have been written to respond to the needs of the Christian community that was suffering persecution (most likely at Rome around 70 C.E.) in the hope that his text (his story of Jesus) would become their text too.”

The Herodians favor the position of paying the census tax of the Romans, the Pharisees do not. Yet, they come together to try to trap Jesus with their question. Our reading is in that part of Mark’s Gospel where five such trick questions are asked of Jesus. These are the controversy stories surrounding Jesus and showing how opposition to him is building up. Jesus solves the problem for them by asking them whose image is on the coin? It is Caesar Augustus’, therefore, it belongs to him. The Pharisees were not allowed to worship emperors who made gods of themselves. We may be amused to find that in our country today there is such a question being asked about the virus. Should we follow the scientific evidence or should we go back to work areas with safety measures carefully observed or should we listen to political persuasions to get the economy going again and solving some of the problems of those who are not working? I liked this comment of Harrington: “While Christianity does not mandate any particular social structure, no power of “Caesar” takes precedence over love of God and neighbor.” Give to God the things that belong to God!” Amen.

June 1
Lectionary : Acts 1:12-14. Genesis 3; 9-15, 20. Respsoriral Psalm 87: 1-2, 3, 5, 6-7.John 19: 25-34.

This Feast of Mary Mother of the Church has been decreed most recently on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, Feb.11, 2018. Pope Francis decided that it should be celebrated on the Monday, after Pentecost which usually was followed by the liturgical season after Pentecost known as ordinary time. For me it was an excellent liturgical decision that removed us so quickly after Pentecost that it disturbed many of us who were still overjoyed with the Easter Season and its closing on Pentecost Sunday. The presence of Mary made the transition to the ordinary readings a more pleasant one and helped many of us to appreciate the comforting presence of Mary, Mother of Jesus in our lives as a model for our way of life in following Jesus, the Risen Lord and Messiah. This was a feast inspired by Galatians 4:4 where a Jewish woman is mentioned as giving birth to the Messiah.. Paul did not name her but we know she is Mary of Nazareth the Mother of Jesus. Paul’s text contains both saving events of the incarnation and redemption plus the mystery of Mary who has a role in this plan of God for the salvation of all.

Even from the earliest centuries there was theological thought about Mary as a new Eve who would give birth to the children of the Church just as Eve was the mother of all the living in this first stage of loss and then redemption. Irenaeus of Lyon was the Father of the marian theology dealing with the contrast between Mary and Eve. Paul had already suggested something like this contrast between Mary and Eve in declaring Jesus as the new Adam. Justin the martyr had a similar theology for this mystery. I like to think of Irenaeus as the first mariologist ( marian theogian).

I also was very pleased since I was at Rome during the Second Vatican Council when Pope Paul VI surprised everyone by declaring Mary Mother of the Church not as a dogma but as a theological foundation for this primary title of Mary. Then Pope Francis made the thought more practical and pastoral in having a celebration of Mary under this title. Liturgical theology operates from reading the Scriptures from a faith perspective while keeping in mind the development of non faith inspired interpretations from promoters of the historical critical method alone without the perspective of faith and the Church’s guided exploring of new insights into the mysteries of our faith found in the Scriptures.

The birth of the Church is celebrated on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descends upon the named apostles, the women disciples, and friends and relatives of Jesus gathered in the Upper Room; only Mary is mentioned by name among the apostles; everyone else is not named! Like the Incarnation where the Word became human in the person of Jesus being born of Mary through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit in a most silent and reverent mode; the birthing of the Church with Mary as the only woman mentioned is a powerful descent and presence of the Holy Spirit with fire and wind and noise.

In looking at the Mass and the liturgical readings we notice all come from the various parts of the Bible that have allusions to Mary and the Holy Spirit. The Mother of Jesus is associated with her son in all of his mysteries and we as her spiritual children grow in our faith through entering those mysteries of her son’s life, passion, death, resurrection and even through hope for a glorified life in the hereafter.

I concluded my meditation with the opening prayer for this feast of Mary Mother of the Church:

O God, Father of mercies, whose only begotten Son, as he hung upon the Cross, chose the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mother to be our Mother also, grant, we pray, that with her loving help your Church may be more fruitful day by day and exulting in the holiness of her children, may draw to her embrace all of the families of the peoples. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

May 31
Lectionary for Pentecost Sunday: Acts 2: 1-11. Psalm 104: 1.24. 29-30. 31.34. I Corinthians 12: 3-7, 12-13. John 20: 19-23:

The coming of the Holy Spirit after fifty days since Jesus was raised from the dead comes upon us quickly and we are, once again, put into another stage of the liturgical season that will seem ordinary after the fifty days of “unbounded joy.” I thought of what Jesus said in the Gospel of John 16: 21 about the image of a woman giving birth. She will have pain and anxiety but after the child is born there is great joy. Pentecost in Luke’s account brings us to the place of the upper room where Mary is gathered with the friends and apostles of Jesus. She is the only woman who is named among the others who are there. Certainly, this was intentional on the part of Luke the Evangelist who wrote the Gospel of the Holy Spirit and that of Prayer within his two works of Luke-Acts. These themes appear more frequently with the third evangelist than with the other three put together!

The Holy Spirit is called the Paraclete or Advocate and is the link between the final days of Jesus and the future life of the birthing of the Church—the members of his mystical body which is the Church. The name Paraclete is only given by Jesus in the Gospel of John. In his Epistle, the Paraclete , is even applied to Jesus . The Paraclete is the Holy Spirit and is mentioned in the following places in John: John 14:16-17; 14:26; 5: 26-27; 16:5b-11, and 16: 12-15.

We are fortunate to have two different locations for the coming of the Spirit in today’s Acts of the Apostles, our first reading, and in John our Gospel for today. Luke’ is more descriptive with the mighty winds (signs of the power of the Holy Spirit and the fiery tongues appearing above the ones gathered in the Upper Room. Outside the building many are gathered after hearing the winds shaking the house. They have come from all parts of the Mediterranean area to celebrate one of the three greatest festivals of the year in which all Jews desire to go up to the Temple for worship and thanksgiving. This feast is called the feast of Week (Shavuoth). The other two festivals are Passover and Tabernacles (Sukkoth). Luke has Pentecost happening fifty days after Jesus’ resurrection.

John’s Gospel may have two Pentecostal events, the first at the foot of the Cross at his death where blood and water flow from his side—signs of Baptism and Eucharist in the Church with Mary and John the Beloved Disciple as the first and preeminent members of the Church. Jesus entrutsts his mother to John and John takes her into his own intimacy as Mother of the Church. It would be some time later that the Catholic Tradition in the late second century would think of her as the Mother of the Church. Pope Paul VI, the primary leader after John XXIII would declare Mary as Mother of the Church at the close of Vatican II in 1965. More recently within the last three years, Pope Francis, has named the Monday after Pentecost as a feast of the Church celebrating Mary as Mother of the Church.

In a sense, we are never “orphans” as Jesus promised us for we have the Church as our community of faith and Mary as the mother of the Church. The Holy Spirit is the Person of the Trinity who overshadowed Mary and she conceived Jesus, the Word made flesh who dwells among us as we gather in his name. I personally, like the idea of Mary opening the succeeding Monday as the first day in ordinary time. The transition is made easier by having a woman take us through this abrupt ending of the Easter Season with Pentecost and just as quickly jetting us into Ordinary Time.

Luke’s Pentecost is filled with great power, heat, and light, and is similar to a theophany. John’s happens Easter Sunday Night when Jesus appears to those gathered in a room. The atmosphere is one of peace (Shalom) as Jesus greets them with that multi-layered word with his Shalom Aleichem “Peace be with you.” The text is applied to the forgiveness of sins where Jesus says to the apostles the binding and loosing of sins belongs to them as he acts through them (in persona Christi).

Sr. Carol Dempsey, O.P. in her homiletic reflection writes: “For Christians, Pentecost needs to be more than a liturgical feast; it is to be a way of life. Not only to proclaim to the world… but to live it out.” Amen.

May 30
Lectionary: Acts 28: 16-20.30-31. Psalm 11: 4.5.7. John 21: 20-25:

Today, John’s Gospel is brought to its conclusion. We now are waiting with joy for the coming of the Holy Spirit just as Jesus promised to send the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. We accompany Jesus in spirit as he completes his hour and is lifted up to the Father returning to God’s bosom as the Word of God.

I pondered over the Easter Readings taken from John and realized how many Christian scholars have poured over the pages of this unique Gospel through their prayers, reflections, research, and commentaries. It still remains a problematic gospel for many believers because of its symbolisms, signs, sources, and ambiguous dependence on the other three Gospels (the Synoptics).

In the last decade of his life, Father Raymond E. Brown, SS, wrestled with the identity of the one person who has always been taught by the Church as early as the second century named the Beloved Disciple, John son of Zebedee. Brown, using the exacting historical critical method could not conclude that the Beloved Disciple was one of the brothers whom Jesus called from their father’s fishing boat to follow him. Yet it was always taught and believed in the Church that John the Apostle is the Beloved Disciple of the Lord. The title Beloved Disciple is not present in the first book of John called the Book of Signs (chapters 1-12) but the t designation for one of Jesus’ apostles is found in the second part of John’s Gospel which is the Book of Glory. I add the word Love to that second book since Agape is present there more than in any other Gospel, certainly abundantly more than the word doxa (glory).

Put simply, I have always believed that the unnamed apostle was John of Zebedee. Despite many asking how could a fisherman write such good Greek when he was an Aramaic speaking disciple of Jesus from Galilee? As a Marianist I was taught and I believed that the person standing at the foot of the Cross with Mary, the mother of Jesus was John the Apostle, the Beloved Disciple. Never mind that the Evangelist never mentions the name of Mary either, but we take as a historical fact that she was the woman, the mother, and the faithful disciple of Jesus entrusted to the Beloved Disciple. No matter what other name has been suggested as the Beloved Disciple has been as convincing than what the omniscient author suggests. It is much easier to refute these names than to dismiss the name of John. All such efforts have failed so far to convince the scholars who base themselves on the historical critical method. Actually faith and tradition gives us the bigger picture of what is handed down to us through the Church which, in my opinion, is the interpreter of the Scriptures rather than anyone else who would make that claim. We also mention that the omniscient writer of the Gospel of John was guided by the Holy Spirit through the stages of the progressive writing of this magnificent presentation of Jesus with his words and deeds.

This Easter we have experienced the different styles, content, and chronology this Gospel has from what we know from the Synoptics. It is according to Brown the only Gospel that makes it clear that Jesus is divine and is one with the Father. It uses the very sacred name “I AM” when Jesus identifies himself with symbols that are universal like bread, water, spirit, life, way, truth, etc. Thomas the apostle in exclaiming “My Lord and My God” was expressing one whom he actually saw and lived with before the resurrection and after. This act of faith was reverently used at the Consecration of the Mass and still is by the majority of Catholics.

C.H.Dodd the great English exegete on the Gospel of John claimed the author used an ascending cyclical approach to the second part of the Gospel. I call it a winding staircase from which one gets a different perspective as you would when taking another step or two and looking down at some beautiful fountain down below. John actually has many different styles of writing in his composition—irony is among them, too. Instead of being a parable gospel it is a “figure of speech” Gospel as we learn from the omniscient author himself.

Perhaps, I should have used the greatest Incarnational text to represent what the author want us to know and believe as he presents to us in this remarkable Gospel text found in the prologue , John 1:14: “ And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” The hymn that could have originally been dedicated to the Baptist becomes John’s outline and over-arching prelude to the whole Gospel.

It may be helpful to you as it was to me is to take the concluding verses and read them a couple of times to see what the final redactor—also the omniscient author writes about himself and the purpose of the Good News about Jesus from his birth till his glorification at the right hand of the Father.

John 21: 23-25:

The saying spread abroad among the brethren, that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he should remain until I come, what is that to you?”

This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

I add these words from John’s Epistle:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life---the life was made manifest and we saw it and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us---that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our joy may be complete.”

I John 1: 1-4. AMEN.

May 29
Lectionary: Acts 25: 13-21; Psalm 103: 1-2, 11-12. 19-20. John 21: 15-19:

Paul is at Caesarea and once again he is being cross-examined about his desire to be tried by a Roman court in Rome. Herod Agrippa and Bernice are in the same city and are friends of Festus. Festus permitted Paul to be kept in prison to protect him as he awaits a final trial. In the eyes of the Romans he is no criminal.. The details of this event will be continued in tomorrow’s reading in which Festus will rehearse what Paul has undergone in the trial in Jerusalem.

One thing new for me is that Bernice was considered to be like a Queen. She is mentioned three times in the New Testament. We know more about her from Josephus the historian who mentions her in his history of the Jews. The termination of the name of important women in the history of Rome ends with nike (victory) hence a name of royalty which means a joyful victory. She conquered the hearts of many a Roman leader and lived an incestuous life with her brother Agrippa who is mentioned in today’s selection from Acts.

Psalm 16 is a prayer of hope and joy because of the providence of God. It is a good psalm for this time in our history when the coronavirus-19 has invaded the whole of our planet Earth. This psalm may also be one of the rare ones that hint at a life after death (resurrection?). It is used several times in the Liturgy of the Word during this Easter season. I found the one who composed this psalm had a wonderful ease in his relationship with God. He lived in the presence of God in joyful hope and confidence in God.

We are fortunate to have the last words of Jesus with Peter in today’s reading from the Gospel of John. We turn to the final chapter of John and probably the last redaction of that Gospel that has two endings that are similar for chapters 20 and 21. The interchange of Peter with Jesus is most intimate and it leads to Jesus telling Peter something that I find difficult but so true as we age in life and face the cruel dimension of facing death.

First, the intimate exchange is Jesus’ asking Peter three times if he loves him. Peter does and affirms it three times with the verbs agapan twice and philein once. They both mean deep profound love—perhaps even a sacred love when we consider it in the language of John in the Book of Glory and in his Epistles. Agape is the love commandment of Jesus revealed to John in the depths of what it means. Does it refer to the three denials of Peter during the sufferings of Jesus and his death? Most readers think it does. However, there is a certain love relationship of Jesus and Peter that could be expressed even outside of this last appearance of Jesus after having breakfast with the other apostles. Jesus asks, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me more than these (other apostles)?” He has no hesitation in saying I do love you despite his being hurt by that third question. Lovers are sensitive to the least tone or change in their affectionate expressions. Peter had that type of love for the Lord as a final revelation that John, his friend reveals.

The other difficult situation is where Jesus says to Peter and to all of us who are in the last decades of our lives, “I tell you solemnly: as a young man you fastened your belt and went about as you pleased; but when you are older you will stretch out your hands and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will.” (What he said indicated the sort of death by which Peter was to glorify God). When Jesus finished speaking he said to him, “Follow me.”

Peter did follow Jesus and gave up his life as a witness to Jesus’s love; he, too, died on a cross. Tradition has it that he was crucified upside down. Amen.

May 28
Lectionary: Acts 22: 30; 23: 6-11. Psalm 16: 1-2.5.7-8, 9-10. 11. John 17: 20-26:

Paul again escapes from a riot in the court in Jerusalem with the help of the Roman guards who were there. He divided the Sanhedrin consisting of Sadducees and the Pharisees on the question of bodily resurrection as Paul speaks of Jesus’ resurrection. Paul will eventually ask the judge to be sent to Rome to be judged as a Roman citizen. He will be sent to Rome to be tried and after two to three years of house arrest will be beheaded outside the walls of Rome as a true witness (martyr in Greek means both martyr and witness). The sentence that struck me was this one in the reading: “That night the Lord appeared to Paul and said, “Keep up your courage! Just as you have given testimony to me here in Jerusalem, so must you do in Rome.”

Psalm 16 is our responsorial psalm and the first verse is chosen as the responsorial verse: “Keep me safe, O God, you are my hope.” It is one of the most uplifting of the psalms filled with joy and hope and lifts up one’s spirits just by praying it alone or with others. Hope implies that we be patient in waiting for the Lord and also silent.

We now are at the end of the long farewell speech of Jesus that started in Chapter 13. Now Jesus is ending his long priestly and communitarian prayer as he prays intimately to the Father. He prays for his disciples and friends to be one with him and the Father not only in prayer but in their living out his mission of bringing the Good News to all peoples who are willing to listen and respond to the love of God. The disciples are slowly learning how they will be able to do this because of their union with Jesus and the Father. The prayers centers on a response coming from them as a community of believers who are to be one with Jesus and the Father. In some particular way he speaks of their being glorified and are one with him and the Father. John brings home the realized eschatology in this prayer of Jesus. Jesus prays, “These men know that you have sent me… that your love for me may live in them and my love in them.” (John 17:26).

John gives us a summary of 15: 1-17 in that love defines the community’s relationship to one another and with God and Jesus.” (G.T.O’Day). The entire prayer of Jesus serves as an introduction to the story of the “hour” in the Paschal Mystery and in what was said about him in Chapter 13: 1. Amen.