A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday & Weekday Liturgy

 

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 15, n. 44)

Week 25 in Ordinary Time: September 24-30, 2017

 

 

(The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY & WEEKDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy of Year C from various perspectives. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: September 17-23, 2017, please go to ARCHIVES Series 15 and click on “Week 24”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: September 24-30, 2017.)

 

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 September 24, 2017: TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Incarnates God’s Generous Love”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 55:6-9 // Phil 1:20c-24, 27a // Mt 20:1-16a

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Mt 20:1-16a): “Are you envious because I am generous?”

          

The biblical scholar, Daniel Harrington entitles this Sunday’s Gospel passage “The Parable of the Good Employer” (Mt 20:1-16). He explains: “In the context of Jesus’ ministry, the parable was probably addressed to his opponents who criticized him for preaching the good news of the kingdom to tax collectors and sinners. In that setting, the parable is best entitled, The Good Employer. The employer is God revealed in Jesus as his representative. God’s own justice and generosity are used to explain why Jesus preached the kingdom to both the already pious and the lost sheep of Israel. If they accept his preaching, both groups will be granted an equal share in God’s kingdom.”

 

The figure of the Good Employer evokes the graciousness and solicitude of God who, in Jesus the Good Shepherd, seeks out the lost sheep. Indeed, God does not want that anyone be lost or without a place in his kingdom. The point of today’s parable is God’s abounding mercy. Each of us is the recipient of the kindness and generosity of God. The Parable of the Good Employer concludes with an enigmatic statement: “Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last”. This underlines Jesus’ promise that the disciples, now considered the last, will be the first in receiving the rewards of the kingdom.

 

The following account gives insight into the graciousness of God’s mercy and his forgiving love (cf. Dale Recinella, “It Is Never Too Late” in 101 Inspirational Stories of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, ed. Patricia Proctor, Spokane: Franciscan Monastery of Saint Clare, 2006, p. 187-189).

 

After many years of general prison ministry, in 1998 I was asked to begin ministry cell-to-cell on Florida’s death row and solitary confinement. Florida has the third largest death row in the U.S., with over 370 men and has over 2,000 men in long-term solitary confinement in the two prisons at which I serve as a Catholic lay chaplain. On behalf of the Catholic Church, the bishops of Florida, and under the pastoral supervision of my priest and bishop, I go cell-to-cell in ministry to the men inside.

 

Also, I serve as a spiritual advisor for executions. The family of the condemned is not allowed to be present then. My wife ministers to the families during the execution. We also make ourselves available to minister together to the families of murder victims. We do these things as volunteers on behalf of our church. We support our family and ourselves through our separate work.

 

Although I can bring Communion to the Catholics, our priests and bishop come frequently in order to offer the sacrament of confession, the anointing of the sick and, in case of executions, the last rites. For those who are only just coming into the Church, baptism and confirmation are also made available. In eight years, my wife and I have god-parented or sponsored ten death row inmates into the Church.

 

When I am on death row, there are ten steel barred doors, a quarter mile of electrified fences and razor wire, and a mountain of steel and concrete between me and the front door of the prison. The death house, which houses the execution chamber and to which a man is moved when his death warrant is signed by the governor, is at the end of the hall. His cell in the death house is less than twenty feet from the execution room.

 

One with eyes only for this world might ask: Of what use are the sacraments to a man in such a fix? And, in particular, what is the point of confession in his predicament?

 

I can testify to you that the power of the sacrament of confession and of the Holy Spirit is greater than the darkness of death now, even of the death house.

 

There was a man who desired to become a Catholic because of the influence of Pope John Paul II. After a year of preparation for entry into the Catholic Church, he was suddenly scheduled for execution. His execution date turned out to be just days after the death of John Paul II. Our Catholic governor even considered delaying the execution out of respect for the pontiff.

 

The morning before his execution, the bishop came to the death house to administer his first confession, his first Communion and his confirmation. This was done with him standing in a narrow cage called a holding cell, with shackles upon his ankles and chains on his wrists.

 

When the bishop pronounced the words of absolution and then of confirmation, his whole body jerked as though he had been jolted by electricity. He even began to fall back against the rear of the cage, in a manner called resting in the spirit. The guards who were watching were astonished. They said that for a moment he became luminous.

 

The next day, during his last hours in the death house, he told me that John Paul II had visited him during that moment and told him that Jesus would come for him at the moment of his death. Nothing anyone could say could dissuade him from this belief.

 

A few hours before the execution, the warden came down to his cell with a message from the mother of the victim of the crime. She had asked the warden to inform the condemned man that she forgave him and bore him no ill will. The reconciliation offered by the sacrament of confession had been actualized on this side of the great divide between the temporal and the eternal.

 

He died in peace, at one with God.

  

 

B. First Reading (Is 55:6-9): “My thoughts are not your thoughts.”

 

The Old Testament reading (Is 55:6-9) tells us of God’s infinite mercy and asserts his unfathomable ways that transcend human logic. Composed at the end of Judah’s exile in Babylon in the mid to late sixth century B.C., this poetic passage was addressed to the Jewish people who had returned from exile. It was an invitation for a dispirited people to seek the Lord and call upon him, as well as an exhortation to trust the ways of God, which are often mysterious and unfathomable.

 

The biblical scholar Eugene Maly comments: “The prophet invited them to return to the source of all life and strength. God has not abandoned them; they have abandoned God. They have abandoned him because they tried to cut him down to their size, but he didn’t fit. They wanted to make their thoughts his thoughts, their ways his ways. But his thoughts and his ways are as high as the heavens are above the earth. They wanted to repay their enemies for the losses inflicted on them, but the Lord was for mercy. They wanted vengeance, but the Lord is generous and forgiving. They wanted their own closet God who would take care of all their needs as they felt them, but he is Lord of heaven and earth. And yet, this Lord is near to them. Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call him while he is near. Only recognize the Lord as God, the prophet urges them, and surrender your petty ambitions and selfish desires. Then you will experience how generous this God can be.”

 

The Isaiah text on the call to conversion and on God’s ineffable ways provides a fitting backdrop for today’s Gospel reading (Mt 20:1-16) of the story of a landowner who went out at various hours of the day to the market place to hire laborers for his vineyard. At the end of the day all the laborers, including those who were hired at the last hour, were paid a full day’s wage. Eugene Maly explains: “Jesus was telling a simple agricultural story whose meaning was not in details but in the story itself. In the Father’s kingdom all are equally loved and human standards are not to be used to measure God’s generosity. God forgives and loves as the world does not know how to forgive and love.”

 

The following story by Marc Levy and published in Fresno Bee (August 17, 2008, p. A3) gives us a glimpse of how a stance of generosity and compassion could generate resistance and resentment among those who felt that such benevolence is unwarranted.

 

MARIETTA, Pa: A former tough-on-crime Pennsylvania lawmaker has adopted a new and unpopular cause, taking into his home three sex offenders who couldn’t find a place to live – a stand that has angered neighbors, drawn pickets and touched off a zoning dispute. As cities across the nation pass ever-tighter laws to keep out people convicted of sex crimes, Tom Armstrong said he is drawing on his religious belief in forgiveness and sheltering the three men until he can open a halfway house for sex offenders … Nearly 100 Pennsylvania municipalities have ordinances restricting where sex offenders may live. The ordinances generally bar them from moving in next to schools, playgrounds or other places where children might gather.

 

In early June, Armstrong quietly allowed a rapist and two other sex offenders who had served prison time to move into his 15-room century-old home 75 miles west of Philadelphia after another town blocked his plans for another halfway house … A Republican, Armstrong served 12 years in the Legislature before he was defeated in a primary in 2002. He was known for taking conservative positions on abortion, taxes and crime but also for his role in later years supporting prisoners’ rights. Over the past two decades, he also took in homeless veterans, and more recently he has been a mentor to ex-cons.

   

 

C. Second Reading (Phil 1:20c-24, 27a): “For me to live is Christ.”

 

Saint Paul the Apostle is a privileged example of the laborer of the “last hour” who benefited from the abundant riches of God’s grace. A persecutor of Christian faith, he was converted and experienced the undeserved free bounty of God. Saint Paul is a model of a true response to divine love radically revealed in Jesus Christ. In today’s Second Reading (Phil 1:20c-24, 27a), the Apostle is writing to the Philippians from a prison in Ephesus circa 56 A.D. Awaiting a possible death sentence, he reflects that for him both life and death take their meaning from Christ. Saint Paul asserts that with his whole being, he would bring honor to Christ, whether he live or die. Death for him is gain for he would relish the heavenly reward. To continue to live in this world, however, would mean a more fruitful labor for the Gospel. This would benefit more greatly the community of faith and encourage them to live a life worthy of the Gospel. Having been evangelized and brought under the power of the Gospel, they are to reflect in their life and their belonging to Christ.

 

The following personal testimony of Fr. Jose Maniyangat, circulated on the Internet, powerfully illustrates the necessity of responding faithfully and obediently to our Christian vocation through life and death.

 

I was born on July 16, 1949 in Kerala, India to my parents, Joseph and Theresa Maniyangat. I am the eldest of seven children: Jose, Mary, Theresa, Lissama, Zachariah, Valsa and Tom. At the age of fourteen, I entered St. Mary’s Minor Seminary in Thirivalla to begin my studies for the priesthood. Four years later, I went to St. Joseph’s Pontifical Major Seminary in Alwaye, Kerala to continue my priestly formation. After completing the seven years of philosophy and theology, I was ordained a priest on January 1, 1975 to serve as a missionary in the Diocese of Thirivalla.

 

On Sunday April 14, 1985, the feast of Divine Mercy, I was going to celebrate Mass at a mission church in the north part of Kerala, and I had a fatal accident. I was riding a motorcycle when I was hit head-on by a jeep driven by a man who was intoxicated after a Hindu festival. I was rushed to a hospital about 35 miles away. On the way, my soul came out from my body and I experienced death. Immediately, I met my Guardian Angel. I saw my body and the people were mourning for me. At this time my angel told me: “I am going to take you to Heaven; the Lord wants to meet you.” He also said that, on the way, he wanted to show me hell and purgatory.

 

Hell: First, the angel escorted me to hell. It was an awful sight! I saw Satan and the devils, an unquenchable fire of about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, worms crawling, people screaming and fighting, others being tortured by demons. The angel told me that all these sufferings were due to un-repented mortal sins. Then, I understood that there are seven degrees of suffering or levels according to the number and kinds of mortal sins committed in their earthly lives. The souls looked very ugly, cruel and horrific. It was a fearful experience. I saw people whom I knew, but I am not allowed to reveal their identities. The sins that convicted them were mainly abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, hatefulness, un-forgiveness and sacrilege.

 

The angel told me that if they had repented, they would have avoided hell and gone instead to purgatory. I also understood that some people who repent from these sins might be purified on earth through their sufferings. This way they can avoid purgatory and go straight to heaven. I was surprised when I saw in hell even priests and Bishops, some of whom I never expected to see. Many of them were there because they had misled the people with false teaching and bad example.

 

Purgatory: After the visit to hell, my Guardian Angel escorted me to purgatory. Here too, there are seven degrees of suffering and unquenchable fire. But it is far less intense than hell and there was neither quarreling nor fighting. The main suffering of these souls is their separation from God. Some of those who are in purgatory committed numerous mortal sins, but they were reconciled with God before their death. Even though these souls were suffering, they enjoy peace and the knowledge that one day they will see God face to face.

 

I had a chance to communicate with the souls in purgatory. They asked me to pray for them and to tell the people to pray for them as well, so that they can go to heaven quickly. When we pray for these souls, we will receive their gratitude through their prayers, and once they enter heaven, their prayers become even more meritorious. It is difficult for me to describe how beautiful my Guardian Angel is. He is radiant and bright. He is my constant companion and helps me in all my ministries, especially my healing ministry. I experience his presence everywhere I go and I am grateful for his protection in my daily life.

 

Heaven: Next, my angel escorted me to heaven passing through a big dazzling white tunnel. I never experienced this much peace and joy in my life. Then immediately heaven opened up and I heard the most delightful music, which I never heard before. The angels were singing and praising God. I saw all the saints, especially the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph, and many dedicated holy Bishops and priests who were shining like stars.

 

And when I appeared before the Lord, Jesus told me: “I want you to go back to the world. In your second life, you will be an instrument of peace and healing to my people. You will walk in a foreign land and you will speak in a foreign tongue. Everything is possible for you with my grace.” After these words, the Blessed Mother told me: “Do whatever he tells you. I will help you in your ministries.”

 

Words cannot express the beauty of heaven. There we find so much peace and happiness, which exceed a million times our imagination. Our Lord is far more beautiful than any image can convey. His face is radiant and luminous and more beautiful that a thousand rising suns. The pictures we see in the world are only a shadow of his magnificence. The Blessed Mother was next to Jesus. She was so beautiful and radiant. None of the images we see in this world can compare with her real beauty.

 

Heaven is our real home; we are all created to reach heaven and enjoy God forever.

 

 

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

 

1. What is our relationship with the Good Employer? Is it a servile relationship? If so, what can we do about it? Do we believe that in the Father’s kingdom, all are equally loved? Do we believe that God is good and generous and all his gifts are grace? Does this realization drive out the evil snare of jealousy and envy in our community?

 

2. Have we experienced that our thoughts are not God’s thoughts and that our ways are not his ways? What is our stance when our thoughts and our ways contradict those of our loving God? How do we assert our faith in this situation?

 

3. Do we give honor and glory to God in all our being, whether by life or by death?

 

 

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

 

O loving God,

we thank you that our feeble thoughts are not your thoughts

and that our wicked ways are not your ways.

O Lord, you are generous and merciful,

slow to anger and of great kindness.

You are good to all

and compassionate towards all your creatures.

May we not obstruct your kindness

and benevolent justice towards all.

Help us to be gracious to the needy

and kind to the broken-hearted

who yearn for your healing touch and renewing 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 day. Please memorize it.

 

“Are you envious because I am generous?” (Mt 20:15)

 

 

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

 

In your dealings with the people around you, let them feel the graciousness of the Good Employer described in today’s parable. Pray for greater personal dedication of all laborers in God’s vineyard and a deeper insight into the infinite mercy of God.

 

 

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September 25, 2017: MONDAY – WEEKDAY (25)

  “JESUS SAVIOR: He Calls Us to Radiate the Light

of God’s Word … He Builds God’s House”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Ezr 1:1-6 // Lk 8:16-18

  

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 8:16-18): “A lamp is placed on a lamp stand so that those who enter may see the light.”

 

Today’s Gospel reading (Lk 8:16-18) helps us to understand the role of Christians in the world. We are to shine and manifest to others, by the way we live, the light of God’s word. Just as a lamp is intended to give light, so the word of Jesus is to be received and become a light for our soul and irradiated to others. We are the light of the world. Our Christian discipleship involves public witnessing of the spiritual light received from God. We reflect the light of Christ in the same way that a glowing bride reflects the radiance that comes from love. In order that those who are entering God’s kingdom may continue to see the light and be channels of that light, we need to be receptive to his word. Jesus exhorts us: “Take care, then, how you hear.”  When we open our hearts to the word of God, we become richer and richer in the life it engenders and nourishes. When we do not listen to the word of God and fail to act upon it, the spiritual life that has earlier germinated withers away.

 

The following article illustrates the beauty and power of spiritual light that fills our heart and the tremendous value of personal receptivity that enables us to experience the true “gift of sight” (cf. Marilyn Morgan King in Daily Guideposts 2010, p. 387).

 

As highly as I value the faces of the people I love, vibrant colors, the beauty of the mountains and the mystery of night, there is one thing I love more. It’s an un-nameable splendor, a mystery far greater than I, not personal to me, and it lives in the heart of every being. Now and then I’ve caught glimpses of it in silent prayer, and I’ve come to know it as vast and boundless, all-loving and ablaze with the light of the Spirit.

 

Though I may someday lose my physical sight, I’ll be okay, because I’ll remind myself of Helen Keller’s words: “The best and most beautiful things cannot be seen or touched. They must be felt with the heart.”

 

And I’ll pull up some of the many inspiring images I’ve stored in my heart to feed my soul when it’s hungry for beauty. Often, as I’m falling asleep or waking up, images appear behind my closed eyelids - of wisteria flowers, or the sad-glorious stained glass window by Marc Chagall; or a twenty-foot-high rhododendron bush with my love smiling in front of it; or of a sometimes flaming, sometimes softly glowing Nebraska sunset.

 

Sometimes I have even seen an image of Jesus holding a little lamb snuggled against His cheek. That’s when I remember my Aunt Alta’s words as she was dying: “Oh! He is beautiful!” Now I think I know Who she saw with her blind eyes.

 

 

B. First Reading (Ezr 1:1-6): “Those who are any part of God’s people, let them go up and build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.”

 

Today we begin to read from the Book of Ezra, which describes the return of some of the Jewish exiles from Babylon and the restoration of life and worship in Jerusalem. Today’s Old Testament reading (Ezr 1:1-6) marks a momentous event: the edict of the Persian king Cyrus which marks the end of the Babylonian exile. In the first year that Cyrus is an emperor (538 B.C.), he issues a decree of liberation and a command to the Jewish exiles: “May God be with all of you who are his people. You are to go and rebuild the Temple of the Lord, the God of Israel; the God who is worshiped in Jerusalem.” He likewise orders the Babylonians to assist those exiles who need help to return. They are to give them provisions as well as free-will offerings. In the Jewish faith perspective, the benevolent ruler, King Cyrus, is an instrument of God’s saving plan. Thus the families of Judah and Benjamin, the priests and Levites, and everyone else whose heart God has moved prepare to go up to Jerusalem to build the house of the Lord.

 

The Pauline Family’s apostolic endeavor to construct the Church of Saint Paul in Alba, Italy gives us insight into the task and challenge of the Jews as they return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Lord’s temple (cf. Luigi Rolfo, SSP, James Alberione: Apostle for our Times, New York: Alba House, 1987, p. 243-245)

 

The Institute would multiply its appeals among its friends and Cooperators in order to receive some material help. And the Cooperators, most of whom found themselves in very modest economic conditions, responded to these appeals with generosity and an interest which could be hard to match in these times of ours in which people are much better off. (…)

 

The church could be opened to the public for worship and so it was on Sunday, October 28, 1928. That morning, the venerable Joseph Francis Re, bishop of Alba, conferred the diaconate on eight young Paulines. In the afternoon, he went to bless the new church whose construction he had authorized and which he had always followed with great interest. (…)

 

The ceremony of the benediction was followed by an entire week of festivities, which it would perhaps be more proper to call a week of special prayers. In fact, in the new church Masses were celebrated without interruption from 4:00 a.m. till noon. At 9:00 each day there was a sung Mass with a homily. At 12:00 noon the Blessed Sacrament was solemnly exposed and adoration, which concluded at 3:00 p.m. with the solemn chanting of vespers, a sermon and benediction, was begun. (…)

 

Those who were present at those festivities may have forgotten all the details. But, most probably, they could never forget the effect which was produced in the soul by the prayers and certain Gregorian chants of the Pauline Family when it was reunited in the new church. It was truly a massive choir upon which the slight echo from the cupola conferred a very special solemnity. Many times, when the religious silence of the function was unexpectedly interrupted by a prayer or a song by the whole community, people who were to be found but occasionally in church were seen to weep with emotion.

  

 

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

 

1. How do we respond to the light of God’s word? Do we allow this light to fill our hearts and allow its radiance to enlighten the morbid shadows around us? Are we channels of God’s light for others?

 

2. Do we take to heart our duty and responsibility to contribute to the house of God and to help it make secure?

 

  

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

 

Lord Jesus,

we thank you for the light of God’s word.

Your light shines in the world’s darkness,

but the darkness has not overcome it.

Help us to light the lamp of truth

so that those seeking to enter your kingdom

may see your life-giving light.

Teach us to listen to your word.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

***

O loving God,

we thank you for using human instruments

to promote your saving plan.

The Persian King Cyrus liberated your people in Babylon

and gave them the opportunity

to go to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple.

We too are called, in the here and now,

to build up the Church,

the temple of living stones.

Help us to do our very best

to promote the holiness and integrity of the Church.

And as members of the Church,

let us radiate your divine glory

to all peoples of the earth.

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.

 

“He places the lamp on a stand so that those who enter may see light.” (Lk 8:16) //“They prepared to go up to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.” (Ezr 1:5)

 

 

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

 

By our daily acts of charity and compassion to our brothers and sisters, let us help overcome the shadows of sin and death that darken our world. // Seriously consider the possibility of becoming actively involved in Church ministry. If you are already involved, be very grateful to God for this opportunity to do your very best in the Lord’s temple.

 

 

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September 26, 2017: TUESDAY – WEEKDAY (25); SAINTS COSMAS AND DAMIAN, Martyrs

“JESUS SAVIOR: His Family Hears and Acts on God’s Word”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Ezr 6:7-8, 12b, 14-20 // Lk 8:19-21

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 8:19-21): “My mother and my brother are those who hear the word of God and act upon it.”

 

Today’s Gospel (Lk 8:19-21) continues to challenge us to respond fully to the word of God. The mother of Jesus and other relatives come to see Jesus, but are prevented by the thick crowd. They stand outside and call for him. The Divine Master wisely uses the occasion of their visit to assert that the fundamental relationship to him lies not through blood ties or other earthly connections, but through hearing and acting upon the word of God. While his kin are waiting, Jesus delineates what constitutes his spiritual family – those who hear and obey the divine word are the authentic family members. In light of Mary’s response at the Lord’s annunciation, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word”, the mother of Jesus passes the criterion with flying colors. Mary is the supreme model of one who hears and acts upon the word. Mary is the exemplar of receptivity to the divine word. In her womb, the word of God becomes flesh and she brings forth the Savior of the world. Mary is truly the mother of Jesus and is thus the most privileged member of the “family of God”.

 

In a humorous vein, the following story gives insight into the meaning of “family” (cf. Davida Dalton, as told to Jo Ellen Johnson, “In His Mother’s Footsteps” in Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul, ed. Jack Canfield, et. al., Deerfield Beach: Health Communications, Inc., 1997, p. 108-109).

 

It was a busy day in our Costa Mesa, California home. But then, with 10 children and one on the way, every day was a bit hectic. On this particular day, however, I was having trouble doing even routine chores – all because of one little boy.

 

Len, who was three at the time, was on my heels no matter where I went. Whenever I stopped to do something and turned back around, I would trip over him. Several times, I patiently suggested fun activities to keep him occupied. “Wouldn’t you like to play on the swing set?” I asked again.

 

But he simply smiled an innocent smile and said, “Oh, that’s all right, Mommy, I’d rather be in here with you.” Then he continued to bounce happily along behind me.

 

After stepping on his toes for the fifth time, I began to lose my patience and insisted that he go outside and play with the other children. When I asked him why he was acting this way, he looked up at me with sweet green eyes and said, “Well, Mommy, in Primary my teacher told me to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. But I can’t see him, so I’m walking in yours.”

 

I gathered Len in my arms and held him close. Tears of love and humility spilled over from the prayer that grew in my heart – a prayer of thanks for the simple, yet beautiful perspective of a three-year-old boy.

 

 

B. First Reading (Ezr 6:7-8, 12b, 14-20): “They completed the temple of God and ate the Passover.”

 

Today’s First Reading (Ezr 6:7-8, 12b, 14-20 depicts the role of another Persian emperor in the saving plan of God. The enemies of the people living in Judah and Jerusalem try to stop the construction of the Jerusalem temple decreed by King Cyrus of Persia. Work on the temple ceases and remains at a standstill until the second year of the reign of King Darius of Persia. At this time the prophets Haggai and Zechariah begin to speak in the name of the Lord. Hearing their message, Zerubbabel and Jeshua begin to rebuild the house of God. Governor Tattenai and his fellow officials oppose them. But God is watching over the Jewish leaders. The Persian local officials decide to take no action until they could write to King Darius and receive a reply. Governor Tattenai requests that the archives be searched to see if there is an ordinance of King Cyrus for the rebuilding of the temple. King Cyrus’ order is rediscovered in the city of Ecbatana in the province of Media.

 

In his letter, King Darius voices his own directive on the matter under investigation. He tells the local officials not to interfere with the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. He also orders them to facilitate the work with money collected through taxation as well as to provide materials for the daily temple offerings required by the Jewish law. The motivation of King Darius is interesting: “This is to be done so that they can offer sacrifices that are acceptable to the God of Heaven and pray for his blessings on me and my sons.”

 

With the backing of King Darius, work on the “Second Temple” goes forward and it is completed in the spring of 515 B.C. The temple is dedicated by a legitimate community of faith led by priests and Levites. Although the offerings for this occasion are relatively modest compared to the sacrifices at the dedication of the “First Temple” led by King Solomon, the “Second Temple” is destined to be honored by a longer life. In spite of the poverty of the struggling community, the children of Israel celebrate the dedication of the house of God with joy. Thus the cultic services resume as prescribed in the book of Moses and the Jews celebrate the ritual feast of the Lord’s Passover.

 

The joy that the Jewish people feel at the completion of the “Second Temple” is similar to the joy that we - the parishioners of St. Mary Queen of the Apostles - feel at the completion of our much longed for church building. Here is a profile of the parish (cf. Ron Orozco, “St. Mary Queen of the Apostles” in Fresno Bee, March 16, 2012, p. C4).

 

Parishioners at St. Mary Queen of the Apostles Catholic Church in west Fresno say they feel comfortable in their new church building. It’s been an interesting journey, some say. Several years ago, nearly every parishioner agreed the congregation had outgrown its church building, used since the 1960s. Seating capacity was about 225 people. With west Fresno growing, a campaign began to build a moderate church building to accommodate more people. Plans called for pews accommodating about 600.

 

Some parishioners, however, said they were concerned about the church growth. “They said, ‘I hope it doesn’t make us not be a family’, Debi Nichols remembered. “There was a fear it would be cold.” Others said they welcomed the step up. “For years a lot didn’t come because they didn’t like the little old church”, Lisa Newsom said.

 

The larger building – at a cost of $2.5 million – became a reality and was dedicated Dec. 8. Church officials also thought they might have to cut back from six to four weekend Masses. But so many parishioners flocked to services in the new building, the church returned to six Masses. “A beautiful problem to have”, said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Timothy Cardoza. “It’s a wonderful community.”

 

On a recent Sunday, parishioners sang the songs, “I Am the Light of the World”, “In These Days of Lenten Journey” and “Here I Am”. Church piano player Marina Aksenov recognized the new building acoustics: “It’s beautiful.”

 

Here are other notes from the visit:

 

What’s the first things you notice from your pew? The wooden cross with purple draping near the altar.

 

What might you see here that you won’t other places? Parishioners recently filed out of Masses and went to the old church building, now a social hall. Fresh cinnamon rolls and other foods and items were sold there to raise money for the Msgr. McCormick Jamaica Project.

 

What’s everyone talking about? The church’s youth getting involved in the Guadalupana Society.

 

 

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

 

1. Do I truly hear the word of God and act upon it? Do I look upon Mary as the model of hearing and acting upon his word?

 

2. How do we participate in the liturgy of the Church and how do we promote true worship?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

we thank you for giving us

the true criterion of kinship with you.

Help us to look upon Mary

as the supreme model of hearing and acting upon the word

so that we may truly belong to your family.

In your name,

let us be brothers and sisters to one another.

We bless and thank you

for making us a part of the family of God.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

***

(Cf. Common of the Dedication of a Church, The Roman Missal) 

God our Father,

from living stones, your chosen people,

you built an eternal temple to your glory.

Increase the spiritual gifts you have given to your Church,

so that your faithful people may continue to grow

into the new and eternal Jerusalem.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, 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.

 

 “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” (Lk 8:21) //“They finished the building according to the command of the God if Israel.” (Ezr 6:14)

 

  

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

 

By your prayers and concrete acts of charity, be a brother or a sister to those in need. // Be informed about are the real needs of your parish community and see what you can do to help respond to these needs.

 

     

*** *** ***

 

September 27, 2017: WEDNESDAY – SAINT VINCENT DE PAUL, Priest

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Sends Them to Proclaim the Gospel and to Heal … In Him Mercy Comes to Us”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Ezr 9:5-9 // Lk 9:1-6

  

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 9;1-6): “He sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”

 

Today’s Gospel reading (Lk 9:1-6) is about the Lord who sends, and the mission of those he sends. Jesus sends them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He summons his disciples and selects the Twelve. Tutored by Jesus, and present with him as he heals many from sickness and evil, the Twelve go out into the world with tremendous power bestowed upon them. Luke narrates: “They set out and went from village to village proclaiming the good news and curing diseases everywhere.” The task of those sent by Jesus is to bring the healing balm of forgiveness to those wounded by the virulence of sin and to denounce evil wherever its presence is obvious, openly confronting it by appealing to the power of Christ. Pope Paul VI remarks: “The Church is a continuation and extension of his presence, called above all to carry on the mission of Jesus and his work of evangelization without ceasing. Never can the Christian community be shut in on itself.”

 

The following inspiring story illustrates that the apostolic spirit lives on in the world today (cf. Oliver Costantino, “Helping to Save Lives” in Maryknoll, May/June 2014, p. 35-36).

 

Ten years ago, my pediatrician, Doctor Benitez, told my family that he was going on a mission trip to Bolivia. My parents asked my brothers and me if we would like to contribute any money to his mission. We all pitched in and gave Doctor Benitez $250. When he returned from Bolivia, he told us that the money was used to pay the medical expenses for a girl from a homeless family. She was burned in a fire and left to die.

 

That was my first experience of giving. I do not remember, but my parents tell me that I was proud that the money saved a life. That experience started a longtime support of Doctor Benitez and his missions. The following year my family had a fund-raising party. We raised over $3,000 and collected over 200 pairs of shoes. The party was a huge success, and we felt happy to be helping others.

 

In 2004, Doctor Benitez decided to go to Uganda, where his friend Lawrence Mulinda was born and raised. This time we sent him with $500 and all of our used clothes and shoes. Again, the money was used to save a life. While Doctor Benitez was touring a hospital in a small village, he noticed a newborn baby who looked as if she were starving to death. When he asked about her, the doctor told him that she had a cyst under her tongue that made it impossible for her to nurse. Since that was the only way to feed a baby, she was waiting to die. Doctor Benitez asked how much money it would cost to do the simple surgery. He was told that it was very expensive because she would have to be taken to the capital and they would have to pay for transportation, the hospital bill and hotel for her mother. Doctor Benitez asked again and they finally told him $500 should take care of it. He pulled our donation out of his pocket and handed it to the nun who was the administrator of the hospital. Baby Winnie’s life was saved.

 

Throughout the years we have continued to support the mission in Uganda, financially as well as through prayer. We have watched the village of Kayenje grow with a new church, school, teacher’s home and convent. I love to think about the difference the little we do makes in a country like Uganda.

 

Last summer my mother and brother had the opportunity to go to Uganda on a mission. The entire trip was rewarding. They were able to clothe, feed and care for the children’s medical needs. My brother even held a soccer clinic and brought enough balls, cleats, shin guards and new uniforms for the two teams in the village. My mother says the greatest blessing of the trip was getting to meet Baby Winnie. She is now 9 years old, and her parents came to meet my mom and thank our family for saving her life. My mother reminded them that God saved her life, not us.

 

Our experience of giving to the poor in Uganda is definitely an act of charity, but I love that God gives me the opportunity to perform an act of charity every day, and I do it with a smile. As Pope Francis says, “We all have the duty to do good.”

 

 

B. First Reading (Ezr 9:5-9): “In our servitude our God has not abandoned us.”

 

Today’s First Reading (Ezr 9:5-9) can be understood better if we read chapters 7 and 8 of the Book of Ezra. A third benevolent Persian king Artaxerxes becomes an instrument of God’s saving plan. By divine grace the priest-scribe Ezra has won the favor of King Artaxerxes, who gave him everything he asks for. King Artaxerxes decrees that all the Israelite people in his empire, that so desire, be permitted to go with Ezra to Jerusalem. He sends Ezra to investigate the conditions in Jerusalem and Judah in order to see how well the Law entrusted by God is being obeyed. He also assures Ezra that anything he needs for the Temple he may get from the royal treasury.

 

When Ezra arrives in Jerusalem he is crushed with grief for the sins committed by the returned exiles. They have intermarried with non-Jews and the “abominations” of the spouses have corrupted the Israelites. Their marriages have brought them into contact with the worship of other gods and led them into the sin of idolatry. Ezra’s prayer of lament for the sin of his people is climaxed by a proclamation of divine mercy: “You have been gracious to us … You have let us escape from slavery, and have given us new life.” But the present favor is in jeopardy. Israel has transgressed against God’s commandment. Their religious integrity has been compromised by consorting with idolaters. Indeed, the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple-building is a secondary issue to the real issue of the building up of the chosen people, the dwelling place of God. The book of Ezra concludes with a gracious note: the returned exiles promise to do what God’s Law demands and they end their sinful marriages with foreigners.

 

The experience of divine mercy and new life narrated in the Book of Ezra continues to be felt in the here and now. Here is an example (cf. Fr. Edward Wolanski, CP, “A Successful Mission” in 101 Inspirational Stories of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Sr. Patricia Proctor OSC, Spokane: Franciscan Monastery of Saint Clare, 2006, p. 127-128).

 

I was sent to preach a parish mission in a small parish church. There was a family who was helping the pastor prepare for the mission. They were very devoted to Our Lady of Fatima. For six months before the mission, this family and two other families gave up their Saturday mornings to come to the church and pray the rosary for the success of the mission. This was especially difficult for the children, but they believed their prayers would help.

 

On the opening day of the mission only thirty-five people came. The pastor, the three families and I were all very disappointed. After the first service I went with the pastor to the confessionals. The first person who entered my confessional began by saying, “Father, it had been forty years since my last confession.” The second person who came began with, “Father, it has been twenty-five years since my last confession.” I was overwhelmed. The third person who came in said, “Father, I don’t know how long since it has been since my last confession.” One after the other, with few exceptions, all had been away from the sacrament for a long, long time.

 

I came out of the confessional thinking I was the last one in the church, only to find the pastor coming out of his confessional. We met in the center aisle, and before I could tell him of the wonderful experience I had, he excitedly told me: “I have never heard confessions like that in all my priesthood. People who have been away for years and years came.” I then shared my experience with him and we both looked to the tabernacle and gave thanks to the Lord and Our Lady.

 

The next day we shared with the three families what had happened and how their prayers during those six months helped so many people find the courage to approach the sacrament. We all agreed that the mission was successful, not because of the number who attended, but because of those who found new life through the sacrament of reconciliation.

     

 

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

 

1. As Christian disciples today, do we trust in the loving God who is totally involved in our lives? What is the specific apostolic mission entrusted to us by Christ today? Do we believe in the Gospel’s power against the forces of evil? 

 

2. Do we recognize the divine mercy that enfolds us in our life and do we feel the need to respond to God’s gracious love?

 

 

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

 

Jesus Lord,

you summon us and entrust to us the Gospel

with its power of action against evil.

You send us to touch the wounded world

with the healing power of your love.

Grant us the grace we need

to proclaim the Good News and cure diseases.

Teach us to trust in the word of God.

He is a shield for all who seek his protection.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen. 

 

***

Loving Father,

you are good and merciful.

You do not allow our servitude to sin

to last forever.

Your Son Jesus Christ breaks the bondage of evil

and raises us to new life.

Make us true “living stones” of the Church,

your dwelling place in the Spirit.

Let us give you glory and praise,

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.

 

“Jesus sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Lk 9:1) //“Thus he has given us new life to raise again the house of our God.” (Ezr 9:8)

 

 

 

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

 

Pray for all missionaries that they may carry out their mandate with absolute trust in God and apostolic zeal. Be a missionary to a person close to you and in need of the healing power of the Gospel. // Be deeply aware of the divine mercy that enfolds you and resolve to take seriously the gifts you have received from God for the building up of the Church, the people of God.

 

*** *** ***

 

September 28, 2017: THURSDAY – WEEKDAY (25); SAINT WENCESLAUS, Martyr; SAINT LAWRENCE RUIZ AND COMPANIONS, Martyrs

“JESUS SAVIOR: Herod Wants To See Him … He Urges Us to Build the House of God”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Hg 1:1-8 // Lk 9:7-9

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 9:7-9): “John I beheaded. Who then is this about whom I hear such things?”

 

In India I was struck by a powerful image given to us by a priest in a retreat conference. A stone is submerged in the bottom of a river – for days and days, for months and months, for years and years, for ages and ages – but never soaked and drenched. It is impervious. At the core it remains dry and lifeless. The impenetrable stone surrounded by clear waters is a pathetic image of Herod Antipas who is resistant to grace. He is licentious and feckless. He lives in incestuous union with Herodias. John the Baptist censures him severely for taking his brother’s wife. Herod retaliates by having him arrested and imprisoned. On account of a senseless oath to a stepdaughter who delighted him with a sensuous dance, he has John the Baptist beheaded. Herod is also superstitious.

 

In the Gospel reading (Lk 9:7-9), the wild news about Jesus of Nazareth being John the Baptist raised from the dead baffles Herod. He keeps trying to see Jesus. But when he finally sees Jesus in a mock trial before the latter’s passion and crucifixion, he would want to see him perform some miracle and be entertained with religious prodigies. Jesus however would not respond to his frivolous questions and requests. The Son of God would remain silent. Too sated with self-centered pleasure-seeking, Herod would not able to recognize the presence of grace standing before him. Herod would not be moved to repentance conversion by the Word of God. Respecting his fundamental choice, the incarnate love would have difficulty penetrating his heart wholly taken up by frivolity and corruption.

 

The following story illustrates the tragedy of making evil choices and of being impervious to divine grace (cf. David Schantz, Daily Guideposts 2010, p. 22).

 

My minister-father was a storyteller, and the best part of Sunday was listening to his stories from the pulpit. One of my favorites was about an exceptional contractor who built beautiful homes. There was always a long waiting list of customers.

 

One day the contractor told his foreman, “I need to go East for a few months, and while I’m gone I want you to build this house for me.” He showed the foreman the plans. “I want this to be the best house you’ve ever built for me. Spare no expense. I want it done right.”

 

When his boss left, the foreman got to thinking, “This is a big project. I could make some extra money on it by substituting grade-B materials where they won’t show. I could pocket the difference.”

 

When the boss returned, he was impressed. “The house is beautiful!” He put his arm around the foreman’s shoulders. “The reason I wanted you to make this house special is that I want you to have it as an expression of my gratitude for your years of service to me.”

 

The foreman’s face fell, knowing that he had cheated only himself.

 

 

B. First Reading (Hg 1:1-8): “Build the house that I may take pleasure in it.”

 

Within these two days we shall hear more accounts concerning the reconstruction of the Jerusalem temple – this time from the book of Haggai, the first prophet of post-exilic Israel. The foundation of the Jerusalem temple has been laid out in the spring of 536 B.C. by the first group of returned exiles from Babylon. No additional progress has been made and in 520 B.C. the temple still lies in ruins. The people feel they are too poor to take up the undertaking. They say: “This is not the right time to rebuild the house of the Lord.” Their excuse however is unjustifiable. They live in well-built houses while the temple decays. In today’s reading (Hg 1:1-8), the prophet Haggai invites the people to reflect on their experience. Although they have labored for food, drink, clothing and wages, the results are poor and unsatisfying. Haggai asserts that the blessings of the Lord God do not accompany the people because of their failure to build the temple. Things will change if it is rebuilt. When the temple is completed, blessing will replace judgment and the Lord will dwell in the temple-community again. Indeed, for the prophet Haggai the physical restoration of the temple-building has a symbolic value. To rebuild the temple-building means to restore the relationship of the community with God.

 

Against the backdrop of today’s reading, Mark Shea’s article, “In Defense of Beauty” enables us to understand the purpose and importance of the Catholic Church’s artistic and cultural tradition, which offers its riches in the service of God (cf. Our Sunday Visitor, February 5, 2012, p. 9-12).

 

“Why does the Church have all those gold cups and fancy paintings?” (…) This remains the substance of the charge to this day: that the evangelical counsel of poverty is contradicted by the art, the gold, the finery, the gorgeousness of the Catholic artists and cultural tradition and that the only true Christian is more or less walking barefoot in the snow like St. Francis. (…)

 

Catholics who seek to defend the Faith should not give that point short shrift. St. Dominic certainly didn’t. Instead, he founded an order of beggars and revived obedience to the evangelical counsels of chastity, obedience and poverty that had fallen on hard times in his day. Other Catholics from the Discalced Carmelites to the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal have done the same over the centuries.

 

What they have not done, however, is demand that the Church sell off its artistic legacy or start celebrating Mass with paper plates and Styrofoam cups. Indeed, what is remarkable is that those who have most strongly embraced the evangelical counsels of poverty for themselves and urged them upon the faithful have also insisted on the gorgeousness of the Church in its work of worship to God. Servant of God Dorothy Day, who was not exactly a fan of Donald Trump-like opulence and who had a heart for the poor as big as any saints who ever lived, said, “For Christ himself housed in the tabernacles in the Church, no magnificence is too great, but for the priest who serves Christ, and for the priesthood of the laity, no such magnificence, in the face of the hunger and homelessness of the world, can be understood.”

 

This distinction between the gorgeousness that is properly devoted to God and the temperance we should practice toward ourselves should get our attention. (…) Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me” (Jn 12:8). This gives us a clue about how reformers from St. Dominic to Dorothy Day could call for radical poverty, yet have no objection to lavish beauty in the service of God. For Jesus himself had no objections to the worshipper lavishing what she had on God. In this, he was acting in obedience to what his Father had revealed in the Old Testament. (…)

 

[In Exodus 25-32] God calls the Israelites to put their very best into the worship of him. The sanctuary was to be made of the finest materials they had and worked with the best craftsmanship. It was to be not merely functional, but beautiful. Scripture (which almost never mentions colors) dwells on the scarlet, red and blue materials of the Tabernacle and lays out in minute detail the way the precious metals of gold and silver (as well as bronze) are to be used to create the place that will be the Dwelling Place of God. In this, we hear something of the unique sort of love and joy that is known by those who create beautiful things with their hands: the joy of beauty. (…)

 

The essence of worship is sacrifice and that all, rich and poor, are called to worship. So [Jesus] likewise welcomes the sacrifice of Mary’s jar of ointment, expensive as it is, as a fitting adornment to the greatest sacrifice of all: his own crucifixion in just a few days’ time. (…)

 

But as Jesus also showed in accepting the anointing of Mary, we are not to be stingy with God in the slightest – because he has been absolutely lavish with us by pouring out the very life of his Son for our salvation.

 

 

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

 

1. Do we make habitual and chronic evil choices so that we become impervious to God’s grace? Are we like Herod Antipas in our behavior and choices?

 

2. Do we give priority to our daily subsistence rather than cultivate personal relationship with our loving God? Do we endeavor to live a life of true worship even at the cost of sacrifice?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus, the incarnate Wisdom of God,

you preach the Good News

and call people to conversion.

Please help us to listen to your voice

and make a fundamental choice for you.

Help us to avoid the tragic choices of Herod.

Do not allow us to pursue mere “vanities”.

Teach us to respond to divine grace

and let us be filled with the love and blessings of God.

You are our glorious Savior, now and forever.

Amen.

 

***

Loving Father,

at times our priorities are totally warped

so that we allow the cares of daily living to overwhelm us.

We fail to give you glory and praise

and even disdain the external symbols and signs of true worship.

Forgive us for our failure

towards the Church of “living stones”

and for neglecting our duties

to our poor and needy brothers and sisters.

Let our lives be sanctified as temples of the Holy Spirit.

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.

 

            “And Herod kept trying to see him.” (Lk 9:9) //“Build the house that I may take pleasure in it and receive my glory.” (Hg 1:8)

 

 

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

 

Pray that our daily choices might be responsible and in accordance to the will of God. Make an effort to enlighten the people around you in making the “right” choice for our Savior Jesus. // When you enter the church-building be deeply aware that it is a sacred space meant for prayer and community worship. Observe reverent silence in this sacred place.

 

 

*** *** ***

 

September 29, 2017: FRIDAY – SAINTS MICHAEL, GABRIEL AND RAPHAEL, ARCHANGELS

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Is Supreme Over All the Angels”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Dn 7:9-10, 13-14 or Rv 12:7-12a // Jn 1:47-51

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Jn 1:47-51): “Above the Son of Man you will see the angels of God ascending and descending.”

 

In today’s Gospel reading (Jn 1:47-51), Jesus promises Nathanael a vision of angels: “You will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” The angelic revelation that Jesus proposes to his would-be disciple Nathanael evokes the vision of Jacob in the Book of Genesis. In a dream, the patriarch Jacob sees a stairway to heaven and God’s messengers going up and down. There is an interchange between heaven and earth. Like the angels on Jacob’s ladder, Jesus will join the above and the below, the heavenly and the earthly. Since Jesus Christ is supreme over all the angels, his unifying function surpasses that of the angels. The Son of Man is the shekinah, the dwelling place of God and the locus of divine glory. Jesus is thus the connecting point of heaven and earth. In his very person, God is revealed and in Jesus we have access to God.

 

The angels are at the service of God and his saving plan. Today’s feast of the archangels helps us to contemplate their role in salvation history. The homily of Saint Gregory the Great that is read at the Office of the Readings gives interesting insight into the ministry of the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael.

 

The word angel denotes a function … They can only be called angels when they deliver some message … Those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels. And so it was that not merely an angel but the archangel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary. It was only fitting that the highest angel should come to announce the greatest of all messages.

 

Some angels are given proper names to denote the service they are empowered to perform … Thus Michael means “Who is like God?”; Gabriel is “The Strength of God”, and Raphael is “God’s Remedy”.

 

Whenever some act of wondrous power must be performed, Michael is sent, so that his action and his name make it clear that no one can do what God does by his superior power. So also our ancient foe desired in his pride to be like God, saying: “I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of heaven; I will be like the Most High.” He will be allowed to remain in power until the end of the world when he will be destroyed in the final punishment. Then, he will fight with the archangel Michael, as we are told by John: “A battle was fought with Michael the archangel.”

 

So too Gabriel, who is called God’s strength, was sent to Mary. He came to announce the One who appeared as a humble man to quell the cosmic powers. Thus God’s strength announced the coming of the Lord of the heavenly powers, mighty in battle.

 

Raphael means, as I have said, God’s remedy, for when he touched Tobit’s eyes in order to cure him, he banished the darkness of his blindness. Thus, since he is to heal, he is rightly called God’s remedy.

 

 

B. First Reading (Dn 7:9-10, 13-14): “Countless thousands ministered to him.”

 

In the Old Testament reading (Dn 7:9-10, 13-14), Daniel’s vision of the “son of man” coming on the clouds of heaven and receiving dominion, glory and kingship originally represented the vindication of the persecuted people of Israel. The image of the human figure enthroned in glory, however, later came to be applied to the expected Messiah. Christians see the fulfillment of this apocalyptic vision in the person of Jesus Christ.

 

The prophet’s vision of the “son of man” is preceded by that of the “Ancient One” or “the One who has been living forever”. His clothes are white as snow and his hair like pure wool. He sits on a throne that blazes with fire. Thousands and thousands are ministering to him. As we celebrate the feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, we imagine these archangels as leading the throng of those who lovingly serve God, the “Ancient One”. The archangels and the other ministering angels in heaven, by God’s compassionate plan, bless us with their “presence” and assistance.

 

The following personal account gives insight into the reality of angelic protection (cf. Joan Wester Anderson, “Invisible Guardians” in Chicken Soup for Christian Soul, ed. Jack Canfield, et. al., Deerfield: Health Communications, Inc., 1997, p. 168-171).

 

In 1980, 25-year old Dave Carr of Bangor, Maine, started to feel one of those inner urges that defy logic and reason. He had a strong impulse to open a gathering place for the homeless or people down on their luck. (…) Finally Dave drove to downtown Bangor about 10:00 one September evening. It wouldn’t hurt to at least look at possible sites … He parked and walked through the neighborhoods, looking at abandoned buildings. Some possibilities, but nothing definite.

 

At 1:00 A.M. Dave was ready to call it quits. But he hadn’t investigated Brewer yet, the city that lies across the Penobscot River from Bangor. He would look at a few sites there, then head home. The street was deserted as Dave started walking up the bridge. Then a car approached from Brewer. As its headlights caught him, the car slowed. Uneasily Dave realized that there were three men inside. Despite the cool night air, their windows were rolled down. “Let’s throw him over!” Dave heard one of them say. The car stopped, its doors opened, and all three jumped out and came toward him.’

 

Horrified, Dave suddenly recalled the murder of the street person. It had been on this bridge! Had these men done it? He would be no match for them; he knew his only option was to pray that he survived the icy water. But as he looked down, he realized that the tide had gone out, and only rocks and dirt were directly below him. “God, help me”, Dave murmured.

 

Immediately he felt a presence near him, something unseen but definitely there. A warm safe feeling flooded him, His fear vanished, and he knew, without knowing how he knew, that he was not alone.

 

Now the men were almost upon Dave. All three were large, muscular – and leering. “Get him!” one shouted.

 

Suddenly they stopped. “They all stared at me, then looked to the right and left of me”, Dave says. “They seemed terrified. One said, ‘Oh, my God!’ They turned and began shoving one another to get back to the car. And when they sped away – it sounded like they tore the transmission right out – I could still hear them cursing and yelling, ‘Run, run!’”

 

Dave stood for a moment on the deserted bridge, basking in the warmth that still surrounded him. What was it? What had the men seen? Whatever it was, it had shielded him from certain death. “Thank you, God”, he whispered.

 

He felt exalted, so buoyant that he decided to go on to Brewer and finish his search. As he crossed the rest of the bridge, Danny, a friend of his, drove by, honked at him, and kept going, unmindful of Dave’s narrow escape. Dave waved, still surrounded by peace. (…)

 

The next day he ran into Danny again. “Sorry I didn’t stop for you last night on the bridge”, Danny said. “But I had passengers and I never could have fit all of you in my car, too.” “All of us?” Dave asked, puzzled. “Those three huge guys walking with you”, Danny explained. “They were the biggest people I had ever seen. One must have been at least seven feet tall!”

 

Dave never resisted a heavenly nudge again. He opened and founded a Bangor coffeehouse in 1986, which is still running today under a friend’s management. At least 100 people are fed every night, with coffee, hugs – and the word of the Lord.

 

 

C. Alternative First Reading (Rv 12:7-12ab): “Michael and his angels battled with the dragon.”

 

The alternative First Reading (Rv 12:7-12ab) underlines the role of the archangel Michael in the victorious battle in heaven against Satan and his followers. Michael’s heavenly victory symbolizes his permanent dominion over satanic forces. The hymn of victory that follows celebrates Michael’s victory over Satan. The same primordial victory won by the archangel Michael will be won by God’s people on earth against the “huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan”. The Church faces a “vanquished enemy” and the Christian life, although a trial, is a radical victory by God’s faithful people, washed in the Blood of the Lamb, Jesus Christ.

 

The following anecdotes circulated on the Internet concerning two Popes’ experience of the Archangel Michael’s assistance are very interesting.

 

Rome, 600 A.D.: During a plague which greatly depopulated the city of Rome, Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) ordered a penitential procession in which he himself carried a statue of the Blessed Virgin. As the procession reached the bridge across the Tiber, the singing of angels was heard. Suddenly Gregory saw an apparition of a gigantic archangel, Michael, descending upon the mausoleum of Emperor Hadrian. In his right hand, Michael held a sword, which he thrust into its scabbard. Gregory took the vision as an omen that the plague would stop, which it did, and so he renamed the mausoleum the Castel Sant' Angelo (Castle of the Holy Angel) in Michael's honor.

 

The Vatican, 1902: One day, after celebrating Mass, the aged Pope Leo XIII was in conference with the Cardinals when suddenly he sank to the floor in a deep swoon. Physicians who hastened to his side could find no trace of his pulse and feared that he had expired. However, after a short interval the Holy Father regained consciousness and exclaimed with great emotion: "Oh, what a horrible picture I have been permitted to see!" He had been shown a vision of the activities of evil spirits and their efforts against the Church. But in the midst of the horror the archangel Michael appeared and cast Satan and his legions into the abyss of hell. Soon afterwards the pope composed the following prayer to Saint Michael:

Holy Michael, the archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray: and do you, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the divine power, thrust into hell Satan and all the other evil spirits who wander through the world seeking the ruin of souls.

 

The Pope ordered this prayer to be recited daily after Low Mass in all the churches throughout the Christian world. And so it was. However this practice was swept away in the 1960s by liturgical changes made in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, except in a few churches (for example in the Archdiocese of Boston the traditional Low Mass in Latin, followed by the prayer to Saint Michael in English, is still said in the Holy Trinity Church at 140 Shawmut Ave., Boston, on Sundays starting at 12:00 noon).

 

 

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

 

Do we thank God for the ministry of the archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, and do we invoke their protection and assistance in our needs? Do we imitate the goodness of the angels and their function to connect the earthly and the heavenly?

 

 

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

(cf. Concluding Prayer – Liturgy of the Hours, September 29: Feast of the Archangels)

 

God our Father,

in a wonderful way

you guide the work of angels and men.

May those who serve you constantly in heaven

keep our lives safe from all harm on earth.

Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, 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.

 

            “You will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  (Jn 1:51)

 

 

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

 

Imitate Saint Michael in his ministry to manifest the supreme power of God. Imitate Saint Gabriel in his ministry to proclaim the good news about Christ. Imitate Saint Raphael in his ministry of healing and providing remedy to the afflicted.

      

 

*** *** ***

 

September 30, 2017: SATURDAY – SAINT JEROME, Priest and Doctor of the Church

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches the Disciples the Meaning

of His Death … All Nations Dwell in Him”

 

 

BIBLE READINGS

Zec 2:5-9, 14-15a // Lk 9:43b-45

 

 

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

 

A. Gospel Reading (Lk 9:43b-45): “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men. They were afraid to ask him about this saying.”

 

In today’s Gospel reading (Lk 9:43b-45), Jesus speaks again about his death. The response of the disciples to the Divine Master’s patient effort to make them understand his messianic mission is bewilderment. They fail to grasp what Jesus means and they are afraid to question him. It is because they do not want to be confronted with the painful element of Christ’s paschal destiny. They are afraid to stare at the specter of Jesus’ impending death. In the first prediction, Jesus has underlined the harsh implications of his passion for his disciples. To be true followers of Jesus they too need to carry their cross. This is an aversive proposition for the disciples. Hence, when the Master brings out the issue again, they remain silent. They willfully choose not to understand. Bereft of the paschal vision, their personal concerns degenerate into authority issues and power struggles.

 

The following story presents in a humorous vein what it means “to refuse to understand” (cf. Anthony De Mello, Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations, New York: Image Books, 1988, p. 172).

 

A bishop had decreed that woman housekeepers for priests should be at least fifty years of age. He was startled, in the visitation of his diocese, to discover a priest who thought he was observing the law by keeping two housekeepers, each one of whom was twenty-five years of age.

    

 

B. First Reading (Zec 2:5-9, 14-15a): “See, I am coming to dwell among you.”

 

Starting today and in the next few days we shall be hearing from the priest-prophet Zechariah, whose prophecies are dated from 520 B.C. to 518 B.C. His visions deal with the restoration of Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the temple, the purification of God’s people and the messianic age to come. The messianic Jerusalem will bring back the golden days of Moses when God is presented as leading his people by columns of cloud and fire.

 

Today’s First Reading (Zec 2:5-9, 14-15a) is about the vision of an angel with a measuring line. He measures the city in order to rebuild it. Another angel appears to give a message of blessing and hope. He announces that Jerusalem will have many more people than before. The Lord God himself will be the wall of fire to encircle the city to protect it and he will dwell there in all his glory. Zechariah’s prophecy underlines the universal character of the divine saving plan: “At that time many nations will come to the Lord and become his people.”

 

That “many nations shall join themselves to the Lord” and that “the Lord comes to dwell among the nations” has been realized through the paschal sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The martyrdom of San Lorenzo Ruiz and his companion martyrs, saints from various nations, illustrates the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy of universal salvation. Here is an account of their martyrdom (cf. Wikipedia on the Internet).

 

Lorenzo Ruiz was born in Binondo, Manila, to a Chinese father and a Filipino mother who were both Catholic. His father taught him Chinese while his mother taught him Tagalog.

 

Ruiz served as an altar boy at the convent of Binondo church. After being educated by the Dominican friars for a few years, Ruiz earned the title of escribano (calligrapher). He became a member of the Cofradia del Santissimo Rosario (Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary). He married Rosario, a native, and they had two sons and a daughter. The Ruiz family lead a generally peaceful, religious and content life.

 

In 1636, while working as a clerk in Binondo Church, Ruiz was falsely accused of killing a Spaniard. Ruiz sought asylum on board a ship with three Dominican priests: Saint Antonio Gonzales; Saint Guillermo Courtet; Saint Miguel de Aozaraza, a Japanese priest; Saint Vicente Shiwozuka de la Cruz; and a lay leper Saint Lazaro of Kyoto. Ruiz and his companions left for Okinawa on 10 June 1636, with the aid of the Dominican fathers and Fr. Giovanni Yago.

 

The Tokugawa shogunate was persecuting Christians by the time Ruiz had arrived in Japan. The missionaries were arrested and thrown into prison, and after a year, they were transferred to Nagasaki to face trial by torture. He and his companions faced different type of torture. One of these was the insertion of needles inside their fingernails.

 

On 27 September 1637, Ruiz and his companions were taken to Nishizaka Hill, where they were tortured by being hung upside down in a pit. This form of torture was known as tsurushi in Japanese or horca y hoya in Spanish. The method was supposed to be extremely painful: though the victim was bound, one hand is always left free so that victims may be able to signal that they recanted, and they would be freed. Ruiz refused to renounce Christianity and died from blood loss and suffocation. His body was cremated and his ashes thrown into the sea.

 

According to Latin missionary accounts sent back to Manila, Ruiz declared these words upon his death: “Ego Catholicus sum et animo prompt paratoque pro Deo mortem obibo. Si mille vitas haberem, cunctas ei offerrem.” In English this may be rendered: “I am a Catholic and wholeheartedly do accept death for the Lord. If I had a thousand lives, all these I shall offer to him.” This may be reconstructed into Tagalog or Pilipino as “Isa akong Katoliko at buong-pusong tinatanggap ang kamatayan para sa Panginoon. Kung ako man ay may isanlibong buhay, lahat ng iyon ay iaalay ko sa Kanya.”

   

 

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

 

1. Are we willing to understand the meaning of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ and their personal implications for our life?

 

2. Do we believe that God dwells among us and that his indwelling is not only in Jerusalem, but among the nations? What do we do to promote evangelization and the vitality of the Church-faith community? How do we imitate the faith of our fathers and the faith of the martyrs?

 

 

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

 

Lord Jesus,

you speak to us about your passion.

Help us to listen with the heart

and understand what it means to be your disciple.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

***

Loving Father,

you manifest your glory in our midst.

We thank you for surrounding the Church,

the new city Jerusalem,

with your glory and protection.

Give us the grace to spread the Good News of salvation to all

that all nations may dwell in this city

and be filled with your glory.

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.

 

“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.” (Lk 9:44) //“Many nations shall join themselves to the Lord on that day.” (Zec 2:15)

    

 

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

 

Pray for the grace to understand and follow the divine saving will and foster a discipline of prayerful silence before the Blessed Sacrament. // Take note of the cultural diversity and multi-ethnic character of the faith community. Be grateful to the Lord for this gift and resolve to give your very best to enhance the universal character of the Church.

  

 

***

 

 

Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang  PDDM

 

 

PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI

SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER

60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314

Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323

Website: WWW.PDDM.US

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