Friday, January 1, 2010


(Number 6:22-27; Gal 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

It would seem to be only a coincidence. Nevertheless, it happens every year. Around Christmas there is a rash of funerals. Most pastors with experience can confirm this reality. In spite of our best attempts to create a heaven on earth at this time of year, people continue to suffer and die.

The truth of the matter is that Christmas can either bring hopeful promise or bitter disillusion. The real problem is not that physically sick people let go of life at Christmas. It is that spiritually sick people are blind to the maladies affecting them. God sends His son to save us from our sins. But we must acknowledge our sinfulness and ask God’s pardon. That is, we must repent of the evil in our hearts that may result in our moral demise. Only by so doing, can we accept the salvation that God offers in his new-born son.

In the gospel today, we see three groups of people receiving the good news of Jesus’ birth in different ways. First, the shepherds hear from the angels that a savior is born and act on the message. They go to Bethlehem to see the child who is their Lord and King. They also tell others of what has taken place to fulfill the Gospel call to evangelize. We may see ourselves as these shepherds. After all we come to church today in order to worship our savior. Let us not forget to testify to others all that God has done for us. Have you ever had a prayer answered? Probably it has happened frequently. Then don’t be reluctant to tell even cynics of how God has blessed you.

The second group that we encounter is the people who are amazed at what the shepherds tell them but fail to move with the good news. Rather, like others later in the gospel who witness Jesus’ mighty deeds, they cut short their acceptance of him. We can understand these resisters as representative of the millions who celebrate Christmas with tinsel, mistletoe, and perhaps attendance at midnight mass but avoid the deeper meaning of the feast. They are like those whom the gospel parable compares to rocky soil in which the word of God cannot make deep roots. In the busyness of life these people’s faith withers and dies.

The third group is really just one person. Mary has already acted decisively on the good news announced to her also by an angel. The passage today says that she reflects in her heart on the events taking place. Thus, Mary becomes the model Christian in whom the word of God has taken firm root and whose fruit is abundant. We will find people like Mary attending mass daily and delivering food weekly for the St. Vincent de Paul Society

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:18-21; John 1:1-18)

Some people may find it curious that the Church ends the calendar year with a reading from the beginning of one of the gospels. However, those who remember the so-called Tridentine Mass will recognize the passage as the “Last Gospel.” It is still read at the closing of every mass celebrated according to the Tridentine rubrics.

The passage itself summarizes the story the whole gospel is about to tell. The Word of God, Jesus the Christ, existed before creation began and is the source of all creation. Although he is one with God, he came to live with humans so that we might share in the life of God. But like coyotes returning to their dens at sunrise, humans often reject the light of Christ. To those who brave the shame of having their sins exposed, however, Christ confers the grace of forgiveness.

Today is a choice day for going to confession. We want to end the old year reconciled for the mistakes we have made. And we want to begin the new year with a resolve to live in accordance with the light of Christ.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Sixth Day of the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:12-17; Luke 2:36-40)

Two notes about the gospel passage today may serve as guidelines for the coming year. First, the evangelist Luke is typically gender-inclusive here. He has just finished telling how the holy man Simeon recognized Jesus as the light to the nations. Now he similarly relates how the prophetess Ana sees Jesus as the redeemer of Israel. Later in his gospel when Luke tells of God’s concern for the sinner, he compares God first to a shepherd searching for a lost sheep and then to a woman sweeping her house clean to find a missing coin. Likewise, when Luke describes Jesus describing how the Kingdom of God bountifully grows, he includes the story of a woman mixing yeast with flower in making bread along with that of a man planting a mustard seed in his field. We should similarly strive for inclusivity in our speech. God has made women and men as complements. The Church could not exist without the good-will efforts of both genders. It is a sin to deliberately disregard either.

Second, the prophetess Ana is said to live praying and fasting. She is obviously meant to be considered an ascetic, but this does not mean that we cannot imitate her. Indeed, regular fasting as well as praying will make us, like Ana, keen to the presence of God in our midst.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:3-11; Luke 2:22-35)

A well-published scholar once ignited a holy man’s ire by calling John’s letters, “New Testament baby-talk.” The scholar only meant to say that John’s letters possess simplicity and directness as if they were written for children. We see this in today’s first reading. “Whoever loves his brother remains in the light...,” John writes, “Whoever hates his brother remains in darkness...”

John does not have enemy-love in mind here as if he were challenging Christians to love those who hate them. Nor does he mean exactly that Christians have to love blood brothers and sisters. He is simply reiterating Jesus’ commandment to his community of disciples that they love one another. It may sound easy, but hard feelings can sprout like weeds when humans associate. Disputes have originated in the Altar and Rosary Society and in the Holy Name Society as if these associations were different bands of pirates in search of the same treasure. Everyone feels frustration, envy, and even enmity with his or her associates at times. John is saying that we must overcome these troublesome sentiments.

John would be oversimplifying if he meant that we may limit our love to those with whom we go to church. Certainly such love for brothers and sisters in the religious or parish community teaches toleration, respect, and compassion so that we in turn may love even those who hate us.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

(I John 1:5-2:2; Matthew 2:13-18)

In Europe you might find your car’s tires flat today. Or perhaps there will be three unordered pizzas delivered to your door. The Feast of the Holy Innocents is Europe’s equivalent to America’s “April Fools Day.” It is prime time to play practical jokes on good-natured people.

We may be shocked by the European frivolity on a day that remembers the slaughter of children. But perhaps Holy Innocents Day jokesters just take to heart the belief that the infants have gone to God. “So why not rejoice?” they might ask. Somehow, however, that is just too casual an attitude for many of us. It does not recoil at the grotesque injustice of the blood of children. It also begs the question: why live at all?

We all may be able to recite the answer to that question. We live to know, love, and serve God in this world and to be happy with him in the next. If this is so, the tragedy of children dying is, in part, the irreversible condition of their minds being wasted. Dead children cannot come to know God very well. Yes, they should receive the beatific vision in heaven. Now there might be something marvelous about seeing God through children’s eyes. But just as the art connoisseur will appreciate aspects of a Rubens painting that completely escape the uncultured so growing in wisdom should make us more enthralled at God’s glory. It is good to grow old then if we accordingly grow in wisdom. Conversely, it is a tragedy when one dies young.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Nativity of the Lord

(Isaiah 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14)

Costa Rica is a tourist hot spot. Now would be a good time to visit. The rains have ended, and fresh breezes sweep across the country. Beach water is always warm, and now there is a decent chance of seeing a night-time show of volcano-streaming lava. A distinct attraction of December, which you will not find in tourist guides, is the kiosks found in many commercial areas. The vendors sell locally made crèches with a variety of animals that go well beyond the traditional ox, ass, camel, and sheep. You will find ducks and geese, dogs and others. Animals take prominent place in our imagination of the first Christmas although not one is mentioned in the gospel other than the sheep which the shepherds tend in the fields.

We might ask ourselves then what put these animals in our heads. The answer goes beyond the idea of all creation worshipping its Lord. What conjures the presence of animals at that first Christmas is the insistence of the gospel writer that Jesus was laid in a manger, the farm animals’ feeding trough. The evangelist Luke is certainly sparse with details about Jesus’ birth. He does not give the hour or the weather. Nor does he say that the place of birth was a barn, a stable, or a cave. But he tells us three times within ten verses that Jesus was laid in a manger to remind us of something the prophet Isaiah writes at the beginning of his book.

Appalled by crying orphans and exploited workers, the prophet says, “An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger, but Israel does not know (the Lord).” Isaiah, of course, lived twenty-seven centuries ago, seven hundred years before Jesus was born. Times then, like times now, were both good and bad. There was wealth, but it was unevenly enjoyed. There were armies, but Israel was being menaced by a powerful enemy to the northeast. The people brought offerings to the temple, but God was not impressed because of the lack of righteous living at home. By showing Jesus in a manger at which the shepherds of Israel arrive, Luke suggests that finally the situation has changed. The people now recognize their God just as the ox knows its owner and the ass, its master’s manger.

We also might ask ourselves if things now have reverted to the conditions of the prophet Isaiah’s time. Let’s not try to speak for the whole world or even for the United States. After all, neither claims to be the People of God. But as a church, do we take care of the poor, give God His due, and live righteously? Certainly not one hundred percent, but most of us try to live our faith. Catholics maintain soup kitchens and food pantries. One Catholic organization connects children in the third world to families in American parishes in a quasi-adoption relationship. This year in our diocese, as happens in many others, seven thousand Catholics are taking part in faith-sharing groups in order to know God better.

Yet we grumble. In one parish the people are upset with the pastor because their names acknowledging contributions for a new organ were posted too high on a wall for others to notice. Many of us seem unable to leave a conversation until we have added a critical remark. And some of us are even prone to curse the elderly driver moving cautiously in front of us. Jesus has come again to prune away these faults. He does it today just by showing himself to us as a baby whose image we might kiss and whisper words of affection to. These intimacies pledge our adherence to the demanding road of holiness he sets for us as an adult.

Put all the animals you find in Costa Rican kiosks at the Nativity scene. Add others – wolves, lions, and cobras -- to create another chapter of the same prophet Isaiah. When Immanuel – God-with-us – has come, “...the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” He’s here now to accompany us beyond the critical remarks of enemies. He’s here now to enable us to assist crying orphans and exploited workers. He’s here now so that we might know God better.

December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

(II Samuel 7:1-5.8b-12.14a.16; Luke 1:67-79)

The children of a mountain village in Honduras are too poor to expect anything for Christmas other than tamales on the table. As Christmas gifts they promise the infant Jesus to pray harder and to do their chores more willingly. These children may be closer to the meaning of Christmas than counterparts in wealthy country who cry if they do not receive the play station that they have had an eye on. However, all of us should be careful to note that the original Christmas gift is not something humans do for God or for one another. Rather, it is God’s initiative to send His son to us.

The first reading expresses the paradoxical gift. David wants to build a house for God. Astuteness more than piety may be his motive. David knows that if the Ark of the Covenant were kept in a shrine in Jerusalem, all Israel would come to his city, In telling David what He will do for him, God is reminding him that the people are His -- God’s -- not the king’s. He shall give David present rest from his enemies, and a future descendant who will rule forever.

We recognize this descendant as Jesus, the Christ. Zechariah sees his arrival as imminent. He compares the coming Christ to the sun giving light and warmth without which a life of grace would be impossible.

December 23, 2009

Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Advent

(Malachi 3:1-4.23-24; Luke 1:57-66)

Whatever Malachi had in mind when he wrote that God will send Elijah to “turn the hearts of the father to their children,” we should hear him today as addressing the social pathology of children born outside marriage. Almost forty percent of the births in the United States are made by unwed mothers. As a result the children are more likely to suffer poverty, emotional problems, and learning difficulties. Nevertheless, having children without a vowed partner has become fashionable as high-paid professionals testify to how doable it is.

We understand Malachi as foretelling the coming of the John the Baptist who would castigate sex out of marriage as he did other sins. He would find multiple victims of the abuse. The unintended offspring may be the most aggrieved, but certainly the individuals directly involved are not left unscathed, and society – like a cable under constant stress -- is weakened. God, who loves His people immensely, cannot help but take offense.

God also acts to relieve the situation. He sent John to warn of punishment for sinners, and now He gives us Jesus who will employ another strategy. He will expose the barrenness of self-love. It gratifies some immediate desire but will end in the coldness of the earth. Emulating his care for others -- especially for one’s own offspring -- puts one close to the path of eternal happiness.

December 22, 2009

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Advent

(I Samuel 1:24-28; Luke 1:46-56)

The movie It's a Wonderful Life has more than a holiday ending to recommend it as an all-time Christmas classic. More crucially, the film reflects all the hope that the child Jesus brings into the world. The schemes of the villain Potter are vanquished while poor people are enabled to live with dignity. Most of all, God comes to the help of his faithful servant, George Bailey, in his hour of desperation. Life is, indeed, wonderful because God has entered into it.

What director Frank Capra puts on film, Mary proclaims in the gospel today. She sings of how in sending His son into the world, God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty. Mary makes these claims after pondering in her heart all that the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth tell her. She is the New Testament’s first human evangelizer who after hearing the word of God reinterprets its meaning for everyday lives.

December 21, 2009

Monday of the Fourth Week in Advent

(Song of Songs 2:8-14; Luke 1:39-45)

In a novel a gardener critiques a sign that reads, “Vine-grown tomatoes.” The gardener says something like, “What’s so great about that? Where else are tomatoes going to grow? What we want are vine-ripened tomatoes.” The comment enlightens the gospel reading today in two ways.

First, something like the difference between vine-grown and vine-ripened tomatoes, the blessing Elizabeth bestows on Mary is not so much that she is the mother of Jesus but that she “believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” It is an awesome responsibility to be the mother of God. But to act consistently on the belief that God has made us His own with the words, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” at the pouring of the water is a more remarkable accomplishment.

Second, Caryll Houselander, a twentieth century English mystic, wrote that during Advent Christ is to grow within us as he grew in the Virgin’s womb. At this late date he should be almost full-term or, if you don’t mind, ripened. Each of us, if we have reflected on the meaning of his coming as related in the Scripture readings at mass, should realize that he is our best consolation and ultimate hope. Promised as a comfort to Israel in their suffering, Jesus is the true wisdom that guides us through difficulties and temptations to spiritual peace. He also gives life to our desire that when our individual trajectories have run their courses, we do not drop into oblivion but into the merciful arms of our loving Father.

Friday, December 18, 2009

December 18, 2009

(Jeremiah 23:5-8; Matthew 1:18-25)

In the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston hangs an illustrative painting of the holy family in Egypt. Mary holds Jesus in her arms with a sphinx as protection from the wind while Joseph reclines at a distance keeping guard over his precious charges. This picture may be contrasted with a popular, contemporary sculpture of the holy family with Mary holding Jesus snuggled in the arms of Joseph. The museum painting intimates the perpetual virginity of Mary while the contemporary statue suggests sexual intimacy.

Today’s gospel saying, “He (Joseph) had no relations with her (Mary) until she bore a son...” seems to imply that after Jesus’ birth Joseph and Mary had normal marital relations. However, John Meier, one of today’s foremost gospel scholars, comments that the word for until in Hebrew and Greek “need not mean that there was a change in the situation after Jesus’ birth.”

The issue is important although, perhaps, not critical. We find it in the First Letter to the Corinthians where Paul writes, “It is a good for a man not to touch a woman” so that he or she (certainly the same holds for a woman) might dedicate himself or herself completely to the Lord. We certainly think of Mary as so dedicated. Of course, the elevation of virginity does not disparage marriage. Indeed, some married people live far holier lives than virgins who think of little else than having sexual relations or, for that matter, the unmarried who prefer to remain single out of self-serving independence.

December 17, 2009

December 17, 2009

(Isaiah 45:6c-8.18.21c-25; Matthew 1:1-17)

Readers of Genesis are sometimes confounded why the royal lineage of Israel passed through Judah, and not Rueben, Jacob’s first-born, or Joseph, his charismatic favorite. Judah, however, was chastened by his affair with Tamar to become a wise leader. He seems to have had good instincts as he won the argument not to murder the haughty brother, Joseph, but to sell him to merchants. Still, the unrighteous incident with Tamar taught Judah responsibility for his actions as well as the need for consummate virtue in leading a nation. Later in Genesis Judah shows his willingness to sacrifice himself for his family before Jacob chooses him as his successor.

The genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew read today shows Jesus as the culmination of Abraham’s dynasty. We can assume that wisdom grew as one generation succeeded another. Certainly there were setbacks along the way, but Matthew tells us that at the appointed time God presents His Son through the lineage that includes Joseph, Mary’s husband. The stage is set. Humans have achieved about as much natural knowledge as they need. Now Jesus will give God’s supreme lesson of unmerited and unlimited love.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Wednesday of the Third Week in Advent

(Isaiah 45:6c-8.18.21c-25; Luke 7:18a-23)

Although there are other global icons today, forty years ago it was said that three things existed throughout the earth– Coca-Cola, Volkswagen, and the Chinese. The thrust of the second part of the book of the prophet Isaiah – which is conveniently called “Second Isaiah” – is that the same God exists throughout the world. The prophet himself, schooled in Babylonia, declares that other nations may have had idols but they are trinkets, not gods. He could say even more confidently than his ancestors: Yahweh alone is God!

Monotheism sends missionaries throughout the world so that all men and women might know the one God. It also makes us prepare with as much fervor as we can manage for the coming of this God among us as human.

Tueday, December 15, 2009

Tuesday of the Third Week in Advent

(Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13; Matthew 21:28-32)

In his book on faith historian Paul Johnson tells of a fire-and-brimstone preacher who had to change his tune. The preacher said that in his early years people packed the churches and hung on his words. But with a new era (the 1970s or so) similar congregants no longer believed in the ravages God supposedly racks on sinners.

John the Baptist seems to have a similar difficulty, at least with the more sophisticated type of listener. According to today’s gospel his warnings about hellfire cause at least some publicans and prostitutes to change their ways but the self-righteous ignore him. Today we imagine these sophisticates making excuses for their sins like the delinquents in West Side Story: “I’ve got a social disease”

Jesus, however, assures us that there is no excuse for not repenting. Each of us is in constant need of repair to extract prejudice, carelessness, and pride. That he is here to help us is what Christmas is all about.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Memorial of St. John of the Cross, priest and doctor of the Church

(Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17a; Matthew 21:23-27)

Balaam was a holy man who lived in Palestine just before the Israelites occupied the territory. When Balak, the king of the Moabites, saw the oncoming Israeli horde, he summoned Balaam to curse the intruders. Balak’s strategy was that a saint’s curse would provide him the margin of victory in war with the newcomers. Balaam, however, could not comply with the king wishes because he saw how God was favoring the Israelites. The rising star which he saw in the heavens represented the ascendency of Israel’s prominence in the land.

Christians at least since the time of the writing of Matthew’s gospel view the star as a reference to Jesus. He is the light shining from the Jewish people to guide the world in righteousness.

The gospel today shows us to take Jesus’ seriously. Many have trivialized the salvation which he offers by reducing Christmas and, indeed, Christianity to nostalgia. As the passage demonstrates, Jesus can outwit sanctimonious adversaries who mean trip him up. He also provides us the capacity to prevail in our struggle with sin.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday of the Second Week in Advent

(Isaiah 48:17-19; Matthew 11:16-19)

It is curious to hear people making excuses for not exercising daily. They say that early in the morning they are not ready to move their bodies and that later in the day they are too busy. Or that they are too cold in the morning and too tired in the evening. Doctors, no doubt, wonder if this kind of patient really wants good health.

Jesus feels the frustration of doctors in the gospel passage today. He sounds amazed that the people refuse to repent despite the testimony of God’s best preachers. John, who warned the people to repent or face God’s wrath, was rejected because he lived on grasshoppers and honey. Then Jesus, who preached a similar message of repentance but for the motive of sharing in God’s goodness, is repudiated for eating and drinking with everyone.

We are required to repent and our repentance must be on-going. Perhaps it is more helpful to use the word conversion. The twentieth century theologian Bernard Lonergan wrote of the need for ever deeper conversion. He says that we convert intellectually by knowing ever more deeply through experiencing, understanding, judging, and believing. Then we convert morally by calling good not what satisfies but what corresponds to true value. Finally, we convert religiously by falling in love as God loves which, we may say, is the full realization of sanctifying grace.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Thursday of the Second Week in Advent

(Isaiah 41:13-20; Matthew 11:11-15)

When the elderly woman was told that she might enjoy reading a popular spiritual writer, she dropped her eyes in humility. Then she explained that she only went to school for a couple of years and never learned to read well. Most of the world, in contrast, is fortunate to have at least a basic education. People may not read enough, but at least they have the basic skills. Likewise most people in the world have access to medical care and hygiene which has dramatically increased the average life span.

If we count our blessings in this way, we can understand why Jesus calls “the least in the kingdom of heaven” greater than John the Baptist. The “least in the kingdom” includes all of us. We are blessed in a way that John was not because we have experienced the fullness of the Kingdom in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Of course, we were not there to witness these events, but in participating in the liturgy of the Church, especially the Eucharist, we encounter for ourselves the risen Christ.

Although John did not witness the Kingdom in its fullness and could not appreciate the extent of God’s love that it brought, he was certainly aware that an experience of God demands human response. John’s constant message was repentance. We must change our sinful ways if we are to benefit from the Kingdom’s blessings. John is the central figure of these middle weeks of Advent because he reminds us that the king who is to come will require some sacrifice on the part of his subjects as he transmits to them the fullness of life.

Wednesday, December 8, 2009

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

(Isaiah 40:25-31; Matthew 11:28-30)

In the 1960s an Episcopalian priest wrote a popular prayer book entitled Are You Running with Me, Jesus? Evidently the author felt more pressured by the demands Jesus seems to make than relieved by the rest Jesus offers in the gospel today. Therefore, he had to ask Jesus’ assistance in fulfilling his ministry.

Of course, we can count on Jesus to help us and should go to him in need. However, it is possible that we make too much of our own efforts and fail to find the comfort that Jesus offers us in his love. Often we can allow others to do the work that we arrogantly see only ourselves capable of performing. Also, it is possible to give more effective witness to Christ by retreating in prayer for a regular period everyday than by constant motion in meeting needs. Some of the most accomplished religious leaders of our times – including Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II – have seen their success in ministry flowing out of daily meditative prayer.

In his book on Jesus, Pope Benedict underscores this truth by claiming that in inviting others to find rest in himself, Jesus is proclaiming himself to be the Sabbath. But his Sabbath goes far beyond the relief we may experience on Sunday. He provides not just temporary relief from work but permanent release from anxiety. Jesus also puts a yoke on us: we are to love others with the same care and joy that he has for us. In this way, we place ourselves in an environment of goodness which, as Jesus claims, is easy and light to bear.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Genesis 3:9-15.20; Ephesians 1:3-6.11-12; Luke 1:26-38)

At an interview for a job with the Church a young woman was asked what the Immaculate Conception means. The woman hesitated before answering and then sputtered the common misconception which many who should know better think.

The Immaculate Conception, of course, refers to the special dispensation from original sin which Christ’s paschal victory won for his mother. It means that sin never touched Mary from the moment of conception to her last breath on earth. It seems to be an exaggeration to say that she never knew the effects of sin. After all, she witnessed the terrible price that sin exacted from her son Jesus. But we may presume that at Jesus’ death her sorrow was not tinged by self-pity, as ours often is, or by contempt for Jesus’ executors.

In the polemics over the years about Mary’s Immaculate Conception Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, sometimes lose sight of the fact that Mary’s special grace is but an extension of every baptized person’s. Through Christ’s grace Mary never sinned, and through it Christians have their sins forgiven. Rather than contending over theological distinctions, Protestants as well as Catholics should seek to emulate Mary’s desire to have God’s will carried out in her.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Memorial of St. Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 5:17-26)

St. Augustine’s biographer Peter Brown makes an interesting note about St. Ambrose appropriate for Advent. Brown writes that Ambrose would frequently mention kissing in his homilies. According to Brown, Ambrose thought that the love poetry from the Song of Songs, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” refers to the Church greeting Christ when he comes at the end of time. Evidently, after such a long wait the Church desires to be smothered with the love of her master.

It was not that Ambrose was a sensualist – anything but. He was a spiritual man who championed virginity and thought that the soul longed to cast away the body so that it might fly to God. Ambrose was also learned and wise. He was raised a patrician and served as a provincial governor before the clergy and laity of Milan elected him bishop. Since he was not yet baptized at the time, he had to receive the sacraments of initiation before being ordained and consecrated bishop. Once a bishop, he defended the Church against the jealous competitors of the imperial court.

Perhaps more than anything, Ambrose was the consummate man of the Church. A fine scholar, a great preacher, a capable administrator, and a saintly character, St. Ambrose epitomizes all that the Church needs to be to lead people on the way to the Lord.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 29:17-24, Matthew 9:27-31)

Fr. Mark Link, the Jesuit spiritual director, recommends a simple examination of conscience at the end of the day. He urges listeners to pray, “Thank you, Father,” followed by naming a blessing bestowed on the person that day. Then, they are to say, “I am sorry, Jesus,” now identifying a particular sin, perhaps of omission, that he or she committed that day. Finally, they are to pray, “Holy spirit, help me,” and include a challenge that is to be faced tomorrow. When we do this, we begin to notice things that we often overlook.

In the first reading, Isaiah looks toward the coming of the Messiah as a time when “the eyes of the blind shall see.” This literally happens in the gospel when Jesus restores the sight of two blind men. It also happens to us as we become more aware of the world around us through prayers like the one Fr. Link proposes. Invoking the Trinity, Link’s examination of conscience is deeply Christian. Done with Advent awareness of the coming of Christ, it ushers us to a personal encounter with Jesus the Savior.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Memorial of St. Francis Xavier, priest

(Isaiah 26:1-6; Matthew 5:21.24-27)

It is said that since the great Chicago fire at the end of the nineteenth century all buildings in that city have been constructed with brick. Like Isaiah’s rock in the first reading today, brick is stronger than wood and cannot burn. Rock goes even further in providing security and stability. God is more trustworthy than either.

In the gospel Jesus answers the logical question of how we are to trust in God. The passage ends his famous “Sermon on the Mount” where he has outlined the New Law. That law produces righteousness where the Law of Moses fails because it addresses motives, not just effects. Followers will keep their eyes on the prize of heaven. They will not only limit themselves to a “tooth for a tooth” but forswear revenge altogether. They will not only avoid adultery but refrain from looking lustfully. They will not only perform righteous acts but do so in private to assure purity of intention. Observing the New Law means placing ourselves in God’s fortress of rock. Come fire, hurricanes, earthquakes, or high water, God will keep us safe.

Wednesday, December 2, 2004

Wednesday of the First Week in Advent

(Isaiah 25:6-10, Matthew 15:29-37)

Italians have a custom of eating a festive supper on Christmas Eve. It is meatless, to be sure, in honor of the ancient fast on the day before the celebration of the Lord’s coming. But it is hardly penitential. White wine is first served with the pasta and marinera sauce. A hearty red wine follows for the fish entrée. The menu goes on and on ending only with all partakers more than satisfied. The feast resembles the Lord’s promise announced by Isaiah in the first reading today.

God wants to console His people. He promises them that the punishment for their inequity will end in glory. They will forget about destruction and death as they again come to the mountain of the Lord. As the Lord once provided them more than enough manna in the desert so will He throw a much more lavish banquet as they return to Him.

The gospel story of the multiplication of the loaves and fish shows a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Jesus takes compassion on the people who follow him. Nothing is mentioned of rich foods or choice wines, but for people who are really hungry a meal of bread and fish will seem like the buffet brunch at the Ritz-Carlton. The people, it should be noted, do not go to Jesus for food but to learn God’s ways. They are more than satisfied. Jesus feeds their bodies as well as their souls.