Monday, May 1, 2017

Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker

(Acts 6:8-15; John 6:22-29)

The man said that he loved his work.  He even claimed that he would do it even if he didn’t get paid.  But is it really work if one does not receive compensation?  Or is not the satisfaction of earning a livelihood for oneself and one’s family a necessary part of work?

There is a painting by Georges de La Tour of St. Joseph working.  He is bent over and painstakingly drilling a hole in wood.  Next to him stands the boy Jesus holding a candle so that his foster father might complete his task.  The painting first reminds us of Joseph’s role as the provider of Jesus and Mary.  It also indicates how Jesus enlightens the effort.  He teaches us that work brings the human person closer to God as it benefits others.

Today’s gospel likewise gives this lesson.  Jesus tells the people that they need spiritual more than physical sustenance.  He wants them to see that no matter how much they enjoyed the bread that he provided, his example of service is more valuable.  He will die on the cross so that they might live for one another and not exclusively for themselves.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:34-42; John 6:1-15)

It goes without saying that Pharisees are not gospel favorites.  Many picked on Jesus because they could not recognize that his healing on the Sabbath marked the dawning of a new age.  But the New Testament does recall some Pharisees who helped Christ.  Nicodemus in the Gospel of John comes first by night to learn from him and then in daylight to bury him.  Paul calls himself a Pharisee.  In today’s reading form the Acts of the Apostles a leading Pharisee defends the apostles in front of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

Of course, Gamaliel does not accept Jesus.  He only states that as a matter of policy religious tolerance is more judicious than persecution.  His reasoning is memorialized in the saying: “…if (Christianity) comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”  Such religious tolerance was mandated by Vatican II but with a different logic.  The Council taught that the human conscience is inviolable.  No state or person has a right to interfere with how an individual worships God.

During Easter time the first reading at mass from Acts guides our recall of the early Church.  Every day we learn more of Christianity’s spread from Jerusalem throughout the world.  From the readings we should realize that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit.  She has no reason to fear other faith traditions.  Indeed, there is need to dialogue with them concerning the experience of God.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:27-33; John 3:31-36)

A couple of years ago a florist in Seattle was sued by a patron when she wouldn’t provide flowers for his “marriage” to another man.  The florist, a woman, did not harbor personal dislike for the client.  Rather she believes that homosexual marriage violates God’s law and that her providing flowers would comprise sinful complexity in evil.  In a letter to the Seattle Times the florist wrote: “Rob (the patron) was asking me to choose between my affection for him and my commitment to Christ.  As deeply fond as I am of Rob, my relationship with Jesus is everything to me.”  The florist expresses the same sentiment as the apostles in today’s first reading.

The Jewish authorities have told the apostles that they are not to preach the name of Jesus.  But they cannot not do it.  They have been commissioned by Jesus and charged by the Holy Spirit to witness to him as the world’s salvation.  Obeying the authorities would be defying God’s will.

We need to ask ourselves whether our relationship with Jesus is the most important element of our lives.  Do we love him above all because of what he has done for us?  He created us, shared our struggles, and then died to free us from sin’s claws.  More than anyone or anything, he is worth our allegiance.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:17-21; John 3:16-21)

Today’s gospel contains the most famous verse of the Bible.  People have only to see the reference to know its content.  Indeed, “John 3:16” has become a kind of code reminding Christians of God’s love and calling skeptics to trust.

Curiously, the words are not put in quotation marks.  Evidently, modern editors think they belong to a narrator, not to Jesus.  It would be at least a little odd that Jesus would speak of himself in the third person.  More likely, the words are those of teachers like the apostles in today’s first reading.  Certainly, calling those who do not believe in Jesus “condemned” will raise the ire of Jewish priests.

We may be repulsed when seeing “John 3:16” on poster board at football games.  But that is because of the modern tendency to privatize religion.  Those who brandish such signs hardly wish to condemn anyone.  They likely want only to tell the world of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps we can enhance their efforts by Christian service.  When we feed the hungry and visit the sick in the name of Christ, our deeds will speak more eloquently than words.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Feast of Saint Mark, evangelist

(II Peter 5:5b-14; Mark 16:15-20)

There is irony in the use of this gospel passage on this feast of St. Mark.  In all probability the author of the “second gospel” did not write it.  More likely a scribe appended it to the original gospel years later.  But this twist should be no reason for disillusionment.  All four gospels belong to the Church more than they belong to specific authors.  As such, today’s passage bespeaks the role of the Church in the world.

The passage confirms how an appearance of the resurrected Jesus is associated with a commission to the Church to tell others about him.  In this case, the disciples are not just to preach “to all nations,” as Matthew’s gospel has it, but to “every creature.”  The reason for this universal destination is salvation.  The passage’s proposes an “either-or” response to the message indicating that individuals will be either saved or condemned according to their reception of the message.  This alternative is simplistic in a sense.  For one reason, the signs that are to accompany the preaching are not manifest.  Exorcisms, spontaneous new languages, handling of vipers, swallowing poisons, and curing the sick are rarely seen.  Indeed, non-Christians have often found the gospel overbearing because of the counter-testimony to it which Christians give.

Yet Jesus Christ is still necessary for the world’s salvation.  Only by practicing his message of forgiveness and love will the world move beyond enmity.  This is increasingly necessary as the force of arms and the rapidity of actions increase.  As Martin Luther King once said, "We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools."