Daily Reflections by Father Bert

Nov 26
Lectionary for Ordinary time readings: Revelation 18: 1-2, 21-23; 19: 1-3.9. Psalm 100: Luke 21: 20-28:

Luke’s destruction of Jerusalem is based on his knowledge that this has already happened, but he received a tradition that Jesus had predicted what would happen as a future and prophetic event. Luke does present Jesus as a prophet in what he writes about Jesus more than the other gospels. John emphasizes the priestly office of Jesus and Matthew following Mark name Jesus as the Son of God and the son of man. Mark is unique in telling us explicitly that Jesus is the son of Mary through the human nature she gave him. Bishop Sheen expressed Mark’s title in this title by saying God asked Mary to give him a man and she did with her encompassing “Yes”.

These readings are difficult since this is Thanksgiving Day, but they do have the message to persevere, always giving thanks to God no matter what is happening to us or around us.

What struck me most is that Luke matches what Revelation is telling us in the first reading. Revelation is contrasting the fall of Rome in its prophetic and apocalyptic way of describing the downfall of the new Babylon which is the code name for Rome. Luke is speaking about Judah and the Romans who will destroy not only the Temple but even people who were living near the Dead Sea area.

Luke gives us his final insights through what Jesus tells us about the coming of Christ at the end of time. This is the strongest section on his eschatological look at what happened to the holy city. Jesus' words are prophetic in this part of Luke as we near the Passion Narrative of the Luke tradition. “Signs will appear in the skies, the sun, the moon, and the stars.” It is cosmic eschatology and we are told, “Stand up straight and persevere for our ransom is near.”

Revelation in chapters 18 and 19 describes the downfall of the Roman Empire where all of its wealth and merchandise will be lost to the buying nations as they too mournan and are in pain about the loss of their desired luxuries in life. The passage ends with a song sung by the followers of Jesus that helps us more to celebrate Thanksgiving than the rest of what chapter 18 and 19 tell us. The angels and saints join all those who are in heaven singing this song to praise God and the Lamb who is to celebrate his wedding with a bride coming down from the heavens. David Aune, the leading commentator on Revelation states, “The spirit of prophecy is identified with the witness about Jesus, which is the essence of prophecy.” (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 2333).

Psalm 100 takes me back to Thanksgiving Day for it is very positive and is filled with blessings, joy, trust, and covenant love. Verse 9 from Revelation 19 is taken as a very positive response for this Psalm which fits our Thanksgiving Day celebration. This fits both the Eucharist which means Thanksgiving and our community celebration: “And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” Amen.

Nov 25
Lectionary: Rev. 15: 1-4. Psalm 98: 1. 2-3. 7-8. 9. Luke 21: 12-19:

One of the important themes used by the seer of Patmos is that of the relationship of the Exodus event—the great miracle that gave both freedom and a land to the Israelites under the leadership of Moses. It was a victory over those who held them captive in Egypt. The visionary uses this theme within his apocalyptic narrative for the Paschal Mysteries of Jesus, the slain Lamb of God. The seer has the holy ones and the angels singing the Song of Moses praising God for the victory of both Moses and Jesus. This enables us to see the great role of Judaism within Revelation and the author’s use of the prophets and the Torah as background for his vision which happened on a Sunday, the first day of the week in the Jewish calendar. The apocalyptic vision creates, so to speak, a new way of presenting the Exodus for the reader.

The Psalm likewise speaks of a new song being sung and parallels what is said in our passage from Revelation: “Sing to the Lord a new song “ (Rev. 15:3). “For God works wondrous things for his people. His right hand has won victory for him. Great and wonderful are all your works, Lord Mighty God.”

Luke’s description of the persecution that followers of Jesus will undergo is not an apocalyptic one but rather based on historical events some of which happen even to this day when there is a conversion of a person from one faith belief to another. Even parents sometimes separate themselves from a member who does convert. We know from our long journey narrative in Luke that the third Evangelist has a look at the last things (heaven, hell, afterlife) from a realized eschatological approach meaning that the kingdom is in already present in the heart and soul of the one who follows and entrusts his/her life to Jesus. Those who witness to Jesus’ name are even persecuted in our modern times as we see the many who are martyred in giving witness to their beliefs whether Muslim, Jewish, or Christian. Luke notes that Jesus says, “By your perseverance you shall secure your lives.” I also like the old translation, “ you will save your souls.” Amen.

Nov 24
Lectionary: Rev. 14: 14-19. Psalm 96: 10: 15-12.13. Luke 21:5-11:

Since the Liturgy of the Word breaks up the continuous readings into shorter passages, we need to take a look at the bigger picture of an epistle, or a selection from another part of the New Testament. My meditation this morning led me to look at this bigger picture in Revelation which has many disparate periscopes presented to us within two weeks of the liturgy at these last two weeks of ordinary time. Revelation was chosen because it does focus on the last times or what is called eschatology by scripture scholars and theologians.

Apocalyptic writing is written during a time of intense pressure and anxiety similar to what we are undergoing now with the covid 19 virus. Revelation also speaks of it as a time of persecution from the Roman Empire in or near the first century of our calendar. Symbolic language, prophetic recall, numbers, and colorful imagery are a part of this genre of writing. Interpreting it requires a bit of decoding it and doing some detective-like work. Let me proceed with my thinking about this genre as I quickly unravel the bigger picture of this last book of the Bible.

It starts with Jesus who hands on the message of the visions that John of Patmos has on the day of the Lord in worship, that is, the first day of the week, a Sunday. Sunday is the day on which Jesus rose from the dead and this theme has a huge part in Revelaton or the Apocalypse. We learn of the rather lofty way in which Jesus is described in the first chapter; we could call it a high Christology in some respects similar to John’s Gospel and the Letter to the Hebrews. This shows how Christ is seen and experienced in the faith of those writings. Jesus is above all the Alpha and Omega, the one who is, was, and will be! He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

We learn that the author is told to write to the seven churches in Asia Minor (Turkey to be exact) where he addresses all seven them with an evaluation of how they are living the Christian life and where they need to reform and grow deeper in their Christian commitment of faith in Jesus. This takes us into the ecclesiology of the book of Revelation as John of Patmos writes to Ephesus, Smyrna or Izmir today, Pergamum , Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea . The fire and the lampstand are symbols for the seven spirits who guard and inspire these churches. These observations fit under the ecclesiology (study of church) of Revelation.

God and Jesus are central to the Bible and both are involved with our salvation and redemption. God works with Jesus and Jesus carries out the work, mission, and purpose of his life of doing the Father’s will (salvation history) . Jesus is always doing the will of the Father for our salvation. His Paschal Mysteries are the way in which Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection lead him back to the Father (“Ancient One”). We give the name soteriology to this perspective and lens for reading the Bible on how we are saved. It is here that we see God’s extravagant love, his mercy, tenderness, and agape or hesed behind the soteriology of Revelation or the Apocalypse.

In today’s reading we focus on the eschatological emphasis in the Book of Revelation. The judgment, war against the beast and the ancient serpent or devil, and evil and sin personified. The good angels war against the bad one and Michael subdues the Devil or Evil Angel.

As we near the final chapters of the Book we come to images of the new Jerusalem descending as a bride of the Lamb of God at the right hand of God—all mighty one (Pantokrator). The Church as bride is united to the Lamb and enters the eternal life of all the holy ones, good angels, and the Lamb with the four creatures and twenty-four elders representing both the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles.

I have zipped and zoomed through the Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) from beginning to end. It also prefigures or next new year starting with Vespers on Sunday, the season of Advent. We still sing Hallelujahs.

Now Handel’s Messiah can be sung and passionately expressed knowing that all ths is behind that great piece of Easter music used in the churches.

Psalm 96 verse 13 relates to the judgment saying, “The Lord comes to judge the earth and governs the people with equity and rules the world with justice.”

Luke 21: 5-11:

Finally in coming to the Gospel of Luke we learn more of the historical background of God working through the crooked lines of the human story in order to make it a divine story with God’s handwriting. The admiration for the Temple and all of its beauty—was it one of the seven wonders of the world? Luke has Jesus historically predicting the destruction of the holy city, Zion (Jerusalem)In 70 A.D. while Luke as the omniscient writer of his own two-fold work of Luke-Acts sees the event of the fall of Jerusalem as a post factum event. He is both a theologian, an Evangelist, an artist, and a historian. Amen. And Alleluia.

Nov 23
Lectionary: Revelation 14: 1-3, 4-5. Psalm 24: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6. Luke 21: 1-4

I focused on the Gospel reading in my meditation this morning and found it to be very touching and tender on the part of Jesus and Luke, the Evangelist of compassion. It is the incident where Jesus sees a poor woman putting in her last two copper coins into the coffers in front of the Temple. Jesus seems to have perfect vision in observing her actions of total trust in the Lord, and he also sees how deep her faith and trust in God is. She has a listening heart and she is among the Poor of God (Yahweh) in her act of generosity, devotion, and love and trust of God. We can learn much from this unnamed woman. Both Jesus and St. Luke has kept her memory alive as we read this Gospel paragraph.

In biblical language she is among the most poor who are named the “Anawim” or the Poor of Yahweh. You get an insight of who they are by reading and pondering over Psalm 113. My Hebrew teacher had us memorize this Psalm and I am glad I did with the other two students who were in the class. It has resonance with the Magnificat of Mary and, of course, as a Marianist, I did think and bring Mary into my meditation. A French priest Father Albert Gelin wrote a small book that has been translated into English that gives one a good study of who and what an “Anaw or Anawim are and do. In simple words they trust absolutely in God because their status shows us they have no one else to depend upon. Many people are in this same status here in our country U.S.A. during this epidemic of covid-19 virus. I picture the woman in our Gospel as a model for our own detachment from many of the possessions we have that are really surplus objects. Of course, the whole world has its share of the ‘Anawim and most countries have so many more of these people who are in absolute poverty and have no one they can depend upon except God.

In Psalm 113 and in Mary’s Magnificat the virtue the Poor of Yahweh have is that of humility. It is not a virtue for weaklings or the proud but takes great courage to be truly humble in the virtue of humility. Jesus called us to have the dispositions of children and of the “little ones” for it is such that belong to the kingdom of God. Their key virtue is not poverty, that is their status, but humility. In the Magnificat is seen in the Greek word “tapeinosis” in the context of Mary’s hymn this means total openness to God’s will. Caryll Houselander wrote a beautiful book on Mary and used the metaphor of a Reed through which the Holy Spirit would breathe through in song and love. The reed is an empty vessel through which the Lord and Spirit work. This book is one of the very best to read during Advent and has been used on many retreats.

The poor woman who caught the eye of Jesus certainly reminded him of his own mother who lived out that spirit of the ‘Anawim’ throughout her life and felt its pain through the sufferings she embraced. The sword of sorrow was traditionally celebrated as the fullness of such suffering— the seven sorrows of Mary.

Despite all the sufferings Mary went through and what the poor woman went through they both were devoted to God and always gave their yes—even when they were in desperate straits. Jesus saw a reflection of his own mother in that poor woman who gave all she had to the dwelling place of God. Mary said yes to God and Jesus came to dwell within her and all the rest is history---salvation history for God so loved the world that he gave Mary his only Son so that we would have life and have it abundantly. Amen.

Nov 22
Lectionary for the Feast Of Christ the King, 34 th Sunday, Year 2, cycle A: Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17. Psalm 23: 1-2,2-3, 5-6. I Corinthians 15: 20-26, 28. Matthew 25: 31-46:

Jesus is celebrated as Christ the Shepherd King. The texts in the Liturgy of the Word bring out the meaning of this title of Jesus that is rather common in the Hebrew Scriptures where God is described as a shepherd who cares for the safety and well-being of his sheep, the People of Israel. Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament have texts about God’s providential care within a pastoral and agricultural background of first century Palestine (Israel). The prophet Ezekiel develops this image in chapter 34 where he contrasts the good shepherds with those who are selfish and use the sheep for their own pleasure and riches. St. Augustine will write many pages on the pastors of the church who are called to be courageous shepherds. His sources are Ezekiel and the Psalms.

I have seen shepherds but the only time I personally met one was a great surprise and experience. It was a young shepherdess in the hills surrounding one of the seven churches in Turkey that formerly were thriving Christian congregations that were addressed in a letter by John of Patmos in the Book of Revelation which we are currently reading during this last week of the liturgical calendar. She was not tending sheep but as the Gospel points out both goats and sheep need a shepherd; she had a flock of goats which were very curious about me and the four other pilgrims visiting the seven former remains of the seven churches. The shepherdess kept touch with her family by means of a cell phone which also was a surprise to me that she would have one. As we reached the sparse remains of the former church of Laodicea there was a small mount which I went up to explain the history of that church. The pilgrims were not that attentive but the goats got close to me and seemed to be more interested than my group of four pilgrims. This made me think of the lone citation about Mary’s role in connection with Jesus the Shepherd King. It is to my knowledge the only reference to Mary in the Constitution of the Liturgy but is a good one: “Mary is joined by an inseparable bond to the saving work of her son. “ ( 103, Constitution of the Church on the Liturgy).

Allow me to comment briefly on the readings for this feast of the Church which close the ordinary time of the liturgical year. The new liturgical year starts with Vespers for the first Sunday of Advent next Sunday.

Ezekiel is one of the most creative prophets in his use of symbols, images, parables, and parable like actions leaving us in awe by means of his kaleidoscopic and colorful actions and scenes within his texts. His chapter 34 is a masterpiece which Matthew uses as a source for the only Last Judgment scene in the New Testament where the sheep and the goats are separated one from the other. On the right are the sheep because they fulfill the corporal works of mercy or the love commandments of Jesus, and the goats on the left because people did not fulfill these needs of our neighbor or were oblivious of them during their life. The sheep are the righteous; the goats are the sinners. “ When did we see you, O Lord, hungry, thirsty, or naked? Matthew uses his repetitive and orderly presentation of the positive execution of the corporal works while following them up with the goats imaging those who did not fulfill them. In Ezekiel it is God who is the role model for the ever provident and good Shepherd for he is king of kings as Revelation tells us, and Lord of Lords!

Psalm 23 is the favorite psalm of most people and probably the only one that people can recite by heart. It is the most popular psalm since it is so consoling and comforting for those who stray to be led into the green valley by the all protective and good shepherd.

In I Corinthians Paul recounts how Jesus is concerned about us so much he lowers himself to not clinging to his divinity but by being among us as a humble man. Even after becoming the one who returns to God and whom we then call as Lord through the Holy Spirit, Jesus returns all that he has saved and brought home and does to the right hand of the Father who is then “all in all.”

Chapter 25 of Matthew is one of the greatest in the New Testament for helping us to see what our responsibility is when finally facing God on judgment day. This scene is not a parable but a judgment pointing to the nations or the Gentiles. Matthew seems to not be directing this to the Jews nor the Jewish converts to Christianity but to the Gentiles. The titles of Jesus as Son of Man and also as Messiah king indicate that he is the judge of the Gentiles. What is seen through the good works of the little ones or the disciples as missionaries is what leads scholars to think of it as the strongest judgment scene in the New Testament. Benedict Viviano tells us “The passage is a masterpiece, the highpoint and grand finale of the fifth discourse and of the public ministry. But does it stem from Jesus, from Matthew, the early Church? It could also stem from Judaism and the tradition that Jesus live in and Matthew then structured into his magnificently well designed Gospel with a theological message for all those who had not yet heard of Jesus or his Gospel.” Viviano also says, “This much loved text presents a practical religion of loving-kindness, love of neighbor.” Those who are most in need of God and or Jesus are addressed as the Gentiles—all are our ancestors in the struggle to listen to the witnesses and evangelizers that are living out these acts of goodness, hospitality, and love of neighbor. “It (the judgment of the nations) presupposes human moral responsibility and conscience and God taking human actions seriously.” JBl, Matthew, Viviano, p 669).

Since we all go rusty at times in thinking about the corporal works as expressed in Matthew and also the Spiritual works of mercy I end with listing them to refresh our early years when we knew them by heart.

This will help us to be mindful of Jesus presence as we go about our ministry, work, and living our life in a meaningful way: Here are the seven corporal and spiritual works of mercy:

Corporal Works of Mercy

1) Feed the Hungry (Matthew 25: 31-40) Six of the seven

2) Give drink to the Thirsty

3) Clothe the Naked

4) Shelter the Homeless

5) Visit the Sick

6) Visit the Imprisoned

7) Bury the Dead

Spiritual Works of Mercy

1) Admonish the Sinner

2) Instruct the Ignorant

3) Counsel the Doubtful

4) Bear wrongs Patiently

5) Forgive offenses Willingly

6) Comfort the Afflicted

7) Bury the Dead

Nov 20
Lectionary: Revelation 10: 8-11. Psalm 119: 14.24. 72.103. 111.131. Luke 19: 45-48:

We have finished the long Travel Narrative of Luke which takes up the middle part of his Gospel. Jesus has reached his goal to be in Jerusalem to celebrate one of the three great pilgrimage feasts which he had been accustomed to do with Joseph and Mary. Now it will become the Exodus of Jesus or his return to the Father. Here only Luke uses this word “exodus” to describe his passion, death, and resurrection as we have seen and learned in the Transfiguration pericope or passage. The word Exodus for Luke means the “way out” of this world to the next through the resurrection.

Jesus upon finding money changers in front of the Temple and some inside perhaps near to the entrance of the women’s court, drives them out and upsets their tables in a rage not seen elsewhere in the Gospels. Jesus acts out of the justice of God and cites Jeremiah the prophet who had said, “My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” His zeal not anger itself is what consumes Jesus’ peace of mind with what was going on in a sacred Temple that he loved and frequented from childhood on. The leaders are upset with his behavior which adds fuel to the fire of their wish to turn him over to the Romans to be done away with. His death is surrounded by what he says and does near and in the Temple. This will be brought up in his trial before the Passover.

In our first reading we leap from chapter five of the Book of Revelation to chapter ten where we continue to focus what is unraveled for us through the vision of John of Patmos. Here the presentation by an angel John receives a smaller scroll and is told to eat it. It tastes like honey on the mouth and inside his mouth but burns and is bitter in his stomach. It is the symbol of being called from simply a seer and visionary to being a prophet of God. This means that both blessings will come from God through his mouth, but also curses on those who have become lukewarm like those in the church of Laodicea. Wilfrid J. Harrington, O.P. states,” Every word of God, even the proclamation of judgment, is at once word of grace and of challenge. Every person who struggles to preach and teach the word of God knows this taste, this satisfaction, and this sickness in the stomach.” ( Harrington, Sacra Pagina, p.116 and Boring, 142).”

Our prophet, John of Patmos, is being called to be such a prophet and when he fulfills his call it is only then that he comes to know and experience the “mystery” of God that Jesus, his Son, the Paschal and slaughtered Lamb of God will reign forever and that God’s creatures are to respond in profound adoration and worship. The Book of Revelation is all about the worshiping of God alone. Amen.

Nov 19
Lectionary: Revelation 5: 1-10. Psalm 149: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 9. Luke 19: 41-44:

Jesus displays all the qualities of a good human person. Today we learn from Luke that he was brought to weeping over the beautiful sight of Jerusalem, the sacred gem for God’s dwelling among the people Jesus loved, his own descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel (Jacob). He is weeping for he is totally human like others who were aware of the hidden threat the Romans always had in their occupied territories. He and others foresaw the signs that were leading to its destruction in 70 A.D. His weeping shows his humanity here and in many of the narratives in Luke who presents the compassionate image of Jesus.

This is Jesus' last journey to the Temple in Jerusalem. His words and actions will eventually lead to his death on the cross, the terrible instrument of torture and death for criminals. The Romans will crucify him just outside the walls of Jerusalem. Jesus laments that his people have not known the time of their visitation from the Lord.

In Revelation we are now in chapter five which describes the seer or visionary again before the throne of God. Chapter four described his vision of the new Jerusalem and the throne. Artists have captured the vision through their specific cultural and artistic gifts throughout the ages. Here the scene focuses on a scroll written on both sides (it is called a palimpsest in order to save space and probably is a scroll made of lamb or sheep skin. It has seven seals which reveal seven steps in the plan of God for what is to happen to the Christian Jewish churches created by Paul and his companions. An angel presents the scroll to John and he weeps for he feels inadequate and doubts his ability to open the seals. This will be done by the encouragement of one of the angels who serve before the throne. We see the prayers and worship on the part of the elders and four creatures before the throne. Finally, the image of the Lamb of God is there and it is he, Jesus, who will open the scroll and its message of the history of salvation, the plan of God for delivering God’s people. A new song is sung. We notice how many times prayer, song, and biblical allusions occur in the Book of Revelation. These are the rich and wholesome characteristic of most of the book of Revelation which is not meant to scare us nor render us hopeless. It is a song of the Lamb of God and his bride—the Churches—who come down from heaven to the new Jerusalem. Jesus is called the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, and the stem of David. Notice how the titles and the story are filled with theological themes of Christology, Eschatology, and Soteriology or salvation history through Jesus. I discovered that the word for victory( NIKE) is used seventeen times in Revelation out of the 28 references to that word in the rest of the New Testament. The battle has already been won by the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world only skirmishes are taking place showing that some of the believers do not sense the victory is won and God is always Emmanuel (God with us; Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, and the one who is, was, and ever will be). Amen.