Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Sixth Week in Ordinary Time 2019

On this Sixth Week of Ordinary Time, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection February 17 2019 copy. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: St. Thomas Indian Mission Church, Winterhaven, California

Luke 6:17, 20-26

Jesus came down with the twelve and stood on a stretch of level ground with a great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon.

And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.  Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.  Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man.  Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven. For their ancestors treated the prophets in the same way.

But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.  Woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep.  Woe to you when all speak well of you, for their ancestors treated the false prophets in this way.

Background

Last Sunday’s Gospel ended with Jesus telling Simon Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Then Luke states that Simon Peter, James, and John left their boats and all their possessions and followed Jesus. (Luke 5:10-11) Following this, Luke recounts Jesus healing a leper and then a paralytic. Jesus’ first response to the paralytic was to forgive his sins, but the scribes and Pharisees objected because they believed that only God could forgive sins. To show them that he did have the power to forgive sins, he then cured the paralytic. Luke then recounts Jesus’ invitation to the tax collector Levi to become his follower. Again, the Pharisees objected. This time it was because Jesus was eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. Further questions led to Jesus teaching why it was inappropriate for his disciples to fast, and explaining their non-observance of the traditional dietary laws. Luke tells of Jesus going into the synagogue on a Sabbath where he encountered a man with a withered hand. Even though it was the Sabbath, Jesus cured him. The Pharisees began to discuss what they should do about Jesus. For his part, Jesus went to the mountains to spend the night in prayer. When morning arrived, he named the twelve who would become apostles. With the newly named apostles, Jesus joined a large crowd of disciples and a great crowd of others who came to hear him teach and to be cured. This is the beginning of the gospel text for this Sunday. In the verses that are omitted from the text for this Sunday, Luke describes Jesus curing those who had gathered:

They came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all. (Luke 6:18-19)

This text has been referred to as the “sermon on the plain,” and it is sometimes compared to Matthew’s “sermon on the mount.” (Matt 5: 1-7, 27). Matthew’s text contains nine statements of blessing but no statements of woe. Matthew also puts a spiritual slant on some of his statements. For example, Matt 5:3 and 5:6 state: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”

Luke portrays Jesus as addressing the harsh reality of the poor of his day. But we should not read Luke from the perspective of our own worldview, because Luke’s community understood the world differently. To them, everything was limited: livestock and food, as well as friendship, love, and honor. Those limits were set in place by God. Because there was a limited amount of all things in the world, those who had abundance had a responsibility to share with those who were in want. This would not only have been true for material possessions, but for the intangibles like honor as well. The most important commodity in their society was relationship. A widow who may have had a great deal of property but no husband or adult son to represent her in society was still considered to be poor and without status.

Reflection Questions

1.     As you hear Luke describe those who have come to hear Jesus this day, you…

2.     How do you experience the importance these people place on relationship?

3.     What comes to your mind when you think of the poor, the hungry, those who are in mourning, and those who are hated?

4.     When Jesus describes them as blessed…

5.     When Jesus says woe to you who are rich… woe to you who are filled now… woe to you who laugh now… woe to you when they speak well of you…

6.     Can you take some time now to talk with God honestly about whatever arose within you as you read this gospel text?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Fifth Week in Ordinary Time 2019

On this Fifth Week of Ordinary Time, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions taking place by a lake  written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection February 10 2019. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: fishing shanty on Silver Lake near Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Motherhouse

Luke 5:1-11

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.

Background

The text for last Sunday’s gospel ended with the people of Nazareth wanting to throw Jesus headlong over the hill on which their town had been built. (4:29-30) In the remaining verses of that chapter, Luke describes Jesus’ visit to Capernaum, where he cures a man possessed by a demon. His teaching astonishes the people, because he speaks with authority. Jesus then goes to Simon’s house and cures Simon’s mother-in-law. After sunset, with the Sabbath officially over, people bring their sick for him to cure. Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus leaves Capernaum and seeks out a deserted place. The crowds find him and try to prevent him from leaving. In Mark’s gospel, Peter is the one who tries to prevent Jesus from leaving (Mark 1:36-37). As Luke describes the incident, it is the people themselves who ask Jesus not to leave. This small shift avoids having Peter in the difficult position of trying to prevent Jesus from doing what he knows he must do.

Matthew also, as well as Mark, records this event in Jesus’ ministry. Both of them place it at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, right after Jesus returns from the desert (Matt 4:18-22 and Mark 1:16-20). They also report that Simon’s brother Andrew was also in the boat–a detail that Luke omits. Luke’s description places the emphasis on Peter’s unique relationship with Jesus.

Luke’s account also makes more intelligible the response of Peter, James, and John to Jesus’ invitation to leave their way of life to become fishers of men. For these early disciples to leave their families, professions, and property to become disciples of Jesus would have amounted to a total disregard for their responsibilities as men of the day for the protection and survival of their families. While such a total commitment might play well in a Hollywood movie, it would be scandalous to the values of the day. Matthew’s and Mark’s descriptions, at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, suggest that the disciples had little or no prior exposure to Jesus and his teaching before they became followers. Luke’s placement of this story within his gospel indicates that Peter had prior personal experience of Jesus, teaching in the synagogue and healing his own mother-in-law and others. And in this text Peter also experiences Jesus as one who can bring about a catch of fish that leaves Peter speechless.

We bring our focus now back to the account in Luke that is our gospel text for Sunday. Gennesaret is in a fertile area near the northern part of the Sea of Galilee. Night fishing is there known to yield great catches. Throughout most of the text, Peter is referred to by his Jewish name, Simon. The exception is verse 8, when he realizes the size of the catch of fish and attributes it to divine power of God working through Jesus. All Peter can do is kneel before Jesus and ask him to depart. Such a gesture is very meaningful in this culture. Jesus is someone who has abilities that Peter does not. Being a disciple of Jesus requires personal sacrifice. Here Jesus calls him “Simon-Peter,” both his Jewish name and the name that Jesus will give him later in the text when Jesus names his apostles (Luke 6:14).

There is likewise a shift in how Simon addresses Jesus in the text. When Jesus asks Simon to put out into the water and lower his net, Simon calls Jesus “Master” or “Rabbi.” After the experience of the catch of fish, Peter refers to Jesus as “Lord.” All those present, not just Peter, recognize the manifestation of divine power in what has taken place. They are filled with astonishment and fear, the typical response to the near presence of God. Jesus reassures them with the exhortation, “Do not be afraid!” (v. 10) Usually when people are reassured with the greeting, “Do not be afraid,” it signals more than reassurance. God is commissioning those involved in the encounter. God has not acted in an extraordinary way just to brighten the day for some weary fishermen. In the second part of verse 10, Jesus tells Simon, James, and John that from now on they will be fishers of men. Luke indicates that the commissioning extends beyond James and John by stating that they left their boats and they followed Jesus.

Reflection Questions

1. Have you ever chosen to leave a secure relationship or good job? What did it take for you to leave the situation and move on? How difficult was it?
2. What might have been Peter’s state of mind and body as he sat cleaning his nets, listening to Jesus?
3. What are some of the possible responses Peter could have given to Jesus’ request to lower his nets?
4. Peter understood the catch of fish as a sign of God acting in his life. What are some of the factors in this incident that helped Peter see the presence of God at work at this moment in his life?
5. Are there times in your life where you believe that the presence of God was at work in powerful ways in your own life? Are there any parallels from your experience to what is recorded here in this incident?
6. Jesus reassures Peter, “Do not be afraid.” What kind of fear do you think Peter was experiencing?
7. Do you ever feel like you are looking for the “boatload of fish” rather than the overwhelming presence of God?
8. Have you ever had an experience that left you feeling like Simon when he told Jesus, “Get away from me for I am sinful?” Do you desire an experience of God’s closeness in your life? Do you think you are ready to deal with the consequences of such an experience?
9. Would this account have been written if Peter and the others had thanked Jesus profusely, shared some of their fish with the needy of their community, and told the story at every family gathering, but continued for the rest of their lives to be fishermen?
10. What is the good news for you in this text?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Third Sunday of Ordinary Time 2019

As we anticipate the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, we share a meaningful Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection January 27 2019. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: San Francisco de Asis and San Felipe de Jesus, Mexico

Luke 1:1-4, & 4:14-21

Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.

Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news of him spread throughout the whole region. He taught in their synagogues and was praised by all.

He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Background

In the first verses of Luke’s gospel he acknowledges that others’ gospels have been written; he goes on to explain what he intends to accomplish by writing this gospel. He is going to write an orderly narrative, a historical work, at least as he understands it in his day. He also says that he is going back to what has been handed down to us through the eyewitnesses and the ministers of the Word. He does not include himself in either of these two groups, indicating that he himself is not a witness to the events he is recording. His gospel has been written for an individual, Theophilus, and therefore it is not meant to be used as the Christian community gathers for prayer or to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. Its purpose is to reassure Theophilus that what has been taught about Jesus is accurate and reliable.

After this introduction, the text for this Sunday moves to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry in his hometown synagogue of Nazareth. It skips over the material that the Church used during the Christmas season, and it skips another text that will be used later in the liturgical year. This gospel text ends with Jesus’ bold proclamation that today in Nazareth, in this synagogue, this passage from Isaiah is being fulfilled.

The passage that Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah focuses on God’s proclamation of blessing to the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed. Luke’s gospel will portray a Jesus who was present to those in his society who were forgotten and overlooked by the religious leaders of his day. Throughout Luke’s gospel there is a sense that Jesus is acting under the power of the Spirit of God. That is evident and stated specifically in this text as well.

Reflection Questions

1. When you think of Luke being a person never having known Jesus, trying to compile an orderly account of the life of Jesus…
2. If Luke would not have put forth the effort to write his gospel…
3. Imagine that you are among those gathered that day in Jesus’ hometown synagogue. What is going through your mind as the men gather and motion to Jesus to stand and read?
4. Jesus deliberately found and read a portion of the book of the prophet Isaiah that says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor…” What goes through you as you hear Jesus read this passage from Isaiah?
5. How is this passage from Isaiah being fulfilled in your own hearing?
6. In what ways does it still need to be fulfilled?
7. Can you talk with God now about what Jesus did that day in his hometown synagogue, or about the significance of what he did for you, or about anything else that arose within you as you read this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Second Week of Ordinary Time 2019

On this Second Sunday of Ordinary Time we share a not so ordinary Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection January 20 2019. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.
Photos: By After Hieronymus Bosch – collectie.boijmans.nl : Home : Info : Pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2588619

John 2:1-11

There was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding. When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from (although the servers who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.” Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him. After this, he and his mother, (his) brothers, and his disciples went down to Capernaum and stayed there only a few days.

BACKGROUND

John’s gospel is written after the fall of the temple in Jerusalem. Up until this time, many of the early Christian Jews had kept their belief in Jesus secret, so that they could still worship at the temple and maintain their relationships with their Jewish neighbors and family. Now that the temple had been destroyed, many thought it was time for these people to commit to being followers of Jesus and openly part of the Christian community.

John’s gospel is rich with symbolic images. Verse 11 states that this was the first of Jesus’ signs. There are seven signs in John’s gospel; each one points beyond the event itself to a deeper understanding of Jesus’ significance. The last and greatest sign was to be his death and resurrection.

Another way that John links this event with the death and resurrection is through Jesus’ reference to his “hour” in verse 4. Throughout John’s gospel, “the hour” is used as the hour of Jesus’ death and resurrection. (2:4, 4:21, 5:25, 5:28, 7:30, 8:20, 12:23, 12:27, 13:1, 16:4, 16:21, 16:25, 16:32, 17:1, and 19:27)

In the Hebrew Scripture, the wedding banquet itself is a rich symbol for the final fulfillment of God’s relationship with the chosen people. Within this tradition, God is often described as the bridegroom.

The large water jars were on hand so the guests could perform purification rituals. Jesus asks that the jars be filled with water and taken to the headwaiter. The water had been transformed into the finest of wines. At the Last Supper, Jesus will take the wine and transform it into his own blood, which will be poured out on the cross in the purest of sacrifices.

Jesus’ response to his mother in verse 4 as “woman” may sound a bit harsh. However, in their time, this was a customary and respectful way to address a woman, and it was used by Jesus again in other places in the gospel. At the same time, to refer to one’s mother with this title without further amplification would have been unusual. Young men in this culture sought emotional independence from women in general, and especially from their mothers, and they rejected their mothers’ claims on them. This would be particularly true in public situations like the one described at the wedding feast. In this light, the behavior of both Mary and Jesus is very counter-cultural. For Mary to then tell the servants to do whatever Jesus asked of them suggests that she knew another part of her son Jesus. Jesus’ responses to Mary and to the needs of the culture after his initial comment to his mother also demonstrate his inner strength.

 

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

1. Think of large international family gatherings that include cousins, spouses, and other family members. What roles do different family members play in order for these celebrations to go smoothly?
2. When you think of the last wedding you attended, the things that most strike you were…
3. Are you aware of events in your life that symbolically turned out to be much more important than you or others realized at the time they were happening?
4. If you were one of Jesus’ early disciples and overheard his mother say to him that they have run out of wine, you might have whispered to the disciple sitting next to you…
5. As the events unfold and you see Mary go over to the steward, you would begin to wonder…
6. When Jesus goes over and addresses the steward, you are thinking to yourself…
7. Finally as the celebration continues and you taste the new wine that has just been poured, you begin to think…
8. Can you take some time now to talk to God about Jesus’ relationship to his mother, his apparent reluctance to do anything at this point to draw attention to himself, or some other thought or feeling that arose within you from this text?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Feast of the Baptism of the Lord 2019

This is the day we are grateful for our own baptism! As we anticipate the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection January 13 2019. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Somerton, AZ and St. John Neumann, Yuma, AZ

Luke 3:15-16, 21-22

Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

Background

Throughout their history, the Jews looked for the coming of a Messiah who would establish the Reign of God. There were those who thought that perhaps John the Baptist was God’s anointed who had finally come. In the first line of the gospel text, Luke acknowledges that fact. Luke then quotes John’s denial of being the “anointed one.” The Baptist, without naming Jesus, then points to one who is to come, and compares his own standing to that of the true Messiah. (“I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals.”) Washing the feet of another was the task of the very lowest servants. It was also a gesture of respect, that of a student for his master. John uses this image in comparing himself to the one who is truly God’s anointed. John is saying that he is not even worthy to be the student of the Messiah.

In the last two verses of the text, Luke first describes the Holy Spirit coming upon Jesus, and then the Father confirming that Jesus is indeed His son. Luke’s description of these events is different from the other Gospels, in that Luke presents these events as happening after John had finished baptizing. Luke describes Jesus as being at prayer when he experiences the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, and the voice from heaven. These are experiences that happen to him, not things that happen by him or through him. Luke’s description also removes any sense of John’s involvement in the experience.

Luke’s recording that the Father’s voice confirmed that Jesus was his son was very significant for the people of the day. Their limited understanding of reproduction made it impossible for them to know who the actual father of any child was. Therefore, the father had to publicly state that he was the father of a child. By doing this, he was giving the child legitimacy, status in the community, and the right to an inheritance, and he was taking on the responsibility of being the child’s father. This was a critical part of the social structure of the day. Using this social institution, Luke presents God as claiming that Jesus is His Son.

Reflection Questions

1. Can you recall a time when your parents let you know that they were pleased with you? What do you remember about that day?
2. Can you recall a time when you were filled with expectation?
3. What are your expectations for God’s involvement in your life, or in the world?
4. When you think of the Jewish people waiting for generations and generations for a Messiah…
5. Imagine that you were one of the others that came that day to be baptized by John, and you witnessed in some way Jesus’ experience. What thoughts and feelings would be going through you?
6. Do you sense that God looks on you as God’s beloved son/daughter?
7. Can you talk to God now about your own sense of being beloved, your hopes and expectations for God, the ways you would like to point to the presence of God in the world, or some other feeling that might have arisen in this gospel text?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Solemnity of the Feast of the Ephiphany 2019

As we contemplate the Feast of the Epiphany, we offer in service our own personal gifts to our Lord and his people. We share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection January 6 2019 You will find both the Fourth Sunday of Advent and various Christmas excerpts. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.
Photos:  King figures from the Archives of the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity

Matthew 2:1-12

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, Magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”

When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.'” Then Herod called the Magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”

After their audience with the king they set out. And behold, the star that they had seen at its rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country by another way.

Background

The first chapter of Matthew’s gospel ends with Joseph carrying out the instructions he had received in a dream. “When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.” (Matthew 1:24-25) Matthew omits from his gospel such things as the birth of Jesus in a manger, and angels announcing the birth to the shepherds. The next event that Matthew describes is the arrival of the magi in Jerusalem that opens the text for today’s gospel. Many of us who are familiar with stories of the birth of Jesus might be tempted to fill in other details that Matthew has omitted. Another approach would be to spend some time considering what Matthew wants his community to focus on by his unfolding of the story of the birth of Jesus.

Matthew’s unique presentation of the birth of Jesus includes details like Joseph accepting Mary into his home as his wife, which spared Mary of the possibility of being sent away in quiet disgrace, or even the possibility of being stoned to death. He also reports that it is Joseph who gives the child the name Jesus, the name Luke reports was given to Mary at the annunciation. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:31) Matthew has also skipped over such events as the census, not finding room in the city and therefore seeking shelter in a manger, the angels declaring the birth, and the shepherds’ experience of the scene. Matthew does not even name Mary in telling us of the birth of Jesus. Despite not having relations with Mary, Joseph takes on the responsibility of the child as if he were his son, and gives him the name Jesus. But Matthew provides other details that will help his audience understand how God has been unfolding God’s plan in the birth of this child. Some of Matthew’s details are present in today’s gospel text.

The Magi were part of the gentile world into which Jesus was born. The Magi studied the heavens for clues to the meaning of life. They functioned as political and religious advisers to the rulers of the Median and later the Persian empires. At one point in Persian history, the Magi revolted and replaced their king, demonstrating their importance within their culture. Given that they were looking for a person of significance, it is no surprise that they would first go to Jerusalem, the center of the religious and political world of Judea.

But Jesus is an entirely different kind of king, and therefore not to be found in Jerusalem but rather in the small isolated community of Bethlehem. When the Magi arrived there and entered the house, they first saw the child with his mother, and then prostrated themselves before the infant. Matthew has described this encounter between the Magi and the child Jesus in such a way that his audience recognizes that even those without the benefit of their sacred tradition are able to recognize the hand of God at work here. Creation itself is revealing the way, so that those who are open and seek the ways of God can recognize what has taken place. Who these Magi were, their names, how many there were–the details that have been added later are not described by Matthew. The Magi are important because they help establish that the whole world was affected by what God had done, and now they can fade into history. Having discovered the child, they pay him homage, offer their gifts, and then step aside so that God can unravel God’s divine plan. The magi are much like Simeon and Anna in Luke’s gospel, who have waited faithfully most of their lives. Once the magi have seen the hand of God at work in the child Jesus, they praise God and depart by another route. “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the people, a light for revelations to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

The Magi’s response to the birth of Jesus is in sharp contrast to that of King Herod, the living and reigning King of Judea. Herod knows that he has not fathered an heir. Therefore, the news that there exists a newborn heir is not welcome. Herod is also different from the Magi in that he is merely a puppet ruler for Rome, while the Magi have esteem and authority in their society. While the Magi have nothing but a star that signals the birth of a person of importance, Herod has advisors who know of the prophecies about the birth of the messiah, but they seem to be oblivious to the fact that the child has arrived. Herod’s reaction is one of distress. He is not moved to personal action. Rather, with a deceitful claim for his motive, he directs the Magi to bring him the information he needs. The Magi have taken on the difficult and dangerous task of leaving their homeland to track down the person whom the star’s appearance signifies. They have brought precious gifts that indicate his importance and they bow before him. Herod keeps his intention secret, and in secret he asks the Magi to supply him with information he will need.

The Magi and Herod represent two very different responses to the presence of Jesus. Those who have the advantage of being familiar with the religious traditions are unable to identify who Jesus is. They respond with fear, and, as we know the story, even murder of the innocent. Those without the benefit of being familiar with the religious tradition are willing take on personal risk. They recognize the significance of this infant’s birth: God’s love is powerful and pervasive–it will not be thwarted. They offer the gifts that they have, bow reverently, and take their leave.

Reflection Questions

1. Some of my most precious interactions with children include…
2. When I think of the responsibility of caring for a newborn…
3. My experience of people from other worlds and cultures is….
4. Who in your family are the first in line to hold the babies at family gatherings? Are there also members in your family who seem to feel very awkward in the presence of newborns?
5. When I reflect on the role of Joseph in the birth and life of Jesus…
6. The Magi were men who were comfortable enough with the darkness to study changes in the night sky. What are the areas of darkness in your own life today?
7. Imagine yourself arriving with the Magi in Bethlehem. What would you like to offer?
8. When has your response to situations in your life been like the magi? Has your response to a situation ever resembled the response of Herod?
9. Can you take some time to talk with God about the role of Joseph, the magi, and Herod in the birth of Jesus, or about God choosing to become present among us at this point in history, or about any other thought or feeling that arose within you from this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Feast of the Holy Family

Blessings on this Christmas Season! The Feast of the Incarnation is followed closely by the Feast of the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Today we are grateful for families as we share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection December 30 2018 . You will find both the Fourth Sunday of Advent and various Christmas excerpts. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Christmas with the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity

Luke 2:41-52

Each year his Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom. After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him.

After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them.

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

Background

For Luke, the author of this Gospel and of the Acts of the Apostles, Jerusalem is a significant place. His gospel begins in Jerusalem, with Zechariah entering the Holy of Holies and learning of the future birth of John. Luke’s gospel ends in Jerusalem with the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jerusalem is where the disciples receive the Holy Spirit and are sent out into the world.

In this gospel text Luke notes that Jesus is twelve years old. The Law of Moses requires that every male child at this age make the trip to Jerusalem for Passover. This then is the first time Jesus would have been allowed to make the journey with the other adult members of his community, and read the Word of God in the temple. It marks his standing as an adult within the community and a time of transition for Jesus.

Traditionally twelve was the age when boys left the world of their mothers and the other women, and they entered the much harsher world of their fathers and the other adult males. The women of the extended family had been exclusively responsible for the raising of the children. Sons, because they were more valued, received special attention. When the boys left the protection of the women, the fathers and men of the community believed it was their responsibility to prepare them for the harsh realities of the world, where they would be responsible for the survival and protection of their family and community.

The caravans of pilgrims, like the rest of society, were segregated. Women and children traveled separately from the men. Because Jesus was just twelve, he might have traveled with either the men or the women. Therefore, Mary could have reasonably presumed that Jesus was traveling with Joseph, and Joseph assumed that he was traveling with Mary. Apparently, when the caravan stopped for the night, each learned that Jesus was not traveling with the other. Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem, perhaps without the benefit of traveling with a group.

They found their son involved in a discussion with the religious teachers of the temple. Luke seems to portray Jesus as one of the learned religious wise men of the day. But at the same time, Jesus is also shown as an irresponsible member of his family. He has been the cause of great stress and perhaps imperiled Mary and Joseph in their return to Jerusalem. His response to them in verse 49 adds to his poor behavior. (The form of verb that is used in “don’t you know” is plural, indicating he is addressing both Mary and Joseph.) While the text does not include Jesus’ recognition of his lack of responsibility, or an apology to Mary and Joseph, it does conclude by stating that Jesus returned with them and remained obedient to them, again plural. In the last verse of the text, Luke states that Jesus advanced in age, wisdom, and favor before God and men.

By including what might be looked upon as a humiliating story about Jesus’ shameful lack of consideration to his parents, Luke is making a theological statement about who Jesus’ true Father is. In responding to his parent’s concern about his absence from their caravan, he tells them he has been in his Father’s house (verse 49). Jesus is not only living between the worlds of men and women of his day, but he is also living between the world of his father Joseph’s house and that of his Heavenly Father. Just as Jesus has not fully made the transition to a responsible adult of his day, neither has he completely made the transition to God his Father at this point in the gospel. Therefore, he returns to Nazareth, and in doing so he advances before God and men.

Reflection Questions

1. When you think of your own transition from adolescent to being an adult, some of the things that come to mind are…
2. When you think of Mary and Joseph stopping at the end of a day’s journey and discovering that Jesus is not among them…
3. When you imagine Jesus getting caught up in a discussion with the teachers of the day…
4. When you hear Jesus respond to his parents’ concern for him, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”, what feelings and thoughts are most present to you?
5. Can you take some time now to talk with God about the image of Jesus that Luke presents here, or about your own experience of becoming an adult, or your struggle now to live both in your real world and in the world of God?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Advent is here and close behind is the Feast of the Incarnation! We share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection December 23 and 25 2018. You will find both the Fourth Sunday of Advent and various Christmas excerpts. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: Holy Family Convent Advent tree wreath, Manitowoc, Wisconsin, Christ the Light Parish, Cambridge, Ohio

Luke 1:39-45

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Background

The Gospel for this Sunday follows immediately after Luke’s description of Mary accepting the invitation to be the mother of Jesus. Some have suggested that Mary went to visit Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John the Baptist, in order to help Elizabeth. But Luke reports that Mary left Elizabeth before John was born. “Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a son.” (Luke 1:56-57) Therefore Mary would have left Elizabeth during that period when she would have needed the most assistance.

Luke does not indicate a precise location from which Mary left, nor the town to which she went. This would seem to indicate that it was both an insignificant place and not important for what he wants his community to know. But what Luke’s community would notice is that Mary seems to be traveling alone. Women in this culture were always in the company of other women, children, and/or a male protector. For Mary, a fourteen-year-old girl, to travel alone would be enough to accuse her of being a shameful character. Yet the text calls Mary “blessed” three different times: twice in verse 42, for her unique role in God’s plan, and lastly in verse 45 for her faith in God. On one hand, the details that Luke includes seem to cast Mary in a rather suspicious light, yet he strongly asserts that she is blessed.

One explanation is based in the people’s understanding of procreation at the time. Men were believed to implant a full but miniature human being within a woman. The woman’s role was to nurture the minute human being within her body until it was ready to be born and begin its independent life. With this understanding, the pregnant Mary was not traveling alone but with a male protector who is so powerful that even the unborn John the Baptist leaps within Elizabeth’s womb when Mary enters their presence.

Reflection Questions

1. What is your experience of women telling you that they are pregnant? What happens within you when you hear their news?
2. When you hear in today’s gospel that Mary set out in haste to visit Elisabeth…
3. If you too had been visiting Elizabeth when Mary arrived at the house, you would have said to her…
4. Luke’s portrait of Mary emphasized her faith and her willingness to do things that might cast her in a poor light before others. How does this view of Mary fit with your image of Mary?
5. When you think of people who you consider truly people of faith and trust in God, do you find that they do things that might be considered out of character or even scandalous?
6. Can you talk to God now about how he used Mary to bring Jesus into the world, or about your own desire to be an instrument of God’s presence in your world, or about some other thought that this gospel raised within you?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Third Sunday of Advent 2018

This Third Sunday of Advent, we rejoice with great expectation in the Lord’s coming to each of us now and forever. We share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection December 16 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photo: St. Peter Mission, Bapchule, Arizona; Immaculate Conception Convent, Yuma, Arizona

Luke 3:10-18

And the crowds asked John the Baptist, “What then should we do?” He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He answered them, “Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.” Soldiers also asked him, “And what is it that we should do?” He told them, “Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, saying, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached good news to the people.

Background

John is associated with preparing for a messiah, and the expectation at the time was that a messiah would come to bring a political transformation. John, too, looks for a Messiah who will come with the Holy Spirit and fire. He would bring judgment, and usher in a new age that would be free from Roman rule. But as Luke records John’s message, he keeps John’s message that the Messiah would lead Israel to throw off Roman rule and become a great nation very subtle. Perhaps this is because he does not want the Roman authorities to look at the early Christians as a threat to their authority.

Three times the question is asked of John, “What should we do?” John is calling everyone to repentance, a repentance that is demonstrated by a change in how one lives daily life. John does not suggest that people join his austere life in the desert; but that they live with concern for others, honestly, and with integrity. Each time John is asked “what we should do,” his response indicates that they should live out their given role in society faithful to their responsibilities, considerate of others, and not taking advantage of their position.

Verse 12 begins with “even tax collectors…” Luke is making sure his audience is aware that even tax collectors and soldiers were responding to John’s call to conversion. The fact that John was instructing them as to how they should behave also suggests that their conversion had awakened in them a sincere effort to live differently. The tax collectors in verse 12 could be likened to toll collectors. Often, they could not find other types of work, and they were forced to collect tolls as people were crossing roads or bridges, or entering ports or city gates. The soldiers mentioned in verse 14 were guards who were assigned to protect the tax collectors. Both the tax collectors and the soldiers would be Jews who were despised by others because they were looked upon as aiding an occupying Roman government.

Reflection Questions

1. Luke states in verse 15 that the people were filled with expectation. When you think of being filled with expectation…
2. When you think of people who need to be invited to live with a sense of expectation…
3. If you were to ask John what is it that you should do to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, you suspect he might say something like…
4. Of all the people who were coming to John for baptism, why would Luke single out soldiers and tax collectors?
5. John seems to know himself and who he is not. He also asks people to live within the limits of their life. Can you talk to God about you desire to live authentically your own station in life, or some struggle you may be having to live beyond yourself, or some other awareness that arose within you from this gospel?

Franciscan Gospel Reflection: Second Sunday of Advent 2018

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we are serious in our desire to grow in our relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. We share a Franciscan Gospel reflection and questions written by Fr. Paul Gallagher, OFM. They are edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here: Franciscan Gospel Reflection December 2 2018. Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Please include this information when printing.

Photos: St. Francis Chapel, Manitowoc, Wisconsin

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the desert.

John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

Background

The first two verses of the gospel text ground the gospel in the civil and religious history of the day. Luke states that the events he records in his gospel took place at a particular time in the events of the world. Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias and even Annas and Caiaphas were all leaders who were associated with dark periods in their history rather than any sense of deliverance. Luke has deliberately placed John’s ministry (and Jesus’) within the context of these world events.

Luke also includes details that place these events in the context of the community’s understanding of their relationship as the chosen people of God. Naming the Jordan River as the place where John was baptizing (verse 3) would link John’s baptism with their ancestors’ wandering in the desert. The Jordan River was crossed as they entered the Promised Land, and it became a symbol of their entrance to a new life. Luke also reminds his community that John is the son of Zechariah and therefore a member of the priestly family, which is typically associated with the temple in Jerusalem. To find John in the desert baptizing would be an oddity and would arouse curiosity.

While the ritual of baptizing that John used is not described, it is understood as an expression of repentance or conversion. In this context, the Jordan River carries the symbol of preparing for a new way of living. This new way of living is given an eschatological character, which is reinforced by reference to the prophet Isaiah. The prophet describes the glorious coming of the Lord when he will be revealed to all. “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley.” (Isaiah 40:1-4)

Although these events took place in a remote and unimportant part of the world, Luke suggests that these events have a significance beyond what is apparent. They will impact all people and all of creation.

Reflection Questions

1. What do you know about the circumstances of your family, the world, and the church at the time when you were born?
2. When you think of the significant people and events of your life…
3. Why might people of the day travel out into the desert and be baptized as an expression of their willingness to repent and change their lives?
4. When you think of repentance in your life…
5. Have there been times in your life when repentance and forgiveness were more important or less important to you?
6. When you consider John’s role in his place and time…
7. Can you speak with God now about how this text asks you to look at your life, or the world around you, or about how waiting can be an instrument of God’s desire?