Reflecting on 1 Corinthians for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

From First Corinthians by George T. Montague, SM, commenting on I Corinthians 11:23-25:

What follows is the first historical witness to the institution of the Eucharist, predating the Gospel of Mark by at least five to ten years. But Paul already affirms that it is well-anchored tradition even in the details, the first of which is that it was instituted on the night on which Jesus was handed over, which should alert the Corinthians to the gravity of the occasion they are commemorating. The translation “handed over” instead of “betrayed” has the advantage of ambiguity about it, since Jesus was “handed over” not only by Judas (Mark 14:10, 42, 44) but also by the chief priests (to Pilate; Mark 15:1), and by Pilate (to crucifixion; Mark 15:15). It can also refer to God’s handing over Jesus for the salvation of the world (Rom 8:32).

Paul’s version of the words of institution are more than Mark’s and Matthew’s, which lack that is for you, and less than Luke’s (in 22:19), which has “given for you.” This cup is the new covenant in my blood echoes “This is the blood of the covenant” in Exod 24:8. The parallelism with the sacrifice’s sealing the old covenant demands taking “that is for you” as an affirmation of the sacrificial nature of this body, which brings salvation. The separate consecration of the bread and the wine signifies the separation of the blood from the body of Christ in death (though in reality the whole Christ is present under both species: bread and wine). The death of Christ is treated as a sacrifice in the Synoptics (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45) and repeatedly in St. Paul. Here, then, the body of Christ is identified with the body immolated on the cross (so likewise John 6:51).

© 2011 George T. Montague and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 16:12-15:

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The Church prescribes this reading for Trinity Sunday. The Trinity has everything to do with all aspects of Christian life. The Catechism states, “God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (221). This sharing is heaven. The Father sent his only Son to suffer, die, and rise, so that humanity could be restored to his friendship and enter into the divine communion. The Spirit has been sent to teach us, strengthen us, and help us replicate in our lives the same pattern of self-giving love that exists in God. Our task is to yield to the Holy Spirit, who makes the reality of God powerfully alive for us and draws us into communion with him through Jesus. In order to do this, we have to give up our sins and open ourselves up to God. The more attuned we become to the Holy Spirit by renouncing our sins and living a graced life of prayer and the sacraments, the more we will come to know the mystery of love that is the Blessed Trinity.

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Acts for Pentecost Sunday

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 2:1-13:

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This inspiring account of the Church’s inception is a model for contemporary Christians. Christian identity today is likewise grounded in our receiving the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation. Christians are sometimes tempted to think they can be saved by their determination to cultivate virtue, by doctrinal orthodoxy, or by scrupulously following rules and commandments. The Pentecost event reminds us how indispensable the Holy Spirit is to our faith and salvation. The indwelling Holy Spirit bestows on us the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, from which all other Christian virtues and actions follow (Catechism 1812–13). The Spirit produces a particular kind of fruit in us (Gal 5:22–23), the character of Jesus.

The descent of the Spirit at Pentecost transformed the first followers of Jesus, who had previously hidden in fear from those responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion and were unable to understand God’s plan for a crucified Messiah (Luke 9:44–45; John 20:19). After the Holy Spirit’s coming, they understood God’s saving plan and were able to proclaim it boldly, even at the cost of beatings, imprisonment, and martyrdom. The charisms of prophecy and of speaking in tongues, as well as healings and miracles in the name of Jesus, were abundantly evident. The disciples were filled with joy and continual praise, even in the face of persecution. Today the Spirit is likewise needed to empower Christian life and ministry and to make it fruitful in bringing others to salvation. Without the Holy Spirit, there are no Christians. Without the Holy Spirit, there is no Church.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Revelation for the Seventh Sunday of Easter

From Revelation by Peter S. Williamson commenting on 22:14:

The seventh and last †beatitude makes clear that the call to conversion is truly good news: Blessed are those who wash their robes. A previous vision revealed people before the throne of God who had “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). This blessedness is not the result of a perfect moral record, nor is it available as a result of merely human moral effort. It belongs to those who turn from evil to God and receive cleansing and grace from the sacrifice of Christ through baptism (Acts 22:16; Eph 5:26) and ongoing repentance: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin. . . . If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing” (1 John 1:7, 9). Jesus explains a twofold right that belongs to the blessed as a consequence. First, they have access to the tree of life, eternal life, previously kept back from the human race because of the sin of our first parents (Gen 3:22–24). Second, they enter the new Jerusalem through the gates—they have the right to dwell there as true citizens.

 

© 2015 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 14:25-29:

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Throughout the Farewell Discourse, Jesus announces beforehand many things that will happen to the disciples (13:19; 14:29; 16:1, 4). Jesus has just told the disciples about the realities to be revealed at his resurrection, and he includes the future teaching activity of the holy Spirit. As the Father has sent Jesus, upon whom the Spirit descended (1:32–33), the Father will also send the Spirit in Jesus’ name and at his request (14:16). The Holy Spirit, who will dwell in Jesus’ disciples, will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.

There are several instances in the Gospel where disciples are said to remember episodes in Jesus’ ministry after his glorification (2:17, 22; 12:16). As this verse suggests, their remembering of Jesus’ ministry will be caused by the Spirit. It is not a simple recollection of the past but also a deeper understanding of Jesus and his work given by the Spirit—a spiritual understanding. The Spirit leads disciples into a greater understanding of the mystery of Jesus and makes it come alive for us.

Among his promises (14:18–24), Jesus includes the promise of his peace. Behind this mention of “peace” is the biblical promise of shalom (peace, wellbeing, everything is right), a blessing of reconciliation that God promised to bestow upon his people in his †eschatological act of salvation (Isa 52:7; 54:10–13; Jer 33:6–9; Zech 9:10). Jesus’ peace is a fruit of his relationship with the Father, into which he will bring his disciples. It is a supernatural peace that arises from a total love for the Father and therefore is unlike the peace of the world, which rejects God. Repeating his words of reassurance (14:1), Jesus calls the disciples to a confident, trusting faith and promises them the peace that comes from obeying the Father and knowing his love. We shall see this promise fulfilled in the Gospel account of Easter Sunday evening, when the risen Jesus gives the disciples his peace, which drives out their fear (20:19; see 20:26; 1 John 4:18). Paul similarly exhorts his readers, “Let the peace of Christ control your hearts” (Col 3:15).

Jesus continues to console his distressed disciples with the promise I will come back to you. He will return to them not only after his resurrection, not only at the †Parousia, but also during the present time through the Holy Spirit. While it may be very hard for them to grasp, the disciples should rejoice that Jesus is going to the Father. The Father is greater than Jesus in his mortal humanity, but at his resurrection and ascension, Jesus’ humanity will be glorified by the Father and become “greater” (see 14:12). Jesus’ entrance into heavenly glory opens up salvation and life with the Father, salvation and life for humanity (see Acts 2:33). Jesus has prophesied these things ahead of time, so that when they happen, the disciples may believe in him, believe that he is present to the Father and “has revealed him” (1:18).

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Revelation for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

From Revelation by Peter S. Williamson commenting on 21:1-4:

For many Catholics accustomed to thinking about eternal life in heaven, Revelation’s picture of the new Jerusalem descending to a re-created earth may come as a surprise. However, a close look at the Catechism shows that it devotes one section to “Heaven” (1023–29), and after the section on the “Last Judgment” (1038–41) comes a separate section on “The Hope of the New Heaven and the New Earth” (1042–50).

Summing up the Catechism, heaven is where “those who die in God’s grace and friendship” go to live with Christ immediately after death (or after their purification is complete in Purgatory), before the resurrection of their bodies (1023). They live there in a “communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed” (1024), a reality beyond human understanding. In heaven, God gives human beings the ability to see him in his heavenly †glory, what theologians describe as “the †beatific vision” (1028).

However, turning now to Catechism 1042–48, the ultimate future of God’s people—after the resurrection and the last judgment—is to reign with Christ in a re-created cosmos. Then “the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. . . . the righteous will reign forever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed” (1042). “In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men [cf. Rev 21:5]” (1044). “We know neither the moment of the consummation of the earth and of man, nor the way in which the universe will be transformed” (1048, emphasis original).

So what’s the difference? When the kingdom of God comes in its fullness, God’s people will have new bodies and live on a renewed earth. Nevertheless, there is continuity between heaven now and the new creation in the future age: in both, human beings enjoy the beatific vision; in both, they reign with Christ; in both, they are freed from all suffering and sorrow. If heaven is defined as where God is present and reigns completely, it is clear that when the new heaven and the new earth are created, heaven comes to earth.

For many centuries Christian hope has focused on heaven. In contrast, the hope of the early Christians centered on the return of Christ (Titus 2:13), the resurrection of the dead, and the full establishment of God’s kingdom as expressed in the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Without lessening our desire to go to heaven when we die, we Christians would do well to set our hope on the full and final establishment of Christ’s kingdom on earth.

 

© 2015 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Revelation for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

From Revelation by Peter S. Williamson commenting on 7:15-17:

An end to suffering. The vision in Rev 7:9–17 of the eternal life promised us is extraordinarily comforting. Here is no empty promise that faithful Christians will be spared trial and suffering, a way of thinking that the life of Jesus and all of Christian history contradict. Rather, John foresees a countless multitude passing through the great tribulation of this age before Christ returns and standing victorious before God and the Lamb, wearing white robes, and waving palms in celebration.

This vision offers a partial yet helpful answer to an age-old question: How can a God who is good and all-powerful allow suffering to afflict the just? The vision reveals that all such affliction is time limited. There will be an irreversible end to the suffering of those who belong to God. Those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood the Lamb”—the Lamb who fully shared in the suffering of this world to the point of being slain—are destined to eternal joy in God’s presence, where there will be no more hunger, thirst, oppressive heat, or any other evil. The Lamb will be their shepherd and quench their thirst with life-giving water. God their Father will heal their wounds and “wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

For all the saints. The Church reads the two visions of this chapter on the Solemnity of All Saints, a feast that celebrates the sanctity of all God’s faithful people who have gone on before us, not just the saints who have been canonized by the Church. The Lord calls every Christian to holiness, in every state of life. Hebrews 12:14 exhorts us, “Strive for . . . that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” It is a simple fact that only saints—holy people—reach heaven. Christ qualifies us to live in God’s presence: he makes us holy through his death and resurrection, conveying the benefits to us through the sacraments. Nevertheless, we must “strive” to do our part as well through ongoing repentance, prayer, reading Scripture, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Our part entails daily dying to self and surrendering ourselves completely to God. This process must be completed before we see the face of God. Why not begin in earnest now?

 

© 2015 Peter S. Williamson and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Third Sunday of Easter

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 21-15-19:

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This exchange between Jesus and Peter provides much food for thought about the ministry of the pope and basic aspects of the Christian life, such as sin, repentance, and discipleship. When Peter denied Jesus three times, he rejected his relationship with Jesus. In this scene, which recalls Peter’s denials, we see the tremendous love and mercy of Jesus for Peter. Jesus makes the first  move and initiates the conversation with Peter. He invites Peter to repent and return to him by professing his love. With Peter’s threefold profession of love, his threefold denial is undone, and Jesus restores the relationship between them. Jesus’ mercy is so complete that he does not hold Peter’s past sins against him. Instead, Jesus gives Peter the honor and responsibility of serving as the delegated shepherd of his sheep.
The same dynamics of repentance and forgiveness apply to all disciples, for Peter is still a sheep in relation to Jesus. No matter how serious or how many the sins we have committed (Peter’s were very serious), the love and mercy of Jesus is infinitely greater. He seeks us out and invites us to return to him. This scene should give us confidence that when we seek reconciliation with Jesus, he forgives us completely and forever. As Pope Francis has beautifully taught, God  “does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to him with a contrite heart.”

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on the Gospel of John for the Second Sunday of Easter

From The Gospel of John, by Francis Martin and William Wright, commenting on John 20:20:

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During the Farewell Discourse, Jesus told his disciples that they would “weep and mourn” (16:20) and be “in anguish” (16:22) when he left them. He also reassured them, “I will come back to you” (14:28) and “you will see me” (16:16).

Now Jesus fulfills this promise: he came and stood in their midst. And he speaks the words of shalom, the †eschatological reconciliation between God and his people: Peace be with you (see Isa 52:7; 57:19). Before he departed, Jesus told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (14:27). The risen Jesus now gives the disciples the gift of his peace, which drives away their fear, for he incorporates them into communion with the Father. !rough his cross and resurrection, Christ has “conquered the world” (16:33) and its ruler (12:31), and he has made his disciples “children of God” (1:12). There is, then, no reason for his disciples to fear. The presence of the wounds of crucifixion on the risen Jesus’ body is significant. They indicate that the body resurrected to glory is the same one that died on the cross (see Luke 24:39).14 Resurrection is not the return of a human being to ordinary mortal life but total transformation into a glorified mode of existence. As St. Paul wrote, the natural body is transfigured by the Holy Spirit into a glorified, “spiritual body” (1 Cor 15:44). The wounds on Jesus’ resurrected body reveal that he is forever fixed in the act of love in which he died. The love and sacrifice that he offered on the cross are forever present before the Father as “expiation for our sins, and . . . for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

Jesus’ wounds also signify that the victory of the resurrection comes only through the cross. Similarly, the Lamb in the book of Revelation bears the wound of his slaughter by which he accomplished the work of redemption (Rev 5:6, 9). In this way, St. Thomas Aquinas, drawing on the Venerable Bede, can speak of the wounds on Jesus’ resurrected body as “trophies” of his victory.

Donatien Mollat found significance in John’s use of the verb “showed.” After the temple incident (2:14–17), the †Jews asked Jesus to “show” them a sign to legitimate his words and deeds (2:18). Jesus responded with a statement about raising up the temple of his body (2:19). Now, when Jesus shows the disciples his risen body with its wounds, he provides the †sign that legitimates his words and deeds: his resurrection.

 

© 2015 Francis Martin, William M. Wright IV, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Reflecting on Philippians for Palm Sunday

From Philippians, Colossians, Philemon by Dennis Hamm, SJ, commenting on Philippians 2:5-11:

The passage as example. The first and best application of this passage is the one Paul himself makes in the Letter to the Philippians. The Christ hymn illustrates the mind-set he exhorts Christians to take on in the preceding verses (1:27–2:4). Then in the verses that follow (2:12–18) he will apply the example of Christ in concrete ways to the life of the community.

The passage as a prayer of the Church. The passage has such beauty and wholeness that it lends itself to being lifted from its epistolary context and used as a freestanding text for prayer, meditation, liturgical reading, and song. Indeed, it is likely that more Christians have experienced the text in these contexts than in the context of the letter itself. In that way, it is like the three canticles drawn from the infancy narrative of the Gospel of Luke—the Magnificat (1:46–55), the Benedictus (1:68–79), and the Nunc Dimittis (2:29–32).

The passage as a source of doctrine. Paul speaks of Christ as being “in the form of God” and not considering “equality with God” as something to be taken advantage of. In all this, he refers to the preexistent, eternally divine Son of God in a way that parallels the thought of Heb 1:1–14, the prologue of John (1:1–4), the affirmation of 1 Cor 8:6, and the hymn of Col 1:15–20. It is important to notice that Paul is not teaching the preexistence of the Son as something new. He presumes that this is common knowledge among Christians as he moves to present first Christ’s self-emptying in his †incarnation and then the self-humiliation of his earthly life and shameful death as the pattern and standard for the life of a Christian.

While Paul is not explicitly spelling out the doctrine of Jesus as Second Person of the Trinity, his text provided some of the raw material that the Church, some three centuries later, would use to formulate the doctrine of Jesus as the eternal Son “consubstantial” with the Father.

 

 

© 2013 Dennis Hamm and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.