Second Sunday of Lent

February 25, 2018
Mark 9:2-10

 

Background:

The transfiguration of Jesus is based on the belief that gods can change into different forms. Some schools of mysticism believe that humans and animals can also change form. Movies like the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Harry Potter contain contemporary expressions of this understanding. In the Jewish tradition the righteous will take on a new heavenly form. Many people hope that their heavenly body will be much different than the body that is theirs while on earth. In the text here, Jesus is transfigured not in the sense of taking on a totally new form, but in the sense that the way he appeared to the disciples is dramatically altered.

The fact that Peter, James, and John are present and witness this event makes it an historical event, not one that takes place only in the spiritual world. Nor is it a vision or dream of some moment in the future when the fullness of God’s presence will be revealed. Jesus is the only one who is changed, and he is the only one who enters into a dialogue with Moses and Elijah. But the disciples are participants in the event as it unfolds. They witness and participate in what is taking place: they see a change in Jesus’ appearance, they recognize Elijah and Moses as they converse with Jesus, Peter addresses Jesus, they are overshadowed by the cloud, and they hear the voice from heaven speaking to them. What is taking place occurs in such a way that they can experience it and participate in it to some extent. From the text it is not clear if they were able to hear and understand the conversation that took place between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. 

Mark’s community would have recognized many of the elements that Mark describes here as being similar to events from their religious heritage. Moses and Elijah each ascended a mountain and there encountered the presence of God. Both underwent a kind of transformation. When Moses returned with the tablets on which the commandments had been written, his face became so bright, after he had spoken with God, he had to cover it so that people could look at him. (Exodus 34:29-35) Elijah, when he died, was taken from earth in a flaming chariot. (2 Kings 2:11) For the people of the day, Moses and Elijah represented the law and the prophets, the whole of their religious tradition.

The cloud is another familiar image from the Hebrew scriptures that expressed the presence of God. For example: God spoke to Moses from a cloud; while in the desert a cloud led the people and would descend upon the tent whenever Moses entered to confer with God; a dark cloud totally enveloped the temple at its dedication so that the priests had to leave; and the Jews believed that when the Messiah returned the cloud would once again descend upon the temple.

Peter’s suggestion that they build three tents on the mountain reflects the custom associated with the feast of Tabernacles, when the Jews remember a period of their history of living in tents as they wandered in the desert. By the time of Jesus, the feast not only celebrated an important aspect of their liberation from the slavery, but also took on overtones of hope for a time when they would be liberated once again. Peter’s suggestion that tents be built may be an expression of his hope that this time of final liberation might be what is signaled by the events taking place before him. However, Jesus’ exhortation as they come down the mountain to tell no one of the experience “except when the Son of Man has risen from the dead” reminds Peter that there will be no glory before Jesus’ rejection and death. As Mark’s community hears the description of Jesus’ transfiguration, their own hopes for the future are also touched. Jesus’ note of warning would help them maintain some hope as they hear Mark describe Jesus’ rejection and death.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your experience of climbing significant hills or even mountains?
  2. Why do you think climbing a mountain is used as an expression of going to encounter God?
  3. Have you had experiences that changed you?
  4. How has your relationship with God changed you?
  5. Do you feel more like Peter, James, and John, invited to go up the mountain with Jesus, or more like one of the disciples waiting at the bottom for their return?
  6. As we begin Lent, what transformation do you hope for in the world, in the church, or in yourself?
  7. Do you see the transformation you seek more as something you are called to strive after or as something that God is going to accomplish?
  8. Why do you think the Church gives us this reading for the Second Sunday of Lent?
  9. Can you talk to God about the change you would like to see within yourself, or about that change that you suspect God might be inviting you to undertake at this point in your life, or about some other thought that arises in you as you read this gospel?

 

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

1st Sunday of Lent

Working Title/Artist: Peaceable Kingdom
Department: Am. Paintings / Sculpture
Culture/Period/Location:
HB/TOA Date Code:
Working Date: ca. 1830-32
scanned for collections

February 18, 2018
Mark 1:12-15

 

Background:

Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus follows right after Jesus is baptized by John in the Jordan. His account of both the baptism and the temptation are very sparse. We might be tempted to fill in the details with what we remember from the descriptions from other gospel accounts. But this might hinder giving adequate reflection on the text that Mark has provided.

The opening verse of this gospel states that the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert. Mark’s community would be aware that “the Spirit” was the expression of the great power of God throughout their religious tradition. Examples of this would include when the Spirit enabled Othniel to help the Jews defeat their enemies:

“Because the Israelites had offended the Lord by forgetting the Lord, their God, and serving the Baals and the Asherahs (foreign gods), the anger of the Lord flared up against them, and he allowed them to fall into the power of Cushan-risha-thaim, king of Aram Naharaim, whom they served for eight years. But when the Israelites cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a savior, Othniel, son of Caleb’s younger brother Kenaz, who rescued them. The spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he judged Israel. When he went out to war, the Lord delivered Cushan-risha-thaim, king of Aram, into his power, so that he made him subject.” (Judges 3:7-10)

When Samuel anointed the young shepherd, David, as the next King, the Spirit came upon him to guide him.

“Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them. He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance. The Lord said, ‘There–anoint him, for this is he!’ Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” (1Samuel 16:12-13b)

It was also that same spirit who came upon ordinary people and led them to be great prophets of God. The spirit who had animated so many people throughout their history was now acting once again to drive Jesus into the desert.

In the second verse Mark states that Jesus stayed in the desert for forty days, was tempted by Satan, was in the company of wild beasts, and was ministered to by angels. All of these statements would have been full of meaning for the people for whom Mark was writing. They would have presumed that the declaration of honor that was heard throughout the spirit world at Jesus’ baptism would be challenged: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11) While Mark does not give the details of the testing, he lets his audience know that Jesus has prevailed. In the very first verse of Mark’s gospel he states, “The beginning of the proclamation of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (Mark 1:1). Mark states in the second verse of this reading that Jesus is present in the desert with the wild animals and that angels waited on him. Then in the third verse he begins to describe Jesus as he begins his public ministry. Without stating the details, Mark is indicating that Jesus has come through his trials and has prevailed. That Jesus was among the wild animals and they did him no harm would have suggested to people of the day that the original order of creation as it was in the garden had once again been established.

 

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What do you associate with a desert, with dryness, and with being tested?
  2. What have been your desert experiences?
  3. What would those who heard that Jesus was “driven” into the desert recall? How did the experience of the desert affect their understanding of themselves and their relationship to God?
  4. What are some of the ways that Jesus might have been changed by his experience of being in the desert, being tempted, being with the wild animals, and having had the angels minister to him?
  5. Do you think there is a connection between Jesus’ experience in the desert and his ability to proclaim, “This is the time of fulfillment”?
  6. Given the everyday life of the people of the day, what are some of the things that might have gone through their minds as they heard Jesus proclaim: “This is the time of fulfillment”?
  7. When you hear this gospel proclaimed, do you take these words seriously?
  8. Where do you see the action of the spirit operating in your life?
  9. How will your Lenten practice lead you into an experience of desert, temptation, wild animals, being ministered to by angels, and being able to proclaim that “this is the time of fulfillment”?
  10. Can you take some time now to talk with God about whatever thoughts or feelings arose within you as you reflected on this gospel; about your desire for your Lenten journey this year; or about any other thought that you need to bring to God?

 

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

February 4, 2018
Mark 1:29-39

 

Background:

Last Sunday, the Gospel described Jesus’ arrival in Capernaum, and on the Sabbath going to the synagogue. On that Sabbath Jesus took his turn to teach, and cast an unclean spirit out of a man. Those who witnessed the event were amazed and remarked that Jesus was teaching with a new kind of authority. (Luke 1:27) The text for last week ended, “His fame spread everywhere throughout the whole region of Galilee.” (Luke 1:28)

The text for this week follows immediately after last week’s Gospel, and it is composed of four events. Like last week, the events are told with sparse detail: Jesus cures Simon’s mother in law, Jesus cures those who are brought to him from the town, Jesus seeks out a place of solitude to pray, and finally Jesus speaks with Simon about the priorities of his mission. 

After Jesus leaves the synagogue, which suggests that it is still the Sabbath, he enters the house of Simon. They tell Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law, and he goes to her, touches her, and restores her to health. In their understanding, illness was associated with the power that death had over a person. The word used to describe the healing is “ederiro” which means “raised up,” an expression that is typically used in accounts of the resurrection. She then begins to wait on them, and the word here is “diagoneo” which is not the word that would describe the typical service roles of women of the day. Rather, the term denotes “service within the community.” As he did in last week’s gospel, Jesus demonstrates his power over an evil that threatens life.  Peter’s mother-in-law is freed to minister to the community.

In the second scenario, Mark describes the result of the spread of Jesus’ reputation throughout the area. The crowds wait until after the sun has set and the Sabbath has ended. Travel is now permitted, and they come with the sick to be cured. 

Jesus needs to finds a place of solitude in order to pray.  The verb carries the connotation that his intention is an “extended time away.” Simon and the others go looking for him, and their statement, “everyone is looking for you,” (verse 37) suggests that they think he should return to those who are seeking him. Jesus responds by saying he intends to go to other villages to preach. The text ends with a statement summing up Jesus’ ministry in the area as preaching and driving out demons (verse 39).

Last week the gospel brought to light a contrast between the evil spirits, who knew who Jesus was, and the crowd and disciples who were all left asking, “what is this?” (Mark 1: 27) This week, the contrast is between the disciples, who think that Jesus should respond to crowd who have come seeking him, and Jesus, who knows that he must get away from that crowd in order to pray and then move on to other villages and minister to those who need to hear his message.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is your typical reaction to people who are sick and contagious?
  2. How does being sick and unable to do your normal routine affect you?
  3. Using this text, what are some of the values that seem to matter the most to Jesus? What are some of the things that Jesus does not seem to be concerned with?
  4. What are some of things Jesus might have talked with His Father about during his prayer that morning?
  5. How do you think Simon and the others felt when Jesus rejected their suggestion that they return to those who were looking for him?
  6. Have you ever felt like you needed to abandon something that you were successful at in order to do what you felt God was calling you to do?
  7. Jesus seems to have walked away from curing people who were coming to him back in Capernaum, in order to peach to others. Have you ever felt like God had walked away from you and your needs?
  8. Can you take some time to talk to God about your desire to live as God’s disciple and the struggles or questions that you have in doing that, or some other thought or feeling that arose within you as you read this text?

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

4th Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 28, 2018
Mark 1:21-28

Background:

The gospel text for this Sunday follows Mark’s call of the first disciples that was the gospel for last week. This is Mark’s description of Jesus as he begins public ministry. Jesus is described as a teacher at the beginning and the end of the text. But he is not like the other teachers of the day, the scribes, who would have taught by citing the teachings of other great teachers who had gone before them. One might think of a teacher who quotes many highly respected sources in the course of a lecture.

Jesus’ teaching is described in the middle verses of this text. But Jesus’ teaching is not an instruction in the usual sense. Rather it is Jesus’ encounter with the unclean spirit. People of the day believed in the presence of many spirits. Some were kind, others were menacing, but all were believed to be more powerful than humans. The people believed that only God was more powerful. A person with an unclean spirit would have made all those who had contact with him also ritually impure. If such a person were found in a synagogue, he would have been removed. The spirit in this gospel tries to take the upper hand in the situation by claiming to know Jesus’ name, calling him Jesus of Nazareth and the Holy One of God. But Jesus is the more powerful, despite that fact that the spirit can call out his name. Jesus tells them, all of them, to be quiet and come out of the man. Because they obey Jesus, he has taught those who witness this event that he is more powerful than the spirit that possessed the man. This will raise another familiar question: What is the source of Jesus’ power?

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you believe in the existence of spirits, either good or evil?
  2. Do you generally operate believing that you have power over your own life, over how your life is unfolding, and over what you choose to do or not to do? Can you think of examples from your daily life that support your assumption?
  3. Are you also aware of places in your life that would suggest that you may not be as in charge of your own life as you would like to think?
  4. When you think of Jesus as a teacher, what are some of the great moments of Jesus the teacher?
  5. When you think of Jesus revealing his authority, what are the moments you recall? What does it mean for you that Jesus taught with authority?
  6. Who are the people who have taught you with authority? What about them gave them their authority?
  7. Where do you find examples of people who confront evil and at the same time restore the honor of the individual?
  8. Can you talk to God about your desire to have people who can teach you with authority, or your desire to be that kind of teacher for others, or some other thought that arose in you as you reflected on this gospel?

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

January 21, 2018
Mark 1:14-20

 

Background:

The gospel text for last Sunday was John’s account of the call of the first disciples. As was mentioned last week, John presents the call of the first disciples in a way that his community could recognize as having similarities to their own coming to believe in Jesus as the Messiah.

Mark begins his gospel with John the Baptist in the desert announcing a baptism of repentance, to prepare for the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Mark then tells of the baptism of Jesus. Immediately after the baptism, the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert for forty days where he lived among the wild beasts, was tempted by Satan, and then was ministered to by angels. All these events are told with brevity (14 verses), and then Mark takes up the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. The beginning of that ministry is described in the gospel text for this Sunday.

Mark’s text does not make clear why he chose to mention the arrest of John the Baptist. Scripture scholars believe that initially Jesus may have been a disciple of John, setting out on his own after John was arrested. (John 3:22) However, here Jesus is portrayed as traveling among the towns and villages of Galilee rather than in the desert wilderness, which was the backdrop of John’s ministry. The message of Jesus in verse 15 is very similar to that of John as described in other gospels. “In those days John the Baptist appeared preaching in the desert of Judea (and) saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:1-2)

The “kingdom of God” was loaded with meaning for the people of the day. The earliest traditions would identify the people of Israel as the kingdom of God. God was understood as the true ruler of the people. The king ruled only as a representative of God. The failure of this system led many to put their hope in some future intervention by God, rather than hoping for a faithful ruler who would reestablish the kingdom of God. Jesus’ proclamation states simply that “now is the time” when the hoped-for future kingdom of God has arrived and the time for hoping is over. The “time of fulfillment has arrived” would be a message that stirred people deeply. Jesus’ proclamation is a bold statement that would have also attracted the attention of the political and religious leaders who would have found such comments a threat.

The announcement of the gospel is followed by Mark’s account of the call of the first disciples – the fishermen Simon, Andrew, James and John. These disciples are called not just to be pupils of the teacher, which was the traditional role of disciples of the day, but they are also called to work with Jesus in gathering other disciples. They are to become “fishers of men.” In exchange, they are invited to live with him, but they are not told where. They must be willing to learn by being with Jesus and letting him lead the way. These men of responsibility are being asked to leave their families, the sea, and a way of life that was successful, and become dependent on Jesus. In addition, this would have been a significant break with the basic understanding of family responsibility upon which much of the society of the day was based. Many would have looked on such a move with disdain.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Are there areas in your own life where you have hoped for change for many years?
  2. What do you think it was like for the Jews to sustain their hope in a Messiah for generations?
  3. Upon the arrest of John, what do you think are some of things that Jesus thought about before he decided to continue to proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom?
  4. Why do you think Andrew, Peter, John and James would have made good disciples?
  5. In Jesus’ day there were many who admired him, his teaching, and the way he lived his life, and some became his followers. Are there places in your life where you are more admirer than follower?
  6. Imagine yourself in the boat with James and John. What would be going through your mind as you watch them leave the nets, get out of the boat, and begin to walk away with Jesus?
  7. Can you also imagine that you are again in the boat and Jesus also invites you to come join him? What goes through your mind and you consider Jesus’ invitation?
  8. Can you talk with God about your desire to be one of his disciples, about whatever keeps you from responding to God as fully as you would like, or about some other facet of this gospel that caught your attention?

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel

The Epiphany of the Lord

Wisemen from the East gave gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

January 7, 2018
Matthew 2:1-12

 

Background:

The first chapter of Matthew’s gospel ends with Joseph carrying out the instructions he had received in a dream. “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24-25) Matthew omits a number of important details between the end of his first chapter and the beginning of the second chapter, which is the gospel text for this Sunday.  Most of us fill in those missing pieces with familiar passages from other Gospels, with images from famous works of art, and with our own prayerful meditation. But Matthew’s gospel is also the word of God, and it has its own wisdom and insight to be savored.

When Joseph agreed to take Mary into his house as his wife as he had been instructed, he spared Mary the possibility of being sent away in quiet disgrace to give birth, or even the possibility of being stoned to death. Matthew skips over the report of the child’s birth entirely, where all of creation, from angels to shepherds, proclaims the glorious event that has taken place in Bethlehem. Instead Matthew reports that it is Joseph who gives the child the name Jesus, the name Luke reports was given to Mary at the annunciation. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:31) Matthew has also skipped over such events as the census, not finding room in the city and therefore seeking shelter in a manger, the angels declaring the birth, and the shepherds’ experience. Matthew does not even name Mary in telling us of the birth of Jesus. Despite not having relations with Mary, Joseph takes on the responsibility of the child as if he were his son, and gives him the name Jesus. But Matthew provides other details that will help his audience understand how God has been unfolding God’s plan in the birth of this child. Some of Matthew’s details are present in today’s gospel text.

The Magi were part of the gentile world into which Jesus was born. The Magi were those who studied the heavens for clues to the meaning of life. They functioned as political and religious advisers to the rulers of the Median and later the Persian empires. At one point in Persian history, the Magi revolted and replaced their king, demonstrating their importance within their culture. Given that they were looking for a person of significance, it is no surprise that they would first go to Jerusalem, the center of the religious and political world of Judea.

But the newborn king was an entirely different kind of king, and therefore not to be found in Jerusalem but rather the small isolated community of Bethlehem. When the Magi arrived there and entered the house, they first saw the child with his mother, and then prostrated themselves before the infant. Matthew has described this encounter between the Magi and the child Jesus in such a way that his audience recognizes that even those without the benefit of their sacred tradition are able to recognize the hand of God at work here. Creation itself is revealing the way, so that those who are open and seek the ways of God can recognize what has taken place. Who these Magi were, their names, how many there were–the details that have been added later are not described by Matthew. The Magi are important because they help establish that the whole world was affected by what God had done. The magi can now fade into history.  Having discovered the child, they pay him homage, offer their gifts, and then step aside so that God can unravel God’s divine plan. The magi are much like Simeon and Anna in Luke’s gospel, who have waited faithfully most of their lives. Once the magi have seen the hand of God at work in the child Jesus, they praise God and depart by another route.  “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the people, a light for revelations to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

The Magi’s response to the birth of Jesus is in sharp contrast to that of King Herod, the living and reigning King of Judea. Herod knows that he has not fathered an heir. Therefore, the news that there exists a newborn heir is not welcome. Herod is also different from the Magi in that he is merely a puppet ruler for Rome, while the Magi have esteem and authority in their society. While the Magi have only a star that signals the birth of a person of importance, Herod has advisers who know of the prophecies about the birth of the messiah, but they seem to be oblivious to the fact that the child has arrived. Herod’s reaction is one of distress, and he is not moved to personal action. Rather, with a deceitful claim for his motive, he directs the Magi to bring him the information he needs. The Magi have taken on the difficult and dangerous task of leaving their homeland to track down the person whom the star’s appearance signifies. They have brought precious gifts that indicate his importance and they bow before him. Herod keeps his intention secret, and in secret he asks the Magi to supply him with information he will need.

The Magi and Herod represent two very different responses to the presence of Jesus. Those who have the advantage of being familiar with the religious traditions (that should help them recognize the significance of the events unfolding before them) are unable to identify who Jesus is. They respond with fear, and, as we know the story, even murder of the innocent. Those without the benefit of being familiar with the religious tradition are willing take on personal risk. They recognize the significance of this infant’s birth: God’s love is powerful and pervasive–it will not be thwarted. They offer the gifts that they have, bow reverently, and take their leave.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is the range of responses people in your family might have to news that one of the family is pregnant?
  2. Where do you find the signs of God’s presence in creation, in human history, and in your own history?
  3. Who in your family are the first in line to hold the babies at family gatherings? Are there also members in your family who seem to feel very awkward in the presence of newborns?
  4. The Magi were men who were comfortable enough with the darkness to study changes in the night sky. What are the areas of darkness in your own life today? Are you more apt to avoid reflection on your own darkness, or to look for signs of God’s presence in the darkness?
  5. The Magi have the ability offer their gifts and depart so that the newborn king can rise and take his place in God’s plan. Herod on the other had feels threatened and tries to hold on to his position. Do you know elderly people and others who have the ability to gently offer their wisdom to the new members, and gently make room for the new ones to emerge? Do you also know elderly people and others who hold on to their roles of importance?
  6. Do you ever fear that things you hold precious are being threatened? When has your response been like the magi? Has it ever resembled the response of Herod?
  7. Where might God be trying to break in and be present anew in your world?
  8. What stands out for you in Matthew’s description of the birth of Jesus? What might this be showing you about how God is present in the events of your life?
  9. Can you take some time to talk to God about how you see God revealing God’s plan in your own life and how you are responding, or about some other thought or feeling that this gospel makes present to you?

 

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

December 31, 2017
Luke 2:22-40

 

Background:

The gospel text presents a picture of the faithfulness of Joseph and Mary. In the first verses of the second chapter of his gospel, Luke tells his community that Joseph and Mary went to Nazareth to be enrolled to fulfill the decree of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-5). Just as Joseph and Mary are faithful in fulfilling the command of the civil authorities, they are also faithful in fulfilling their religious requirements of purification. In this text, Luke states five times that Joseph and Mary are acting to fulfill the law (verses 22, 23, 24, 27, and 39).

This faithful home of Joseph and Mary is the home in which Jesus will be raised and grow not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually. Following this gospel text Luke will also recount the occasion when Mary and Joseph found “the lost” Jesus in the temple. (Luke 2:41-51) While many have tried to fill in the missing details of Jesus’s early life, the early Christians who would have had access to those who remembered Jesus’s early life chose only to record these two incidents from that time. This gospel text is an important window into the family and the early life of Jesus that deserves our attention.

The Jews believed that blood contained a life-power, belonged to God, and was sacred. Therefore, it was kept separated from the mundane things of life. When that separation was not preserved, the people and the objects that came into contact with the blood needed to be ritually purified. Naturally both birth and death became the focus of many purification practices. A second belief within the Jewish tradition was that the first-born son belonged to God. Therefore, an offering was made to God as a way to acknowledge God’s claim on the child. 

In the text, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had gone to the temple to make the necessary offerings in fulfillment of requirements associated with these two beliefs. While they were there, they encountered Simeon and Anna. This encounter probably took place in the outer courtyard of the temple where women would have been permitted. By addressing Mary, Simeon was acting in way that was out of character for men of the day, who never addressed unfamiliar women in public. Both Simeon and Anna are described as people who had spent much of their life waiting for the day of fulfillment. They are the ones who recognized the divine presence within the infant Jesus. While it is not directly stated, it is implied that the religious officials who would have been about the temple area did not recognize God’s presence within the child.

Reflection Questions:

  1. How much did the values of your parents and their culture affect how they raised you?
  2. Has there been a time in your life when you felt disappointed in the preparation your parents provided?
  3. Has there also been a time or an incident when you discovered a new appreciation for the way you were raised?
  4. How do you look on the role Joseph and Mary played in the life of Jesus?
  5. The gospels present that God has been actively preparing not only Joseph and Mary for this moment in history, but all of creation with them. Why would God choose this manner of beginning God’s fullest presence in our world?
  6. Can you talk to God, who chose to bring Jesus into the world through the family of Joseph and Mary, about your own beginnings, or about your hopes to be a place where God presence can grow and develop, or some other awareness that rose within you as you read this gospel?

 

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)

December 25, 2017

Matthew 1:1-25 Christmas, vigil mass
Luke 2:1-14 Christmas, mass during the night
Luke 2:15-20 Christmas Day, mass at dawn
John 1:1-18 Christmas Day, mass during the day

 

Matthew 1:1-25 Christmas, vigil mass

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham became the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar. Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab. Amminadab became the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab. Boaz became the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth. Obed became the father of Jesse, Jesse the father of David the king.

David became the father of Solomon, whose mother had been the wife of Uriah. Solomon became the father of Rehoboam, Rehoboam the father of Abijah, Abijah the father of Asaph. Asaph became the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, Joram the father of Uzziah. Uzziah became the father of Jotham, Jotham the father of Ahaz, Ahaz the father of Hezekiah. Hezekiah became the father of Manasseh, Manasseh the father of Amos, Amos the father of Josiah. Josiah became the father of Jechoniah and his brothers at the time of the Babylonian exile.

After the Babylonian exile, Jechoniah became the father of Shealtiel, Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, Zerubbabel the father of Abiud. Abiud became the father of Eliakim, Eliakim the father of Azor, Azor the father of Zadok. Zadok became the father of Achim, Achim the father of Eliud, Eliud the father of Eleazar. Eleazar became the father of Matthan, Matthan the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.

Thus the total number of generations from Abraham to David is fourteen generations; from David to the Babylonian exile, fourteen generations; from the Babylonian exile to the Christ, fourteen generations.

Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.

 

Luke 2:1-14 Christmas, mass during the night

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So, all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 

Luke 2:15-20 Christmas Day, mass at dawn

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So, they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

 

John 1:1-18 Christmas Day, mass during the day

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. A man named John was sent from God. He came for testimony, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him.

But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. John testified to him and cried out, saying, “This was he of whom I said, ‘The one who is coming after me ranks ahead of me because he existed before me.’” From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.

The material above, and the excerpts below from the readings for the Christmas mass at night and the mass at dawn, are prepared by Joe Thiel.

4th Sunday of Advent

December 24, 2017
Luke 1:26-38

Background:

Luke’s community would have heard this text from a different perspective than that of most contemporary readers. People of that day believed that any man and woman left alone would eventually become sexually involved. Therefore, they believed that there was a constant need to protect a woman from being alone with men. Women were to be in the constant company of other women or children, or secluded in the inner rooms or courtyard of the house. It was the responsibility of the male family members to protect the women from men who might take advantage of a woman’s desire to have sexual relations.

Mary is described as “betrothed to Joseph.” Being betrothed was much more than the contemporary notion of being engaged. Typically, the women of both families would have met to negotiate and determine whether the two were suitable partners. Both families had to be reassured that this was a good arrangement for all, and that neither was taking advantage of the other family. The honor of both families was at stake. Once the women had agreed on the details of the arrangement, the patriarchs of both families would confirm the decision. The betrothal was a public acceptance of the proposed marriage agreement. While the couple did not yet live together, they and their families had entered a public covenant to be husband and wife. The groom then prepared a suitable place for his bride to live within the house of his family. The bride for her part prepared to leave the house of her father and move to become part of the household of her groom. But before the bride moved from the house of her father to the house of the groom, she was expected to produce evidence of her virginity. If she could not, public shame was brought to both families.

When Luke’s community heard this text, they would have immediately been aware that Gabriel, a male spirit, was present to Mary without supervision. This was a potentially dangerous situation. However, the honorable Gabriel first recognized Mary as a person of honor before God, and then moved to ease her fear. He addressed her, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you” (verse 29).  The term “hail” carries the connotation that one should rejoice. Although Gabriel tried to reassure Mary that his presence was a sign of “favor with God,” it also meant that she was being asked to surrender her life to God’s service. Noah, Moses, Gideon and Samuel all had “found favor” with God. (Genesis 6:8, Exodus 33:12, Judges 6:17 and 1 Samuel 2:26.)  Gabriel continued to try to reassure Mary that what was requested was God’s will for her. She was to understand that God is capable of doing what was being suggested. Mary was still greatly concerned. “How can this be…?”

The text suggests that Mary’s concerns might have been larger than this single issue. Gabriel suggested that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and overshadow her. Luke’s community would recall the cloud that overshadowed the tent when God spoke to Moses. They further understood this to mean that God would play the role of a traditional husband for Mary. He would “empower” her and “protect” her, two duties of a Middle Eastern husband. Mary’s words of acceptance, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” (Luke 1:38b) were a typical response when one conceded an argument. They may be translated “as you wish.” God had chosen to interact with Mary directly, bypassing the traditions where the parents had roles in the arbitration and protection of their daughter’s life and future. Gabriel departed, but Luke does not give any indication that Mary was at peace. In the next verses of Luke’s gospel, Mary goes off to visit her cousin Elizabeth. (Luke 1:39-56)

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Do you know people who you believe are among God’s “highly favored ones?”
  2. Where do you look to find the presence of God in your world today?
  3. Mary is described as a virgin living in the town of Nazareth in the region of Galilee, betrothed to a man named Joseph who is of the house of David. What do you think Luke is trying to communicate to those who will hear his gospel by this description?
  4. How did Mary’s life change after Gabriel left?
  5. If Mary’s “Let it be done to me according to your word” is more a statement of surrender than acceptance, what does that say to you about how God was working in Mary’s life, and in your life?
  6. Mary, from the moment of her conception, is preparing for the birth of the infant Jesus. From what you know of Mary’s life over the next nine months, is there any insight for you in how you are being made ready to become the dwelling place of God in your own life?
  7. Given the life of Mary and others that the Church looks upon as “highly favored,” do you desire to be among God’s “highly favored?”
  8. Can you take some time to talk with God about your own desire to be among God’s favored, or about how God might be inviting you to be the one who gives life and flesh to God’s desire to be present in our world, or about some other thought or feeling that arose within you as you heard this gospel?

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel.

3rd Sunday of Advent

December 17, 2017
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Background:

John’s father, Zechariah, was a highly respected rural priest. In a society where a person’s role and status in the community was largely determined by one’s family, John was acting out of character. He should have been acting like a respectable member of a priestly family, and following in his father’s footsteps. However, his behavior was more like one of the disgruntled priests who became separated from the aristocratic priests of Jerusalem. The wealth and lifestyle of the Jerusalem priests alienated some of their rural counterparts from them. John’s appearance and way of life seemed more typical of one who had assumed the role of a prophet, living apart from the religious leaders of the day.

Like a prophet, John spoke the desire of God: that the people should live their relationship with God more faithfully. John’s baptism was a sign of a person’s repentance. Baptisms were common and had a variety of meanings. Naaman’s washing in the Jordan would have been understood as a kind of baptism (2 Kings 5:14). High priests were required to participate in rites of purification before and after rites of atonement (Leviticus 16:4). Women were required to perform a form of baptism after their period of menstruation (Leviticus 15). So, it is not so unusual that John’s presence has raised some questions for the religious authorities.

The priests and Pharisees have come to John to discover who he is. Who is this person, out in the desert, calling people to repentance and baptizing? He tells them that he is not the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet. At this time, there was no clear understanding of who the Messiah might be, or even what kind of role the Messiah would play. The term messiah means “anointed one.” In their history, the Jews had anointed people for a variety of reasons. Kings, priests, and some prophets had been anointed.

There were those among John’s followers, and among the people, who believed that the Baptist himself was the Messiah. Nevertheless, John denied that he was the Messiah, no matter how one understood that term. He did say that there was one among them so great that he was not worthy to undo his sandals, the role of one’s lowliest servant.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Have there been times when people expected a certain kind of behavior or ability of you because they knew your family?
  2. Have you encountered people who you find difficult to understand, or who cause you to be confused by their words or actions?
  3. The religious leaders of the day went out to John, asking “Who are you?” If you were asked this same question today, how would you respond?
  4. John’s behavior caused confusion because it did not match who the authorities believed he was, the son of Zachariah. Are you aware of places where your behavior may cause confusion for those who think they know you?
  5. John used baptism as a sign of repentance and turning back to God. Have you used meaningful rituals of repentance in your own life?
  6. Can you take some time to talk to God about how you see your life pointing to God, or your need for repentance, or some other self-awareness that arose within you from your reading of this gospel?

 

 

The gospel background and reflection questions are written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM.
They are edited by Sister Anne Marie Lom, OSF and Joe Thiel