Engaging the Gospel – Second Sunday of Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 9:28b-36

“For a moment Jesus discloses His divine glory” in His Transfiguration (Catechism paragraph 555), evoking the theophanies, or manifestations of God, in the Old Testament.

Through the presence of the cloud, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and its setting on a mountain, the Transfiguration calls to mind, and yet transcends, these earlier divine manifestations to the people of Israel.

“In the theophanies of the Old Testament, the cloud, now obscure, now luminous, reveals the living and saving God, while veiling the transcendence of His glory” (697).

“Christian tradition has always recognized that God’s Word allowed Himself to be seen and heard in these theophanies, in which the cloud of the Holy Spirit both revealed Him and concealed Him in its shadow” (707).

In the Old Testament, “Elijah, like Moses before him, hides in a cleft of the rock until the mysterious presence of God has passed by” (2583). In the New Testament, with the Word made flesh in Jesus, God manifests Himself in a radically new way.

Hence “only on the mountain of the Transfiguration will Moses and Elijah behold the unveiled face of Him Whom they sought; the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines in the face of Christ” (2583).

Question for reflection: What leads me to reflect upon the majesty of God?

Engaging the Gospel – John 6:24-35

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – John 6:24-35

Jesus reveals that He is the Bread of Life – not to give out the earthly bread that the crowd seeks, but to bring us everlasting life. This “Bread of Life” discourse, the heart of John 6, will furnish our Gospel readings for the next few weeks.

“The fundamental context in which the entire chapter belongs is centered upon the contrast between Moses and Jesus,” Benedict XVI writes in Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1. “Jesus is the definitive, greater Moses” (p. 264).

Moses was identified with the gift of manna that sustained the Israelites in the desert: “Even the manna was not heavenly bread, but only earthly bread…or rather a food substitute” (p. 267).

But the Lord gives us much more – He gives us Himself in the Eucharist.

As the manna physically nourished the Israelites on the way to the Promised Land, so does the Eucharist sustain us spiritually on our journey to heaven.

The Eucharist is literally the “food of eternal life” (Catechism paragraph 1212):

What material food produces in our bodily life, Holy Communion wonderfully achieves in our spiritual life. Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ…preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism. This growth in Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion…

— paragraph 1392.

The North African Christians in the early fourth century gave eloquent testimony to the necessity of the Eucharist. When Christian worship was banned during a vicious persecution of the Church, they chose martyrdom rather than give up the Eucharist, proclaiming that they could not exist without the Sacrament (see Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis, no. 95).

Question for reflection: How do I prepare to receive the Lord in the Eucharist?

Engaging the Gospel – Second Sunday of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent (Year B): Gospel – Mark 9:2-10

The Transfiguration is rich in meaning on several levels, beginning with its timing. Christ’s divine glory was made manifest during the Jewish Feast of Sukkoth. Commemorating Israel’s time of wandering in the desert after the Exodus, living in tents (“sukkoth”), this feast had messianic overtones: the Jewish people believed that it foreshadowed the coming age of the Messiah.

Jesus fulfills this hope, as Benedict XVI observes:

Indeed, the Lord has pitched the tent of His body among us and has thus inaugurated the messianic age…Jesus is the holy tent above whom the cloud of God’s presence now stands.

— Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 315-16.

The presence of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration demonstrates Jesus’ fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures. They represent the Law and the Prophets, which proclaimed the Messiah’s coming. Although Moses and Elijah had encounters with God in the Old Testament, “only on the mountain of the Transfiguration” did they “behold the unveiled face of Him Whom they sought” – in Christ (Catechism paragraph 2583).

Moreover, the Transfiguration gives us a glimpse of the Holy Trinity.

As St. Thomas Aquinas noted, “The whole Trinity appeared: the Father in the voice; the Son in the man; the Spirit in the shining cloud” (quoted in paragraph 555).

Question for reflection: In what ways do I listen to the Lord?

Prayer Warriors of the Old Testament

Summary drawn from Catechism paragraphs 2568-97.

During this feast of the Presentation of the Lord, we glimpse Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Covenant. As ever, our liturgy furnishes us with food for thought, which becomes food for prayer.

Today’s Gospel recounts the admirable faith of Simeon and Anna, thereby teaching us that we are heirs to their profound tradition of prayer, first revealed in the Old Testament and perfected in Christ. As the Word of God, the Old Testament continues to speak powerfully to us today, and we can learn a great deal from the school of prayer enshrined in its pages.

Abraham illustrates “attentiveness of the heart,” a willingness to listen to the Lord’s call and abide by His will, trusting even in the midst of his darkest test of faith.

When Jacob wrestles with an angel all night, he shows us the value of sticking with prayer, no matter how we struggle, so that we too might reap the rewards of perseverance.

We can easily relate to Moses’ uneasiness about the great mission God has for him: “he balks, makes excuses, above all questions.” But through this intense dialogue with God, “Moses also learns how to pray,” and he would go on to become a great intercessor, pleading with God to have mercy on his rebellious people.

Through Elijah and the other prophets, we realize our need to go beyond “excessively external worship,” to encounter the Lord Himself, and undergo true “conversion of heart.”

David is our model for soul-stirring repentance, as well as for offering prayers of praise. Traditionally attributed to David, the Psalms (literally “Praises”) are “the masterwork of prayer in the Old Testament.” Both personal and communal, embracing all dimensions of salvation history to the end of time, the Psalms are an integral part of the Church’s prayer: “The Psalter is the book in which the Word of God becomes [our] prayer,” for “the same Spirit inspires both….”

Engaging the Gospel – Pentecost

Pentecost: Gospel – John 7:37-39 (Vigil); John 20:19-23

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is a momentous event in salvation history.

The Old Testament prophets had proclaimed that the Spirit of the Lord “was not to remain uniquely the Messiah’s, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people.” Christ fulfilled this promise “first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost” (Catechism paragraph 1287).

That very date was significant to the Jewish people. Pentecost, meaning the “fiftieth” day after Passover, was the “feast of the Covenant which commemorated the Sinai event, when God, through Moses, proposed that Israel be His own possession among all peoples to be a sign of His holiness” (Pope Benedict XVI, May 11, 2008).

The descent of the Holy Spirit likewise came on the fiftieth day after Christ’s Resurrection, fulfilling His Passover (Catechism paragraph 731) and forming the Church as the People of God (751).

“The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era…the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates His work of salvation through the liturgy of His Church, until He comes” (1076).

“The Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (797), where we come to know Him “in the Scriptures He inspired; in the Tradition…in the Church’s Magisterium, which He assists; in the sacramental liturgy…in prayer…in the charisms and ministries…in the witness of saints” (688).

Question for reflection: How might I grow in devotion to the Holy Spirit?

Moral Law

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1949-1986:

  • The moral law arises from God’s Wisdom; reflecting the harmonious beauty of His design for us, it points out the right path for us to take for our own good, and our ultimate happiness in eternal life.
  • Its elemental expression is “natural law,” referring to the moral compass inscribed within human nature and discernible by our reason.
  • Implanted in our hearts by God, natural law serves as the building block of civil law and social norms of morality.
  • But since our human nature has been wounded by sin, our ability to discern this natural law readily, and with clarity, has been weakened as well.
  • God, ever desirous of drawing us to Himself, has devised another expression of His Law, through divine revelation; as St Augustine phrased it, “God wrote on the tables of the Law what men did not read in their hearts.”
  • The first stage of this revealed Law was given to the people of Israel: the Law of Moses, enshrined in the Ten Commandments, builds on natural law and teaches us about right and wrong.
  • Although the Law of Moses defines sinful behavior, it does not strengthen us to overcome it; hence the Old Law serves as a preparation for the fullness of revelation in Christ.
  • Christ gives us the New Law, the perfection of divine Law on earth; He fulfills the Law of Moses by deepening the meaning of the Ten Commandments and by purifying our hearts.
  • The Law of the Gospel is a Law of love; of grace, for we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and the sacraments to live accordingly; and of freedom as God’s children, not as slaves.
  • Expressed most vividly in the Sermon on the Mount, the New Law is summed up in the Golden Rule, “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you,” and even more profoundly in Jesus’ new commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Live Your Faith

The moral law is not a mere checklist of rules, imposed upon us from without.

Rather, it is deeply bound up in our design as human beings: we were created to live in intimacy with God, Whose perfect holiness is reflected in the moral law.

When we sin, we violate this very order within us, in ways that are self-defeating and self-destructive. But we have a sure way out through the grace of God, Who heals us and strengthens us.

As we grow in union with Christ, we become more like Him, and experience greater freedom to live the moral life that is best for us.