Thursday, August 24, 2017

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, apostle

(Revelation 21:9b-14; John 1:45-51)

One of our parish priests used to visit our classrooms shortly before the end of the school year.  He wanted us students to become a “Friend of Christ" by attending the 8:30 mass on Thursday mornings.  It was a small way to initiate a more personal relationship with Jesus. The effort is hardly one-sided.  The Gospel of John shows Jesus initiating personal relationships in almost every chapter.

In today’s reading Jesus recognizes Nathanael, whom we believe to be the same Bartholomew because of his association with Philip.  Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him “under the fig tree.”  It is not known what Nathanael was doing “under the fig tree,” but the remark does touch Nathanael’s heart.  He immediately responds with the Messianic claim that Jesus is “the Son of God…the King of Israel.”  How could Nathanael not follow Jesus now?

We might imagine Jesus saying to us, “Mary, I saw you shopping at Kohl’s,” or “Richard, I noticed you in the office today.”  He is not spying on us, but calling us to join his band of disciples.  It is a community of love which should give all participants never ending joy.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Judges 9:6-15; Matthew 20:1-16)

“Some people have all the luck,” we say when we wonder why others have better looks, bigger muscles, or more brains than we.  We are like the workers in today’s gospel who come to complain about the supposedly unfair pay they have received.  They want to do something about the matter.  People today think that they can do something as well.  They want to manipulate their genetic makeup so that at least their children may look better, feel stronger, and think more swiftly.

But even scientists warn that it’s a bad idea to try to determine future outcomes by genetic manipulation.  Human makeup is so complex that trying to improve one part of it may well result in injury to another.  Also, success in life is more than the sum of one’s looks, strength, and intelligence.  It is best to accept one’s genes for what they are and then strive to become the best person that one can be.

Jesus indicates as much in the parable.  Those who complain about the salary they receive are sent packing by the owner of the vineyard.  Meanwhile those who work hard and receive gratefully what they are given appear doubly blessed.  We are wise to take our cues from them.  Let us not worry about our shortcomings but make most of the talent given to us.  We are wise to thank God daily and ask His help to be His true daughters and sons.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Judges 2:11-19; Matthew 19:23-30)

“Bear” Bryant, the football coach, won the reputation of being a harsh and successful taskmaster.  His players were notoriously slim, not because they didn’t eat but because he trained them so hard.  Coach Bryant’s teams won six national titles in his twenty-five years as the head coach at the University of Alabama.  In today’s gospel Jesus presents himself similarly as the one who leads his disciples to their goal.

The passage challenges its readers.  It seems to indicate that the sure way to eternal life is to renounce wealth and follow Jesus.  It may be asked then, “Are only vowed religious guaranteed a place in heaven?”  An affirmative answer here is faulty on two levels.  First, it misses Jesus’ point that eternal life is not so much a matter of being destitute but of following him.  True, the young man in question is ostensibly called to poverty, but more generally the sine qua non of eternal life is adherence to Jesus, not forfeiting possessions.  Also, taking a vow of poverty or even living in radical poverty does not necessarily mean having a virtuous life.  Again, eternal life is a matter of taking one’s cues from Jesus.

But we should not be overly consoled by the understanding that renunciation of wealth is not absolutely necessary for eternal life.  The rich very often find their greatest satisfaction in what they can do for themselves and not in what God does for them.  Such a stance is incongruent with following Jesus.

Monday, August 23, 2017

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Judges 2:11-19; Matthew 19:16-22)

We think of judges as magistrates who interpret laws and rules in public settings.  The judges of a dance competition, for example, determine which dancers best reflect the principles of agility, creativity, and clarity of expression.  But interpretation is not the principal function of the judges of the Old Testament.  Rather than sit back and decide, these men and women led the people forward by reestablishing righteousness when the ways of God were forsaken. 

Today’s reading from the Book of Judges indicates the difficulty that Israel’s judges faced.  The people were not given to keeping the Covenant which their ancestors made with the Lord.  Rather, they followed the heathen practices of their non-Israelite neighbors.  Their waywardness led to internal weakness and hence subjugation by foreign powers.  God raised up judges to stir ardor within the tribes of Israel to follow His ways.  Regretfully, however, the new righteousness was always short-lived.

The failure of judges to produce lasting goodness eventually gave way to the period of kings who consolidated the tribes and, at least initially, had some success in transforming the people’s errant ways.  Although this arrangement ultimately failed as well, it did bring the hope of a messiah who would bring about lasting righteousness throughout the world.  Jesus fulfilled this expectation by establishing not a political state but a holy people living in every land.  We make up part of this people today and try with all our soul to live up to Jesus’ righteousness. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Joshua 24:1-13; Matthew 19:3-12)

Once crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, I came to the toll booth and was waved on.  When I stopped to inquire why I didn’t have to pay, the toll collector said that the woman in the car ahead of me paid my toll.   I do not know the reason for the woman’s generosity. She did not know me.  Indeed, she could hardly have even seen me.  I presume that she felt grateful about something in her life and just wanted to help another person. 

As the woman was probably the recipient of a favor that she had received, Joshua reminds the Israelites in today’s first reading that their fortune is not their own doing.  Indeed, God has been their benefactor at every stage of their illustrious saga.  The point is that the people should be grateful to God by heeding His commands which are in good part directed to social solidarity.

We must beware that selfishness and greed does not allow us to forget God and neighbor.  All of us, as Joshua says, are beneficiaries of land that we did not till and cities that we did not build.  Richly endowed by our forebears, we are not so much to pay them back as to pay others forward.  That is, we are to give thanks by helping others.  We are to contribute to efforts which shape a society where everyone can live, grow, and prosper.