Sixth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A May 17, 2020

First Reading
Acts of the Apostles 8:5-8,14-17
The people of Samaria accept the Gospel of Jesus proclaimed to them by Philip.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 66:1-7,16,20
Sing praise to God, all the earth.

Second Reading
1 Peter 3:15-18
Be ready to give explanation for your hope in Christ.

Gospel Reading
John 14:15-21
Jesus promises his disciples that he will send them another advocate, the Spirit of truth.

Gospel JN 14:15-21

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
And I will ask the Father,
and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always,
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept,
because it neither sees nor knows him.

But you know him, because he remains with you,
and will be in you.
I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.

On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.
Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.” 

Background on the Gospel Reading

Today’s Gospel is a continuation of last week’s Gospel: Jesus is speaking to his disciples at the Last Supper. In today’s reading Jesus offers encouragement to his disciples, who will soon see him crucified. He reassures them that even though he will leave them, he will not abandon them. Instead he will send them the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, through whom the disciples will continue to live in union with Jesus.

Jesus uses the term Advocate to describe the Holy Spirit, whom the disciples will receive. Another word used to describe the Holy Spirit is Paraclete, a legal term meaning “one who offers defense for another.” Note that Jesus says that he will send “another Advocate.” Jesus himself is the first advocate, interceding for his disciples with the Father.

In today’s reading Jesus contrasts his impending departure with the permanence of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus will leave to return to the Father, but the Holy Spirit will remain with the disciples.

Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the disciples will come to know and appreciate the unity of the Son and the Father. They will also understand that they too participate in the communion between the Father and the Son: “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you” (John 14:20).

Today’s reading is one example of the contrast that John’s Gospel presents between the community of disciples, to whom God will reveal himself, and the unbelieving world, which will remain in darkness. The unbelieving world cannot accept the “Spirit of truth,” whom the disciples will receive. Only through the Spirit will God’s revelation and love be known.

Family Connection

The mystery of the Trinity can be difficult for us to grasp. Today’s Gospel invites us to consider how the three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— work together so that God’s salvation is made known to us. Jesus’ mission is continued through the activity of the Holy Spirit in the lives of his disciples. We have received this same Spirit through our Baptisms. The Spirit, living and working within us, reveals the mystery of God’s love for us. Just as the first disciples were not left orphaned, we are not orphaned; we remain in God’s embrace through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Gather your family and invite each family member to say what he or she knows about the Holy Spirit. Read aloud today’s Gospel, John 14:15-21. What does Jesus say the Holy Spirit will do for the disciples? Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we come to share in the love of God made known to us in Jesus. Pray together, thanking God for this gift of the Holy Spirit by praying the Prayer to the Holy Spirit.

Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A May 3, 2020

First Reading
Acts of the Apostles 2:14a,36-41
Peter and the other apostles baptize 3,000 people.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 23:1-6
The Lord is my shepherd.

Second Reading
1 Peter 2:20b-25
We have been healed by the wounds of Christ.

Gospel Reading
John 10:1-10
Jesus is the gate for his sheep.

Gospel JN 10:1-10

Jesus said:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever does not enter a sheepfold through the gate
but climbs over elsewhere is a thief and a robber.
But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice,
as the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has driven out all his own,
he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him,
because they recognize his voice.
But they will not follow a stranger;
they will run away from him,
because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”
Although Jesus used this figure of speech,
the Pharisees did not realize what he was trying to tell them.

So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
I am the gate for the sheep.
All who came before me are thieves and robbers,
but the sheep did not listen to them.
I am the gate.
Whoever enters through me will be saved,
and will come in and go out and find pasture.
A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;
I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Background on the Gospel Reading

This fourth Sunday of the Easter season is sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday because in each of the three lectionary cycles, the Gospel reading invites us to reflect on Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In each cycle the reading is from the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel. This chapter sets the framework for Jesus’ teaching about himself as the Good Shepherd.

Today’s reading falls between the stories of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind and the raising of Lazarus. Both of these stories were proclaimed in the Gospels found in this year’s season of Lent. Following the controversy that ensued when Jesus healed the man born blind, Jesus directs his allegory about the sheep and the shepherd toward the Jewish religious leaders of his time, the Pharisees.

Throughout John’s Gospel the Pharisees fail to accept Jesus’ ministry and teaching. They show themselves to be “robbers and thieves” because they try to lead the sheep without entering through the gate, Jesus. Through these metaphors, Jesus is telling his listeners that those who follow him and his way will find abundant life. He identifies himself both as the shepherd and the gate. The shepherds who are faithful to him are the ones whom the sheep (Jesus’ disciples) should follow.

The relationship between the sheep and their shepherd is based on familiarity. Sheep recognize their shepherd and will not follow a stranger. At the end of the day, shepherds lead their sheep from pastures to a common gated area called a sheepfold. There, one shepherd protects all of the sheep until the next day when each shepherd returns to lead his own sheep to pasture. As shepherds move among the sheep, the sheep follow only their shepherd.

Today’s Gospel also gives us the opportunity to reflect on Christian leadership. Jesus’ words suggest to us that those who will lead the Christian community will be known by their faithfulness to Jesus. The leaders will recognize that Jesus is the gate for all of the sheep and that having a good relationship with Jesus is the primary characteristic of a Christian leader. Jesus’ allegory also suggests that faithful Christian leadership requires a good relationship with the community: the shepherd knows his sheep, and they know him. Christian leaders follow the example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, by being faithful to him and by being a good shepherd.

Family Connection

Even though we have less experience with sheep and shepherds today in our society, we can still identify strongly with the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and as the gate for the sheep. Psalm 23 remains a popular and favorite psalm for prayer. In the image of the Good Shepherd, we know ourselves to be protected and cared for by a loving God.

As your family gathers, ask what each person knows about sheep and shepherds. Recall that shepherds and sheep have a close relationship. Sheep will only follow their own shepherd; they recognize his voice and will not follow a stranger. The shepherd’s job is to protect his sheep. In some ways, the relationship between the shepherd and his sheep is like that of a parent and child. Read together this Sunday’s Gospel, John 10:1-10. Talk about how Jesus tells us that he is the gate for the sheep. The sheep enter the protection of the sheepfold through the gate. In Jesus we find protection and abundant life. Conclude by thanking Jesus for being our Good Shepherd and by praying today’s psalm, Psalm 23.

Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord April 12, 2020

First Reading
Acts of the Apostles 10:34a,37-43
Peter preaches about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 118:1-2,16-17,22-23
Rejoice in this day of the Lord.

Second Reading
Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8
Colossians: Having been raised by Christ, be concerned with what is above.
1 Corinthians: Let us celebrate this feast with new yeast.

Gospel Reading
John 20:1-9
Mary of Magdala finds that the stone has been removed from Jesus’ tomb.

Gospel JN 20:1-9

On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead. 

Background on the Gospel Reading

Today we begin the Easter Season, our 50-day meditation on the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection. Our Gospel today tells us about the disciples’ discovery of the empty tomb. It concludes by telling us that they did not yet understand that Jesus had risen from the dead. Thus, the details provided are not necessarily meant to offer proof of the Resurrection. The details invite us to reflect upon a most amazing gift, that is faith in Jesus and his Resurrection.

Each of the four Gospels tells us that Jesus’ empty tomb was first discovered by women. This is notable because in first-century Jewish society women could not serve as legal witnesses. In the case of John’s Gospel, the only woman attending the tomb is Mary of Magdala. Unlike the Synoptic accounts, John’s Gospel does not describe an appearance of angels at the tomb. Instead, Mary is simply said to have observed that the stone that had sealed the tomb had been moved, and she runs to alert Simon Peter and the beloved disciple. Her statement to them is telling. She assumes that Jesus’ body has been removed, perhaps stolen. She does not consider that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

Simon Peter and the beloved disciple race to the tomb, presumably to verify Mary’s report. The beloved disciple arrives first but does not enter the tomb until after Simon Peter. This detail paints a vivid picture, as does the detail provided about the burial cloths. Some scholars believe that the presence of the burial cloths in the tomb offers evidence to the listener that Jesus’ body had not been stolen (it is understood that grave robbers would have taken the burial cloths together with the body).

The Gospel passage concludes, however, that even having seen the empty tomb and the burial cloths, the disciples do not yet understand about the Resurrection. In the passage that follows, Mary of Magdala meets Jesus but mistakes him for the gardener. In the weeks ahead, the Gospel readings from our liturgy will show us how the disciples came to believe in Jesus’ Resurrection through his appearances to them. Our Easter faith is based on their witness to both the empty tomb and their continuing relationship with Jesus—in his appearances and in his gift of the Holy Spirit.

Family Connection

In the Easter Gospel we hear about how the disciples found the tomb empty three days after Jesus’ death. We are also told that they do not yet understand the Scriptures or that Jesus had been raised from the dead. That understanding gradually unfolded for the disciples as they began to experience the risen Lord. Similarly, our understanding of Jesus’ Resurrection unfolds for us throughout our lives. In the weeks ahead, we will hear how the first disciples moved from confusion, doubt, and skepticism to faith. Their experience can teach us how we too might receive this gift of faith from God.

Gather your family members and ask them to share what they know about the events that happened in the days after Jesus’ crucifixion. Invite your family to imagine that they are among Jesus’ first disciples. Read together today’s Gospel, John 20:1-9. Reflect together on the Gospel with questions such as these: If you had been among the first disciples who heard that the stone had been removed from Jesus’ tomb and that Jesus’ body was no longer there, what would you think? What did Mary of Magdala, Simon Peter, and the disciple whom Jesus loved think had happened? Recall that this experience is the first indication Jesus’ disciples have that he is risen. Throughout the Easter season, we will learn more about how the disciples came to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead.

Pray together using today’s psalm, Psalm 118: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”

Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings 

Third Sunday of Lent, Cycle A March 15, 2020

1st READING 

The people need water to survive a journey through the desert. What Moses probably found difficult to understand was the people’s lack of faith in God to look after them. God has freed them from slavery in Egypt and saved them from the clutches of the Egyptian army, but why do they still doubt Him?
Exodus 17:3-7

In those days, in their thirst for water, the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “Why did you ever make us leave Egypt? Was it just to have us die here of thirst with our children and our livestock?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? A little more and they will stone me!” The Lord answered Moses, “Go over there in front of the people, along with some of the elders of Israel, holding in your hand, as you go, the staff with which you struck the river. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock in Horeb. Strike the rock, and the water will flow from it for the people to drink.” This Moses did, in the presence of the elders of Israel. The place was called Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord in our midst or not?”

PSALM

Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

R: If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.

Come, let us sing joyfully to the Lord; let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation. Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalm to him. (R) Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the Lord who made us. For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides. (R) Oh, that today you would hear his voice, “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works.” (R)

2nd READING

Paul reflects upon the truth of God’s love for us and comes to the conclusion that he can entrust his life to a God who has demonstrated His love for us while we were still sinners. God does not wait for us to reform our lives before loving us. He loves us so we will be inspired to reform our lives.

Romans 5:1-2, 5-8

Brothers and sisters: Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

 GOSPEL

Jesus’ interplay with the Samaritan woman at the well instructs us of the generosity and transforming power of His love. Through a mere conversation, the woman’s life is changed. This demonstrates that God is not really interested in the various protocols of who should talk to whom and when. He is interested in men and women learning to love one another with the love of God that is capable of transforming lives.

GOSPEL ACCLAMATION

Lord, you are truly the Savior of the world; give me living water, that I may never thirst again.

John 4:5-42

Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this cistern and drank from it himself with his children and his flocks?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; 14 but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Go call your husband and come back.” 17 The woman answered and said to him, “I do not have a husband.” Jesus answered her, “You are right in saying, ‘I do not have a husband.’ 18 For you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain; but you people say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not understand; we worship what we understand, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking with you.” 27 At that moment his disciples returned, and were amazed that he was talking with a woman, but still no one said, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, 29 “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and came to him. 31 Meanwhile, the disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘In four months the harvest will be here’? I tell you, look up and see the fields ripe for the harvest. 36 The reaper is already receiving payment and gathering crops for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. 37 For here the saying is verified that ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.” 39 Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I have done.” 40 When the Samaritans came to him, they invited him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. 41 Many more began to believe in him because of his word, 42 and they said to the woman, “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.”

GOD’S THIRST 

Thirst is a very common human experience. I wonder if we still know how it feels to be really thirsty. Water is readily available nowadays. We even bring our own water bottles. But definitely, in one way or another, we have experienced that longing for something to quench and satisfy our thirst.

In the First Reading, the Israelites were just beginning their journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. They feared that they would die of thirst in the desert. It was a critical moment: would their thirst lead them to greater trust in God or to rebellion against Him? Their thirst was no longer just an issue of drinking water. Their thirst led them to quarrel with and test God who promised them a land overflowing with milk and honey. Is this not also what we often resort to? When we are tired and thirsty and weary from life’s journey, do we not also at times find ourselves testing God? We grumble before Him. We look for other things to quench our thirst.

Jesus in the Gospel was also thirsty. He asked for water from a Samaritan woman. But notice that in this episode, Jesus did not drink. So what was He thirsting for? In their conversation, we learn that Jesus was not just thirsty for water. He was thirsty for the woman’s faith. This woman who lived a rather wayward life; this woman who was tired and weary; this woman who herself was thirsty—thirsty for love, for acceptance, for true relationship.

And Jesus is thirsty for our faith—we who are tired and weary, who live a rather wayward life, who seek to satisfy our thirst with passing things. This thirst of God proves His love for us: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, even if we do not merit it.

Dear friends, we are all thirsty. Let us not harden our hearts to God who offers us Living Water. This Living Water is not something. It is Someone—Jesus Himself. May we feel that thirst for God, who in turn thirsts for us to return to Him. Fr. Victor Angelo Parlan

———- REFLECTION QUESTION ———-

When you feel like grumbling and complaining that God does not seem to care, do you ever pause to think that He thirsts for you, too?

Lord Jesus, allow me to feel that thirst for You as a sign that there is no one and nothing on earth who can quench my thirst as You do. Amen.

First Sunday of Lent, Cycle March 1, 2020

First Reading
Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Eve and Adam eat from the tree that was forbidden to them by God.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 51:3-4,5-6,12-13,17
A prayer for mercy

Second Reading
Romans 5:12-19
Through the obedience of Jesus, many will be made righteous. (shorter form: Romans 5:12,17-19)

Gospel Reading
Matthew 4:1-11
Jesus fasts for 40 days in the desert and is tempted by the devil.


Gospel MT 4:1-11

At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert
to be tempted by the devil.
He fasted for forty days and forty nights,
and afterwards he was hungry.
The tempter approached and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command that these stones become loaves of bread.”
He said in reply,
“It is written:
One does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes forth
from the mouth of God.”

Then the devil took him to the holy city,
and made him stand on the parapet of the temple,
and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.
For it is written:
He will command his angels concerning you
and with their hands they will support you,
lest you dash your foot against a stone.”

Jesus answered him,
“Again it is written,
You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.”
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain,
and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,
and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you,
if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.”
At this, Jesus said to him,
“Get away, Satan!
It is written:
The Lord, your God, shall you worship
and him alone shall you serve.”

Then the devil left him and, behold,
angels came and ministered to him.

Background on the Gospel Reading

In each of the three Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), after Jesus’ baptism by John, Jesus is reported to have gone to the desert to fast and pray for 40 days. In each case, while in the desert, Jesus is tempted by the devil.

Matthew and Luke give more detail than Mark does, but each one tells how the devil tempts Jesus in the desert. In Matthew, as in Luke, the devil presents three temptations to Jesus. The devil tempts Jesus to use his power to appease his hunger; he tempts Jesus to put God’s promise of protection to the test; and he offers Jesus all of the kingdoms of the world if Jesus will worship the devil. In each case, Jesus resists the temptation, rebuking the devil with words from Scripture.

The account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert is filled with allusions and parallels to the Old Testament, including the story of the people of Israel. The Israelites spent 40 years wandering in the desert in Exodus, for example, and Jesus spends 40 days in the desert. As the Israelites were tempted during the Exodus, so too is Jesus tempted.

Each temptation offers insight into both God and the human condition. Jesus’ rejection of the temptations shows that he will not put God to the test. Grounding himself on the word and authority of Scripture, Jesus rebukes the devil, confident in God’s protection and faithfulness.

As we start our journey through Lent, our Sunday readings call us to adopt the same confidence that Jesus had in the face of temptation: God’s word alone will suffice; God’s promise of protection can be trusted; God alone is God.

Family Connection

When Jesus resists the temptations presented to him by the devil, he draws on his religious upbringing and tradition. Jesus is able to quote from Scripture because he is the Son of God and because he was a human person who lived his Jewish beliefs fully. We who are responsible for raising children are also called upon to immerse them fully in our Catholic Christian tradition so that they too will be able to draw upon this tradition to resist the temptations they will face in their lives.

Use this Sunday as an opportunity to call your family’s attention to the importance of Scripture in our lives. Gather your family around the family Bible and read today’s Gospel, Matthew 4:1-11. Recall that Jesus rebuked the devil’s temptations by quoting Scripture. Take some time as a family to talk about the words that are found in the Bible and the importance of Scripture to our faith. Perhaps the older members of the family can share a favorite Scripture passage with everyone. Younger family members can tell their favorite story from the Bible and be shown where that story can be found. In each case, encourage a deeper sharing of faith by asking each person to tell why the Scripture passage shared is important to him or her. Conclude your time together by again reading Jesus’ reply to the devil found in Matthew 4:4 (“One does not live by bread alone . . .”) and praying the Lord’s Prayer.

Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings

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