Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A February 23, 2020

First Reading
Leviticus 19:1–2, 17–18
Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 103: 1–4,8,10, 12–13
Merciful and gracious is the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 3:16–23
Are you not aware that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?

Gospel Reading
Matthew 5:38–48
My command to you is: love your enemies, pray for your persecutors.

Gospel MT 5:38-48

Jesus said to his disciples:
“You have heard that it was said,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.
When someone strikes you on your right cheek,
turn the other one as well.
If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic,
hand over your cloak as well.
Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your heavenly Father,
for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good,
and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?
Do not the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet your brothers only,
what is unusual about that?
Do not the pagans do the same?
So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Background on the Gospel

The last two antitheses offered in the Sermon on the Mount deal with love of enemies. We should not look at “an eye for an eye” as an inordinately strict punishment. It is actually meant to limit acts of revenge by making sure the punishment is not excessive but fits the crime. However, Jesus asks his followers to take a different approach by resisting retaliation altogether. The response to a stronger person who slaps us on the cheek, takes us to court, or demands a service of us is not to resist. Similarly, for a weaker person, such as a beggar or borrower, we are to give him or her what he or she asks for. Those who are called to the Kingdom of Heaven are to go beyond the way the world usually works and serve God’s kingdom here on earth.

The other difficult demand of those who are called to the kingdom is to embrace the enemy. There is no command in the Old Testament to hate individuals in a personal or vindictive way. But there is a religious stance that calls one to hate evil and to distance oneself from those who participate in evil. In contrast, Matthew emphasizes that love of God and love of neighbor are the fundamental commands on which all else depend. Because God’s love is unconditional, we are to strive to love as God does, though, of course, it is challenging. Is it even possible?

The key is in the final verse. We are to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect. Matthew uses the Greek word telos, which is probably better translated here as “complete.” We are not to be perfect as in doing everything correctly, that is, as in being absolutely morally correct. We are to be perfect as in striving to reach the completeness we are called to in the Kingdom of Heaven. Attempting to love our enemies is part of striving for that completeness.

Family Connection

Family life teaches us many things. It is often at home that we learn practical skills such as cooking, riding a bike, and making repairs. Talk about some of the things that the members of your family have learned to do at home. We also learn about caring at home. Talk about times when you have learned a lesson about sharing, forgiving, or loving through an experience that happened at home.
Talk about how love is the most important thing a family can share with one another. Explain that it is the same in God’s family. Read aloud this Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew 5:38–48. Talk about how Jesus tried to teach his disciples how to love others beyond those who are closest to them. Jesus tells them to love even their enemies. As members of God’s family, we are called to do the same thing. Talk about some concrete ways you can “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Remind your children that Jesus does not expect us to be perfect. Jesus knows that we are human and will not always do everything correctly. Explain that what Jesus wants us to do is to love others as if they were Jesus himself. If we reach out in love to others, we are doing exactly what Jesus did. That is what perfection looks like. End this time together by praying the Act of Love.

Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A February 9, 2020

First Reading
Isaiah 58:7-10
In the work of justice, light shall break through darkness.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 112:4-9
The just person will be a light in the darkness.

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
Paul shows that he came to Corinth preaching Christ crucified.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 5:13-16
Jesus teaches that his disciples are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world

Gospel MT 5:13-16

Jesus said to his disciples:

“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world.
A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.
Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket;
it is set on a lampstand,
where it gives light to all in the house.
Just so, your light must shine before others,
that they may see your good deeds
and glorify your heavenly Father.”

Background on the Gospel Reading

Following upon the teaching of the Beatitudes, Jesus uses the now familiar metaphors of salt and light to describe the life of discipleship. We take salt and light for granted in our society, but these commodities were more precious in ancient cultures. Just as now, salt was used in Jesus’ time for flavoring, as a preservative, and as a healing agent. Similarly, the widespread use of electricity in the modern world makes us less aware of the value and importance of light in our lives.

Still, our familiarity with this passage from Matthew’s Gospel speaks well to the abiding power of the imagery that Jesus presented. Jesus’ call to be salt for the earth and light for the world powerfully states our mission as Church and as Christians. Our commitment to social justice flows from the exhortation that Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel. Some of the activities that this commitment leads us to are given more concrete expression as the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. When we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, console those who mourn, and so on, we show ourselves to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. When we do these things with the community of faith, the Church, we are indeed acting as “a city set on a mountain” that cannot be hidden!

Family Connection

The widespread use of electricity in our society may make us less aware of the value and importance of light. To re-engage with the power of the metaphor that Jesus offers, gather your family in a darkened room. Bring only one flashlight.

Sit together for a minute and consider what you are able to do and see in so little light. You might try opening the Bible to see whether you can read today’s Gospel. Turn on the flashlight and experiment to see how one might use it to achieve the greatest amount of light. Then read today’s Gospel by the light of the flashlight. Ask everyone to consider what it means to say that Christians are to be the light of the world. How might your family act in a way that is a light for others, a light that is worthy to put on a lamp stand? Choose one thing that your family will do this week to show that you are the light of the world. You might choose to participate in an activity that your parish sponsors, such as help with a food pantry. Pray together by singing “This Little Light of Mine.”

Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings

Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle A December 22, 2019

First Reading
Isaiah 7:10-14
Ahaz proclaims the sign that the Lord will give: a virgin shall give birth to a son, Emmanuel.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 24:1-2,3-4,5-6

The Lord is the King of Glory who established the earth.

Second Reading
Romans 1:1-7
Paul greets the community at Rome and declares himself a servant of Christ Jesus.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 1:18-24

An angel appears to Joseph, directing him to take Mary as his wife and telling him that the child she will bear will be called Emmanuel.

Gospel MT 1:18-24

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,

which means “God is with us.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Finally, on this the Fourth Sunday of Advent, our Gospel Reading permits us to begin our contemplation of the mystery of the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas: “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about” (Matthew 1:18).

The Gospel of Matthew tells the story of the birth of Jesus from Joseph’s perspective. Today’s Gospel passage is the second movement in this story. In the preceding verses of the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, the Evangelist has listed the genealogy of Jesus, tracing his lineage through King David to Abraham. In the chapter to follow, Matthew tells of the visit from the Magi, the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, and Herod’s massacre of the infants in Bethlehem. (The other stories which we associate with Christmas, the Annunciation, the Visitation, the angel and the shepherds, are found in the Gospel of Luke).

We must not gloss over too quickly the difficult circumstances described in today’s Gospel. The way that Joseph and Mary face these circumstances tells us much about these holy people and their faith in God. Joseph and Mary are betrothed to be married. This is sometimes described as an engagement period, but it is more than that. Betrothal in first century Jewish culture was in fact the first part of the marriage contract. A breach of this contract was considered adultery. Mary is found to be with child. If adultery is proven, the punishment might be death. Joseph has rights under Mosaic law, but chooses to act discreetly in his plans to break the marriage contract, so as to protect Mary. Then God intervenes.

The message of the angel of the Lord given to Joseph in his dream tells us much about the child that Mary bears and his role in God’s plan. He is conceived by the Holy Spirit. His name will be Jesus, which in the Hebrew means “Yahweh saves.” He will be the fulfillment of the prophecy heard in today’s first reading from Isaiah: “. . . The virgin shall be with child . . . and shall name him Emmanuel [God with us].”

Joseph does as the angel of the Lord directs. He takes Mary to be his wife and accepts the child in her womb as his own. Joseph and Mary are both cooperative with God’s plan. They are both models for us of what it means to be faithful servants of God.

Family Connection

Joseph and Mary are our models for family life and for service of God. Even when the circumstances seemed unclear, Joseph trusted God. Healthy family life is built upon trust, trust in God and trust of one another.

Spend some time talking as a family about the importance of trust in your family life, including the ways in which the children trust the adults in the family as well as the ways in which the adults trust the children. Then read today’s Gospel. Talk about Joseph’s trust of God and reflect together on how your family trusts in God.

Pray together that your family life will be built on trust, as was the family life of Joseph and Mary. Pray and sing together an Advent song, such as “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings