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Archive for May, 2011

(readings available at USCCB website http://www.usccb.org/nab/ )

Matthew 28:16-20  Mark indicates that the Ascension took place while the apostles were in Jerusalem (Mk. 16:19).  Luke places it near Bethany in his gospel (24:50-53) and on the Mount of Olives (on the eastern slope of which Bethany is located) in Acts of the Apostles (1:12).  Here Matthew situates the event on a mountain in Galilee. 

At the beginning of his gospel, Matthew rearranged Jesus’ genealogy (1:1-17, compare to the longer and very different version in Luke 3:23-38) by multiples of seven to emphasize that Jesus was the perfection of the faith of Abraham, the kingship of David, and the Word of God which was made accessible to all Jews through the educational programs developed during the Babylonian Captivity. 

Here at the end of his gospel, Luke again rearranges his information for theological purposes, connecting the Ascension to the prefiguring of the glory of Jesus as witnessed by three of the apostles at the mountain of Transfiguration (Luke 17:1).  Now all the apostles would see his glory.  Unlike the command to three apostles at the earlier event (17:9), they would not be silenced in sharing what they witnessed with the whole world. 

Jesus’ final words, as he departs from their sight, are the best summary of our mission as his disciples and the perfect ending to the gospel.  Matthew did not write merely to impart understanding and faith in the heart of the reader.  These closing words drive us to get out and be about the work of God.  Now that Jesus has definitively departed physically from the presence of his disciples, it becomes incumbent on them to take up the mission and be his physical presence.

Reading 1, Acts 1:1-11   As with his gospel (Luke 1:1-4), Luke addresses the Acts of the Apostles to “Theophilus”.  Luke was not writing for a person of that name, for “Theophilus” is a combination of two Greek words meaning “friend of God” or “one loved by God”.  In this way Luke addresses his gospel in a personal manner to everyone who loves God and is loved by God. 

Jesus spends the days after his resurrection instructing the apostles and giving them sufficient proofs that he actually was alive.   Their question immediately prior to his Ascension {“Are you now going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”) indicates that they still have not understood what they will be about.  That will have to wait for the fuller outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Samaria is mentioned here practically in the same breath as Judea.  In last week’s first reading (Acts 8:5-8) we read the account of the conversion of many Samaritans without questioning the appropriateness of receiving them into the Christian Way as non-Jews, a major issue in the 1st century church.  Each group, Jews and Samaritans, considered themselves the true bearers of the one and same tradition.  After centuries of division and hostilities between the two groups, Christianity bridged the gap.  The gospel accounts of Jesus’ contact with and mention about Samaritans are probably included as a backdrop for later Christians to accept the uniting of peoples in one faith.

Given their common authorship, it is interesting to read and note the differences in the ascension accounts provided here and in Luke 24:50-53.   

Reading II, Ephesians 1:17-23  Paul is the master of the run-on-sentence with this beautiful prayer for the people of the Ephesus region.  It would have been a perfect prayer for the apostles during the days following Jesus’ Ascension prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit as it has been for Christians throughout the centuries and is for us today.  That is what makes this letter the “living word” of God.  During his more than two years in the region, Paul had been an instrument, either directly or indirectly, in the conversion of hundreds of people from both Jewish and Greek mystical religions.  Converts from Judaism had a clear understanding of there being only one God.  Those from the Greek religions, however, did not.  They believed in multiple gods of varying degrees or spheres of power and importance.  To, as we say today, “get their mind wrapped around” the concept of one God was difficult, so Paul simply tells them that Jesus is above whatever gods in whom they had previously put their confidence. 

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Andy helped me with my camera one evening as I was preparing to take a picture for another People in the Pews.  I told him his turn was coming!

I took a different approach on his – I sent him an e-mail asking  “What would you like to tell me (and others) about your faith story, which includes things like feelings about the congregation, service, music, etc…

Andy says, ” I love St. Dominic Church! Being a part of Joyful Noise over the past six years has been a great way to serve the church and get to know the community better. I have also served as a confirmation small group leader the past two years and I really enjoy my confirmation group!”

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Please note any corrections or objections to content in a comment below and changes will be made.

This wonderful Easter setting  celebrating Christ’s  continuing presence among us is especially appropriate for Christ’s presence in these students’  First Communion.

(Picture below compliments of Luigi Sison)

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Please join me in welcoming those at St. Dominic who participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults – R.C.I.A. – at the Easter Vigil of 2011.

From left to right:  Jaimee Hoefert, Andrew Ayetey, Debbie Mergens, Hugh Kenety, Rick Nelson, Liz Swanson.  Catherine Oliver is not in picture.

For more information about R.C.I. A. go to  http://www.ecatholic2000.com/rcia/rcia.shtml.

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The bulletin for May 29, 2011 has been published and can be found here: http://churchofstdominic.org/cluster/bulletin

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Ann on a 71st birthday trip

Dear Ann,

You shouldn’t be crying!!  **

Don’t you realize what an inspiration you are to many people? At least you are to me. I don’t think it’s so sad that you have Parkinsons and that it’s slowly taking abilities away from you. I think it’s so beautiful how you keep pushing and trying and running the race! That you are choosing to live in FAITH!

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John 14:15-21  The Greek word “paraclete” literally means “one who calls out for another” and could be translated as spokesman, mediator, intercessor, comforter, or a defense counselor.  Here it is translated as “advocate”.  For whom will the Holy Spirit be the advocate?  In 1 John 2:1 Jesus is called the Advocate before the Father for any person who sins.  There is not really a need for an advocate before the Father since the Father and Son are one and the Son expresses what is in the heart of the Father.  The text from 1 John is more an extra assurance for Christians who forget that unity of Father and Son and tend to fall into some Old Testament concepts of an angry God. 

The Holy Spirit is an Advocate in Jesus’ name for Christians, but before whom will the Holy Spirit defend us or present our case?  Since there is no division within the three Persons of God, the Holy Spirit does not defend us before the Father.  In verse 26 we are told that the Holy Spirit Advocate will teach and remind us of all that Jesus had done and spoken.  Likewise, in John 15:26 Jesus says the Advocate testify to him.  The Holy Spirit then is an Advocate for Christians as they face the “court” of the world in which they live.  The Holy Spirit provides support and defense against the challenges Christians will face as they live the faith.  Mark 13:11(also Matthew 10:19-20 and Luke 12:11-12) indicate that the Holy Spirit will speak for Christians and give them the words to say when they are brought before civil authorities for being followers of Christ.  The Holy Spirit will not come merely for a visit but will remain forever, continuing to speak the truth of Jesus to us and through us.  No moment would show so clearly the convergence of these two dynamics as the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost followed by their proclamation of Jesus to thousands of people in the streets of Jerusalem that same day.     

Reading 1, Acts 8:5-8, 14-17  The emperor Augustus awarded the city of Samaria, ancient capital of the northern kingdom of Israel, to Herod the Great in 30 BC.  Herod renamed the city Sebaste (the feminine form of the name Augustus in Greek) and rebuilt it into a beautiful Greek-style city with a new city wall, theater, acropolis and colonnaded main street.  Luke uses the older name for the city which was also the name of the region between Galilee and Judea.  When a persecution broke out in Jerusalem following the murder of Stephen, followers of the Way “scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria” (Acts 8:1).  Acts 8:4-25 recounts the early ministry of the church in the Samaria region.

The Philip referred to here is probably the deacon, not the apostle by the same name.  This seems to be borne out by the fact that the converts in Samaria had been baptized but had not yet received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 10-11the Church leaders debate the issue of whether or not Gentiles may be baptized.  The fact that the conversion and baptism of the Samaritans takes place prior to that moment seems to indicate as different attitude or approach.  The Samaritans considered themselves the true upholders of the Jewish religion which they believed to have been changed by the Jews returning from the Babylonian captivity.  Both groups claimed to represent the true Jewish faith and so the leaders of each group forbade contact with the other.  The point here is that Samaritans already practiced circumcision and followed what they believed to be the dictates of the Mosaic Law.  This would explain the ease with which they were accepted for baptism as members of the church with no controversy. 

Reading II, 1 Peter 3:15-18  As mentioned in a previous commentary, Peter was martyred in Rome between 64 and 67 A.D.  The first letter attributed to him in the New Testament, likely written from Rome in the time leading up to Peter’s death, is addressed to Christians in regions he had evangelized and who were being affected to some extent by the same persecution under Nero who became emperor in 54 A.D. at the age of 17 and ruled until his death at the age of 31 in 68 A.D.  Peter encourages Christians to be strong in the testimony of lives of love for one another and to maintain a positive hopeful attitude based on the promises of our faith.  People should be drawn to ask Christians what motivates them to live in such a way.  Then the verbal testimony can be shared with “gentleness and reverence”.  During times of persecution, Christians will be able to give testimony by suffering unjust treatment without returning evil for evil.  The truth will eventually come out and people of good heart will be drawn to faith in Jesus Christ through such testimony.

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The bulletin for May 22, 2011 has been published and can be found here: http://churchofstdominic.org/cluster/bulletin

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 This grandmother and granddaughter were in the Psalms Bible studyclass this fall.  This past Sunday I found them in the current Bible study class, which is using the Jeff Cavins’ TimeLine videos. I discovered that after I left, the middle generation arrived as well. 

Who could resist featuring them on our parish blog?  And when I heard their story, I was totally captivated.

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John 14:1-12  It was no secret that the Jewish authorities had been looking for a way to squelch his preaching and ministry.  In addition to previous encounters, Jesus had created a lot of friction with them by clearing animal sellers and money changers from the temple area claiming the space for his preaching during the busy days leading up to the celebration of the Passover.  Jesus’ disciples sensed that things were about to come to a head.  The hearts of Jesus’ disciples were understandably troubled at the Last Supper, especially with Jesus talking about going away where they cannot follow. 

The disciples had not yet understood Jesus’ divinity and full oneness with the Father, one of the central teachings of the Gospel of John.  When Jesus says he will have to go and that the disciples know the way, Thomas is the only one who dares ask for a clarification although we can be sure none of them really understood.   The phrase “I am the way, the truth and the life”, so full of meaning for post-resurrection Christians, did not satisfy the disciples that day. 

The unity of Jesus, the Son of God, with the Father is central to Trinitarian teaching of three distinct persons in one God.  “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” and “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” express the concept that Jesus is the physical manifestation of the invisible triune God (Colossians 1:15), not just the 2nd person of the Trinity.

Reading 1, Acts 6:1-7   The word ‘Hellenists’ means ‘Greeks’.  This does not refer here to people living in Greek territories or converts to Judaism from Greek religions but to Jews living in the Jerusalem area who spoke Greek as their primary language.  For several centuries, particularly after the downfall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 720 B.C. and the defeat of the southern kingdom of Judah in 587 B.C., Jewish people sought refuge throughout the Mediterranean region in Egypt, across northern Africa, in Asia Minor, Italy and as far away as Spain where the predominant language was Greek.  Some may have retained use of Hebrew for prayer and scripture study.  The first generation or two may have spoken Hebrew in the home, but, in time, Greek became the language of preference, even in the synagogues.  The Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew scriptures into Greek, was produced in Egypt and was more commonly used by Jews in those areas than the original Hebrew texts.  With the spread of the Roman Empire around the Mediterranean region came the “Pax Romana”, the Roman peace which generally eliminated conflicts and provided safe travel on a good system of Roman roads patrolled by Roman soldiers.  People began moving about more freely, and many Jewish people began returning to Jerusalem, some to visit during major festivals and some to make their home there.  As with the Hispanic community here in Northfield, these people probably settled in neighborhoods where they retained their familiar Greek language and customs. 

The apostles were likely familiar with some Greek words.  Philip, whose name was Greek, may have been such a family and fluent in Greek, for we read in John 12:20 that some Greek people visiting Jerusalem come to him to seek an audience with Jesus.   For most of the apostles, however, their primary languages were Aramaic and Hebrew.  Their dress, diet and lifestyle were those more common to Jews of the homeland. 

Although some passages in Acts reflect the early Christian community in Jerusalem as rather idyllic (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35), they had their challenges like any other community.  Sensitivities between the Greek-speaking and Aramaic-speaking elements of the community required expanding leadership to represent both groups.  Note that, although the passage alludes to the apostles “serving at table”, this probably refers more to the headaches of administrating food distribution and other services throughout the growing community rather than actual table service.  The ministry of the seven (note the Jewish number of perfection) deacons would include preaching and healing (consider the example of Stephen, Acts6:8, ff.) as well as administrative responsibilities.  Stephen’s preaching leads to his martyrdom (Acts 7:54-60).  Philip goes on a preaching mission (Acts 8) and is later identified as “Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven” (Acts 21:8)who lived at Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast.  Other than those texts, we hear nothing more about Stephen and Philip in the Bible.  The other five are not mentioned again in the scriptures. 

Reading II, 1 Peter 2:4-9  The temple of Jerusalem was among the most impressive and beautiful buildings in the world of its day.  The reconstruction begun by King Herod the Great many years before the birth of Jesus was still continuing during Jesus’ public ministry (John 2:20 indicates that, at that time, the temple had been under construction for 46 years) and would continue for many years after his death.  Peter uses the image of temple construction to express the unity of Christians as a living temple built up for God’s glory.  Into this living temple people may enter and experience the presence of God.  Paul uses this same image in Ephesians 2:19-22. 

The image of the stone rejected comes from Psalm 118:22 in which the stone rejected becomes the cornerstone.  The other stones in a building are be aligned or oriented in relation to the cornerstone.  So it is with us in relationship to Jesus Christ.  There is an account of Michelangelo carving his famous sculpture of David from a rejected stone.  Due to numerous irregular veins that rendered it prone to fracture easily, the huge block of marble had previously been rejected by many more-experienced sculptors.  Michelangelo ‘saw’ David in the stone and then ‘freed’ him with his carving.  Many of Jesus’ contemporaries could not see God present in him, but those who received the gift of spiritual vision would be freed by him.

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