Archive | September, 2009

Bearers of God’s Gifts- Reflection for Mass of September 30, 2009- St. Jerome

30 Sep

Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Memorial of St. Jerome
Readings: Nehemiah 2:1-8; Psalm 137:1-6; Luke 9:57-62

Over the past two weeks, feast days excepted, the first readings have centered upon the activities of the Israelite people after the Babylonian exile. Following their conquest of the Babylonians, the Persian kings, beginning with Cyrus, were sympathetic toward Israel and allowed the exiles to return to their land and to rebuild the walls and temple of Jerusalem. (1)

Two especially important figures emerged for Israel in this period, both namesakes of books in the Bible: Ezra, a scribe and priest, (2) and Nehemiah, whom we hear from in today’s first reading. Nehemiah is shown to enjoy the company of people. Later in the book named after him he would host a banquet for “a hundred and fifty people, Jews [as well as] magistrates” of the Persian Empire. (3) He was a highly-regarded royal official of King Artaxerxes- his cup-bearer, Scripture tells us. (4) Nehemiah takes advantage of his friendship with the king, who knew that Nehemiah’s sadness at Judah’s plight was a departure from his normal disposition, (5) to ask for letters granting him passage to Judah that he might help with the construction of the temple, fortifications, and a house for himself in Jerusalem. (6)

All of Nehemiah’s requests to the king are granted, but more significantly, he attributes his success to God. (7) Nehemiah is merely God’s instrument at a pivotal point in Israel’s history. Likewise, we should understand ourselves as instruments of God, who has given us the joyful responsibility of Christian discipleship.  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ three short proverbs, each told with a humourous hyperbole, are meant to show us the traits of the ideal disciple. (8) We are to emulate Jesus, the humble servant who gives His all, even a place “to lay his head.” (9) Though important, even family bonds are subordinate to our duty as followers of Christ. (10) Lastly, we are to be cheerful disciples who always look forward to future service, not back upon the already-ploughed field. (11) This looking forward is the example of Jesus, as it was that of Nehemiah and that St. Jerome, commemorated today.

St. Jerome was the translator of the Bible into Latin, the language of the common people. His Vulgate was used for centuries thereafter, and made an official Catholic Church document by the Council of Trent. St. Jerome was a skilled apologist, and defended the Church against many early heresies. He was not, unlike Nehemiah, a people person; he lived for four years in the Syrian desert. (12)

I could not help notice that I often refer to the Jerome Biblical Commentary to help with my understanding of Scripture. A Catholic newspaper that a friend of mine started in Edmonton was called “The Jerome.” This is the legacy of this saint and Doctor of the Church. He is frequently portrayed in icons with “writing materials and the trumpet of final judgement.” (13)

Like Nehemiah the cup-bearer, Jerome the bearer of Sacred Text employed his talent to serve God. Thus we, too, are called to use our many gifts. In our Mass, we are both the bearers of the Good News in the Liturgy of the Word, and bearers of the bread and wine that become for us the Body and Blood of Christ. Let us be thankful for what the Lord has given us and may our words and actions always give glory to God. Amen.

WRS

Building the House of God- Reflection for Mass of September 22, 2009

22 Sep

Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: Ezra 4:4-5, 6:1, 6-8, 12, 14-20; Psalm 122:1-5; Luke 8:19-21

This past August, I visited the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada, with my family. There, stories of the greatest people in the sport’s history are told, and their memorabilia is enshrined. But the exploits of some less heralded members of the Hall- broadcasters, coaches, executives- are recalled in a section dedicated to the game’s “builders.”

The Israelite people in today’s reading from Ezra were also builders, although their building concerned something more significant than contributions to a sport. The “people of Judah” (1) had just been allowed to return from exile in Babylon by King Cyrus of Persia. The book of Ezra begins where the second book of Chronicles that immediately precedes it ends, with Cyrus’ decree that allowed the people of Judah to rebuild the city walls and then the Temple of Jerusalem. (2)

However, even with the benevolence of King Cyrus, the reconstruction of the Temple was delayed. (3) The Samaritans, already established to the north of Jerusalem and unwilling to allow Judah’s encroachment on their territory and clash with their religious practice, interfered with the fulfillment of King Cyrus’ plans, bribing officials who stopped the building project until the reign of the next Persian king, Darius I. (4) Moreover, the book of Ezra tells us that Samaritan meddling caused the inhabitants of Judah to become “afraid to build.” (5) About eighteen years passed between the laying of the initial foundation of the “house of God” in Jerusalem and the resumption of construction under the decree re-iterated by King Darius. (6)

The stoppage in work on the Temple, though, raises a deeper question for us: When have we been “afraid to build” God’s house, not so much an exterior, physical structure or a literal building, but an interior dwelling place for God in our souls, nurtured through prayer and actions of kindness, justice, and mercy?

Today’s Gospel reading also reminds us not to be afraid to be active builders of God’s house that is within each of us and is inclusive of the entire human community. In Jesus’ cultural milieu especially, that human community was centered on the family. The fourth of the Ten Commandments was taken to heart; one who honoured father and mother would be blessed by God with a long life in the promised homeland. (7)

Jesus extends this meaning of family in His teaching. According to Luke, He says to his disciples: “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” (8) The building of human family and community must begin as an interior disposition to hearing the Word of God. Thus, our hearts become the house of the Word of God, the foundation upon which we are built as temples of the Holy Spirit (9) who act upon the inspiration of that indwelling Word.

The post-exilic Israelites became examples of active building in the book of Ezra. After the Temple was finished, they dedicated it to God and then celebrated the Passover according to Mosaic law. (10) As we build communion with one another and intimacy with God through prayer, then, let us celebrate our Passover into new life, our Eucharist, in thanksgiving and in memory of Christ our Lord. (11) Amen.

WRS

Triumph of the Cross- Reflection for Mass of September 14, 2009

14 Sep

Monday, September 14, 2009
Feast of the Triumph of the Cross
Readings: Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 78:1bc-2, 34-35, 36-37, 38; John 3:13-17

As a small child I often wondered why Jesus had to die so hideously, crucified between two criminals. Each time I asked that question, the response from relatives was that the death of Christ was necessary: “It had to happen that way.”

“But why?,” I would protest.

No answer was satisfactory for me, even the minimal though accurate clarification I received if I pressed for it for long enough: “Jesus had to die that way to save us.”

At about the same time I had a favourite story on cassette tape called “The Story of Little Tree,” who sprouts just before Jesus’ birth and, in the story, witnesses the birth, earthly life and ministry, death, and Resurrection of Our Lord. His companion, Big Tree, teaches him from his “Small Beginning” all about friendship and love- being “Two of a Kind” despite their disparity in size and “Wisdom.” Then a storm comes, Little Tree is injured, and Big Tree is no more. Little Tree despairs until a kind man- Jesus- sits under his branches and begins to teach the children. Then the unthinkable happens: men cut a branch from Little Tree that becomes the Cross upon which Christ is crucified. Little Tree’s question, through tears, is close to my question as a child: “What could He have done to deserve this?” (1)

The contrast between the Cross upon which Jesus “must be… lifted up,” (2) as in John’s Gospel, and the bronze serpent fashioned by Moses to cure the Israelites who had been bitten by poisonous snakes in today’s first reading (3), shows that Christ’s death had nothing to do with what He deserved. Instead, we deserve the condemnation that Jesus freely took upon Himself “in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (4) Today’s Responsorial Psalm details the disobedience of Israel toward God, “yet He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them.” (5)

Moses had merely ‘placed’ the serpent on a pole and prayed for the people he led out of Egypt, that they might be spared from snakebite that God had brought upon them for their complaining at Mount Hor. St. John’s Greek usage versus the Septuagint text of the Book of Numbers is fascinating; Jesus is actually glorified- hypsothenai– by His death. (6) The Cross is then indeed a triumph, as we celebrate today. This concept must have been unsettling for Nicodemus, a secret disciple of the Lord whom Jesus counselled after dark and who later helped to receive Jesus’ body from the Cross. (7)

We can only speak of the Triumph of the Cross if the reason given for the humiliation of the Cross in the Gospel of John is also true: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (8) God wills us to life everlasting, so the Cross is our atonement and also our victory.

Therefore we are able to pray to the One who, “though [He] was in the form of God…became obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross.” (9) St. Paul rightly urges the Philippians and us to prayerfully celebrate the triumphant love of God. May “every knee… bend, in heaven on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue… confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (10) Amen.

WRS

Grace, Mercy, and Peace- Reflection for Mass of September 11, 2009

11 Sep

Friday, September 11, 2009
Friday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Readings: 1 Timothy 1:1-2, 12-14; Psalm 16:1-2a, 3-5a, 6-7; Luke 6:39-42

St. Paul begins his first letter to Timothy by wishing three gifts from God- “Grace, mercy, and peace”- upon his friend and legate in Ephesus. (1) This salutation resembles a phrase often used by Paul to initiate his letters. One of the opening greetings of the Mass follows the same formula: “The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.” (2) However, here Paul adds the word ‘mercy’ in between ‘grace’ and ‘peace’. This exact expression appears in only one other place in the Pauline letters- in his second epistle to Timothy. (3)

Mercy is emphasized as a medium by which grace takes effect as peace. In Biblical terms, “petitioning for mercy [meant] the same as asking for salvation.” (4) Our salvation- eternal peace- is possible only because our God is merciful toward us. Thus, through mercy, grace and peace meet. God is a font of mercy, grace, and peace, but He also wills for us to disseminate these gifts in our world. Our vocation must therefore be one of mercy; just before the start of today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke, we are commissioned to “be merciful, as [our] Father is merciful.” (5)

Unfortunately, we live in a world appallingly lacking at times in mercy toward our fellow human beings. Eight years have passed since the September 11, 2001 attacks, acts as antithetical to mercy as is possible. Perhaps as sadly, these events have begotten yet more fear, more violence, and more bloodshed. This was evident to me not only in North America, but in France, where divisions have deepened between Muslims and non-Muslims. The year after 9/11 was my first time living outside North America, on a student exchange that began with my arrival in Paris on September 11, 2001.

The kind of violence that brings about the horror of 9/11, prejudice, terrorism, war, and the concurrent displacement of people, is learned; Jesus reminds us that “a disciple is not above the teacher.” (6) We condition ourselves over time not to see our own more glaring faults, but to focus on even smaller errors of others. (7) Scripture proposes a solution to this problem: we are able to and we must open ourselves to the mercy of God and of each other, and to “the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” (8) instead of acting “ignorantly in unbelief.” (9) That entails the recognition of our own faults for what they are and prayer for and action in a spirit of forgiveness toward our neighbour.

Penitential living is St. Paul’s model for Timothy and for us. Paul’s sudden conversion did not immediately make him perfect, but, as shown in today’s letter to Timothy and elsewhere in Scripture, he was able to recognize his faults and his dependence on Divine mercy. (10) Thus Paul teaches us by example to be grateful to our Lord “who has strengthened [us]” (11) for our Christian calling as ambassadors of grace, of mercy, and of peace.

Let us then pray for an end to the blasphemy of violence in our world, especially under the guise of religion, for its victims, and also for its perpetrators. Let us live lives of repentance and forgiveness. We ask for peace in our world, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

WRS