First Sunday in Advent – November 28, 2010 – St. John’s
Advent is a season of expectation, of anticipation. The word itself, “advent,” was used in ancient Latin to refer to the official visit of the Roman Emperor to a city, a triumphal entry, which thus becomes an image of what St. Paul calls “the blessed hope, the coming of the glory of our great God and Savior.” As one can imagine how a city would prepare for this rare event by sprucing things up, repaving roads, etc., so St. Paul wished his people to live in anticipation, that is, oriented toward a glorious future when God’s plan would be fully realized when Christ returns. We do not live our present lives, in other words, only by looking back to what God has already accomplished in Christ but also by looking forward to what is still to come.
One can sense this sense of expectation vividly in today’s second reading, from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. It begins with the exhortation: “It is time for you to wake from sleep, for our salvation is closer than when we first believed. Night is almost over; daylight is near.” (more…)
I mentioned in a thread at dotCommonweal the advantages of reading a NT book straight through, at a single sitting, in order to appreciate it as a literary whole, something not possible when we read or hear them only in snippets. The practice also lends itself to another purpose. I used to assign my students a reading of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians and urged them to read it as if they knew nothing about the author or authors or about those to whom it was addressed nor anything about subsequent history. I wanted them to tell me what they could learn about the authors and the community. It was a way of getting them to recognize and to understand what this little letter tells about the genesis of the Christian Church. (I once used the idea at an ecumenical weekend retreat where I had them read and discuss successively 1 Thessalonians, Ephesians, and 1 Timothy. The conversations were very illuminating.)
Below are some notes that I drew up on 1 Thessalonians and its implicit ecclesiology. (more…)
Feast of Christ the King – November 21, 2010 – St. John’s
It is worth reflecting on the contrast between our two New Testament readings today. The passage from St. Luke’s Gospel (Lk 23:35-43) describes a moment in the passion of Christ–but let us remember that “passion” means “suffering,” real, horrible suffering. Jesus was one of three men condemned to the worst form of torturing execution then known, one reserved for the worst of criminals or for people who represented a social or political threat. The focus of our story, of course, is on Jesus, the object of the mockery of the leaders of the people and of the soldiers, whose particular form of contempt was the sarcastic title they attached over his head: “This is the King of the Jews.” We shouldn’t let our familiarity with the scene and the moment hides its horrific character from us.
But then, in our second reading (Col 1:12-20), we heard said of this same Jesus the extraordinary claims that he was an agent of creation, the one in whom, by whom, for whom all things were made; the one in whom all things hold together, and then that he, the first-born of all creation, is also the first-born from among the dead, in whom God’s fullness dwells, the agent of universal reconciliation, achieving peace through the blood of his cross.
Commenting on this text, an Anglican scholar had this to say: (more…)
Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 14, 2010 – St. John’s
Our Gospel-passage today begins with people expressing wonder at the magnificence of the Temple in Jerusalem. In those days, of course, there were no postcards or photographs at all, and probably very few drawings of the Temple, so that first-time pilgrims to the Holy City would have been struck with awe at the sight. It reminds me of how I felt, although I had seen many photos of it, when I was astonished and thrilled when decades ago I stood before the Taj Mahal, which remains the most beautiful building I have ever seen.
The Temple in Jerusalem which thrilled those people was the third one built on the site. The first one, built by King Solomon, was destroyed in 586 B.C.; the second, built when the Israelites returned from exile seventy years later, was not as grand as Solomon’s had been. Twenty years before the birth of Jesus, King Herod the Great decided to rebuild the Temple, work that was still going on when Jesus walked this earth. (more…)
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 7, 2010 – St. John’s
We have just heard in the Gospel an example of how arguments about religious questions were carried on at the time of Jesus. The party of Jews called Sadducees accepted only the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, and, not finding anything in them that indicated the belief, they denied the resurrection of the body. In addition, they offered an argument from Jewish law about marriage that they thought would refute their chief opponents on the matter, the Pharisees, who believed in an afterlife that was more or less the same kind of life that we enjoy here below–or don’t enjoy: one rabbi said that in the Kingdom women would give birth everyday! (more…)
Next Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 20:27-38), which you can find here, gives Jesus’ reply to the question posed by Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead, a passage that N.T. Wright, in his huge book The Resurrection of the Son of God, calls “far and away the most important passage about resurrection in the whole gospel tradition.” Wright felt obliged to preface his treatment of this pericope with a warning against anachronism, in particular the danger that it will be read in the light of common modern notions of the afterlife. He writes:
For many centuries it has been assumed in western Christendom that the ultimate point of being a Christian was to ‘go to heaven when you die.’ … [there was] a place called ‘heaven,’ where god and the angels lived, into which god’s people would be admitted either immediately upon death or at some point thereafter… (more…)
In the Divine Office in use before the reforms that followed Vatican II, the hour of Prime would end with a reading of the Martyrology that gave the names of the saints whose feast day was being celebrated that day. The reading always ended with these words: “Et alibi aliorum plurimorum sanctorum Martyrum et Confessorum atque sanctarum Virginum. And, elsewhere, very many other holy martyrs and confessors and holy virgins.”
This is the great feast we celebrate today, All Saints Day. It has always been one of my favorite feast days. I take it to celebrate the great fellowship of holy people who by virtue of their common share in the holy gifts of God lived the faith before us, whose faithful lives embodied the faith that was passed on until eventually it reached us. An image and an experience illustrate the great chain. (more…)
All Souls’ Day – November 2, 2008 – Blessed Sacrament
With these two holy days–All Saints Day and All Souls Day–we expand the horizon of our Christian vision, or, perhaps better, we give the attention to the full scope of the Christian vision that we may often fail to give. Two subjects suggest themselves for reflection. (more…)
Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 31, 2010 – St. John’s
It is a lovely story we hear in today’s Gospel, isn’t it? A man too short to see over a crowd of people climbs a tree for a better look and as a reward for his visit receives Jesus as his guest, and with him Jesus brings salvation to Zacchaeus and his household. We know nothing else about Zacchaeus, but he is one of only two men outside the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples whose name we know. Think of all those other people who appear momentarily in the Gospels but whose names we do not know. The blind men; the woman with the hemorrhage, the rich young man who left sad, … (more…)