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2023 Reflections

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(Posted from latest to oldest articles.)

The Honour of a Father (Feast of the Holy Family)

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The book of Sirach (also known as Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus) is often classified as “wisdom literature.” One of the hallmarks of that genre is that it contains much practical wisdom that is useful for everyday life, putting it in the same category as the books of Proverbs and Wisdom (although Sirach is notably much longer than these other two). Although it is not in modern Jewish or Protestant biblical canons, it is accepted as Scripture by Catholics and Orthodox, and has been read by the Church since ancient times.1

This section of Sirach, in particular, is an homage to the honour that is due to a father. The reasons for this honour are because of the care that they give to their children. This is why God calls Himself a Father to His children (Isaiah 63:16, 64:8; Malachi 2:10), and is also why the fourth commandment promises long life to those who honour their parents (Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 6:1-3).

Sirach further states that this honour extends even when one’s father is old, since one’s duties do not end when one has grown up and no longer depends on one’s parents (v. 13). He even goes so far as to say that kindness to one’s father atones for sin (v. 14). This is meant to underscore just how vital keeping the fourth commandment really is.

In the Gospels, the ideal model for a father is St. Joseph. Today’s Gospel reading talks about how Joseph leads his family to safety when Herod plans to kill Jesus (Matthew 2:13-23). He shows fatherly care for his wife and the child that has been placed in his care, proving himself to be a perfect example of the fatherly image painted by Sirach.

As we remember the Feast of the Holy Family, let us pray that more fathers will follow the example of St. Joseph, and that we will learn how to honour our fathers better, as Sirach teaches.


1 It is found in the Greek Septuagint and the Dead Sea Scrolls, and is cited as Scripture by the Babylonian Talmud at numerous points (see Bava Kammah 92b for the most explicit example), which is evidence that some Jews accepted it as Scripture even after the time of Christ. For a more complete defence of the canonicity of Sirach, see the book Why Catholic Bibles are Bigger by Gary Michuta.

The Davidic Covenant (4th Sunday of Advent)

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This passage from the Second Book of Samuel recounts the establishment of the Davidic Covenant, which one of a long series of covenants God made with His people. These covenants were made with key figures in Biblical history, such as Abraham and Moses, and now, God is making one with David. This comes after David has secured the Israelite throne from his predecessor, king Saul. Having consolidated his rule and secured Israel's borders from foreign threats, David decides that he wants to construct a temple for the Lord, although it will ultimately be his son Solomon who accomplishes it.

Seeing his piety, God makes a promise that David's dynasty would last forever. In this passage, we see God making a series of promises detailing what He would do for David. He promises to be a Father to the future kings of Israel. He further states that when these kings go astray and become disobedient, God would chastise them severely, but would not take away the dynastic succession from them. This is important to keep in mind when reading the later Old Testament stories, as we do indeed see many of David's descendants (including his son, Solomon) going astray, and God inflicting various punishments on them, yet they continue to rule as God's rightfully appointed monarchs.

Ultimately, one man would come out of David's line, and that man would sit on David's throne forever. That is, of course, Jesus Christ. Although He does not rule over an earthly kingdom, He is said to have a kingdom that will never pass away, as our Gospel reading affirms:

He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end.
(Luke 1:32-33)

Thus, under the new covenant, we see that the promise God made to David finds its ultimate fruition. The eternal kingdom comes to us when Christ was born in Bethlehem, and will be fully manifest when He comes again on the last day, and ushers in the New Jerusalem.

The Time of the Lord's Favour (3rd Sunday of Advent)
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These last few chapters of Isaiah, in today’s first reading, are notable for their shift in tone from the previous chapters. Here, in contrast with the mournful tone of earlier chapters, there is more of an emphasis on hope and joy. A voice declares that he will bring good news that will be a source of joy to those who have been afflicted, and comfort for those who mourn.

This is said to happen in “the Year of the Lord's favour,” which is a reference to the Jubilee year that happens every fifty years, according to the Law of Moses (Leviticus 25:9). In the Jubilee year, prisoners and slaves are released from their captivity, and lands are to revert back to their ancestral owners. This practice was instituted by God so that those who find themselves in less than ideal circumstances may find relief.

In Isaiah, the Jubilee acts more as a symbol for release from oppressive conditions that the Jews find themselves in. Despite the Exile and the loss of their Temple, they had faith that God was still at work in their history. They had hope that He will come to save them from their enemies and usher in an age of peace.
This passage finds its fulfillment in the coming of Christ. This very passage was read by Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth. After reading the passage, He declared to the people, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). This signals to us that the ultimate release from bondage was to comes through Christ, who released those who are bound by physical ailments and the weight of their sins. But the ultimate release from bondage came through His death and Resurrection.

As we enter into Gaudete Sunday, we remember that Jesus has brought us out of the bondage of sin and into salvation, and take joy in that. As St. Paul exhorts us in the epistle reading: “Rejoice always.”

Comfort my People (2nd Sunday of Advent)

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The context of today’s first reading from the Book of Isaiah has to do with the Babylonian Exile, which God wrought upon the people of Judah as punishment for their disobedience to the Law. Because this exile happened hundreds of years after the time of Isaiah, many scholars have posited that this was composed by a later figure known only as “Deutero-Isaiah,” who attributed his work to the prophet Isaiah as a way of gaining legitimacy for it. However, if we believe that predictive prophecy is true, such a hypothesis is unnecessary, since God is perfectly capable of speaking to the situation of a people hundreds of years before it happens.
In this passage, the people have languished under captivity for a long time, and God declares that they have more than recompensed for their sins. His plan for them is to root out all vestiges of idolatry from their consciousness once and for all, and the next several chapters go into detail refuting the worship of idols and asserting that there is only one true God. This seems to have had its intended effect, as the post-Exilic Jews seemed to have been largely free of the taint of idolatry.

Once the Jews have learned their lesson, God intends to bring them back to the promised Land. This return from exile is only a prelude to something greater, however, as it is intended to point forward to the ultimate salvation that God will provide from sin. God hints at this with the cryptic words found in verses 3-5, where a voice declares the coming of the Lord.

These words are later said to be fulfilled in John the Baptist, who is the one who declares the coming of the Lord in our Gospel reading (Mark 1:1-8). Thus, what was declared cryptically in the Old Testament is made plain in the New. The promise of salvation given in Isaiah finds its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus. As we go through the second week of Advent, we remember how God promised salvation in Christ hundreds of years in advance, and how the people of God waited expectantly for His arrival. We likewise look forward to when He returns, when all that remains to be fulfilled will finally come to pass.

Waiting for Salvation (1st Sunday of Easter)

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Most of Israelite history during the divided kingdom period was a continual round of lawlessness, injustice and idolatry interspersed with brief periods of godly rule. The Lord warned the people back when they were still wanderers that if they persisted in wickedness, they would inevitably be removed from the land (Deuteronomy 28). Here, Isaiah projects forward hundreds of years after his time to when God made good on that promise, and the people were exiled in Babylon.

Here, the prophet, giving voice to the thoughts of the people, talks about how all of them have become unclean due to sin, and even their good deeds are soiled by hypocrisy, making them unacceptable to God. The Jews even have the audacity to accuse God of causing them to wander from His ways, when in fact it was their own hardness of heart that led them to do that.

Despite this, they do not lose hope that God would eventually grant them salvation. Eventually, their period of exile would end. However, they would never recover the old glory. Their exile from Babylon was just their lesser exile. Their greater exile was their exile in sin, which persisted even after they returned to their land. We see this in the post-Exilic prophets, who complain of injustices that persist in Israel long after they’ve returned. The people’s hearts have not changed, and something needed to be done about that.

This would only be remedied hundreds of years later when the Messiah would come. He would provide the deliverance from that greater exile, not just for the people of Israel, but for the whole world. And as we begin the season of Advent, we thinking about how God was preparing the world for the Saviour, and how we look forward to His coming again to save us from sin.

The Chief Shepherd (Solemnity of Christ the King)

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One of the common motifs in the Ancient Near East was that of the king as a pastor. Kings were likened to shepherds, and their subjects as their flock, whom they protected and cared for. This shepherd motif also emphasized the authority of the ruling classes over those under them. For them, it was both a privilege and a responsibility.

It is no surprise then that when God chose a shepherd boy such as David to establish a dynasty that will rule over Israel. Just as David pastored over his father's sheep, so would he be pastor over the people of Israel, as would be his descendants after him.

Over time, however, they would begin to abuse their authority. They would exploit the people and enrich themselves with the largesse that they collected. Worse still, they would lead them astray by encouraging idolatry and lawlessness among the people.

It eventually got to the point where God declared through the prophet Ezekiel that He would judge them for their dereliction of duty:

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. (Ezekiel 34:7-10)

In their place, God Himself would assume the role of shepherd. He had always been the Chief Shepherd of the people, as David himself would confess: “The Lord is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). But now, God will take a more direct role in the care of the flock, as He will ensure that they are safe, and that the lesser among them are cared for.

This carries over to the New Testament, where Jesus Christ is referred to as the Chief Shepherd, with the clergy as His under-shepherds (1 Peter 5:4). This is in keeping with our current celebration of Christ as King. These two titles complement each other, and remind us that Christ both rules over us and cares for us. Furthermore, we can be assured that even if the under-shepherds do not fulfill their duty, our Chief Shepherd will never fail to do so, and will take care of the flock no matter what happens, and this is a source of comfort for us in the trying times we find ourselves in.

A Good Woman (33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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The 31st chapter of Proverbs is attributed to a king named Lemuel, who had learned these words from his mother. This king is never mentioned anywhere else in the Bible, and is not in the list of kings for either Israel or Judah. It is not entirely clear who he is or what nation he was a king of. All we know is that he was not an Israelite, which makes this a rare example of divinely inspired wisdom from a Gentile source in the Old Testament.

The beginning of this chapter concerns what a good king ought to be like, but the rest of the chapter is about what a good wife ought to be like. This description of a good wife is based on the wisdom of his mother. Special emphasis is given to the good wife’s industriousness and diligence in providing for her household. She ensures that the family’s business is well taken care of and that her children are fed and clothed. She is also generous in giving her surplus goods to the poor and needy, and speaks words of wisdom to others. In all of this, she becomes an example for others to emulate, and a source of pride and honour for her husband and family. In the end, she receives due praise for all that she has done.

This list of traits is an important source of wisdom for men and women alike. For women, this passage provides a picture of what they should strive to be like, in terms of how to be a good wife and how to manage a household. Whether married or still single, they should strive to attain these qualities. For men who are seeking a wife, this passage provides a list of traits that they should look for when considering someone. Being a virtuous person is far more important than being physically attractive. Men should seek after someone who aspires to have all of these traits, and they themselves should also strive to be a blessing to their would-be wife.

Seeking Wisdom (32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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In the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament, one of the recurring themes is the importance of obtaining wisdom. The reader is encouraged to make the attainment of wisdom one of the most important goals in life. All other goods flow from this attainment. A great example of this is the story of King Solomon, who asked God for wisdom, and was rewarded with both that and prosperity and long life (cf. 1 Kings 3). The results of having wisdom are enumerated in the passage immediately following our reading, which states thus:

The beginning of wisdom is the mos sincere desire for instruction,

and concern for instruction is love of her,

and love of her is the keeping of her laws,

and giving heed to her laws is assurance of immortality,

and immortality brings one near to God;

so the desire for wisdom leads to a kingdom. (Wisdom 6:17-20)

But how does one obtain wisdom? In Proverbs 1:7, we are told what the most important key to obtaining wisdom is: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Since all wisdom and knowledge ultimately come from God, then we should seek it from Him and revere Him in our lives. In addition, in Wisdom 16:17 above, we are told that the first step is to sincerely desire instruction, for one cannot attain what one is not willing to work towards.

After this, there are two activities that we must remain attentive to in order to attain wisdom. The first is prayer. We cannot obtain wisdom unless we pray regularly, turn to God and ask for it. As James 1:5 states: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”

The second is reading Scripture. The Psalmist talks about how meditating upon Scripture made him wise:

Oh how I love your law!
It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers,
for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged,
for I keep your precepts.
(Psalm 119:97-100a)

In reading Scripture, we must conform our understanding to the teaching of the Church, to whom the Lord gave the authority to bind and loose (Matthew 16:19, 18:18). As Christ Himself stated: “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Luke 10:16).

Thus, if we are to be wise, we should keep these at the forefront of our minds and practice them in our daily lives. In so doing, we will obtain all the benefits of wisdom, the most important of which is the knowledge that leads to eternal life.

Pure Worship (31st Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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The book of Malachi is listed last among the books of the Old Testament. It details life in post-Exilic Israel. The temple had been rebuilt, levitical worship had been re-established, and idolatry had been stomped out of the land.
Despite this, however, all was not well, as the people were frequently guilty of various injustices against one another, as well as lapses in the rigour of their worship (as manifested by their offering of blemished animals at the temple). Even the priests were not exempt from this, as they frequently encouraged such lapses in worship.

In our present reading, God warns the priests that He will not tolerate such a lax attitude towards worship and the keeping of the Law. He warns them that if they persist in this, they would receive His curse, and be punished as violators of the Mosaic Covenant. He reminds them that they are all God’s children, and He as their Father would not tolerate the mistreatment of any of His children. He also reminds them that as the Almighty Creator, He expects nothing less than pure worship from His covenant people.

This chapter in Israel’s history was written for our instruction as well. Frequently, we fail to meet the demands of God’s justice, and are also frequently lax in our attitude towards worship. We must take God’s instructions seriously, by providing for the less fortunate around us, taking care not to defraud or exploit them, and to approach God with awe and reverence, most especially when it comes to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. After all, God deserves nothing but the very best that we can offer Him.

Law and Justice (30th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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The Law of Moses contains several laws that are designed to protect those who are most disadvantaged in society. Such laws include leaving the edges of one's fields to be gleaned by the poor (Leviticus 23:22), or instituting a Jubilee Year so that land can revert back to their original owners (Leviticus 25:8-13). Here in Exodus, we see more of such laws, which are designed to protect the vulnerable in Israel.

In particular, we see three such vulnerable classes mentioned: Foreigners (sojourners), widows, and orphans. These are the most common types of vulnerable people in the Ancient world, and are often mentioned as stand-in for anyone who is in a disadvantaged state. The people of Israel are reminded that they, too, were once a disadvantaged class, having been an enslaved foreign community in Egypt. They of all people should know what it is like to be exploited and abused, and must take care that they do not copy what the Egyptians had done to them.

The first part of the passage (verses 21-24) makes a general rule against oppressing these people. The second part (verses 25-27) gives more specific examples of what such oppression may look like, and revolve around lending and interest. The Torah here condemns usury, as it causes the borrower to be enslaved with debt. It also condemns the taking away of the necessities of life as collateral in a loan. Note that the practice of lending is not condemned outright, but is only prohibited against those who do not have the means to pay back the loans. Thus, a healthy respect for economic activity is balanced with protections for the poor.

From this, we learn about God's concern for justice, and should strive to act accordingly in our personal lives. While it isn't wrong for us to create wealth, we should make sure that others have the same opportunities as us. In this way, society would be more justly ordered, and we would receive God's blessing.

Cyrus, the Lord’s Anointed (29th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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This remarkable prophecy tells of Cyrus, king of Persia, liberating the people of Judah from exile in Babylon and restoring them to their land. Because Cyrus lived hundreds of years after the prophet Isaiah, skeptics of the Bible see this prophecy as evidence that this passage must have been written long after Isaiah, during the Persian period, by a pseudonymous author writing in Isaiah's name. However, if one believes that it is possible to receive predictive prophecy from God, then such a postulate isn't necessary. God can speak to circumstances long before they actually happen, and we see Him doing precisely that through the prophet Isaiah.

Cyrus was a king of the Persian Achaemenid Dynasty. Ruling from Pasargadae (in modern day Iran), the Achaemenids swept through the Ancient Near East and took over other kingdoms, such as the weakening Babylonian Empire, which was already losing power at this time. Many peoples came under their rule, including the Jews. The policy of the Achaemenids was to tolerate the different cultures and religions of these conquered peoples, allowing them to practice their faith freely. This was a godsend to the Jews, as it allowed them to worship God without interruption or persecution.

Although king Cyrus was not a Jew, this does not prevent God from using him as an agent for accomplishing His will. Through him, the Jews were liberated from their captivity and were able to return to the promised land and rebuild their temple. What this shows us is that God can work sovereignly through anyone to accomplish His plans.

This can also apply to our civil leaders, since God has allowed them to occupy their positions of authority (Romans 13). We can, therefore, see the hand of God in the affairs that are taking place around us, and trust that whatever is happening, even if it doesn't seem like it, God is working all things for our spiritual benefit, just as He had promised (Romans 8:28).

The Mountain of the Lord (28th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

Today's reading speaks about "the Mountain of the Lord." This is a reference to Mount Zion and the temple that stood on top of it, which is where the presence of the Lord dwelt. Here, the Lord's salvation is said to spread to all nations, which is a remarkable contrast to the nationalistic focus Israelite religion. Although God did choose Israel to be His people, one must remember that the goal was always to bless all the nations of the earth through them (Genesis 12:3). Here, we see a re-affirmation of that promise.

The language of "destroying the veil" is especially noteworthy, since it brings to mind the rending of the temple veil when Jesus died (Mark 15:38). Thus, Isaiah hints at a Messianic prophecy, with Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises contained therein. It is with Jesus' death and resurrection that the veil is destroyed which kept the nations from seeing the Lord. And through that, as St. Paul tells us, death is swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54-55).

Finally, we must note that although the passage focuses on the physical site of Mt. Zion, the physical geography of the site has a spiritual meaning as well. As the author of Hebrews tells us, the Church is now the spiritual Jerusalem, and has become our Mt. Zion. Just as the Jews went to Mt. Zion to experience God, so we come into the Church to meet with our Lord:

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)

The Vineyard (27th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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Vineyards were a common sight in the hills of Israel and Judah, and were a crucial part of their agricultural life. The grapes produced from these vineyards were used to produce wine both for everyday consumption and for important religious feasts such as Passover. For this reason, great care had to be taken to cultivate the grapevines and protect them from scavengers and raiders.

In this passage, God likens His people to a vineyard which He has taken great care to cultivate and protect, with the hope that it would produce grapes. However, the vineyard produced only wild grapes, which were not fit for consumption. In the same way, the Hebrews were expected to obey the Law that God set for them and become a beacon of righteousness, but instead did the exact opposite and have strayed from His path. Because of this, the curses which God had threatened Israel with for disobedience would inevitably come down upon them (see Repentance Unto Life).

Yet God would not ultimately cast off the Israelites. Later on in Isaiah, another vineyard passage appears. Here, He speaks of how He will protect His vineyard, and how Israel will blossom and bear fruit:

In that day,

A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!

I, the Lord, am its keeper;

every moment I water it.

Lest anyone punish it,

I keep it night and day;

I have no wrath.

Would that I had thorns and briers to battle!

I would march against them,

I would burn them up together.

Or let them lay hold of my protection,

let them make peace with me,

let them make peace with me.”

In days to come Jacob shall take root,

Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots

and fill the whole world with fruit. (Isaiah 27:2-6)

This once again speaks to the theme of repentance that appears in the other prophetic readings. God wants His people to repent, and is always waiting for them to do so. Even the Jews who rejected Jesus (as symbolized by the unfaithful tenants in the Gospel reading) are not outside the scope of God's mercy, for they are also offered a chance to repent and believe in the Messiah whom they have rejected. This is why the Church has traditionally prayed for the conversion of the Jewish people every Good Friday.

This is good news for us as well, because even when we go astray, God will not give up on us for as long as we are still alive and there is still a chance for repentance. He may chastise us for a while, but is ready to take us back when we realize the error of our ways and come back to Him.

Repentance Unto Life (26th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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According to Scripture, God does not desire anyone to perish, but wants everyone to repent and believe (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). For this reason, He has tasked prophets such as Ezekiel with calling the wayward people of Israel and Judah back to God. Our reading for this week is a reflection of this, and relates to previous readings which are on the same theme (see The Watchman).

From the founding of Israel as a nation, God made a covenant with the people that if they obey His laws, they will be blessed, whereas if they disobey His laws, they will be cursed. These blessings and curses are listed in Deuteronomy 28. Note how the list of curses is much longer than the list of blessings, with the blessings in verses 1-14, and the curses in verses 15-68. This is to underscore how seriously God regards transgression against His laws.

We know from history that the people did not repent, and were thus ultimately carried off into exile, exactly as the curses stipulate. Sometimes they were tempted to blame their failures on their fathers, which was reflected in a false proverb they crafted: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2). but as the prophet Ezekiel reminds them, they are responsible for their own fates. Their own choices will determine their destiny, both in this life and the life to come.

Even in our day, God promises to bless those who are faithful to Him. But for those who are unfaithful, the ultimate out come of their choices is everlasting destruction. Those who are Christian have already repented towards God, and are tasked with prophetically declaring God’s message to the nations. We must be faithful in being witnesses for God, even when those around us insist on going their own way, in order that some might turn back to God and not perish.

Transcendent Mercy (25th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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Two attributes of God are highlighted in this passage of Isaiah. The first attribute is transcendence. God is often said to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, but all of these omni- attributes can be summed up by saying that God is transcendent. He is above His creation, and is not subject to the flaws and weaknesses that we are subject to.

This means that when God chooses to act in a certain way, we can be certain that He has done so with infinite wisdom, and that His plans will infallibly come to pass. Thus, we do not need to second-guess whether God knows what He is doing, or whether He is able to accomplish what He says.

Verses 10-11 capture this perfectly where it states:

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,

and do not return there but water the earth,

making it bring forth and sprout,

giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,

so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;

it shall not return to me empty,

but it shall accomplish that which I intend,

and prosper in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

This leads us to the second attribute of God that is highlighted in this passage, which is His mercy. Aside from the aforementioned omni attributes, God is also omnibenevolent. This means He is infinitely good in all that He does. He balances justice and mercy perfectly, without compromising either. This comes out in how He freely forgives those who come to Him in sincere repentance, which is the theme of our reading. Today He expects us to do this through the sacrament of confession. All He expects of us is that we be willing to recognize our faults, to confess them, and make a sincere effort to turn away from them and live better lives.

This is perfectly captured by our Responsorial Psalm, which is a fitting conclusion to our study of this passage:

The Lord is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

The Lord is good to all,

and his mercy is over all that he has made. (Psalm 145:8-9)

Vengeance and Forgiveness (24th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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One of the seven deadly sins is anger. The Bible repeatedly warns against unforgiveness and holding grudges towards others. This is the theme that appears in this Sunday's readings. In this passage of Sirach in particular, we are told that the Lord's forgiveness is conditional upon our own forgiving others. He will not look upon us with favour if we come to Him for pardon yet we ourselves have not pardoned those who have wronged us. The presence of this teaching in Sirach shows that it has Old Testament roots, which is carried over into the New.

Thus we are taught to pray in the Our Father “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12). Likewise, St. Paul told us, “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). This means that whatever conflict we have with others, we ought to resolve as soon as possible, and not allow it to go on for an extended period of time.

When we forgive others and show kindness to our enemy, we show that we are better than them. Proverbs 25:22 teaches us that if we show kindness to our enemy, “for you will heap coals of fire on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” We are further told that God will avenge us if we choose not to take vengeance upon those who wrong us. As St. Paul states: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:18).

In this way, if we show forgiveness towards others, we will receive justice on the last day, which is infinitely greater than any earthly justice. This is the true justice which we should strive for.

The Watchman (23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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The role of the watchman in the Ancient Near East is to warn the inhabitants of the city of impending invasion. He must inform them so that the inhabitants can react accordingly. If he fails to warn them, and the city falls to the invaders, the responsibility falls on him. But if he warns the city and its inhabitants fail to respond, they are responsible for their own fall.

But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand. (Ezekiel 33:6)

If the prophet warns the people, however, then he has done his job. It is not his job to make the people respond. If they fail to do so, the prophet is absolved of any responsibility for their fate.

The same responsibility falls on us today when we see those around us going astray from righteousness. Christians today must act as a prophetic voice who must urge those around us to repent and turn back to God, lest they perish. It is not up to us to compel them to make that decision. It is on us, however, to declare the truth and model it in our daily lives. As St. Paul once declared, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)

The Weeping Prophet (22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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Jeremiah is sometimes known as “The Weeping Prophet.” This title comes from all the laments that occur throughout the book due to the lawlessness of Judah and how he is constantly being persecuted by the establishment for preaching the truth, and constantly contradicted by false prophets. At one point, he came close to death when he was thrown into a dry cistern, until he was rescued by an Ethiopian eunuch (Jeremiah 38).

In our reading, Jeremiah appears to show hesitancy in continuing the ministry that God calls him to do. He accuses God of deception, since he believed that God would vindicate him, yet that vindication did not seem to be forthcoming at the time. Of course, God did not deceive him, and he was ultimately vindicated at the end, but sometimes it is hard to see that in the midst of suffering.

The reason why this outburst is recorded for us is to show that God understands our weaknesses and how we may sometimes even lash out at Him when things do not seem to be going right, yet He still loves us and will continue to fight for us. We must be willing on our part to trust Him, even when our external circumstances make it difficult to do so.

This lament is also a great comparison to the words of Jesus, as found in today’s Gospel (Matthew 16:20-27). Jesus knows that He too must suffer for the cause of righteousness. He knows that this suffering is necessary to bring about the salvation of souls. Yet He goes to it willingly, even going so far as to rebuke St. Peter for wishing it not to be so. This is to show that while God understands our weakness, it is still far more righteous to bear suffering patiently without complaint, knowing that those who are on the side of righteousness will have the final victory.

Father to the People (21st Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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This passage of Isaiah reveals something important about thegovernment of Judah during Old Testament times. Although the king was the true ruler of the country, he had a palace steward who ran the affairs of the palace. Such a role would be analogous to what we would think of as a prime minister, but even such an analogy falls short, as this palace steward has significantly more authority, since whatever he does, he does in the name of the king.

Here, an unfaithful steward named Shebna is deposed by God, and replaced by a more righteous man named Eliakim. The way he is described is quite significant: He is given a robe and authority, and will be called a father to the people of Judah (v. 21), he holds the key of David, which signifies the king’s authority, and it is said that he has the power to open and shut, which none can overrule (v. 22). Finally, he is called a tent peg, which means that he serves as a foundation for the tent of David, keeping the tent secure (v. 23).

It is no coincidence that in the Lectionary, this OT passage is paired with Matthew 16:13-20, as many of the features of Isaiah 22 are paralleled in that Gospel passage. Eliakim being given the key of David and the power to open and shut parallels Jesus giving St. Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to bind and loose (Matt. 16:19), and his being called a tent peg parallels Peter being called the rock on which the Church is built (Matt. 16:18).

By looking at the parallels between Isaiah 22 and Matthew 16, we can see that the government of Judah served as a foreshadowing of the government of the Church, with Peter as the new Eliakim. Just as Eliakim ran the king’s household and represented the king’s authority to his people, Peter and his successors run Christ’s household and represent Christ’s authority on earth. Thus, Isaiah 22 foreshadows the establishment of the Papacy.

House For All Nations (20th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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On any given Sunday, the three readings in the Liturgy are usually centred around a specific theme, and would thus be related to each other. It is not always clear, however, how the Old Testament reading relates to the Gospel and Epistle readings. This Sunday, the relationship between the three is quite clear, even to the casual reader. All three readings discuss the universality of God’s plan of salvation, and how it encompasses both Jew as well as Gentile.

There is a tendency in most Old Testament studies to regard the Israelite religion as a nationalistic faith, and to some extent this is valid. After all, God chose Israel for a special mission, and thus Israel had privileges that were not accorded to other nations. But these privileges were always in view of blessing the whole world.

Even as far back as Genesis, we read that the purpose of God calling Abraham was so that through him, all the nations of the world would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). Similarly, Deuteronomy 4:5-8 states that the reason God gave the Torah to Israel was so that they could serve as a role model for all the other nations to follow. Finally, we can think of all the righteous Gentiles who were incorporated into God’s people because of their faith, such as Rahab and Ruth.

This theme is especially pronounced in Isaiah 56. It states that foreigners would be joined to the Lord, and that they would worship in His temple. This finds its fulfillment in the New Testament, where it teaches that the Church is the antitype of Mount Zion, and the greater Jerusalem where God is worshipped in Spirit and Truth (Galatians 4:26, Hebrews 12:22).

Whether Jew or Gentile, if we are in Christ, we can rejoice in the fact that God has offered salvation to everyone, and we should seek to see others joined to the spiritual Jerusalem of which Isaiah prophesied.

The Still Small Voice (19th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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In this story, the high point of Elijah’s career had just passed by. The previous chapter (1 Kings 18) recounts his face-off against the prophets of Baal, where he proved to all Israel that Yahweh is the one true God. Despite this, the followers of Baal continued to persecute him, and Elijah complains that he is the only follower of the true God left (a claim which God corrects by saying in 1 Kings 19:18 that there are seven thousand prophets who have not bowed the knee to Baal).

In order to reassure Elijah that he is in safe hands, God makes a demonstration of His power through an earthquake, wind and fire. These three elements were traditional elements of theophanies in the Ancient Near East. God frequently makes use of them to announce His presence. For example, in the song of Deborah, it states:

Lord, when you went out from Seir,

when you marched from the region of Edom,

the earth trembled

and the heavens dropped,

yes, the clouds dropped water.

The mountains quaked before the Lord,

even Sinai before the Lord, the God of Israel. (Judges 5:4-5)

Likewise, David declares in the Psalms:

O God, when you went out before your people,

when you marched through the wilderness, Selah

the earth quaked, the heavens poured down rain,

before God, the One of Sinai,

before God, the God of Israel. (Psalm 68:7-8)

Despite these demonstrations of power, however, the passage states that God is not in these things, but rather in the still small voice that whispers to Elijah. This shows that with His children, He deals with them in mercy and gentleness. The demonstrations of power are there to show that God is in control no matter what happens, and will prevail over the machinations of the rulers of the world. This is as true now as it was then, and should serve as our assurance and comfort in times of trial.

The Son of Man (Feast of the Transfiguration)

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In Daniel’s vision, two figures appear to him in Heaven. The first is God, who is described as the “Ancient of Days,” and sits on His throne in Heaven, surrounded by the angelic host. Next to him is an individual described as “one like a son of man” (i.e. a humanlike figure), who receives a number of divine honours. This person is given dominion over all the earth, and is honoured as divine.

This vision perplexed the minds of Jews in the Second Temple Period. After all, how can there be two divine figures in Heaven, when the Shema states that Yahweh is only one (Deuteronomy 6:4)? A number of Jews in this period suggested that perhaps the one God can appear as more than one person, which laid the foundation for Trinitarian thinking later in the Christian era.

The title “Son of Man” would go on to become Jesus’ preferred title for himself, as He uses it throughout the Gospels more than other titles like “Messiah” or “Son of God.” In so doing, He is identifying Himself with the divine figure in Daniel’s vision. Although He has the glory of the divine nature, He often kept it hidden from others.

The Transfiguration was one occasion where Jesus revealed His glory to His disciples, giving them a glimpse of who He really is. He told His disciples not to reveal this secret until the time was right (Matthew 17:1-9, esp. v. 9). Ultimately, it is His claim to be the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision that led to His being condemned to death on the Cross (Mark 14:60-64).

On this Feast of the Transfiguration, we praise God for the revelation of our glorious Lord, who came to earth to save us from sin, and now rules over His Kingdom from Heaven. We look forward to the day when, as the Creed puts it, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His Kingdom will have no end.”

The Value of Wisdom (Reflection: 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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One of the hallmarks of King Solomon’s life was his immense wisdom. In our reading, we learn that Solomon attained his wisdom by asking God for it. The following chapters show us how Solomon manifested that wisdom, and we still benefit from his wisdom today through what he has written for us in the books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs.

The wisdom that the Bible describes isn’t the same as head knowledge. One can have plenty of knowledge yet lack wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Here, we see that wisdom is primarily moral in nature, and is connected to piety. Proverbs later extols the reader to seek wisdom as much as possible:

Get wisdom; get insight;
do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever you get, get insight.
Prize her highly, and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place on your head a graceful garland;
she will bestow on you a beautiful crown. (Proverbs 4:5-9)

This advice rings as true now as it did in Solomon’s day. We should make the seeking of wisdom one of our highest priorities in life. St. James exhorts us, If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5). We can obtain this wisdom through the word of God. As today’s Psalm states it: The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).

We should also be surrounding ourselves with godly company, as Proverbs tells us: Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). If we follow these precepts we should not fail to obtain the same wisdom as Solomon.

Justice and Mercy (16th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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This week’s reading from Wisdom is an ode to the justice and mercy of God. It begins by extolling the uniqueness of God, Who is over all things and Whose actions cannot be judged by anyone else. Everything He does is indisputable in its justice because God is infinitely wiser and more benevolent than anyone else (as last week’s reading attests). The language is strongly reminiscent of a similar passage in Romans, where St. Paul states:

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

For who has known the mind of the Lord?

Or who has been his counselor?”

Or who has given a gift to him,

to receive a gift in return?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-35)

And yet, although God can execute justice at any time, He nevertheless chooses to judge with mildness, and deal with His creatures with mercy. It is not for no reason that although justice is an important part of Christian teaching, mercy is emphasized even more, especially since it is this priority of mercy over justice that is the reason why Christ gave Himself for us on the cross, resulting in our salvation.

And yet, God will not always be merciful to those who persist in disobeying Him. At a time known only to Himself, He will execute judgment over those who refuse to give Him allegiance. Everyone must at some point reckon with God’s judgment, and receive either justice or mercy: “For it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

With this in mind, we should be thankful to God for His bountiful mercy. Yet we should not take it for granted, but live in a manner that is pleasing to Him. We should also declare His mercy to those who have yet to receive it, so that they too may receive salvation.

The Mercy of the Lord (15th Sunday in Ordinary Time)

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The 55th chapter of Isaiah is a declaration that the Lord’s mercy remained outstretched to the Jewish people in spite of their sins against the Mosaic Law, for which they were exiled to Babylon. He exhorts the people to seek the Lord, promising that He would be merciful to them and forgive their sins if only they would repent and trust in Him with their whole hearts, as it states in verses 6-7:

Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

What follows in verses 8-9 is an affirmation that God is higher than man. While human beings may be fickle and capricious, God remains faithful and unchanging when it comes to fulfilling His promises. And while human mercy may have limits, God’s does not, as He is ever ready to show his benevolence to mankind:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

This leads us to our OT reading, which speaks about God’s word always never failing but always accomplishing what He intends. The “word” here refers to His promise of mercy in the preceding verses. If He promises to show His mercy to those who remain faithful to Him, then He will not fail to be merciful. This steadfastness in the Lord’s promise gives us hope even in this present day, knowing that if we only turn away from sin and towards Him, God is ready to accept us as well with open arms.

In light of this, we should never despair of God’s mercy, but always turn back to him, with full assurance that He will never grow tired of pardoning us and giving us another chance to mend our ways.

The Coming King (14th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

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The prophet Zechariah lived in the 5th century BC, after the return from the Babylonian exile. This is part of the so-called “Second Temple Period,” since the temple in Jerusalem had already been rebuilt, and is actually alluded to in Zechariah 9:8. The Jewish people are busily consolidating their religion and culture, having learned from their past experiences not to take God’s commandments lightly. Many of Zechariah’s prophecies concern a future period when God would save His people through a Messiah, but many of them would reject that salvation. Thus, the book is filled with Messianic prophecies, many of which are quoted directly in the New Testament.

This week’s reading, in particular, talks about a kingly figure who nevertheless appears in a humble manner, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, rather than a more dignified mount such as a horse. He is described as a peacemaker who will conquer nations, but not by force of arms. He will cause wars to cease, and His rule will cover the ends of the earth. This is far loftier than what any king of Israel could hope to achieve, which is why the Jews interpreted this as referring to a future Messiah, who would rule politically over the world, and usher in a Messianic age of peace. Many claimants have come and gone throughout Jewish history, but all of them failed to fulfill this prophecy except for Jesus.

This passage is best known for being quoted in the Gospels in connection with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Thus, the Gospels directly connect this passage to Jesus and make it a Messianic prophecy. This is because Jesus is the prince of peace who shall speak peace to the nations,” as Zechariah prophesies. The peace He offers goes far deeper than just political or societal peace. It is spiritual peace, whereby man is reconciled to God. This is His promise to everyone who trusts in Him, when he says in the Gospel reading: Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Serving God's Servants (13th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

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The days of Elisha were a bad time to be a prophet of God. Wicked kings such as Ahab were in the habit of killing prophets who spoke out against their wickedness and idolatry. Many priests and prophets resorted to appeasing the rulers by simply telling them what they wanted to hear. Elisha, however, was committed to telling the truth, so he could expect no aid from the powers that be. In order to survive, he needed the help of faithful Israelites who knew that he was a man of God and were willing to support his mission.

Thus we come to our Scripture passage. In the little town of Shunem, he found a faithful woman who was willing to lodge him and give him provisions. She must have been aware that doing so would put her on the wrong side of the law with the ruling establishment, but she didn’t care. She only wanted to do what was right. Because of her charity, Elisha promised her that she would bear a son, which she would eventually give birth to a year later (v. 17). Thus, her faithfulness and willingness to side with the men of God over the men of the world became a source of blessing for her.

Just like the days of Elisha, our current era is a difficult time for faithful men, especially clergy, who are looked at askance by the world and often have to go against political or even ecclesiastical authority in order to remain faithful to God. When we encounter such men, we should be like the Shunammite woman, and be willing to provide whatever support we can to them, whether it be our wealth, our voice, or our prayers. In doing so, we will be doing the work of God, and as Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel, those who receive His servants in His name receive Him (Matthew 10:40).

Persecuted for Righteousness' Sake (12th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

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The Book of Jeremiah contains several denunciations of the godlessness and lawlessness of the Kingdom of Judah as it existed in Jeremiah’s time. Almost every facet of society had strayed from the law of the Lord. King and priest collaborated in promoting injustice and idolatry. Jeremiah denounced these and warned of the wrath to come, in the form of subjection under the Babylonians.

For this, he was persecuted. The king had his prophecies destroyed to prevent them from spreading. (Jeremiah 36) At one point he was almost starved to death by being tossed down a dry cistern without food and water for several days. (Jeremiah 38)

In this passage of Jeremiah, the prophet laments about the persecution that he faced for standing up for righteousness. Despite this, he never fails in his trust in the Lord. He knows that God will vindicate him and put his persecutors to shame. This is encapsulated in his statement: “But the Lord is with me as a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble; they will not overcome me.” (v. 11) He ends with an exhortation to praise and sing to the Lord, on account of His mercy and deliverance.

This ties in well with the Gospel reading (Matthew 10:26-33), where Jesus warns His followers to expect persecution for the cause of the Gospel. Elsewhere, He warned that the world would hate Christians, because it does not know Him, and because of this, we should not to love the world and its ways (John 15:18-25, 1 John 2:15-17).

Nevertheless, He will remain with us, which should give us hope when we speak out against the corrupt religious and political leaders of our day. Even if the powers that be malign believers and accuse us of bigotry, hate, or any number of false accusations, we can stand fast to our principles, and trust that God will vindicate us on the last day.

Kingdom of Priests (11th Sunday of Ordinary Time)

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Shortly before Moses received the Law at Mount Sinai, God promised the Israelites that if they obey His law, they would be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. To be holy means that Israel was set apart from all the other nations as God’s own special possession.

This holiness needed to be cultivated however, which is why He commanded them, “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44) All the laws He gave for them to follow were meant to illustrate and remind them of that holiness: “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.” (Leviticus 10:10) St. Peter would later apply the command to be holy to New Testament believers when he writes: “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written,’You shall be holy, for I am holy.’ (1 Peter 1:15-16)

Similarly, to be a Kingdom of Priests meant that every Israelite exercised a priestly role. Later on, a ministerial priesthood was set up from the tribe of Levi, who served God in the Tabernacle. However, this did not detract from the common priesthood of the Israelites. This later becomes the basis of the New Testament teaching that all Christians are priests. St. John teaches that through His death, Christ “made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father.” (Revelation 1:6, cf. 5:10)

Likewise, St. Peter tells believers that “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) Here, he takes the language of Exodus and applies it to Christians.

This belief in a common priesthood of all the faithful (as distinct from the ministerial priesthood) is enshrined in the Catechism:

The baptized have become “living stones” to be “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.” By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers. (CCC 1268)

Let us celebrate, then, the reality that in Christ, we have been made into a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation, and let us strive to live in that reality at all times “by the witness of holy lives and practical charity.” (CCC 1273)

Manna from Heaven (Corpus Christi Sunday, June 11)

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In our reading from Deuteronomy, God reminds the Israelites just before their entry into the Promised Land of how He constantly provided for them throughout the forty years of wandering in the Sinai wilderness. He did this by rescuing them from many dangers (both foreign nations and wild animals), making water flow out of a rock, and by making manna fall down from heaven to feed them.

The purpose of this provision was to humble them and test them, to see if they would trust Him or not. Alas, despite the many ways God provided for them, they continued to disbelieve and disobey, to the end that none of the original travellers over age 20 reached the Promised Land except for Joshua and Caleb.

This is a poignant reminder that we easily take God’s blessings for granted, and fail to give due reverence to the One who provides for all our needs. We should not show ingratitude or unfaithfulness when we see God’s provision in our lives. As St. Paul states, “these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” (1 Corinthians 10:6)

Nevertheless, the provision God made in the wilderness was only temporary, and those who partook of it were nourished physically, but not spiritually. In our Gospel reading, Jesus teaches that the manna in the wilderness was a type of the Bread of Life, which is His own flesh.

Unlike the manna, His flesh is capable of nourishing our souls and giving it eternal life. Thus, St. Ignatius of Antioch refers to Christ’s flesh as “the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death, enabling us to live for ever in Jesus Christ.” (St. Ignatius to the Ephesians, ch. 20)

Those of us who are under the New Covenant have access to this source of spiritual sustenance through the Sacrament of Holy Eucharist, which we commemorate this feast of Corpus Christi. Let us avail ourselves of this priceless gift, through which we may attain to eternal life.

The Merciful and Gracious God (Trinity Sunday, June 4)

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During the Exodus, the people of Israel were constantly testing God and complaining against Him and His servant Moses. In fact, we see this happen twice in the chapters immediately preceding our reading. In chapter 32, we read about how the Israelites worshipped the golden calf, leading Moses to command the Levites to kill three thousand of their own people (Exodus 32:25-30). And then, in chapter 33, the people grumbled that they had to go to the land of Canaan, where many hostile nations dwelt, even though God had said He would drive the peoples out before them. This led God to tell them, “You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you” (Exodus 33:1-6, esp. v. 5).

Yet despite this, God continued to affirm His covenant faithfulness to Israel, as we see in our reading. Despite their stiff-neckedness, He was ready to forgive them and relent in His anger if they were only willing to repent and return to His ways. We see a recurring pattern throughout the Old Testament wherein the Israelites would rebel and receive chastisement from God, and then they would repent and God would remove their chastisement from them.

We also see how Moses was willing to act as a mediator between God and His people. Whenever God threatened to punish the Israelites, Moses would appeal to Him, and He would show mercy to the people. In this way, Moses served as a type of Christ. Whereas Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant, Christ is is the mediator of the New Covenant.

Moreover, His mediation is much more perfect, because He is sinless and perfect, whereas Moses was not. Hebrews calls Him the great High Priest, whose sacrifice takes away all sin once and for all (Hebrews 9-10). If God was willing to show great mercy even to the Israelites, who had an imperfect mediator, how much more willing is He to show even greater mercy to us, who have a perfect one.

This Trinity Sunday, we rejoice that we have a greater and more perfect Mediator, who is none other than the second person of the Holy Trinity. We can thus affirm, along with Hebrews: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

A Harvest of Nations (Pentecost Sunday, May 28)

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit comes down upon the Apostles, giving them the power to speak in tongues for the proclamation of the Gospel to the nations. In the midst of that narrative, however, we have St. Peter preaching about how the events unfolding were a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He begins by reciting from Joel 3:1-5 (or 2:28-32 in other versions), which predicts that God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh (and is also one of the readings recited during the Vigil Mass).

The term “all flesh” is significant because it foretells the global scope of the outpouring of God’s Spirit. The religion of the Old Testament is seen as nationalistic and centred almost entirely on the welfare and destiny of the Jewish nation. In the midst of that emphasis, however, we see statements such as these which hint that God’s ultimate plan isn’t just for the welfare of one nation, but for all. We see this as well in other places, such as in Isaiah 42, which speaks about how when the Messiah comes, he will bring justice to all the nations (verse 1), and that He will be a light to those nations (verse 6).

The timing of this outpouring is highly significant as well. Today the Jewish calendar marks the festival of Shavuot (Heb. שָׁבוּעוֹת, lit. “weeks”), which is observed fifty days after the beginning of the Counting of the Omer, which is recorded in Leviticus 23, and from which we derive the Greek term Pentecost (Gk. Πεντηκοστή, lit. “fiftieth”). This festival commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses, as well as the bringing in of the wheat harvest to the temple in Jerusalem.

This motif of bringing in the harvest becomes significant once we get to the New Testament. Jesus often used harvesting in His parables as a metaphor for the conversion of the nations. On the Shavuot of AD 33, a different kind of harvest began to be brought into God’s temple–a harvest of souls, rather than wheat. This harvest continues 2,000 years later, as members of every nation, tribe and tongue are brought from the fields of the world into the temple of Christ’s Church.

Ascended (Feast of the Ascension, May 21)

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Forty days after the Resurrection, we celebrate Christ’s ascension into Heaven. Before He died, Christ told His disciples in advance that He would ascend up into Heaven, and from there send the Holy Spirit to them (John 16:5-16). On Ascension Thursday, Jesus fulfills the first half of what He promised, and ten days from hence, He fulfills the second half of that promise at Pentecost Sunday.

From Heaven, Christ continually intercedes for us before God the Father. Through His intercession, those who are redeemed have full access to God, and are continually being sanctified. As Hebrews 7:25 tells us, “he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” All good things we receive from the Father come through this intercession.

Christ will not always remain in Heaven however, as He will someday come back down to earth to manifest His justice and to establish the fulness of Kingdom; to institute the New Jerusalem. As the angels declared to the disciples in the reading, Jesus “will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) When He returns, those who placed their hope and faith in Him will be vindicated, and will be set free from all pain and suffering: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)

As believers, we have hope in Christ for the present, because of His continual intercession for us, as well as for the future, because of His promise to come again in glory. We should never waver in this hope, but keep it in the forefront of our minds at all times.

The Laying on of Hands (6th Sunday of Easter, May 14)

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In our reading, the Christian Gospel continues to spread throughout Palestine, despite persecution by the Jews (which we saw with the death of St. Stephen in the previous chapter). Here, the Gospel arrives among the Samaritans, which shows how Christianity is beginning to spread beyond the confines of the Jewish people, fulfilling Christ’s promise before His ascension to His disciples that, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, ESV-CE)

Note how the Holy Spirit falls upon the converts when the Apostles lay hands on them after they are baptized in the name of Jesus. This is one of the earliest instances of the sacrament of Confirmation. Through this sacrament, the Holy Spirit comes upon those who are confirmed in a more special way, which completes the grace first given to them at Baptism, binds them more perfectly to Christ’s Church, and strengthens them to become witnesses to the faith (CCC 1285). Pope Paul VI explains:

From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. ... The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.” (Pope Paul VI, Divina Consortium Naturae 659, quoted in CCC 1288)

The reading of this passage this Sunday of Easter is especially fitting as we approach Pentecost, which is when the Sacrament of Confirmation is traditionally administered to children who grew up in the Church (as opposed to adult converts, who typically receive it during the Easter Vigil). As we reflect upon this passage, we should allow it to give us a greater appreciation for the gift of the Holy Spirit which we received at our own Confirmation.

The Diaconate (5th Sunday of Easter, May 7)

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As the Church grew and began to incorporate converts from other regions, disputes began to emerge between different groups within the church. Here we see a division between those Jews who grew up in Palestine and spoke Aramaic (the Hebrews) and those who grew up in the diaspora and spoke mainly Greek (the Hellenists) over the provision of needs for their widows. Although there were no Gentiles in the Church yet, this episode would foreshadow the struggles they would face later on when they begin to include non-Jews.

We also see here the institution of the Diaconate. Deacons were originally called to assist the Apostles in “serving tables,” which could either mean the distribution of food to those who were in need, or the distribution of the Holy Eucharist during the liturgy (or both). Seven men of good repute were chosen for this task, pointing to the need to ensure that anyone who aspires to any ministry position within the church, no matter how lowly, must be someone of great faith and exemplary character.

As time went on, the role of the deacon expanded, and the Catechism provides us with a list of the tasks of a deacon:

Deacons share in Christ’s mission and grace in a special way. The sacrament of Holy Orders marks them with an imprint (“character”) which cannot be removed and which configures them to Christ, who made himself the “deacon” or servant of all. Among other tasks, it is the task of deacons to assist the bishop and priests in the celebration of the divine mysteries, above all the Eucharist, in the distribution of Holy Communion, in assisting at and blessing marriages, in the proclamation of the Gospel and preaching, in presiding over funerals, and in dedicating themselves to the various ministries of charity. (CCC 1570)

We should be thankful for the deacons who serve faithfully in our churches, as they fulfill a vital task in assisting the bishops and priests in the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

Repentance and Baptism (4th Sunday of Easter, April 30)

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In this Sunday’s Acts reading, St. Peter concludes his sermon to the people of Jerusalem. His words touch them so profoundly that they ask what they must do to be saved. Peter’s answer is as simple as it is poignant: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (v. 38).

Two important points emerge Peter’s words. The first is the connection between Baptism and forgiveness of sins. This text becomes one of the bases for the doctrine that Baptism is regenerative. Peter would elaborate on this later on in his first epistle when he declares, “Baptism … now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). For this reason, the Church stresses the necessity of baptism for salvation: “The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude; this is why she takes care not to neglect the mission she has received from the Lord to see that all who can be baptized are ‘reborn of water and the Spirit’” (CCC 1257).

The second point is that the grace of Baptism is promised not just to believers, but also to their children: “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off” (v. 39). For this reason, whenever believers come to faith in the New Testament, their entire household is baptized, including any children in them. The Church affirms that this is because, “born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.” (CCC 1250).

According to Plan (3nd Sunday of Easter, April 23)

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In this Sunday’s reading, St. Peter preaches to the crowds in Jerusalem about the Resurrection of Christ. Just over a week ago, some were still in doubt about whether He had truly risen (cf. Matthew 28:17). But now, all doubt had faded away and they were all able to boldly go before the Jews with the Gospel.

Two points stand out in this reading. The first is the emphasis on God’s plan. Some people may have been tempted to think that God’s plan had failed when Jesus died. Not so, says Peter. His death took place “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” The Passion took place according to Old Testament prophecy, and Peter quotes the words of Psalm 16 to prove this. By pointing to the fulfillment of prophecy, he proves that Jesus is indeed the Messiah whom the Jews have been waiting for.

The second point is the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles. Their message regarding Christ’s Resurrection was neither a hallucination, nor hearsay, nor something they dreamed up. Rather, they speak according to what they personally witnessed. Peter would later write about this in his epistle that, “we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (2 Peter 1:16). Likewise, St. John adds his testimony when he writes:

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)

Through their testimony, we can have confidence of the truth of the Gospel. Christ died and rose again according to prophecies written centuries prior, and this message was delivered to us by trustworthy eyewitness. This gives great assurance in our faith.

All Things in Common (2nd Sunday of Easter, April 16)

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 The life of the early Church was a life of love. In our reading, we see how the early Christians cared for the less fortunate in their midst. Most of these early converts were among the poor and destitute, and very few of them had means. Thus, the wealthier believers put their resources at the disposal of the church, to provide for those in need.

Thus, we read that the early Christians “had all things in common” (v. 44). This should not be taken to mean they had no private property. They still owned property (Acts 5:4, cf. CCC 2401-2403). Furthermore, those who gave were encouraged to do so willingly, not out of compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:7), and those who received were encouraged to strive to be dependent on no one (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12).

This care for the welfare of others is the basis of the Church's teaching on the “Universal Destination of Goods.” As the Catechism puts it, “Christian life strives to order this world’s goods to God and to fraternal charity.” It further states that, “The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise” (CCC 2402, 2403). St. John Chrysostom put it aptly in one of his homilies wherein he said, “not to share our own riches with the poor is a robbery of the poor, and a depriving them of their livelihood; and that which we possess is not only our own, but also theirs.”

The end result of this fraternal charity is that, “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (v. 47). Outsiders saw the love the early Christians had for each other and were inspired to convert. Nevertheless, it wasn't the Christians who converted them, but God, who opened their hearts to accept the Gospel. Our role as Christians is to demonstrate love to one another, and to pray that God will use our example to inspire others to conversion.

The Victory of the Servant (Easter Triduum, April 7-9)

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This is the last of the four Servant Songs that are found in Isaiah (see last week’s reflection, “The Vindication of the Servant”). Of the four, this is perhaps the most well-known, and for good reason: Of the four Servant Songs, this is the one that most explicitly connects to the life and work of Jesus Christ. The New Testament explicitly cites this song no less than six times (Matthew 8:17, Luke 22:37, John 12:38, Acts 8:32-33, Romans 10:16, and Romans 15:21)

The text of the song is also uncanny in the way it describes the Servant. Even without a knowledge of the contents of the New Testament, any non-Christians reading the text have read this passage and automatically connected it to Jesus. This passage is thus one of the most significant messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, both in terms of its content and in terms of its ability to convert those who read it.

The Song itself presents the climax of the Servant’s mission. He has preached to the people, and the people rejected his message (vv. 1-3). He is condemned to death by the people, and accepts this condemnation willingly and without protest, because He knows that His death is the means by which his people’s sins will be taken away (vv. 4-9).

However, in the end, He is vindicated. God will prolong His days (v. 10), which is an allusion to the Resurrection. He is spoken of as seeing his offspring. Of course, Christ does not have biological offspring, so this should be read as referring to the Church, as the offspring that are borne by His work. His sacrificial death will bear fruit, referring to eternal salvation, and He will see it and be satisfied (v. 11). Finally, we read an affirmation of the atoning power of His death: he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors” (v. 12).

As we conclude the Easter Triduum, we remember this entire Passion narrative, which begins at the Last Supper, and ends at the Resurrection, where Christ reigns victorious over death. We can say that the drama of the four Servant Songs is concluded here, and can rejoice because we believe the words of the angel at the tomb: He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him” (Mark 16:6

April 2, 2023 - The Vindication of the Servant (Palm Sunday) - Luis Dizon

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This reading is the third of four Servant Songs that are in the book of Isaiah (the other three are in 42:1-7, 49:1-12, and 52:13-53:12). Here, rather than the Servant being addressed by God, it is the Servant speaking directly. In the first half of the reading, he is said to be the obedient servant who does not rebel against God, and has a knowledgeable tongue to be able to teach and exhort others. Thus, the servant is also a teacher of righteousness for God’s people.

When we get to the second half of the reading, however, the tenor of the song shifts, and now the Servant speaks of being persecuted by those around him for what he teaches to them. Through this persecution, however, he retains hope that he will be vindicated by God. Verse 7 bears this out, as well as the next two verses immediately after this reading:

He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
Let him come near to me.
Behold, the Lord GOD helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up. (Isaiah 50:8-9)

This servant song summarizes the experience of Jesus throughout Holy Week. The week begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we celebrate today as Palm Sunday. He spends the next few days teaching in the Temple, which causes the Pharisees and Sadducees to turn against Him and plot His death. That plot will eventually culminate in the events of Good Friday. Jesus is aware that all this would happen, because He already predicted it would happen beforehand (Matthew 16:21, 17:22-23, 20:17-19)

Through all of Jesus’ experiences in Passion Week, He knows that He will ultimately be vindicated by His Father, just as the Servant Song in Isaiah says. This certain knowledge, in addition to His desire to save us, is why He is able to accept the Father’s will: “not my will but Yours be done.” (Matthew 26:39).

March 26, 2023 - The Valley of Bones (Fifth Sunday of Lent) - Luis Dizon

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In Ezekiel 37, we are presented with a rather graphic vision of a valley full of dry bones. These bones represent the people of Israel: Spiritually dead and in exile.  God asks the prophet Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?”, to which he replies, “O Lord God, you know” (v. 3). The people appear to have no hope, because they say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.” (v. 11). God’s response to them is that He will raise them up, as we see in our reading.

This vision refers to the immediate situation of the Jewish people, who are in exile in Babylon, and are being given hope that they will return to Israel. However, the image of dead bones points to a spiritual reality behind the geopolitical one: The people are spiritually dead because of their sin, and need to be made alive. Thus, God promises to them not just a national restoration, but also a spiritual one. As they return to the land of Israel, they will be cleansed of their sins receive God’s Spirit, which will guide them to obey God’s laws (Ezekiel 36:25-27).

The spiritual state of Israel reflects that of all humankind: We are all dead in our sins. We are all exiled from our heavenly home and are in need of saving. That salvation comes to us through Christ. This is why our Old Testament reading is paired with Jesus’ raising of Lazarus. We are taught that our own spiritual resurrection is realized through faith in Him, which is why He says, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

The question “Do you believe this?” is posed to all of us, because we are all like the dead bones in Ezekiel’s vision. Only by faith and trust in Christ can we be brought to spiritual life, which is why we must cling to Him through all of our lives.

March 19, 2023 - Matters of the Heart (Fourth Sunday of Lent) - Luis Dizon

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There is a human tendency to look at outward appearances to determine a person’s worthiness for a task or a position, especially one of leadership. Physical strength, attractiveness, wealth, family connections, and personal charisma are the usual categories that we use when choosing a leader. Even in the ancient world, these traits were used to legitimize kings. A strong man who could vanquish foes in battle was seen as having the approval of Heaven. Recall how David’s predecessor, Saul, was chosen because he was said to be taller than the rest of the people (1 Samuel 10:23), and the remainder of his rule was justified by his ability to defeat Israel’s enemies in battle. Later on, however, he flagrantly disobeyed God by not killing the Amalekite king and their cattle, causing God to reject him as king (cf. 1 Samuel 15)

For God, however, the important things are not the externals. What matters is the heart. Piety, obedience, and trust in God are what He looks for. Saul had none of these qualities. Later on, when Samuel goes to Jesse’s sons, David was the one who had these traits the most. Scripture says that he was a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22) This is why he is chosen to be king, despite his unassuming figure relative to his brothers. David’s kingship becomes important later on because out of his lineage comes Jesus, who is said to sit on the throne of David (Luke 1:32, Romans 1:3).

It is not wrong to cultivate external things like strength, beauty and charisma. Even David is said to have had these things. We must remember however, that these things are secondary to faith, and must be put in the service of faith, such as what David does in the Bible. Only by putting them in service of faith do they become worthwhile.

March 12, 2023 - Water From the Rock (Third Sunday of Lent) - Luis Dizon

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One of the recurring themes in the Bible is the persistent faithlessness of the people of Israel. Even after they had just witnessed God bring down ten plagues upon Egypt and parted the Red Sea, they still express doubt about God’s ability to provide for them. So God performs the miracle of causing water to flow from the rock, and yet even after this, the Israelites still grumbled. Because of this, the wilderness generation became the prime examples of lack of faith in Scripture. As the Psalmist says:

O that today you would listen to his voice!
Harden not your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I was wearied of that generation
and said, “They are a people who err in heart,
and they do not regard my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my anger
that they should not enter my rest. (Psalm 95:7-11)

When we get to the New Testament, we learn that the rock which provided water was a type of Christ. St. Paul makes this point explicit when he states the following:

I want you to know, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:1-4)

Jesus alludes to this Himself in John 4:14 when he spoke to the Samaritan woman in the Gospel reading. He told her: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Also, a number of early church fathers, such as St. Augustin have stated that just as Christ’s presence to the Israelites in the rock typifies His real presence in the Eucharist.

Thus, just as Christ satisfied the Israelites’ physical thirst in Exodus, so He also satisfies our spiritual hunger and thirst with Himself. We come to Him, trusting that He alone can vivify us with His life-giving water.

March 5, 2023 - Abraham’s Calling (Second Sunday of Lent) - Luis Dizon

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God’s calling of Abram is a pivotal moment in the Biblical narrative. After the first 11 chapters of Genesis describe the creation and fall of humanity, chapter 12 shifts gears and focuses on one obscure family, whose history marks the beginning of God’s plan to redeem the world. Here Abram (later renamed Abraham) is called out of Haran, a city in northern Syria, to emigrate to Canaan. God promises to make a nation out of Abram’s descendants, and to give them the land as their possession. This is the basis of the covenant that He will later make with him in Genesis 15 and 17.

God further states that Abraham’s offspring, the people of Israel, will become a source of blessing to the nations. This comes about in two ways. First, He gives Israel a law which they are to follow. In so doing, they are to become the model for other nations of what a godly people are like:

Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them; for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)

Second, out of Israel will come the Messiah, who is to be the Saviour of the world. Thus, the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram comes through Christ, who is God’s blessing to the world by means of His salvific death and resurrection. All who believe in Christ and are baptized become Abraham’s spiritual offspring, as St. Paul states in Galatians:

Now before faith came, we were confined under the law, kept under restraint until faith should be revealed. So that the law was our custodian until Christ came, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:23-29)

By faith in Christ, we become children of Abraham and recipients of the blessing that God promised through him. Let us take hold of that promised blessing and invite others to share in it.

February 26, 2023 - Adam, Eve, and the Fall (First Sunday of Lent) - Luis Dizon

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One of the ongoing discussions that is taking place in theology is the question of how the story of Adam and Eve fits into our understanding of the world. Because of modern evolutionary theory, there is a tendency to simply dismiss that story as a myth. However, to do so would be to remove the foundation of the Christian narrative of history. Pope Pius XII recognized this when he released his papal encyclical on human origins, Humani Generis (1950). He affirmed that Adam and Eve were real historical persons, and that all human beings are descended from them:

When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own. (Pius XII, Humani Generis 37)

This understanding is reflected in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which also regards the Fall as a real event. It states the following:

The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents. (CCC 390)

When we read the other scripture readings for today, we see why it is necessary to affirm the historicity of Adam and Eve. First off, in the epistle reading, St. Paul affirms that the reason sin exists in the world is because of the original transgression of Adam (Romans 5:12-19). It is that first historical event that renders God’s redemptive plan as narrated in Scripture necessary. This is reinforced by St. Paul’s paralleling the disobedience of Adam with the obedience of Christ. For this reason, we refer to Christ as the Second Adam, who reverses what first Adam did.

When we go to the Gospel reading (Matthew 4:1-11), we see the temptation of Adam and Eve mirrored by the three temptations of Christ. The difference is that whereas Adam and Eve failed to resist that temptation, Christ succeeded. This is just one of several connections between Adam and Jesus. We also have St. Luke tracing His genealogy back to Adam, showing the biological connection between them (Luke 3:38). Also, in teaching about marriage and divorce, Jesus points to Adam and Eve as the model of how God intended marriage (Matthew 19:1-9). Here, He constructs an entire theology of marriage on the first couple.

Hence, much of the Christian faith depends on understanding the importance of the Adam and Eve story. How our first parents lived before the Fall reflects God’s original plan for humanity. Also, that Fall is the first chapter in the long saga of humanity trying to find its way back to God, which culminates in the cross of Christ, where God reaches out to provide that way back.

February 19, 2023 - Holiness to the Lord (Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time) - Luis Dizon

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The focus of this reading from Leviticus is on the theme of holiness. It begins with an affirmation that God is holy. The term literally means “set apart.” Although God has many attributes, Scripture puts a special emphasis on the holiness of God. That’s why we read that God is referred to three times as holy in Isaiah 6:3, and is reflected in the liturgy in the Sanctus. This affirmation is meant to invoke in us a sense of awe and reverence for God, and how unworthy we are to stand in His presence apart from His grace.

Although only God is perfectly holy (as we affirm in the Gloria), His people partake of that same holiness, albeit imperfectly. From this, we get the concept of the “saint.” Believers are referred to as saints. Although none of us fully embody that reality in this lifetime, we are called to strive to be as saintly in our conduct as we can, because as Hebrews 12:14 tells us, without holiness, “nobody can see the Lord.”

The rest of the chapter gives instructions on how to live a holy life, with the most important command being to love our neighbour as ourselves (verses 17-18). Likewise, Jesus in our Gospel reading on the Sermon on the Mount, further expounds on this theme of holy living, with an emphasis on our relations with others.

Thus, we are called to be saints, and by the aid of the Holy Spirit, we hope to become more saintly as time goes on, so that others would see our good works and glorify the Father (Matthew 5:16). Finally, we hope that at the end of all this, we would be allowed to see the Lord face to face in the beatific vision.

February 12, 2023 - Choosing the Good (Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time) - Luis Dizon

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Although this week’s missal reading from Sirach Chapter 15 only covers verses 15-20, it is worth reading verses 11-14 as well, since they provide some important context for this reading. This passage of Sirach is important because it presents to us the view of free will that predominated ancient Judaism, and which informed the authors of the New Testament.

Both free will and predestination are taught in Scripture, but how to relate the two is a complicated matter, and different theologians have resolved the issues in different ways. Nevertheless, some definite boundaries are definitely established for us. On the one hand, the necessity of grace and our inability to believe or do any good apart from it is affirmed. For example, St. Paul tells us that faith is something that is granted to us by God (Philippians 1:29), and that nobody can say that Jesus is Lord apart from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Jesus Himself says that nobody can come to Him unless the Father draws him (John 6:44, 65). The Church has condemned the idea that anyone can come to God unaided by grace, first in the Council of Orange (529), and then in the Council of Trent (1547). As those two councils teach:

If anyone maintains that some are able to come to the grace of baptism by mercy but others through free will, which has manifestly been corrupted in all those who have been born after the transgression of the first man, it is proof that he has no place in the true faith. For he denies that the free will of all men has been weakened through the sin of the first man, or at least holds that it has been affected in such a way that they have still the ability to seek the mystery of eternal salvation by themselves without the revelation of God. (Council of Orange, canon 8)

If any one saith, that the grace of God, through Jesus Christ, is given only for this, that man may be able more easily to live justly, and to merit eternal life, as if, by free will without grace, he were able to do both, though hardly indeed and with difficulty; let him be anathema. (Council of Trent, Session VI, canon 2)

On the other hand, the Scriptures also teach the necessity of one’s free will to cooperate with God’s grace. This reading from Sirach is a prime example of this. There are also numerous commands for us to choose the good, which are meaningful only if the one hearing them is able to do something about the command being given. For example:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live (Deuteronomy 30:19)

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms free-will when it says in the following paragraphs:

God’s free initiative demands man’s free response, for God has created man in his image by conferring on him, along with freedom, the power to know him and love him. the soul only enters freely into the communion of love. God immediately touches and directly moves the heart of man. He has placed in man a longing for truth and goodness that only he can satisfy. (CCC 2002)

The divine initiative in the work of grace precedes, prepares, and elicits the free response of man. Grace responds to the deepest yearnings of human freedom, calls freedom to cooperate with it, and perfects freedom. (CCC 2022)

Therefore, we affirm both the necessity of grace and the freedom of the will. Scripture and tradition teach both, and while it remains for cleverer minds to work out how the two harmonize with one another, we do not toss one or the other aside, or consider them to be contradictory.

February 5, 2023 - The God of Justice (Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time) - Luis Dizon

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In order to fully appreciate this Sunday’s reading from Isaiah, it’s worth reading the whole of chapter 58, as the 6 verses preceding the reading provide important context for the reading. In Isaiah 58:6, God refers to acts of justice as the “fast that I choose,” because in verses 1-5, He chastises His people for the hypocritical way in which they will engage in religious acts such as fasting and prayer, yet fight amongst themselves and ignore the plight of the poor. Thus God says that their acts of piety are of no avail to them:

Why have we fasted, and you see it not?

Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,

and oppress all your workers.

Behold, you fast only to quarrel

and to fight and to hit with wicked fist.

Fasting like yours this day

will not make your voice to be heard on high. (Isaiah 58:3-4)

Instead of this hypocritical religiosity, God extols His people to act justly towards their neighbour, especially the poor among them. In Catholic social teaching, this is what we refer to as the corporal works of mercy: To feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, ransom the captive, and bury the dead.

These works of mercy do not replace fasting and prayer, however, nor make them unnecessary. It is important for the life of the believer to have both, because piety without justice is hypocritical, whereas justice without piety is godlessness. This is the essence of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel reading, when He commands us to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). It also accords with the teaching of St. James, who says:

If any one thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is vain. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)

Thus, this passage teaches us that our God is a God of justice. He demands not merely ceremonial acts of piety, but a piety that is expressed in justice for those in need. This is the essence of true religion, and the surest sign that ours is a living faith.

January 29, 2023 - The Faithful Remnant (Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time) - Luis Dizon

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The prophet Zephaniah lived in Judah during the late stages of the monarchical period. He wrote his book during the reign of King Josiah (Zeph. 1:1), who was one of Judah’s righteous kings who enacted religious reforms in accordance with the Law. Despite this, however, there was still much wickedness in the land, and after Josiah died, the people once again disobeyed the Lord, and this disobedience ultimately led to their exile at the hands of the Babylonians.

It is against this disobedience that Zephaniah spoke out. He prophesied that the proud and exalted (meaning the rulers of the land) would be removed from Zion, leaving only the poor and humble (Zeph. 3:11-13). This is precisely what we read happened in 2 Kings 24:14, where it says that after Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, took away all the mighty men and royal officials, “none remained, except the poorest people of the land.”

Those that did remain in the land, however, are described by the prophet as more faithful to the Lord, and they did not act unjustly or dishonestly. These, he declares, will be blessed by God with peace and security, as they will not be disturbed by the tumults and wars that afflict the land. They would keep the faith until the exiles finally returned to Israel during the Persian period, when they would finally rebuild Jerusalem and the Temple.

This accords with the theme of the epistle and Gospel readings as well, which focus on God preferring the poor, weak and humble over the rich, mighty and wise, because they are the ones who entrust themselves to the Lord. Those who remain faithful to Him in humility and sincerity will obtain His blessings, and will be spared from His punishments on the day of wrath. In a world that privileges worldly wealth and power, we must be the faithful remnant who continue to live out these virtues, and thus be preserved when that day comes.

January 22, 2023 - Light out of Darkness (Third Sunday of Ordinary Time) - Luis Dizon

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If the Old Testament reading seems familiar, it is because Isaiah 9 is also the Old Testament reading that was read during Christmas (Isaiah 9:1-6). However, this reading includes verse 1, and omits verses 6-7. The omission of verses 6-7 from this reading makes the passage less focused on the child who is to be born, and more on the light and deliverance of God’s people, who walk in darkness and will experience a great light.

The inclusion of verse 1 is significant for the geographical references it makes. Naphtali and Zebulun are both northern tribes, which broke away from the southern kingdom of Judah to form the northern kingdom of Israel. Their territory is located around the west side of the Sea of Galilee. At the time this passage was written, they were at war with Judah, which is mentioned in Isaiah 7-8. Because of this, they are painted in the preceding chapters as the antagonists.

Despite this, however, God still has a plan for the northern kingdom. God continued to send prophets to the north (such as Elijah and Amos) right up to when they were taken captive by Assyria. In our reading, Isaiah declares that although the people in the land walk in darkness, they will once again see the light, and turn back towards God.

Finally, there is an interesting reference to “Galilee of the Nations.” This refers to the east shore of the Sea of Galilee, which lay beyond the territory of Israel. By naming this territory alongside Zebulun and Naphtali, we are being informed that God’s plan of redemption extends beyond Israel to encompass the gentile nations.

This brings us to our Gospel reading (Matthew 4:12-23). There, Jesus is shown beginning His public ministry in Galilee, where Zebulun and Naphtali once resided. By quoting Isaiah in connection with Jesus’ ministry, Matthew is letting us know that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy in question. Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy by bringing light, not just to Israel, but to the nations. In order to walk in that light, we must respond to Jesus’ call: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

January 15, 2023 - Light to the Nations (Second Sunday of Ordinary Time) - Luis Dizon

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This Sunday’s reading is the second of the “Servant Songs” in Isaiah (the first one is in Isaiah 42:1-7). Each successive song adds to the details shared in the previous song(s), and here, we glean something about the identity of the Servant of the Lord.

First, the Servant is referred to as “Israel” (v. 3). Contemporary Judaism, following the medieval interpreter Rashi, uses this as evidence that the Servant metaphorically refers to the Jews as a nation. However, this interpretation conflicts with v. 5, which says that the Servant is tasked with bringing Israel back to God. How can Israel bring Israel back to God? An alternate interpretation is necessary, which harmonizes these details:

The apparent identification of the Servant with Israel seems to imply that in [verse] 5 Israel has a mission to Israel which is impossible. It must be noted however that Israel is here qualified as the means of the glorification of Yahweh. It was in view of the Messiah that Israel was chosen and by the Messiah that Israel glorified Yahweh. Thus Israel here is not the people but the Messiah. In an analogous sense an absolute monarch can say ‘L’Etat, c’est moi’.[1]

In other words, the Servant, as the Messiah, represents Israel as its king, and thus may be called “Israel.” The Messiah is the true Israel, who fulfills all that is promised to the nation as a whole.

Another important detail regarding the Servant concerns his work. As already stated, He is to bring Israel back to God. This means that even if the Jewish people go astray from God’s path, they will not remain astray forever. This accords with what we read in St. Paul, who teaches the eventual salvation of Israel:

And even the others, if they do not persist in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved (Romans 11:23-26a)

Finally, we see the Servant’s ministry extending beyond the Jews to the rest of the world, as taught in verse 6. Even in Isaiah, we already see glimpses of the universal mission of God, whom scripture says “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Regardless of our nationality or origins, we are the beneficiaries of God’s redemption, so long as we cling to faith in His Servant, the Messiah Jesus.

[1] E. Power, “Isaias,” in A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, ed. Bernard Orchard and Edmund F. Sutcliffe (Toronto, ON: Thomas Nelson, 1953), 566.

January 8, 2023 - The Light of Israel (Epiphany) - Luis Dizon

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This passage of Isaiah is addressed to the Jews exiled in Babylon. Here, the prophet predicts a future where the Jewish people would be gathered from all of the nations they were scattered in and brought to Zion. Then, the light of Israel would arise and give light to the nations, who would walk in that light, and give homage to Israel.

A partial fulfillment of this passage came when the King Cyrus of Persia decreed that the Jews would be allowed to return to their land and rebuild their temple. The glory of Israel would not be seen then, however. Even after the second temple was built, it lacked the glory of the first temple, where God Himself dwelt, whose presence was represented by the Ark of the Covenant. Thus, the passage would await a fuller fulfillment at the coming of Christ.

Traditionally, the passage has been interpreted as being fulfilled when the Magi came to worship the child Jesus, hence its association with the Feast of the Epiphany. We can readily see this from many details in the text. For example, the constant references to light, radiance and rising all point towards the star that shone over Bethlehem. Also, the nations are said to bring gold and frankincense to Israel (v. 6). The reference to Midian and Ephah can also be an indication that the Magi originated there. Also, the reference to kings in v. 3 has led to the interpretation that the Magi were kings. Whatever the case, it is not hard to see how the coming of the Magi would fulfill this prophecy.

This Old Testament scripture shows us how the events of the Nativity were foretold hundreds of years in advance. Today, we walk in the light of God’s glory in Christ, who is the Light of the World (John 8:12). Just as the Magi were guided by the star during Epiphany, may we also continue to be guided by His light.

January 1, 2023 - The Aaronic Blessing (Solemnity of the Mother of God) - Luis Dizon

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 The “Aaronic Blessing,” as it is traditionally called, is a prayer which the Levitical priests prayed over the people of Israel in the Old Covenant. It was an invocation wherein God’s blessings are declared over the people. Even though it is usually declared over a whole group, the blessing is worded is such a way that it is as though each individual is personally receiving the blessing (the word “you” in Hebrew is in the singular). This teaches us that God desires to bless each of His children personally, since our relationship with Him is personal.

Included in the words of the blessing is the petition that God would shine His face upon His people. This metaphor is common in ancient near eastern texts, and can be found in numerous places in Scripture. For example, Psalm 44:3 states, “for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm save them, but your right hand and your arm, and the light of your face, for you delighted in them.” Likewise, Psalm 80:3 reads: “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved!”

Finally, we read in verse 27 that the Lord’s name is to be invoked by the Israelites. God’s name (YHWH) is very important. This is why His name appears three times in the blessing, for it reminds the people to whom they belong and who is the source of all their provision. This is the same name which Jesus taught us to pray that it should be kept holy in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9).

As we enter the New Year and celebrate the solemnity of the Mother of God, this reading reminds us of the blessings that God has poured out upon us in the past year, and continues to do so in the year ahead. We trust in Him to continue blessing us, and ask Him for an ever greater measure of His grace.