Our priest recently mentioned several reference works that provide good "sparks" for one's own pondering on Scripture. Writing by Roland Faley was among them, although no specific title was mentioned.
I took a chance and got Footprints on the Mountain: Preaching and Teaching the Sunday Readings.
Holy Moly, people, this is solid gold! Why haven't I come across this before?
Probably because the few reviewers and blurbs mention what a great resource it is for homilists, liturgists, teachers, and catechumenal directors (yawn).
True enough this book does provide scriptural background on all the readings for each Sunday (nicely divided up into A, B, and C years), as well as at least eight ideas for directions one's own teachings might take. However, that background also discusses why they complement each other and specific insights to be found for each.
Plus, this is summed up in a brief but pithy reflection on what these readings and points mean to believers.
In essence, it is like the perfect Bible study guide. I find it extremely inspiring and had to refrain from sitting down and just reading it through like a novel. Toward that end, however, I have ordered Faley's Reflections on the Weekday Lectionary Readings so I can get some of this goodness every day. This covers the A and B year readings.
The reason I bring all this up, aside from cluing you into this resource, is that after reading the Ascension commentary, background, and reflection for year A, I was left with one sentence resonating through my mind. (Now, if only I had copied it down ... this will be a paraphrase.) "Jesus' ascension marked the end of Jesus' time on earth and the beginning of the Holy Spirit's age on earth."
As I say, this is a paraphrase, so don't come after me on this.
However, as I listened to the the Kyrie and the Glory to God gorgeously sung by our choir (one of Mozart's mass compositions), my mind ranged over not only my contrition and need for mercy, but that "age of the Spirit". Suddenly, it clicked. I could understand that Jesus was the "key" in the lock that opened the door for the Spirit to flood over us. No wonder Jesus is the fulcrum on which history swings, the most glorious point of salvation history. Not only is there his sacrifice and resurrection, bringing our redemption ... but there is also the fact that without his obedience, the Holy Spirit wouldn't have been loosed the way it was during Pentecost. So much more than we could have predicted, desired, or understood.
Words can't really express what I felt and understood in that moment. I have made a mess of it in trying to explain.
But, like a shining star, this reality lit my mind's eye during the entire Mass ... and it obviously stuck with me to this moment.
What does this mean in my life?
I honor and love Jesus for his obedience and sacrifice even more since I have that little bit more understanding. I know that my own obedience can bear greater fruit than I can imagine or understand, if I truly try to live the faith with my whole heart. This goes for daily prayer, daily writing, daily dishwashing, daily overlooking of others' faults, and so much more.
I sure am glad that I took a chance on that book.
On the other hand, I am sorry to say that I cannot recommend Faley's other reflections book, Reflections on the Weekday Lectionary Readings.
Not as detailed as Footprints on the Mountain, it focuses on the commentary for each day's readings during years A & B. I picked it up hoping that it would provide the same sort of insights to aid my reflections and prayer.
Despite the fact that these reflections are fairly brief, Faley rarely misses an opportunity, even if he has to force it, to talk about ecumenism, global warming, caring for the environment, and so forth. Although I am sure that he means these to spur us to action, the result was that I felt as if I were constantly being scolded (whether or not I deserved it).
I definitely support those and all social justice issues, but we are overrun with those messages on a daily basis from both secular and faith based groups. I realize this book is aimed at helping priests with homily topics, but seriously if a priest started going on and on about global warming when I was trying to connect with God at Mass, I'd be jolted right out of any connection into a state of annoyance. Surely if we are brought closer to God, then living fully as Christians and the other things follow also? At least they have for me ...
It is too bad as about half of the reflections are those which I feel would open the readings and bring me closer to God. However, the cringing I do the other half of the time, not to mention being jolted out of prayer, are not worth it. I'd recommend the In Conversation with God: Meditations for Each Day of the Year series by Francis Fernandez instead. He manages to bring up all those issues while still keeping our eyes on Christ.