St. John the Baptist

St. John the Baptist

By Lisa Fernandes

Today is the Solemnity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist, one of the oldest celebrations in the Church. And a popular holiday in Québec (St. Jean-Baptiste Day). John is an important figure in that he is a forerunner of Christ. This is shown in that his birthday is June 24th, six months before the birth of Jesus at Christmas. Ordinarily the death of a Saint is celebrated as a Feast Day but there are two notable exceptions, Mary and St John the Baptist where their birth is celebrated instead. While not officially declared as such, many believe that John was cleansed of original sin when he recognized Jesus and leaped within his mother’s womb. As we read in the first reading: “…pay attention, you peoples from far away! And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant,…” (Isaiah 49.5) Pope Francis recognizes the importance of St. John the Baptist as a model of evangelizing when he says, “In sharing the Gospel with others, Christians must be like St. John the Baptist, preparing the way for the Lord, pointing him out to others, then stepping aside.” Perhaps in that way, we can all be precursors of Christ’s second coming. John baptized Jesus and knew from the start of Jesus’ greatness. He shows his admiration and how unimportant he is in comparison to Jesus in the second reading when he says: ”…one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.” (Acts 13.25) John knew from the beginning he was special, as unworthy as he considered himself in comparison. His mother Elizabeth became pregnant with him even though she was not of childbearing age. He knew in the womb that he was there to herald Christ. Even when it came time to name him, though he would normally receive a relative’s name, like that of his father Zechariah, instead Elizabeth said his name would be John. Zechariah used a writing tablet and wrote: “His name is John.” (Luke 1.63) after which he regained his power of speech. John spent most of his early life in the desert until he appeared publicly — again being a forerunner to Jesus. In those days in the desert he went through dark times doubting his role but then gave light to the world in foretelling Christ. We all may sometimes feel we are going through dark times, but can look forward to the light of Christ.

Sunday’s Readings:

Isaiah 49.1-6

Psalm 139

Acts 13.22-26

Luke 1.57-66, 80

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

by Fr. Norm Tanck

“… acknowledge today and take to heart that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other. Keep his statutes and his commandments…” (Dt 4:32-34, 39-40). One of the familiar images of the Holy Trinity is the 15th century Rublev icon. Three angels representing the Trinity are seated around a square table. The fourth side is left open as an invitation for others to join them in the communion they are sharing. The fourth place at the Trinitarian table is ours. We come to know the life of the Trinity through entering into the mystery itself by loving as God loves. Jesus gave us the great commandment to love one another as he loved us (John 15:12-15). That love is the same love with which Jesus loves the Father and the Father love him, “As the Father loves me, so I love you” (John 15:9). That love is the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts and renew the earth. But, just as we are invited into this loving communion of persons, Jesus charges us to invite others into the table fellowship depicted in the Rublev Trinity icon. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:16-20).

Sunday’s Readings:

Deuteronomy 4.32-34, 39-40

Psalm 33

Romans 8.14-17

Matthew 28.16-20

Renew the face of the Earth

Renew the face of the Earth

by Michael Pirri

The word “Pentecost” is derived from the greek word for fiftieth; today marks the fiftieth, and last, day of Eastertide. It’s also known as Whitsunday from “White Sunday”, in reference to the Solemnity being a day where traditionally, donned in their white garments, many people were baptized. Our first reading today is taken from the Acts of the Apostles, and depicts what must have been a frightening, yet exciting, occurrence for the apostles. I can’t help but wonder what they must have been thinking as they began to speak different languages. What must have first felt like a gift, I’m sure began to feel like a tremendous responsibility to share Gospel. Throughout the ages, that responsibility has carried on, and now it is our responsibility. Imagine if we felt the same sense of urgency that the apostles felt. How much does each of us play a role to contributing to this evangelization? How can we let the Spirit fill us and lead us? Just as the Holy Spirit filled each of the apostles there, so too does it fill us with our gifts. Praying the following prayer, I’d like you to spend a few moments every day this week to think about the way your gifts are meant to be used: Father of light, from whom every good gift comes, send your Spirit into our lives with the power of a mighty wind, and by the flame of your wisdom open the horizons of our minds. Let the Spirit you sent on your Church to begin the teaching of the Gospel continue to work in the world through the hearts of all who believe. Amen. Sunday’s Readings: Acts 2.1-11 Psalm 104 1 Corinthians 12.3-7, 12-13 John 15.26-27; 16.12-15

Love

Love

by Lisa Fernandes

Love is the focus of today’s readings. Jesus starting in Mark 12:28 states that love of God and love of one’s neighbour are of utmost importance. In the Bible, there are four types of love identified: storge (empathy), philia (friendship), eros (erotic) and agape (God’s unconditional love). It is this unconditional love from God that is discussed today.

In the first reading, we read about Gentiles being given the gift of the Holy Spirit. As the Holy Spirit is God by extension they are being given the gift of love.

In the second reading we are asked to: “…love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4.7-8)
Love is such an important part of the Bible that Pope Benedict’s first encyclical called Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) dealt with love, and Pope Francis referred to it in Feb 2016 on its 10th anniversary when he said: “God does not simply have the desire or capacity to love; God is love: charity is his essence, it is his nature.”

God’s love is unconditional; his love is very different from the love we often experience with one another because it is not based on feelings. He doesn’t love us because we please him. He loves us simply because He is love.

This theme of unconditional love for one another continues in the Gospel where Jesus asks us to love one another as he loves us: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15.12-13)

By asking us to love one another as God loves us, he is setting out a high standard of love. Recent events have made me realize that perhaps that standard is reachable. In the recent tragedy on Yonge St, strangers showed love for the victims of the van rampage as they lay injured in the street; many rushed to the aid of people they did not even know. And as the first reading tells us, the love of God is for all nations. And both the victims and the Good Samaritans in this tragedy represented the diversity of nations that live in Toronto: “…God shows not partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” (Acts 10.34-35)

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches us what love of neighbour is. We have just seen an example of how this can be real.

Sunday’s Readings:
Acts 10.25-26, 34-35, 44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 4.7-10
John 15.9-17

Vine and Branches

Vine and Branches

by Fr. Norm Tanck, CSB

“I am” statements are characteristic of the way Jesus presents himself to us in John’s Gospel: I am the Light of the World, the Bread of Life, the Good Shepherd. Today he says he is the Vine and we are the branches. These “I am” statements help us to see ourselves and our relationships more clearly, how we relate to Jesus and to others. We are the flock that hears his voice and the branches that are pruned to bear much fruit. When Jesus says that “I am the vine, you are the branches” he is presenting an image of believers who know who they are in and through their relationship to Jesus. The vine and its branches give us an image of a community of believers whose members share in the same divine life. The Church is a mystery that thrives on the resurrected life of Jesus which surges through all its members. We live in Christ and Christ lives in us. As Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you…” Although Jesus looks after us, being a community of believers united in mind and heart with him takes work and commitment. It takes faith and trust, hope and courage. Cooperating with the Holy Spirit, the community must work together to make sure that there is continued growth. St. Paul tells us, “… let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth…”

Sunday’s Readings:

  • Acts 9.26-31
  • Psalm 22
  • 1 John 3.18-24
  • John 15.1-8

The Kingdom of God

The Kingdom of God

by Norm Tanck, CSB

We have arrived scripturally and liturgically in Jerusalem. There are two alternate Gospel readings for the blessing of Palms (Mk 11:1-10 and Jn 12:12-16) that remind us that Jesus had come there as crowds of pilgrims were gathering to celebrate the Feast of Passover. For the Jews this was a feast that celebrated their freedom from slavery in Egypt but also looked forward to the time when Messiah would come and free them from the oppression of the Roman Empire. It would not be too much of a stretch of the imagination to see Jesus’ arrival as a protest march confronting the Empire, proclaiming that its power would end, hopefully soon. But it is much, much more than that. Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus arrives riding a colt, which could be a horse (only Matthews’s Gospel says it’s a donkey). He comes riding in like a king, while people place their cloaks on the ground, a gesture usually reserved for royalty. At the same time, they are waving leafy branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!”. That kingdom would come sooner than, I am sure, the crowds may have expected or hoped for. But it would be much different than the kingdom of their dreams. It would be a kingdom that transcends political powers and boundaries. It would be an eternal, universal kingdom of justice and peace. A kingdom where even death would not hold God’s people captive. It was the Kingdom of God. When we read about the suffering and death of Jesus today and on Good Friday it is important for us to look beyond the Cross, and even the Resurrection, to see that the Kingdom of God is breaking through and that we have been invited to live in it forever. The Triduum (Holy Thursday through to the Easter Vigil) is a celebration of our liberation from sin and death and of our citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

Sunday’s Readings:

Isaiah 50.4-7

Psalm 22

Phillippians 2.6-11

Mark 14.1-15.47

Letting Go

Letting Go by Michael Pirri

“…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and it dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. […] Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.” (John 12.24-26) This Gospel passage presents a metaphor which is very interesting. Being a grain of wheat is easy; we grow up as one of what seems like infinitely many grains, never really preoccupied with anything other then being a grain. But is that our full potential? Not even close! What’s most compelling is what happens to the grain when it falls. Away from it’s plant, the grain is starved for life — but all is not lost. What is most interesting is the notion that the grain dies. If you’re like me, this seems absurd: surely if the grain dies then it wouldn’t grow into a new plant. And while this may be the case, Jesus is trying to tell us that we have to leave our preconceived notions behind in order to follow Him, to grow to our full potential. We are reminded of the mustard grain; but we have to trust that we are capable of much more than we realize. For if the grain does not fall from the plant, there it will surely die. Jesus tell his disciples “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16.24-26) Here the answer is difficult, but the question for us is straightforward — will you leave it all behind?

Sunday’s Readings:

Jeremiah 31.31-34

Psalm 51

Hebrews 5.7-9

John 12.20-33

Signs

Signs

by Lisa Fernandes

Today’s readings, on the third Sunday of Lent, are about signs and symbols of God. The first reading is about a physical symbol of God’s word, in this case the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments which were “…written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18) In the Second Commandment we specifically read about the danger of worshipping physical objects meant to signify God: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above…” (Exodus 20.4). This is not a literal prohibition against carving physical images; it is about placing our faith in anything that takes the place of us depending on God. The responsorial Psalm 19 tells us that the precepts law and fear of the Lord are more to be desired than gold: ”More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;…” (Psalm 19.10) The importance of a sign or symbol of God is what it means, not what it’s made of. We encounter in our lives not only religious symbols but also secular ones. The Olympics this year partially took place during Lent. The ultimate quest in the Olympics is for the gold medal, a sign that an athlete is the best in the world and some athletes worship the gold medal almost just like worshipping an idol. Some are happy just to be there and participate. We need to take caution in not relying on the wrong kinds of idols to fulfill us (want to put down your phone?) The second reading continues the theme of the first and reinforces the importance of the cross as a sign and symbol of Christianity. In first Corinthians we read that the Gentiles may see our signs as foolishness however: “The message about the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1.18) When we were marked on Ash Wednesday with the sign of the cross on our foreheads, that was a visible symbol of the Cross that also expressed that we are mortal and fallible: “…For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) Finally in the Gospel we read the important story about Jesus driving out the moneylenders who were more concerned with the signs of material wealth than this being a temple of God. We see a very angry Christ telling us how important this is. The Jews demanded a sign that he had the authority to cleanse the temple: “…What sign can you show us for doing this?” and he anticipates his death and resurrection. (John 2.18) The most important sign is one you cannot see – your faith.

Sunday’s Readings:

Exodus 20.1-17

Psalm 19

1 Corinthians 1.18, 22-25

John 2.13-25

The Pledge of Future Glory

The Pledge of Future Glory
by Erica Tice
Each year the 2nd Sunday of Lent presents us with the account of Christ’s transfiguration on the mountainside. Seeing as the Lenten season has just begun, it seems to be an interesting vignette in the life of Christ to be recalling when, ordinarily, we might think that focussing on Christ’s suffering and death might be more appropriate to the season. A closer look, however, allows us to see that the account of Christ’s transfiguration has deep significance for us early in this season of Lent as it focuses on the sister virtues of hope and perseverance.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1817). It is precisely this virtue that Christ wants to strengthen in Peter, James, and John and, by virtue of our baptism, in us as well. He knows that His friends will abandon Him in His hour of need, not because they no longer love Him, but because they are weak and fearful. This transfiguration into glory on the mountainside serves as a foreshadowing of the glory of the life to come in the kingdom of heaven. We are meant to recall this glory, and the promise of our future glory, when we are in the midst of our own penance and suffering.

Perseverance is the virtue by which we maintain our hope and carry out our objectives to attain holiness in spite of difficulties. Holiness is earned, not bestowed. In today’s Gospel, we understand that Peter, James, and John will need to persevere not only through Christ’s suffering and death, but also their own tribulations and martyrdom to attain holiness. We, too, strive to persevere through the wear and tear of daily life, always keeping the goal in mind: eternal life. St. Thomas Aquinas, a 13th century Dominican friar and theological giant, phrased it beautifully when he penned a prayer relating to the virtue of perseverance: “O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is recalled, the soul is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given to us.”

This week, let us anchor our hope in God and recall the pledge of future glory that Christ has promised to all those who persevere in the life of grace: eternal happiness in heaven with the Trinity and all the saints.

Sunday’s Readings:
Genesis 22.1-2, 9.-13, 15-18
Psalm 116
Romans 8.31b-35, 37
Mark 9.2-10

Field Hospital

Field Hospital

by John Dalla Costa

Pope Francis often describes the church as a “field hospital.” The world’s wounds are not of tangential concern to the church. They are its holy mission. Indeed, evangelization is empty without attending to both the causes and aftermaths of those injuries that effect the health of body, mind, heart and soul. Early church fathers and mothers recognized that, as the mystical body of Christ, the church must continue the healing work of Jesus’ ministry. St. John Chrysostom called the church “a hospital for sinners, not a court of law.” St. Ambrose recognized that “sickness needs medicine. The medicine is the heavenly and venerable sacrament of the Eucharist.” Pope Francis is retrieving this ancient legacy, while also renewing it. He is asking us each to go into the world, as only we can – in the fields of our own our workplaces and classrooms, of our daily meetings and coffeeshop encounters, of our political activity and social justice work – to bring, as Jesus did, sacramental healing, hope and joy to others. Today’s readings remind us of the revolutionary power to heal that we’ve inherited through Baptism. The law in Leviticus logically sought to protect the community from leprously, which is as contagious as it is catastrophic. The burden of the law, however, fell on the ill, so that those afflicted with the disease were held responsible for their own painful ostracization. Jesus reverses this law, making himself vulnerable to the most vulnerable. In the passage preceding today’s gospel, Jesus tells his disciples : “Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also.” Moving into the field, which is always unpredictable and dangerous, Jesus meets the leper, and heals him. Such a hospital is not a place, but a disposition: it is not a structure, but an encounter, which looks beyond legal responsibility to attend to the moral needs of the human person before, or beside us. Not surprisingly, the medicine we usually most need personally is often the same as that, which by our gifts, and by God’s grace, only we can administer to others.

Sunday’s Readings:

  • Leviticus 13.1-2, 45-46
  • Psalm 32
  • 1 Corinthians 10.31-11.1
  • Mark 1.40-45