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

Second Sunday of Advent

December 10, 2017
Mark 1:1-8

 

Background:

Unlike Matthew and Luke, Mark’s gospel does not begin with a genealogy. Such a genealogy would explain why this carpenter from a small town of Nazareth is worthy of a proclamation, a gospel.  In Jesus’ day a proclamation was about the birth of a royal son or a military victory. When Mark’s first verse is “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” the people of the day would ask, “Who is this Jesus Christ?” The phrase “son of” would be understood to mean “having the qualities of.” Jesus is being proclaimed as having the qualities of God. Therefore, his birth must be proclaimed.

After the proclamation, Mark quotes the great prophet Isaiah, and he also draws on and reworks the prophet Malachi: “Lo, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me… And suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day…” (Malachi 3:1, 23). Mark introduces John as the one who prepares for the coming of Jesus. When the people of Israel were freed from Egyptian slavery, they were first led by God into the desert before they entered the promised land. This exodus experience becomes the model of liberation and encounter with God by which the Jews understand God working in and throughout their history. Mark draws on this understanding in presenting John the Baptist, the one in the desert who was preparing the way for one who has the qualities of God.

Unlike the Essenes, who practiced a ritual of washing that was meant only for those of their community, John’s baptism is for everyone. The extent to which people respond to John indicates the spiritual hunger of the people. They may have gone to see the man who was clothed in camel hair and ate locusts. But they responded to his message by being baptized and by committing to making changes in their lives. They were committing themselves to live a more faithful relationship to God. No doubt the approaching “day of the Lord,” with its judgment and its time when debts would be forgiven, would have motivated some. Unlike the Essenes, who became an isolated ascetical desert community who also waited for the day of the Lord, John’s message was focused on people returning to their families and their communities with a renewed dedication to their relationship with God.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Who are the people who have called you to live more deeply your relationship with God?
  2. What have been your experiences of being in a personal or spiritual desert or emotional desert?
  3. How do you experience waiting in your life? Is the experience of waiting different now than it was ten years ago??
  4. Where do you experience hope?
  5. John preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Why was that attractive to so many people of this day?
  6. Can you take some time to talk to God about your desire to have him come into your life in a fuller and more meaningful way, or about what keeps you from entering fully into that desire, or about some other aspect of your relationship with God that arises from 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.

Secular Franciscans at St. Matthias

We are happy to let you know that there is an opportunity here at St. Matthias for you to become a Secular Franciscan.

The Secular Franciscan Order (OFS) is a branch of the world-wide Franciscan Family. We are Catholic men and women, single and married. We work, worship and play in the community where we live.

The OFS is a secular movement established by St. Francis more than 800 years ago. Our purpose is  to bring the Gospel to life where we live and where we work. We look for practical ways to embrace the Gospel in our lives and try to help other do likewise.

In today’s world we are plagued by time schedules, projects and activities that leave us tense and stressed. The OFS becomes our place of refuge and renewal where our brothers and sisters in Francis support and inspire us.

We gather monthly at St. Josaphat Basilica Parish Center on  the second Saturday of each month at 9AM. Our Rule mandates us to be involved in apostolic ministries. Some of us work with the poor and homeless.

If you have a Franciscan vocation, you probably have a desire to do something more. Perhaps you feel a need for support in growing spiritually, or, deep down, you sense a need to serve God in a special way. Perhaps you have felt an affinity with St. Francis

Getting to know the OFS better may be a way to determine if you have a vocation, COME AND SEE!

For more information please contact John Wolfe OFS at jwolfesfo@gmail.com or feel free to call me at 414-430-0673. I am the formation director for the St. Josaphat Fraternity. The picture attached are of the St. Matthias parishioners who have already answered the call to become Secular Franciscans.

1st Sunday of Advent

Reapers, Noonday Rest 1865 John Linnell 1792-1882

December 3, 2017
Mark 13:33-37

 

Background:

With the first Sunday of Advent, a new liturgical year begins. During this liturgical year, most of the gospels will be drawn from the Gospel of Mark. Because Mark is the shortest of the gospels, some texts will also come from the Gospel of John. Drawing on John’s Gospel during this liturgical year helps the church have a fuller appreciation of John’s Gospel, which is generally only used during Lent and Eastertide.  This year, only the first two Sundays of Advent will have gospels from Mark’s Gospel.

The gospel texts for Advent reflect a longing for the presence of God, and they invite each person to be in touch with their own longing for God’s presence. In the time of Jesus, people lived primarily in the present. Jesus exhorted his followers not to “worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries of its own, Today’s troubles are enough for today.” (Matthew 6:34) Their instruments for measuring time were less sophisticated and less accurate. Daily life and survival demanded that people pay attention to the tasks at hand. Suggesting that people look toward the future, even the near future, required a significant shift in thinking. Mark’s emphasis on the need to be vigilant for the time when the Master will return would have been strange for Jesus and for the people of the day.

The word “servant” in the text would probably be more accurately translated as “slave.” While slaves were a common part of the social fabric of Jesus’ time, they did not endure the type of slavery that many assume when they hear the word. Slaves in this culture were considered integral members of the household. Also, women and children could be sold into slavery in order to pay off a family debt. Slaves who were part of a Christian house were cautioned against taking advantage of that fact that they were “brothers” or “sisters” of their masters. The Jews with whom Jesus lived would have also understood themselves as being slaves of God. Because God had freed them from their slavery to the Egyptians, God had become their new Master.

The hours that are mentioned in the parable–evening, midnight, cockcrow, and morning– were the hours of watch for the Roman soldiers. Palestinians would have used first, second, and third watch.  They were the times when it was dark and people were most vulnerable to attack from an enemy. Jesus is exhorting his disciples to be like soldiers, standing guard against any attempt from an evil enemy who might try to take advantage of the vulnerability of those who are asleep. By remaining vigilant, the disciple remains strong to protect the relationship with the Master.

 

Reflection Questions:

  1. Who greets you when you return from a long absence? How would you characterize your experience?
  2. When in your life have you been most watchful?
  3. What is your experience of being entrusted with responsibility in the absence of another? Does that responsibility feel different for you than your own responsibilities?
  4. Do you know people who are so busy with the tasks of the day that they do not have time or energy to think about the future?
  5. How would the Season of Advent be different if the Church focus moved from us, who are waiting for Jesus’ return, to God, who is waiting for the fullness of God to be present in our lives?
  6. What happens within you as the Church enters the season of Advent this year? How is it the same as previous years, and how is it different?
  7. Jesus exhorts his followers to be watchful, alert, and awake. What are the different ways this exhortation might be meant?
  8. In what way do you need to hear Jesus’ exhortation to be watchful, alert, and awake at this point in your life journey?
  9. Can you talk to God about the place in your own life where you need to hear the words of Jesus in today’s gospel, about your efforts to be watchful, or about some other aspect of your life 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.

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus, Christ the King

November 26, 2017
Matthew 25:31-46

 

Background:

The last Sunday of the Liturgical Year is always the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus, Christ the King. The gospels for last two Sundays have been preparing us for this text, which is an image of the end time when all will come before God. The parable of the ten virgins waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom encouraged the Christian community to remain vigilant. The parable of the master who gave his three servants talents to use while he was absent asks the Christian community to recognize that they have been richly blessed beyond their wildest dreams and to reflect on how they have used those blessings.

Equally important to what has gone before this gospel text is what follows in Matthew’s gospel. From this point forward, the final events of Jesus’ life will be described. Matthew begins the next chapter “When Jesus finished all these words, he said to his disciples, ‘You know that in two days’ time it will be Passover, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.’ Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, and they consulted together to arrest Jesus by treachery and put him to death. But they said, ‘not during the festival, that there may not be a riot among the people,” (Matthew 26:1-5) The next thing Matthew describes is the anointing of Jesus’ head with costly perfumed oil. Jesus remarks that this had been done in preparation for his burial. As Matthew unfolds the events of Jesus’ passion and death, the vision of Christ as King stands in stark contrast to the events that will follow. There is a contradiction between who Jesus really is and the events of his last days. That contradiction can help the disciples live faithfully with the contradictions in their own lives.

The image of a shepherd separating sheep and goats would be familiar to people in Matthew’s community. Sheep and goats were the first animals to be domesticated. During the day they were pastured together. At night the sheep could be left outside but goats needed to be brought inside to protect them from the cold. Sheep, when slaughtered, seemed to accept their fate and did not cry out. This was looked upon as a manly quality to be able to endure the hardships of life without complaint.

The “sheep” are gathered on the favored right side because they are more valuable. The criteria for being on the right or the left are not prayer, ritual observance, belief, or even outstanding generosity or compassion. Being counted among the favored requires that one has provided the most basic of human needs for another: food, water, clothing, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. Even though both the blessed and the accursed did not recognize Jesus, he identifies himself with the “least brothers.”

Earlier in the gospel, Jesus states that those who receive his disciples as they go about preaching will be rewarded. “And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple–amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42) There is also a sense in Matthew that those who come in the name of God come with the authority of the one who sends them. “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” (Matthew 10:40) Here, the text suggests that caring for the needs of the little ones or choosing to ignore their need is taken, by Christ, as a sign of one’s acceptance/rejection of His Kingdom.

 

Reflection Questions

  1. Try to imagine the scene as Matthew describes it in the first two verses of the text: The Son of Man in glory, all the angels are present, the throne, and every person of every nation is assembled. Pretend for a few minutes that you have the means to commission a group of artists to capture this scene on a large wall. What would you tell your artists that you wanted included in the image?
  2. When you think of the people that you encounter in a normal day, how and why does your notice of them change?
  3. Who are the “least” in your world?
  4. Why is it that both those who are called “blessed” and those who are called “accursed” did not recognize the Lord in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, or the naked?
  5. “… Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” What kind of relationship does God seem to have with those who are thirsty, hungry, naked, and strangers?
  6. Do you ever read the Catholic Church social encyclicals, or the lives of people who have made a difference to the poor?
  7. Why do you think the Church has selected this text for the feast of Christ the King?
  8. Can you talk to God about how you feel about this parable as an image of the coming of Jesus in glory, about a God who separates some from others, or about a God who seems to not be recognizable even to the “blessed”?

 

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.