Letters From Home

Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:-12,7-8, 10-13
Ephesians 3:2-3,5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

An "epiphany" is an appearance. In today's readings, with their rising stars, splendorous lights and mysteries revealed, the face of the child born on Christmas day appears.

Herod, in today's Gospel, asks the chief priests and scribes where the Messiah is to be born. The answer Matthew puts on their lips says much more, combining two strands of Old Testament promise - one revealing the Messiah to be from the line of David (see 2 Samuel 2:5), the other predicting "a ruler of Israel" who will "shepherd his flock" and whose "greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth" (see Micah 5:1-3).

Those promises of Israel's king ruling the nations resound also in today's Psalm. The psalm celebrates David's son, Solomon. His kingdom, we sing, will stretch "to the ends of the earth," and the world's kings will pay Him homage. That's the scene too in today's First Reading, as nations stream from the East, bearing "gold and frankincense" for Israel's king.

The Magi's pilgrimage in today's Gospel marks the fulfillment of God's promises. The Magi, probably Persian astrologers, are following the star that Balaam predicted would rise along with the ruler's staff over the house of Jacob (see Numbers 24:17).

Laden with gold and spices, their journey evokes those made to Solomon by the Queen of Sheba and the "kings of the earth" (see 1 Kings 10:2,25; 2 Chronicles 9:24). Interestingly, the only other places where frankincense and myrrh are mentioned together are in songs about Solomon (see Song of Songs 3:6, 4:6,14).

One greater than Solomon is here (see Luke 11:31). He has come to reveal that all peoples are "co-heirs" of the royal family of Israel, as today's Epistle teaches.

His manifestation forces us to choose: Will we follow the signs that lead to Him as the wise Magi did? Or will we be like those priests and the scribes who let God's words of promise become dead letters on an ancient page?



Direct download: C_Epiphany_2015.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT


Micah 5:1-4
Psalm 80:2-3,15-16,18-19
Hebrews 5:5-10
Luke 1:39-45 (see also “The ‘New Ark’”)

On this last Sunday before Christmas, the Church's Liturgy reveals the true identity of our Redeemer:
He is, as today's First Reading says, the "ruler...whose origin is from...ancient times." He will come from Bethlehem, where David was born of Jesse the Ephrathite and anointed king (see Ruth 4:11-17; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; 17:1; Matthew 2:6).

God promised that an heir of David would reign on his throne forever (see 2 Samuel 7:12-13; Psalm 89; Psalm 132:11-12).

Jesus is that heir, the One the prophets promised would restore the scattered tribes of Israel into a new kingdom (see Isaiah 9:5-6; Ezekiel 34:23-25,30; 37:35). He is "the shepherd of Israel," sung of in today's Psalm. From His throne in heaven, He has "come to save us."

Today's Epistle tells us that He is both the Son of David and the only "begotten" Son of God, come "in the flesh" (see also Psalm 2:7). He is also our "high priest," from the mold of the mysterious Melchisedek, "priest of God Most High," who blessed Abraham at the dawn of salvation history (see Psalm 110:4; Genesis 14:18-20).

All this is recognized by John when he leaps for joy in his mother's womb. Elizabeth, too, is filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. She recognizes that in Mary "the mother of my Lord" has come to her. We hear in her words another echo of the Psalm quoted in today's Epistle (see Psalm 2:7). Elizabeth blesses Mary for her faith that God's Word would be fulfilled in her.

Mary marks the fulfillment not only of the angel's promise to her, but of all God's promises down through history. Mary is the one they await in today's First Reading - "she who is to give birth." She will give birth this week, at Christmas. And the fruit of her womb should bring us joy - she is the mother of our Lord.


The New 'Ark'

The Church in her liturgy and tradition has long praised Mary as "the Ark of the New Covenant." We see biblical roots for this in the readings for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (Cycle C).

Compare Mary's visitation to Elizabeth with the story of David returning the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and you'll hear interesting echoes.

As Mary "set out" for the hill country of Judah, so did David (see Luke 1:19; 2 Samuel 6:2). David, upon seeing the Ark, cries out "How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?" Elizabeth says the same thing about "the mother of my Lord" (see Luke 1:43; 2 Samuel 6:9).

John leaps in Elizabeth's womb, as David danced before the Ark (see Luke 1:41; 2 Samuel 6:16). And as the Ark stayed three months in "the house of Obed-edom," Mary stays three months in "the house of Zechariah" (see Luke 1:40,56; 2 Samuel 6:11).

The Greek word Luke uses to describe Elizabeth's loud cry of joy (anaphoneo) isn't used anywhere else in the New Testament. And it's found in only five places in the Greek Old Testament - every time used to describe "exultation" before the Ark (see 1 Chronicles 15:28; 16:4-5; 2 Chronicles 5:13).

Coincidences? Hardly. The old Ark contained the tablets of the Law, the manna from the desert and the priestly staff of Aaron (see Hebrews 9:4). In Mary, the new Ark, we find the Word of God, the Bread of Life and the High Priest of the new people of God (see also Catechism, no. 2676).



Direct download: C_4_Advent_2015.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Miqueas 5, 1-4
Salmo 80, 2-3,15-16,18-19
Hebreos 5, 5-10
Lucas 1, 39-45


En este último domingo antes de Navidad, la liturgia de la Iglesia revela la verdadera identidad de nuestro Redentor: Él es, como dice la primera lectura, el gobernador…cuyos orígenes son antiguos, desde tiempos remotos. Ha de salir de Belén, donde nació David, hijo de Jesé el de Efrata, y fue ungido rey (cfr. Rt 4, 11-17; 1S 16, 1-13; 17.1; Mt 2,6).

Dios prometió que un heredero de David iba a reinar sobre su trono para siempre (cfr. 2S 7, 12-13; Sal 89; Sal 132, 11-12).

Jesús es ese heredero, de quien los profetas prometieron que restauraría a las tribus extraviadas de Israel para constituirlas un nuevo reino (cfr. Is 9,5-6; Ez 34,23-25.30; 37, 35). Él es el “pastor de Israel”, sobre quien canta el salmo de hoy. Su trono está en el cielo y ha venido a salvarnos.

La epístola de este domingo nos dice que Él es, a la vez, Hijo de David y el Hijo único de Dios, que vino “en la carne” (cfr. Sal 2,7). Él es también nuestro “sumo sacerdote”, de la orden del misterioso Melquisedec, “sacerdote de Dios Altísimo”, quien bendijo a Abraham en los albores de la historia de la salvación (cfr. Sal 110, 4; Gn 14, 18-20).

Todo esto es reconocido por Juan cuando salta de gozo en el vientre de su madre. También Isabel, también, se llena de alegría y del Espíritu Santo. Ella reconoce que, en María, la madre del Señor le ha venido a ver. Escuchamos en sus palabras otro eco del salmo citado en la epístola de este domingo (Sal 2,7). Isabel bendice a Maria por haber tenido fe en que la Palabra de Dios se cumpliría en ella.

María representa el cumplimiento, no sólo de la promesa del ángel, sino de todas las promesas de Dios en el transcurso de la historia. Dará a luz esta semana, en la Navidad. Y el fruto de su vientre debe traernos gozo, porque ella es la Madre de Nuestro Señor.

Direct download: C_4_Advent_Spn_2015.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Zephaniah 3:14-18
Isaiah 12:2-6
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

The people in today's Gospel are "filled with expectation." They believe John the Baptist might be the Messiah they've been waiting for. Three times we hear their question: "What then should we do?"

The Messiah's coming requires every man and woman to choose - to "repent" or not. That's John's message and it will be Jesus' too (see Luke 3:3; 5:32; 24:47).

"Repentance" translates a Greek word, metanoia (literally, "change of mind"). In the Scriptures, repentance is presented as a two-fold "turning" - away from sin (see Ezekiel 3:19; 18:30) and toward God (see Sirach 17:20-21; Hosea 6:1).

This "turning" is more than attitude adjustment. It means a radical life-change. It requires "good fruits as evidence of your repentance" (see Luke 3:8). That's why John tells the crowds, soldiers and tax collectors they must prove their faith through works of charity, honesty and social justice.

In today's Liturgy, each of us is being called to stand in that crowd and hear the "good news" of John's call to repentance. We should examine our lives, ask from our hearts as they did: "What should we do?" Our repentance should spring, not from our fear of coming wrath (see Luke 3:7-9), but from a joyful sense of the nearness of our saving God.

This theme resounds through today's readings: "Rejoice!...The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all," we hear in today's Epistle. In today's Responsorial, we hear again the call to be joyful, unafraid at the Lord's coming among us.

In today's First Reading, we hear echoes of the angel's Annunciation to Mary. The prophet's words are very close to the angel's greeting (compare Luke 1:28-31). Mary is the Daughter Zion - the favored one of God, told not to fear but to rejoice that the Lord is with her, "a mighty Savior."

She is the cause of our joy. For in her draws near the Messiah, as John had promised: "One mightier than I is coming."

Direct download: C_3_Advent_15.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Sofonías 3, 14-18
Isaías 12, 2-6
Filipenses 4, 4-7
Lucas 3, 10-18

En el Evangelio de este domingo, el pueblo está “lleno de expectación”. Cree que Juan el Bautista podría ser el Mesías, a quien ha estado esperando. Tres veces escuchamos su pregunta “¿Qué debemos hacer?” La venida del Mesías reta a cada persona a tomar una decisión: arrepentirse o no arrepentirse. Este es el mensaje de Juan y será el de Jesús (cfr. Lc 3,3; 5,32; 24,47).

“Arrepentimiento” es la traducción de una palabra griega, metanoia (que significa literalmente, “cambio de mentalidad”). En las Escrituras, el arrepentimiento se presenta como un “giro” que comprende dos aspectos: alejarse del pecado (cfr. Ez 3,19; 18,30) y acercarse a Dios (Si 17,20-21; Os 6,1).

Este “giro” es más que un simple ajuste de actitud. Implica un cambio radical de vida. Requiere “buenos frutos” como evidencia de arrepentimiento (cfr. Lc 3,8). Por ello, Juan les dice a las multitudes, a los soldados y a los publícanos que tienen que demostrar su fe mediante obras de caridad, honestidad y justicia social.

En la liturgia de este día, cada uno de nosotros está llamado a ser parte de esa muchedumbre que escucha la “Buena nueva”, la exhortación de Juan a arrepentirse. Debemos examinar nuestras vidas, y preguntar sinceramente como ellos, “¿Qué debemos hacer?” Nuestro arrepentimiento debe brotar, no de nuestro miedo a la “ira inminente” (cfr. Lc 3,7-9), sino de la gozosa cercanía a nuestro Dios Salvador.

El tema resuena en las lecturas de hoy. En la epístola leemos: “Alégrense…el Señor está cerca. No se inquieten por cosa alguna”. Mientras que el salmo nos exhorta nuevamente a estar gozosos, sin temor a la venida del Señor entre nosotros.

En la primera lectura de hoy, escuchamos ecos del anuncio del ángel a María. Las palabras del profeta se asemejan mucho al saludo de Gabriel (cfr. Lc 1,28-31). María es la Hija de Sión, la favorita de Dios, instruida a no temer sino a regocijarse de que el Señor, “un Salvador poderoso”, está con ella.

Ella es la causa de nuestra alegría, pues por su medio se nos acerca el Mesías; aquel de quien Juan prometió: “está a punto de llegar uno que es más poderoso que yo” (Lc 3, 16).

Direct download: C_3_Advent_Spn_15.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT

Baruc 5,1–9
Salmo 126,1–6
Fiplipenses 1,4–6, 8–11
Lucas 3,1–6


El salmo de hoy nos pinta un escenario de ensueño: un camino lleno de antiguos cautivos, ahora liberados, que regresan a casa (Sión-Jerusalén), sus bocas llenas de risa y sus lenguas de cantos.

Es una estampa gloriosa del pasado de Israel, un “nuevo éxodo”: la liberación del exilio en Babilonia. El salmista la trae a la memoria en un momento de incertidumbre y ansiedad; pero no lo hace motivado por la nostalgia. Al recordar que, en el pasado, “el Señor ha hecho maravillas”, más bien hace un acto de fe y esperanza. Dios vendrá a Israel para socorrerle en su necesidad actual y hará cosas aún más grandes en el futuro.

Ese es el tema central de las lecturas del Adviento: recordar los hechos salvíficos de nuestro Dios, tanto en la historia de Israel como en la venida de Jesús. Esta remembranza pretende estimular nuestra fe y llenarnos de confianza sabiendo que, como dice la epístola de hoy, “quien inició en ustedes la Buena obra la irá consumando” hasta que Él venga de nuevo en su gloria.

La liturgia nos enseña que cada uno de nosotros, como Israel durante el exilio, es conducido a la cautividad por sus pecados, necesitado de salvación y conversión mediante la Palabra del Santo (cfr. Ba 5,5). Las lecciones que nos da la historia de la salvación nos enseñan que, como Dios liberó una y otra vez a Israel, también en su misericordia nos liberará de nuestros afectos desordenados si, arrepentidos, volvemos a Él.

Ese es el mensaje de Juan, presentado en el Evangelio de hoy como el último de los grandes profetas (cfr. Jr 1, 1-4, 11). Pero Juan es mucho mayor que los profetas (cfr. Lc 7, 27). Él esta preparando el camino, no solo a la nueva redención de Israel, sino también para la salvación de “toda carne” (cfr. Hch 28, 28).

Juan cita a Isaías (cfr. 40, 3) para decirnos que ha venido a construirnos un camino a casa; una senda que nos saca del desierto del pecado y de la alineación. Un camino por el cual seguiremos a Jesús y peregrinaremos alegremente, sabiendo que Dios nos recuerda, como dice la primera lectura de hoy.

Direct download: C_2_Advent_Spn_2015.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT


Baruch 5:1-9
Psalm 126:1-6
Philippians 1:4-6,8-11
Luke 3:1-6

Today's Psalm paints a dream-like scene - a road filled with liberated captives heading home to Zion (Jerusalem), mouths filled with laughter, tongues rejoicing.

It's a glorious picture from Israel's past, a "new exodus," the deliverance from exile in Babylon. It's being recalled in a moment of obvious uncertainty and anxiety. But the psalmist isn't waxing nostalgic.

Remembering "the Lord has done great things" in the past, he is making an act of faith and hope - that God will come to Israel in its present need, that He'll do even greater things in the future.

This is what the Advent readings are all about: We recall God's saving deeds - in the history of Israel and in the coming of Jesus. Our remembrance is meant to stir our faith, to fill us with confidence that, as today's Epistle puts it, "the One who began a good work in [us] will continue to complete it" until He comes again in glory.

Each of us, the Liturgy teaches, is like Israel in her exile - led into captivity by our sinfulness, in need of restoration, conversion by the Word of the Holy One (see Baruch 5:5). The lessons of salvation history should teach us that, as God again and again delivered Israel, in His mercy He will free us from our attachments to sin, if we turn to Him in repentance.

That's the message of John, introduced in today's Gospel as the last of the great prophets (compare Jeremiah 1:1-4,11). But John is greater than the prophets (see Luke 7:27). He's preparing the way, not only for a new redemption of Israel, but for the salvation of "all flesh" (see also Acts 28:28).

John quotes Isaiah (40:3) to tell us he's come to build a road home for us, a way out of the wilderness of sin and alienation from God. It's a road we'll follow Jesus down, a journey we'll make, as today's First Reading puts it, "rejoicing that [we're] remembered by God." 

Direct download: C_2_Advent_2015.mp3
Category:Sunday Bible Reflections -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT