12th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Experiencing God’s Love

Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633,
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (painting stolen in 1990)
(About this Image)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Job 38:1, 8-11
June 20, 2021

The Book of Job is part of both the canons of Scripture and Western literature. It is now perhaps read more by non-believers than by believers in the God of Abraham. Perhaps more skillfully than any other book it asks how an all-powerful God can also be all loving. It has attained such a high place in both religion and literature not only because it is undoubtedly well-written, but because it refuses to give pat answers to any of the questions it raises. However much everyone can admire it, it will have different meanings for believers and non-believers. But ultimately, we will discover that there is a more fundamental distinction?

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11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Reality and Presence of God

Photo by Hasan Almasi on Unsplash

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ezekiel: 17:22-24
June 13, 2021

We return today to the Book of Ezekiel. He was an interesting man who lived in interesting times and always seems to have something to say our contemporary situation. Before examining today’s passage let us look at his life and then the passage before the one chosen for today.

Ezekiel was born about 622 BC in Jerusalem and died about 570 BC in Babylon and the dates and places tell his story. Jerusalem was situated on the trade route between Egypt to the south and whatever power was dominating the north. Never a mighty empire, the Jews were able to play one power off against the other to maintain significant independence for over 3 centuries. Ezekiel lived at the time when this ended. In 609 BC, the leaders of Judah thought that the Neo-Babylonian empire was ascendant and allied themselves with it. By 597 the leadership felt that it was weakening, and they could assert more independence. This was a grave miscalculation and the Babylonians invaded, conquered Jerusalem, and took King Jehoiachin and many Jewish leaders into captivity. Ezekiel was one of these and he spent the rest of his life in Babylon. The Babylonians under King Nebuchandnezzar placed Zedekiah in his place. He seemed to be pro-Babylonian but sometime between 593 BC and 488 BC he thought he could get a better deal from Egypt and sought and alliance. In 586/87 BC, Nebuchadnezzar reacted and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple exiling the remaining leaders of the people especially the royal court, the scribes and the priests. Without the temple, how could the Covenant be maintained and without the monarchy how could the promise to David be fulfilled? All that could be seen was devastation. (This may be found in 2 Kings 24:6–20) Ezekiel however saw more. He expressed the situation and its cause poetically in the Parable or riddle of the eagles.

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Corpus Christi – Worshiping Sincerely, Living Justly

The Last Supper, Juan de Juanes, c. 1562, Museo del Prado

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Exodus: 24 3-8
June 6, 2021

Today’s reading narrates the LORD’s first attempt to make a covenant with the Israelites after freeing them from captivity in Egypt. We have seen covenants many times before and no passage can exhaust its meaning and importance. A covenant forms a relationship between persons. It is more than a contract. Although it can have stipulations, as we will see today, it is ultimately a sharing of life and thus will always include a meal. Today, this will be emphasized using blood, the primordial sign of life. There are many kinds of convents, but they are all invitations to become part of a family. We can only understand these passages in general, and today’s in particular, if we are awestruck at what the LORD is offering the Israelites.

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Pentecost – Bright Tongues of Fire; Tighter Bonds of Community

Impromptu Gathering on Church Steps after the 9 AM Mass last Sunday

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the First Reading
Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-11
May 23, 2021

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples is one of the determining events of Christianity, yet it is dramatized in four verses in the “Acts of the Apostles.” This certainly reveals Luke’s literary skill but also that he could rely on his readers or listeners recognizing the scriptural references and making a commitment to studying his work intensely and often. In preparation for Pentecost, we will rely more heavily on quoting from the scriptures, both the Old Testament and Luke’s Gospel, than usual to make it more understandable.

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7th Sunday of Easter – Treating All as Brothers and Sisters

Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles, Duccio di Buoninsegna, c. 1308 – 1311,
Museo dell’Opera metropolitana del Duomo (Siena)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Seventh Sunday of Easter
1 John 4:11-16
May 16, 2021

Paraphrasing an old Italian saying the 17th century French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote: “Man is neither angel nor beast, and unhappily whoever wants to act the angel, acts the beast.”

John the Presbyter (elder) shares this concern. (For background on the authorship of John’s letters, see the commentary for April 11, 2021) We have followed him these six Sundays of Easter and saw that the community his great predecessors the Evangelist and the Beloved Disciple formed and inspired had become fractured and divided over the nature of sin and redemption. The differences had become so complete that he referred to his opponents as “antichrists.”

As we come to the end of our reading of the first letter of John, is there a lesson for us? Unfortunately, there is, and it is both timeless and timely.

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6th Sunday of Easter – Knowing God, Loving As Jesus

St. Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius, Francesco Trevisani (1656-1746)

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Sixth Sunday of Easter
1 John 4:7-10
May 9, 2021

One of the most beloved verses in Scripture is John 3:16:

For God so loved the world
that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him
might not perish
but might have eternal life

(Jn 3:16)

It is very beautiful and moving but somewhat vague.

The lines that follow can be easily misinterpreted as meaning that we be saved, receive eternal life, by mentally acknowledging the mission and divinity of Jesus.

For God did not send his Son into the world
to condemn the world, but
that the world might be saved through him.
Whoever believes in him
will not be condemned, but
whoever does not believe
has already been condemned,
because he has not believed
in the name of the only Son of God

(Jn 3:17–18)

Some readers of John the Evangelist, the author of the Gospel, would have interpreted this passage in this way. (Please see the commentary for April 17, 2021 for an explanation of the different people to whom we apply the name John.) Love is important in every time and place, but the word has many different meanings. A twentieth century theologian wrote that love has run through our times like a greased pig. Love always makes itself felt but the meaning is hard to grasp onto. Most people would define love as a feeling and often merely being polite and “nice.”

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5th Sunday of Easter – Actively Loving Each Other

Photo by Max Harlynking on Unsplash

Fr. Smith’s Commentary on the Second Reading
Fifth Sunday of Easter
1 John 3:18-24
May 2, 2021

Have you ever been asked if you were “saved” and felt that you didn’t quite know the answer John the Presbyter (elder) who wrote the first letter of John will help us answer this from today’s reading.

If the person who asked the question is a traditional Protestant, he is assuming that to be saved means to have had a strong and unmistakable experience that God has chosen you for his own. If she has a good grounding in Calvinism, she knows that this reflects the belief that humankind is hopelessly corrupt and broken, and even God cannot make us holy and whole. Therefore, God accepts – saves – some people by ignoring their sins. They are not changed by God’s grace, it is a free and gratuitous gift of God.  Therefore, after one has had this experience, a person cannot be unsaved. It is permanent. No wonder that it is called being “born again.”

There is a great truth here. No one can save himself; God’s action must come first and is absolutely necessary. Yet Catholicism believes that we are not totally corrupt. God’s grace – that is a relationship with Jesus – can change us so that we become more like Him. Therefore, although the church has an ancient and well-developed mystical tradition, no one experience of God is definitive. Although our actions cannot save us, they will show if we are in a right relationship with God. The Catholic question is “Is your conscience clear?” After examining our consciences, do we find ourselves free of Mortal – deadly – sin which would sever our relationship with God?

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