4th Sunday of Advent, December 19

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C

The sacred authors of the New Testament searched through the Old Testament to find words and images they could adapt to explain their Christian faith. 
One of the most useful Old Testament sources was the foretelling of the birth of a king or leader who would purify and reform the people, restoring Israel’s standing before God. These prophesies were almost always highly personalized, invoking specific details and crises prevailing at the prophet’s own time and circumstances.
Related to these birth stories, two spatial references were frequently invoked. One was the small town of Bethlehem and the other was the city of Jerusalem itself. Bethlehem was important because it was the birthplace of David who grew up to be the greatest king of Israel. In the prophets’ telling, the newborn king, so anxiously anticipated, was to be like David, even heralded as the son of David, but even greater. Being born in Bethlehem was to be one of the connections between David and the new king as David’s successor.
Our first reading this morning, from one of the Old Testament prophets, Micah, mentions Bethlehem and then goes on to describe how the new King will serve the people, restore the nation and ultimately bring peace to all the nations of the world.
We Christians go back to these Old Testament passages and understand them as a foretelling, describing the person of Jesus.
Our second reading from the Letter to the Hebrews is a profound reflection on the significance of Christ. Jesus in the deepest core of his being determined to offer himself entirely for our salvation, that is, to do “the will of God.” This interior commitment, not any external conformity to religious laws or practices, is the source of grace for us.
—Walter Modrys SJ

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

2nd Sunday of Advent, December 5

Second Sunday of Advent, Year C

There are two colossal events in Jewish history that fill many of the pages of the Old Testament.
The first occurred in around 1200 BC: the exodus from Egypt, when the children of Israel escaped from slavery, wandered throughout the desert for forty years and finally entered the Promised Land.
The second seminal event occurred in around 600 BC: the tragic fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonian invaders, the long forty years of exile in Babylon (near present day Bagdad in Iraq) and the eventual return to Jerusalem, a city that needed to be rebuilt.
These two events are much embellished in the way they are recounted by various sacred authors. They are searing events in the memory of the Jewish people.
The second of those events, the return of the exiles to Jerusalem, is captured in our first reading. The prophet Baruch, writing long after the event itself, personifies Jerusalem as a mother longing for the return of her once lost children. The obstacles that stood in the way of their return —a life threatening desert, the absence of a path to follow, the disarray of the people—all this had to be overcome to bring the return to reality and to realize the joy of overcoming adversity. These emotions are expressed in today’s responsorial psalm.
The New Testament authors latched onto this Old Testament experience and applied it to our own return from spiritual exile through the coming of Christ. We revisit these sentiments each Advent season. The gospel writers saw in the figure of John the Baptist the herald that would prepare the way for Christ to lead us home through the desert. We will see how Luke in his gospel puts this imagery to work to prepare us to receive the grace of Christ.
—Walter Modrys SJ

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

Christ the King, November 21

Christ the King

Today is the Feast of Christ the King. There’s a political background to this feast. Pope Pius XI instituted this feast in 1925 just as totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia were beginning their rise in Europe—leading up to World War II. 
So don’t be surprised if the homily examines some of the political currents in our own day and how they impact our Christian vocation.
We begin with our first reading from the Book of Daniel. For the early Christians this particular reading was arguably the single most influential passage in all of the Old Testament. It speaks of the Second Coming of Christ at the end of time. But the point it makes is that Jesus Christ holds sway over all of human history, that in the end everything will come under the sovereignty of Christ. You can see why the religious meaning of this text conflicts with the claims of totalitarian government and every human attempt to undermine the primary role of Christ in our lives.
The second reading captures the same meaning but in explicit Christian terms. The same imagery appears, Christ descending on the clouds. The Book of Revelation is full of praise and this passage helps to set the tone for the entire book.
These readings serve as a good backdrop to our gospel story about the confrontation of Jesus before Pilate.
—Walter Modrys SJ

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

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 7

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

In the first reading, we meet the prophet Elijah whose story revolves around his deadly conflict with the corrupt king Ahab. Much of the story recounts Ahab’s pursuit of Elijah and Elijah’s narrow escapes. In his desperation, while on the run, Elijah is forced to recruit the aid of a poor widow who is reluctant to provide much help because her own resources are so meager. But miraculously, who would have thought, her reluctant generosity leads to an abundance of supply.
This story is the obvious background for Mark’s tale of Jesus’ meeting a poor widow in the Temple courtyard. Even Jesus is impressed with the generosity of this woman who gives out of her meager resources.
In the second reading, the Letter to the Hebrews continues drawing the contrast between the sacrifice offered in the Old Testament and its fulfillment in the sacrifice that Christ offered of himself. The offering Christ makes of himself is the definitive action through which God embraces us with his mercy and reconciles us to himself.
—Walter Modrys SJ

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

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 24

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jeremiah the Prophet had to deliver a terribly pessimistic message, foretelling the tragedy of defeat and the doom of the nation. But because it was the Lord’s message and the Lord would never totally abandon his people, an irrepressible note of hope comes through as well. Today’s passage from Jeremiah is precisely that, the glimpse of salvation and redemption. Jeremiah’s vision harks back to the time in Jewish history when the people under the heel of Assyrian military might, exiled in a foreign land, were returned home through a merciful divine intervention. 
This first reading anticipates today’s gospel. For weeks we have been listening to Mark recount how Jesus foretells his own passion and death. As with Jeremiah, Jesus’ message is rejected. But not entirely. The most unlikely person comes forward to break the pall of discouragement by enthusiastically joining Jesus on his journey to the cross.
Continuing our reading of the Letter to the Hebrews, we come upon one of the most profound statements about Jesus in the New Testament—his role as the new high priest, chosen by God his Father, to bring us all into the redemptive love of God
—Walter Modrys SJ

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