Modern Liturgy: Lectionary Catechesis
On the road again. The second half of Luke's Gospel is consumed by two stories: Jesus' trip to Jerusalem and his passion. In last month's Planning Guide we examined the Sundays beginning the journey to Jerusalem. Now the journey takes its second phase. The Old Testament readings present panoply of ancient texts to support the basic teachings Jesus gives on his journey. We hear from the prophets, the Pentateuch and the Wisdom literature.
21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Aug. 23)
The main theme the Scriptures offer this weekend is universalism: The kingdom of heaven is open to all people, regardless of their origins (Lk. 13:22-30), and God remains ruler and host of all (Is. 66:18-21). Jesus hears a restrictive question: "Are they few in number who are to be saved?" And he gives a restrictive reply: "Try the narrow door." But his point is that you'll be surprised at who shows up at heaven's gate.
The same point is made by Isaiah, who paints a picture of God gathering all the nations to see his glory.
Catechesis this week may reflect on what "entitles" people to eternal life, how God's mercy is active in our redemption, the place of the unbaptized in the divine plan, and the struggles of ecumenism. You could examine how the different Eucharistic prayers at Mass include the whole world: from people who minister in the church to people whose faith is known to God alone. To begin, people might reflect on their experiences of inclusion and exclusion.
August 23 and 30 continue the readings from the Letter to the Hebrews begun in the previous weeks. The letter concludes by encouraging the readers to persevere in the Christian life, even in the midst of trials -- they are signs of God disciplining his children (12: 5-7, 11-13). The new assembly of believers differs from the one of the old covenant (12:18-19, 22-24). This vision, too, urges the Christian on to a life of faithfulness. Catechetical themes include trials, faithfulness, and the vision of God's presence at the end of time.
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Aug. 30)
Jesus stops on the road for a Sabbath meal with some Pharisees and gives some advice to both hosts and guests: Sit in places of humility, and invite people who cannot return the favor (Lk. 14:1, 7-14).
Sirach (3:17-18, 20, 28-29) advises humility as well. This collection of sayings from the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament is still charming to hear.
Catechesis can focus on humility in the Christian ethic. Just what constitutes success? Can the humble achieve it? What is the nature of authority in a Christian context? The equality of all people, the presence of God in each human life, and the importance of sharing with the disadvantaged are all themes worth exploring. Reflection could begin with people's experience of the joys of humility.
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sept. 6)
The cost of discipleship is dear. And Jesus takes the opportunity of a large crowd's appearance to explain (Lk. 14:25-33). Turn away from family, pick up a cross, calculate the cost and renounce possessions. A heavy message.
The Book of Wisdom (9, 13-18), drawn from the same collection of literature as last week's first reading, elevates the call to discipleship to mystical levels. We can understand God's ways only by seeking God's counsel.
Catechesis could turn to self-denial, the threats of materialism, and the demands that discipleship should place on everyday life. Some groups may want more information about seminaries or formation in religious life. Individual religious experience and the quest to know God's may also serve the discussion. To begin, groups could discuss ways to simplify life and identify key values.
In the New Testament letters, Philemon comes our way this Sunday. This is the shortest book in the Bible and one of the most disarming. A runaway slave who had come to know Paul appears at his prison cell seeking help. Paul writes to the slave's owner, Philemon, asking freedom for Onesimus. Freedom, the obligations of community life, and the courage needed for Christian life may be explored.
Labor Day (Sept. 7)
In the United States we may celebrate the Mass of St. Joseph today, for he is patron of workers, or the votive Mass for the Blessing of Man's (sic) Labor.
Catechesis could reflect on the nature of work and its place within the Christian ethic. Pope John Paul II's encyclical "On Human Work" ("Laborem Exercens") is an important resource. Or you could pursue the Catholic traditions regarding saints as patrons of certain occupations and conditions.
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sept. 13)
The incredible story of the Prodigal is preceded by two more stories just as amazing (Lk. 15:1-32). The mercy of God is the rich theme of this Sunday, almost too good to be true. Having explored the cost of discipleship last week, we take heart knowing that the God who calls us is so forgiving.
Exodus (32:7-11, 13-14) recounts another story of God's mercy. After Moses received the law of God, the people turned to idolatry. God's anger, inflamed at the golden calf, is calmed by the efforts of Moses, who calls God back to mercy.
Themes this week will focus on sin and forgiveness. The "Old Testament concept of God" as a God of anger may be re-examined in the light of the first reading. Symbols of forgiveness, the sacrament of penance, our tendency to err and God's to forgive are worth study. People might reflect on what it's like to be forgiven, and what it's like to forgive.
In the New Testament letters, the Pastoral Epistles are introduced in the remaining weeks. Paul's letters speak about church order and responsibilities. Today (1 Tm. 2:1-8) he discusses the proper way to pray at worship services: whom to pray for. This might encourage s to reflect on the prayers of the Faithful at our Mass: just what prayers are appropriate?
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sept. 20)
The two parts of chapter 16 are spread over this Sunday and the next -- both with similar themes. And the first readings are neatly drawn from the same book, the prophecy of Amos. It all relates to the proper use of resources and care for the poor.
Jesus tells a story that makes us followers think there must be a mistake (Lk. 16:1-13). He praises a dishonest worker for his craftiness. Then Amos (8:4-7) warns against those who practice dishonest business deals!
Jesus suggests using money not for itself, but as it can keep us serving God. It is cleverness he praises, and devotion to a single master.
Themes this week include responsible use of money, tithing, communal sharing, and the temptations of materialism. Discussion might begin with people's attempts to make ethical decisions regarding their income and expenses.
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sept. 27)
Lazarus the beggar
and the rich man who refuses him food weave the fabric of a sobering story (Lk
16:19-31). Jesus warns that those
who have are responsible for those who have not.
Amos (6:1, 4-7)
returns this week to condemn the rich who feast only for themselves.
His biting commentary on a classed society sets the stage for the
chilling Gospel story.
Catechesis this week
will focus on the Christian obligation to care for the needy.
As universal salvation was a theme that began this stage of Jesus’
journey to Jerusalem, so now is universal care.
The nature of justice, the proper distribution of national and personal
wealth, the ethics of poverty, and the search for God in the needy are all good
topics for study. Discussion might
begin around people’s experience in caring for the hungry in soup kitchens,
stocking food pantries, and writing Congress to support legislation for the
Paul (1 Tm 6:11-16)
admonishes Timothy to lead a proper ethical life as leader of the people.
Catechesis may explore leadership and its responsibilities.
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Oct. 4)
The second stage of the journey to Jerusalem ends with an opportunity for introspection (Lk. 17:5-10). The apostles ask about faith, and Jesus tells them about "carrying out orders." "When you have done all you have been commanded to do," Jesus says to them, "... say, ‘We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty.’” He may be prodding them to do more. Or he may be returning to the theme of the narrow gate (Aug.23): When we've done our duty, it is not enough; so Jesus will guide us through the narrow gate.
Today's passage from the prophecy of Habakkuk is a classic one in Christianity. It concludes with the phrase that the just shall live because of their faith. This passage, cited later in the Letters to the Romans (1:17), to the Galatians (3:11), and to the Hebrews (10, 38-39), became central to the teaching of Martin Luther and the Reformers.
Faith will be a central issue for catechetical instruction this week. The differences between Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism on this point also could be explored. The salvific role of Christ and the duties of the Christian disciple are more possibilities.
In the New Testament letters, the liturgy turns to the second letter to Timothy (1:6-8, 13-14) to open the discussion on spiritual gifts. Paul implies Timothy has received them; now he urges him to stir them into flame. The role of the Holy Spirit, the place of spiritual renewal, and spiritual direction may all be topics for discussion.