Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Cycle A April 5, 2020

Gospel at the Procession with Palms
Matthew 21:1-11
Jesus enters Jerusalem as the crowd waves palm branches and shouts, “Hosanna!”

First Reading
Isaiah 50:4-7
The Lord’s Servant will stand firm, even when persecuted.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 22:8-9,17-20,23-24
A cry for help to the Lord in the face of evildoers.

Second Reading
Philippians 2:6-11
Christ was obedient even to death, and God has exalted him.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 26:14—27:66
Jesus is crucified, and his body is placed in the tomb. (shorter form: Matthew 27:11-54)

Gospel MT 26:14 – 27:66  OR 27:11-54

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity
to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
the disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Where do you want us to prepare
for you to eat the Passover?”
He said,
“Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,
‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near;
in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”’”
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,
and prepared the Passover.

When it was evening,
he reclined at table with the Twelve.
And while they were eating, he said,
“Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
Deeply distressed at this,
they began to say to him one after another,
“Surely it is not I, Lord?”
He said in reply,
“He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me
is the one who will betray me.
The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”
Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply,
“Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”
He answered, “You have said so.”

While they were eating,
Jesus took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and giving it to his disciples said,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink from it, all of you,
for this is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed on behalf of many
for the forgiveness of sins.
I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine
until the day when I drink it with you new
in the kingdom of my Father.”
Then, after singing a hymn,
they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus said to them,
“This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken,
for it is written:
I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed;

but after I have been raised up,
I shall go before you to Galilee.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Though all may have their faith in you shaken,
mine will never be.”
Jesus said to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
this very night before the cock crows,
you will deny me three times.”
Peter said to him,
“Even though I should have to die with you,
I will not deny you.”
And all the disciples spoke likewise.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane,
and he said to his disciples,
“Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee,
and began to feel sorrow and distress.
Then he said to them,
“My soul is sorrowful even to death.
Remain here and keep watch with me.”
He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying,
“My Father, if it is possible,
let this cup pass from me;
yet, not as I will, but as you will.”
When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep.
He said to Peter,
“So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?
Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again,
“My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass
without my drinking it, your will be done!”
Then he returned once more and found them asleep,
for they could not keep their eyes open.
He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time,
saying the same thing again.
Then he returned to his disciples and said to them,
“Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?
Behold, the hour is at hand
when the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners.
Get up, let us go.
Look, my betrayer is at hand.”

While he was still speaking,
Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived,
accompanied by a large crowd, with swords and clubs,
who had come from the chief priests and the elders
of the people.
His betrayer had arranged a sign with them, saying,
“The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him.”
Immediately he went over to Jesus and said,
“Hail, Rabbi!” and he kissed him.
Jesus answered him,
“Friend, do what you have come for.”
Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.
And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus
put his hand to his sword, drew it,
and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear.
Then Jesus said to him,
“Put your sword back into its sheath,
for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father
and he will not provide me at this moment
with more than twelve legions of angels?
But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled
which say that it must come to pass in this way?”
At that hour Jesus said to the crowds,
“Have you come out as against a robber,
with swords and clubs to seize me?
Day after day I sat teaching in the temple area,
yet you did not arrest me.
But all this has come to pass
that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled.”
Then all the disciples left him and fled.

Those who had arrested Jesus led him away
to Caiaphas the high priest,
where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
Peter was following him at a distance
as far as the high priest’s courtyard,
and going inside he sat down with the servants
to see the outcome.
The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin
kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus
in order to put him to death,
but they found none,
though many false witnesses came forward.
Finally two came forward who stated,
“This man said, ‘I can destroy the temple of God
and within three days rebuild it.’”
The high priest rose and addressed him,
“Have you no answer?
What are these men testifying against you?”
But Jesus was silent.
Then the high priest said to him,
“I order you to tell us under oath before the living God
whether you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“You have said so.
But I tell you:
From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power’
and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven.’”
Then the high priest tore his robes and said,
“He has blasphemed!
What further need have we of witnesses?
You have now heard the blasphemy;
what is your opinion?”
They said in reply,
“He deserves to die!”
Then they spat in his face and struck him,
while some slapped him, saying,
“Prophesy for us, Christ: who is it that struck you?”
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard.
One of the maids came over to him and said,
“You too were with Jesus the Galilean.”
But he denied it in front of everyone, saying,
“I do not know what you are talking about!”
As he went out to the gate, another girl saw him
and said to those who were there,
“This man was with Jesus the Nazorean.”
Again he denied it with an oath,
“I do not know the man!”
A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter,
“Surely you too are one of them;
even your speech gives you away.”
At that he began to curse and to swear,
“I do not know the man.”
And immediately a cock crowed.
Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken:
“Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.”
He went out and began to weep bitterly.

When it was morning,
all the chief priests and the elders of the people
took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.
They bound him, led him away,
and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned,
deeply regretted what he had done.
He returned the thirty pieces of silver
to the chief priests and elders, saying,
“I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.”
They said,
“What is that to us?
Look to it yourself.”
Flinging the money into the temple,
he departed and went off and hanged himself.
The chief priests gathered up the money, but said,
“It is not lawful to deposit this in the temple treasury,
for it is the price of blood.”
After consultation, they used it to buy the potter’s field
as a burial place for foreigners.
That is why that field even today is called the Field of Blood.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah
the prophet,
And they took the thirty pieces of silver,
the value of a man with a price on his head,
a price set by some of the Israelites,
and they paid it out for the potter’s field
just as the Lord had commanded me.

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and he questioned him,
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus said, “You say so.”
And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders,
he made no answer.
Then Pilate said to him,
“Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?”
But he did not answer him one word,
so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now on the occasion of the feast
the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd
one prisoner whom they wished.
And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.
So when they had assembled, Pilate said to them,
“Which one do you want me to release to you,
Barabbas, or Jesus called Christ?”
For he knew that it was out of envy
that they had handed him over.
While he was still seated on the bench,
his wife sent him a message,
“Have nothing to do with that righteous man.
I suffered much in a dream today because of him.”
The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds
to ask for Barabbas but to destroy Jesus.
The governor said to them in reply,
“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”
They answered, ABarabbas!”
Pilate said to them,
“Then what shall I do with Jesus called Christ?”
They all said,
“Let him be crucified!”
But he said,
“Why? What evil has he done?”
They only shouted the louder,
“Let him be crucified!”
When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all,
but that a riot was breaking out instead,
he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd,
saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.
Look to it yourselves.”
And the whole people said in reply,
“His blood be upon us and upon our children.”
Then he released Barabbas to them,
but after he had Jesus scourged,
he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium
and gathered the whole cohort around him.
They stripped off his clothes
and threw a scarlet military cloak about him.
Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head,
and a reed in his right hand.
And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying,
“Hail, King of the Jews!”
They spat upon him and took the reed
and kept striking him on the head.
And when they had mocked him,
they stripped him of the cloak,
dressed him in his own clothes,
and led him off to crucify him.

As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon;
this man they pressed into service
to carry his cross.

And when they came to a place called Golgotha
—which means Place of the Skull —,
they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall.
But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink.
After they had crucified him,
they divided his garments by casting lots;
then they sat down and kept watch over him there.
And they placed over his head the written charge against him:
This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.
Two revolutionaries were crucified with him,
one on his right and the other on his left.
Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying,
“You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days,
save yourself, if you are the Son of God,
and come down from the cross!”
Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said,
“He saved others; he cannot save himself.
So he is the king of Israel!
Let him come down from the cross now,
and we will believe in him.
He trusted in God;
let him deliver him now if he wants him.
For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”
The revolutionaries who were crucified with him
also kept abusing him in the same way.

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land
until three in the afternoon.
And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”
which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Some of the bystanders who heard it said,
“This one is calling for Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge;
he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed,
gave it to him to drink.
But the rest said,
“Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.”
But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice,
and gave up his spirit.

And behold, the veil of the sanctuary
was torn in two from top to bottom.
The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened,
and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.
And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection,
they entered the holy city and appeared to many.
The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus
feared greatly when they saw the earthquake
and all that was happening, and they said,
“ATruly, this was the Son of God!”
There were many women there, looking on from a distance,
who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him.
Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph,
and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When it was evening,
there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph,
who was himself a disciple of Jesus.
He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus;
then Pilate ordered it to be handed over.
Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen
and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock.
Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb
and departed.
But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
remained sitting there, facing the tomb.

The next day, the one following the day of preparation,
the chief priests and the Pharisees
gathered before Pilate and said,
“Sir, we remember that this impostor while still alive said,
‘After three days I will be raised up.’
Give orders, then, that the grave be secured until the third day,
lest his disciples come and steal him and say to the people,
‘He has been raised from the dead.’
This last imposture would be worse than the first.”
Pilate said to them,
“The guard is yours;
go, secure it as best you can.”
So they went and secured the tomb
by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard.

Background on the Gospel Reading

Today we begin Holy Week, the days during which we journey with Jesus on his way of the cross and anticipate his Resurrection on Easter. Today’s liturgy begins with the procession with palms to remind us of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem.

The events of Jesus’ Passion are proclaimed in their entirety in today’s Liturgy of the Word. Those events will be proclaimed again when we celebrate the liturgies of the Triduum—Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, and the Easter Vigil. In communities that celebrate the Sacraments of Initiation with catechumens, these liturgies take on special importance because they invite the catechumens and the community to enter together into the central mysteries of our faith. These days are indeed profound and holy.

In Cycle A, we read the Passion of Jesus as found in the Gospel of Matthew on Palm, or Passion, Sunday. (On Good Friday, we will read the Passion of Jesus from the Gospel of John). The story of Jesus’ Passion and death in Matthew’s Gospel focuses particularly on the obedience of Jesus to the will of his Father. As Jesus sends his disciples to prepare for Passover, he indicates that the events to come are the will of the Father (Matthew 26:18). In Jesus’ prayer in the garden, he prays three times to the Father to take away the cup of suffering, but each time, Jesus concludes by affirming his obedience to the Father’s will (Matthew 26:39-44). Even Matthew’s description of Jesus’ death shows Jesus’ obedience to the Father.

Another theme of Matthew’s Gospel is to show Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture. Throughout the Passion narrative, Matthew cites and alludes to Scripture to show that the events of Jesus’ Passion and death are in accordance with all that was foretold. And if the events were foretold, then God is in control. In addition, Matthew is particularly concerned that the reader does not miss the fact that Jesus is the Suffering Servant of the Old Testament.

Jesus acts in obedience to the Father even in death, so that sins may be forgiven. Matthew makes this clear in the story of the Lord’s Supper. As Jesus blesses the chalice, he says: “. . . for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)

While the Gospels of Matthew and Mark have many parallels in their narrative of the Passion, there are a few details worth noting that are unique to Matthew. Only Matthew indicates the price paid to Judas for betraying Jesus. The story of Judas’s death is also found only in Matthew, as is the detail that Pilate’s wife received a warning in a dream and that Pilate washed his hands of Jesus’ death. Finally, Matthew’s Gospel alone mentions the earthquakes and other phenomena that happened after Jesus’ death.

Matthew places the responsibility for Jesus’ death on the Sanhedrin, the chief priests and elders who were responsible for the Temple. However, the animosity that those Jewish leaders and the Jewish people demonstrate toward Jesus is not to be interpreted in ways that blame the Jewish people for Jesus’ death. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, the narrative reflects the tension that probably existed between the early Christian community and their Jewish contemporaries. At the Second Vatican Council, the Council Fathers made clear that all sinners share responsibility for the suffering and death of Jesus and that it is wrong to place blame for Jesus’ Passion on the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus or on Jewish people today.

There are many vantage points from which to engage in Jesus’ Passion. In the characters of Matthew’s Gospel, we find reflections of ourselves and the many ways in which we sometimes respond to Jesus. Sometimes we are like Judas, who betrays Jesus and comes to regret it. We are sometimes like Peter, who denies him, or like the disciples, who fell asleep during Jesus’ darkest hour but then act rashly and violently at his arrest. Sometimes we are like Simon, who is pressed into service to help Jesus carry his cross. Sometimes we are like the leaders who fear Jesus or like Pontius Pilate, who washed his hands of the whole affair. Jesus dies so that our sins will be forgiven.

The events of Jesus’ Passion, death, and Resurrection are called the Paschal Mystery. No amount of study will exhaust or explain the depth of love that Jesus showed in offering this sacrifice for us. After we have examined and studied the stories we have received about these events, we are left with one final task—to meditate on these events and on the forgiveness that Jesus’ obedience won for us.

Family Connection

Palm, or Passion, Sunday begins the most sacred week of the Church year—Holy Week. During these days, we prepare ourselves for Easter by prayerful reflection upon the events of Jesus’ Passion and death. You might display a crucifix in a prominent place this week, as reminder of the salvation Christ won for us. The crucifix can also be the focal point for family prayer during Holy Week.

Because of the length and complexity of the Passion narrative, young children have difficulty remaining attentive when it is proclaimed in its entirety. Families can choose to read a portion of this Sunday’s Gospel each day of Holy Week, providing ample opportunity for children to ask questions and respond to the events described there. In this way, the entire week can become a “way of the cross.”

Each day during Holy Week, the family can gather in a prayerful space with a crucifix as the focal point. The Passion as found in Matthew’s Gospel might be read as follows throughout the week:

Sunday: Matthew 21:1-11 (Gospel at the Procession with Palms)
Monday: Matthew 26:14-25
Tuesday: Matthew 26:26-35
Wednesday: Matthew 26:36-56
Thursday: Matthew 26:57—27:14
Friday: Matthew 27:15-54

After reading from the Gospel each night, the family might reflect on the reading together. Conclude your prayer time together by praying the Lord’s Prayer and/or singing an appropriate hymn, such as “Jesus, Jesus,” “Were You There?” or “What Wondrous Love Is This.”

Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings 

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

Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A February 16, 2020 

First Reading
Sirach 15:15–20

The eyes of God see all he has made. 

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 119:1–2,4–5, 17–18,33–34

Happy are those who walk in the way of the Lord.

Second Reading
1 Corinthians 2:6–10

God has revealed this wisdom to us through the Spirit.

Gospel Reading  Matthew 5:17–37

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment;
and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin;
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’
will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said,
You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
If your right eye causes you to sin,
tear it out and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.
And if your right hand causes you to sin,
cut it off and throw it away.
It is better for you to lose one of your members
than to have your whole body go into Gehenna.

“It was also said,
Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.
But I say to you,
whoever divorces his wife –  unless the marriage is unlawful –
causes her to commit adultery,
and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.
But I say to you, do not swear at all;
not by heaven, for it is God’s throne;
nor by the earth, for it is his footstool;
nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.
Do not swear by your head,
for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”

or

Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses
that of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you,
whoever is angry with brother
will be liable to judgment.

“You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery.
But I say to you,
everyone who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

“Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
Do not take a false oath,
but make good to the Lord all that you vow.

But I say to you, do not swear at all.
Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’
Anything more is from the evil one.”

Background on the Gospel Reading

Matthew continues the Sermon on the Mount with a three part instruction by Jesus on the Way of Life in the kingdom of heaven. Today’s reading is part one and deals with the Law. Part two deals with worship and religious practice and contains the Lord’s Prayer. Part three deals with trusting God and deeds of loving service to our neighbor.

When Matthew speaks of “the Law and the prophets” he means the whole Scripture. When the Messiah brings the fullness of the kingdom none of scripture will be done away with. Instead it will be fulfilled. Matthew’s Jesus does not overturn the Law of Moses, nor does he set his followers free from the Law. He requires his followers to go beyond the Law by doing more than the Law requires.

The Law condemned murder. Jesus condemns anger. The Law condemned adultery. Jesus condemns even lustful looks. As Jewish Christians who had always been faithful to the Law Matthew’s community need a way to understand the difference Jesus and the kingdom he brings have made. They affirmed that God had always been at work in history through “the Law and the prophets.” But God’s work goes beyond that to be embodied by the Messiah who reveals the definitive will of God. The written scriptures and their interpretation in tradition are surpassed by Jesus whose life and teaching are the definitive revelation of the will of God.

Family Connection

Families have rules. Without rules, family life would be chaos. As a family, brainstorm a list of rules that you are all called to follow in your home in order for you all to get along together. Think about rules for play time, rules for eating, rules for how to speak to one another, rules for going out with friends, and so on. Emphasize that families follow rules as a way of showing love and respect for one another. Explain that in this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus talks about following the Law. Say: God’s Law of love can be thought of as rules that we are to follow in order to show our love and respect for one another. Read aloud this Sunday’s Gospel, Matthew 5:17–37. Talk specifically with one another about how anger is to be dealt with in your family. Conclude by praying for the grace to overcome anger and to show respect for one another as a family by following God’s Law 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

The Presentation of the Lord Sunday, February 2, 2020

First Reading
Malachi 3:1–4

The Lord you seek will come to the temple.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 24:7,8,9,10
The Lord is the king of glory.

Second Reading
Hebrews 2:14–18
Jesus became like us in order to save us.

Gospel Reading
Luke 2:22–40 (Shorter Form: Luke 2:22–32)
Simeon recognizes the infant Jesus as the promised Messiah.

Gospel LK 2:22-40 or 2:22-32

When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him;
and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,
“Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
–and you yourself a sword will pierce–
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon him.

or

When the days were completed for their purification
according to the law of Moses,
Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem
to present him to the Lord,
just as it is written in the law of the Lord,
Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,
and to offer the sacrifice of
a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,
in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord.

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon.
This man was righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit was upon him.
It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit
that he should not see death
before he had seen the Christ of the Lord.
He came in the Spirit into the temple;
and when the parents brought in the child Jesus
to perform the custom of the law in regard to him,
he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:

“Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel.”

Background on the Gospel

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the temple. The Presentation, which is celebrated 40 days after Christmas, is not mentioned in the other Gospels. Only Luke tells the story, most likely because he writes for Gentile Christians who are not familiar with the Jewish rite of presentation and purification. In addition, the intent of Luke’s Gospel is to show that God’s promise to Israel, fulfilled in Jesus, extends to Gentiles.

Luke recognizes Joseph and Mary as faithful Jews who bring Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. Here they present their firstborn son to the Lord. Jesus is thus consecrated as required by the Law of Moses. Present in the temple at this time are Simeon and Anna. Both are awaiting the restoration of God’s rule in Israel.

Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would see Christ the Lord, the Messiah, before he died. The holy man immediately recognized the infant Jesus as the promised Savior, a “light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” Anna also recognized Jesus as the fulfillment of the promise of redemption and spoke about him to all.

Family Connection

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. Discuss with the family the persons of Simeon and Anna as they meet Jesus. (Luke 2: 25–40)

Because Simeon and Anna lived lives of prayer and fasting in the Temple, they were filled with the Spirit of God. That is why they were able to identify Jesus as the Savior even though Jesus was only a baby. To these two holy people, he was recognizable as the Redeemer who had been promised. Simeon described Jesus as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”

We too are called to recognize Jesus as Lord. Together as a family discuss ways to recognize Jesus as Lord by praying and attending Mass, fasting, and serving others. As a family, decide on one specific sacrifice you can make in order to alleviate the suffering or need of someone you know.

Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings

Third Sunday of January – January 19, 2020

Feast of Sto. Niño

First Reading
Isaiah 9:1-6
The Lord will grant peace and rejoicing to his people through the child who shall be called Prince of Peace.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 97:1-6
The Lord is King, let the many isles be glad.

Second Reading
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-18
God loves us and has made us his adopted children in Christ.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 18:1-5, 10
Whoever welcomes a child in his name, welcomes him.

Gospel MT 18:1-5, 10
The disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?”
He called a child over, placed it in their midst, and said,
“Amen, I say to you,
unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the Kingdom of heaven.
Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me. 

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Reflection (from a recorded Homily of His Eminence Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle)
The Church in the Philippines has a special permission to reserve one Sunday just to celebrate the child Jesus—the Santo Niño. The readings give us an opportunity to get to know Jesus as a child. By getting to know Jesus as a child hopefully we will also get to know ourselves better as children. Hopefully too, we’ll get to know a little better what Jesus meant when he made being a child condition for entering the kingdom of heaven, and also a condition for being great in the kingdom of heaven.

In the gospel, Jesus says if any one wants to enter the kingdom of heaven, he needs to be humble, like a little child. Using that expression of Jesus, we learn that being a child means being humble. Being a child doesn’t mean belonging to a certain age bracket, it means being humble. Who is the humble one? Who is the child? The humble one, the child, is someone who recognizes that he or she is in need of others. The humble one knows one’s incompleteness, one’s neediness. The humble one has shed off all pretensions of self-reliance, of self-sufficiency. The child in the eyes of Jesus is someone who does not get embarrassed, who does not get insulted to say with joy, with conviction, “I cannot complete myself. I need to rely; I need to depend on someone greater than I. I need to depend on others in order to be made whole.” That is humility. That is being a child. We see this exemplified in Jesus himself. Jesus’ being a child did not end with his so-called finding in the temple, as if he then led his hidden life, then grew up and lost his being a child. If being a child means belonging to a particular age bracket, then the childhood of Jesus ended.

But when we look at a child, being a child from the perspective of humility, the way Jesus does in the gospel today, then we can say Jesus was a child, is a child even up to now. Childhood, for Jesus is a perpetual state. It is his identity. He is son. And as son, especially in the Gospel of John, we see him totally dependent on the Father. He would even say, “I do only what I see the Father doing. I do not do anything of my own accord.” Every moment of his life, he enjoyed being dependent on God. That is being a child. Even in the poignant scene of the Agony in the Garden, Jesus was still a child. He had no one to run to. He expressed his needs to his friends. He was in need of comfort. Imagine the Son of God going to Peter, John, and James, literally begging them to spend time with him. He was in need and he was not embarrassed to accept that he was a child in need. He needed friends, he needed other people, more so, he needed the Father. At the end of his life on the cross he breathed his last by saying, “into your hands, Father, I commend my spirit.” That is humility.

Now we understand why being a child, being a humble, is a prerequisite for entering the Kingdom of heaven. For why will you desire to enter heaven if you don’t need God? Heaven will be the farthest thing from your mind. Why will I Need to go to the Father if I don’t need the Father? The greatness of the children in the kingdom of God is precisely because they need God. They are great because they have a great need for God, and they realize that God, through other people, through creation, completes them. These children are meant for the kingdom and they are great citizens of the kingdom of God because they are the ones who really need God. Jesus is the child, and that’s why he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. It is significant that the Santo Niño, the holy child, is always depicted as a king—robed like a king, with a crown, and very often with a globe. The one who will rule the world in the kingdom of heaven is a child, and he even declares that those who are children like him, in humility, in dependence on God, will be great as well in the kingdom of heaven.

Every age of humanity has its illusions—its favorite illusions. One of the illusions of our age is the illusion of being self-reliant, self-made. We even give awards to men and women who have proven their worth by being self-reliant. Dependence is not considered a virtue in our contemporary age. I used to sing the song “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world,” but I guess it is no longer sung these days. People who need people these days are not the luckiest people. They are scorned, they are considered as irritants, etc.

Part of the significance of the feast of the Santo Niño is for us to recover this important part of the life of Jesus: for us to be at home in our incompleteness, to even rejoice that we are incomplete. Because of our incompleteness we have a complete need for God—who will work through creation, who will care for us through nature, who will care for us through other people. By being a child, and being at peace in being a child once more, we can shed off all illusions all pretensions, all pride and find peace in others, peace in God—whom we all need.

Let me now go to a second point. In the gospel Jesus also says that whoever welcomes a child in his name, welcomes him. He also adds, “let no one despise these little ones, these children.” Whoever despises one of these little ones who depend on God, “Beware!” Jesus says. Their angels, their guardians, will see what you have done to them and will surely protect them. After all, they depend on God’s protection. This is reminiscent of what Jesus himself said in Matthew 25—the famous last judgment scene where Jesus tells the people, “whatever you do, or fail to do to the least of your brothers and sisters, you did it or you failed to do it to me.” There is this identification that Jesus makes with the least, with the humble, the hungry, the thirsty, the poor, the prisoners, the sick. These are all people who need other people, and these are people who need God’s protection. They need God to rule in their lives. And Jesus identifies himself with them.

The feast of the Santo Niño does not only enable us to understand Jesus more as a child. It also helps us to develop the spirit of communion and solidarity with other “children.” And by being in solidarity with other “children”—the humble ones of God—we will be in deeper communion with Jesus Christ. I know it is not easy to welcome the needy and the beggars. When people come begging, parang ang sarap pagtabuyan kasi nasa isip natin, “Naku pag binigyan ko to mababawasan pa yung nasa akin.” Every beggar is perceived as a subtraction of what I possess. When needy people come to us, we get irritated. Lalo na yung, pabalikbalik na dumarating, nagpapahayag ng kanilang mga pangangailangan. Yan man ay pang pinansyal, yan man ay pangkabuhayan, yan man ay problema, Minsan ang sarap sarap sabihin sa kanila, “pwede ba ha, ayusin nyo na yan, tumayo na kayo sa sarili nyo ha. Huwag nyo na ‘kong puntahan.”

It is not always easy to welcome needy people. It’s also not easy to welcome children—the real children. In society, many children are seen as burdens of their families. So they’re put to work right away, so that they can be productive, so that they can be independent! Children, whose very nature is to be dependent, are being deprived of this wonderful stage of their lives where they can rely on the care, the concern that other people could give and that would develop their trust. But nowadays, no!Kailangan madaliin na sila’y makatayo sa sariling paa, sila ay makatrabaho na. At sa halip na sila ang umasa, ang nangyayari ngayon, iba pang mga magulang ang umaasa sa kanilang mga anak. We have seen cases of children who are abused that way—children who are put to work either as beggars, or parts of syndicates who will sell wares or be pickpockets. Why? They need to sustain the vices of their parents. Para may pang-inom si tatay, kailangan magtrabaho ang bata, para may pang-bingo si nanay, kailangan magtrabaho ang bata.

It is not always easy to welcome such children. Instead of solidarity, the tendency is to shut –off our eyes and we don’t welcome them. When we don’t welcome them, we are one step closer to despising and rejecting them. But Jesus makes it very clear that when you despise the humble ones of the world, when you reject them, when you don’t welcome them, you don’t welcome him too. You don’t welcome Jesus. This feast is also an invitation for us to be welcoming.

Let me make a proposal. For us to be more welcoming towards the humble ones of the world, we can set our minds to this thought: when we welcome those who are in need, we are actually welcoming, not only Jesus, but ourselves. One way to discover our true selves is by welcoming those who are in need, because the face of every person in need is my own face. I am also in need. They are not the only ones in need. When a beggar comes to you, don’t think yourself as the wealthy one who can share. With that beggar, you are also a beggar. If I can only see myself in the face of every beggar, I will not reject anyone—unless I’m willing to reject myself. In every child that is abused, if I can see my face also in need of caring and not abuse, then maybe I would be more caring, more welcoming, because I see myself in every child.

This feast of the Santo Niño is a powerful feast, for us all to be children, building a community, a solidarity, a communion in common neediness, in common dependence on God. A communion incomplete, being poor—being beggars. This celebration of the Santo Niño—at a time when our world seems to be treading through uncertain moments, uncertain times and the future looks bleak—is the time for us to be children once again, like Jesus. To be children unto one another and to be children together. Let us enjoy the company of our fellow children cared for by our loving Father, with Jesus to guide us. Let this feast of the Santo Niño be a renewal not only in getting to know Jesus, but getting to know ourselves and renewing our solidarity with other children and the humble ones of God.

Source: http://www.msp.org.ph/homilies.do?id=16662

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Cycle A Sunday, January 12, 2020

First Reading
Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7
The servant of the Lord shall bring justice to all.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 29:1-2,3-4,9-10
The Lord will give peace to the people.

Second Reading
Acts of the Apostles 10:34-38
God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit.

Gospel Reading
Matthew 3:13-17
The Spirit of God comes upon Jesus as he is baptized by John.

Gospel MT 3:13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan
to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying,
“I need to be baptized by you,
and yet you are coming to me?”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfill all righteousness.”
Then he allowed him.
After Jesus was baptized,
he came up from the water and behold,
the heavens were opened for him,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and coming upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Background on the Gospel Reading

The baptism of Jesus is attested to in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The account that appears in Matthew is the only one to include the dialogue between Jesus and John, however. Another difference in Matthew’s presentation of this event is the announcement made by the voice from heaven, which says, “This is my beloved son . . .” In Mark and Luke, this voice addresses itself to Jesus: “You are my beloved son . . .”

The baptisms that John performs prefigure Christian Baptism. John baptizes for repentance from sin. In accepting this baptism, Jesus unites himself with all sinners even though he is sinless. In Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist distinguishes his practice of baptism from the Baptism that the Messiah brings: “I am baptizing you with water . . . He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).

The baptism of Jesus is another manifestation of Christ, another epiphany. Christ’s baptism inaugurates his mission. In an analogous way, our Baptism inaugurates our mission as Christians.

This Sunday marks a transition from the Christmas season to Ordinary Time. In a way, today’s feast is the high point of the Christmas season. Before Jesus’ birth, angels announced to Mary and to Joseph who Jesus would be. At his birth, the shepherds and the Magi recognize Jesus as the Messiah. At his baptism, Jesus accepts that he is God’s son and inaugurates that mission.

Family Connection

At Jesus’ baptism, God affirms his Son’s mission for salvation. God announces his pleasure with Jesus and, in Matthew’s Gospel, announces to all that, “This is my beloved Son” (Matthew 3:17). With this affirmation, Jesus is able to resist the temptations described next in Matthew’s Gospel and to begin his public ministry. As family members, we can support one another in our Christian living by affirming the importance of each person in our eyes and in God’s. Confident that through our Baptism we too were made children of God, we can resist temptation and share in Christ’s mission.

Gather as a family to read today’s Gospel, Matthew 3:13-17. Recall that God’s message about Jesus was meant for us, “This is my beloved Son.” It was also an affirmation for Jesus about his role in God’s plan.

Place each family member’s name on a slip of paper and put the names in a bowl. Invite each person in the family to choose another family member’s name and to prepare a message for that person, affirming their importance in God’s eyes and in your family life. Pray together that your family will continue to support one another in your baptismal promises to be disciples of Jesus and then invite each person to read aloud the message they prepared. Conclude by praying together the Lord’s Prayer.

Sources: Loyola Press; Sunday Readings

Epiphany of the Lord Sunday, January 5, 2020

First Reading
Isaiah 60:1-6
Jerusalem shall be a light to all nations.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 72:1-2,7-8,10-11,12-13
Every nation on earth shall worship the Lord.

Second Reading
Ephesians 3:2-3a,5-6
Gentiles are coheirs in the promise of Christ.

Gospel Reading          
Matthew 2:1-12
The Magi seek out Jesus and do him homage.

Gospel MT 2:1-12

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,
in the days of King Herod,
behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,
“Where is the newborn king of the Jews?
We saw his star at its rising
and have come to do him homage.”
When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled,
and all Jerusalem with him.
Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people,
He inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea,
for thus it has been written through the prophet:
And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel.

Then Herod called the magi secretly
and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.
He sent them to Bethlehem and said,
“Go and search diligently for the child.
When you have found him, bring me word,
that I too may go and do him homage.”
After their audience with the king they set out.
And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them,
until it came and stopped over the place where the child was.
They were overjoyed at seeing the star,
and on entering the house
they saw the child with Mary his mother.
They prostrated themselves and did him homage.
Then they opened their treasures
and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod,
they departed for their country by another way.

Background on the Gospel Reading

The visit of the Magi occurs directly before the story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt. Matthew’s Gospel tells a version of Jesus’ birth that is different than the one in Luke. Of the actual birth of Jesus, Matthew tells us little more than, “When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod  ” The story of the census is found only in Luke’s Gospel, but we hear about the visit of the Magi only in Matthew’s Gospel.

We know little about the Magi. They come from the East and journey to Bethlehem, following an astrological sign, so we believe them to be astrologers. We assume that there were three Magi based upon the naming of their three gifts. The Gospel does not say how many Magi paid homage to Jesus. In Matthew’s Gospel, they represent the Gentiles’ search for a savior. Because the Magi represent the entire world, they also represent our search for Jesus.

We have come to consider the gifts they bring as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ role in salvation. We believe the meaning of the gifts to be Christological. Gold is presented as representative of Jesus’ kingship. Frankincense is a symbol of his divinity because priests burned the substance in the Temple. Myrrh, which was used to prepare the dead for burial, is offered in anticipation of Jesus’ death.

The word Epiphany means “manifestation” or “showing forth.” Historically several moments in Christ’s early life and ministry have been celebrated as “epiphanies,” including his birth in Bethlehem, the visit of the Magi, his baptism by John, and his first miracle at Cana.

Family Connection

The tradition of giving gifts at Christmas is thought by some to be rooted in the gift giving of the Magi. In many cultures, gifts are not exchanged at Christmas, but rather on the feast of the Epiphany. Whenever you exchange your Christmas gifts, take some time to reflect on this tradition of gift giving at Christmas. Think of the best gift you have received. What was it? What made it special? Was it the gift itself, the thought that went into it, or the person who gave it to you?

Read today’s Gospel, Matthew 2:1-12. The gifts of the Magi—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—have come to be understood as symbols of Christ’s royalty, divinity, and eventual suffering and death. They are special because in giving them, the Magi acknowledge who Jesus was to be: our Savior. We pray that we will acknowledge Jesus as Savior in all that we do and say. Conclude by singing together “We Three Kings.”

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