Friday, July 28, 2017

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 13:18-23)

People often speak of the necessity to set boundaries.  These are limits that allow relationships to develop without friction.  For example, a person may tell friends that he does not want to be called after 10 p.m.  Often boundaries are implied by the nature of a relationship.  Teachers should not date their students even when both are adults. 

In the first reading today God sets boundaries for humans.  Not keeping the Sabbath or stealing injures our relationship with the Lord.  It should be noted, however, that a literal observance of the Ten Commandments hardly fulfills one’s responsibilities as a Christian.  It is not enough that she refrain from worshipping idols; she must also love God with her whole mind and heart.  It is not enough that he not covet his neighbor’s wife; he must love his neighbor as himself.  This is why, when asked, Jesus did not name any of the Ten Commandments as the greatest.

In writing his moral theology Thomas Aquinas did not concentrate on the commandments.  He realized that if we are to come to know God, we have to do much more than follow rules.  We have to practice virtue.  This is a huge task that might exhaust us from the get-go except for the Holy Spirit.  God breathes this life into our bones so that we might not only avoid evil but also might do good.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 19:1-2. 9-11.16-20b; Matthew 13:10-17)

We think of parables as little stories that illustrate what Jesus is trying to teach.  They are like the vignettes a high school teacher used to tell to make a point.  Most of his students will remember the anecdote about the bank robber Willie Loman.  Asked once why he robbed banks, Loman famously replied, “…because that’s where the money is.”  Then the teacher told his students that they must decide what is most important in life and, like Willie Loman, go after it.

In today’s gospel passage, however, Jesus says that he uses parables to confuse his listeners: “’This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’”  It is only right to ask, what gives?  The evangelist Matthew, writing perhaps fifty years after Jesus, knows that many people have already rejected the message of the gospel.  But even in Jesus’ time many follow him with no intention of heeding his call to repentance.  They merely want to see him work a wonder. For the first group Jesus death and resurrection will seem like a fantasy.  For the second his stories will sound so.

But, hopefully, it is not this way for us.  We believe that Jesus has the words of eternal life and want to follow his teachings.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary    

(Exodus 16:1-5.9-15; Matthew 13:10-17)

A senior citizen tries to pass on the Catholic faith to his adolescent grandson.  When the youth spends a weekend with him, he invariably takes him to Sunday mass.  The youth tells him that he enjoys the experience; however, he has yet to express interest in committing himself to the Church.  Today as we honor Saints Anne and Joachim, the parents of Mary and thus the grandparents of Jesus, we may speculate on their contribution to Jesus’ faith commitment.  

It may be presumed that Anne and Joachim raised Mary as a devout Jew.  They taught her how to wait upon the Lord and instructed her not to follow the winds of the time.  They reminded Mary of how God loves His people and will come to their aid in distress.  Mary, in turn, passed on these instructions to Jesus who perfectly fulfilled God’s will by his sacrifice on the cross.

Catholic grandparents today often have to teach their grandchildren the rudiments faith.  Their own children have often become so alienated from God and the Church that they understand religion as a set of dispensable rites to mark the passage of time.  Where this is the case, grandparents need to convey how human nature is distorted by sin but redeemed by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  They also want to show how heeding Jesus’ words leads to happiness and how embracing him in the sacraments will give them the strength to listen and follow.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Saint James, apostle

(II Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 20:20-28)

As gruesome statistics testify, women are often abused by the men in their lives.  Despite its affront to human dignity, domestic violence too often goes unreported and, consequently, unaddressed.  Domestic violence comprises the proverbial “elephant in the room” of which everyone is aware, but no one wants to talk about.  Sometimes, however, someone breaks the stifling silence to report the crime.  That person acts prophetically like, it is easy to imagine, James the Apostle whose feast we are celebrating today.

The gospel pictures James as the son of Zebedee who, along with his brother John, boldly answers that he can drink from the chalice that Jesus is about to take.  The Acts of the Apostles testifies that James did indeed suffer martyrdom. In fact, it appears that he was the first of the Twelve to do so.  Perhaps he spoke up boldly again when Herod Agrippa’s henchmen started looking for Jesus’ followers.  In any case he gave witness to the Lord with his life.

Probably more often than we want to admit we too should speak up in Christ’s name.  When we see hints of domestic violence, for example, we should at least ask questions.  Giving witness to Christ is more than dying at the hands of people who hate him.  It includes raising our voices, as Jesus did, on behalf of the oppressed.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 14:5-18; Matthew 12:28-32)

When I was a young man discerning a vocation to the priesthood, someone advised me to look for a sign.  It sounded like a good idea, but I never found one.  I entered the Dominican Order with questions that were resolved only years later.  Signs are problematic.  They are difficult to read and the demand for them may attest to a faulty faith.

The Pharisees and scribes want a sign from Jesus.  He has already given them indications that he is God’s messenger.  But they insist on a sign on demand which amounts to testing God.  Jesus spurns the request.  In time – he tells his inquisitors – they will have their sign, but even then they will not believe.

We should not blame others for not believing in Jesus.  Full acceptance of his teaching requires the gift of faith.  But we continue to believe that he is the Son of God who has won for us eternal life because of the signs that surround us.  Everyday we see selfless acts of love performed by people who have committed themselves to him.  We also perform such acts so that those around us may believe in Jesus as well.