This week, we hear from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and the theme of this short passage is the Word of God. How wonderful that we are hearing one of the greatest speakers of the Word precisely on this topic. How central to ancient Israelite religion was the Word! Biblical Israel knew itself to be a people to whom God uniquely had spoken. They savored his Word as it was preserved in the Torah and as it was spoken by the prophets and the sages of their religion. And the divine Word, Isaiah knows, is not a bland description of a state of affairs, but an effective principal. God’s Word makes things happen, changes things, brings life.
Our first reading for this weekend is derived from the ninth chapter of the book of the prophet Zechariah, one of the twelve so-called minor prophets of the Old Testament. The background for the prophecy contained here is that Israel saw itself as the specially chosen people of God, whose mission was to bring the light of the Lord to all the nations of the world. At the time of David, this ambition seemed more realistic, but things fell rather quickly apart. And yet, oddly, they continued to hope. God would cause Israel to fulfill its destiny, precisely by raising up a king like David.
Our first reading for this weekend is taken from the marvelous second book of Kings, and it deals with the prophet Elisha, who was the chosen successor of the prophet Elijah. The narrative is, on one level, very simple and charming, but it also presents a kind of icon of the relationship between priests and their people.
Today I have the special pleasure of preaching on a passage from the prophet Jeremiah, someone that we hear from relatively rarely throughout the liturgical year. Along with Daniel, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, Jeremiah is one of the so-called major prophets of Israel. This means not only that he was a great and influential figure but also that he wrote (or at least inspired) a book of some weight and importance. What was the theme of Jeremiah’s preaching and prophesying? It was terrible—which is one reason why he was known as “terror on every side.”
This is the first celebration of Corpus Christi—the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ—after the Pew Forum study showing that 70% of Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Vatican II said that the Eucharist is the source and the summit of the Christian life—so it is clear that something has gone seriously wrong. Therefore, it is with renewed interest and focus that we should look to the readings for today’s feast.
Today we come to the wonderful Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. The Trinity: the strangest and most distinctive of all of the doctrines of Christianity; the preacher’s nightmare; the ultimate Rubik’s cube of theology. The Trinity has been characterized in a number of ways—some good, some bad—and we invoke it every single time we make the sign of the cross. Yet most of us live our practical spiritual lives as if the Trinity didn’t matter at all. So what are we to make of it? The Church sets this up by giving us some interesting readings for today.
On this great feast of Pentecost, I would like to say “happy birthday” to every Catholic listening to me, for we hold, in our traditional theology, that Pentecost is the birthday of the Church. It would behoove us on this our birthday to reflect on the nature of the Church. In the Creed, which we recite every Sunday, we find the familiar phrase, “We believe in one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.” All four of these marks can be seen from the beginning, at that first Pentecost, because all four are gifts of the Holy Spirit.
We come today to the great Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, which sheds so much light on who we are as Christians and what we are supposed to be about as a Church. I want to focus on the Ascension from two perspectives: the “political” and the liturgical. Both are very important to understand what it means to speak of the Ascension of Jesus.
For this sixth Sunday of Easter, I would like to continue with the first letter of St. Peter, which is our second reading for this weekend. Peter says, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” In many ways, this is the master text for theologians and apologists up and down the centuries to the present day. Something that is distinctive to biblical Christianity is that, from the beginning, it has been very interested in doctrine and expressing doctrine clearly and articulately.
For this fifth Sunday of the Easter season, I should like to return to our consideration of the Acts of the Apostles. Our passage for today is taken from the beginning of the sixth chapter of Acts, and it concerns the Church—its growth, its unity, and its structure—in a way that is compelling for our time.