1 John 3:22—4:6 + Matthew 4:12-17,23-25
January 7, 2019
I will give you all the nations for an inheritance.
In this final week of the Christmas Season, the Epiphany of the Lord continues to reverberate through the Sacred Liturgy. In fact, while we tend to equate the Epiphany only with the narrative of the “three wise men”, the Church actually holds up two other Gospel narratives along with that of the “three kings” when she reflects on the meaning of Jesus’ Epiphany.
All three of these narratives bring to greater light who Jesus really is. The word “epiphany” literally means “revelation” or “insight”, similar to how we use the word in common speech, or when we picture a light bulb going off above someone’s head. Of course, in reference to Jesus, no particular revelation or insight can exhaustively show us who Jesus is, since the object being revealed (that is, the divine Person of Jesus) is an infinite Mystery. The three Epiphany narratives, then, are like three different facets of a diamond, each of which reveals something of the gem’s brilliance.
Nonetheless, all of the Epiphany narratives reveal that God’s Messiah has come to save “all the nations”. The universality of the Messiah’s mission shines through the Scriptures, antiphons and prayers of the last days of the Christmas Season. The Responsorial Psalms that we hear today and the next two days present this with special clarity. This is a good week, then, to ask whether we ourselves have any tendency to exclude others—whether in thought, word or action—from God’s love.
1 John 4:7-10 + Mark 6:34-44
January 8, 2019
…He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.
The last sentence of today’s First Reading is my favorite verse of Scripture. I plan, whenever the Lord calls, to have this verse on the holy card at my funeral. To me it sums up the entire Gospel message. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.”
The backdrop for this verse is the truth that “God is love”, which John declared two verses earlier. This verse, then, expands on the meaning of the divine nature, answering the implicit question, “If God is love, what is that love like?”
Like any clear reasoner, John first answers by telling us what God’s nature is not. God’s nature is not such that He demands our love first, before He gives us His. God does not play games with His love (that is, His own Self). He does not exchange His love on a quid pro quo basis.
The foundational truth about God is the primacy of His love. His love always comes before ours, both in terms of His creation of us, and in terms of responding to our sinfulness. In the face of our refusal to love Him, He chooses to love us and to heal the breach by sending us His only-begotten Son, “as expiation for our sins.”
1 John 4:11-18 + Mark 6:45-52
January 9, 2019
He shall govern your people with justice….
In his account of the “Wise Men from the East” who visit the Holy Family and present gifts to the baby Jesus, St. Matthew the Evangelist alludes to today’s Responsorial Psalm. In fact, the same psalm was proclaimed this past Sunday on the Solemnity of the Epiphany, and out of the six “weekday Masses” between the Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord, three of them proclaim this same Psalm 72 for their Responsorial.
We might first think that the connection between Psalm 72 and the Epiphany is the psalm’s reference to kings bringing “tribute” and “gifts” to the king of Israel. But that would be putting the cart before the horse. The larger truth to which this psalm points is the universality of the king of Israel’s reign, and through this, the reign of Christ the King.
On the simpler level of your own spiritual life, the universality of Jesus’ kingdom might provoke certain questions for reflection. “Do I ever consider anyone outside the reach of God’s love? Would I be happy for some particular person to be excluded by God from His merciful embrace? Do I forgive those who trespass against me in the same way that I know the Father will forgive me?”
1 John 4:19—5:4 + Luke 4:14-22
January 10, 2019
… all spoke highly of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.
The secular world attempts to flatten the Christian Faith into something two-dimensional. Subsequent attacks make clear that what’s really being attacked is a straw-man that bears little resemblance to the fullness of the Faith. For example, Christmas is reduced to a single day of remembering Jesus’ birth.
Christmas is a season, of course, rather than a day. It begins not on the day after Halloween, but on the day of Christ’s Nativity. The Church’s Christmas Season celebrates five mysteries, concluding with the Baptism of the Lord in the Jordan River as an adult. The Christmas Season leads to the threshold of Jesus’ public ministry.
Today’s Gospel passage, in fact, occurs in the chapter following the account of Jesus’ baptism, immediately after His forty days of temptation in the wilderness. Jesus is presented as a great teacher: “all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But the Gospel passage we hear today at Mass doesn’t give us “the rest of the story”. Jesus just couldn’t leave well enough alone: by the time he finished speaking, “the people in the synagogue… were all filled with fury.” If you and I are called to teach the Faith by our example and our words, then we may receive praise, but more likely we will face rejection.
1 John 5:5-13 + Luke 5:12-16
January 11, 2019
So there are three who testify….
The Christmas Season is a time of beginnings. During Christmastide we hear a great deal in the Sacred Liturgy from the writings of the Beloved Disciple. St. John the Evangelist outlived all the other apostles. The Blessed Mother, who had been entrusted to his care on Calvary, had completed her earthly life. As he writes his Gospel account and epistles, then, he stresses the fundamentals.
If St. John’s epistles sound at times like he’s repeating himself, perhaps he knew that repetition is the key to learning. He’s hammering home a message with eternal consequences: the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In today’s First Reading, St. John speaks of “testimony” about the divine Person of Jesus. He says something intriguing: that “there are three who testify, the Spirit, the water, and the Blood.” Perhaps it’s an imaginative leap, but whatever St. John’s literal intention in writing these words, we could apply his words to the three divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity.
We could also apply St. John’s words about “the Spirit, the water, and the Blood” to those three sacraments that initiate a human person into the Body of the Church. Confirmation, Baptism and the Eucharist initiate one into the life of Jesus Christ, and through Him into the communion of the Trinity. Say a prayer of thanksgiving today for having received the gifts of Baptism and Confirmation, and resolve during the new year to attend daily Mass whenever possible.
1 John 5:14-21 + John 3:22-30
January 12, 2019
Children, be on your guard against idols.
On this last weekday of the Christmas Season, our First Reading consists of the final eight verses of the First Epistle of Saint John. It seems to end on an odd note: “Children, be on your guard against idols.” St. John offers no words of farewell and gives no specific instructions.
Of course, the 21 New Testament books commonly called “epistles” were not written by their human authors according to a single format. St. Paul’s epistles are much closer in form to the manner in which you or I write a letter (or email) today. St. John, on the other hand, writes his first epistle about some general Christian beliefs: most especially God’s divine nature as Love.
The Beloved Disciple’s warning against idolatry, then, can be seen as a defense of true love. To love any creature in the manner in which we ought to love the Creator is idolatry. Even the most authentic of human loves (maternal, paternal, filial or spousal) is of a completely different caliber than a Christian’s love for the Most Blessed Trinity.
To put a human relationship before one’s relationship with God is to forget that God is in every sense the root of every authentic human love. Without putting one’s relationship with God first, human relationships wither on the vine; or to extend the Beloved Disciple’s metaphor, to harden into an idol.