The Epiphany of the Lord, January 8

The Epiphany of the Lord, January 8

Today’s readings are a textbook example of how the evangelists cleverly drew on Old Testament texts to tell the story about Jesus.
People who seek the basis for Matthew’s story of the Wise Men need not search ancient astronomical records for exploding quasars or stars in a wobbly orbit. Far better for them to research the Jewish scriptures that were the real source of Matthew’s story. Fortunately, in the lectionary the Church has done us the favor of doing precisely that.
It is striking how the reading from Isaiah provides so many details that make their way into Matthew’s gospel story—even the mention of camels and the enumeration of the gifts of the Magi. And the Responsorial Psalm perfectly formulates the theme of the liturgical feast: Every nation on earth will adore you.
The second reading from the letter to the Ephesians raises the historical fact of the extension of the Church beyond her Jewish roots to embrace the Gentiles to the height of divine revelation, calling it a “mystery.” This is the mystery that discloses God’s truest self, that divine grace is a gift offered to everyone, that the boundaries we impose on the human family have no bearing on God’s universal love that has no limits.
For Matthew, the Wise Men are the personification of that mystery.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

3rd Sunday of Advent, December 11

Third Sunday of Advent, Year A

The Book of Isaiah spans a good part of the history of Israel in the Old Testament, very roughly from about 750 BC to 500 BC. So obviously the book was not written by a single person with a strictly unified message. Rather, the numerous messages throughout the book were adjusted over time according to the historical context.
In today’s reading, the prophet is addressing the exiles languishing in exile, a broken, defeated people. So the message is one of support, empathy and reassurance—promising a hoped-for liberation. Frequently when Isaiah speaks this way, he invokes desert imagery, how God will miraculously moderate the harsh desert conditions through which they must pass to return home, even make the desert fertile.
Such imagery spoke directly to the tragic victims of the disastrous war with the ancient Babylonian empire. While longing to return to Jerusalem their home, they wrote songs lamenting their fate which are preserved in the psalms, like our responsorial psalm today.
Jesus himself knew well all this history, as did every observant Jew in his day. He surely had memorized many of the most moving and lyrical passages from Isaiah. As we see in today’s gospel, Jesus applied so many of Isaiah’s sentiments to his own ministry. Jesus, too, felt he was speaking to poor and broken people and bringing God’s compassionate mercy to them. Some of Jesus’ most consoling words can ultimately be traced back to the book of Isaiah.
Our second reading repeats many of the themes of the Advent season such as patience, endurance and anxious expectation of the Lord’s coming to save his people. The liturgy invites all of us to enter into that experience of waiting for the coming of the Lord.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

1st Sunday of Advent, November 27

First Sunday of Advent, Year A

Jerusalem was built on the top of a high elevation—Mount Zion, for military purposes to protect it from attack. The Bible tells us that the world will end with all the nations of the world streaming up to the top of Mount Zion. This assembly will mark the ultimate climax of human history, the final encounter of all humanity with the power of God, when God’s cause will gain the final victory.
The prophet Isaiah chose beautiful words to capture this anxiously anticipated moment. The words are engraved today on a wall facing the United Nations building in New York City. Delegates of the world body see those words whenever they exit the UN compound, reminding them what their real work of diplomacy is supposed to be about. This is to be finally the birthplace of world peace—a dream that has inspired every generation throughout human history.
That is why the refrain for our Responsorial Psalm is “Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord.”
The second reading also directs our attention to the future. It speaks of the hour when our salvation will come. But it sounds a more threatening note. Invoking the familiar biblical imagery of light and darkness and sleeping and waking, St Paul warns us to wake up because the end is approaching. It is time to come into the light. He sends his morally challenging message to the people of Rome.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus addresses the hopes and anxieties with which we anticipate the future. It is the great theme of the beginning of Advent as we pray for God to come to us, to save us and our world from all the disasters that threaten us.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 13

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

In every one of the three synoptic gospels we find a chapter just before the passion story that recounts Jesus giving a long sermon in Jerusalem. Luke places Jesus in the Temple precincts itself to deliver his message. And it’s a strange message indeed, at least to our modern ears—filled with provocative predictions about the future, with foreboding and catastrophic events that serve as warnings of even greater turmoil to come.
Every year the Church lectionary ends the annual liturgical cycle with such a message and continues the message through the beginning of Advent in early December, before yielding to the readings that prepare for the Christmas celebration. Every homilist bears the burden of making these strange sounding passages relevant to modern experience, a burden that everyone bears who wants to enter into the spirit of the readings. Despite the challenge, we all should recognize the important faith-filled proclamation that these readings actually represent.

Our first reading from the prophet Malachi serves as the first introduction of this theme of courageous witness to the faith in time of persecution and distress. Note the high level of emotion that Malachi injects into his account, a feature so ingrained in the Scripture readings of coming weeks.On an entirely different track, our second reading is another instance of St Paul’s message of encouragement and admonition. He points to his own behavior as a model to follow and scolds those who are disruptive in the community.
—Walter Modrys SJ

This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.