Tag Archives: Catholic

Give thanks to God!

October 7, 2016

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thanksgiving

One of the greatest miracles that Jesus performed was to cure ten lepers of their disease (Lk 17:11-19), and after having received such a tremendous gift from Jesus, only one of the ten came back to thank him.  In disappointment Jesus asked, “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Lk 17:18).

St. Paul tells us that we should “be thankful” (Col 3:15b).  Every Mass at the Preface Dialogue we say that it is right and just to give thanks to the Lord our God.  Yet Jesus rarely received any thanks.  In fact, when the Samaritan fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him (Lk 17:16), it is the only time in all four gospels that someone thanked him.

There may have been other occasions when someone received something from Jesus and then came back to offer their praise or express their gratitude, but none of the four evangelists records one other instance, and as memorable as such an event would have been, it would have been worthy of inclusion.  It seems that Jesus was rarely thanked, not by his apostles, not by those who were cured, not by those who were forgiven, and not by those who were taught by him.  Jesus’ ministry was a thankless task.  He was grossly underappreciated.

The twelve apostles were among the worst offenders when it came to ingratitude.  When Jesus called them to be his disciples (Lk 6:13), they did not thank him for choosing them.  When Jesus invited them to accompany him (Lk 8:1), they did not thank him for making them his partners.  When Jesus took them aside and gave them private explanations (e.g., Lk 8:9-15), they did not thank his for his extra time and attention.  When Jesus commissioned the Twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases (Lk 9:1), they did not thank him for their special appointments or exceptional powers.

The apostles’ lack of gratitude seems more reprehensible during their final days with Jesus.  No one thanked him for the Eucharist at the Last Supper.  Worse yet, no one thanked Jesus’ for his death on the Cross and his gifts of redemption and salvation.  When Jesus appeared to them after his Resurrection and greeted them with the words “Peace be with you,” no one thanked him for his mercy and forgiveness.  It took until after Jesus had ascended to heaven until the apostles did him homage and praised God (Lk 24:52,53).

The disciples had many reasons to be thankful and so do we.  The process begins with our ability to recognize what we have been given.  For starters, we need to set aside time to reflect and count our blessings.  Next, with our blessings in mind, we should thank God and with our prayers of praise, both personal prayers of gratitude said alone and prayers at Mass said with others.  St. Paul specifically mentions singing as a particularly good way to express our thanks:  “Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).  Another excellent way to express our gratitude is to put our gifts to good use, to place them at the service of others, and to do so in ways that give glory to God.

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Local priest describes trip to Rome to become missionary of mercy

February 19, 2016

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Father John Ubel greets Pope Francis during his trip to Rome.

Father John Ubel greets Pope Francis during his trip to Rome.

By Father John Ubel

My brief trip to Rome began with a plethora of questions from an inquisitive Jewish woman sitting next to me on the flight from Minneapolis. Among them: “What do you mean by mercy?” and “But does forgiveness actually accomplish anything?”

While a great discussion starter, on this evening flight to Amsterdam, I was most interested in sleeping. But when the pilot kept giving us Super Bowl updates every 20 minutes just as I began to doze, I accepted reality! But, her pointed questions left me pondering some very basic concepts, and how I ought to be able to explain mercy in terms understandable even to those who do not share my faith.

After a two-hour layover at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, I arrived in Rome on Monday afternoon (Feb. 8) only to discover that my phone’s battery had inexplicably gone completely dead, even though turned off. My rusty Italian was enough for me to comprehend that it was indeed an expensive fix and I’d be better off seeing if it was under warranty back home.

On to Plan B. I said a quick prayer they had Wi-Fi at the Domus Paulus VI. This is the clerical residence for priests working in the Vatican near the Piazza Navona that also welcomes occasional priest guests. Pope Francis stayed there in the days leading to the conclave that elected him, and you may recall the photo of him returning to pay his bill!

Thankfully they had Wi-Fi, because in typical “Fr. Frugal” fashion, I was too cheap to purchase a data plan for my iPad. My simple but comfortable room looked right over a bus stop (if elected to the Italian parliament, I’d immediately sponsor legislation to outlaw scooter horns and pigeons), but the priests and staff were most gracious and welcoming of their American interloper.

When I mentioned at table that I was from Minnesota, I was met with deadpan stares. I clarified that it was six hours from Chicago — still nothing. Finally I said that I lived near Canada! I began writing this travelogue while enjoying my third (alright, perhaps my fourth) cup of cappuccino on Tuesday morning. I could get used to this! I had time to pray and go to confession, as well as purchase a few Holy Year related gifts. While visiting the tomb of St. Monica in the Church of St. Augustine, I prayed for my mother and all mothers, as they labor tirelessly to pass the faith along to their children.

The Holy Year theme “Merciful like the Father” and the Jubilee Logo are omnipresent, as are the pilgrims here to venerate the mortal remains of St. Padre Pio, brought here from San Giovanni Rotondo in Puglia. The logo was emblazoned on a beautiful commemorative violet stole given to each priest, which I plan to wear in the confessional. St. Pio stands as a model confessor, humble and simple, and he reminds me that we must never tire of offering forgiveness. I have a special devotion to Padre Pio since my days at St. Agnes, when I prayed for his intercession at a critical time in that school’s history in 2007. He came through then, and continues to inspire.

On Tuesday afternoon, the universality of the Church was especially evident as nearly 700 priests designated as Missionaries of Mercy gathered at Castel Sant’Angelo for a solemn procession toward St. Peter’s Basilica to enter through the Holy Door. It was a prayerful walk as we recited designated prayers, gathering by language groups. The procession took us inside the Basilica, all around and back out again. We continued around the perimeter of the outside of the Basilica leading us to the Apostolic Palace and the Sala Regia (Regal Room). Completed in 1573 A.D., it is adjacent to the Sistine Chapel and was originally used to receive foreign princes and ambassadors. But the purpose of this meeting was quite different.

Without really trying, I wound up in the eighth row, as the room quickly filled up. Archbishop Rino Fisichella prepped us for the audience. Among other things, he encouraged a total fast from all food on Ash Wednesday and reminded us to silence all cellphones. His American assistant, my friend Father Geno Sylva from the Diocese of Paterson, New Jersey, then stepped to the microphone and asked those without headsets (for the purpose of providing a simultaneous translation for non-Italian speakers) to move to an overflow room just off to the side because the headset reception only worked in the main Sala. No, please don’t ask me to move! Since I had chosen not to take a headset, I was banished, and would watch the address on a monitor.

But as it turns out, the Holy Father walked right past me on his way to and from the audience, and on his way out I shook hands with him and greeted him. God provides — the last shall be first! During his address, the Holy Father exhorted us to be patient and kind confessors — and not to ask too many questions! He reminded us that the sacrament of penance is an encounter with our loving and merciful Father and that sometimes our words get in the way. It was sage advice and I plan on heeding it carefully. After the meeting, we were treated to a delicious dinner in the atrium of the Pope Paul VI Audience Hall. It was after all, Martedi Grasso (Fat Tuesday), so I enjoyed it as well as meeting priests from various parts of the World, truly a highlight for me.

On Ash Wednesday, I had the rare luxury of not needing to set my alarm. The fatigue of travel and the excitement from Tuesday’s activities coalesced, enabling me to sleep in until nearly 6 a.m.! I made my way down to the refectory for a cup of coffee at 6:45, but it was still brewing. I said my morning prayers and patiently waited. Roman coffee is always worth the wait, and I took the time to finish writing a Cathedral bulletin column before emailing it back home. Later in the morning I visited with David Kirsh, a lifetime Cathedral parishioner and St. John Vianney College Seminary student, spending the semester in Rome through the University of St. Thomas’ Catholic Studies program.

Desiring to keep the rest of Ash Wednesday in a spirit of preparation, I neither shopped nor did any sight seeing. Instead, I spent some quiet time in prayer and reading at the Augustinianum, a Pontifical University right next St. Peter’s Square, specializing in Patristic studies. And where, I might add, I took the toughest oral exam I have ever had in my life 10 years ago — it still stings!

It was peaceful and prayerful, and I eventually made my way to St. Peter’s, thirty minutes ahead of our appointed time. But I was still far from first in line. The piazza was packed and people were trying to acquire tickets for Mass. One lady even asked if I would give up my ticket so she could attend with her toddler.

I politely declined, noting that the gold tickets were for concelebrating priests only. She was not impressed! We priests spent the next 90 minutes waiting patiently, as this is just part of the deal in the Eternal City. Those cobblestones really do a number on one’s back — a chiropractor could make a fortune in Rome! But it provided ample opportunity to visit with the other priests, whether Italian or English speakers, and I found this quite enjoyable.

A prayerful, yet jubilant spirit was kept throughout. While waiting I met Father Joseph Reilly from Newark, New Jersey, and learned that he was the rector of their Cathedral. I replied, “Father, you and I have at least two things in common — we’re both rectors and we are currently sharing an Archbishop!”

We made our way to the bronze steps where we waited for Mass to begin. There, final instructions soon followed in five languages (no, I did not need to be reminded to refrain from taking pictures during Mass!) and the long procession began. While I ended up toward the back of the reserved section for priests, it mattered little because we were all there together concelebrating with the Holy Father.

The Sistine Choir, composed of men and boys from the Basilica, provided the beautiful music. Readings, petitions and the gift bearers were provided by men, women and children from different countries, and the distribution of ashes began with Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the Archpriest of the Basilica, imposing ashes upon the crown of the head of Pope Francis. In Rome, the ashes are not placed on the forehead in the shape of a cross, but rather sprinkled on the crown of your head, recalling the Book of Nehemiah 9:1 in which the “Israelites gathered together while fasting and while wearing sackcloth, their heads covered with dust.”

The highlight for me was the commissioning ceremony at the end of Mass. The prayer asked the Lord to “watch over these your servants, who we send forth as messengers of Mercy, liberation and of peace. Guide their steps with Your right hand and sustain them with the power of Your grace, so that they do not come under the weight of apostolic endeavors. May the voice of Christ resound in their words, and in their gestures the heart of Christ.”

It was so clear that the human aspect of the encounter is central for Pope Francis, and even his commissioning prayer was a sober reminder of the role that we are called to play. I would not be surprised if he wrote the prayer himself. I will not soon forget this powerful exhortation and the brief, but extremely rewarding, time I spent in Rome. And, I felt uplifted by the prayers of so many from home and kept the good people of the archdiocese close in my prayers.

Father Ubel is rector of the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul. He was commissioned to be a Missionary of Mercy by Pope Francis on Ash Wednesday in Rome.

 

 

 

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Saying good-bye to dad

January 15, 2016

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Mark Zimmermann, who edits the Catholic newspaper in Washington, D.C., has written a wonderful piece about his father, Wes Zimmermann age 83 of Barnhart, Missouri passed away Jan. 10.

By Mark Zimmermann

I’m back in my boyhood home in the woods of Missouri with my mom, trying to help however I can before we gather for my dad’s burial and pray that he is being welcomed home to the house of the Father, as Cardinal Ratzinger said at the Funeral Mass for St. John Paul II.

Dad took up the tools as a sheet metal worker, the family trade of my Grandpa Zimmermann, his four sons, my brother and several of our cousins. My father was a devout Catholic who knelt and prayed beside his bed each night, and he sacrificed to send each of his children to Catholic school, and helped us become the first generation of our family to attend college.

Dad always had time for his kids, and I remember many days when he’d come home tired from work, but still play badminton or ping pong with us, still wearing his work boots.

My dad was my hero, and I like to think the best parts of me came from lessons I learned from the example of faith, love and selflessness that he and my mom lived out quietly day in and day out.

About three years ago he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and it was hard to see such a sharp, witty, strong man become more and more frail and have difficulty putting his thoughts together. The books, movies and football games that he once enjoyed so much no longer mattered to him.

One of our favorite pastimes over the years was walking down the country road to the Mississippi River. I can remember when I was a little boy, riding on my dad’s shoulders up the last two hills on the way home from the river.

In the fall of 2013, I took a walk with my dad down our country road that I’ll never forget. This time, I tied his boots and buttoned his coat for him, and we set out. It was an idyllic fall day, and not just because the St. Louis Cardinals were in the World Series. The sky was a beautiful blue color, the air crisp, the leaves on the trees were in fall hues of yellow and orange, with some fluttering to the ground as we walked on, father and son, laughing and making small talk.

I hope heaven is like that, and we can walk together again on a glorious day, not ever wanting the walk to end.

Rest in peace, Dad!

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Did you know Marco Polo was Catholic?

December 7, 2015

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40 Catholics cover

A remarkable amount of world history — including some surprises — is packed into the 266 pages of “Forty Catholics Who Shaped the World.”

Had you ever heard that Marco Polo was Catholic, or that his well-known journey was part of a request of Kublai Khan to know more about Christianity? Were you aware that Ferdinand Magellan evangelized native peoples as he attempted to circumnavigate the globe?

The best part of the stories that author Claire Smith shares in this new book published by St. Pauls may be the historic context in which she places the figures, making every chapter a history lesson as well as an inspiring personality profile.

Read the courageous account of Pedro and Violeta Chamorro’s struggle to bring democracy to 20th century Nicaragua and you’ll get a tightly summarized recap of the era of Somoza, the Sandinistas and the ordeal that led to the Iran-Contra Affair.

If all you remember about the revolt in the Philippines during the 1980s are Imelda Marcos’ thousand pairs of shoes, you’ll want to reconnect with the name of Corazon Aquino, the rosary-praying widow who led the People Power Revolution and forced the dictatorial Marcos family from the country.

Smith divides her list of 40 into seven separate categories: Scientists, scholars, innovators; modern-day apostles; leaders and pioneers; explorers; artists, musicians; early Christian heroes, and famous Doctors of the Church.

Some — Father Jacques Marquette, Michelangelo, St. Paul — may be better known than someone like Herrad of Landsberg, for example, a 12th century nun who compiled the first encyclopedia.

The inclusion of Christopher Columbus, St. Valentine, Mother Angelica of the Annunciation of EWTN fame might raise some eyebrows. To point to just one of those, though, the Mother Angelica story will amaze even those whose spirituality leans in a different ideological direction.

Personally, I found the entries of the artists weak, especially those of El Greco and Raphael. But I wish I had known before about Caroline Chisholm, the woman who did so much for emigrants to Australia. And all will appreciate that Smith doesn’t ignore the character blemishes of her subjects, noting that Maryland’s Charles Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a slave owner.

If you’re one who tends to skim, the author has done you a great favor: The initial paragraph of each entry is a concise explanation of who the person is and what they have done to deserve to be included in a list of those who have shaped our world.

 

 

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The priestly vocation, a calling from God

October 25, 2015

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IhavechosenyouThe Letter to the Hebrews says that, when it comes to the priesthood, “no one takes this honor upon himself but only when called by God” (Heb 5:4).  The priesthood is a special calling.

When someone says, “I have decided to be a priest,” it is cause for caution.  Too often those who desire to be priests “want to stand and pray in the synagogues … so that others might see them” (Mt 6:5); or, “love places of honor” (Mt 23:6), or “the salutation ‘Rabbi’ [Father]” (Mt 23:7).  There can be an excessive concern with “phylacteries and tassels” (Mt 23:5), the perfect Roman collar, the right cassock and surplice, the most appropriate chasuble, and the proper liturgical rubric.  The self-chosen desire for priesthood can be an attempt to improve one’s state in life.

The call to the priesthood comes from God.  It emanates from the outside, from God to the person, and not the other way.  Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John – and Paul.  He called each one individually, and he called them by name.  It was not their choice.  It was Jesus’ choice. Jesus was the “Hound of Heaven,” relentless, in pursuit of them until they submitted their will and obeyed.  Each apostle was unworthy, but Jesus called them anyway.  Jesus calls mere mortals, sinners, the undeserving, and he asks them to be his personal agents and to serve and lead in his name (see Lk 5:8,10; Jn 18:15-18,25-27; 21:15-17; 1 Tim 1:15b; Acts 9:15).

The call to ordained ministry can also come through the community.  God can call directly, but God often calls through intermediaries.  When Peter and the first apostles needed assistants, they asked the community to help them identify individuals who had good reputations and appeared to be filled with the Spirit and wisdom (see Acts 6:3).  The community is very capable of surveying its own membership to identify individuals with the character traits appropriate to ordained ministry.  Anyone in the community, a parent, teacher, catechist, or fellow parishioner, can invite someone saying, “Have you ever thought of becoming a priest?  You seem to have the heart of Jesus.  You have many virtuous qualities that would be a good fit with the priesthood.”

If someone applies to the seminary and reports that God is calling, it may be true, but it is the duty of the community to confirm the call, for seminary officials and the laity where a seminarian is training, to verify that he has the spiritual qualities needed for priesthood.

When it comes to spiritual prerequisites for priests, humility stands at the forefront.  Hebrews says that a priest is “beset by weaknesses” (Heb 5:2).  Priests, like everyone else, are vulnerable, subject to temptation, and fall to sin.  Any priest who aspires to holiness is keenly aware that he has offended God and has hurt his neighbor by his misdeeds, and as Hebrews says, he “must make sin offerings for himself” (Heb 5:3).  The priest is no better than anyone else.  He, too, is in desperate need of God’s mercy.  As he stands before the congregation leading them in prayer, he is praying not only for them, but he is also praying repentantly for himself.

The other spiritual quality that the Letter to the Hebrews stresses for priests is compassion.  A priest should be able to deal patiently with the ignorant and the erring because he himself is beset by weakness (Heb 5:2).  How can a priest be hard on anyone else after all of the poor choices he has made?  After all of his missteps, he should be merciful, lenient, and give others the benefit of the doubt.  If a priest wants God to go easy with him, the priest should go easy with others.

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St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr, (d. 107 AD)

October 16, 2015

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St. Ignatius of Antioch

Martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch in Rome c. 107 AD.

St. Ignatius was from Antioch, the capital city of the Roman province of Syria.  Little is known about the first part of his life.  He was born around the year 35 AD, probably to pagan parents, and he later converted to Christianity.  He may have been a disciple of St. John the Evangelist.

St. Peter the apostle presided over the newly formed church of Antioch as its first bishop before he moved to Rome.  St. Evodius served as the second bishop, and upon his death in 69 AD, St. Ignatius became the third bishop, and he served for thirty-eight years.

The first portion of his episcopacy was relatively peaceful, but circumstances changed dramatically when the Roman Emperor Trajan came to power in 105.  Trajan believed that he had achieved his military successes because of the pagan gods, and because he honored them, he expected others to do likewise.  According to a popular legend that is historically unreliable, Trajan made an imperial visit to Antioch, ordered the arrest of St. Ignatius, and personally interrogated him (see Butler’s Lives of the Saints).  Because St. Ignatius refused to renounce his faith or to worship pagan gods, he was condemned to death, and Trajan ordered that he be taken to Rome to be thrown to the animals to die.

St. Ignatius was taken to Rome by ship with a military escort of ten soldiers who treated him with cruelty.  The ship hugged the coastlines of Asia Minor or Turkey and Greece, and the ship made a number of stops along the way.  At each seaport St. Ignatius was warmly greeted by the Christians of the area.

St. Ignatius had extended stays at two seaports, and during these delays he was able to write seven letters.  His first four letters were written in Smyrna, and he addressed them to the Christian communities in Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome. His last three letters were written in Troas, two which were directed to the Christian communities in Philadelphia and Smyrna, the other to St. Polycarp.

St. Ignatius wrote on a variety of topics and proved to be one of the greatest teachers of the early Church.  He declared that “Jesus Christ is our only teacher.”  He emphasized the two natures of Jesus, his humanity and divinity, and that he had a real human birth and suffered a real human death, and he repudiated Docetism, a heresy that denied Jesus’ human nature and claimed that he was only divine.  He stressed the value of the Eucharist, “the medicine of immortality,” and reflected upon the mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, redemption, and salvation.

St. Ignatius also wrote about the character of the Church.  He explained that it is both a mystical and hierarchical reality:  mystical in that Jesus is truly present in the community of believers, hierarchical in that it is well-ordered and unified under the authority of the bishop.  He was the first person to describe the church as “Catholic,” a term he used to refer to all Christians.  In his letter to the church of Rome, he acknowledged its place as first among the other churches, and aware of his impending martyrdom, he pleaded with them not to interfere so he would be allowed the grace to die for Christ and witness his faith with his life.

St. Ignatius arrived in Rome on December 20, 107, the last day of the public games, and he was taken directly to the amphitheater where he was devoured by two fierce lions before a large crowd.  He is an Apostolic Father, and his name is included in the second martyrology of Eucharistic Prayer I, the Roman Canon.

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Pope Francis’ ‘Prayer for Our Earth’

October 15, 2015

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prayingNeed a prayer?

If you’re ever called upon for a prayer or struggle finding words to express yourself in prayer, Pope Francis has you covered.

The following is a prayer the pope included in his recent encyclical, “Laudato Si’.”

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.

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Promised yourself you’d pray daily? Help is here

October 11, 2015

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Sacred ReadingHow many times have you told yourself you’re going to do it this time, you’re going to take time to pray every day, no matter what?

“Sacred Reading: The 2016 Guide to Daily Prayer” will help you keep your promise. It’s a page-a-day, affordable paperback ($15.95) that eases users into reflecting on how they are following Jesus Christ in everyday life, challenges with thoughtful questions and prompts prayer to flow naturally.

Published by the Apostleship of Prayer through Ave Maria Press at Notre Dame, “Sacred Reading” offers a simplified wrinkle on “lectio divina,” and, if you’ve been put off by the Latin name of that approach to prayer, fear not, this is for you.

This version offers six steps — steps repeated each day so you’re not paging back to the introduction — that are extremely easy to follow:

  1. Know that God is present with you and ready to converse. This puts you in the frame of mind to pray well.
  2. Read the Gospel. The day’s Gospel is printed for each day. No need to find your Bible or buy another resource.
  3. Notice what you think and feel as you read the Gospel. This is the “lectio divina” piece that is so key to prompting one to reflect on gospel-based values. Here is one example: “The disciples were blessed to see Jesus, to hear and touch him. They recognized him instantly. Do we? Or are we often too self-absorbed and skeptical to see the Lord at work in our lives? As you read this Gospel, what impression does it leave with you?”
  4. Pray as you are led for yourself and others. It’s conversing with God, sometimes thanking, sometimes praising, sometimes questioning, asking, sharing what’s troubling you, and doing the same for others.
  5. Listen to Jesus. What is he saying to you through this Gospel?
  6. Ask God to show you how to live today. This is the call to action. How will you react?

Here’s an example of how one is guided into prayer:

“Lord, I repent of my sins so that you can come to me. Show me the ways I resist your love, help me to forsake all habits of sin, and give me grace to . . . (Continue in your own words.)”

And here’s a sample of an action step:

“Lord, lead me to do something today that is pleasing to you, perhaps something I have never done or even thought of doing. Glory to you, Lord. Amen.”

Now here is an important point. “Sacred Readings” starts with the beginning of the church year, the first Sunday of Advent, Nov. 29. Don’t wait for the new calendar year to start keeping that promise to pray every day.

 

 

 

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Jesus, the great high priest

October 7, 2015

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THE SECOND READINGS OF WEEKS 27-33, YEAR B, FROM THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS

Jesus, High Priest, the Great High Priest Hebrew 4:14 Sacred Heart, Church, Staples, MN

Jesus, High Priest, the Great High Priest Hebrew 4:14 Sacred Heart, Church, Staples, MN

A Continuous Reading.  The second readings for Weeks 27 through 33 of Year B, the final portion of the church year, all come from the Letter to the Hebrews.  Their selection follows the liturgical principle of Lectio continua, Latin for “a continuous reading,” a series of Scripture texts all taken from the same book of the Bible in sequence.  While the first reading at Mass usually is selected to compliment the gospel, the second reading has no intended connection to either and stands on its own.  The texts chosen for the second reading are those judged most significant in a book or, as a group, work together to unfold an important spiritual concept.

The Letter to the Hebrews.  The letter itself is peculiar because so little is known about it.  For many years the author was thought to be St. Paul, but that proposition has been disproved due to differences in literary style and theological content.  It is not so much a letter as a long written homily intended to instruct and encourage.  The intended audience, “the Hebrews,” is also unclear.  Generally “the Hebrews” is another term for “the Jews,” so it may be directed to Jewish converts to Christianity, or to Jews who were contemplating conversion, or to Gentile Christians who could benefit from a better understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures.

The Theological Thread.  A thread is a theme that is woven through a series of chapters of a book of the Bible; two or more readings on a particular Sunday, a horizontal thread; or a sequence of readings over a number of consecutive weeks, a vertical thread.  The thread that connects the seven consecutive readings from Hebrews is the priesthood of Jesus.

Week 27B, Hebrews 2:9-11.  The first passage explains the sacrificial nature of Jesus’ priesthood:  “by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Heb 2:9).  Jesus was perfect so his self-offering was a perfect sacrifice.  It is the work of a priest to consecrate, to make holy, and Jesus consecrates or makes every person holy before God (Heb 2:11).

Weeks 28B and 29B, Hebrews 4:12-13 and 4:14-16.  Chapter 4 goes on to explain that Jesus is a priest from whom nothing is concealed (Heb 4:13); he is all-knowing, omniscient.  He is the wise priest whose word is living and effective (Heb 4:12).  He is the “great high priest” (Heb 4:14), not only human, but a priest who came down from heaven, the Son of God, a divine high priest.  Because he was tempted and knows first-hand the struggles of the human condition, he is a compassionate priest, approachable, merciful, and helpful.

Week 30B, Hebrews 5:1-6.  Jesus is not a self-appointed priest but was sent by his Father (Heb 5:5).  His priesthood is eternal, not like other priests who serve only for a time.  It is the duty of a priest to offer sacrifice for sin.  Temple priests offered animals, Jesus offered his own body; Temple priests were sinners and offered sacrifice for themselves, Jesus was sinless and offered sacrifice for the human race.

Week 31B, Hebrews 7:23-28.  This passage repeats key points made previously about Jesus’ priesthood.  His priesthood is eternal, it “remains forever,” it “does not pass away” (Heb 7:24).  He is a priest who is “holy, innocent, and undefiled” (7:26) which enables him to make intercession on our behalf.  He is the priest who has the power to save us (Heb 7:25).

Weeks 32B and 33B, Hebrews 9:24-28 and 10:11-14,18.  These texts highlight the glorious nature of Jesus’ priesthood.  Jesus now reigns as the exalted priest in the sanctuary of heaven, seated forever at the right hand of God, revered because he offered himself in sacrifice, not multiple times, but once, to perfect and sanctify, to remove sin once and for all, so that when he returns a second time at the end of the age, he will bring the gift of salvation.

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8 steps toward Catholic-Protestant understanding

October 5, 2015

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Forming a Catholic-Protestant discussion group to read Pope Francis' book, "The Church of Mercy," is one step to take toward Christian unity say the authors of "Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar."

Forming a Catholic-Protestant discussion group to read Pope Francis’ book, “The Church of Mercy,” is one step to take toward Christian unity say the authors of “Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar.”

If there is ever to be unity among Christians, people will have to take practical steps that bring them wisdom and understanding about Christian traditions other than their own.

book coverPresbyterians Pastor Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus offer ideas for those steps at the conclusion of their Westminster John Knox Press paperback, “Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar.”

The ones below apply to Catholics, but the original list offered similar steps for Protestants:

  1. Visit a Protestant worship service; “Go with someone who can explain what’s happening while it’s happening and what it means.”
  2. Ask a well-versed Protestant to speak to an adult education class at your church about “why he or she has chosen that tradition and what it looks and feels like from the inside.”
  3. Form a Catholic-Protestant discussion group to read Pope Francis’ book “The Church of Mercy,” together.
  4. Explore the official websites of major Protestant denominations, Presbyterian, United Methodist, and Southern Baptist.
  5. Visit websites of local Protestant congregations to learn about their activities and widely different statements of belief.
  6. Find out if your community has an interfaith organization that sponsors gatherings and learning opportunities.
  7. Read a book on world religions and discuss it with a group from your church “to expand your knowledge beyond the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.”
  8. Form a group to read and study Stephen Prothero’s book, “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn’t.”
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