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Archive for October, 2011

Click on bycatthenauthor or bycatthentitlenew  to access a list of the church library books – by category and then by either author or title  – that are on the stand in the back of  the chapel.

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Click on  byauthornew  to access a list of the church library books – by author – that are on the stand in the back of  the chapel.

(more…)

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Click on  bytitlenew  to access a list of the church library books – by title – that are on the stand in the back of  the chapel.

(more…)

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Gospel, Matthew 25:1-13  It was apparently common for young women in Jewish society to gather along the route of the groom to accompany him and his friends to the site of the wedding, usually an evening event after the work of the day was done.  Jesus used this parable to teach something about the kingdom of God.  The teaching includes what in normal living situations would seem rude or overreacting…the five virgins should have shared some oil, and the groom should have opened the door for the five virgins who went through so much trouble to get to the wedding banquet.  This is common to other parables such as the king sending his servants to kill the people who turned down his invitation to a wedding banquet (Matthew 22:1-14).  The shock value of these twists in the story challenged the listeners to ponder the meaning of the parable.

Why didn’t the five wise virgins share some oil with the five foolish ones?  The oil represented the strength of faith to persevere through times of difficulty or the challenge of early Christians waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus and wondering why it seemed to be delayed past their expectations.  Such faith and perseverance can be built up within each person and we can be an encouragement for one another, but no one can give another such qualities.  Each person has to develop them for him/herself. 

Although we believe in the Second Coming, we don’t know when Jesus will return.  After so many centuries have passed since the resurrection of Jesus, determining when Jesus will return is not a major issue for Catholics as it is for some Christian groups.  It is hard for us to understand how significant this question was for Christians in the first century. 

In Matthew 7:24-27 we find another juxtaposition of foolish versus wise with reference to those who either put Jesus’ words into practice or fail to do so. 

Reading 1, Wisdom 6:12-16  The Hebrew word for wisdom (hokhmah) also means “skill” and is defined as “what a person learns from others”.  Since a person ideally grows in wisdom as he/she gets older having learned from life experiences, advanced age is often associated with wisdom.  In Jewish tradition the Hebrew word for “old” forms an acronym word meaning “this one has acquired wisdom”.  Seven books of the Old Testament (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom and Sirach) are classified as “wisdom literature”, a genre of literature common in the ancient Near East, since their chief purpose is to instruct the reader on how to make wise choices in words and conduct. 

The book of Wisdom is one of seven Old Testament books included in the canon or official list of works in the Catholic bible but not in the canon of the Hebrew scriptures or the protestant Old Testament which follows the Hebrew canon.  These seven works Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees) are often called deuterocanonical, meaning “second canon”.  The Bok of Wisdom was written in Greek (no Hebrew texts exist).  The author is thought to have been a scholar from the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt, around 100 years before the birth of Jesus.  At times, as in this passage, wisdom is personified, a common trait of wisdom literature exemplified most in Proverbs 8-9.  He also speaks in the person of Solomon, the biblical epitome of a recipient of wisdom (1 Kings 3:12, 3:28) to emphasize the wisdom of his instruction. 

Wisdom, as explained in this text, must be sought out.  One does not automatically become wise just by living but learning from life experiences, both one’s own as well as those of others…the latter being the hope of the writers of wisdom literature.

Reading II, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18  The grief of those who have no hope is that of those who do not believe in life after death.  Belief in Jesus’ resurrection is the basis for our hope.  Trying to figure out when and how Jesus would return was an important topic of conversation among the early Christian communities reflected here in this text.  Paul seems to have been of the opinion that the Second Coming would occur before all of his readers would physically die, thus referring to “we who are alive”.  This image of the living, or a select group of the living, being raised up to heaven is often referred to as the “Rapture”.    The Catholic Church has no teaching using the term.  What we believe is expressed in the creed…that Jesus will return and that those who have physically died as well as those still living will be raised with some manner of a final judgment.

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The bulletin for October 30, 2011 has been published and can be found here: http://churchofstdominic.org/cluster/bulletin

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Gospel, Matthew 3:1-12   “Phylactery” is a Greek word meaning “amulet”.  It translates the Jewish word “tefillin”, the two leather capsules, one fastened to the forearm by a leather strap and the other suspended from a headband, which contained small parchments on which are written Exodus 13:1-10, Exodus 13:11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21.  They are similar to amulets worn by people of other cultures in the ancient world, the difference being that the tefillin are signs of committing one’s deeds and heart to God as compared to amulets which contain magical inscriptions and are intended to protect the wearer from evil.  Although worn only during morning prayer since the Middle Ages, they were commonly worn throughout the day in previous ages of Jewish history.  From Jewish sources I read, it is believed that, during the time of Jesus, some people wore them or at least the head one almost all the time (the Pharisees are in this group), some just part of the time, and some never (the Sadducees are in this group).  The difference was not one of acceptance of the command to “bind them on your forehead…” but whether that command was to be taken literally or metaphorically to keep God constantly in mind. 

Tassels were attached to the hem or edge of the cloak which served as a prayer shawl for many Jews.  The tassels, called “tzitzit”, were more than decorative.  They were mandated by God (Numbers 15:37-41) as a reminder “to keep all the commandments of the Lord without going wantonly astray after the desires of your heart and eyes”.  In ancient times in the Near East the distinctive hem of an outer garment, of which the tassels were a part, represented the person and his/her rank or importance in society.  In 1 Samuel 24 David and his men, being pursued by Saul in the desert, hide in a cave into which Saul comes to relieve himself.  David cuts off the hem of Saul’s mantle but spares Saul’s life.  David later regrets having cut the hem for, according to Jewish commentary I read on the passage, it was a sign that he was taking away the authority of Saul who, for his part, becomes remorseful for pursuing David since this event was a sign to him that his God-given authority was being cut off to be given to David. 

The more important the individual, the wider and more elaborate the hem.  Along with widening the headband of their tefillin, the Pharisees were converting these signs of religious commitment into signs of their feeling superior to others for whom they prided themselves as models to be emulated and copied in following God’s law. 

The prescription against calling someone “rabbi”, “father” or “master” is not a linguistic lesson on acceptable and unacceptable titles.  If that were the case, the words we really shouldn’t use would be the original Aramaic terminology spoken by Jesus or the Greek words from the original Gospel account.  We all have teachers and fathers, after all, and we need some titles for them.  Jesus’ words are, instead, a call to humility in areas of responsibility, contrary to the pride of the Pharisees in seeking honor and admiration for themselves.  Whatever honor, authority or position we have is to be exercised as stewards of God who is forever our teacher, Father, and master.

Reading 1, Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10  The name Malachi is a Hebrew word meaning “my messenger” as found in the book of Malachi in 1:1 and 3:1.  It is believed to be a pseudonym rather than the author’s proper name.  The work was composed as a reproach against the priests and rulers of the Jewish people for their poor leadership around 445 BC during the period of restoration following the Babylonian captivity.  Given the charges he levels, he understandably preferred to remain anonymous. 

The specific breaking of the covenant referred to here was the law from Deuteronomy 7:1-4 against marrying people from other religions, something which was to be more strictly enforced after the Exile.

Reading II, 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13  In last week’s commentary I gave some background on the geography of Thessalonica.  Paul had visited the city on his second missionary journey but left when his ministry caused considerable disturbance among the Jewish population of the city.  He later sent Timothy to visit the community of Christians there and, after receiving Timothy’s report on the visit, wrote this letter around 52 AD.  Paul begins his letter by affirming them as a model for other Christian communities.  Here he reminds them of his personal dedication to serving them, not for any personal gain, but out of a desire to share the gospel with them.

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The bulletin for October 23, 2011 has been published and can be found here: http://churchofstdominic.org/cluster/bulletin

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Gospel, Matthew 22:34-40  The Marcan parallel (12:28-34) to this passage is an exchange between Jesus and a scribe who was impressed with the way Jesus handled previous challenges as well as his answer in this conversation.  Matthew undoubtedly had a copy of Mark in front of him when writing his gospel, copying approximately 65% of Mark’s gospel word for word in his account.  Given such extensive copying, it is appropriate to ask why he chose to change the account in certain passages such as this scene where he presents the exchange in a more adversarial context. 

One of the key issues for the early church was their relationship with the Jewish religion.  Were they a branch or sect within the Jewish family or something new and distinct?  If Christians were still part of the Jewish family, circumcision and full adherence to the Mosaic Law should be required of any non-Jew wishing to belong to the Christian community.  Many early Christians considered this to be the case, a point which caused considerable conflict with Paul and other similar thinkers who wanted the Christian community to be open to everyone without the constricts of following the Mosaic Law.  Eventually Paul’s theology won out, but the understanding people could become followers of Jesus without becoming Jewish was the result of a long and contested process. Important steps in that process included the revelation to Peter that non-Jews could be members of the church (Acts10-11), the decision at the Council of Jerusalem (around 45 AD) to not require non-Jewish Christian converts to observe Mosaic Law (Acts 15), and the refusal of Christians to join in the uprising against the Romans in 65-70 AD.  By the end of the first century, there was a clear distinction between Jewish and Christian communities.

Matthew’s gospel was written to Christians of Jewish background somewhat later in this process than Mark.  As a result he was probably more intent on emphasizing the differences between Jesus and the Jewish authorities rather than their similarities.  Similarities and differences aside, we are called to love everyone as an expression of God’s love for all people.

Reading 1, Exodus 22:20-26  Having broken the tablets upon which the Ten Commandments were initially written, Moses went up the mountain a second time for a new copy.  Returning to the people, he read the commandments to the accompaniment of thunder and lightning.  Moses then went up the mountain a third time to receive an extensive list of other rules and laws, among which are those quoted in this reading. 

God will show no favoritism for his Jewish people when it comes to matters of justice.  They must respect those of other races and religions passing through or living in their land.  On the matter of giving out loans, Deuteronomy 23:20 prohibited taking interest from fellow-Israelites on personal loans although it was permitted to collect interest from foreigners.  Lending to a fellow-Israelite was considered a mark of good and noble character. 

These laws were not always followed, however.  Just as in our present day, people found ways around the law.  In the reconstruction period following the Babylonian captivity, Nehemiah reprimands those who are exacting interest from their kinsmen (Nehemiah 5:1-13).  Centuries later in Medieval Europe, Jewish people were stereotyped as shrewd bankers and businessmen.  They became experts in this field since they were not permitted to own land in most Christian countries of that time. 

Reading II, 1 Thessalonians 1:5c-10 Like a very irregular figure 8, Greece was made up of two major regions joined by the four-mile wide Isthmus of Corinth (the word “isthmus” comes from the Greek word for “neck”).  The land to the north of the isthmus which joined the mainland of Europe was called Macedonia.  During the Roman period, the majority of the Peloponnese peninsula to the south was called the province of Achaea.  Today Achaea is a much smaller area on the northern edge of that peninsula.  f Greece province an southern Achaia and that to the south Achaia.  In the 7th century B.C. Periander proposed to cut a canal through the isthmus but abandoned the project due to technical difficulties and built a portage road instead, ending at the city of Corinth on the western side of the isthmus.  Paul would have walked this road to Corinth from Thessalonica 60 miles to the NE.  The reputation of the Thessalonica community’s faith and generosity spread by both sea and land routes around the entire region.  The emperor Nero actually began the digging of a canal in 67 A.D., using 6,000 slaves taken as prisoners in the Jewish war of independence a few years earlier.  The project ended one year later with Nero’s death, however, and was not completed until 1893.

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The bulletin for October 16, 2011 has been published and can be found here: http://churchofstdominic.org/cluster/bulletin

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Gospel, Matthew 22:15-21  The Roman silver denarius , the daily wage for a laborer and the coin with which the tax was to be paid, bore the image of Augustus Tiberius Caesar who was the Roman emperor during the time of Jesus’ ministry. The Latin inscription reads counterclockwise beginning after the F at the 10 o’clock position on the coin: Augustus Ti(berius) Caesar Divi Aug(usti) F(ilius).  In translation, it reads: “Augustus Tiberius Caesar, son of the Divine Augustus”. 

The Herodians were not a religious sect such as the Pharisees and Sadducees.  They were Jews who were employed by or benefited economically from the government of King Herod (and his successors following his death in 4 BC) and, therefore, supported the policies of the government.  Herodians favored payment of taxes to the government.  The Pharisees, on the other hand, were in opposition to the Roman occupation and were not in favor of paying the taxes even though they did so. 

The presence of these two groups who held opposite views on the question they posed to Jesus easily indicated to him that this was a trap.  If Jesus said the tax should not be paid, the Herodians would use his statement as grounds to have him arrested.  If Jesus said the tax should be paid, the Pharisees would use his statement to turn people against him (a tactic commonly used by candidates during election years, as you may note). 

Jesus asks to see a coin, and they hand him a denarius, the coin used to pay the tax.  The fact that they themselves were carrying the Roman coin in their purses now turns the tables, and they are caught in their own trap.  The coin bore the image of Caesar and an inscription assigning divine status to the Roman emperor.  As such, the coin was considered an idolatrous object.  It was not acceptable for contributions at the Temple where money changers exchanged such coins for others that bore no idolatrous images and could, therefore, be used for temple contributions.  The Pharisees had made concessions, without reflecting on the fact had compromised their religious standards, to the Roman-dominated society in which they lived. 

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”  We benefit from the society in which we live.  We, therefore have a responsibility to pay our fair share of taxes to the government which provides those benefits.  Still, Jesus’ last statement is more thought provoking.  “Give to God what is God’s.”  What is it that pertains to God?  If all that is good, including life itself, comes from God, we are certainly indebted to God and need to return our fair share. 

Reading 1, Isaiah 45:1,4-6  Cyrus, king of Persia, defeated the Babylonians in 538 BC and issued an edict allowing the Jewish people, who had been taken in exile from the homeland by the Babylonian rulers in 597 and 587 BC, to return to Judea.  Jewish people believed that God controlled all events which happen in this world.  Therefore, they considered Cyrus, although not a believer in the Jewish faith, to be an instrument of God.  The concept of accepting God working through non-Jewish people as his instruments was not new.  Jewish people considered that God ran the whole world, not just their small part of it…“I am the Lord, there is no other”…and that nothing happened without God either directing it or permitting it to happen. 

Reading II, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b  Paul had been accompanied by Barnabas and his nephew Mark on his first missionary journey.  When things got dicey partway into the tour, Mark had returned home.  While planning their return to the area of Asia Minor, a dispute arose between Barnabas, who insisted that his nephew accompany them again, and Paul who was equally adamant that Mark should not be part of the team.  They ended up going their separate ways, and Paul selected Silas (here called Silvanus) as his coworker.  Partway into this second missionary journey, Timothy joined them in Asia Minor at Lystra (Acts 16:1-3) and became a member of the team from that point forward. 

The group crossed over to the other side of the Aegean Sea, where they landed at Neapolis and preached first in Philippi (see commentary from Oct. 2, Sunday 27A), then moved on to Thessalonica.  This city (modern name: Thessaloniki, 2nd largest city in Greece) is located about 100 miles west of Philippi in a protected bay of the Aegean Sea.  Paul was forced to leave Thessalonica because of an agitation against him organized by some Jews who lived there.  He went down to Athens but later sent Timothy to Thessalonica back to complete the teaching and be a support for the community there during a time of persecution.  Timothy later rejoined Paul in Corinth from where this letter is believed to have been written.

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