The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Fri, 21 Oct 2016 15:05:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Praying Rosary in October: The Sorrowful Mysteries Fri, 21 Oct 2016 04:05:54 +0000 On this third Friday of October, we walk with Jesus to Calvary as we reflect upon the Sorrowful Mysteries. As with the other posts in this series, this post goes deep into each Mystery yet still does not exhaust their beauty. We hope you can join us as we accompany Christ in these final hours of his life.

The Agony in the Garden

He knows. Of course he knows. Not just a general foreknowledge; he has a detailed understanding of what is to come. The twelve heard proof of this knowledge a few days ago, just before he entered the city:

“‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles, and they will mock him, and spit upon him, and scourge him, and kill him’” (Mark 10:33-34). This, though, was only the most recent such display. He has known all along; has spoken of it since the beginning of his ministry. “‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up’… he spoke of the temple of his body” (John 2:19-21). Knowing, however, does not make it easier. Knowing the outcome does not mean we should not ask for a different one.


So he prays, requesting a different cup from which to drink. He asks the Father for that which he knows the Father will not send. Why? Our answer is found by looking at how Jesus is addressed, in the very next word said to him. This lesson comes from an unlikely source: Judas Iscariat: “And when he came, he went up to him at once, and said, ‘Rabbi’” (Mark 14:45). At that moment, Jesus was a Rabbi, a teacher.

What is he teaching us in Gethsemane? Turn to the Father with everything. We need to come to God to thank and praise him, of course. We need also to ask our petitions of him, even when it looks like there is no possible answer. The reason for this gets to the very purpose of prayer. Thomas Aquinas points out that we do not pray so as to change God’s mind, but so that we may see the connection between our petition and God’s will (Summa Theologica, Part Two, Second Part, question 83, article 2). In other words, we pray not to ask God for what we wish, but as an act of faith that he will provide for what we need.

We all find ourselves in a garden at times. At this point, when looking ahead, only disaster and grief are visible. And when this is the case, we too, should ask for another cup, if God wills it. Ask so as to reaffirm in ourselves the knowledge that God can make this pass. The very question will deepen our relationship in God. The relationship thus strengthened, we may still see his will in what comes next, and will allow us, when things get even harder, to confidently recite other prayers such as “Father, forgive them,” and ultimately, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

The Scourging at the Pillar

“This, too, shall pass,” a phrase spoken countless times in distress, brings relief: a reminder that better times are ahead. What about those circumstances where one sees what comes next, and it looks as bad or worse after “this” passes?

Consider Christ, when Pilate ordered him scourged. Over and over, our Lord was whipped. While the blood covered his back, he knew what was to come: when the scourging finished, it would not be replaced by a brighter day, but an eclipse of darkness. How much more can we be inspired by his acceptance of this pain, knowing that what would replace it would be even greater pain, which in turn would lead to his death. But he endured it because he knew that his suffering would also allow our eternal life. We must remember this when our own suffering seems to have no value, especially if it is unjust or unearned. Even if it only leads to a different pain, or to death, we must keep our minds on heaven; on doing God’s will no matter what those around us have done. As St. John Chrysostom put it :


The soldiers buffeted him; they that passed by jeered him and reviled him, the thieves accused him; and to no man did he utter a word, but by silence overcame all; instructing you by his actions, that the more meekly you shall endure, the more will you prevail over them that do you evil. (Homily #87 on Matthew)

Look also at the reason for the scourge. Pilate had Christ flogged only because he lacked the integrity to set an innocent man free against the apparent wishes of the crowd; he thought this would allow him an ability to balance his conscience against his cowardice by avoiding an execution. But like all Faustian bargains, the devil took more than his share when the crowd was not satisfied to watch Jesus bleed. Chrysostom pointed this out in the same homily, “Yet nevertheless, even when these things were said and done, they prevailed nothing, not even at the very time.”

Remember Pilate, when considering difficult life choices. His decision to scourge Jesus was an attempt to compromise: to allow Jesus to suffer less, but still give the world what it wanted. However, he only stoked the crowd’s fire. Rarely are the most egregious mortal sins isolated incidents. They often have their genesis with much smaller acts. Satan greases the skids on this downward slope. Attempts to justify sin in the short term, “just for a little bit” or by thinking “at least I am not doing (something else)”, will only lead to greater rationalization, and then another, until we have fallen more than three times, and cannot get up on our own any more.

The Crowning with Thorns

Considering the emotional depths, physical brutality, exhaustion, and finality of the other Sorrowful Mysteries, The Crowning with Thorns seems the least intense. This does not deny the pain caused by them; imagine one prick from a single thorn before pulling away, then multiply this by the number constantly digging into Jesus’ head. Amplify this by its occurrence after his body was weakened by the scourging, how it continued to affect him while he carried the Cross and later was nailed to it and realize the torture involved.

The perversions involved, though, make this even more sorrowful. First, in the item itself: what is the purpose of a thorn? It protects plants. A creation of God, designed to protect a delicate life, is here ripped from the stem and used, instead, to inflict pain and suffering. From a botanical standpoint, the main threat that a thorn stops is the bite of animals who wish to eat the plant. Yet, ironically, just a few hours prior, Jesus had freely offered his body to be eaten, and then faces the thorns himself.


The form of a crown is a perversion as well. In perhaps the ultimate blasphemy, Christ’s own kingship is mocked. A majestic symbol humiliates and tortures instead. Augustine notes that in allowing this, Christ is again an example to us:

“By concealing for a time the terror of his power, he commended to us the prior imitation of his patience; thus the kingdom which was not of this world overcame that proud world, not by the ferocity of fighting, but by the humility of suffering; and thus the grain of grain that was yet to be multiplied was sown amid the horrors of shame, that it might come to fruition amid the wonders of glory” (Tractate 116 on the Gospel of John, paragraph 1).

Accept this invitation to a patient humility. In doing so, we will avoid using God for our own purposes. May we always see his kingship as his honor. May we always see our faith as something to raise us up, not as something we can tear down. If we do this, then we too will find ourselves amid the wonders of glory.

The Carrying of the Cross

He wills himself to take a step; then, another. Now, he falls. His body beaten and whipped, his face bloody from the thorns still digging into his head, he searches for the strength to stand up. He will fall again, he knows that; is used to it. He knows, too, that when he does, he will be helped up, as has happened each time he has lowered himself. He “came down” from heaven to this world, and when he was at his most vulnerable, the Father protected him through the dreams of Joseph and the magi (Matthew 2:12-13). He “went down” from the riverbank into the Jordan, and the Holy Spirit appeared and announced God’s pleasure (Matthew 3:16-17). He “came down” from the mountain after being tempted by Satan and angels ministered to him (Matthew 4:11). He “comes down” to us at every Mass in the lowly form of bread, and his bride—the Church—is nourished, able to serve him more fully. Whenever he allows himself to fall, he has received assistance, and is able to offer that assistance to us when he rises again.


St. John Paul II said of Jesus’ ordeal, “This abject suffering reveals not only the love of God but also the meaning of man himself” (Rosarium Virginis Mariæ, Paragraph 22). It is the meaning of man that we suffer, because of our fallen nature. Just as Christ had to bear his, our cross will weigh on us, and will drag us down. Perhaps we will move forward with the help of a neighbor, as Simon assisted Jesus. However, like Jesus, we will fall. Sometimes, our falls will be like Christ’s in that our own efforts to do God’s will are so difficult in a world filled with sin. Other times we will collapse because of our own sin. But no matter what type of fall, each time we are brought down, there will be that moment when the pain is too strong and we can rise no more on our own. We too must lift our eyes and ask for help. It will be there, even if it takes us to a place we do not want to go.

The Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord

Place yourself at the foot of the Cross. Stand alongside Mary and John, and look up to see him hanging in agony. You do not want to. But you must; not only to remind yourself crucifixion is needed for Easter to transpire. For now, forget how the story ends, and gaze upon a dying man. See him at his darkest moment. St. Cyril of Jerusalem correctly said “He who died for us; he was not a literal sheep; he was not a mere man; he was more than an angel; He was God made man” (On the Words Crucified and Buried, paragraph 33).

While not a “mere man,” however, Jesus is still fully human, and humanity craves community in times of suffering. Were you there at the Cross, you may not have spoken any words to our Lord. Perhaps you could only sob. But to be there, to look upon him, to show him as much love and comfort as you could while his body was failing him, would join you with him in a communion unlike any other.


Do we incorporate this type of prayer in our lives frequently enough? Not just coming to God with a list of what we need, are thankful for, sorry for, or how great he is, but instead just gazing at him with tender love. We can do so, even without traveling through space and time to Jerusalem. Sacramentals such as icons and crucifixes allow us to do this in a contemplative manner. If you do so, you may consider another way to comfort Christ: gazing upon others who are sick and dying. Visiting hospitalized friends and relatives is difficult for some. But we are called to see Christ in everyone in all circumstances.

We prefer remembering Cana over Calvary. But Cana prefigures Calvary, as a mirror image (or, if you will, a bookend). Jesus’ ministry begins at a dark moment when Mary requested something of him, and water is poured in a miraculous transformation to wine. Here, Jesus began with a transformation of wine (becoming his blood). Hours later, after Christ makes a request of his mother (“Behold your son”) this blood is poured out in a dark moment. Remember this request as you stand with Mary. As she must behold Jesus in John, and by extension the whole Church, we must also behold him in everyone as well.

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Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Tue, 18 Oct 2016 19:30:22 +0000

“whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)

Reflecting on the readings for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jeff Cavins encourages us to walk in humility and remember that God is the one who justifies. The Sunday Readings are:

First Reading: Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23
Second Reading: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Alleluia: 2 Corinthians 5:19
Gospel: Luke 18:9-14

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Praying the Rosary in October: The Luminous Mysteries Fri, 14 Oct 2016 04:55:29 +0000 This is the second part of a series that will explore the Mysteries of the Rosary throughout October. These posts are longer than usual, but only because the riches contained in each Mystery deserve such great attention. We hope you can join us as we explore the depths of the Luminous Mysteries.

The Baptism of Christ

Why did John go to the Jordan River in the desert—to the lowest point on earth—to baptize, and why did so many follow him there?

Baptism of JesusIn the Old Testament, Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River, and Jesus is the Joshua of the New Testament. Jesus is the one who will lead the New Israel into the Promise Land, and he begins at the Jordan River where the first Joshua led the Israelites out of bondage. When Jesus and John meet at the Jordan, they are reliving history.

Wearing a garment of camel hair and a leather girdle around his waist, and eating only locusts and wild honey, John the Baptist proclaims, “Prepare the Way of the Lord” (see Is 40:3). To the Israelites of the first century, these words hearkened back to Israel’s days of exile in the desert when God promised through Isaiah that he will console Israel. The testimony of John the Baptist meant Israel’s day of consolation was coming, the prophecies about the Messiah will soon be fulfilled.

With what he is wearing, what he is saying, and where he is saying it, John is playing the role of Elijah. In the first century, it was believed that Elijah will come before the Messiah (Mal 4:5, or NAB 3:24) and restore the tribes of Israel. Elijah went up into heaven in a chariot of fire at the Jordan River dressed the same way.

“I must decrease and he must increase,” John proclaimed, and this is exactly what happened between Elijah and Elisha. After Elijah gives Elisha a double portion of his anointing and ascends to heaven, Elisha performs miracles parallel to those performed by Jesus. He transforms vessels of oil (2 Kgs 4:1-7), he raises a dead child to life (2 Kgs 4:32-34), he multiplies loaves to feed a multitude (2 Kgs 4:38-44), and Naaman is cured of leprosy by dipping himself in the Jordan seven times as Elisha told him (2 Kgs 5). What is also interesting to note is that the Church says the cure of Naaman prefigures of the sacrament of baptism.

And wait, there’s more. In Matthew 3:13-15, Jesus is fulfilling everything and becoming Israel, identifying with Israel completely. Not only is he coming to earth as a baby, but he goes to the lowest point on earth and submits himself to a baptism of repentance.

In Matthew 16-17, the same language is used as at the anointing of Saul (1 Sam 10:6) and David (1 Sam 16:13). This is the language of the anointing of a Jewish king.

We have a lot of convergence in the wilderness. Joshua’s crossing the Jordan, Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah saying God will allure you and speak tenderly to you in the wilderness, the anointing of Jesus as king in complete identity as Israel fulfilling all righteousness, and after his baptism—just as Israel came out of the waters of the Red Sea and wandered forty years in the wilderness—Jesus comes out of the waters of the Jordan to be tempted for forty days in the desert.

The Wedding Feast at Cana

Whenever I picture the Wedding Feast at Cana, I envision a young Frank Sinatra as the wedding singer… crooning out “The Best is Yet to Come,” in almost prophetic vibrato, moments before the original wine supply would run dry.

Wedding Feast at Cana

There is so much packed into this short narrative spanning only twelve verses. It was “the third day” (Jn 2:1) of the wedding feast, barely halfway through the normal week-long celebration. Then there’s Jesus’ seemingly odd address of “woman” to his mother (Jn 2:4) and her admonition to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).

The Holy Spirit breathes almost conspicuous detail about the ”six stone jars” holding “twenty to thirty gallons” of water “for Jewish rites of purification” (Jn 2:6) as well as the fact that they were filled “to the brim” (Jn 2:7). These details speak to far more than eye-witness testimony. As the Holy Spirit does throughout the Gospel of John, there is both a simple and sacramental level of understanding at play here, if only we have the eyes and ears to receive what God is offering in this wedding reception.

Not only does a “third day” miracle announce Jesus’ earthly ministry but a third day miracle (resurrection) will culminate it, as well. Jesus’ proclamation of “woman” to the Blessed Mother, too, though seemingly “brash” is another invitation to take a deeper look at the episode. For just as the first woman, “Eve” was revealed and joined on the day of matrimony to Adam, the new Adam (Jesus) and new Eve would have their identities “unveiled” during this wedding feast, as well.

A closer look, too, at St. John’s first chapter reveals something even more interesting. St. John begins with almost a recapitulation of the creation narrative (signaled by “in the beginning,”), ushering us back to Genesis and “day one” in John 1:1. As the chapter goes on, note the intentional and creative use of the phrase, “the next day”; it sets up more than a pattern, but a sacramental arrow, if you will. Note “the next day” that appears in verses 29, 35, and 43 and the subsequent use of “the third day” in John 2:1. St. John is offering us a divinely inspired equation here as we see “day one” (Jn 1:1), “day two” (Jn 1:29), “day three” (Jn 1:35), “day four” (Jn 1:43), and with “the third day” coming in John 2:1, the miracle at the wedding feast is not only taking place on day three but also “day seven,” ushering in a “new creation week!”

This was not merely an earthly wedding feast, but the invitation to the heavenly banquet – the eternal union between Christ, the bridegroom, and his Church!

Note, too, the stone water jars used for ceremonial washing, hearken us back to the first plague with Moses as recounted in Exodus 7, where “all the water in the land of Egypt … even in the stone jars” was turned to blood by the mighty hand of God. Just as water was transformed to blood in Exodus and water to wine at Cana, so at every Mass the wine is transformed to blood through Christ’s sacramental priesthood.

Imagine how the Blessed Virgin Mary, who most assuredly had great reverence and deep knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, must have had her immaculate heart beating with joy as this episode unfolded before her. Knowing how she constantly “pondered all things in her heart,” her contemplative spirit must have been quietly singing praises to her God not only for his fidelity but for her Son’s humility as Jesus acquiesced to his Blessed Mother’s request.

To think that this beautiful exchange between mother and son took place prior to all else Jesus would say and do, only reaffirms the beautiful love between them and foreshadowed the sacrifices both would make for the Kingdom. This mystery is a prophetic foreshadowing and assurance that, indeed, the best was yet to come.

The Proclamation of the Kingdom

At the heart of Jesus’ Proclamation of the Kingdom is the Beatitudes, which describe and reflect perfectly the image of Christ. The Beatitudes are not just a string of pithy, clever sayings that are nice to remember as rules for life. They flow into and build on each other, starting with “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and moving on from there.

Sermon on the Mount

The first beatitude is saying if we are to walk with God we have to walk in humility. St. Thomas Aquinas said there is no virtue without humility; because pride is the root of all sin, and the opposite of pride is humility. This is the beginning of holiness, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus gives us the new law. Humility is recognizing that on my own I cannot attain what I am created for, union with God. Humility is where we empty ourselves to make room for the life of Christ.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

It is those who are humble who understand their brokenness, that they mourn. Once a person walks in humility and mourns their own brokenness, they are comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Those who are meek are actually strong. It means you have your strength controlled. A meek person can be taught. They have a good assessment of where they are. Meekness is when God makes us strong, and we submit our strength to him. God entrusts his kingdom to the meek.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”

Those who are meek can be trusted with much and they have a hunger and thirst for more. God is the one who has created this hunger in our souls, and he will satisfy us. St. Augustine said, “God thirsts that you might thirst for him.”

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

The response of those who have been satisfied with the righteousness of God is to become merciful. This is one truth building upon another. Unmerciful people do not normally walk in the previous Beatitudes, but merciful people are eager to forgive because they know they have been shown mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”

In the process our hearts are purified. This is our destiny, the beatific vision. Purity of heart is the capacity for truth. Pure in heart refers to those who have attuned their intellects and wills to the demands of God’s holiness in charity, chastity, love of truth and orthodoxy of truth (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2518). Notice that this is getting deeper and deeper.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

When we become perfect instruments of God we are sons and daughters of God, his peace is extended through us.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

In the Old Testament there was reward for obedience. God gave us what we wanted: worldly goods. But now Jesus is inviting us to something much greater. What he really wanted is for us to trust him. Now, in the New Testament, he wants us to have complete union with him. He wants us to want the giver rather than the gift. He wants us to participate in his suffering, so we can say with St. Paul “I rejoice in my suffering for your sake” because the reward for suffering with and for Christ is God himself.

The Transfiguration

It was the last day of the great Feast of Tabernacles. For seven days they celebrated, camping out in lean-tos made of branches and leaves. The make-shift shelters were to commemorate and thank God for his provision when their ancestors wandered the wilderness living in tents centuries ago (Lev 23:33-43).


Four enormous menorahs, gigantic replicas of the tabernacle lamp stand with their golden almond branches and little oil pots at the tips (Ex 25:31-40), were lit in the Temple. The annual Illumination was meant to remind the people of the spectacular pillar of fire that guided Israel for the forty long years of their wilderness journey (Ex 40:34-38).

All night long the menorahs would have been glowing from the Temple with extraordinary brilliance over the entire city as praises echoed: “In you is the fountain of life, and in your light shall we see light (Ps 36:10).”

On this eighth day of the feast, Peter, James, and John pick their way through the shale behind Jesus up the twisty switchback path to the top of Mt. Tabor. Did they know the mountain’s name means bed of light? Could they have imagined the thrilled fear that Light would inspire?

The Gospel Accounts

The details related for us of this astounding event are contained in the Gospels of the three evangelists who weren’t actually present, while two of the three privileged witnesses, Peter and John, simply allude to it (2 Pet 1:16-19; John 1:14), perhaps because it was too sublime for words.

The effect of the Transfiguration of Christ was a complete spiritual shift for the three disciples who witnessed it. We know because Jesus’ whole tone with them changed.

Luke says Jesus, Moses and Elijah discussed Jesus’ “departure,” a word translated from “exodus” that marks Jesus as the new and greater Moses, as the Scriptures repeatedly designate him. But unlike Moses whose face shone so brightly from Mt. Sinai it had to be veiled (Ex 34), Jesus’ whole “figure” was “changed” into blinding light.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place the Transfiguration between Peter’s profession of faith and one of Jesus’ predictions of his death, almost as though after Peter professes his belief in Jesus’ Identity, Jesus can finally reveal some of what it means for him to be “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

What Does the Transfiguration Mean?

We tend to look at the Transfiguration from the disciples’ perspective because it is they who tell the story, but it seems important that Jesus experienced some of what will take place at his death and resurrection, too. He has a sort of “out of body” experience in which a bright light leads to a meeting with two of those who preceded him in death.

After Jesus’ Transfiguration, he is more communicative, plainspoken, and firm with the disciples about his mission to draw all men to the Father and the suffering it will entail, for him and them.

Perhaps after the experience Jesus, also, is even more dedicated to his Father’s will, realizing both by foreknowledge and now by experience that his suffering and death will give way to a glorious new life and light.

Isn’t the Transfiguration, then, a type of resurrection? Isn’t it a Trinitarian foretaste of heaven and a reminder that having persevered by grace in my own striving to fulfill my purpose and vocation, I will share in the glory of Jesus’ Transfiguration, with all its light, reunion, praise, holiness and love in him? Isn’t my own prayer on the mountain and labor at the foot of it meant to bring it about? Could this be why he left us the account?

Surely, now, we can understand with the disciples the profundity of all Jesus meant when he stood the very next day and stated for you, for me, for all to hear, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

Institution of the Eucharist

Taken, blessed, broken, and shared. It was a formula the disciples had seen before, when Jesus fed the multitudes. It was the formula again during the Passover meal that Thursday night, but its effects would prove eternal.


As the sun set that fateful night, the Sanhedrin no doubt thought they had hatched the perfect plan. Securing Jesus’ arrest through the paid betrayal of one of the Lord’s closest followers, the Jewish leaders must have thought they’d be rid of this trouble-making Rabbi once and for all. Little did they know that while they plotted Jesus’ demise that just hundreds of yards away in an upper room, God was hatching his own plan to ensure Christ’s presence among us eternally.

This was no ordinary Passover meal. The ritual may have looked similar but Christ’s words would breathe new meaning and usher in the New Covenant. As Christ washed the feet of the Apostle we were given a new vision of what servant leadership necessitates. As the Lord instituted the Eucharist we were given an invitation to intimacy the likes of which the world had never known and could never top. In that eucharistic institution, too, we were given a new sacramental priesthood through which God’s children could regularly receive his divine mercy and taste salvation.

The elements are the same. The actions and words are the same. Not just in the Gospel episodes, but also in every single Mass—every liturgy from then until now, and from now until the end of time. They signify more than we comprehend, because it’s not only the bread and wine upon the altar that are being taken and blessed, broken and shared, but we ourselves, the mystical body of Christ, that are being changed, as well.

Simple elements: bread and wine—completely humble in form. Wheat ground down into flour. Crushed grapes left to sit in a barrel until they change their composition. It’s these humble things that the God of the universe uses to speak the language of his covenant, to bring his presence in a uniquely profound way into the world. It’s in this action of God’s Spirit, active in the priesthood, that we as Catholics are given our greatest gift—the gift of Holy Eucharist. It takes the Pascal Mystery of Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection, and makes it continually present to us.

This reflection on the Luminous Mysteries is a combined effort of several writers for The Great Adventure Blog, including Jeff Cavins, Mark Hart, Sonja Corbitt and David Kilby.

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Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time Tue, 11 Oct 2016 21:03:08 +0000

“As long as Moses kept his hands raised up,
Israel had the better of the fight” (Exodus 17:11)

Reflecting on the readings for the Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jeff Cavins discusses the significance of not just believing in the Faith but also being faithful to it. The Sunday Readings are:

First Reading: Exodus 17:8-13
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 121:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
Second Reading: 2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
Gospel: Luke 18:1-8


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Praying the Rosary in October: The Joyful Mysteries Fri, 07 Oct 2016 04:42:08 +0000 October is the month we dedicate to the Holy Rosary, and today is the Memorial of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary, so there is no better time to begin diving deeper into each mystery of this powerful prayer with renewed reverence. On each Friday of October, we will offer reflections on the mysteries of the Rosary, starting today with the Joyful Mysteries.

The Annunciation

Mary stands here at the turn of salvation history, embodying the faithful of Israel and making way for the Messiah. 

Mary and Gabriel

In fact, the angel’s greeting “Hail” (χαῖρε) is the exact same as that given to Daughter Zion in the Greek version of Zephaniah 3:14. This is significant because “Daughter Zion” in the prophets generally refers to the eschatological people of God—that is, the people of God as God has called them to be; Mary, then, embodies this glorious radiance which God has always destined for his people. And the Zephaniah passage continues: “The King is in her midst” (Zephaniah 3:15); indeed, in the Annunciation the King is in her midst, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin (see Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s Daughter Zion, pages 42-3). 

Moreover, the angel doesn’t address Mary by name, but rather astonishingly as: “Hail, full of grace.” This breathtaking greeting offers a glimpse of the grandeur of the Incarnation, as seen from heaven’s vantage point.

Further, the phrase “the Lord is with you,” used by the angel with reference to Mary, occurs throughout the Bible to indicate God’s presence and support for accomplishing his mission, as he did with Moses (Exodus 3:12), Joshua (Joshua 1:5, 9), Gideon (Judges 6:12), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:8). This means that Mary, too, stands on the cusp of some great moment in salvation history. And Mary responds with unflinching faith: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). In a sense, God’s plan hinges on the faith and obedience of the Virgin Mary; and for that, all generations call her “blessed” (Luke 1:42).

Sometimes much is made of the distinction between Jesus’ physical family and his spiritual family—the latter marked by those who “hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21; see also Luke 11:27-28). But a distinction need not entail a separation; and in fact, St. Luke portrays Mary as the one who quintessentially “hears the word of God and does it” (see Luke 1:38-39, 2:19, 51); in other words, she goes before us as model disciple and embodiment of the Church; and in Luke’s sequel (Acts of the Apostles), she is there persevering to the end with the disciples (Acts 1:14).

May we follow Mary’s path of saying “yes” to the Lord from beginning to end: “For with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37). 

The Visitation

After the Annunciation, Mary arises “with haste” (Luke 1:39) to visit Elizabeth, who greets her with familiar words: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). 

Jerónimo_Ezquerra_VisitationSt. Luke then depicts Mary’s journey in a manner reminiscent of David bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6. Such a parallel would be enormously significant, since the Ark was the holiest object in all of Israel—made holy because it bore the very presence of God; overlaid with gold (Exodus 25:11), it held the Ten Commandments, a jar that held the manna, and Aaron’s high priestly rod (see Hebrews 9:4). Likewise, Mary bears Jesus who is the Word of God Incarnate, the bread of life, and eternal high priest.

Moreover, the following parallels in both journeys emerge: David and Mary “arose and went” (2 Samuel 6:2; Luke 1:39); David leaps before the ark, as John leaps in the womb of Elizabeth (2 Sam 6:16b; Luke 1:41); David asks, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me” (2 Samuel 6:9), as Elizabeth asks how can “the mother of my Lord come to me?” (Luke 1:43); the Ark remains at the house of Obed-edom three months (2 Samuel 6:11), just as Mary remained at the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth three months (Luke 1:56).

It’s hard to overstate what these parallels would mean: no Jew in the ancient world could have proclaimed his love for God and yet been indifferent to the Ark.

And just in case we missed it, St. Luke uses a very rare word in Luke 1:42 to describe how Elizabeth “exclaimed” (anaphoneo) such praises before Mary. This Greek word occurs only here in the New Testament, and only five times in the entire Greek Old Testament—every single time with reference to Levites praising the Ark of the Covenant (see 1 Chronicles 15:28; 16:4, 5, 42; 2 Chronicles 5:13; see also Scott Hahn’s Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire, page 65). The reference, then, is unmistakable: here we have once again a Levite—in Elizabeth (see Luke 1:5)—praising the Ark of the New Covenant.

Mary is revered for what God has done in and through her; but she is also called “blessed” for her great faith: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

The Nativity

Ever since Jesus gave her to the Beloved Disciple, and him to her—from the Cross—Mary has been our mother.  She watches over us with motherly care, to be sure, but reading the infancy narratives draws our attention to another aspect of motherhood:  that she was found to be WITH CHILD of the Holy Spirit; that she BORE Jesus in her womb and gave birth to him. In that sense, anyone who bears Jesus in his or her heart and proclaims him or does his work in the world is doing the same thing – and is a child of Mary. 

New Mary study

Mary had just one biological son, Jesus.  But in Revelation 12, John describes “the rest of [the] offspring” of the Woman who bears a male child who is to rule the nations—a direct reference to Christ and therefore to Mary, his mother.  They are “those who keep the commandments and bear testimony to Jesus” (Revelation 12:17). I wonder if he had the infancy narratives in mind when he wrote this, as the same Greek words are used.

“Those who keep the commandments”

Mary KEPT [suntereo] in her heart the word of God she heard from the shepherds (Luke 2:19); her children KEEP [tereo] the commandments or word of God (Revelation 12).

“Those who bear testimony to Jesus”

“Mary was found to be WITH CHILD of the Holy Spirit” … ” a virgin shall CONCEIVE and bear a son” (Matthew 1:18, 23).  Her children also BEAR testimony to Jesus.  The English words “with child,” “conceive,” and “bear” all translate to the same Greek word, “echo.”

As we meditate on his word today, let us show ourselves as true children of Mary so that word might be conceived and born in us that we might bear it to the world!

Meditate on Luke 2:1-22, the mystery of the birth of Jesus, focusing on the Blessed Mother.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you be open to the word of God, to plant it in your heart and nurture it there. 

The Presentation

In the fourth Joyful Mystery we see how Mary is a beautiful example of faithfulness. In the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple, we see her faithfully fulfilling all the necessary steps of a Jewish woman after giving birth to her first born son. The Law of Moses prescribed that the firstborn male needed to be redeemed by a sacrifice. This harkened to the time of the first Passover, when the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites who had blood from a sacrificed lamb over their doorways. From the time of Moses onward, the tradition of redeeming the firstborn son continued as a perpetual reminder of the saving grace of God. How fitting that Mary and Joseph brought God the Deliverer of Israel to the Temple to fulfill all righteousness. 

La_Pr_sentation_au_temple_effect_2_Just as later Jesus would be baptized by John in the Jordan, though he needed no salvation, Jesus was redeemed in the Temple as the first born son. Mary’s faithfulness to obey God’s command did not go unnoticed by Simeon and Anna who were waiting for Mary to bring Jesus to the Temple. Obviously they knew the Temple would be the first stop for the Messiah to appear on his mission to redeem the world. Perhaps it was with great anticipation Mary entered the Temple, expecting a sign of confirmation from God during this significant ritual. She was met by two prophets, who recognized the gift she brought to the Temple and ultimately brought to the world.

But this sign would also be mingled with grief. St. John Paul II reflected on the significance of Simeon’s prophecy to Mary that “a sword will pierce through your own soul also…”:

Simeon’s words seem like a second Annunciation to Mary, for they tell her of the actual historical situation in which the Son is to accomplish his mission, namely, in misunderstanding and sorrow. While this announcement on the one hand confirms her faith in the accomplishment of the divine promises of salvation, on the other hand it also reveals to her that she will have to live her obedience of faith in suffering, at the side of the suffering Savior, and that her motherhood will be mysterious and sorrowful.

– St. John Paul II, Redemptioris Mater, 16

As we go to Mass to receive this amazing gift that has been given to us through the hands of Mary and the prophets, let us also go in anticipation of what we can receive through the reading of the word, through the prayers and through the miracle of the Eucharist.

The Finding of Jesus in the Temple

The account of the boy Jesus being lost and then found three days later in the Temple is the only scene of Jesus’ childhood reported in any of the Gospels. Now twelve years old, Jesus is old enough to enter the Court of Israelites. For the first time, he will be permitted into the area where the respected teachers of the Law convene to discuss the Scriptures. So much insight can be gathered just by reflecting on how Mary and Joseph can lose their boy at this time. 

Mary5 - Finding Jesus

This must have been a trying experience for Mary, and it foreshadows another time when she would be separated from her son: at his death on Good Friday.

The Holy Family was returning from their annual journey to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. This is one of the most important yearly feasts, and Jews from all over the ancient world would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate.

It is easy to wonder today how Mary and Joseph could leave their son behind in the big city of Jerusalem. What does this story story tell us that might shed light on how these holy and responsible parents could lose their child so easily?

When Mary finally finds her son three days later, she asks why Jesus has treated his parents this way. But Jesus replies, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) The Scriptures say that Mary did not understand this response from her son, but “kept all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51)

Mary’s example here can teach us about how to respond when we do not understand why God allows us to experience moments of trial, uncertainty, or darkness. God may be trying to teach us through these difficulties.

Mary’s experience of losing Jesus is one we might experience in our spiritual lives. We face trials that cause us anxiety. Prayer becomes dry. We wonder why these troubles have come upon us. We seek God and wonder where God is in our lives. Jesus may seem lost and far away, but in reality, he is doing the will of the Father in the temples of our souls.

For Discussion

What insights and inspiration have you received from the Joyful Mysteries? When you reflect upon The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Nativity, The Presentation, and the Finding of Jesus in the Temple, what is the Lord sharing with you at this point in your journey of faith?

This reflection on the Joyful Mysteries is a combined effort of several writers for The Great Adventure blog, including Dr. Andrew Swafford, Sarah Christmyer, Emily Cavins, Dr. Edward Sri, and David Kilby.

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