Thursday, June 21, 2018

Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

(Sirach 48:1-14; Matthew 6:7-15)

Although no book of the Bible bears his name, Elijah may be considered the preeminent prophet of Israel.  As a prophet, he received revelation from God, spoke on God’s behalf, and suffered because of God’s message.  However, he was not martyred, which was considered the prophet’s fate.  Rather, he was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot.  Pope Benedict in his book Jesus of Nazareth writes that the people of Israel awaited Elijah’s return so that he might experience a true martyr’s death. 

Because of his expected return, some thought Jesus himself was Elijah reincarnated.  When he asked his disciples who the people were calling him, they answered that some considered him to be Elijah.  But Jesus had another candidate for the Elijah role: John the Baptist.  John, like other prophets, was beheaded after telling the truth about Herod Antipas.  For Jesus, John’s death anticipates the prophetic “Day of the Lord,” the day of reckoning. 

Christians understand the prophets as foretelling Jesus’ coming.  How did Elijah do this?  There are incidents about Elijah that parallel experiences in Jesus’ life like providing food for the widow and her son prefiguring Jesus’ feeding the multitude.  Perhaps more indicative, however, is the story of the Lord God coming to Elijah as a whisper at the mouth of a cave.  We see the whisper as Jesus, the full revelation of God in the quite unassuming figure of a carpenter from Nazareth.  The cave too invokes Messianic meaning. It is the depth of being from which Jesus talks with the Father with whom he is one.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 2:1.6-14; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

A generation ago the movie “Chariots of Fire” won critical acclaim.  It told the story of the British runners who beat the favored Americans at the 1924 Olympics.  The drama centered largely on Eric Liddell, a devout Christian.  Liddell was forced to make a decision between competing on Sunday and honoring the Third Commandment.  He did not hesitate to choose the Lord.  Liddell demonstrated the same courage as Elijah whose spirit Elisha seeks in today’s first reading.

Elijah is the paragon of prophets.  He speaks truth to power and exhorts the people to faithfulness.  God favors him the supernatural capacity of calling down fire on opponents.  He also suffers for his convictions.  In asking for a double portion of his spirit Elisha is both reaching for greatness and risking his future.   He too will accomplish great deeds but not without a share of anguish.

Eventually Jesus will prove to be the greatest of the prophets.  He will insist that both kings and commoners observe the true spirit of the Law.  No one will suffer for his convictions more unjustifiably than he.  Without being asked, he gladly sends his Spirit upon us.  We are to carry on his pursuit of inner righteousness come what may.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 21:17-29; Matthew 5:43-48)

For practical purposes Ahab gets away with murder in today’s first reading.  He witnesses the treachery of his wife but does nothing to stop her.  He appropriates Naboth’s garden like a bandit.  He even repents of his crime and does not face retribution.  The story sounds incredible but there is a parallel happening today.

The wealthy in our society are creating safe havens for themselves while leaving the poor in misery.  They construct gated communities where they are shielded from the plight of the less fortunate.  They send their children to the best schools while education for the poor often lacks funding.  Their politicians and economic advisors make available ways to avoid paying taxes.  But they become outraged if a poor person uses food stamps to buy a sirloin steak.  Meanwhile the wealthy are more likely found in church thanking God for the good life they have.  Where is the justice of it all?

We find justice in Jesus Christ.  He insists that his followers take care of the poor.  More than that, we are called to be the source of reconciliation.  We are to work for the unity between rich and poor, women and men, black and white.  If we forsake this responsibility, our posterity will face the social turmoil that Ahab’s descendants experienced.  We pray now for the virtues of justice and prudence to bring about social peace.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 21:1-16; Matthew 5:38-42)

Few gospel passages have provoked more soul searching reflection than that of today and tomorrow.  Seemingly Jesus is calling his disciples not to defend their families, much less themselves, if attacked.  Is that even humane?  Or is Jesus exaggerating as when he says one must hate one’s parents to be his disciple (Luke 14:26)?

Thomas Aquinas justifies killing in self-defense if one does not intend to kill the aggressor.  The case is not one of doing evil to achieve the good because the defender acts in place of the civil authority.  For Aquinas only the state acting as God’s minister in pursuit of the common good can take a life. 

Then is Aquinas faithful to the gospel?  One would be reckless to accuse Thomas Aquinas of biblical infidelity.  He sees Jesus correctly as talking of personal righteousness.  Jesus does not intend that his statement be generalized to cover every case of evil.  He does insist, however, as tomorrow’s passage will show that we love our enemies.  This means that we do not want them harm.  But if they present themselves as unjust aggressors unstoppable short of killing, then let it be done.  Aquinas will make one exception to this rule.  An ordained man cannot kill under any circumstances.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(1 Kings 19:9a.11-16; Matthew 5:27-32)

Of the longings of the human heart sexual desire takes a primary place.   Beyond intimacy, men want to dominate women and to use them for self-propagation.  Women seek to manipulate men for protection and for children to mother.  Jesus addresses this mutual exploitation with his commandments in today’s gospel.

Once again Jesus calls for a change of heart.  His disciples have to avoid lust, the inordinate desire for sexual pleasure.  Desire becomes inordinate when one seeks sexual relations with someone other than his wife or her husband.  Desire also looms inordinate when it views one’s wife or husband as an object for sexual pleasure.  As Jesus’ instruction on divorce indicates, spouses are to cherish one another.  Marriage commits two people to love one another in order to raise children in the likeness of God.

Jesus equating lust with adultery has caused many people to feel a burden of guilt. Is such guilt warranted?  We think so.  It is not that we want people to feel bad about themselves.  To the contrary, we want people to feel accomplished by foregoing pernicious desires.  Lust can lead people beyond adultery to abandonment of family.   By itself, it redirects a person from his or her primary responsibilities to dwell on fantasies.  Although painful, guilt moves one to repentance.  It is part of the journey to holiness.