Sunday By Sunday

FAITH Magazine May-June 2003
Our Regular Guide to the Word Of God in the Sunday Liturgy


04.05.03 Lk 24, 35-48

The ‘breaking of bread’ is a favourite Lucan term for the Mass (cf. Acts 2, 42). In Acts the designation emphasizes fellowship and fidelity to Jesus in the early Christian community: here it denotes real presence and a specific identity of the sacred elements at Mass with the physical presence of the Risen Lord. Jesus “vanished out of their sight” (Lk 24, 31) but he did not leave them. His risen and physical presence remained with his companions under the appearance of bread and wine. On the strength of this heavenly food, the tired disciples return immediately to their brethren in Jerusalem to share their joy (cf. 1Kgs 19, 8). · The physical resurrection of Jesus is hard to take, and even the apostles need two proofs (touch and taste) before they can begin to come to terms with their owndumbfounded amazement (Lk 24, 39-43). Denial of the physical resurrection was as commonplace in Luke’s day as it is in our own. Lurking behind such an attitude is contempt for the things of the body, and often an association of evil in the world with matter. But Jesus has shown in himself that our human flesh has a divine vocation to be taken up into the very Godhead itself. · Jesus’ fulfilment of Scripture is specific and not merely general. He completes the Law of Moses in his own divine person. He answers the deepest yearnings of the prophets for justice and righteousness before God by his own life and teaching, and he makes ever present in himself the future longings of Psalmist and Wisdom writer for human wholeness and integrity of life. The power to understand Sacred Scripture trulyis bestowed upon the apostles and their successors, and this sure charism to interpret sacred texts authoritatively in Jesus’ name remains a mark of the true Church for all time.  


11.05.03 Jn 10, 11-18

Jesus holds his life, his whole mission and his stewardship of the sheep entrusted to him from the Father (Jn 10, 18c). His essence and his existence are not derived from the Father as if there were any hint of subordination in relations between Father and Son. Rather, Jesus holds in common with the Father his own being as it is in itself and as it is made manifest here on earth. For Jesus to obey the Father in the sight of men is for him to draw us into the life of God and invite us to share in what love is.

· Jesus is even willing to lay down his human life for us in the conquest of sin and death, and then to take it up again - resurrected, renewed and imperishable (Jn 10, 16-18). By living among us Jesus brings us health and wellbeing. By dying among us and rising on the third day Jesus puts paid to sin and death for those who believe in him. The touch of the divine restores broken human nature from within. Christian hopes and joy spring eternally from this life-giving source. Restoration starts now under the gentle guidance of the Good Shepherd. Heaven beckons.
Jesus is always the Good Shepherd in every age of the Church. He works through all the baptized and will not deny his grace to all people of good will (Jn 10, 16). But uniquely, and in a profound sense miraculously given the fact of fallen human nature, Our Lord works in an intimate way in his priests for the service and salvation of all. He conforms priests to his own person through a special grace so that each man ordained to this sacred ministry becomes in his very being another Christ. Priests are therefore the good shepherds of the new Covenant.


18.05.03 Jn 15, 1-8
Actions speak louder than words. We are not followers of Christ through smart talk, but only when we begin to bear fruit in plenty for the Kingdom of God : “It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit, and THEN you will be my disciples” (Jn 15, 8). The words and teachings of Jesus prune away our selfishness and pride. Constant prayer, confession and union with Jesus in the holy sacrifice of the Mass and at communion prepare us to discern and do God’s will. Only Our Lord can give us effectiveness in the Christian apostolate. · God is not an optional extra in human loving and living together. He is not just for the religious minority in our secular western society. He is the Master Key to the meaning of the universe without whom there is and can be no life at all –animal, vegetable, mineral or human. Through the spiritual soul He becomes for all people the life law and eco-system that sustains us in being. We need him as the plant needs the sunlight and we are made to respond to him, “for cut off from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15, 6) · The mission of Jesus is the mission also of his Father and of the Holy Spirit. The work of salvation is always a Trinitarian act. The Father is as the vinedresser of the vine, which is the Son (Jn 15, 1). All are grafted onto the vine through action of the Holy Spirit in baptism and the sacramental life of the Church. No branch can grow except that which is grafted onto the vine, and those shoots that do take to the vine have their greenness pared away almost to nothing, so that the fruit and not the foliage growabundantly.


25.05.03 Jn 15, 9-17  

“You did not choose me, no, I chose you” (Jn 15, 16). These words of Jesus adorn the sanctuary arch of the chapel at St John’s Seminary, Wonersh. Appropriate to the dedication of that college, they contain in a pithy sentence the inner essence of the priesthood. It is the work of God, not the product of man. We need to pray, therefore, that all our priests be men of God, reflecting the love of God in the heart of the Body of Christ. As was recently said in the Seminary, we need pillars of the Church, not columns in the News of the World. · What does “remain in my love” mean? (Jn 15, 10). Our Jerusalem Bible translation is a bit pedestrian, but the Catholic RSV is swifter and more nuanced: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (Jn 15, 16). The sense of this favouriteJohannine word captures the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity in the soul of the faithful believer, who lives in right relationship with God and neighbour. Thus we are made fit through grace to find our home in the very heart of the divine being. We are called upwards, and God holds nothing back in communicating his fullness to us. · God does not need us. He is sufficient unto Himself. Yet the voice of Jesus staggers us because God desires to seek his joy in us, as he sees our own joy brought to utter completion in Him (Jn 15, 11). This is the humility of a God who serves. He desires relationship with us. In fact, he desires us. And we complain so often that he does not listen or seem to love us. He is far away. But it is his utter nearness and accessibility that blurs our vision. We needto shut up and listen.


29.05.03 Mk 16, 15-20  

Space and time are created things. Yet they seem to define our very humanity. In his Ascension into heaven, Jesus shows that space and time are mere instruments subordinate to the resurrected humanity he takes up to the right hand of the Father. As Lord over space and time even in the flesh of his human nature, Jesus makes provision for us all by perpetuating his physical presence among us in the Holy Mass. He dwells among us in the tabernacles of our churches throughout the world and in every succeeding generation until the end of time.
· “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16, 16). Because the resurrection account in Mark’s gospel is so short and unsatisfactory (in only eight lines – Mk 16, 1-8 – the first witnesses to the risen Lord run away terrified), most commentators view Mk 16, 9-20 as a later addition. Be that as it may, there is nothing secondary about the doctrine treated here. It has all the hallmarks of Marcan starkness and directness characteristic of this noble evangelist. Incorporation into the Lord through baptism into his Body, the Church, is not an optional extra. · Believers will perform extraordinary feats in the name of Jesus for the spread of the gospel. This is no hearsay or hyperbole. It has been the joyful experience of the Church inevery age to raise up through God’s grace sons and daughters outstanding in holiness, and remarkable too through the influence of the miraculous in their lives. Don Bosco, Dominic Barberi, John Vianney and countless others have become transparent vehicles for evangelization and the cure of souls. Their whole existence was of God and for God. As Don Bosco himself said, “Give me souls; take all the rest away” (motto of the Salesian Order).  


01.06.03 Jn 17, 11-19  

Truth and lies are juxtaposed in this discourse of Jesus, known universally as the Priestly Prayer of Christ. In John’s gospel, the devil is the father of lies and a murderer from the start (cf. Jn 8, 44-45). It is his nature to lie because there is no truth in him, and with a web of untruth he ensnares the world. But God is in charge, and the great reassurance for those who follow in the footsteps of the Master as successors of the apostles is that Christ has prayed to the Father for their protection from the evil one (Jn 17, 15). · Unity reflects the nature of the godhead. Of his nature, God is one. He is made known to us as a dynamic communion of Father, Son and Holy Ghost, but his nature is one. St Gregory Nazianzen comments that no sooner do we think of Unity than we think ofTrinity, no sooner do we mention Trinity than our minds reflect on Unity. Thus Jesus raises his eyes to heaven and prays this prayer on our behalf to the Father. He is revealing the Father to us and drawing us into the joy of his inner life.

· Unity is therefore the mark of the Church as the body of Christ. To say that the Church is not one is to call the Holy Spirit a liar, implying that he is not doing his job properly. This is very ‘home counties’ theology and entirely inadequate. Rather it reflects that we are not doing our jobs properly. There can be no spurious ‘branch’ theory of the Church claiming unity as a veneer of niceness. There is only one Church, one Faith and one Baptism. There is only one Truth, and one consecration in that Truth.  


08.06.03 Jn 20, 19-23
The first gift bestowed by the Holy Spirit is the forgiveness of sins. Only God has power to forgive sins, and it is the measure of God’s love for each one of us that he ensures provision is made in every generation for this sign of his grace. Men are conformed to Christ in their very being at ordination so that repentant sinners can hear the words, “I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”, and know their power and effect for real. · Many commentators see the breathing action of Jesus as highly significant in this passage (Jn 20, 22). They link this sending forth of the Holy Spirit on the fledgling Church to the death of Jesus on the cross. John describes this supreme moment of love as a giving up of the spirit: “he bowed his head andgave up his spirit” (Jn 19, 30). These words are not merely a euphemism. They are seen as the birth pangs of the Church from the broken body of the Lord. As the Spirit leaves the dying figure upon the cross, the world is consecrated to the Lord. · The Holy Spirit is the everlasting love that exists between Father and Son. Poured out on the Church for the salvation of mankind, the Paraclete is our advocate, who pleads our cause as the Church in a world that too often refuses to see the light. Time and again the Church has been bitterly persecuted from without and betrayed by sinful souls from within. None, however, has the power to undo the work of God, which always triumphs in achieving its purpose. Come Holy Spirit; fill the hearts of your faithful.


15.06.03 Mt 28, 16-20
The mountain where Jesus arranged to meet his disciples after his resurrection (Mt 28, 16) is not specified. Though there are protective mountains buffering northern Galilee from Lebanon and Syria , reaching down to the sea at Mount Carmel , it seems that this mountain may well have been Mount Tabor . Rising dramatically from the flat plain of lower Galilee , this was the mountain of Transfiguration , where Jesus showed his divinity to Peter, James and John. Matthew was not there at that time. Perhaps he recalls with some shame, “When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated” (Mt 28, 17). · This passage at the end of Matthew’s account of the life and teaching of Jesus is the only passage in the bible that uses the word ‘disciple’ as a verb. As the disciples themselveshave been made disciples through three years of struggle and toil in the company of their Rabbi, Jesus, so they in their turn must have a similar effect on all nations. Any hesitation is now gone as the mission is given and accepted. We too hear these words of supreme consolation: “And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time” (Mt 28, 20). · Faith fruitful in good works is like a mantra that keeps alive the true thrust and direction of grace-filled life in the soul of the Christian. Our Lord’s imperative is clear. He tells us to go, to make disciples, to baptize, and to teach in his name. Observing the commandments goes hand in hand with a belief and love of God made known as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The work of evangelization is always a work of the Blessed Trinity.From the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, grace transforms the soul.  


19.06.03 Mk 14, 12-16. 22-26
So simply and yet so profoundly, Jesus transforms and fulfils in himself the Passover promise. Preservation from death, freedom from slavery, protection for the wilderness journey, and fulfilment of the Covenant made by God to Abraham and the Patriarchs are all that this great Jewish feast signified. Celebrated in the heart of the family rather than at some holy shrine such as Shechem, Gilgal or Bethel , this feast recalled and made present the saving acts it commemorated. Participants at the feast were then challenged to make or renew their own decision for God. It was a time to choose.

· Jesus fulfils Passover expectation on a cosmic scale. He is the Master Key to the meaning of the universe, possessing power to lay down his life and to take it up again so as to effect an eternal preservation from death for all humanity. This preservation implies liberation from the slavery of sin, by which death came into the world and brought disharmony into creation for the first time. Jesus protects us from the snares of the evil one on our life’s journey, and, through his obedience to the Father, perfectly ratifies the Old Covenant, renewing it in his own blood. · The final cup of wine drunk at the Passover was a cup of blessing. Wine symbolized the goodness of God and all that cheered man’s heart. Jesus must have been horrified in his soul at the abandonment and barbarity that wasabout to be inflicted on him in the hours after the Last Supper. Willingly and whole-heartedly he embraced his death, though the trauma and struggle of it all would later lead him to sweat blood (cf. Lk 22, 44). In this sense, Our Lord will only take cheer and blessing when all is renewed through him in the kingdom of God (Mk 14, 25).  


22.06.03 Mk 4, 35-41

All three synoptic gospels contain this incident from the public ministry of Our Lord, but each with a slightly different emphasis. For Mark, unlike Matthew (cf. Mt 8, 23-27), the initiative is with the disciples who take Jesus into the boat, as opposed to being led by him. Their misunderstanding of Jesus and lack of faith comes to the fore in Mark because the Master rebukes the storm first before speaking to the disciples, whereas in Matthew Jesus scolds the disciples first and then performs the miracle to confirm his words. In Mark, it as if no amount of miracle working can penetrate their incredulity.

· The Stilling of the Storm thus shows evidence of editorial adaptation of an historical incident in the life of Jesus to show its relevance and application to the troubled situation of the early Church. Often it is our experience too that the waves of scandal and hatred of God oppress and harry the barque of the Church almost to sinking point. Is the Lord asleep? Does he not care at the mess and dissent that drives holes into the hull of the Church in time of storm? Jesus shows that he is in charge and will not fail us. But will we fail him?

· Power over the elements is invariably a sign of divinity in the bible, especially in the aftermath of the saving events at the Red Sea outlined in the Book of Exodus (Ex 14, 21-30). The disciples are thus filled with awe at the miracle of Jesus, but not with faith. They miss the point of Jesus’ action and teaching and ask the exasperating question, “Who can this be”? (Mk 4, 41). Only at the crucifixion, from the mouth of a pagan centurion, does the truth begin to impinge on the world: “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mk 15, 39). In his death is our life.  


29.06.03 Mt 16,13-19  

The authority of Christ never fails. He knows that human minds stray one way and then another. We suffer too from concupiscence of the mind, where our mental capacity and apprehension of the truth become clouded or enslaved to sin. It is as if we want to live by the truth, but not just yet. Throughout Matthew’s gospel, the gentle insistence and power of divine authority consistently cuts through the tangled jungle of human error and ignorance: “You have heard how it was said of old…But I say to you” (Mt 5, 33-34) · Christ prepares the disciples, and especially Simon Peter, to be bearers of this divine authority. This is so that the same voice of authority as was heard at the Sermon on the Mount might always be heard without fail in every generation of the Church. Nor is Peter, as thefirst Pope, merely a first among equals. His mission is unique. Our Lord uses Simon’s impetuous faith and confers an office and a new name on him: the power of the keys to bind and loose in heaven and on earth given to Peter, who becomes the rock of infallibility (Mt 16, 16ff). · Infallibility does not mean that the Pope is right in everything he does, whatever that may be. It means that when he speaks on matters of faith and morals in his office as teacher of the universal Church, whether speaking ‘ex cathedra’ or in the ordinary exercise of his office, he is guaranteed to speak free from error by a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit. He enjoys the sure charism of truth. He invents no new doctrines, but assures the faithful of what is and what is not of the Apostolic Faith. He needsour constant prayer and support

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