Lectionary 483. Scripture: Philippians 1:1-11, Psalm 111:1-2,3-4,5-6. Luke 14:1-6.
St. Paul prays continually and offers us many examples of his prayers in the first chapters of his epistles. They come after the Salutation ( Greeting) and belong to what is called the Thanksgiving part of an epistle which is always after the salutation. The only time he clips this part of an epistle is in Galatians because of their wavering in their faith in the Gospel he had preached to them.
Philippians is one of the most beautiful prayers of Paul and of all of the writings in the New Testament unless one thinks of the Prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper event that we have in John’s Gospel from chapter 15-17 called the Priestly Prayer of Jesus.
Paul immediately enters into a great prayer of thanksgiving to God for the fidelity the Philippians witness. They are his most generous community of believers and his dearest one. He pours out his love for his people at Philippi because of their great love and trust in Jesus and the Gospel. Prayer is always relational; Paul appreciates his beloved ones who believe and openly expresses his deep affection and love for them. I am very appreciative of this prayer and say it from time to time when my prayer seems flat or weak in expressing my feelings. Paul is so tender in his prayer for them that I am able to get out of the doldrums of tepidity and weariness.
We know that all prayers in the Scripture are divinely inspired. In this prayer of Paul to the Philippians it jumps out of the pages and helps any one who wants to pray. There is no need to do exegesis on it or analyze it. Just pray it with Paul. It is so real that it touches us each time we pray it or even read it. Paul loved and cherished this church community in such a personal way that it amazes and edifies me each time I pray it. If you are struggling with prayer, open your New Testament to Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians and read it, then pray it as your own ( Philippians 1: 3-11).
Psalm 111 is a good follow-up after our first reading. It too is an excellent prayer of praise that is positive and appealing. It truly is a psalm of the heart coming from an inspired psalmist who listens with his heart and then composes it for the elect people of God. Hebrew has a double use of the heart in this psalm thus doubling its intensity. It warms our hearts to pray it with all our heart and soul. Try it you will like it. Amen.
Lectionary 482. Scripture. Oct.27. Ephesians 6:10-20. Psalm 144: 1.2. 9-10. Luke 13: 31-35:
We are given excellent advice from St. Paul as he concludes his epistle to the Ephesians. He says to us, “Pray in the Spirit.” Too often we forget to invoke the Holy Spirit in our prayers. Today we are reminded how important it is to pray in the Spirit. Jesus has always prayed in the Spirit and promised to send us the Holy Spirit as our advocate and helper in all of our needs. We received the Spirit at our Baptism and through our faith we have come to believe that the Spirit is the Person who is the love between the God the Father and God the Son. All three Persons were invoked as the water flowed over our head when we were immersed in body of water or sprinkled in the name of the Trinity. Water is the sign and the words are the form of the sacrament of Baptism.
Jesus was asked by the apostles to teach them how to pray. Praying with the wisdom of the Spirit he gave them and us the Lord’s Prayer (Our Father) and also showed us how to pray in the Spirit. Luke’s Gospel shows us Jesus at prayer many times. The agony in the garden is an example of Jesus at prayer and his death on the Cross is where he prays and breathes forth his Spirit upon Mary and John and the Church is born. A very effective prayer indeed! (John 19:15-28).
In one of the psalms there is the beautiful verse that praises God by saying, “Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth.”
Paul says we should pray constantly and attentively in our prayers of petition. He suggests these be many. Prayer is the heartbeat of the Church seen in the love of God for the Son through the Holy Spirit.
In rereading this passage from Ephesians, I realized that Paul is giving us a beautiful summary of his praying in the Spirit. Here are the closing words of Paul on prayer: At every opportunity pray in the Spirit, using prayers and petitions of every sort. Pray constantly and attentively for all in the holy company. Pray for me that God may put his word on my lips, that I may courageously make known the mystery of the Gospel—that mystery for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may have the courage to proclaim it as I ought….Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Lectionary 481. Scripture: Oct.26. Ephesians 6:1-9. Psalm 145: 10-11, 12-13, 13-14. Luke 13:22-30:
In meditating on the Gospels and the letters of St.Paul it is always helpful to see the different titles or names given to Jesus by the Evangelists and Paul. Paul frequently uses the following: Lord Jesus Christ. As I have often said in these meditations, he is totally Christ-centered or as the theologians are wont to say “Christocentric.” I noticed in this selection that Paul is using just the name Lord when referring to Jesus in this paragraph. Lord is also used for God (Kyrios in Greek; Yahweh or Adonai as a reverent way of saying Yahweh). We know from the context that he means Jesus when he says Lord in this pericope (Ephesians 6:1-9).
Paul adds another title for Jesus, namely, “Master” as we end our selection from Ephesians in the liturgy of the word at today’s Eucharist. Jesus was called Master by his disciples (apostles). Now this letter to the Ephesians could have been written in Paul’s name and in his tradition by one of his secretaries or by another capable Christian scribe who followed Paul’s words and thoughts. Among the scholars there is a question as to the “authentic” letters of Paul. No matter who wrote this Epistle it is part of the New Testament canon and is divinely inspired as are all the 27 writings in the New Testament. God is the one who inspires the authors to write what they do with their differences in style and vocabulary. Their names are traditionally connected with certain authors in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, and John of Patmos who is not John the Evangelist. Paul according to historical critical studies definitely did write Romans, I and II Corinthians, and Galatians and most probably Philippians and Philemon. The Pastoral Letters seem to be written in the tradition of Paul but are a decade or two after his martyrdom. As I said above this does not in any way contradict the inerrancy or divine inspiration of these writings. And we read them with the same conviction that all are the word of God. Only scholarship points out these things to help us situate the writings in the proper time frame in which they were written.
Our psalm 145 confirms what I am saying and helps you to understand what I mean. The Response from Psalm 145 is “The Lord is faithful in all his words. The Lord is holy in all his works.” (vv.13,14).
In the Gospel passage from Luke, Jesus is telling us to keep on the narrow path which leads to the realm of God. We may think we know Jesus and are on the path, but we find Jesus telling us, “I do not know you.” However, when we are on the narrow path and are following him then we can be sure he will open the door to find him waiting for us because we know we are trying to follow the narrow way and not wavering or deviating from it. We cannot deceive Jesus but we can fool or deceive ourselves into thinking we know and follow him.
The lesson is we can never rest on our laurels nor take our faith in Jesus for granted. Our faith together with love and hope needs to be strong to recognize the real Jesus while we follow him each day of our lives. We cannot quip, “Are you running with me Jesus?” It is he who “runs” ahead of us and beckons us to keep straight on the path he is taking. Luke tells us that Jesus says all sorts of people are doing this from North, East, West, and South (News) and that is good news for us who are late comers who did not have the Jesus of Nazareth living in our time but was living in the time of the apostles and disciples. We, however, have our faith in his words which are eternal and can never be destroyed. Let us follow the Gospels of Joy with faith of the heart, strength of will, and knowledge of the narrow way. Amen.
Lectionary 480. Scripture: October 25. Ephesians 5:21-33. Psalm 128: 188.8.131.52-5. Luke 13: 18-27:
My reflection turned to those who are married. St. Paul is speaking about marriage in his letter to the Ephesians and he compares it to the relationship of Jesus with the Church. He is the bridegroom and the Church the bride. I realized that the culture in which Paul wrote this is 2000 years removed from 2016 and that the inspired words about Christ and the Church are important for married couples, but the setting of what he is saying independently of his comparison is not the same as what is needed in thinking today about marriage. Fortunately, we have Vatican II and the more recent document of Pope Francis that focus on the sacrament of marriage and its role in civic life, family life, and the Church.
Pope Francis’ writing is “The Joy of Love” (Amoris Laetitia) and is a post-synodal apostolic exhortation. So, too, is the Epistle of the Ephesians! In his opening chapter, the Holy Father gives a commentary on the joy of a family in a happy marriage based on today’s Psalm. I was really happy about his doing this since it fits in with today’s scriptures in the liturgy of the Word. His writing is certainly relevant and up to date on what he is conveying to all of us who take the time to read his exhortation much of which can be read by those who are not married. They like I can profit much by reading it. The work consists of nine chapters that are directed to the those in the married state, but I found his meditation on Psalm 128 very uplifting in chapter one and he captures one of the best statements on love in the whole of the New Testament which is attributed to St. Paul In I Corinthians chapter 13. The entire chapter is meant for everyone and is especially appropriate today in the context of what is being said in Ephesians (5:21-33).
Francis makes the chapter come alive with meaning and tenderness in what he says. His interpretation is scripturally sound and very pastoral. The term exhortation for the whole of this writing fits very well with all of chapter four in his apostolic exhortation. The whole of it is addressed in the following way: To Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, Consecrated Persons, Christian Married Couples, and all the Lay Faithful on love in the Family.
I enjoy reading it because of its strong promotion of Scripture to explain the beauty of the married state as well as his excellent pastoral sensitivity to those in the sacrament of matrimony. One of my fellow brother priests used this exhortation in the homily he gave in a recent wedding. The living tradition of the Church and its Teachings also enhance the work helping all of us to understand the beauty of married love and the great challenges it faces in our cultures today. For those of us who are not married, it is an excellent treatise on love which we all need to do more of and to extend our love to so many who are not loved. It helps us pray, learn, and enjoy the spiritual reading that is necessary for sound meditating on the Scriptures, on our lives, and on our global mission to extend Jesus’ and God’s love to others without words but with lots of love. Those who are single can learn how to support married couples and appreciate their important role in today’s world and in our Church. I would suggest that all of us reread chapter 13 of St. Paul and then meditate on it through reading the following paragraphs given in numbers: 62-78. The greatest of all in life is love and it remains even in eternity. Amen.
Lectionary 150. Scripture: Sunday, Oct. 23. Sirach 35:12-14. Psalm 34: 2-3,17-18, 19. II Timothy 4:6-8,16-18. Luke 18:9-14:
How does God hear our prayers? I personally do not know. The selection from Sirach gives us a partial answer and the other Scriptures for this Sunday are helpful in seeking an answer for that question. Sirach is one of the latest books to enter the canonical scriptures even though it is not in the Hebrew canon nor in the Protestant one. We as Catholics accept seven books –some are very small into our deuterocanonical Bible, which contains books that are wisdom like and religiously oriented. They were popular but were written in the Septuagint Greek and not in Hebrew. However, some partial pieces of Sirach are known in Hebrew in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The full text however is only in Greek. Sirach is well respected by both Jewish and Protestant readers and scholars but not as canonical or divinely inspired works. (Sorry for this extra sidebar on Sirach, but I thought it necessary for us to know a little about the book).
Sirach is classified as a Wisdom book, and does deal with prayer in our passage. It is worthwhile to read it a second time (Sirach 35:12-14). Like our Psalm 34 it tells us God has no favorites and is not partial in how we pray. Our Psalm Response and its verses shows us those who pray and who have no one else to call upon except God. This is the prayer of the poor, the widows, the orphans, the people who are severely impaired and the marginal. God is always merciful, just, and kind and loving in dealing with them and also with others who are not in those categories. Sirach favors the poor of Yahweh and God does too. That is the paradox about God’s not being partial or favorable to all.
I think the words of Sirach led me into the parable of Jesus read in our liturgy today. But before getting to the Gospel I would also say that the Psalm 34 speaks of the poor of God and inclines us to “taste and see how good the Lord is.” God hears the cry of the poor.
II Timothy has a reflection from Paul coming from his stay in prison in Rome. He realizes he is near the end of his days and is also praying “that the Lord will continue to rescue me and bring me safe into the kingdom.” (II Timothy 4:18).
Luke introduces the parable of Jesus by telling us the following: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” I think this narrative introduction helps us see how God sees our prayers. It is an interpretive key to understanding the parable without losing sight of the fact that both the Pharisee and the tax collector have something to offer us about how to pray.
Prayer is a sign of how we relate to God and how God is in our lives. I compare it to the mirror that St. James speaks of in his epistle about someone who looks into the mirror and after leaving forgets how he really looks! (cf.James 1: 22-27). Our mirror stands for how we look at ourselves in relating to God. We call it prayer. If we stand by ourselves and keep looking into the mirror while recalling all the good works we have done and how we are unlike others, we are not peering deeply into our relationship with God which a polished and clear mirror showing us our true face with wrinkles and all. We are imitating what a famous comedian used as part of his TV show at late night, “Mirror, mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all.” This is one who prays with comparison and contrast. God, rather says we are made in the likeness and image of God.
We learn that Jesus is addressing those who consider themselves righteous in the sight of God. In the parable the Pharisee has done all and more than is required in the religious laws of his and Jesus’ time and for that reason he is a good man. But for really looking at himself in a mirror, the mirror of prayer, he left too soon to see how he really looked in the sight of God. The sinner and tax collector probably were well dressed and did some good, but the tax collector was praying and seeing who he really was in the sight of God. He was focused on just being there in the presence of God while staying in the back of the Temple for he was not used to being there. His head was bowed in humility for his sins. The Pharisee did not bow his head but had a good start to his prayer, “I give you thanks , O God…” but he did not look into his heart where he would have seen how his relationship really is with God. The tax collector would not look up, but kept praying, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”
Jesus says this one went home justified and God heard his prayer for he had looked into the mirror and saw who he really is and by clearing the mirror by his humble prayer he sees more clearly. He did his very best in the Temple without looking on his achievements but on his sins. He beat his breast a sign of his confessing his sins indicating contrition for them as is done today on Yom Kippur (‘al Het) in synagogues. (see Jewish Annotated New Testament) by Amy-Jill Levine and editor and contributors, p. 137).
Perhaps, this is how our looking into the mirror and reflecting on who we are in our relationship with God would help us to probe further the question of how does God hear our prayers. By asking why does God hear our prayer, well, that is another question for another passage of scripture! Amen.
Lectionary 477. Scripture: Oct.21: Ephesians 4:1-6. Psalm 24:1-2,3-4,5-6. Luke 12: 54-59:
Paul again gives us a spiritual shot of B 12 in his encouraging and prayerful passage that we have in the liturgy of the word for today (Epheisans 4:1-6). He tells us about the beauty and grandeur of our call to be Christ for each other and for the world. The supporting virtues to help become like Jesus are humility, meekness, patience and love for one another.
In this passage as well as in other passages, I noticed that Paul uses the titles that refer to the Trinity. He refers to the Lord (Kyrios in Greek, Adonai in Hebrew), Spirit as the person who helps us to be like Jesus, the Son of God. We learn from Paul that the Spirit is the Person who prompts us to pray even when all we can do is to murmur some sounds, or sigh, or just be silent.
One thought that came to me was to think of each of these divine persons when I think of God’s presence and to offer up a short prayer or a visit to a chapel or church. I address a different person depending on when I think about offering a prayer to God for someone. This prayer is always made in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Paul made me think of the action of the Spirit in us (ad extra) as the reality of the personal love between the Father and the Son who is the Holy Spirit (ad intra). But Paul himself makes it easier for us by praying: “There is one Lord (Kyrios), one faith, one Baptism; one God and Father of all who is over all and works through all, and in all.”
Lord, I pray with our Psalm today, that I may see your face. The Psalm response prompts me to ask this of God: “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face.”
In the Gospel Jesus speaks 2000 years before Vatican II which tells us to read the signs of the time as well as to know natural signs that point to a change in the weather. It is Jesus who first uses the need to really read “the signs of the times”. St. Ignatius of Antioch around 110 A.D. is the first Christian writer to use this expression of reading the signs of the times. He, too, through the Spirit was already aware of the spirit of Vatican II. What are we waiting for? When have I ever read the signs of the times and applied it to the need to do something about what I see in the issues of the nation, the world, the universe? Amen.
Lectionary 478: Scripture: Ephesians 4:7-16; Psalm 122: 1-2, 3-4, 4-5. Luke 13: 1-9.
Paul continues to pray and encourage us to grow into the likeness of Christ. We are to be mature in our faith through our belief that Jesus and the Spirit will help us to become other Christs. Our Baptismal faith needs to be nourished and developed if we are to be like Paul in following Jesus. He says, “For me to live is Christ.” (Philippians 1:20).
Paul tells us that we are members of Christ’s body having different roles ranging from being an apostle, to that of a prophet, or evangelist, to that of a parent, a preacher, a teacher. All of have this unique call in being united to the Body of Christ, the Church. All of us contribute to building up the Body of Jesus. Each of us grows into the fullness of Christ by deepening our belonging to him and being one with him through the Spirit.
Yes, our call is a noble and dignified . The Spirit helps us to mature by our call of dignity that helps us to grow more and more, and day by day into being Jesus for others. We are to be one with Christ and one with each other as members of his Body. We respond with our “yes” daily. Paul continues to urge us on by saying, “Let us profess to the truth in love and to grow to the full maturity of Christ the head of the Body, the Church. We are to build up the Body of Christ through love.
Jesus, help me to grow Into being like you so that I may appreciate who you are and to thank you for the graces and talents you give to each of us by being members of your body. May we bring others to realize they are receiving the same call. Help each of us to be the person we are meant to be by such a divine call and to grow into the fullness of your tender love and kind mercy. Amen.
Lectionary 476. Scripture for Oct. 20. Ephesians 3:14-21. Psalm 33: 1-2,4-5,11-12,18-19. Luke 12: 49-53:
A Jesuit priest who was dear to the Marianists in Toronto, Canada, named his book on St. Paul: “Boasting in the Lord.” As I read the excerpt from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, I was moved by his prayer. Later I realized that it came from a heart of profound faith in the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul. The very commencement alerts us to a pray; it begins with a posture of prayer—kneeling. The word for kneeling comes from the same word that means to bless, “berach” and is used in most prayers said in the synagogue. We use it at the offering of the gifts ,”Blessed art thou, God of the universe for this gift of bread and wine…”(Baruch atah Adonai Elohim” would start the prayer. All three postures are forms of prayer—kneeling or profound reclining on the floor, standing, and also sitting. Paul mentions kneeling in this prayer. His prayer is timeless and relates to all of us who read his epistles. He prays that we may be enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
Since we Christians believe in the Trinity of persons, we are inclined to read Paul’s prayer within a Trinitarian context for he mentions the Father, the creative source of all families, the Son Jesus Christ, and the energizing Spirit within our lives. He prays telling us that Christ dwells in our hearts and manifests within us that love is the source and foundation for our sanctification and for leading a wholesome and holy life. He reflects on the merciful love and kindness of Jesus Christ who is always at the center of his prayer. Paul uses the expression en Christo (in Christ) over 150 times in his epistles. He ends the passage with an Amen which comes from the Hebrew word for faith and trust in God (emunah). This shows us his strong affirmation of his believing heart in Jesus Christ.
This prayer shows us the holiness of Paul and why he was so successful in preaching and inviting others to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah. God’s love is at work in him and in us when we pray as he does in this prayer of Ephesians 3:14-11. It may serve as a model for our prayers.
Psalm 33 is a song of praise that exults in God with musical instruments and human voices. The words “we” and “our” predominate in this psalm and make it a communitarian and national hymn of liberation leading to a life of joy in the Lord. “Rejoice in the Lord, again I say, rejoice!”( from another prayer of St. Paul).
Jesus is burning with zeal for the end of his struggles in his own life in the plan of God. He realizes that his death does not bring about unity among his own people but division as Luke had already told us in chapter 2. In his days Jesus came to light a fire on earth and he wishes it to be inflamed; he desires a baptism that is one of giving his life’s blood for his people and for us. Perhaps, through this ultimate gift of self-giving love unity can be brought about in families and nations at war within and without. The passage is very disturbing and parallels what we are going through as a country. Peace and unity is what our hearts desire but a baptism of blood and a zeal for the Lord is what can help us to mend our differences. Thinking thoughts of peace and not war; thinking in prayer thoughts against our greed, our rash judging of the other and vengeance against those who are not in agreement with us. This is where our fire and zeal should be but it will cost us as all good goals and values do. Fire and zeal for God as our judge and redeemer is where our hearts should be. Amen.