Reflections on the Daily Readings

August 25 - 31, 2019
The Season of  Ordinary Time - The Twenty-first Week
Readings: Sunday Cycle C; Weekday Cycle I.
Divine Office - Psalter Week I.

Sunday 25:          The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 66:18-21; Psalm 116; Hebrews 12:5-7, 11-13; Luke 13:22-30
In our first reading for today we see that the Lord is going to gather all of his Chosen People from wherever they have been scattered and return them to Jerusalem. They will come in chariots, on horseback, on stretchers, but they will come to Jerusalem – which was also known as Zion and the City of God – where his glory will be manifest. But with this group will also come Gentiles and they, too, will be welcomed to the House of God. The towns named in the text stretched from the Black Sea to Africa to Spain, demonstrating that the glory of the Lord would be heard of in far off places, and so the people will stream from far and wide to Jerusalem.
In the gospel, the idea of many people trying to enter God’s house together is also found. Jesus was asked about how many people would be saved and, in response, he urged his listeners to do their best to enter heaven. However, he also said that this was not the easiest thing to do for the door is narrow and so not everyone will gain entry. Over the last few Sundays there has been the reminder to be always ready because we don’t know when we will be called to give an account of our lives of faith and this is again echoed in today’s text. Those who will not believe in Jesus Christ or in his message until it is too late will be left out in the cold, whereas the faithful will enter paradise to take their places along with the prophets of old. All of this took place while Jesus was on his final journey to Jerusalem. It is a reminder to us that we must live up to our responsibilities as baptised Christians sooner rather than later, and to take an active part in the spread of the Gospel.
In our second reading from the letter to the Hebrews, the author tells the people that some of them will be punished by the Lord but this should not be a cause of worry for – in punishing them – the Lord acknowledges them as his children. His punishment, therefore, is intended to make of them a better people, and not just better people in terms of how they live in society but people of stronger faith and, therefore, more worthy of heaven. The people are to stand firm and strong because God’s punishment demonstrates his love for them. Of course, we can avoid any punishment by living according to the Gospel precepts, beginning today.

Monday 26:         Of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 8-10; Psalm 149; Matthew 23:13-22
Today we begin reading from St Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians and which was written in Corinth between 50-51 AD, possibly following reports received from St Timothy. In today’s opening section we see Paul reminding them that God loves them. Many of Paul’s letters were written to bring his readers back to the right path and to keep them faithful to God. In this letter he does this by reminding the people of all that they have received from God and of the great faith they had from the outset. The Christian Community at Thessalonica was founded there by Paul about twenty years after the Resurrection on what was an important point on the trade routes between east and west. The Psalm is a hymn of praise for God. In the Gospel we see Jesus rebuking the scribes and Pharisees because they have become too interested in technicalities and are, therefore, a block to the people drawing closer to God. This is a constant reminder to us that we can become too engrossed in details and so miss out on a wonderful and intimate relationship with God who does so much for us.

Tuesday 27:         Memorial of St Monica*
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Psalm 138; Matthew 23:23-26
In our first reading St Paul is reminding the Thessalonians of how he and his companions conducted themselves when they were in Thessalonica – they brought them the message with humility. When Paul first visited Thessalonica there were those who refused to accept his word and the faithful had to smuggle him out of the city. In the Gospel passage for today, we again see Jesus scolding the scribes and Pharisees and calling them hypocrites because they have again been more concerned with the little details and have forgotten about the virtues of justice, mercy and good faith. They are more concerned with their external appearance while inside they are a poor example for the people. We must convert internally every day and in this way we will give an external example to others of true Christian living.

Wednesday 28:    Memorial of St Augustine, Bishop & Doctor of the Church*
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Psalm 138; Matthew 23:27-32
St Paul tells the Thessalonians in the first reading of how he slaved for the people in order to bring them the Good News. He reminds them that he was a tentmaker and was therefore able to live off his own independence and not be a burden to others while preaching the Good News. This was possibly added to quieten those who tried to discredit Paul by saying that he preached solely for money. In our Gospel text for today, Jesus continues to berate the scribes and Pharisees and he tells them that, while they appear to be good on the outside, on the inside they are full of hypocrisy for they are no better than those who killed the prophets. There is a contrast in our readings today between the single-minded Paul of the first reading, who wants people to be saved, and the Pharisees of the Gospel who are looking after their own reputations and status rather than leading the people to God.

Thursday 29:       Memorial of the Beheading of St John the Baptist*
Jeremiah 1:17-19; Psalm 70; Mark 6:17-29
The first reading from the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah sees the Lord telling the prophet not to be afraid but to stand up before the people as ‘a pillar of iron, and a wall of bronze to confront all this land’ with the truth of the Lord’s message. The Lord tells him that the people will fight against him but he is not to be afraid for the Lord is with him. The reading is a good description of John the Baptist who confronted the people of the day in preparation for the mission of Jesus Christ and who even challenged the king and gave him warning of how to act righteously before God. The Psalm asks the Lord to be at the side of his faithful servants to give them strength as they tell of his justice.
The gospel passage recalls the martyrdom of John who had been jailed because he spoke against Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias. While at a banquet, Herodias’ daughter dances for Herod and captivates him by her beauty and so he makes a rash promise to her. Despite his distress, Herod fulfilled his promise by ordering the beheading of John. In the face of the opposition he experienced, John never backed away from preparing the way for the Lord and we are challenged today to follow in his footsteps and so daily proclaim the presence of God among his people.

Friday 30:            Of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; Psalm 96; Matthew 25:1-13
We see St Paul in our first reading explicitly calling the people of Thessalonica to holiness and to avoid anything which would lead them into sin and away from God. Sexual immorality was widespread in Paul’s day and he was aware that the Thessalonians were living in a society in which this was very common. He reminds them that each person can become a temple for the Holy Spirit and therefore every human being must be treated with great respect. In our Gospel text today we have the same theme as yesterday – that of being ready. Today Jesus uses the parable of the foolish bridesmaids who were caught out when the bridegroom arrived at an unexpected hour. Those who are prepared and have lived good lives will enter the kingdom with the Lord, but those who have not, will not necessarily enter because they may not have time to repent and return to the right path. It is quite easy for us to assume that we have years left in us yet, but, for some, it could all end today.

Saturday 31:        Of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
1 Thessalonians 4:9-11; Psalm 97; Matthew 25:14-30
St Paul continues to encourage the people to love one another and today he tells them that it was from God that they learned to love and that with the help of God and their willingness they will learn to love even more than they do at present. He also reminds them that he taught them to live in such a way that others would see Christianity in action and so come to believe. We have the parable of the talents in our Gospel text for today and it is a reminder to us that we all have talents but that we won’t fully realise those gifts unless we actually try. Some have huge and obvious talents but everyone has small talents too and these are just as important as the big obvious ones that some people seem to have. In any case we must work to the best of our ability for the sake of the kingdom.

Memorials this Week:
August 27:           Memorial of St Monica
Born in North Africa to a Christian family in 332, Monica married a pagan, Patricius, who was converted due to her gentle ways. She then spent her energies in converting her eldest son – Augustine – to the faith. She followed him to Milan where she enlisted the help of St Ambrose, then Bishop of Milan in northern Italy, and in time Augustine was converted and became one of the greatest teachers in the Church. She died in Ostia in 387 while Augustine was taking her home to North Africa. Her last words, recorded in Augustine’s ‘Confessions’ were – “Lay this body wherever it may be. Let no care of it disturb you: this only I ask of you that you should remember me at the altar of the Lord wherever you may be” (Confessions Book 9, Chapter 11).

August 28:           Memorial of St Augustine, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
Augustine was born in Thagaste (today called Souk Ahras in northern Algeria) in North Africa in 354, one of four children of St Monica. He studied law and spent several years of his life following the ways of Manichaeism and fathered a child with his mistress. He was converted through the prayers of his mother, St Monica, with the help of St Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, who baptised him in 387. He returned to Africa and was made Bishop of Hippo (today Annaba, Algeria) in 396 where he established communities of priests and nuns. His Rule for religious institutes is the basis for many Congregations and Institutes of Apostolic Life today. He became the greatest of the Latin Fathers of the Church and spent much of his energies fighting heresies. His two best known works are ‘The Confessions’ and ‘De Civitate Dei’ (‘City of God’) which are still influential today. He died in 430.

August 29:           Memorial of the Beheading of St John the Baptist
As the name of this memorial suggests, today recalls the martyrdom of St John the Baptist, his last and greatest act of witness for Christ.

© P. Breen, O.Carm. 2011, 2013
The Reflections above are available in printed form in:
Reflections on the Readings for every day of the Church's year.
Patrick J. Breen, O.Carm. Dublin: Columba Press. 2011. ISBN 978 1 85607 732 3.

And direct from the publishers: Columba Press, Dublin.

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