Daily Reflections by Father Bert
Lectionary for First Day of Fall: Proverbs 21: 1-6, 10-13. Psalm 119: 220.127.116.11.35. 44. Luke 8:19-21:
Many of us in the Midwest and North East were greeted with crispness in the air, clarity in the distance and the beautiful passage in Luke about the mother of Jesus wanting to be with her son. What a good way to be greeted by Autumn. Even the Journal I use for the first draft of these biblical thoughts and reflections had under the date these words, “Fall begins.”
During the past two weeks we have been continuously reading from the Gospel of Luke and have picked up his difference in style, placement, and literary expertise. St. Luke introduces his work with a beautiful periodic sentence that helps us to see what his plan is for both the Gospel and the Acts. He writes over one third of the New Testament; only Paul his companion surpasses him in the amount of verses attribute to him in their texts about Jesus and the Christian community.
Mary, the mother of Jesus is not one who sits around at home and waits for things to happen. She is always on the road, the way, and the paths that lead to her son. Stay at home does not apply to her in the way she followed the Father while being guided and protected by the Holy Spirit.
In remaining just with the Gospel today, I enjoyed how Luke shortens the other two Evangelists in recording this event in the life of Jesus. Jesus is teaching and Mary is wanting to be where he is and her relatives also follow suit. You and I want to be with Jesus learning about the kingdom, about God, and what it means to really love with one’s whole heart, mind, and soul. We learn so much from his wisdom, his healings, and his doing the will of the Father every day and every moment of his short life of thirty some years.
Jesus teaches that to be like him we need to not only listen to him teaching and preaching the word of God, we must act upon it as Mary did and then ponder it over when we have time to think and pray. Only Luke gives Mary a voice with her words that surpass all the rest who say so few things about her and do not give her the words of her song and her actions. She is running with care as she visits Elizabeth and does it with prudence so she is not hurt on the way to help her cousin. She makes haste s l o w l y (“festina lente”). A good Latin way of translating the meta spoude that Luke writes in Luke 1:39 at the beginning of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. She does this while always catching up with Jesus.
Didn’t she do this while she searched and looked for him while he remained behind in Jerusalem Luke 2: 41-50)? She certainly was aware of his way of the Cross and followed him all the way to Calvary perhaps with a couple of other women named Mary. We find her standing at the foot of the Cross with the Beloved Disciple realizing that those who serve the Lord often have to stand and wait; that, too, is serving. She takes in Jesus last words on the Cross painfully as he is leaving her once again and returning to the Father. She will follow this path also and return to the Father like her son who is the first fruit of the Resurrection. She hastens to the upper room for the Holy Spirit to come and make her the Mother of the Church. Fall and Winter pass and a new springtime has come with the gentle warmth of a strong wind and even gentler with the breath of the Holy Spirit leading Mary and the apostles, women, and brethren to move out of the upper room and to keep on going bring he son to all who are willing to listen to him and to do the will of the Father as he has. Amen.
Lectionary: Proverbs 3: 27-34. Psalm 15: 2-3, 3-4, 5. Luke 8: 16-18:
Our readings are very short and are easy to understand. They emphasize the theme of wisdom especially its practical nature often expressed in the Bible. It uses most of the linguistic and literary genres known at the time that extends from 1000 B.C. down into the time of the New Testament. Jesus' sayings in the parables and the similes that he uses are good examples of it.
I think we have a good sampling of it in Proverbs, the Psalm, and in Jesus saying about light not being hidden under a bushel basket. The down to earth meaning of these readings is to have a respect and awe about the wisdom of the writings that have been handed down to us; this is the beginning of wisdom. Within the saying some images emerge which show the importance of choosing the good over the bad in our situations in life and prioritizes the search for biblical righteousness which is connected to wisdom and justice as we see in Proverbs today.
Wisdom literature is part of the practice of what the Bible is telling us for living a just and a wholesome life. The virtue of justice covers most of this but it is to be seen in the light of wisdom which makes it possible to choose what is right and to know what is wrong in our life. Wisdom sayings have a universal appeal and thus can help to make our world a better place to live in. Wisdom literature belongs to the third part of the Bible after the Torah and the Prophetic writings. Proverbs, Wisdom, Song of Songs and many of the Psalms belong to wisdom literature.
Proverbs tells us we are friends of God when we live lives of wisdom. For that reason it is important to practice it in order to love God more clearly, fully, and with mind, heart, and soul with its emotional drives. Sometimes Wisdom is personified as in chapters 8 and chapter 24 of Proverbs. Often the examples are very practical, succinct, and compelling for living life in a joyful manner and becoming optimistic in our outlook despite the chaos that may be emerging around us.
Much of the wisdom in the Book of Proverbs comes from the ancient oriental wisdom especially from Egypt and Syria. It has its origin in works attributed to Solomon, the great king of wisdom, down to the time of the Great Assembly of the Synagogue in the third century before Christ. King Hezekiah and the sages of the Temple put wisdom literature in the Bible. Hezekiah reigned in Judah around the years 715-686 B.C.
The very best of Wisdom figures is Jesus. For me Jesus is Wisdom personified which puts all in order, heals, and saves us while encouraging us to become humble, filled with wisdom, and love of God. Jesus is the light of the world, therefore, he is not hidden but revealed to those who have the fear and awe of the Lord as Creator and Redeemer and who follow the Lord in his sayings with a listening heart. It is wisdom that makes good leaders, advisors, spiritual directors, confessors and mentors for the young. Let us not forget that Jesus learned much from his Mother Mary of Nazareth who taught him from his earliest years till his public ministry—a short thirty some years. She is therefore called the “Seat of Wisdom” in the litany and is called upon to take upon ourselves the characteristic of the meaning of Sophia in Greek, namely, wisdom which is a feminine noun applied to everyday practical living with grace and knowledge. Amen.
Lectionary: Isaiah 55: 6-9. Psalm 145: 2-3, 8-9, 17-18. Philippians 1: 20-24,27. Matthew 20: 1-6:
Sunday is the Lord’s Day because of his glorious resurrection from the dead on that first day of the week according to the Jewish Calendar (Yom Ehad). It is a great day for prayer, relaxation, and enjoying meals with friends. We thank God for the gifts of the past week and look forward to a week in which we are involved with God’s works in our ordinary duties of life and those that may be special on a Sunday like reading ahead of time the Scriptures in the Liturgy of the Word. These meditations are an easy way of entering into the spirit of Sunday and giving some extra time to our spiritual prayers and reflections.
Two thoughts flow from the Scriptures today. The first is the fact that God thinks and acts differently than we expect on and in our temporal world and its concerns. The second thought is that all God does for us comes from God’s loving caring and extravagant generosity and offers us a chance to respond.
Most homilists will comment on the parable for today. It is a parable only found in Matthew who associates most of the parables under the theme of kingdom starting with the familiar words, “The kingdom of God is like…then the image or story begins. Since it is a kingdom parable it has a connection with the coming and eventually reaching the kingdom of God beyond our temporal and terrestrial realm. The resurrection theme of each Sunday prepares us for the kingdom as does the parable for this 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year two, cycle one.
No matter what life-style we live or what our vocation may be, the parable calls us to respond interiorly and exteriorly to God’s call to Jesus’ teaching in this parable. The owner hires each of the groups by offering them the usual fair wage, nothing more. Those at the end of the day who worked for an hour or two get the same pay as those who came at the other hours of the day. The last are paid first—a Matthean theme that fits his saying the last called to the kingdom are the Gentiles, the first are the Jews. The owner pays a just wage and thinks differently on how he does this since it is his money and he can pay some more than others and acts justly if it is a fair wage. No matter at what stage or hour we are called we should respond and accept the invitation to work in doing God’s will. We will be given what we need for our labor in the harvest of God. All are given what God has promised to them though sages, saints, prophets, the humble may receive the same reward. Jesus saves us all according to God’s will that no one should perish and all of us enjoy eternal life. We are surprised by what God promises and how he makes each one of us to work at longer or shorter hours in our life. Jealousy and envy are not part of the deal in our response. We realize it will be just what we need—a just payment for the work we do for the Lord. We take the gifts that God gives us and use them for the long or short journey we have individually toward the kingdom of God. Some receive the gift at the beginning of their life, some in youth, others in the mature years, but all of us are rewarded with spiritual gifts from the Lord till the end of our lives. God’s ways are beyond our way of calculating what our hours are worth and beyond what we dreamed of no matter what pay we receive. God’s love, mercy, and tenderness are for us forever.
Father Roland Faley, T.O.R. (Third Order Regular of St. Francis) has these practical words for us this Sunday: God’s way of acting does not follow human standards (see Isaiah 55: 6-9). The reward or compensation is not commensurate with the work done. The parable can be transposed in different keys. Sincere contrition can avert definite separation from God at any moment in life (see Paul, Philippians 1: 20-24, 27). The faithful servant and the repentant sinner can stand completely equal footing before God. It is the goodness of God that outweighs any other characteristic. And all of us tainted by sin,can only be grateful for that. It is a lesson that bears repeated emphasis. Many people are so burdened with guilt that they see no way out. For them there is no hope. And yet the Word of God teaches us the opposite.” (Footprints on the Mountain, p. 614). Amen.
Lectionary: I Cor. 15: 35-37, 42-46. Psalm 56: 10-12, 13-14. Luke 8: 4-5.
Paul corrects those who have doubts about a bodily resurrection. This comes from his Jewish background and he is very convinced of bodily resurrection, but , as he explains, it may be different from what we imagine that to be. He uses images to explain what he believes and shares with his communities in Corinth. I like what he says and from the Gospel narratives about the Resurrection it fits in with the gift of faith I enjoy and try to live out each day in what it is telling me about the life in the Spirit and about my belief in Jesus, the Son of God, become Son of Mary for our salvation.
Paul, like Jesus compares our bodily resurrection to a grain (seed) of wheat that falls into the ground and dies, but rises to a new life full of nourishment. Paul starts his thought about this new life in this way: “A natural body is put down (in the earth) and a spiritual body comes up.”
Luke, too, joins us in using parables and literary images in what was the first parable of Jesus ever recorded, first in Mark and then in Matthew and Luke. This parable we read from Luke today is not directly connected with resurrection but gives us the background of how Jesus and Paul teach with images present in parables and other ancient figures of speech. The whole process is told in the parable of how a sower sows his field and scatters it over the land he owns. This starts the juices in our mind to think differently and in biblical images somewhat unfamiliar to many today.
The seed is the word of God and many of the parables are about Jesus as The Word of God (John 1: 1-4).
Back to Paul who answers the questions of those doubting bodily resurrection. He comes back to the image of the seed which started with Jesus in the parable of the seeds. “The seed you sow does not germinate unless it dies. “ Jesus says it more clearly, “I tell you most solemnly unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it yields a rich harvest. Anyone who loves his life, loses it; and anyone who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” Love and hate are used in the Bible when we think of priorities…hate means to love less. To live life joyfully we need to have our own soul living out the values of the Gospel as our priorities in life. Jesus wants us to love God above all and the rest will fall in order of priority, for example, family, friends, and even ourselves.
Paul sums up his teaching in this manner, “Weakness is sown, strength rises up. A natural body is put down and a spiritual body comes up.” Amen.
Lectionary: I Corinthians 15: 12-20. Psalm 17: 1, 6-7, 8.15. Luke 8:1-3:
St. Paul continues to reflect and challenge his audience to realize the great importance the Resurrection in the lives of Christians and in their development of their faith. This marvelous event of our faith gives us encouragement and consolation that death is overcome by Jesus and which he shares with all who believe in him.
I personally experienced this faith this morning by assisting at a Mass for a dear friend of mine who made thirty retreats with me. Her brother, is a Franciscan priest from Albany, New York and his homily/eulogy showed how faithful she was to her faith and is now with God. Life is changed not ended. This gave me strength in what I believe about the life after death that Jesus has promised us and Paul has helped us to appreciate and develop.
Jesus, is according to Paul, the first fruits of the Resurrection and we, as his Mystical Body are the harvest for God’s garden of saints, angels, and friends. Paul has told us this is true and if it is not we Christians are all among “the deadest of the dead!” Paul asserts the importance of witnessing to this marvelous mystery of God’s extravagant love for all of us who believe. The first witnesses were the women and men who followed Jesus and then testified by their lives that Jesus is risen. Mary Magdalene was the “apostle to the apostles” in witnessing that Jesus is truly risen. Two other women are mentioned as helping Jesus while he was alive as well as following him up the road to Jerusalem with his other disciples and apostles. (Luke 8: 1-3). Jesus’ Resurrection is the amazing event that leads us all through death’s door to eternal life.
Psalm 33 speaks of the “Glory” of God; I understand that in the light of the Gospel of John what he testifies to in the second “book” of his Gospel which leads to his death on the Cross and his elevation on the Cross (chapter 3-21 is called the Book of Glory, John while chapters 1-12 are the Book of Signs which lead us to our faith in Jesus (pisteuein eis Iesoun) another great theme in the Gospel of John besides the glory and love of God.
Our Psalm speaks of the glory of God and uses verse 15 as our response at the Mass, “Lord, when your glory appears my joy will be full.” This psalm is very sincere and personal coming from a composer who loves God with his whole heart and his talent in prayer and music. He lives in the presence of God and we learn how to do that too by taking on the spirit in which he composed it. We wait patiently and pray in the presence of God and then live through our daily routines and overcome our hardships with a raging coronavirus.
In chapter eight of Luke we have a short transition to the chapters before we begin the great Journey Narrative of Luke ( 9:51 to 19;44). Three women are mentioned as those who take care of the food and expenses of Jesus’ apostles. Mary Magdalene, Susanna, and Joanna are their names—something unusual in the Bible but how rewarding for them that we still recall their presence on the way up to Jerusalem to accomplish the will of the Father in what we call the Paschal Mysteries (life, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glorification or Ascension of Jesus). Amen. 447.docx-20
Lectionary: I Corinthians 15: 1-11. Psalm 118: 1-2, 16-17, 28. Luke 7: 36-50
In reflecting on the passage from St. Paul in our first reading I found a relationship between the belief in the Resurrection of Jesus and the healing power of Jesus. I found the word for healing which happens to be used in our other readings as well. Soterein the Greek of salvation and healing are the same word. This led me to pray and ponder over the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection and our own struggles with faith, healing, and salvation.
While teaching New Testament at the University of Dayton in the decade of the seventies (1970) Bishop Pike, a very popular writer and speaker visited U.D. and I was part of a discussion with him on the Resurrection. He told us that the one thing that keeps him from doubting whether resurrection occurs after death is chapter 15 of St. Paul in his first Letter to the Corinthians. Ever since, I have found Paul’s words are most helpful on a pastoral level to those who have great doubts about the mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection. I find Paul is giving us information that helps us to progress in our faith in believing what is said in the Gospels about Resurrection. Paul may have heard the other apostles preaching it but above all witnessing to it by their preaching and teaching and finally in dying as martyrs—another word that has two meanings in Greek, namely one who is a martyr and the other meaning, a witness (martyr, martyrein). Our belief in the Resurrection stems from believing in the witnesses of the first century, the apostles and Mary Magdalene who witnessed to each other despite some of them having doubts like many do today.
Paul tells us that he affirms the following which was “handed down to him” through the Gospel Tradition: “For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Kephas (Peter), then to the Twelve. After that appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living but some have fallen asleep. After that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, to one who was born abnormally, he appeared to me.”
“Through it,” he tells us, “you are being saved, if you hold fast to what I preached to you.” Paul is giving his witness to the Resurrection by his preaching, his teaching, and his activity among them as a believer. Paul continues to say something similar in Romans 1:16 “The Gospel …is the power of God, for the salvation of everyone who believes.”
Dr. Branick, a Pauline scholar, states this about our text: “This text is the earliest account and witness we have to the resurrection of Jesus. Like the Lord’s Supper teaching (11:23-26) , this teaching was already a tradition when Paul preached to the Corinthians around A.D.52.”
Branick ends with a reflection in these words: “The Resurrection of Jesus in itself does not depend on our faith and proclamation, but it lives and transforms the minds of human beings only in that faith and proclamation.” Amen.
Lectionary: I Corinthians 12:31- 13:13. Psalm 33: 2-3, 4-5, 12, 22. Luke 7: 31-35:
Music is very important when it comes to the subject of love. Today’s Scriptures all contain a reference to music, musical instruments, and how some can refrain from entering into it as two groups of children are an illustration about Jesus and John the Baptist. This serves more as a background during these days of the coronavirus. Music helps calm us, relax us, and help us to feel good about life.
We learn very much about love in the hymn that Saint Paul has given to us in chapter 13 of his first epistle to the Corinthians. The wisdom theme of the early chapters is over and now we enter into the mystery of love and how Paul also sees the Resurrection of Jesus to be most important in the life of a Christian believer.
Love letters, hymns about love, poetry, and music make love one of the greatest gifts we have received from God. St. Paul extols it above all the other gifts including faith and hope. Love endures forever and a day like today! I have a small card that contains Paul’s Hymn of Love and a translation by J.B. Phillips, a translator of the New Testament. He tells us to make that love hymn by putting the words he shares with us in his English translation as our own, for example, instead of love is patient, kind, etc. We put on our own first name there for each of the positive virtues and a note for the negative words like Jane is not envious, Al is not quick-tempered, etc. It is a good way to interpret our experiences by making sure we apply the content and meaning of the hymn to ourselves in order to have our priorities straight with God and our neighbor. I do this once in awhile just to pray with a favorite Scripture passage for millions of people.
Dr. Vincent Branick in his Commentary on I Corinthians writes this about our passage from Paul (I Cor. 12: 31b-13:13): If there is one gift of the Spirit that stands out—because it is all encompassing—that is love.” The use of the pronoun “I” would accomplish the same thing as your own name being said before each of the appropriate lines. Try it, I think you will like it.
Since the two words for love are known both in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the New Testament, they are worthwhile knowing; in Hebrew the ‘ahava means the love the Scriptures speak about; and in the New Testament part, the word agape means the love that Paul is talking about. For getting deeper into this biblical meaning one goes to Deuteronomy 6: 5-9 and Leviticus 19: 18 which sum up the whole Torah of the Hebrew text and Paul’ understanding of the meaning of it in that language and also in Greek which he wrote in I Corinthians where it reads agape in our beautiful passage for the day.
I am fond of those psalms that mention love and the word for the heart. In fact, in a small book on the Psalms I used the title “With a Listening Heart” where I have a short commentary on each psalm. Together with what Deuteronomy 6 tells us and what Paul shares in his hymn, we have a rich look at love as understood in the Bible. The Psalm mentions music and illustrates the instruments used in music plus at the beginning of each psalm there usually is an introduction to what melody be used and sometimes who the author is or even a core group like the Koraites who wrote some very beautiful psalms. Our Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 33 and it has as its response the following refrain, “Happy the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.” This is all about God’s love and we are to be happy in this world and in the next as the Baltimore Catechism expressed it. I like the following verse, “Sing to God a new song; pluck the strings skillfully, with shouts of gladness.” And, “God loves justice and right; of the kindness of the Lord the earth is full.”
Jesus uses an example of how some people reject both John the Baptist who was too unreal for them with his fasting and asceticism while Jesus was too liberal in eating and drinking with sinners and tax-collectors who work for the Romans. They are like groups of children who gather to play and one group takes the lead in dancing and singing but the others refuse to join them, then another more serious attempt is made to sing a sad song or even a dirge, and still the others do not enter into the game. Singing and dancing are involved in the play of the children but an unwillingness to join in stops the game and ruins the fun that all could have had. We must accept both the John the Baptist’s way and that of Jesus when we enter the game of life in our families, churches, and homes. Luke Timothy Johnson in his excellent commentary on Luke comments on verse 32: Sit and yell at each other: The image is wonderfully vivid. Matthew 11:16 has “yell to others,” but Luke makes the shouting reciprocal. We piped: In Luke’s version, the whole point is whatever is done by one group displeases the other. Thus, no matter what the style of the prophets John and Jesus, there will be cause for complaint. L.T. Johnson, Luke, Sacra Pagina, p. 123.