Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Small Deeds, Great Love 

In today's Gospel, Jesus teaches us that the size of our good deeds is not nearly as important as our motivations for doing them. 

Let's listen again to Jesus' words in Mark 9:41. 

Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink
because you belong to Christ,
amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward. 

The deed is very small...a simple drink of water. But it is done out of great love...a love of Christ and a love of the person who belongs to Christ. 

Jesus firmly assures us that those who perform small deeds with great love will not lose their reward, and that reward will correspond to the size of the love, not the size of the deed. 

Small deeds, great love, amazing rewards. 

What will do you for Jesus today?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Notes on the Gospel of Matthew 1:21

When the angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, he reassured Joseph that he need not be afraid to take Mary as his wife. Mary's Child had been conceived in her by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary would give birth to a Son, and Joseph would have the task of naming Him Jesus, “for He will save His people from their sins.”

The phrase “for He will save His people from their sins” raises some questions: What does it mean to save someone? Who are His people? What is sin?

Let's look briefly at each of these, not to answer them in full (for working out their answers is the job of a lifetime) but at least to take our first steps along the journey of reflection. We'll use the Greek text as an interpretive key to help us begin to grasp the meaning of salvation, God's people, and sin and to understand exactly what Jesus has done for us.

What does it mean to save someone? The Greek word for “to save” is sōzō. It has a number of different but related meanings:
* to save
* to rescue
* to heal or restore
* to make whole or sound
* to preserve from loss, danger, or destruction
* to maintain intact what is already established (

According to the Greek, then, salvation combines elements of rescue, healing, restoration, a return to wholeness, and preservation. Jesus will do all of these for His people.

Who are His people? The Greek here is ton laon autou. Some interpreters maintain that the possessive indicates that Jesus belongs to a particular people, and therefore, this phrase refers only to the Jews. Others, however, note that the possessive could also mean that the people belong to Jesus. In this case Jesus' people would be the entire world. Everyone. For He, as the Word of God, created every single person who ever lived, who lives now, and who will ever live. The Greek word choice, laon, seems to support the latter interpretation, for usually the word used when referring to one's own people is dēmos.

The text notes that Jesus will save His people from their sins. What is sin? The Greek word for sin is harmartia. Thayer's Greek Definitions explains that harmartia is “that which is done wrong, sin, an offence, a violation of the divine law in thought or in act; miss the mark; to err, be mistaken; to miss or wander from the path of uprightness and honour, to do or go wrong; to wander from the law of God, violate God’s law, sin.”

Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries agrees with Thayer's definition and notes that the noun harmartia comes from the verb hamartanō, which may originate from a combination of the negative particle with meros, meaning a division or share. In this etymology, then, a sin would be the loss of a share in something or someone.

The Bible study website Great Treasures offers an alternate etymology for harmartia. It suggests that harmartia may derive from the word amara, which is “a duct or canal by which water flows down to any place.” If this is so, harmartia would be related to the Hebrew words that mean “to speak or put forth” and “an evil influence.” Great Treasures continues, noting that the Hebrew indicates “the idea of turpidity and excitement, muddy confusion in water, acetous fermentation in wine, bitumen arising from hot natural springs, collection of mud brought down by tumultuous waters, bitter and brackish waters, etc.” If this etymology is accurate, Great Treasures concludes that hamartia, sin, “is the defiling influence and bitter principle of disturbance which has flowed down upon the creation of God.”

By basing the definition of sin on the meaning of the Greek word, we understand that sin is a missed mark, a wandering away, a loss of a share, and muddy waters. When we sin, we miss the mark of God's love. We don't make the standard. We don't hit the target. We fall short. We wander away from the Lord and His plan for us. Sin also muddies the waters of our lives. It makes things bitter, dirty, acidic, and confused. Further, when we miss the mark, wander away, and muddy the waters badly enough, we lose our share in God's divine life. We lose sanctifying grace through mortal sin. We lose God's divine indwelling and our eternal life with Him. Nothing could be worse than that.

Jesus has come to save His people from their sins. He has come to rescue us, to heal us, to restore us, to make us whole, to draw us back to Him, to give us a share in His life, to clear the waters of our lives. He has come that we may have life, real life, eternal life, life with God now and in Heaven. Nothing could be better than that. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reflecting on Today's Second Reading

Take some time this week to reflect on these verses from today's Second Reading and on your own prayer life.

You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:2-3)

* What are you missing in your life?

* Have you asked God to supply your needs? Why or why not?

* Do you believe that God will give you everything you truly need? Why or why not?

* What have you asked God for that you have not received?

* Why do you think you didn't receive what you asked for?

* How did you ask God?

* What does it mean to ask for something wrongly?

* How does a person ask God for something correctly?

* What role does humility play in prayer?

* What role do motivations and intentions play in prayer?

* What are your primary attitudes, motivations, and intentions in prayer?

* How would you describe your prayer life?

* How might you strengthen your prayer life?

Remember, prayer is not so much about getting something as about getting Someone.

You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:2-3)

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Gaudium et Spes – Part 7

In the second part of Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II Fathers discuss some of the “more urgent problems” facing the world today and illuminate them with the light of Christ. Each of the five chapters in the second part focuses on a particular issue relevant to the modern world: marriage and family, culture, economic and social life, the political community, and peace and international communion.

Here are some of the topics and ideas you'll find in Part II, Chapter II, of Gaudium et Spes.

Chapter II – Proper Development of Culture


* The fullness of humanity is developed through culture, which is “all those things which go to the refining and developing of man's diverse mental and physical endowments.”

* Culture allows people to cultivate the “goods and values” of their nature. It has social, historical, sociological, and ethnological elements.

* A variety of cultures have developed throughout the world, each with a “well-defined, historical milieu” and a rich heritage.

New Forms of Living

* Modern culture is defined by the expansion of technology and the sciences; psychological advances; historical studies focusing on “changeability and evolution”; urbanization and industrialization; mass-cultures; and a wide use of media.

* Culture is taking on a “more universal form.”

Man, Author of Culture

* People create culture.

* Every person has a responsibility to “build up a better world in truth and justice.”

Difficulties and Duties

* Modern culture features “numerous conflicting elements”: unity and uniqueness; dynamism and tradition; specialization and synthesis; participation and complexity; humanism and religion.

* Culture must encourage harmonious and integral development in every human being.

Faith and Culture

* Christians are called to work towards establishing a world that is ever more human. Culture is an important part of the human vocation.

* God wills that human beings improve themselves and serve others as well as work to perfect creation. Therefore, God wills that human beings be involved in culture.

* Academic pursuits contribute to “bringing the human race to a higher understanding of truth, goodness, and beauty, to points of view having universal value.” If practiced in the correct spirit, they lead to wisdom, contemplation, and worship.

* Modern science and technology can be dangerous if people do not recognize their limits or see them as the only means of discovering truth. They can also be beneficial for the service of humanity when they are “infused with divine charity.”

Relations between Culture and the Good News of Christ

* God accommodates His message to each culture and each age.

* The Church makes use of various cultural elements to spread, explain, examine, understand, and express Christian truth.

* The Church is not tied to a particular culture. While remaining faithful to her traditions, she communicates with different cultures in order to enrich both herself and those cultures.

* Christ and His Church renew, purify, elevate, stimulate, and advance human culture.

Proper Harmony between Forms of Culture

* Culture is subordinate to the development of the human individual and the good of the human community.

* A proper balance must be struck between the autonomy of culture and the sciences and the necessity of individual rights and the common good.

* People have freedom to pursue their interests as long as they respect the objective moral order.

* Civil authorities ought to provide an environment that favors cultural development.

Recognition of Everyone's Right to Culture and Its Implementation

* Each person has a right to “human and civil culture in harmony with the dignity of the human person.” This right especially encompasses literacy.

* Each person also has a duty to “develop themselves culturally and to help their fellows.”

Cultural Education

* In today's world, it is difficult to harmonize and synthesize the various arts and branches of learning.

* Even so, every person has a duty “to safeguard the notion of the human person as a totality in which predominate values of intellect, will, conscience, and brotherhood.”

* Cultural education begins in the family.

* Many factors today are tending toward the “development of a universal culture”: prolific book publication, easy communication, fewer working hours, and more leisure time.

* Christians are responsible for infusing culture with the Christian spirit.

* Complete cultural development must include an “evaluation of the meaning of culture and knowledge of the human person.”

Proper Harmony Between Culture and Christian Formation

* The Church has always experienced difficulties in “harmonizing culture with Christian thought,” but these difficulties often “stimulate a more precise and deeper understanding” of the Christian faith.

* Theologians have the job of expressing the truths of the faith to the modern world.

* Pastors are encouraged to use the secular sciences in order to help the faithful develop their full potential as human beings.

* Literature and art explore and express the meaning of human life and can draw people's eyes and thoughts to God.

* Christians should study their cultures, learn about new technology and scientific developments, and evaluate and interpret all of it “with an authentically Christian sense of values.”

* In all branches of knowledge, scholars ought to balance their autonomy of inquiry, thought, and expression with “humility and courage.”

The full text of Gaudium et Spes is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Quick Turn Around

At Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked His disciples two important questions, “Who do people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?”

The disciples could easily answer the first one, for people had been speculating about who Jesus actually was. Some thought He might be John the Baptist come back to life; others wondered if perhaps He was Elijah or one of the prophets.

The second question was perhaps more difficult. Peter spoke for the group: “You are the Christ.” The Christ. The Anointed One of God. The Messiah. The One Sent by God. The Savior.

They were right. They had passed the test. But they didn't do it on their own. Matthew's Gospel records Jesus blessing Peter after his declaration and noting that no human being had revealed this to him but God the Father Himself.

In any case, Peter and the disciples must have been feeling pretty good right about then. They were in the company of the Messiah, and they knew it!

Too bad those high flying moments didn't last.

Jesus began to teach the disciples the cold, hard facts about what it meant to be the Christ. The Messiah, Jesus, would suffer greatly. He would experience rejection from the Jewish leaders. Even more than that, He would be killed.

Peter was horrified. How could this happen to the Christ, to the One sent by God, One Who had come to save them? It was impossible. How could Jesus even talk about such things?

Peter actually began to rebuke Jesus. The Greek verb for “rebuke” is quite strong; it means “to admonish sharply” or “to censure severely.” Peter must have been really going at it. Matthew gives us some of his words: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to You!” He simply could not understand why God would subject His Messiah to such abuse, even to the point of death, and he didn't hesitate to say so.

Jesus turned and looked at His disciples. He spoke to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

What devastating words! Peter must have felt heart sink within him. Satan? How could Jesus call him that? He was just trying to help, just trying to express his disgust and dismay that something so horrible could ever happen to Jesus.

In only a few minutes, Peter had made a quick turn around from the elated man with the right answer to the downhearted fellow who had felt the sting of sharp words from the One he had just identified as his Messiah.

Thankfully, Jesus didn't leave Peter miserable for long. Calling His disciples together, He gave them an important lesson in self-denial, in the value of taking up their crosses and following Him. And only six days later, Peter would experience one of the high points of his life with Jesus...the Transfiguration.

Life with Jesus never was, and never is, dull.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Documents of Vatican II – Gaudium et Spes – Part 6

In the second part of Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II Fathers discuss some of the “more urgent problems” facing the world today and illuminate them with the light of Christ. Each of the five chapters in the second part focuses on a particular issue relevant to the modern world: marriage and family, culture, economic and social life, the political community, and peace and international communion.

Here are some of the topics and ideas you'll find in Part II, Chapter I, of Gaudium et Spes.

Chapter I – The Dignity of Marriage and the Family

Marriage and the Family in the Modern World

* Healthy marriages and healthy families lead to healthy individuals and healthy societies.

* Marriage and family life are greatly threatened in the modern world, but the Church upholds and fosters the “dignity and supremely sacred value” of marriage.

Holiness of Marriage and the Family

* God is the Author of marriage, which is an “intimate partnership of life and love” between a man and a woman that is created by “their irrevocable personal consent” and governed by divine law.

* Marriage is for the good of the partners, who “mutually surrender themselves to each other.”

* Marriage is also “by its very nature...ordered to the procreation and education of offspring.” In children, marriage finds it “crowning glory.”

* Marriage is modeled on Christ's union with the Church. Because it is consecrated through a sacrament, marriage is also an encounter with Christ.

* The graces of marriage allow the couple to strive toward holiness and self-giving love, for “authentic married love is caught up into divine love.”

* Children contribute “to the sanctification of their parents” and must show affection, trust, and gratitude toward their parents.

* The Christian family manifests Christ to the world.

Married Love

* The “intimate and chaste union” of husband and wife is a physical expression of their faithful, self-giving love. It is “noble and honorable” and has a unique dignity.

* Spouses share “equal personal dignity” and must show “outstanding courage” to fulfill their vocation. They do, however, have God's grace to help them live out their witness to the “faithfulness and harmony” of love.

The Fruitfulness of Marriage

* Children are the “supreme gift” of marriage.

* In their fruitfulness, married couples cooperate in God's creative work. Their “proper mission” is “to transmit human life and to educate their children.”

* Couples have the responsibility to discern the number and spacing of their children, using lawful methods and being ruled by conscience before God. They should be both prudent and generous in their decisions.

Married Love and Respect for Human Life

* The “transmission of life and the fostering of authentic married love” must always be practiced in obedience to the divine law.

* “Life must be protected with the utmost care from the moment of conception...”

* Sexuality should be treated with the greatest reverence in accord with “authentic human dignity.”

* Couples must follow the objective moral law in matters of birth regulation. They are forbidden to use methods condemned by the Church.

Fostering Marriage and the Family: A Duty for All

* The family is “a school of human enrichment,” for parents educate their children to follow their proper vocation in life with dignity and love.

* The family is the “basis of society,” and everyone has the responsibility to guard and foster family life and family values.

* Civil authorities must protect marriage and family in order to “safeguard public morality and promote domestic prosperity.”

* Christians promote marriage and family through their witness and “concerted action.”

* Priests, too, assist married couples and families through their pastoral care and teaching.

* Married couples are called to bear witness to their vocation and to the mystery of their self-giving love, which shares in the mystery of God's self-giving love.

The full text of Gaudium et Spes is available online at the Vatican website.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus Groaned

In today's Gospel, Mark 7:31-37, Jesus healed a deaf man who could not speak. First, he took the man apart from the crowd. He then put His finger in the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue. He looked up to Heaven, groaned, and commanded, “Ephphatha!” or “Be opened!”

The deaf man could immediately hear and speak.

This was a very physical healing. Jesus touched the man's ears. He applied His own saliva to the man's tongue. He appealed to His Father with a look and a groan, and He spoke a direct command.

Jesus had taken or would take all of these actions in previous or future healings except for the groaning, which is unique to this incident.

The Greek verb for groan here is stenazō, which means to groan or sigh in distress. Jesus was in distress. He felt this deaf man's pain and isolation. He hurt along with him. He knew the man's longings, his hopes, his deepest needs. He understood all of it. And all those emotions came flowing out in a groan to the Heavens.

Jesus was, and is, both God and man. He understands us completely, more than we can ever know. He knows our every thought, our every feeling, our every desire, our every need. And He loves us totally, more than we can ever comprehend.

Jesus groaned when He healed the deaf man, for He had entered into the man's condition, and in His great love, He transformed his entire life in a few moments.

Allow Him to transform your life this week.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Notes on the Gospel of Matthew – Matthew 1:19-20

When Mary was engaged to Joseph but before they lived together, Joseph discovered that his fiancee was pregnant. The Gospel tells us, “Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.” He had just “resolved to do this” when an angel appeared to him in a dream, telling him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.

Imagine Joseph's state of mind when he found out about Mary's pregnancy. Some saints and theologians have argued that he knew that her Child was of the Holy Spirit and felt himself unworthy of the task of being the foster-father of God. Others maintain that he either suspected Mary of adultery or was completely clueless about how and why she was pregnant. In any case, he must have been confused and upset.

The Greek text, in fact, expresses Joseph's bewilderment. Joseph was unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace. The Greek for “unwilling” is thelōn, the present active participle of thelō, which means “to wish or will” but also implies a natural inclination of the will. Joseph didn't have to think much about protecting Mary from shame and punishment. He simply had that instinct and chose it actively with his will.

At the same time, however, he planned to dismiss her quietly or privately. The Greek for “planned” here is eboulēthē, which comes from the verb boulomai, meaning “to wish or will” but implying a careful, reasoned consideration. Joseph had apparently been thinking long and hard about his course of action. He had considered the facts as he understood them, weighed the options, and come to a decision. Whether he was acting out of fear and insecurity or a sense of betrayal, he made a deliberate decision to dismiss Mary.

Even after he made this choice, Joseph was still wavering. The English translation suggests that Joseph was set in his decision, but the Greek indicates otherwise. The Greek text reads tauta de autou enthumēthentos or “thinking about these things.” The Greek verb enthumeomai means to think about something, to revolve it in one's mind, to ponder, or to deliberate. In spite of his decision, Joseph was unsettled. His thoughts were turning over and over in his mind, and perhaps he even had difficulty getting to sleep on the night that the angel came and set all his fears, and his troubled mind, to rest.

Sources:; e-Sword Bible Software; The Ignatius Study Bible by Curits Mitch and Scott Hahn

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Unique Relationship

In today's First Reading, Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8, Moses reminds the Israelites of their unique relationship with God.

First, God is about to give the Israelites the land that He had promised them. They are about to enter into their new home, a place specially designed for their prosperity and happiness, a place where they may worship God and obey His law in freedom. They will no longer be oppressed by their Egyptian masters or wander through the desert. They are about to be at home with God.

Second, God has given the Israelites specific instructions about how they must behave toward Him, toward each other, and toward the people around them. These laws and decrees are not designed to be burdensome or oppressive but rather to instruct the Israelites in wisdom. Human beings have a knack for choosing exactly what is worst for themselves, and God's people had already shown that they could be extremely stubborn. After all, they had complained, whined, and tested God the whole time they were in the desert. God needed to set some rules to teach His children how to behave.

Third, God is making Israel into a great nation, a nation that other people will admire. Other nations will compliment Israel for its wisdom and intelligence, and the Israelites will serve as an example to the entire world if only they follow the law God has set down for them.

Fourth, God is close to Israel. He hears His people whenever they call upon Him. The other nations have no experience with such a God, for their own “gods” are merely wood and stone and cannot possibly answer their prayers. God, on the other hand, always responds to the Israelites, for He is always with them.

We Catholics also have a unique relationship with God, for we are the new Israel of the new covenant that Jesus Christ established when He died on the cross and rose again that we might be saved.

Like the first Israelites, we receive a new home, a “promised land,” when we enter into the Church at baptism. The Church is designed for our prosperity and happiness. In her, we worship God and obey His law in freedom as we journey towards our ultimate homeland in Heaven.

God has also given us specific instructions on how we must behave towards Him, towards each other, and towards the people around us. These decrees are not meant to be burdensome but to make us wise and to help us imitate God and more easily share in His divine life.

Although the Church does not have political boundaries as Israel did, she is still a society to be admired. The Church is the Body of Christ, the soul of the world, and the sacrament of salvation. She is both divine and human, both holy and always in need of purification. She manifests to the world the mystery of Christ. She is an example to all people, and as her members, we are to be examples to all people.

Finally, God is close to us. When we are in a state of grace, He dwells within us, in the deepest part of our souls. He hears and answers our every prayer. He is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Further, we Catholics have the unique privilege of receiving our God, Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist. God becomes our food and drink. How can anyone get closer than that?

Indeed, we Catholics, like the Israelites before us, have a unique relationship with God. Take some time today to ponder that wonderful truth.