Monthly Archives: June 2014

Corpus Christi

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“I Love a Mystery” was a radio program I listened to as a young boy, long ago. It started, as all mysteries do, with something concealed. Someone, something was lost, someone was killed or was being hunted down and for the next half hour you would follow the various clues until the mystery was solved.

The Mass is a mystery too. A “mystery of faith,” we say, and it hides the treasures of our faith.

One of the earliest terms describing the Mass is “the Lord’s Supper,” referring of course to the supper that Jesus shared with his disciples the night before he died.  He spoke to them that night of his love and then gave himself to them under the signs of bread and wine. Then he said “Do this in memory of me.”

In every Catholic church we try to keep his command. Whether it’s St. Peter’s Basilica or a parish church or a small chapel off a busy city street, there’s an altar, a table, at the center of the place and the Lord’s Supper is celebrated here in memory of him.

Readings from the Old and New Testaments will be read here, because Jesus spoke from the scriptures to his disciples. Then the priest who represents Jesus takes bread and wine, gives thanks to God for the gifts of creation and life itself, then repeats the words of Jesus, “This is my body” “This is my Blood.” Then we all receive these gifts.

We gather around Jesus as his disciples did, not perfect disciples to be sure, but we’re among those “whom he loved till the end.” And he feeds us with his wisdom and life.

Our celebration of the Mass can be flawed by cold routine or lifeless participation. We who take part in the Mass–priest and people – may not bring the lively faith or spirit of thanksgiving that’s  “right and just” for this great act of worship. But still,  as a church we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We have been celebrating it from the time of Jesus till now, and we will continue till its signs are replaced by the reality of the Kingdom they signify.

Ordinary time is when the Holy Spirit acts. It’s also the time when we know Jesus Christ through the signs he has left us, particularly through the Holy Eucharist.

Following Jesus to Magdala

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After a tumultuous first day of ministry in Capernaum, Jesus left the following day for others places, Mark’s Gospel says.

“Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ He told them, ‘Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.’
So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee. (Mark 1,36-39)

Was one of the nearby villages Magdala?

Magdala, or Migdal, a prosperous Jewish port city in the first century. was just five miles south of Capernaum on the south-western part of the Sea of Galilee. Some of the city has been uncovered recently by archeologists and the discovery opens another window into the gospel story.
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Magdala’s economy was built on fishing and, in fact, it seems to have been the center of a highly developed industry on the Sea of Galilee in Jesus’ day. We were aware through written sources , that salted fish from Magdala was sold in the surrounding areas and even as far as Rome, but the recent findings offer another look at Magdala’s economy and the sophisticated techniques to store and prepare the lake fish for market used there. As a flourishing Jewish center on the Sea of Galilee, it was an obvious place for Jesus to visit.

The Jewish historian Josephus may be exaggerating when he says there were 40,000 people in Magdala, but certainly it had a good-sized, prosperous population in the time of Jesus. Christians see it as the home of Mary Magdalen.

The new excavations in Magdala and also in Bethsaida on the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee make us think again about the world of Jesus and what he did there. For example, a newly excavated synagogue at Magdala, the only existing synagogue from his day, offers an important visual tool for understanding Jesus’ ministry in the synagogues of Galilee on the Sabbath. Did he stand in a place like this and teach and cure? Probably.
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The recent findings also invite us to look again at Jesus’ disciples. What kind of people were Peter, Andrew, James and John, and the other Galilean fishermen whom Jesus called to follow him? They’re often described as “poor” “ignorant” fishermen, tagging along, open-mouthed, before the wonders Jesus worked and the words he spoke.

But the Galilean fishermen seem more resourceful and knowledgeable than that. They were the obvious guides to the world around the Sea of Galilee. In Mark’s Gospel the Sea of Galilee has an important symbolic role. It separated two peoples. On its western shore were mostly Jewish communities; on its eastern shores were the gentile cities of the Decapolis. Jesus first goes to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but then he crosses over to gentile world.

Who takes him to this different world but the savvy fishermen who know the places and the peoples around the sea?

The disciples were certainly not ignorant people. They’re part of the sophisticated economy of Galilee. At one point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells Peter that he’s thinking like a human being when he tries to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem to face suffering and death. In fact, the disciples were quite good at human thinking, quite confident in their own opinions and thoughts. In the gospel Jesus constantly challenges their “human thinking” with the thinking of God. .

Where did he meet them? Mark’s gospel says simply it was along the Sea of Galilee. A mosaic of the call of the disciples in the new center at Magdala suggests it may have happened here. Another mosaic suggests that the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, may also have taken place here.
Mary Magdalene

Speculation, maybe, but the Jewish fishing villages and centers along the Sea of Galilee were where Jesus first ministered. It’s a good guess that the call of Mary Magdalene and her release from the control of seven devils took place at Magdala. There she, and surely others like her, became his disciples.

Mark’s gospel doesn’t limit the followers of Jesus to twelve. He only mentions the twelve once in his gospel. In Mark’s and Luke’s gospels, a wide range of people become followers of Jesus, from the fishermen of Galilee, tax-collectors like Matthew, to women like Mary Magdalene and Johanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Cusa. Women had a place with the twelve, Luke’s gospel says:

“Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.” (Luke 8,1-3)
Herod Antipas’ capitol, Tiberias, was only a few miles from Magdala.
Like so many ancient cities, Magdala had its good days and days of decline. It was probably destroyed during the Jewish revolt in 68 AD. Only a few places in the city were left standing when the Crusaders arrived in the 12th century, then it disappeared in the earth.

The Legionaires of Christ bought the property along the Sea of Galilee in 2004 and intended to build a 300 room hotel on the site, but in preparing the building site they uncovered the ruins of ancient Magdala. Construction stopped and the archeologists stepped in.
“For the Rev. Juan M. Solana, it was the spiritual equivalent of striking oil,” a New York Times article from May 14, 2014 said.
“When he set out to develop a resort for Christian pilgrims in Galilee, he unearthed a holy site: the presumed hometown of Mary Magdalene and an ancient synagogue where experts say Jesus may well have taught.”

The Feast of St. Barnabas

We believe in the communion of saints. One way of sharing life with the saints in heaven and on earth is by recognizing their gifts. That’s what St. Barnabas did. He recognized the gift of Saul of Tarsus.

After his dramatic conversion on the way to Damascus, Paul preached the gospel in Damascus and then in Jerusalem, according to the Acts of the Apostles, but because of his past as a persecutor of Christians, they were suspicious of him. “They were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” “Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the apostles, and he reported to them how on the way he had seen the Lord and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 9, 25-27) Barnabas recognized the grace of God in Saul.

As gentiles became increasingly interested in the gospel, especially in Antioch, the leaders of the Jerusalem church sent Barnabas there to see what to do. “When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, for he was a good man, filled with the holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord. Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.” (Acts 11,23-26)

Once again, Barnabas recognized Saul, who would become Paul, and sought him out to bring the gospel to the gentiles. Previously, in the Acts of the Apostles the Apostle Peter encountered the gentile Cornelius in Ceasaria Maritima, whom he baptized with his household. But Barnabas knew Paul was better able to preach to the gentiles than Peter, so he brought him to Antioch. The two embarked on a mission to the gentiles. The Acts of the Apostles refer first to “Barnabas and Saul” then gradually it becomes “Paul and Barnabas.” Paul emerged as the gifted apostle.

It was Barnabas who first recognized his gift.

Elijah

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Jesus came into a Jewish world expecting a Messiah, but what kind of Messiah were they hoping for? Some Jews of the time expected a royal Messiah, the Son of King David. You see that expectation in the Gospel of Matthew which begins by tracing the human origins of Jesus back to David. “An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of David and Son of Abraham.”

Hope for a Messiah like the warrior King David who would free the land of Israel from its oppressors grew stronger among the Jews after the Roman occupation of Palestine by the Roman general Pompey in 63 BC. It can be seen in some of the Essene writings discovered from Qumran in recent times.

The Gospel of Matthew indicates that ordinary people too were hoping for a kingly messiah at the time of Jesus. “Can this be the son of David,” the crowd says after he cured a man who could not see or speak. (Mt 12,23) “Hosanna to the son of David,” the crowd says as he enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. (Mt 21,9) That causes the leaders in Jerusalem to become angry, because a claim like that could fire revolution and they feared what would happen because of it. (Mt 21.15)

Jesus never claims to be a political revolutionary, however. He refuses to fit neatly into that kind of messianic expectation. He will not lead an uprising against the Romans. He’s not John the Baptist come back from the dead. “Jesus is not confined to playing an already fixed role–that of Messiah– but he confers, on the notions of Messiah and salvation, a fullness which could not have been imagined in advance.” (Pontifical Biblical Commission)

If we ask what messianic expectation of his time Jesus comes closest to, we might find it in the hope for a prophetic messiah like Elijah, who is featured in our readings this week.

Like Elijah, he will speak the truth against the powerful, he will help the poor, he will suffer persecution; he will raise the dead.

Pentecost

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The scriptures for the Feast of Pentecost describe the coming of the Holy Spirit in dramatic terms. Strong winds and tongues of fire come upon the disciples of Jesus in the Upper Room,  the Cenacle,  fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus. They’re filled with energy and joy. It seems like an unrepeatable experience.

Then, immediately, confidently, they preached the gospel to people from the ends of the earth who are amazed at their new knowledge and new words

Certainly the Holy Spirit gave them a burst of new enthusiasm that day.  We marvel–as their first listeners did– how these ordinary Galileans were transformed by the gifts they were given.   Peter eventually made it to Rome. John may have gotten to Ephesus in Asia Minor. Maybe Thomas got to India. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, “their message went out to all the earth.” Transformed, they began a universal church centered on Jesus Christ.

But, like the other mysteries of our faith, Pentecost is repeatable, on-going.  It’s not one burst of enthusiasm, a jump-start never to happen again. Without the strong wind or tongues of fire we experience the Holy Spirit too, usually in quieter ways.

Behind the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica, the artist Bernini, created a beautiful alabaster window where a steady light pours into the dark church through the image of the Holy Spirit,  in the hovering form of a dove.

Day by day, the light comes quietly through the window. Day by day, the Holy Spirit dispenses light for the moment, graces for the world that is now. As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit dwells with us. The Spirit remains with us as Jesus’ final gift.

“Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth…Come, Holy Spirit, and fill our hearts with the fire of your love.”