A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday and Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 12, n. 30)

Corpus Christi and Weekday 12: June 22-28, 2014 ***

 

 

(N.B. The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy of Year A from three perspectives. For reflections on the Sunday liturgy based on the Gospel reading, please scroll up to the “ARCHIVES” above and open Series 3. For reflections based on the Old Testament reading, open Series 6. For reflections based on the Second Reading, open Series 9. Please go to Series 10 - Series 12 for the back issues of the Weekday Lectio. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: June 15-21, 2014, please go to ARCHIVES Series 12 and click on “Trinity Sunday - Weekday 11”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: June 22-28, 2014.)

 

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June 22, 2014: CORPUS CHRISTI – THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST

 “JESUS SAVIOR: His Flesh Is True Food; His Blood Is True Drink”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a // I Cor 10:16-17 // Jn 6:51-58

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS

 

My parents immigrated to the States with one of my younger brothers and became American citizens. In 1997, however, my 82-year-old father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His wish was to die in his native Philippines where my other brothers and I were residing. Our Regional Superior gave me permission to fly to the States and assist my father in his illness. I stayed two weeks in the Bay Area to prepare the return trip of my parents to the Philippines. My father, recently discharged from the hospital, was too weak to go for his daily Mass. When I went to their parish church in Newark, I talked to the pastor about my father’s situation. He gave me permission to give communion to my father and provided a pyx that I could use to carry the sacred host. St. Edward Parish has a stock of vessels to be used by parishioners to bring communion to their sick relatives. The daily communion received by my father gave him peace and serenity to trust in the will of God and to accept his imminent death. We left for the Philippines on August 14. He continued to be nourished with the Eucharistic bread until he died two weeks later. The sacred host served as his viaticum. For him, the Eucharistic communion was truly an experience and pledge of eternal life.

 

Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. The biblical scholar, Eugene Maly, gives a profound insight into the meaning of this feast in light of the Christian vision of death as the passage to eternal life. He comments: “As the Christian sees it, death is both dissolution and transformation. As dissolution it is the cessation of physical life and the deterioration of the body no longer sustained by life-giving blood. As transformation it is the ushering of the human spirit into a new kind of life that has been prepared for in the previous existence … In the renewed liturgical rites the emphasis is clearly on death as transformation. The white vestments, the repeated Alleluias, and, again, the homily all express the joy that a new and better existence is now shared by the deceased faithful believer. It may sound strange to be speaking of death on the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. I am doing so only that I might speak all the more forcefully about life … In the Gospel reading for this feast Jesus says, “He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal …” There is no question of Jesus’ meaning, the verb is in the present tense, the communion with Christ in the Eucharist means a sharing here and now in eternal life … Later on in our Sunday reading Jesus says, “… the man who feeds on this bread shall live forever.” Death, therefore, does not destroy this kind of life.”

 

Eugene Maly then delineates the basic characteristic of eternal life as communion with God: “For John eternal life is the kind of life that is proper to the Father and which he shares with the Son. That is what our reading says about it. Eternal life, then, is God’s life. And the most frequently mentioned quality of this kind of life is that it is shared. This is at the basis of the Christian doctrine of Trinity. That is why the real enemy of eternal life is not natural death, which affects only natural life, but sin, which destroys the union with God and, accordingly, eternal life. When we receive the Eucharistic body and blood of Christ, we are united to him and to the Father. This is sharing in eternal life that is a life of union with God.”

 

***

 

We celebrate today a very beautiful feast – “Corpus Christi” – the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. As a community of believers, we celebrate the Real Presence of the Risen Christ - body and blood, soul and divinity - in the sacrament of the Eucharist. Our Catholic faith declares: “By the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1376). On this day, we meditatively focus our attention on the goodness and kindness of God in providing sustenance for his people. The Lord God fed the Israelites journeying in the wilderness to the Promised Land with “manna” from heaven. Now he continues to nourish and feed, in a marvelously unique way, the Church – the new People of God – with the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ the risen and glorified Lord, through the Eucharistic sacrament of his body and blood.

 

The feast of Corpus Christi is a special “memorial” day for us Christians. As we listen to the Old Testament reading (Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a), the exhortation of Moses addressed to the Israelites moves us deeply and helps us in our “remembering” - and in not “forgetting”. We intend not to “forget” - but rather resolve to “remember” - how the Lord Yahweh was gracious to his people. For forty years he directed their journey in the desert. When they were hungry, he fed them with “manna” from heaven, a unique food unknown to their fathers. Journeying out of slavery in Egypt, they were led safely by him through a vast and terrible desert infested with scorpions and serpents. The Israelites’ throats burned with thirst as they moved through parched ground, but the Lord slaked their thirst with water gushing from the rock. Above all, in their experience of hunger and thirst in the desert, the Lord God provided not merely material sustenance, but something better and surpassingly nourishing - the bread of his living Word!

 

The manifestation of divine providence to the people of Israel is surpassed and excelled by God the Father’s gift of his Son Jesus Christ – the Bread of life – to the Church, the new people of Israel. Jesus is the true “manna” that came down from heaven to nourish us and enable us to share intimately in the divine life. It is most fitting that on this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we deepen our sense of “remembering” – and avoid the misfortune of “forgetting” - by celebrating the saving event of Christ’s death, rising and glorification through the sacrament of the Eucharist. In the Eucharistic bread broken and shared, we receive Jesus Christ’s body broken for the life of the world. And in the Eucharistic wine, we drink the blood of Christ that sealed the new Covenant and the constitution of the new people of God.

 

One apostolic initiative to make the solemnity of Corpus Christi more meaningful is the “FORTY HOURS”, during which the faithful join with the local clergy in a continuous period of prayer for forty hours. This laudable pastoral practice enables the faithful to enter more deeply into the celebration of the Eucharist, which is its summit and source. Moreover, it intensifies the sense of “remembering” and thankfulness for the goodness and saving grace given to us by God in his Son Jesus Christ, the living Bread from heaven and the cup of eternal salvation. The following is my experience of the “FORTY HOURS” Adoration and Eucharistic Activities held in the Diocese of San Jose (California) in 2006.

 

Introduced at the San Jose diocesan level by Fr. Mark Catalana and Sr. Mary Rosario Gallardo, PDDM, the “FORTY HOURS” Adoration and Eucharistic activities were celebrated on June 16 to June 18, 2006 at the San Jose Vietnamese Catholic Center. With the blessing of Msgr. Francis Cilia, the Bishop’s Vicar for the Diocese, with the special cooperation of Rev. Fr. Hienh Minh Nguyen who offered the full resources of the Vietnamese Catholic Center, and with the collaboration of the clergy, religious and laity, three days of intense prayer were dedicated to contemplating the meaning and deep implications of “The Body and Blood of Christ”. This wonderful ecclesial event included the daily celebration of the Eucharist, day and night adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, group Eucharistic Adoration, Lauds and Vespers, Confession, and the Eucharistic Procession and Benediction, which followed the 11:00 A.M. Mass on Corpus Christi Sunday (June 18).

 

Especially offered for the increase and perseverance of priestly and religious vocations, people of various age groups came throughout the day and throughout the night to respond to the spiritual invitation, “THE MASTER IS HERE PRESENT! HE CALLS FOR YOU!” (Jn 11:28). They came to celebrate the Eucharistic Mystery and to adore Jesus Master present in the ineffable sacrament of his Body and Blood k,eeping in mind the following reality: “Grateful for this immense gift, the Church’s members gather around the Blessed Sacrament, for that is the source and summit of her being and action. Ecclesia de Eucharistia vivit! The Church draws her life from the Eucharist and knows that this truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery in which she consists.” (Cf. Pope John Paul II, Homily for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – Corpus Christi, June 10, 2004, n. 4)

 

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Today’s Second Reading (I Cor 10:16-17) is a powerful witness of the Eucharistic faith of the Christian community. The Eucharist builds the Church, whose head is Jesus Christ. Participation in the body and blood of Christ is the source of the life and unity of the Church as one body.

 

The biblical scholar, Richard Kugelman, comments: “Through eating the bread and drinking the cup Christians are united to Christ in an intimate fellowship, because the Eucharist is his body and blood. From this Eucharistic fellowship with Christ follows the real union of all the faithful with one another in one body. Baptism incorporates the Christians into the body of the Risen Lord; the Eucharist in which each communicant receives the body of Christ strengthens and cements the union. The Eucharist is consequently the sacramentum unitatis ecclesiae (Augustine), and when we receive the Eucharistic bread, Christ assimilates and transforms us, making us his body.”

  

The multi-talented Fr. Leo Patalinhug, a third-degree black-belt in tae kwon do and arnis, a form of full-contact stick fighting, and an award-winning break-dancer, is also a fabulous chef. He has started the Grace Before Meals movement, which encourages families to prepare and enjoy meals together. It is a movement deeply rooted in the Eucharist. Fr Leo asserts: “Relationships are what I’m trying to encourage … relationships that are developed when we spend time with each other and feed one another.” Family meals can thus lead people to the Eucharist, enabling them to experience in it the sacramental reality: Because there is one loaf, we, though we are many, form one body.

 

The beautiful article reported below is most fitting for today’s feast of Corpus Christi (cf. Fr. Leo Patalinhug, “Cook’s Grace” in GUIDEPOSTS, May 2011, p. 88-90).

 

Food was a big deal in our little house south of Baltimore. My parents, brother, sister and I crowded around the kitchen table. I remember Mom dishing hot pancit onto our plates, a simple Filipino meal of noodles, vegetables and chicken she loved making for our immigrant family. I dug in with my fork, hungry and wanting to rush back to my G.I Joes. “Slow down, Leo!” Mom would say. “Taste the different flavors.” I learned to chew … slowly … and there was the sweetness of the carrots, the pungent garlic. Mom was right. Food was meant to be savored, like a blessing. Mmmm!

 

“What did you learn at school today?” Dad would ask at dinner. It seemed remarkable to me, his fascination with both photosynthesis and James and the Giant Peach. We would all talk. Even after my plate was clean I lingered, wanting seconds of the conversation. It slowly dawned on me that mealtimes were for more than just eating. It was when my family connected. It helped that Mom was a great cook. Before long she began teaching me. My first meal was Eggs in a Nest. I made it for Dad for breakfast. One look at the love in his eyes and I knew how Mom felt cooking for us.

 

Eventually I answered a call to priesthood, which made my parents happy. I still love to cook though. My studies took me to Rome, where I learned to make pasta and discovered the wonder of sauces. Then, back in the States, assigned to my first parish, a realization: For many of my parishioners the dinner hour was no longer sacred. Rush here, rush there, take-out, mom and dad working late, no one sitting at the table anymore. I was troubled. I prayed about it.

 

Soon I felt a calling, to show how easy it is to make great food, to share my own story, and bring parents and children back to the Lord’s table – the one collecting dust in their homes. I was teaching at seminary by now but I had weekends free. I would spread the gospel of family mealtime and good food.

 

Five years later I’ve taken the message of our growing movement Grace Before Meals to nearly every state and countries around the globe. You may have seen my face-off and win against master chef Bobby Flay on the Food Network last year. That was huge. But my crusade can be lonely at times. I wonder if I’m making any difference at all.

 

Last November a parish in Tiverton, Rhode Island, invited me up. It was a Friday evening and I was tired after a long week of teaching. But I perked up when the event coordinator told me she expected 200 people, half of them teens. “Wow! Your kids must be into cooking.” “Not exactly”, she said sheepishly. “I made them come … as part of confirmation classes.”

 

My heart sank. As the crowd streamed in I searched their faces for some sign of recognition. Surely someone had come eager to see me. Why did every presentation feel like I was starting anew? I hopped onstage, behind the stove that serves as my pulpit. “Good evening”, I said. “My name is Father Leo. Tonight I’m making Penne alla Vodka, enough to feed your body, mind and soul.”

 

The adults chuckled appreciatively, but the kids looked at me blankly. I hoped I could hold their interest until I burned off the alcohol in the vodka. I grabbed my big bottle of olive oil, poured it into a pan and turned up the heat. I tossed a handful of garlic into the oil and paused to hear the sizzle. “That’s my favorite sound”, I said. “Or maybe it’s ‘Go in peace and serve the Lord’.” More laughter. They were getting into it.

 

I stirred in some onion, letting it caramelize, while sharing the importance of a family meal. Next some tomato paste. And a few more stories. At last it was time for the vodka. I took the bottle by the neck and tipped it into the pan. “Now I’m gonna set this bad boy on fire.” I struck a match and with a whoosh flames leapt from the pan. “Whoa!” the crowd roared. Kids were on the edge of their seats. For an instant I felt that familiar rush of adrenaline. I mixed in tomatoes, heavy cream and the penne. Finito! “Who wants a bite?” I said.

 

I dished out samples as the crowd filed past. Most everyone said they loved it, though a few said it was too spicy. But as I headed out the doors I felt drained. I’d done so many presentations like this and what did I have to show for it? Was I bringing families together or just putting on a show? On the flight back to Baltimore I wondered whether it wasn’t time to hang up my apron.

 

I brooded about it for the next week. Then one day, in my office, I clicked open an e-mail from an unfamiliar name. Father Leo, So here’s the deal. My grandson Nathan eats nothing but PBJ and hot dogs. But on my birthday he announced he wanted to make me Penne alla Vodka. He attended your presentation in Tiverton. I laughed, but he knew every step of the recipe. I watched in disbelief as he cooked his first meal to perfection. You obviously made quite an impression on him and I just wanted to say thanks for a birthday present I’ll never forget.

 

I reread the e-mail, marveling at every word, like an answer to prayer. What difference could I make to a hectic world? Suddenly, through God’s grace, the possibilities seemed limitless.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1.  What is our response to Jesus’ auto-revelation: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:51)? What is our response to the gift of the Eucharist offered to us by the Risen Lord Jesus?

 

2. What is the importance of “remembering” in the life of Israel and the Church? How do we “remember” God’s guidance and providence for his people? How do we respond to the following reality taught by God: “Not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Dt 8:3)?

 

3. Do we truly believe that at the Eucharistic table the cup of blessing that we bless is a participation in the blood of Christ and the bread that we break is a participation in the body of Christ?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

O loving and gracious God,

we thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus Christ,

the true bread from heaven and the real cup of blessing.

At the Eucharistic table,

he offers us the flesh that is true food in the form of bread

and the blood that is true drink in the form of wine.

How wonderful is the memorial-presence

of the saving event of liberation through the sacrificial body of Christ

and of the new covenant that he sealed in his blood!

Let our participation in the wondrous mystery of the Eucharist

make of us “one bread … one body” .

Let us drink from the one cup of salvation

and enable us to share in the eternal life that is ours

as your covenant people.

We proclaim and thank you for this mystery of faith,

now and forever.

Amen.  

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (Jn 6:55) // “Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” (I Cor 10:17) // “Remember …” (Dt 8:2)

 

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Endeavor to share God’s goodness and sustenance to others, especially the poor and needy. Make an effort to participate meaningfully in the Mass and in Eucharistic activities such as the “Forty Hours”, etc. Be grateful for the grace of being “one bread … one body”.

 

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June 23, 2014: MONDAY – WEEKDAY 12 in Ordinary Time

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us to Stop Judging and to Make Life-Giving Choices”

 

BIBLE READINGS

II Kgs 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18 // Mt 7:1-5

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

I was praying the rosary in the spacious and beautifully tended grounds of our Fresno convent. But I was perplexed when I saw a few trash items on the ground – a styrofoam cup, candy wrapper, empty bag of potato chips, etc. Who could have trashed this place of prayer? I picked them up and disposed of them in the garbage bin. Day after day, I would see trashed things here and there, not many, but enough to upset me. I complained how irresponsible and irreverent the “litterbugs” were. I fumed that some “pious” people coming to our convent for Mass were actually “litterbugs”. But the “evidence” was there – right? One morning, I took notice of a flock of crows – busy and noisy. One powerfully swept down from the sky. His beak was clutching an empty snack bag that he promptly trashed on the ground. An inner voice pierced my conscience: “Rash judgment! Rash judgment! You have been making a rash judgment!”

 

Jesus tells us to stop judging that we may not be judged. Against the backdrop of the hypercriticism of the Pharisees and scribes, Jesus cautions against passing harsh judgment on others and denying them entry to the kingdom of God. To condemn others is not our prerogative. God alone is the true judge. We must leave judgment to the final judge. Instead of “judging” we must imitate the Divine Master’s compassionate stance and his work of healing and salvation. The measure we use to deal with others will be measured out to us. We will be judged on the basis of our own attitude – whether hypercritical or compassionate. Jesus, the son of a carpenter, uses carpentry images to deliver the irony of hypocrisy and false condemnation: the righteous with a wooden beam in the eye wants to remove the sawdust in another’s eye. In the biblical world, the “eye” represents a person’s attitude and understanding. Indeed, our pride obstructs the light of compassionate understanding and blinds us to our own faults and the duty of charity. Jesus warns against exaggerating our neighbor’s faults and minimizing our own. He wants us to remove the “wooden beam” dimension of our hypocrisy and pride that we may be able to remove charitably the “splinter” that hurts our neighbor’s eyes. He does not condemn fraternal correction, but false condemnation. Jesus Master counsels true compassion in dealing with our brothers and sisters.

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Today’s Old Testament reading depicts the fall of Samaria (II Kgs 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18). It presents the religious motive for the demise of the northern kingdom at about 721 B.C., under the fiery hand of Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, who deports the children of Israel to Assyria. The collapse of King Hoshea’s kingdom and the deportation of the people are a result of their idolatry and rejection of God’s covenant. The people of Israel have acted in ways that are completely contrary to God’s compassionate plan on their behalf. Their wickedness has provoked God’s anger. The people are totally culpable because of they have not heeded God’s prophets and messengers calling them to conversion. Now Israel, in exile, pays the death-dealing price of their “choice”.

 

The following article gives insight into Israel’s death-dealing “choice” (cf. Mike McGarvin, Poverello News, November 2013, p. 1-2).

 

On a warm day, I stopped at a gas station near Pov for a drink to cool myself off. As I was walking back to my car, I heard someone say, “Hey, brother, can you help me out?” I hadn’t noticed this guy because he was prone and kind of below my vision. I turned and was confronted by what looked to be an old-fashioned alcoholic, although a younger version than those I’m used to. This guy was only about twenty-five years old.

 

Now, for some reason, there’s a special place in my heart for drunks. Maybe because it takes me back to the old days at Pov, when there were mostly alcoholics instead of drug addicts; or maybe because winos seem so much less abrasive than hyper-vigilant, aggressive meth or crack addicts. Anyway, I immediately felt all warm and fuzzy toward this guy, but not enough to give him a buck to buy another drink.

 

I said to him, “I could give you some money, but Poverello House is just two blocks away. What you could use more than money is sobriety.” It was early in the morning and he already racked of booze. Yeah, I’d say he had a problem. I continued: “You know, there’s someone who got into sobriety named Bill W. (Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder). Ever hear of him?

 

His response was a blank stare and a simple, “No”. I then asked, “Have you ever been in a program?” Again, “No”. About this time I started smelling something other than the booze and normal human body odor. It was a familiar smell, but out of context. I couldn’t place it right away. However, I took the initiative and told him about Poverello’s showers.

 

That’s when he revealed what the other familiar smell was. “Yeah”, he said. “I could use a shower. I sleep in this abandoned building, and at night when I’m sleeping, the stray cats come and spray me.”

 

Bingo. That’s why it was a familiar smell. Every time I emptied a litter box I caught the odor. I thought I’d drive the point home now. “You know, if you got sober, you probably wouldn’t have to worry about cats peeing on you.” He seemed increasingly uncomfortable. I asked him, “Are you scared of sobriety?” He looked down and said, “Yeah”. “Well, it’s not as bad or as hard as you think. It’s only one day at a time. Most people can do anything for just one day. It’s really not that bad.”

 

I could tell I’d lost his interest, apparently because he could tell that he wasn’t getting any spare change from me, or maybe because I’m not good at marketing sobriety. I told him our substance abuse counselor would be glad to talk to him anytime, and I left it at that, got in my car, and came back to Poverello.

 

Sometimes I’m amazed at an alcoholic’s or drug addict’s tolerance for misery. I suppose the anesthetic qualities of booze or drugs help create a little numbness toward emotional distress, physical pain and normal disgust. For me, walking up soaked in cat urine would be a clear sign that I needed to make some changes, but this young man didn’t see things that way. The addiction was in such control of his judgment that to him, living free of booze and having the chance to build his life again was frightening, whereas begging, drinking until his liver hurt, sleeping in a filthy abandoned building and waking up stinking was no big deal.

 

In A.A. they call it insanity. That seems to be a succinct and accurate description of what the young man was struggling with.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do I give in to a righteous tendency to judge my neighbors and condemn their “faults”? Do I endeavor to remove the “wooden beam” in my eye in order to help my brother remove the “sawdust” in his eye?

 

2. Am I culpable of death-dealing choices? Am I capable and am I willing to make life-giving choices?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Jesus Lord,

you are God’s compassion and righteousness.

Help us to stop judging harshly

that we may not be judged.

Help us to be compassionate.

Deal kindly with us.

With true seeing “eye”,

may we perceive the beauty of charity

and embrace our duty to care for our brothers and sisters.

Let your loving eyes be upon us.

Empower us to make life-giving choices

and teach us not to negate the Father’s love.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

           

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged.” (Mt 7:1) // “Give up your evil ways and keep my commandments and statutes.” (II Kgs 17:13)

 

  

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Before making a judgmental remark, hold your tongue and pray to God for the spirit of compassion and the grace not to make false judgments. To help you make life-giving choices that are pleasing to God, make the examination of the heart a part of your life.

 

***

 

June 24, 2014: TUESDAY – THE NATIVITY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST

“JESUS SAVIOR: John the Baptist is His Precursor”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 49:1-6 // Acts 13:22-26 // Lk 1:57-66, 80

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

This happened on June 24th – a hot sunny day - many years ago. I was riding in a “jeep”, the most popular form of public transportation in the Philippines. I was on my way to visit my parents and have lunch with them. The route of the “jeep” would take me through San Juan, in Metro Manila, which was celebrating the feast of its patron saint. The town has a unique fiesta tradition – water dousing! When I boarded the “jeep”, I noticed that the plastic window curtains to protect passengers from rain were rolled down. The driver explained: “I don’t want you to get wet. It’s fiesta in San Juan.” When we were there, the “jeep” got stuck in the traffic. We saw some teenagers by the road ready with water ammunition, but they were totally ignoring us. Their attention was focused on passersby. When the vehicle started to move, there was a vigorous splash through the door. An abundant douse of water hit us. After the initial shock, we started to laugh. Thank God! It was clean water. We were wet, but it was fun. The water dousing steeped us in the fiesta spirit – we felt that John the Baptist had baptized us!

 

The universal Church celebrates today the nativity of John the Baptist, the Messiah’s precursor. The liturgy’s First Reading (Is 49:1-6) comes from the Second Servant Song, which describes the commissioning of a mysterious personage - the Servant of God - as a prophet. The identity of the Servant is not specified and since the reference is open-ended, it is easily appropriated. On account of the versatility of its image, the figure of the Servant has been applied to various personages in salvation history, foremost of whom is Jesus Christ, the ultimate Servant of Yahweh. Today’s liturgy, however, applies the Second Servant Song to John the Baptist, whose birthday we commemorate today. Called from birth and given a name from his mother’s womb, the remarkable child will grow and be honed into a “sharp-edged sword”. He will be transformed into an effective prophetic instrument of God’s word. Like a “polished arrow” hidden in God’s quiver, John is to become an incisive weapon to be used at the right time to proclaim the judgment of God. Concealed for a time, the prophet John will appear in the desert to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom and prepare the way for the public ministry of the Messiah. An enigmatic ascetic and a compelling figure in the wilderness of Judea, the Precursor will exhort the people tensed with messianic expectation: “Turn away from your sins and be baptized, and God will forgive your sins.”

 

In bearing witness to the person of the Jesus Christ, the true Light that enlightens the world, and in upholding the integrity of moral truth against the malice of King Herod and his partner Herodias, John suffers martyrdom. His death is an intimate participation in the paschal destiny of the Messiah, of which he is a precursor. In sharing intimately the universal work of salvation of Jesus Christ, the words of Yahweh in the Second Servant Song, could also be applied not only to Jesus but also to John: “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Is 49:6).

 

Today’s Gospel episode (Lk 1:57-66, 80) describes the marvelous circumstances surrounding the birth of John the Baptist. Elizabeth, the wife of the temple priest, Zechariah, gives birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives hear how the good Lord wonderfully has bestowed his mercy upon her. They all rejoice with Zechariah and Elizabeth. The joy is even greater on account of Elizabeth’s lifelong barrenness and the advanced age of the couple. In the biblical mentality, fecundity is a sign of divine blessing and childlessness a disgrace or a curse. The name given to the child by God and announced to Zechariah by the angel at the temple is truly significant: “JOHN” – which means “Yahweh has shown favor” … “Yahweh is gracious”. Indeed, the joy brought about by Elizabeth’s motherhood is a foretaste of the messianic joy that the birth of Jesus will bring to the world.

 

Today’s Second Reading (Acts 13:22-26) contains Paul’s speech to the Israelites and other worshippers in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia. In this apostolic preaching, he underlines the mission of John with regards to the Messiah. According to Saint Paul, Jesus is the Savior whom God has brought to Israel from David’s posterity. The prophet John heralds the coming of the Savior by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. The baptism of repentance performed by John at River Jordan is a powerful call and an intense symbol of turning to God and reconciliation with him, a saving event to be completely achieved in the paschal sacrifice of the Messiah Jesus Christ.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. How does the vocation and consecration of John the Baptist inspire us? Do we believe that we too have been called by God from birth and entrusted with a prophetic mission in today’s world?

 

2. What is the meaning of the birth of John the Baptist and the name “JOHN” given to him by God from his mother’s womb? How did the neighbors and relatives respond to the saving event experienced by Elizabeth and Zechariah? Like them do we allow ourselves to be filled with joy in the Lord?

 

3. Do we contemplate devoutly the meaning of the Lord’s baptism and the role of John the Baptist as the precursor of the Messiah? Do we imitate John the Baptist in his mission to point to the Messiah and to bear total witness on his behalf, even to the point of death?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO 

 

We bless and praise you, O Lord, the God of Israel.

As we give you thanks for Jesus, the Day Spring,

we also thank you for his cousin John,

the prophet of the Most High.

He prepares the Messiah’s way

and disposes our hearts for the forgiveness of sins.

O loving God,

help us to imitate John’s faithful messianic ministry

and his personal integrity.

As we celebrate today his marvelous birth,

grant us the grace to imitate him

in his courageous witnessing on behalf of truth.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

             “The hand of the Lord was with him.” (Lk 1:66)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray that the Christian disciples of today may truly understand the great role of John the Baptist in preparing the way and in bearing witness to Jesus Christ. In the surroundings where you live, endeavor to be like the Baptist in giving witness to truth and in your prophetic stance against the culture of death and falsehood of today’s society.

 

***

 

June 25, 2014: WEDNESDAY – WEEKDAY (12)

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Tells Us to Beware of False Prophets and Teaches Us to Be Faithful to the Covenant

 

BIBLE READINGS

II Kgs 22:8-13; 23:1-3 // Mt 7:15-20

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

  

This happened in Antipolo, Philippines in the ‘70s. The Sisters welcomed into our convent a young priest who introduced himself as the Vocation Promoter of the Rogationist Fathers. He was offered a fine dinner and given permission to enter the Sister Superior’s Office to use the only telephone in the house. After the phone call he told us that he needed to go. After he left the Sister Superior discovered that the grocery money for the week was gone. She called up his seminary to investigate. She was told that our “guest” had entered their seminary and stayed with them for a few months. After getting what he wanted, he took off. We were victimized by a bogus priest.

 

Jesus tells us to beware of false prophets who come in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. Their evil sentiments are acted out in deceit – to the detriment of the people they claim to serve. Some of the false prophets in Jesus’ time are those who falsely claim to be spiritual leaders of the people and by their false teachings lead them to destruction. False prophets are like a rotten tree that bears bad fruit. The image of “thorn bushes and thistles” represents their grisly sin and the desolation it brings. True prophets are like a good tree that bears good fruit. Their words are true and their lives inspire people to holiness and transformation.

 

Papa Mike, the founder of the Poverello House in Fresno, talks about Fr. Simon Scanlon, the Franciscan priest who led him on the path of conversion, and was for him a true prophet-shepherd (cf. Mike McGarvin, Papa Mike, Fresno: Poverello House, 2003, p. 46-47).

 

Father Simon had once been a businessman. He and his brother owned a medical sponge business in the ‘30s and ‘40s. It was a million-dollar-a year enterprise, which was a huge amount of money back in those days. Then World War II intervened, and Simon went off to Europe. We don’t hear too much about older war veterans suffering the same sorts of symptoms as Vietnam vets, but they did. Many of the men who saw action during World War II witnessed carnage on an unbelievable scale, and Simon was one of them. The war made life as he knew it came to a halt, and he returned, not a victorious soldier, but a man whose soul had been ripped out and torn to pieces. Later in life, Father Simon told a newspaper reporter that after seeing so much bloodshed and death, nothing mattered except life. Making money no longer had any allure. He wanted to make a change, a radical change, so he signed over the business to his brother and entered the Franciscan Order of the Catholic Church. Eventually he was ordained a priest.

 

He ended up in a tough parish assignment, St. Boniface Church in urban San Francisco. The area was like a vast bleeding wound. It was populated by people who just barely survived, who had long ago given up on life and were now numbly eking out a daily existence on disability checks, meager old-age pensions, prostitution, or muggings. It was an area full of predators and victims.

 

Father Simon responded by gathering some volunteers and opening the Poverello Coffeehouse. Poverello was a safe haven, a place of refuge. It was a small storefront room where people could find acceptance, hot coffee, and a few smiles. These weren’t earth shaking things, but they were rare commodities on the streets. Father Simon was the driving force behind Poverello, but he had a small cadre of friends who aided him. Always short-staffed, he was constantly on the prowl for help. Providentially, while I was talking to him, a fight broke out between two patrons. I instinctively stepped in and broke it up. Father Simon watched with interest while I enforced peace. When everything had calmed down, I came back to chat with him some more, and he popped the question: Would I like to volunteer there at Poverello?

 

I hesitated. Working and partying were my priorities, and I knew I couldn’t give up work. Volunteering at Poverello would cut heavily into the time I spent smoking weed and dropping acid; but then, it felt good when I broke up that fight. For the first time in quite a while, I felt useful, and I kind of liked it. Besides, something had clicked for me with this priest guy. He intrigued me, and I thought it would be interesting to hang around him for awhile. “Yeah”, I said. “I’ll try it out.” Thus began my career as a Bouncer for Jesus.

 

***

Today’s Old Testament reading (II Kgs 22:8-13; 23:1-3) depicts a pleasing but rare figure of a God-fearing king. Son of the idolatrous and ruthless King Manasseh of Judah, Josiah ascends the throne at eight years old and rules for 31 years. King Josiah does what pleases the Lord and follows the example of his ancestor David, strictly obeying all the laws of God. Josiah is in the process of renovating the temple when the book of the Law is found. The book is read in the presence of the people. King Josiah and the people respond to the word of God by an act of covenant renewal, which symbolizes their recommitment to the Lord God. Josiah then purges the foreign cults introduced by his forebears, in particular Manasseh, and restores pure worship of God in the temple. A significant expression of their worship is the Passover which they celebrate in honor of God their Lord.

 

The following story gives us insight into the irrevocable quality of a covenant relationship with God (cf. Mary Lou Carney, “Her Spiritual Legacy” in Guideposts, November 2013, p. 62-65).

 

I sit in the car, staring at Mother’s house, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. My sister, Libby. Her daughter, Carol. My own daughter, Amy Jo. The numbness is starting to wear off now, and I feel grief gripping my heart. Mother had died just a week earlier. She was only 74. (…)

 

Libby and the girls arrive and I step out of the car. What do I hope to find here among Mother’s possessions? The things I treasure most about her I already hold in my heart. Still, I’m her daughter. I have to do this. (…)

 

“Look what I found”, my niece calls from the back room. We huddle around a tiny white box Carol is holding. She lifts the lid, revealing two small circles of gold resting on white cotton. Mother’s and Daddy’s wedding rings. Mother slipped Daddy’s ring off his finger at his funeral 20 years ago, just before his casket was closed. “I’ll take Daddy’s”, Libby says, slipping the band on her index finger. “You take Mom’s.”

 

The gold feels solid in my palm. Mother’s marriage had not always been easy, yet she remained faithful to Daddy. To the vow she had taken when she was only 17. When Daddy was dying of cancer Mother hardly left his side, even to eat and sleep. Love? Certainly. But more than that. She would keep the promise she’d made: Till death do us part.” It took commitment to make a marriage strong. Sacrifice.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do I try to be aware of false prophets and resist their destructive influence? Do I open myself up to the transforming presence of Jesus the true prophet?

 

2. Do I try to be faithful to the covenant relationship with our Lord God, font of life and all good?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Jesus Master,

help us to beware of false prophets.

Give us the light of the Holy Spirit

that we may discern what is evil

and detest it.

By the strength of the same Spirit

help us to be faithful to our covenant relationship with God.

You live and reign,

forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“So by their fruits you will know them.” (Mt 7:20) // “The people stood as participants in the covenant.” (II Kgs 23:3)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Let your daily actions bear abundant fruit of goodness and holiness to benefit the people around you and the larger society. See in what way you can promote the sanctity and covenant quality of married life.

 

***

 

June 26, 2014: THURSDAY – WEEKDAY (12)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Tells Us to Build Upon the Rock and Strengthens Us in Our Affliction”

 

BIBLE READINGS

II Kgs 24:8-17 // Mt 7:21-29

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

Outward symbols must correspond to inner reality. Pious practices and confession with the lips are laudable, but are not enough; total obedience to the will of God and right actions are necessary. Using the powerful image of a solid foundation, Jesus tells his disciples that his teaching is the only safe foundation upon which one should build one’s life. Any other foundation spells destruction. The Divine Master calls us to build our lives on the rock of his living word and put it into practice. We must not simply proclaim in words that Jesus is Lord and call upon him as our Lord Savior. We must act in a way that corresponds to the inner strength of our word. Our actions must give witness to the faith we profess.  Our worship of God must be incarnated in the life we live.

 

The following story of Jo Dee Baker from Slidell, Louisiana, whose lovely house and beautiful garden were devastated by Hurricane Katrina, tells of a community of believers whose efficacious faith is founded on a solid foundation (cf. “Angels on the Move” in GUIDEPOSTS, Large Print Edition, March 2006, p. 5-9). Both Jo, the victim of a natural calamity, and the caregivers from the Baptist Church illustrate how wonderful and marvelous is a faith that is put into practice.

 

My beautiful yard was a mess of uprooted trees and debris; the salt water had burned the grass a sickly brown. My lovely white picket fence lay on its side, and shingles from my roof littered the ground like fallen leaves. Inside, slimy mud covered the floors, and water from the storm surge had tossed all my furniture upside down. The walls were caked black with mildew. Practically everything I owned was ruined. How could I ever come back from this? How could anyone? (…)

 

So many people needed help, and help was spread thin. “Lord”, I prayed, “I need some divine intervention here.” The next day, I pulled up to my house just as a man with a pickup truck was slowly passing by. He stopped, rolled down the window and leaned out. “Do you need any help?” he shouted. I laughed halfheartedly. “Help? I need an army,” I said. “I’m Brother Johnny from First Baptist Church of Pontchatoula.” He wrote down my name, address and number. “We’ll be in touch, Ma’am.” Then he drove off. But after two weeks I still hadn’t heard from him.

 

One Monday morning, lugging another bag of my ruined treasures to the curb, I stared down the street at the mountains of trash and destroyed homes. “So many people have lost so much,” I thought. Just then, my cell phone rang. Service was still spotty, but the voice on the other end was loud and clear. “Hello, it’s Brother Johnny. I’ve got some people who want to volunteer to help you. They’ll be calling you.” That was it. He hung up. Then the phone rang again. “Jo Dee? This is Jimmy Brown. I’m from the Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Rives, Tennessee. We need to know what you need, exactly.” Where to begin? I told him about the mildewed floors, the torn up roof. “Don’t worry, Ma’am. We’ll be there. See you next Tuesday morning.” (…)

 

Nineteen people had traveled all the way from Tennessee just to help little old me. They spent three days cleaning the rot and grime and putting on my new roof. Two weeks after they left, about 40 more, from an association of 45 churches, came to finish the job! They ripped out and replaced the flooring, repainted the house, put in new shelves and cabinets, installed a stove and a water heater. By the time they were done, the house looked better than ever!

 

***

 

Today’s Old Testament reading (II Kgs 24:8-17) presents a familiar picture of an unscrupulous king. King Josiah’s grandson, Jehoiachin becomes king at the age of eighteen and “does evil in the sight of the Lord”. His reign lasts only three months due to the Babylonian invasion. King Nebuchadnezzar takes him as a royal hostage and deports him to Babylon. The temple and palace treasures are confiscated and the people of Judah – the leading citizens, the skilled workers, the able-bodied men fit for military service – are brought in captivity to Babylon. The captors leave only the poorest of the people behind in Judah. Nebuchadnezzar installs Jehoiachin’s twenty-one year old uncle Zedekiah as puppet king. In the context of the sinfulness of Israel and Judah, the Babylonian invasion is an instrument of God to call the erring people on the right path.

 

The following story set in the Nazi-occupied Poland gives insight into the sufferings the Jewish people experienced in the hands of their Babylonian captors (cf. J.L. Witterick, My Mother’s Secret, Bloomington: iUniverse, 2013, p. 82-84).

 

The next morning, we are awakened by screaming and gunshots. There is a raid on the ghetto. They are rounding people up in the same trucks that took my brother. I know what this means.

 

I take my son and hide him in a woodshed, telling him to stay quiet until I return. Only six, he understood that his survival depends on it. My wife, sister-in-law and I, with the baby in one arm, climb a steep ladder leading to the small opening of an attic. There is pandemonium below.

 

Then the baby starts to cry. My wife looks at me with helpless panic. She tries to rock Biata and cradles her against her chest, but nothing works. We had moved the ladder away from the entrance of the attic to deflect attention, but someone is moving it back and climbing up – someone who speaks German. It’s a Polish officer working with a German soldier below. He looks at my terrified wife and whispers, “Do you want to go with your baby?” She only has a minute to make a decision that no one could make in a lifetime. She gives him our baby.

 

Descending the stairs, he says to the German soldier that he has found an abandoned baby. “Doesn’t matter”, says the soldier. “We’ll get the mother later.” I think that had it not been for our son, she would have gone with our baby. We stay hidden for a while even after the noise has died, and all the trucks have gone.

 

We know that you can never be too careful. How do you move when you feel like you can’t go on? You think of someone who needs you more. We find our son asleep in the woodshed, and we move on.

 

In the middle of the night again, I make a trip to Street of Our Lady with my wife, her sister, and my son, all so solemn now that you would think we were going to our death.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Is our faith solidly built on the word of God? Is it efficacious and operative? How do we translate our faith into action?  

 

2. Are we aware of the death-dealing consequences of our sinfulness and evil choices? What do we do when we are the innocent victims of the sinfulness and evil choices of others?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Loving Father,

give us the wisdom of the Holy Spirit

that we may make the right choices

and be faithful to the kingdom values.

Assist us to trust

in the saving word of Jesus.

May our faith be true

and shown by our actions.

When the rains of temptation fall

and the floods of evil come,

let us not yield to despair,

but rather, increase our faith in Jesus.

He is our refuge and stronghold,

our rock of strength and true foundation,

now and forever. Amen.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.” (Mt 7:26) // “He deported all Jerusalem …” (II Kgs 24: 16)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO 

 

When life trials seem to submerge you, pray to God that he may strengthen your faith. Extend your helping hand and share the Word with those whose faith is wavering. 

 

***

 

June 27, 2014: FRIDAY – THE MOST SACRED HEART OF JESUS

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Is Meek and Humble of Heart”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Dt 7:6-11 // I Jn 4:7-16 // Mt 11:25-30

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

The Gospel passage (Mt 11:25-30) proclaimed in today’s solemn feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is about the mystery of the Kingdom revealed to the “little ones” and the call of Jesus, the meek and humble of heart. With this reading, the Church reminds the faithful that Jesus, the meek and humble one, reigns over all by the light of his wisdom and the yoke of his love. He is the instrument of revelation of the Father’s love. With Jesus, the yoke of submission to God’s plan becomes easy and the burden demanded by the love of God and neighbor becomes light. Indeed, united with the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we experience the immense peace and joy of the Kingdom. In heeding his invitation “Come to me …” we discover that, far from being burdened, we are spiritually liberated. Love makes every burden light.

 

The Old Testament reading (Dt 7:6-11) underlines that the Lord God “has set his heart on us” and has chosen us. During this feast of the Sacred Heart, we are reminded that we belong to God who loves us unconditionally and takes the first initiative. As Israel has been set apart by God to be his treasured possession, each one of us is called to be holy and blessed by his saving love. Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, the recipient of the visions of the Sacred Heart and chosen as an apostle to manifest to the world the treasures of the Sacred Heart, testifies: “And Christ showed me that it was His great desire of being loved by men and of withdrawing them from the path of ruin that made him form the design of manifesting His heart to men, with all the treasures of love, of mercy, of grace, of sanctification and salvation which it contains, in order that those who desire to render Him and procure Him all the honor and love possible, might themselves be abundantly enriched with those divine treasure of which His heart is the source.”

 

Today’s Second Reading (I Jn 4:7-16) helps us to connect the cult of the Sacred Heart to God who is love. God has first loved us. He loves gratuitously, unmotivated by any worthiness on our part. He radically reveals his love by sending his Son Jesus as our Savior. God sends his only-begotten Son into the world so that we might have eternal life. God loves us so much that we too must love one another. Whoever loves proves that he is born of God. The love revealed by God in Jesus is perceived by faith and must be responded to in faith. We “manifest” our communion with God by our love for each other. Indeed, by loving one another as brothers and sisters, God dwells in us and his love is made perfect in us. The Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Son of our merciful God, is the great symbol of divine love.

 

Today’s feast is very meaningful to me personally. I grew up in the Parish of the Sacred Heart in Manila, Philippines and promoted in my family the First Friday devotion. When I made my religious profession, I was given a new name – “Sr. Mary Margaret” - in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus who appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the disciple of the Eucharist and the apostle of the Sacred Heart. The following article helps us delve into the meaning of the Sacred Heart devotion (cf. Fr. William Saunders, “The Sacred Heart of Jesus” in October 1994 issue of The Arlington Catholic Herald).

 

During a recent visit to my parish church, my Protestant friend was interested in our Sacred Heart shrine and the meaning behind the devotion. I told her that the Sacred Heart was a sign of the love of Jesus for us. Is there anything else I should say? What about the history of the devotion? – A reader in Alexandria

 

Actually, your answer “hits the nail on the head”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Pope Pius XII’s beautiful encyclical “Haurietes Aquas” (1956) states: “Jesus has loved us all with a human heart. For this reason, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, pierced by our sins and for our salvation, is quite rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that love with which the divine Redeemer continually loves the eternal Father and all human beings without exception.”

 

To appreciate the rich symbolism of the heart, we must remember that in Judaism the word “heart” represented the core of the person. While recognized as the principle life organ, the heart was also considered the center of all spiritual activity. Here was the seat of all emotion, especially love. As the psalms express, God speaks to a person in his heart and there probes him. This notion of the heart is clear when we read the words of Deuteronomy 6:5-6: “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.”

 

The heart has even greater depth when contemplated in light of the Incarnation. We believe that Jesus Christ, second person of the Holy Trinity and consubstantial with the Father, entered this world taking on our human flesh – true God became also true man. While Jesus’ heart obviously served a physiological function, spiritually His Sacred Heart represents love: the divine love our Lord shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity; the perfect, divine love which God has for us; and the genuine human love Christ felt in His human nature.

 

I think one of the most beautiful passages of the Gospels is our Lord saying, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take My yoke upon your shoulders and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will rest, for My yoke is easy and My burden light” (Mt 11:28-30). Therefore, while meditating on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we are called to share in the love of the Lord and strive to express our own genuine love for God, ourselves and our neighbors.

 

Throughout the Gospel, we see the outpouring of Jesus’ love from His heart, whether in miracle stories, the reconciliation of sinners, or the compassion for the grieving. Even on the cross, our Lord poured out His love for us. There the soldier’s lance pierced his side and out flowed blood and water (Jn 19:34). St. Bonaventure said the Church was born from the wounded side of the Lord with the blood and water representing the Sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and baptism.

 

The early Church Fathers clearly cherished this meaning of the Sacred Heart of our Lord. St. Justin Martyr (d. 165), in his “Dialogue with the Jew Trypho” said, “We the Christians are the true Israel which springs from Christ, for we are carved out of His heart as from a rock”. Likewise, St. Irenaeus of Lyons (d. 202) said, “The Church is the fountain of the living water that flows to us from the Heart of Christ (“Adversus Haereses”). Paulinus of Nola (d. 431) added, “John, who rested blissfully on the breast of our Lord, was inebriated with the Holy Spirit, from the Heart of all creating Wisdom he quaffed an understanding which transcends that of any creature.” Although these are just a few brief examples from the times of the early Church, we find a profound respect for the Sacred Heart of our Lord as a font of His love which gave birth to the Church and continues to nourish its members.

 

The devotion continued to grow during the Middle Ages and in 1353 Pope Innocent VI instituted a Mass honoring the mystery of the Sacred Heart. During the age of the Protestant movement, devotion to the Sacred Heart was practiced in hope of restoring peace to a world shattered by political and religious persecution.

 

Shortly thereafter, the devotion escalated due to the fervor surrounding the apparitions of Our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690). For example, on Dec. 27, 1673, Our Lord revealed, “My Divine Heart is so passionately inflamed with love … that, not being able any longer to contain within itself the flames of its ardent charity. It must let them spread abroad through your means, and manifest itself to man, that they may be enriched with its precious treasures which I unfold to you, and which contain the sanctifying and salutary graces that are necessary to hold them back from the abyss of ruin.” The four apparitions provided the catalyst for the promotion of the devotion to the Sacred Heart: a feast day in honor of the Sacred Heart and the offering of our Lord’s saving grace and friendship if the individual attended Mass and received holy Communion on nine consecutive first Fridays of the month.

 

In 1989 Pope Leo XIII consecrated the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Since then, his successors have exhorted the faithful to turn to the Sacred Heart and make acts of personal consecration. They have also begged the faithful to offer prayers and penances to the Sacred Heart in reparation for the many sins of the world.

 

Considering our present day and age, the temptations and sins of the world, the growing apathy and secularism, we too should turn again in loving devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and ask Him to pour forth His grace. We must strive to make our hearts like His own, for He said, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8).

 

May we remember the words of the Preface of the Mass in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus: “Lifted high on the Cross, Christ gave His life for us, so much did He love us. From His wounded side flowed blood and water, the fountain of the sacramental life in the Church. To His open heart the Savior invites all men, to draw water in joy form the springs of salvation.”

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

What is our personal response to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus and his burning love for us? Do we promote the cult of the Sacred Heart? How?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Prayer to the Sacred Heart (by Blessed James Alberione)

Jesus, Divine Master,

I thank and bless your most meek heart,

which led you to give your life for me.

Your blood, your wounds, the scourges, the thorns, the cross,

your bowed head tell my heart:

“No one loves more than he who gives his life for the loved one.”

The Shepherd died to give his life for the sheep.

I too want to spend my life for you.

Grant that you may always, everywhere, and in all things

dispose of me for your greater glory

and that I may always repeat:

“Your will be done.”

Inflame my heart with holy love for you and for souls.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, make me love you more and more.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“I am meek and humble of heart.” (Mt 11:29)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

By your acts of mercy and compassion to the needy, suffering and grieving, let the love of the Sacred Heart console them and give them the strength of salvation.

 

***

 

June 28, 2014: SATURDAY – WEEKDAY (12); THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY

 “JESUS SAVIOR: A Sword Pierced His Mother’s Heart and He Is with Us in Our Lamentation”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Lam 2:2, 10-14, 18-19 // Lk 2:41-51

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

When I was in India, I gained an insight into the “sword” that pierced Mary’s heart (cf. Lk 2:41-51). I came into contact with the pain and anxiety of a parent who lost a child. The Italian lady, Sarah, and her adopted girl, Saraji, the six-year old daughter of a leper couple, were guests at our convent in Bangalore, India. One afternoon, they went downtown to shop. An hour later a very distraught Sarah came back. Saraji had wandered away and was lost. We prayed in earnest for her return. The deeply anxious Sarah, accompanied by some Sisters, searched for her. They found Saraji at the police station calmly eating an ice cream cone. Sarah was overjoyed to find her again.

 

            The first words of Jesus ever recorded in Luke’s Gospel are full of meaning. To his mother Mary’s legitimate reproach: “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety?” the boy Jesus responds: “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” With these astonishing words Jesus makes a pronouncement about the meaning of his life and mission. He declares that the heavenly Father’s will is his priority. His life and mission transcend the relationship of his human family. This episode confirms Simeon’s prophecy of a sword piercing Mary’s heart. The bible scholar Carrol Stuhlmueller reflects on this Gospel episode: “Mary finds Jesus at his work; he is not simply her son, but the heavenly Father’s Son, sent on a mission in which she finds him totally involved; at this she sorrows for it means separation.”

 

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The Old Testament reading (Lam 2:2, 20-14, 18-19) contains the prophet Jeremiah’s description of the destruction inflicted by King Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army upon Jerusalem. The puppet king Zedekiah of Judah rebels and breaks his treaty with Nebuchadnezzar and is summarily punished. Zedekiah disobeys the word of the Lord spoken through the prophet Jeremiah to submit to the Babylonians. He thus suffers the consequence of choices contrary to God’s saving plan. The vengeful Nebuchadnezzar destroys the Jerusalem temple, breaks down the city walls and orders the massive exile of the Jews into Babylon in 587 B.C. The text from the Book of Lamentation is a wild outpouring of grief over destroyed Zion. The horror of the siege is depicted and the consequent death, famine and desolation that ensue. The description of starving children and of starving mothers eating their offspring (cf. Lam 2:20) is horrible. Sin is revealed in its raw ugliness.

 

The following excerpt about the dark period of the Holocaust in the Nazi-occupied Poland evokes some of the desolation described by the Book of Lamentations (cf. J.L. Witterick, My Mother’s Secret, Bloomington: iUniverse, 2013, p. 146-147).

 

The landscape is grim with gray skies and trees that look like they will never be green again. Some of the buildings in town have been bombed and, with greater priorities elsewhere, they are left in this state of disrepair. There are pieces of broken glass, rubble, and brick in small tiles along the side of the streets. Any wood is quickly taken away for firewood. The beauty of the willow trees by the river is in sharp contrast to the tanks dotted in between. The land beneath our feet – cold, hard, and dry – reflects the suffering that is going on above it.

 

Food becomes more expensive each day. We would not have been able to feed anyone without Dr. Wolenski’s savings and Casimir’s generosity. Our neighbors are jealous that we have food, but they don’t cause trouble because they think we are connected to the commander. My mother doesn’t play chess, but if she did, it would be with many moves ahead.

 

The Germans have moved more soldiers across the river, and the fighting escalates. When Casimir becomes worried for our safety, I know the situation is deteriorating rapidly.

 

He is careful with the choice of words in his letters, but I know the underlying message. “Helena, we no longer need you in the factory. Your employment with us is terminated immediately”, really means that he thinks the factory might be bombed at any time.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do we truly appreciate the vital role of Mary in salvation history? Do we treasure her immense love for Jesus and for us? Do we have devotion for the Immaculate Heart of Mary and imitate her loving compassion?

 

2. Do we observe and/or experience the afflictions and desolation brought about by our sinful choices? How do we respond to them?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

A Prayer to the Blessed Mother (by Mother Teresa of Calcutta)

Mary, mother of Jesus, be a mother to each of us,

that we, like you, may be pure in heart,

that we, like you, love Jesus;

that we, like you, serve the poorest

for we are all poor.

First let us love our neighbors

and so fulfill God’s desire

that we become carriers of his love and compassion.

Amen.  

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

 

“His mother kept all these things in her heart.” (Lk 2:51) // “Cry out to the Lord; moan, O daughter of Zion!” (Lam 2:18)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

When you experience some trials and difficulties, present them to Mary and unite them with her most Immaculate Heart for the salvation of souls.

 

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Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang  PDDM

 

 

PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI

SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER

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