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Archive for May, 2012

Gospel, Mark 14:12-16, 22-26  As with sourdough today, some bread dough was retained from each day’s batch for the next day when more flour would be added.  Left to sit, the leavening or fermentation process which makes bread rise would work its way through the entire mass of dough. 

The Feast of Unleavened Bread was originally a week-long agrarian festival celebrated at the beginning of the barley harvest (Deut 16:9).  All fermented dough was used up or thrown out prior to the festival.  Only new grain, which would need more time to undergo the leavening process on its own, could be used during that week.  This was a sign of having a fresh start on life, asking God to be the “leaven” of spiritual renewal and renouncing the leaven of any influences of the past which had led to sin. 

Jesus uses the image of leaven in Mt. 13:33 (Luke 13:21) to teach us how living with faith and responding to God’s blessings through good deeds can have a positive influence on others.  He warned his disciples against the influence or yeast of the Pharisees (Mt. 6:6-12).  St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8 that “a little yeast leavens all the dough” so we should “clear out the old yeast so that you may become a fresh batch of dough…let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

The feast of the Passover was originally a pastoral festival, asking God’s blessing on the flock by offering a new-born lamb.  In time remembrance of the exodus events were added to both celebrations and they were merged together as one festival.  As is still the case among Jewish people, the Passover meal was celebrated on the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the 15th day of the Jewish month of Nisan.  That is the day Jesus sends the apostles to prepare the Passover meal. 

The apostles were told to follow a man carrying a water jar.  Was it a man?  The Greek here used is “anthropos” which means a person, either male or female, in comparison to the word “aner” meaning man as compared to woman.   A man carrying a jar of water would have been a good signal without drawing undue attention since drawing and carrying water was usually a woman’s job.  On those grounds, the word is always translated as “man”.  Jerusalem’s original water supply came from Gihon Springs which bubbled up partway down the slope to the Kidron Valley and flowed into a cavern under the hill upon which Jerusalem was built.  It was the reason the city was built where it was.  In later times, the water would be diverted through a tunnel to the Pool of Siloam so the water supply could be protected in case the city came under siege.  As the city population grew, more water was brought to storage pools in the city by channels and aqueducts.  The most likely place for the encounter described here was the Pool of Siloam which is still used today as a water supply for the poorer Arab section of the city.

The formal Jewish meal began with a sharing of bread and a prayer for those united in the meal.  It ended with a glass of wine and a blessing.  Jesus gave a new meaning to those bookends of the meal, making the bread and wine not mere symbols of unity but physical realities through which he would give us his very self.  The language of Jesus is clear.  Jesus did not refer to the bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood.  He said “this IS” my body and blood.  On these statements, and his command in Luke 22:19, quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:25, to “do this in remembrance of me” the Catholic Church bases its belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

Jesus says it is “my blood of the covenant”.  Blood is mentioned in all three readings today as a ratification of the God’s covenant with his people.  In Leviticus (17:11) we read: “Since the life of a living body is in its blood, I have made you put it on the altar, so that atonement may thereby be made, for your own lives because it is the blood, as the seat of life, that makes atonement.”   Blood belonged to God.  It was given back to God, either being splashed on the altar or poured out on the ground.  People were not permitted to drink it…adding another dimension to Jesus’ command.  We become sharers with God in receiving what belongs exclusively to God. 

Reading 1, Exodus 24:3-8  Moses had received the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) and other additional commands and rules prior to this time, although not yet on the stone tablets.  The process of entering into a covenant in ancient times was to clarify the terms of a relationship, receive a verbal affirmation, write the terms down as a record of the covenant, and read the written form for final ratification.  Such was the process here as Moses relates the terms, then writes them down and reads what he has written the next day.  The people verbally affirm the covenant twice prior to the formal ratification ceremony.  Their words are true to their heart, yet keeping their part of the covenant will be another matter.  After the ceremony, Moses is called back up the mountain to receive the tablets as God’s “signing” the covenant.  Moses’ delay in returning leads the people to waver in their confidence in the way the covenant was unfolding and fall back on the more familiar way of communicating with a god, that of making images to worship as representative of the god.  The golden calf was not intended to be another god but an image for the God who had communicated with Moses.

The blood which ratifies the covenant (see the Gospel notes for the significance of blood) is divided into two groups.  Half is poured on the altar as an offering to God.  The other half, placed in large bowls, is “sprinkled on the people”.  Jewish commentary states that, rather than being sprinkled directly on them, it was more likely sprinkled on the twelve pillars which represented the people through the twelve tribes.  This is the only text in the Old Testament in which the covenant with God is sealed with blood.  The blood painted onto the doorways of the Jewish people prior to the Exodus was a sign of covenant but not the actual sealing of the covenant.

Where the New American Bible translation says “words and ordinances” the Jewish translation says “commands and rules”.  The first (20:1-17, 22:17-23:19) are stated as “you shall” or “you shall not”.  Their enforcement is left to God.  The second group (21:1-22:16) are to be overseen by the government and courts of the Jewish people.  In the Catholic Church we designate laws as “divine” (determined by God as unchanging for all time) and “ecclesial” (governed by the Church in accord with what is determined as best in each age, these are changeable).    

The reading speaks of two types of sacrifice, holocausts and peace offerings.  Holocausts, also called burnt offerings, were wholly consumed by the fire of the altar.  For a peace offering and other forms of animal sacrifice, certain parts of the animal were burnt but the major portion of the animal was grilled, part given to the families of the priests for their consumption and the rest returned to the worshippers who had presented the animal to be eaten in a sacred meal.

Reading II, Hebrews 9:11-15  Chapters 8 and 9 of Hebrews provide a theology of the relationship between the first or old covenant and the new covenant between God and his people.  The Greek word translated here as “covenant” may also be translated “testament”.  When we use the term Old Testament we are speaking of the relationship with God governed by the Old Covenant ratified by the blood of goats and bulls (today’s first reading).  The New Testament is the history of our relationship with God ratified with the blood of Jesus.  Each covenant has been renewed thousands of times…that of the first through innumerable temple sacrifices, that of the second through the celebration of the Mass in which the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine the “blood of the (new) covenant”.  The new sanctuary replacing that in Jerusalem is not a church building but the “new and perfect tabernacle not made by hands”.  It is not the priest who does the sacrifice and makes Christ present.  It is Jesus himself, in heaven, who offers himself as the perfect sacrifice and continues to do so through the instrument of the priest.

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Gospel, Matthew 28:16-20  Matthew ends his gospel with this exhortation to the apostles and, through them, to Christians for all ages to come.  As parents leaving on vacation might give a last-minute summary of instructions to their older children remaining at home, so Jesus gives this set of imperatives to his Church.  The key verb here is to “disciple” people.  Baptizing and teaching (grammatically subordinate participle clauses to the command to make disciples) are important elements in the process of discipleship, but they are not the key in and of themselves.  As a Church, our job is not finished by celebrating sacraments and educating young people.  Some Catholics, baptized and educated in Catholic schools and religious education programs, may never really have gotten to the point of what is fully indicated by the word “disciple”, as one hungry to receive and follow the discipline of faith in Jesus. Others may have left discipleship behind as they pursued their own personal goals in life.  The effectiveness of our ministry, then, cannot be accurately measured by headcounts of sacramental reception or school enrollment figures.  We need to do these things and more in a manner so convincing that people truly become disciples.   

“Behold” is not just an interjection but an imperative verb form, a command to look carefully and pay attention.  Jesus wants his disciples to never forget he is truly present with them although they will no longer see him physically as had been the case prior to his ascension.  We Christians of this modern age are encouraged to have the same confidence in Jesus’ abiding presence as the apostles when they walked at his side.  He is still the teacher and we are the disciples.

Note that there are eleven rather than twelve apostles.  Judas was gone and the apostles had not yet selected Matthias as his replacement (Acts 1:15-26).  On what mountain in Galilee did this event take place?  The answer may depend on where one thinks the transfiguration took place (see Matthew 17:1-8).  The significance of the mountain is not its exact location but the symbolism attached to mountains as places of encounter, going up to be closer to God.  Although Christians were learning the concept that God is everywhere, the ancient cosmology of God being up above still had significant symbolic value. 

Some of the apostles “doubted”.  The word is also used with reference to Peter when he faltered while walking toward Jesus on the water (Matthew 14:31): “Why did you doubt?”  The Greek word means to have two positions on something…to waver back and forth.  Doubt is not the absence of belief but an internal struggle to accept and put one’s faith firmly in that belief.  Could it not be said that many Christians today believe in Jesus Christ but have difficulty putting their faith completely in Jesus, going back and forth between placing faith in God and faith in their financial security or personal abilities? 

The statement to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” is the clearest expression of Trinitarian belief in the bible.  Statements of baptism in Acts of the Apostles and letters of Paul, however, do not seem to have followed this formula.  In Peter’s Pentecost speech he tells people they should be “baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38 and see also Acts 19:5 and Romans 6:3).  The Trinitarian formula may have been, therefore, a development in response to the questions which arose in the first century regarding the true identity of Jesus and the unity of the Son with the Father and Spirit.  It is required today as an essential element of baptism.  The Catholic Church accepts the baptism by any Christian group that baptizes with water in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  We do not accept a baptism performed only in the name of Jesus.

Reading 1, Deuteronomy 4:32-34, 39-40  The book of Deuteronomy shaped Jewish understanding of God and their relationship to God in a more profound way than the previous books of Hebrew scripture had done.  The most important prayer for Jewish people, the Shema, comes from Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is Lord alone.  Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength.”  This prayer, recited multiple times each day by Jewish people, holds a central place in their relationship with God.  Representative of many others in Deuteronomy, it transitions from a belief that God is supreme above all other gods to believing that there is only one God (monotheism).  The rest do not really exist.  As stated in this reading, “There is no other”.  The book of Deuteronomy also moves away from the anthropomorphic conceptualization of God, that is, of God with human or superhuman emotions and ways of responding to situations.  God does not get angry or vengeful, does not question his own plan, or have limitations of knowledge or place as God had been presented in previous books.  Deuteronomy never speaks of God as descending to earth or dwelling in the sanctuary.  God is not limited to one place or another as people are.  God is everywhere, “in the heavens above and on earth below”.  In Deuteronomy God does not work through intermediaries (angels) buts acts directly. 

Although the understanding of God had advanced, the Jewish people had yet to understand the concept of life after death.  Therefore, as stated in this passage, Deuteronomy follows the prevailing formula that prosperity and long life are bestowed by God as rewards for obedience.  Centuries would pass before the Book of Job would challenge that understanding and groups such as the Pharisees would come to believe that God would bless the poor and suffering faithful with life after death.

Reading II, Romans 8:14-17  Slavery was common in Roman times.  Some people were made slaves when taken as prisoners in battle, common people along with soldiers.  Others were sold into slavery for inability to pay debts, either their own or those of their parents.  Jews were allowed to have slaves, but could only have fellow Jews as slaves for payment of debts and then not for life but only until the debt was paid.  Some wealthy Christians had slaves as was the case of Philemon to whom Paul addressed a letter in support of the runaway slave Onesimus.  

You may have seen the movie “Ben Hur”, the story of a slave who, as a reward for his loyalty and heroism, is not only freed but adopted by his master, a Roman commander.  It was relatively common in Roman society for wealthy childless couples to adopt a male slave to continue the family history and name.  With adoption came a new identity, a new life, and the payment of all debts by the one adopting.    

Imagine the impact on the one passing from being a slave to being adopted as a son and heir.  Fear of punishment for any mistake or wrong doing is replaced by promise and loving treatment.  Such was the attitude Paul wanted to instill in converts to Christ.  Don’t be afraid of God.  You have been chosen to be a beloved adopted son or daughter and an heir to the riches of God’s kingdom.  You and I are invited to enjoy the presence of God, not as slaves, but as members of God’s family. 

The word “Abba” appears in three texts in the Bible, the other two being Mark 14:36 and Galatians 4:6.  Abba was an Aramaic form used by children to address their fathers, much like children today may say “dad” or daddy”.  You might wonder why Paul retains the Aramaic word rather translating it into Greek.  Abba is one of several Aramaic words and phrases retained in the Greek edition.  Phrases you would recognize are from Mark 5.41 “Talitha koum” (Little girl, get up), Mark 7.34 “Ephpheta” (be opened), and Mark 15:34 “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?).  The individual Aramaic retained in the Greek translation are Amen, Alleluia, Hosanna, and Abba.  The first three of these four words were probably retained in Aramaic because they played an integral part of Jewish prayer.  The word Abba was likely Jesus’ way of addressing the Father in his personal prayer, and was therefore retained for Christians to express the same intimacy of relationship with the Father.

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Gospel, John 15:26-27; 16:12-15  An advocate presents the cause of another person.  Jesus and the Father send the Spirit as an advocate.  Whom will the Spirit represent and before whom will he testify?  One might guess that the Spirit will be our advocate before God the Father like a lawyer for the defense before the judge.  Romans 8:33-34 tells us, “Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?  It is God who acquits us.  Who will condemn?  It is Christ…who intercedes for us.”  No, the Spirit is not our advocate before God but rather the advocate of Jesus.  The Spirit is sent to present the case of Jesus, first of all, to Christians to “guide us to all truth”.  Secondly, the Spirit will be Jesus’ advocate to the world.  Jesus’ disciples, from his first followers through to our day and age, will be called on to testify on Jesus’ behalf. 

We should, then, consider when and how we are to give testimony on Jesus’ behalf.  In two texts from Luke’s gospel (12:11 and 21:14) Jesus tells us not to worry about what to say if our own defense, that he and the Spirit will tell us what to say at the time.  That doesn’t mean, however, that we should not be prepared.  The first letter of Peter (3:15) encourages, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”  The best way to be ready is to be familiar with the Word of God and the teachings of our Church based upon that Word, to study and become knowledgeable about matters of faith to the point of being able to explain, discuss and defend it…and, of course, living the faith before even speaking out about it.  I once heard it said “it takes a great deal of preparation to be spontaneous”.  The same could be said about being witnesses for Jesus.

Reading 1, Acts 2:1-11  The Jewish feast of Pentecost was also called the Harvest Festival.  It was initially celebrated as a time of thanksgiving for the harvest.  It was also called  the Feast of Weeks, being celebrated seven weeks after Passover (recall that the number 7 was symbolic of perfection, thus 7 weeks times 7 days). 

The Spirit is manifested in wind and fire.  “Hrua”, the Hebrew word for Spirit, also means wind or breath.  It is the word for the mighty wind sweeping over the waters at the beginning of creation (Genesis 1:2).  It is the word in Ezekiel 37 when the prophet is called on to breath God’s life into dry bones to bring them to life.  At Pentecost the wind or breath of the Spirit animates the people and gathers them together. 

God guided the Israelites through the desert with a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:21).  At Pentecost God guided the apostles with a small pillar of fire over each of them.  The people who gathered in the street below were descendants of Jews who had escaped Israel and Judah during times of war and resettled throughout the Mediterranean region or had been forcibly resettled in Assyria and Babylonia to the east.  Although many retained some familiarity with the Hebrew language, they took on the languages of the places where they settled.  Their being able to understand the message of the apostles stands in contrast to the story of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11) in which God confuses the language of people for presuming that they could accomplish whatever they wanted on their own.  On Pentecost all can understand for the message is one to unite them in the name of Jesus, not by their own accomplishments.

Reading II, Galatians 5:16-25  One need only look at the list of what Paul labels the “works of the flesh” to understand that, in his writings, “flesh” represents all from our human nature that would draw us away from God.  For a fuller picture of Paul’s theology on flesh versus Spirit, read Romans 8:1-13.  Paul tells us that we must “crucify” the control of the flesh, to not let our passions and desires dictate what we do in life.  We certainly must be aware of the reality and strength of such drives, but God gives us supernatural grace to live beyond the dictates of our own nature.  The Spirit of God will give us the gifts necessary to discern and follow the will of God.  If we do so, we receive the fruits of living in the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.).  The distinction between gifts and fruits is important.  God can “guide our feet in the way of peace” (Luke 1:79), for example, but that peace only comes by following that way.  So it is with the other fruits.  They come to us, not directly, but only as the fruits of seeking and following the way of God.

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Letter from Jesus

I found this letter with my mother’s things. I don’t know where she got it so I can’t cite the source.

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The church was shamed by its pedophile scandal but it has made some changes to prevent this in the future.  The church’s 265th pope Benedict XVI was elected in 2005.  Changes – updates – are coming to the liturgy in 2012 in an effort to interpret God’s message in a way both accurately and appropriate for the times.

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Walsh says “the Second Vatican Council has restored to the life of the church, the two most important mainstreams of authentic prayer: the Bible and the life-giving community dimension of public worship.”

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Three challenges to Christianity in the 19th century are: liberalism, evolution and science, and historical biblical criticism. (more…)

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