Monday, January 3, 2011

Monday after Epiphany

(I John 3:22-4:6; Matthew 4:12-17.23-25)

The gospel says that Jesus “withdrew to Galilee.” But we should not think of Jesus as retreating. He is actually heading toward the battlefront. Herod Antipas has just arrested John the Baptist for criticizing his unlawful marriage. Jesus leaves the solitude of the Jordan desert to take up John’s banner in Galilee. His message is the same as John’s, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Herod Antipas can hardly ignore it. We wonder if he will manhandle Jesus as he did John.

Like Jesus we are sometimes called to the battle line. A shouting match turns into a fist fight where someone is going to get hurt. We should intervene. A minority person is accused of wrongdoing, but we know that another – one like us -- did the dirty deed. We must speak up.
Courage enables us to act in such situations. As a natural virtue, courage moves us to defend ourselves and our loved ones. Magnified by the love of God, courage overcomes our fear in the face of danger so that we might act on behalf of what is right.

Certainly St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) showed this elevated courage when the Gestapo came to take her, as a Jewish convert, from her Carmelite monastery. Her sister, who had come to stay with her, was deeply shaken. St. Theresa, however, did not resist or seek to hide. She took her sister by the hand saying, “Come, Rosa, we are going for our people.” She meant that she would die, as Christ did, giving testimony to God’s love first for Jews and then for all people.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

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

To many Catholics the ponderous words of today’s gospel are not obscure but quite familiar. These people were raised before the Second Vatican Council when the first fourteen verses of the passage were recited at the end of every mass. For this reason we may have heard them referred to as “The Last Gospel.”

The passage deserves meditation by old as well as young. Its opening verses enlighten the ancient controversy of whether Christ was really God. Some have questioned whether the belief in Christ’s divinity contradicts God’s unity. The verses tell us not only that Christ, the Word, is God but also show how he can come from the Father yet not after the Father: the Son and the Father with the Spirit existed before time began when there was no before and after. The passage further relates that the Word actually took on human flesh to ground faith not in hypothesis but in the deeds of an historical human, Jesus of Nazareth.

Used as the gospel we read at the final mass of the year, the passage allows us to peak beyond the end of time while it reinforces the purpose of the Word becoming flesh. As Christ existed with the Father before time began, his work as human makes us God’s children so that we might exist with him, the Father, and the Spirit when time ends.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

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

Reading the First Letter of John today corrects tendencies to exaggerate the goodness of worldly pleasures. Especially during the Christmas season, food abounds and drink flows. It is a time for movies, party games, and -- for the more vigorous -- skiing or ice-skating. But, of course, the world poses as many challenges to Christian life as it presents benefits. John’s letter warns Christians of its pitfalls. The “children” to whom it refers are the members of his church community. The “fathers” are the men and women who, having long accepted the faith, know well the love of God which comes through Jesus Christ. The “young men” are newcomers to Christianity. They have overcome the allurements to sin which hold others from commitment to Christ. But still both groups have to stand guard against the world’s temptations which remain the triple threats of lust, envy, and pride.

As we approach the beginning of a new year, we should prepare ourselves to contend with these three great nemeses. We want to seek God’s assistance when lustful desires enter our thoughts. We need to thank God for what we have and to take care that we do not constantly look to our neighbors’ bounty for what we lack. Finally, we should remind ourselves daily that we live to serve God, not to be served by others.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

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

Fifty years ago Dutch theologian Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx wrote a seminal book entitled Christ: The Sacrament of the Encounter with God. In this work the author showed how Jesus in the flesh signifies God’s love for the world like the Eucharist which he left behind. The idea sounded revolutionary at the time but is now accepted as a legitimate way of reflection on Christ’s redemptive work.

In the gospel the visionary Simeon sees the infant Jesus as “a sign that will be contradicted.” He recognizes that Jesus will manifest God’s redemptive love for all, but that many will counter or contradict him. Indeed, Jesus will become the test for the planet. Anyone who accepts him or, at least, his commandments of love of God and love of neighbor will find salvation. Anyone who rejects him or his message will be lost. Simeon’s reference to the sword piercing Mary seems to include her in this test.

Often we dwell on Simeon’s words to Mary as prophesizing Jesus’ death on the cross which she survives. However accurate that line of thinking is, we do well to open ourselves to the prophecy as a matter of acceptance or rejection of Jesus as sign of God’s love. We will note that during Jesus’ ministry Mary proves herself as the first to follow Jesus by meditating on the events of his life and acting on them. Thus, she becomes as the model of discipleship for all of us to follow.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

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

Gospel analysts easily show that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have different sources for their accounts of Jesus’ birth. Where Matthew situates Joseph and Mary Bethlehem well before Jesus’ birth, Luke has them journeying from Nazareth. Where Matthew tells of the magi coming to adore the Lord, Luke pictures shepherds. Where Matthew writes of the Holy Family in flight to Egypt after the birth, Luke has them going up to the Temple in Jerusalem. However, these divergent details should not provoke doubt. In essential matters the two evangelists coincide.

First and very important, Jesus is born to Mary, who remains a virgin, and to Joseph, who gives him a name and a lineage. Secondly, Jesus is born in Bethlehem but comes to live in Nazareth. Finally and significantly, both narratives of his birth include a reference to the passion that Jesus will eventually endure. In today’s gospel the reference is more direct and ominous. Herod searches for the infant Jesus in order to kill him. The oblique reference to the passion in Luke comes in the midst of Simeon’s prophecy that Jesus will be the source of the rise and fall of many in Israel and because of this a sword shall pierce his mother’s heart.

The Church takes up this connection between the birth and death of Jesus by celebrating the Feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen, on the day following Christmas. In conformity to this revelation we should temper our jubilation with the realization that the mystery of the Incarnation is but the first step in Jesus’ complete sacrifice of himself to deliver us from sin and death. Also, the suffering of the innocent martyrs remembered today should remind us of the need to suffer with Jesus so that we might rise with him to glory.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist

(I John 1:1-4; John 20:1a.2-8)

In the first couple centuries after Christ, Christians had to contend with the heresy of Docetism. Evidently finding incredible the apostles’ testimony that the Son of God actually became human, Docetists believed that he only had the semblance of a man but remained a spirit. In the section from the Letter to John which we read today, the writer offers a striking rebuttal. “What we…touched with our hands,” the author says, “concerns the Word of life.”

Today we are challenged by the contrary heresy that Jesus was not God at all but only human. Proponents of this way of thinking acknowledge Jesus’ wisdom and goodness but do not think him worth of implicit following. According to these detractors, Jesus is just one in a series of many holy men and women including Buddha, Gandhi, and maybe Mary Baker Eddy.

Some of us may be attracted to the contemporary rejection of the Christian claim of Jesus’ divinity as freeing faith from mythical elements. It also dismisses, in effect, our fellowship with the Father and the Son and the promise of eternal life found in the Letter of John. We do not concur with the idea that Christian belief is mythical. It is not so much because such a stance takes away our hope but, more to the point, because it conflicts directly with what those who, like John, actually knew Jesus have told us about him.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday of the Fourth Week of Advent

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

The Church aids our reflection on the mystery of the Incarnation by presenting different titles for Jesus on the seven days before Christmas Eve. The titles comprise the kernel of what are commonly called the “O Antiphons” sung at Evening Prayer and echoed in the “alleluia” acclamation before the gospel reading at Mass. Someone has cleverly noticed that the first letters of the Latin titles given backwards, beginning with E for Emmanuel on December 23, form the acrostic ERO CRAS, which means “I will be tomorrow.” Tomorrow we will celebrate Christ’s being with us as a human being, a gift which might take our breath away.

The titles of the “O antiphons” in the order of the acrostic run as follows. E is for Emmanuel: Jesus is literally “God-with-us.” R is for Rex: he is the king who will care for our needs. O is for Oriens: Jesus comes as the dawn bringing the light of truth. C is for Clavis: he holds the key of David to heaven’s door. R is for Radix: Jesus comes from the root of Jesse, a royal pedigree assuring capability. A is for Adonai: he is the Lord God of Israel who loves the poor and oppressed. And S is for Sapientia: Jesus dispenses wisdom to assist us on the earthly sojourn.

We are encouraged to attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The reason for mass at midnight goes deeper than waiting for the clock to officially toll the beginning of a new day. Jesus promises to return “like a thief in the night” and asks his disciples to stay awake in vigilance waiting for him. Beyond dining and exchanging Christmas presents, we should pray and perhaps reflect again on the titles of the “O antiphons” as we await his presence at mass in the middle of the night.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent

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

In Luke’s gospel John the Baptist clearly takes the place of Elijah, the prophet of fire. John warns the people that unless they reform, they will be cut down like trees and burned. In this way John goes before the Lord, as his father Zechariah proclaims in his song of jubilation at his naming, “to prepare his ways.”

Jesus will not take up John’s message of the primacy of divine wrath. Rather, his preaching will center on God as the human’s benefactor. Although Jesus will not shrink from mentioning God’s power to cast sinners into hell, he will stress God’s love. God, he will say, has counted the number of hairs on each faithful person’s head to insure her or his total salvation.

Since love can be looked upon as a kind of fire, we might contrast John’s theme with Jesus’ using the same image. Fire can destroy dispassionately as well as purify with all compassion. John, following Elijah, will use the threat if not the force of a blazing fire to warn us of the danger that dissolute living incurs. In contrast God’s love, incarnate in Jesus, burns like a surgeon’s laser beam not harming but healing us and making us whole.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

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

Looking for a relationship between the reading from Samuel and the gospel today, we may be hard-pressed. “What does the account of Hannah’s delivering her son into the Lord’s service have in common with Mary’s praise of the Lord?” we might ask. The answer is hidden. If we refer to the first chapter of the First Book of Samuel we will find that Hannah next statement after dedicating her son to the Lord resembles Mary’s praise of God in the gospel. Like Mary, Hannah tells of the mighty being humbled, the well-fed searching for bread, and the poor being lifted up.

Nevertheless, Mary does more in her prayer of praise then paraphrase the Old Testament. More significantly, she interprets the preaching of her son which we have heard throughout this past year. In Luke’s gospel Jesus reiterates continually the message of the wealthy being humbled and the poor being elevated, oppressors being silenced while the suffering are relieved. Mary says something similar but pertinent to her situation. God has shown favor to her, His lowly servant, by making her the bearer of His son. Furthermore, he has rescued Israel by sending His Son as the nation’s savior.

Mary is doing the work of a preacher who brings to life God’s word in present circumstances. It is not enough for a homilist to retell the gospel; he or she must apply it to contemporary times if listeners are to find hope in meeting present challenges. Similarly we should share with others how we have found Christ’s message resonating in our lives. For example, Jesus’ warning of the cost of discipleship rings true when we realize that we must abandon certain acquaintances who tempt us to be accomplices in their sins.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

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

“Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?” Shakespeare begins a famous love poem (Sonnet 18) and continues, “Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” Although saints have experienced the love of God, they seldom express themselves more eloquently than human lovers. For this reason the Song of Songs was adopted from Hebrew love poetry to describe God’s love for Israel. Today’s first reading provides a sample of the exquisite love poem reframed to express divine passion.

The Church juxtaposes the passage from the Song of Songs with the gospel of Mary visiting Elizabeth to indicate the joy God brings to His people. Mary bears Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, into the presence of the not-yet-born John representing the expectant Israel. Unable to express his glee in words, the fetus leaps in his mother’s womb. Likewise, Israel can rejoice for at long last her lover has come to save her from disgrace.

We really should wait until the evening of the 24th to celebrate Christmas; however, like John in the gospel we cannot but anticipate Jesus’ actual birth. Still we should hold jubilation in tension with the watchfulness which Jesus called us to at the beginning of Advent. We need to attend to those who are losing their grip on hope before sitting too comfortably at our table of plenty.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(Isaiah 7:10-14; Luke 1:26-38)

Natural law forbids a military commander to send troops on a suicide mission without their consent. The reasoning for this counterintuitive principle is that soldiers agree to lend their service to a military cause, not their lives. If there is overwhelming probability of death, a commander should obtain the soldiers’ permission before directing them into action.

In the gospel of Mary’s annunciation, God offers the young maiden a similar prerogative to withdraw from His plan of salvation. Although the passage uses the declarative mode “you will...,” the angel waits for Mary’s consent. She is free to refuse to cooperate with the heretofore unheard of plan of conceiving by the Holy Spirit in order that Israel may receive its long-awaited Messiah. In a famous homily, St. Bernard of Clairveaux pictures the world hanging on Mary’s word. “Look how the desired one of all the nations is at your door and calls,” the great medieval preacher pleads to the Virgin in the gospel scene. Of course, Mary does not disappoint but pronounces her “yes.”

As God does not force Mary to participate in His plan, He does not force salvation upon us. We are free to accept or reject it. Although salvation is an entirely gratuitous gift, it can be refused. We have to follow the adult Jesus who will demand of us actions that may not seem easy or pleasant in advance. But once we walk with him, we will experience his commands as not so much burdensome as they are liberating. We may think of them now as directions from a GPS -- the surest way of getting us to where we want to go.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

(Genesis 49:2.8-10; Matthew 1:1-17)

The recurrent symmetry of Jesus’ genealogy will make some readers jump to the more conventional narrative of the gospel. But dutifully considered, the list conveys a story rich in meaning.

Matthew’s genealogy highlights Jesus’ descent both from Abraham, whose descendants God promised to make a blessing to all nations, and from David, who consolidated Israel into a respected kingdom. Thus, it relates a sense of Jesus as the royal Messiah whom God sends to lead the human race into glory.

The list also indicates the world’s readiness for salvation as it divides Jesus’ ancestors in three groups of fourteen generations. Matthew uses the convention of fourteen (two times seven) articles to indicate double fulfillment. As Jesus completes three sets of fourteen generations, we should see him as the apex of history. He has delivered the world from the dark age of sin into a new age of grace.

Finally, the series refers to five valiant women – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, “the wife of Uriah”, and Mary. These heroines corroborate the reality that God often works through the virtue of humans to accomplish His ends.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

(Isaiah 54:1-10; Luke 7:24-30)

One of the most troubling occurrences to people on both sides of the abortion debate is the way politicians use the issue. Both pro-choice and pro-life candidates for public office have waffled on the issue depending on political winds. Certainly we must leave room for the possibility of a change of heart on any issue, but abortion politics defies parameters of true conversion. One could never accuse John the Baptist of courting political favor. Jesus does not see him as a reed bending in the wind because he did not seek any group’s endorsement but as a true prophet stands always with God’s law.

Nor is the Baptist a court dandy. Because he does not play up to kings and princes, he will not be wearing their political gifts of fine robes. He is content with the crudest of garments because he trusts in the Lord who is truer than any monarch. Jesus also underlines this fact in today’s gospel. The irony of Jesus’ statement is that despite all of John’s virtue as a prophet, he does not compare favorably with those who have experienced the Kingdom of God. The latter know of God’s tender mercy where John only views God’s righteous judgment. It has been said that Thomas Aquinas held that God’s justice never sank lower than His mercy in order to retrieve sinners. Jesus assures us of this truth in the gospel today.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

(Isaiah 54:1-10; Luke 7:24-30)

John the Baptist sounds confused in regards to Jesus. He preached that the Messiah would come shovel in hand to burn evil-doers. But Jesus sits down with sinners to talk with them about the love of God. “What’s going on?” John seems to ask, “Are you the one who is to come?” The question is similar to what many today ask: “Is Jesus really our savior? Or perhaps we should put our faith in science to lead us to our heart’s desire?” Trusting in science would mean that we put personal welfare first. If they call us to lend a hand at the night shelter, we should refuse because of our need of a full night’s sleep. We would also support embryonic stem cell research for cures to threatening ailments even though it means the destruction of human life.

Jesus tells John’s emissaries to observe the works he has been performing. His healing of infirmities and casting of demons attest to his being sent from God. We followers of Christ note the best way of giving testimony to his Lordship is by caring for one another. It is not so important that we live fifty years or hundred as long as we pass our time in mutual affection. A young family demonstrated this truth in an adult education class. The father asked if he might bring into the class his daughter with cerebral palsy. The two younger sons stayed just outside the door and played by themselves. The mother explained during the course of the day that the girl becomes agitated only if she or her husband is not holding her. It’s a burden born in love. The family seems to have peace of heart because the younger siblings did not cause the slightest disruption although they were present for the full six hours of classes.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Saint John of the Cross, pastor and doctor of the Church

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

The readings today speak of reform, a theme more appropriate to Lent than Advent. There is still time, the Church seems to be warning us, to turn our lives around before the Lord comes in judgment. Zephaniah, the prophet, describes how corrupt the people became with the image of pollution, which strikes a deep chord with our concern over the environment. Zephaniah continues with an account of a reformed people so innocent that even what we call a white lie makes them reel in reproach.

The gospel shows reform in motion. Jesus tells of two sons of whom the first son changes heart after rejecting his father’s command. The truly fortunate among us resemble this sibling when after spending youth in pursuit of pleasure, power, and prestige, wake up to the call to a life of gratitude and reciprocal service.

St. John of the Cross lived in the midst of reform. The sixteenth century, when John was born and died, was Spain’s glory moment on the world stage. It is easy to imagine corruption in religious orders once dedicated to poverty but re-conformed with the wealth of the age. By word and example John called his Carmelite brothers back to evangelical simplicity and as a result suffered the reaction of his detractors. Nevertheless, he continued preaching his message. Because of this resolve and also because of his peerless spiritual insights, John is recognized as one of the most illustrious Carmelites in history.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Memorial of Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr

(Numbers 24:2-7.15-17a; Matthew 21:23-27)

A paradox of Christmas is that its joy of Jesus’ birth cannot be celebrated without consideration of his brutal death. Not only does awareness of the crucifixion keep us from overdoing merry-making, more importantly it points us to the purpose of Christ’s coming. Matthew will shadow his Christmas narrative with the story of Herod’s merciless slaughter of babes. Luke will have Simeon tell Mary that her child will be the source of the fall of many and that she will be pierced by a sword. Jesus is born so that he might offer himself as a perfect sacrifice making up for all evil.

In today’s readings we receive a foretaste of the bittersweet Christmas celebration. The passage from Numbers reminds us of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. The star which the holy man Balaam sees in the heaven anticipates the star which brings the magi from their homeland to Bethlehem. For us that star refers to Jesus whose passion is hinted at in the gospel. His adversaries in the discussion over the authority of his preaching, “the chief priests and elders of the people,” will pronounce together a little while later that Jesus deserves to die. In fact Jesus’ outwitting them in today’s passage provides part of the motive of the Jewish leaders’ condemnation.

The Church keeps Jesus’ birth in proper perspective by celebrating the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, on the day after Christmas. In that vein we should consider today’s memorial of St. Lucy, virgin and martyr. Before the change of calendars in the eighteenth century, Lucy’s feast coincided with the winter solstice. She was a light in darkness reminding us that God’s grace overcomes the most trying circumstances. With it people can even give their lives in testimony to Jesus being our Savior.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

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

An age-old fable depicts a man who comes in from the cold and blows on his hands to warm them up. When the man is served a bowl of scalding soup, he blows on it to cool it down. The man is then shown the door because he is inconsistent. In a similar way the gospel today expresses the sad fact that the message of God’s kingdom is rejected because the first of its preachers, John the Baptist, is austere while the second, Jesus himself, is festive.

Both preachers call for repentance and proclaim the nearness of the kingdom. But there is a difference to what they are testifying. John’s sees God coming in wrath to punish those who do not act with justice. Jesus, on the other hand, envisions God coming with blessings for those take compassion and pursue reconciliation.

Although there is a similarity at the core, which of the two messages is truer? Jesus provides the clue to the answer when he says, “…wisdom is vindicated by her works.” His healings show that we are on target when we strive to love and forgive.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

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

The venerable teacher had the peculiarity of calling his students “pinheads.” The adolescents under his tutelage, however, did not take offense. Indeed, they perked up at the appellation. In this way the people of Israel probably respond to Isaiah when he calls them “worm” and “maggot” in the first reading. The prophet’s message certainly should capture their attention. Not only does it promise rescue from captivity but also a first-class ticket home.

Early in the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist hurls similar insults as the prophet Isaiah. “Brood of vipers,” he calls the Pharisees and Sadducees who visit him in another desert. The people cling to his word, but for all its power his message still falls short of the full revelation of the Kingdom. Jesus will show how God’s rule is much more a Father who loves than a judge who punishes. This is why Jesus can make the extraordinary claim that the least in the Kingdom – the tiniest one who comes to know the love of God -- is greater than the mighty Baptist.

Wednesday, December 8, 010

The 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)

The United States has the same Immaculate Virgin Mary for its patron as does Nicaragua in Central America. However, the mighty nation does not approach the much smaller country in the magnitude of celebration for her feast day. The night of December 7 in Nicaragua can be compared only to Christmas Eve. People gather with their families in their homes eating and rejoicing. Inevitably the cry rings out, “Why such jubilation? The reason is Mary’s Immaculate Conception.”

Especially the poor, who are legion in Nicaragua, revel because they easily identify with the humble virgin. They sense that God cares about them because He has exalted this possibly lower class, in any case underappreciated person with an honor unparalleled except in the case of His only-begotten Son. But every human should feel the excitement because each of us carried flesh bound for oblivion but now with hope of everlasting life since Mary’s Immaculate Conception anticipates Jesus’ rising from the dead with new life for his followers.

The Immaculate Conception means that Mary was never stained by original sin. This great dispensation did not make life easy for her, only virtuous. The same grace that impelled her to goodness works within us who have been washed in the waters of Baptism. As we celebrate her feast, we should resolve to imitate her virtue.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

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

(Isaiah 40:1-11; Matthew 18:12-14)

Although a remarkable scholar and diplomat as bishop, St. Ambrose is equally remembered for his role in the conversion of St. Augustine. One biographer of Augustine tells the illustrative story of Ambrose going out of his way to assuage the worries of his convert.

Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, was visiting him in Milan where she noticed the people there not fasting on Saturdays in preparation for Sunday. She was so troubled by the practice that Augustine inquired of Ambrose the reason for not fasting. Ambrose told Augustine that he should do what he did himself: if he had a better reason for fasting than not, he would fast. Augustine went away thinking that Ambrose meant that he should dumbly follow authority. But that was incorrect. Ambrose followed Augustine to add that when he went to Rome, he fasted on Saturdays because that is what the people there do. Augustine remarked later that he took Ambrose’s advice “as an oracle from heaven.” Ambrose evidently meant that we should not follow prescriptions blindly but use both our heads to figure out their purpose and our discretion, when allowed, in applying them to ourselves.

Just as in Jesus’ parable the shepherd goes out of his way to find the lost sheep, the bishop Ambrose took pains to see that his people were well educated in the faith.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday of the Second Week in Advent

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

Not too long ago Lake Erie was declared “dead.” It was not that there was no life within it but that its living specimens had become odious and toxic to the people on its shores. Human-produced pollutants caused the dismal condition. It turned into a national emergency when the pollutants caused the Cuyahoga River emptying into the lake to catch fire. Since that time with bi-national cooperation the pollutants have been reduced, and Lake Erie has recovered some of its vitality. The reading from Isaiah today describes a similar regeneration taking place in nature.

Isaiah imagines the Messianic age with streams bursting through the desert sands and wastelands becoming veritable recreation parks. He presents a fitting metaphor for Jesus whom the gospel shows bestowing salvation by healing the people both spiritually and physically. It may seem peculiar to compare Jesus with an eco-system, but such an image conveys the healthy relationships that his presence engenders. He saves us today precisely by making his grace available through the sacraments. They too are like eco-systems into which we should seek immersion with all our hearts.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, priest

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

In explaining why random evolution cannot account for the complexity of life, intelligent design advocates often reflect on the eye. They say that such an intricate organ is not likely to come about by chance, no matter if it had a zillion years to develop. Of course, seeing is not only wonderful, it is imminently useful. For this reason the blind men in today’s gospel seek Jesus’ mercy.

The two men lack physical sight, but they possess another, even more critical, way of seeing. They believe that Jesus is the son of David who will establish God’s definitive rule throughout the world. As Isaiah foretold, he is the one who will open the ears of the deaf, give sight to the blind, and bring release to prisoners. Jesus rewards their faith with a new kind of twenty-twenty vision: they can now see as well with their eyes as they have all along with their souls.

Today the Church remembers St. Francis Xavier, the tireless Jesuit missionary who preached faith in Jesus to thousands of people in Asia. Francis realized that God’s rule would not come about by wielding swords but by sacrificing self in charity.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday of the First Week in Advent

(Isaiah 26:1-6; Matthew 7: 21.24-27)

The Protestant hymn “Rock of Ages” is said to find its inspiration in the reading from Isaiah today. God is “an eternal Rock” who humbles the haughty and protects the poor. A popular story surrounding the origin of the hymn pictures a humble clergyman returning home during a violent thunderstorm and finding shelter in a cave. The curate compares the cave to the pierced side of Jesus from which flowed his saving blood.

In his commentary on rock, Jesus is not so metaphorical. He compares the words that he has just uttered – the “Sermon on the Mount” – to a solid foundation for a building. Living the “Golden Rule” and the other counsels Jesus presents, we will withstand life’s greatest assaults. Death itself will not take us down.

During Advent we ask the Lord to demonstrate his strength. We long to see an end to heartbreak in Haiti and bloodbaths in Baghdad. We even dare to plead that we might become more patient, peaceful, and compassionate.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

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

People speak of “death with dignity,” but, as a leading bioethicist has observed, death always compromises human dignity. It refuses to recognize the person’s desire not only to live but to thrive. Of course, what people mean by the term is a death without the depersonalization of medical technology, without intense long-term suffering, and with the person controlling some of the circumstances about her demise. Full dignity, however, goes beyond these considerations. It is a quality of soul engendered by virtuous living. In death dignity is reflected especially in courage that expresses gratitude for life even as it drains away and pursues reconciliation with God and others to leave the world a friendlier place.

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah promises a heavenly banquet for those who die with full dignity. On that occasion the tears that they may have shed bearing pain or seeking peace will be graciously wiped away. Also, the God to whom they entrusted themselves will reveal Himself as their savior. The gospel passage foreshadows that banquet with Jesus providing the repast as he shows himself the fulfillment of the people’s deepest desires.

During Advent we look for Jesus to come and console us in our efforts to live virtuously. We yearn for him to escort us to the table of plenty which our Eucharist foreshadows. Finally, we hear him tell us the best way to prepare for his arrival is the same virtuous lifestyle.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Feast of Saint Andrew, apostle

(Romans 10:9-18; Matthew 4:18-22)

Although we know very little with certainty about St. Andrew, Catholics probably remember his feast day more than that of any other apostle. November 30 is etched in our minds because of its closeness to the beginning of Advent. The day does not really commence the season, but the Sunday closest to the date always is its beginning.

As Advent begins a new liturgical year, the call of Andrew begins a new chapter in Jesus’ life. Described more specifically in the Gospel according to John but indicated as well in today’s reading from Matthew, Andrew’s vocation marks the beginning of Jesus’ formation of disciples. He will eventually direct part of this entourage – his apostles -- to take his message to the ends of the earth. With this role, as the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans today indicates, apostles are instrumental to many people’s salvation. They also pay a stiff price for the honor. Tradition views each of the twelve apostles, with the possible exception of John, as martyrs. Andrew is said to have been martyred on an X-shaped cross.

At the beginning of Advent, the feast of St. Andrew anchors the Christ, whom we await at the end of time, to the historical Jesus. We are not to wait for him on our haunches but, like this apostle, by evangelizing with words of truth and deeds of mercy. The suffering that we may experience in doing so will give witness to Jesus’ Lordship over creation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday of the First Week in Advent

(Isaiah 4:2-6; Matthew 8:5-11)

Ask any professional about how to do a fund-raising campaign. She will tell you that personal appeal is all important. You have to ask people – face-to-face if at all possible – for money if you expect to reach your goal. The rule is, “If you do not ask for something, you will get nothing.

The centurion in the gospel today seems instinctively aware of the fundraising rule. Very directly he seeks Jesus’ help. What’s more remarkable here, however, is his faith in Jesus as Lord. He does not ask Jesus to come and treat his servant but only to give the order that the servant be healed. Only God with angels at His service would be able to effect a cure from a distance.

As the beginning of Advent, we are being called to imitate this centurion. First, we should not hesitate a moment to call upon Jesus with our needs – preferably person-to-person in the Eucharist. Maybe we seek the healing of someone like the centurion in the gospel or, perhaps, assistance in overcoming a personal challenge. Then we are to put complete faith in him. This does not mean that we expect an answer to our prayers explicitly as requested but that we know that he will take care of our need.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 20:1-4.11-21.2; Psalm 84; Luke 21:29-33)

Apocalypse is the Greek word for revelation. For this reason the last book of the Bible, from which we take the first reading today, is alternatively called the Apocalypse or the Book of Revelation. Apocalyptic literature, however, of which the Apocalypse is the only full New Testament example, has a meaning beyond revelatory. It also refers to the cosmic struggle between God and the powers of darkness causing the end of the world as it now exists and its replacement by the Kingdom of God. Today’s first reading gives a figurative account of that struggle and the coming Kingdom characterized by “a new heaven” and “a new earth.”

Since all acknowledge the destiny of the present world to be annihilation, some have questioned the value of working for a better world. “Why take risks to create a better society” they ask, “when we know that this world is bound to crumble?” The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of the Second Vatican Council addresses this issue. It declares, “…the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one.” Its reasoning is that we can institute values and constructs that will endure in the future age of grace. For sure, it warns us not to equate earthly progress with the heavenly Kingdom, but nevertheless it insists that since Christ began the work of the Kingdom when he walked the earth, his followers have the responsibility of carrying on his efforts. In other words, we must do what we can to build up the Kingdom of God while recognizing that our work can never be perfect or complete. In time, Jesus will come again to crown our achievements.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Day

(Sirach 50:22-24; I Corinthians 1:3-9; Luke 17”11-19)

There is a touch of irony in the fact that the Pilgrims, who originated the American tradition of Thanksgiving, did not celebrate Christmas. When December 25 came around, the Pilgrims made sure not to stop their work to rejoice. They considered the celebration of Christmas a pagan custom to be shunned. Today, of course, Thanksgiving begins the Christmas season in the United States. From the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Christmas Parade to “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, when Christmas shopping begins in earnest, Thanksgiving anticipates the celebration of the Lord’s birth.

There is certainly sufficient reason for linking Thanksgiving Day and Christmas. As St. Paul does in the first reading today, we reserve our most special thanks to God for Jesus Christ. He crowns our lives with hope and infinite love. At times, in our struggle to do the right thing – to become holy, as Pope Benedict constantly reminds us – we wonder if anyone cares. We may not want to make a spectacle of our donation to charity because Jesus tells us to give alms in secret but wonder whether it would be better for everyone if people saw what we are doing. Jesus, however, assures us that our heavenly Father notes our action. Or perhaps we ask ourselves if we should not listen to lewd comedians as many people do. But then we remember how Jesus promises that the pure of heart shall see God.

Today Americans give thanks for many gifts, especially freedom, opportunity, and plenty. Yet God’s most precious offering to us is His son who deepens our freedom, expands our opportunities, and multiplies our plenty. Our thanks to Him for these benefits stretch from today, through Christmas and throughout the new year.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, priest and martyr and his companions

(Revelation 15:1-4; Luke 21:12-19)

Eastern Europeans are largely oblivious to wide-eyed Western idealists who show little stomach for arms. Tempered by the bitter experience of iron-hand Communist rule, Poles, Czechs, and Ukrainians suffer few illusions that nations will live in harmony anytime soon. They would resonate with John, the Presbyter, in the first reading. After being exiled, he only revels at the dream of angels preparing plagues to be hurled at his people’s persecutors.

On the other hand, people who have not experienced persecution can barely stomach the Book of Revelation when it describes divine retribution. They believe the accounts fanciful and almost un-Christian. But they should recognize at least the possibility of a fearful justice being realized. After all, the gospels are full of phrases warning of teeth-grinding and hell-fire. Perhaps, however, the fear warranted by such admonitions is more properly intellectual – that of missing out of life’s fulfillment – than physical – burning in oblivion.

In any case those who strive for righteousness will feel awe before the Lord as he rescues his people. This transcendence is John’s vision of the saved standing victoriously over their nemeses. We can easily imagine the hundred plus Vietnamese martyrs, whom the Church celebrates today, in this throng. Assured that their suffering would not go unnoticed, they persevered in their faith to the bitter end.

Tuesday, November 22, 2010

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 14:14-19; Luke 21:5-11)

After reading the famous judgment scene in Matthew 25, we might wonder, what’s wrong with goats? After all, Jesus never explains why they are used to describe the hell-bound who cared not for the needy. Similarly, we may ask why, in today’s first reading from Revelation, the grape crop is cut and burned while the first fruit harvested is apparently stored and cherished. Nothing is said about the grapes tasting bitter or containing poison.

Perhaps, however, there is something about grapes that intimates corruption. The reading says that the harvested grapes are ripe, that is fully mature – big, round, and juicy. They look nutritious but have little body to provide sustenance. We can think of vain people who would deceive others to consider themselves as more accomplished than they are in reality. Some years ago, for example, the newly hired coach at Notre Dame had to resign for lying on his resume.

Judgment scenes in the Scriptures are notoriously severe. We pray that when we go before the bench, God might forgive our shortcomings as well as those of loved ones. Yet it would be presumptuous to think that we might lie and bluff our way past the just judge that God is. Instead, let us make a habit now of speaking little of ourselves and regarding others, as St. Paul admonishes, as our betters.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, virgin and martyr

(Revelation 14:1-3.4b-5; Luke 21:1-4)

Pope Benedict has written that sacred music makes its hearers aware of the glory of God. But what makes music sacred? Certainly sacredness in this sense means more than its being played in church for sometimes we hear music there that belongs more to a rock concert. One commentator on Benedict’s statement writes that sacred music gives us a sense of eternity by the use of counterpoint to attune our ears to a higher order of time.

Musical theory may be beyond most of us, but all of us can feel the grandeur of the “Hallelujah” chorus. Such music inspires us to transcend base desires so that we might sing God’s praises with the choir. It recognizes that God both supplies us the wherewithal to overcome sin and judges us if we squander His graces.

Today we celebrate the patron of sacred music, St. Cecilia, a Roman martyr of the second or third century. Coincidentally, the first reading describes sacred music descending from heaven. It thunders like a thousand-pipe organ with all stops released. But the tune cannot be easily joined. Not a fine ear, but a pure heart is necessary to sing along. The Book of Revelation is urging us to lead righteous lives if we hope to sing with the saints. It urges us to follow the teaching of the Lamb of God who is Christ.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 10:8-11; Luke 19:45-48)

Franz Jӓgerstӓtter died at the hands of the Nazis toward the end of World War II. He was an ordinary farmer with a wife and three daughters until war broke out and he was called to fight in the German army. He knew that the Nazis were thugs and took his stand as a conscientious objector. For a while he was allowed to maintain his neutrality, but by 1943 the Nazis would no longer tolerate his resistance. They tried him for sedition and summarily beheaded him. Jӓgerstӓtter defended his position before critics who told him to think of his family. Before his death, he wrote, “I cannot believe that, just because one has a wife and children, a man is free to offend God."

In the first reading, Presbyter John conveys how Jӓgerstӓtter felt before the guillotine ended his life. John says that a prophet announces God’s will with euphoria. It is indeed a privilege to speak the word of God. But words have meaning, and actions have consequences. To preach the word of God, a prophet needs courage. Some will rightly judge him or her on the basis of fidelity to the preached message. Others ignominiously persecute the prophet because the truth he or she speaks constrains their will to do as they please.

Although Jӓgerstӓtter made the ultimate sacrifice for his faith, his story actually has a sweet ending. In 2007 he was beatified by the Church. There was no call for a miracle to show Blessed Franz Jӓgerstӓtter’s sanctity because the farmer-war resister was declared a martyr of the faith.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week of Ordinary Time

(Revelation 5:1-10; Luke 19:41-44)

The Marriage Encounter weekend includes two sessions entitled “Marriage in the Plan of the World” and “Marriage in the Plan of God.” The first describes marriage as a contract made to enhance the self until the relationship might interfere with individual fulfillment. The second shows marriage as a covenant in which the couple makes a permanent commitment to give of themselves for the good of each other. Since following the world’s ways only leads to disillusionment, people need to know the plan of God.

The scroll which the Almighty holds in His hand in the reading from Revelation is similarly His plan for the world. It likewise needs to be revealed so that people may attain happiness. But its revelation requires credibility that comes from giving perfect witness. Only the Almighty’s Son can do this, the one we know as Jesus Christ and pictured here as the “lamb of God.” Christ’s words, reinforced by his deeds, show us the primacy of self-sacrificing love. Without this revelation, life turns hollow or, at best, sours when evil raises hard questions.

Everyday we join the rest of creation in the hymn of praise to the lamb for undergoing the trial that reveals God’s plan. Now we can bear with injury knowing that God has something wonderful in mind for those who practice true love.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary

(Revelation 4:1-11; Luke 19:11-28)

Liturgy connects us with the mysteries of salvation so that we might participate in their splendor. The Eucharistic liturgy, for example, enables us to experience Jesus’ death and resurrection as if we were there when they took place. It is more efficacious than a dramatization because we actually take part in the action. The passage from the Book of Revelation today shows the liturgy of the heavens with all creation giving glory to God.

The Almighty sits on a throne sparkling like jewels. The twenty-four elders enthroned around the Him represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles. Their white garments indicate their faithfulness and their golden crowns victory over their oppressors. The four living creatures are traditionally associated with the four evangelists, but their symbolism goes deeper. They represent the range of creation harmoniously praising God.

The liturgy here closes the first part of the Book of Revelation. Seven letters describing the strengths and weaknesses of Christian churches under persecution have been read. Although the persecution will continue, the liturgy assures a victorious outcome. The purpose of the service is to encourage the churches to keep the faith despite persecution. We today find hope in the message for the persecution continues. Whether we are menaced by bombs like the Christians of Iraq or by our personal desires taking us beyond the boundaries of the good, we want to continue living what we believe. The assured end will make our efforts worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 3:1-6.14-22; Luke 19:1-10)

George Harrison expressed the desire of Zacchaeus and each of us when he sang, “Lord, I just want to see you.” Zacchaeus climbs a tree to get a bird eye’s view of Jesus passing by. We have to strain our imaginations to picture him. Although he is often portrayed as tall, ruddy, and long-haired, the gospels actually reveal nothing of what Jesus looked like.

But seeing Jesus with one’s eyes holds no great advantage. Most of those who saw Jesus did not choose to follow him. Indeed, the majority of witnesses to his miracles turned their backs on his call to conversion. More important than seeing Jesus is having faith in him. As he says in John’s Gospel, “’Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.’”

Surprising to many, Zacchaeus expresses such faith. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus is expected to swindle the poor, not to treat them with kindness. But he couldn’t be more generous as he promises to give the needy half of his possessions. The only recognizable motive for his doing so is his belief that since Jesus brings salvation, what better thing is there to do with one’s wealth than to share it with Jesus’ special friends.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Memorial of Saint Albert the Great, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Revelation 1:1-4.2:1-5; Luke 18:35-43)

It is one thing to see, but quite another to see with insight. A trainee can look at human tissue through a microscope, but a biologist names the different kinds of cells she sees. A fifth-grader can read a racing form, but a handicapper will more often than not pick winners.

In the gospel today Jesus enables a blind man to see, but the man sees more in Jesus than a healer. He recognizes him as a savior to be followed forever. Similarly, St. Albert the Great, whose feast we celebrate today, was an authority of his time on fauna and fossa, but his greater achievement perhaps was recognizing the glory of God in nature.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Memorial of St. Josephat, bishop and martyr

(II John 4-9; Luke 17:26-37)

It may seem that those whom the presbyter John accuses in the first reading today of not believing that Jesus Christ came in the flesh are spiritualists who have little appetite for carnal pleasure. The truth is likely the opposite. They probably believe that Jesus’ enlightenment is psychological to the extent that it does not matter what they do with their bodies. So they indulge vigorously in sexual pleasure. Of course, as the presbyter points out, Jesus is fully human, his grace chastens the body as well as the soul, and his followers must discipline themselves.

One wonders if pastoral challenges change much over the centuries. Today also a few still believe that they can live a promiscuous life and be faithful Christians. One woman is quoted in a book on preaching that this is what Jesus means when he says that he comes to bring life in its fullness. But the Church teaches strongly and consistently that following Christ includes curbing sexual desire so that fulfillment comes not in pleasure but in sacrificing oneself for the good of others.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Memorial of St. Martin of Tours

(Philemon 7-20; Luke 17:20-25)

The Letter to Philemon differs from other Pauline letters in the New Testament in several ways. It is the shortest of the letters – so short that the editor several centuries ago did not divide it into chapters. Also, it is the only canonical letter which all scholars agree was genuinely written by St. Paul directed to an individual. Finally, the letter involves one specific issue – the acceptance of Onesimus back into Philemon’s household. Despite its brevity and specificity, we are wise to consider this letter well because, as one scholar maintains, “Philemon’s problem” is “the problem of any believer.”

Onesimus is a runaway slave who Paul has instructed in the Christian faith. Now Paul is sending him back to his master with the appeal that he be accepted as “a brother.” What does he mean here? Paul is at least suggesting that that Philemon not punish Onesimus for his flight. He is also hinting that Philemon set Onesimus free. Of course, even the first request might create trouble for Philemon. Slaves’ misconduct was expected to be punished to deter further transgression of rules. And if Philemon were to set Onesimus free, his other slaves would likely beat the same path to Paul’s door so that they too might gain liberty.

Fortunately, the institution of slavery barely exists today. But still Christians are plagued by the dilemma of what to do when contemporary norms conflict with moral principles. Should we fight in a war that our government starts with a preemptive strike? Should we vote for a political candidate with many excellent credentials except that she legitimizes abortion? Should we shop at stores which do not give employees health insurance? Scripture provides us no easy answers to these questions just as Paul gives Philemon no clear directive. We should, however, search for the right thing to do just as Paul expects Philemon to consider Onesimus a brother.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

St. Leo the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

(Titus 1:1-9; Luke 17:11-19)

It is remarkable that the Letter to Titus has to remind the early Christians to obey state laws. We think of these men and women as so devout that they would never tell a lie much less steal a cow. Today we equate being Christian with being law-abiding although, unfortunately, wanton aberrations abound. There are also a few issues that have moved some contemporary Christians to civil disobedience.

Each year for that last twenty citizens led by a Catholic priest have protested the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA) located at Fort Benning, Georgia. Although the Army claims SOA trains Latin America military to be more ethical as well as more effective soldiers, it is also true that a couple of the most notorious thugs in recent hemispheric history have graduated from SOA. Protesters believe that the school needs to be shut down immediately. During the protests a contingent crosses a line defying a federal law.

Such crimes may be justified when the law itself is unjust. For example, when students during the Civil Rights crisis in the 1960s held sit-ins at all-white lunch counters, their violation of the law revealed the injustice of allowing public restaurants to discriminate along racial lines. However, it seems to be another case when protestors trespass on property prohibitive to everyone.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

(Ezekiel 47:1-2.8-9.12; I Corinthians 3:9c-11.16-17; John 2:13-22)

We may wonder why the “Dedication of the Lateran Basilica” in Rome is recognized as an official feast day. Even more curious is the fact that when this feast falls on Sunday, it replaces the “Lord’s Day” liturgy. “Why is all this?” we ask. Answers are found in the truths that in honoring any church, we honor the Lord, and in celebrating the Lateran Basilica, the pope’s cathedral, we celebrate all Christian churches.

Throughout the New Testament we find interplay between Jesus, his disciples, and the places where they pray. As today’s gospel shows, Jesus identifies himself with the ancient Temple which enshrined the glory of God. Later in the same Gospel according to John he pronounces that the one who eats his body and drinks his blood has his life within her. St. Paul closes the circle by calling the community of Jesus’ disciples in Corinth a temple of God.

As Jesus offers us his life, we extend it to others. His temple, which we have become, has life-giving water to be shared for the healing and growth of all. We accomplish this by constant and fervent prayer, the purpose of a church building, and by acts of mercy, what Jesus did throughout his public life.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Monday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Titus 1:1-9; Luke 17:1-6)

The fruit of the mulberry tree is hard to enjoy. It has a taste both sweet and tart, but more characteristically mulberries it lack substance. What is worse, it stains the hand that picks it and blotches the sidewalk if found on a city street. The mulberry tree gives little shade but sits like a mole on one’s face defying the beauty around it. It is no wonder that Jesus would suggest that it be rooted out and sent to the sea.

We might compare the mulberry tree to depression that casts a pall over most people at times and affects some gravely. Little good can be said of it also. It makes one cynical and anxious as it colors his world grey. It provokes sadness, cynicism and apathy which give rise to thoughts of self-destruction.

A worthwhile question is to what extent a depressed person is responsible for his behavior. Certainly depression will mitigate culpability, but it may be wise not to excuse oneself completely of wrong-doing when depressed. Rather, as Jesus advocates in this gospel reading, we should be as ready to repent of the malice we cause as we are to forgive those who offend us.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 16:1-8)

Dual citizenship is not as uncommon as it once was. Descendants of Italian emigrants to other lands, for example, can receive Italian citizenship when they go in Italy. Although St. Paul does not have this kind of arrangement in mind when he writes the Philippians that Christians have “citizenship…in heaven,” the idea bears reflection.

Paul wants to warn his readers not to copy the ways of the pagan majority. He sees the obsession with fine dining and the ubiquitous references to sex in Greek society as anti-Christian. Disciples of Jesus, he would say, do not belong to such a realm. According to him, their homeland is the kingdom of God which is still to come in fullness. For now, he would recommend, they are only to comply with the laws of the land like immigrants and not its mores. They receive their living directives from the gospel.

Today, because we of the Christian humanization of much of the world, we find many positive elements in secular society. To be sure, we must proceed prudently; still, we can actively participate in social affairs without undue worry over contamination. Indeed, the Second Vatican Council promoted such engagement so that the world might be increasingly prepared for the coming of God’s kingdom in its fullness.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Memorial of Saint Charles Borromeo, bishop

(Philippians 3:3-8a; Luke 15:1-10)

As much as Paul could boast of his pedigree Hebrew background, St. Charles Borromeo could have basked in the glory of Italian nobility. Charles was born into the Medici family and his uncle was Pope Pius IV, who made him a cardinal of the Church at twenty-two years of age! At the same time, before he was ordained a priest, Charles became administrator of the Archdiocese of Milan. He might have sat on his laurels at this point enjoying the luxury of a prominent public authority but chose a different course.

Charles took seriously the Council of Trent’s reforms bringing the Church more in line with gospel mandates. He founded a seminary in Milan and set up orphanages, hospices, shelters for the homeless, hospital and schools. When epidemic scourged his city, Charles did not lay back in fear but personally visited the parishes most affected by the plague. He distributed money to aid the victims and gave spiritual support. He died several years later, a victim of disease.

Paul tells us in his Letter to the Philippians the motivation of such sacrifice as Charles Borromeo’s. Whatever one has or whatever one does, it is as nothing compared to the glory of Christ. The victory that Christ has won over death is freely shared with us so that whatever achievements we have racked up on our own become as insignificant as drops of water in a river. Rather than boast of the insignificant, we are wise to praise Christ’s infinite accomplishment.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Memorial of Saint Martin de Porres, religious

(Philippians 2:12-18; Luke 14:25-33)

Gospel commentators call Jesus’ shocking statement that his followers are to hate their families a “Semiticism.” This means that it was a way of expressing oneself in the Semitic language that Jesus spoke. Evidently his native Aramaic did not use comparatives. For Jesus to indicate that his disciples have to love him more than their families, he has to say that they must love him and hate their families. Of course, he does not mean that they are to scorn their loved ones. After all, how could Jesus, who taught the primacy of love of God and neighbor, mean that we are to literally hate those who are closest to us?

But some of us may have difficulty with the idea of even loving Jesus more than family and friends. “How can he expect us to love him more than our mothers who gave us life?” we might ask ourselves. It is a formidable task but also a fruitful one. We are to make Jesus our best friend, more intimate than even a spouse. This is done by constant dialogue on all subjects, especially those that concern us most.

A painting hanging in the Dominican generalate’s convent in Rome shows Jesus and St. Catherine of Siena walking side-by-side. The two are not talking to each other directly but rather meditating on the written word. Catherine’s red-colored book is probably the Book of Gospels, the story of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Jesus’ white-colored book is likely the virgin Catherine’s gentle words to him. All of us can engage in this kind of dialogue intensifying our love for our Savior. We can meditate on the gospel and respond perhaps with a journal telling the Lord how we love him and need him.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day)

(Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40)

A man writes from prison that he does not like being a drug addict. He is ashamed to have disappointed his family and ruined his life. But he finds himself helpless confronting drugs -- he simply cannot stop taking them. Other people find themselves similarly challenged by sexual desire, gossip, stealing, you name it. We do not surrender hope for their souls when they die, but pray for God’s mercy on them.

Today, the Feast of All Souls, the Church sets aside to pray for all who have died without living fully Jesus’ Gospel. It’s an ancient custom that clashes with our conception of cause and effect. “If the person’s life has ended,” many ask today, “what good does it do to pray for her? She has already decided for or against God.” “Yes,” we should answer, “but since God’s love is eternal, that is outside the bounds of time, He provides the grace of repentance for those who have already died.” Furthermore, God’s infinite mercy appreciates an individual’s involuntary weakness that may mitigate any offense committed.

We can add that our prayers for the dead redound to ourselves. They are acts of mercy that make us stronger believers and more accomplished Christians. There is good reason for us to pray for the dead today and every day. Our prayers elicit the forgiveness of their sins as they shore up our souls against our own sinfulness.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Solemnity of All Saints

(Revelation 7:2-4.9-14; I John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a)

A distinguished defense attorney is asked, “Who is the most important person in the courtroom (to assure justice).” Perhaps it is the judge who sees that that due process is followed. Or maybe it is the collective members of the jury who adjudicate the case. Or possibly it is the trial lawyer who must persuade the jury of the client’s innocence. The attorney responds that after many decades practicing law as prosecutor, judge, and defense lawyer, he believes that the most important person in the courtroom is a reliable witness. Such a witness’s truthfulness and conviction become the determining factors in bringing about justice.

We can define saints as reliable witnesses to Jesus. By relying on God, by striving after righteousness, by reconciling opponents, by practicing all the beatitudes, saints witness to the primacy of Jesus’ message and the efficacy of his grace. Their words and, more so, their actions provide testimony that Jesus has risen from the day to actively support his followers.

The Church has officially declared only seven thousand or so saints. But this number hardly indicates all the people throughout twenty centuries of Christianity who have lived the beatitudes. Today we celebrate the millions of un-proclaimed saints who have given reliable witness to Jesus. Their number includes an African-American slave who lived so graciously that the slave-owning family buried her in the family plot proudly claiming her as kin. All of us have known people much better than ourselves who, we are sure, belong to the legion of reliable witnesses to Jesus.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Philippians 1:1-11; Luke 14:1-6)

Paul’s opening sentence in the Letter to the Philippians gives us pause for reflection. He addresses the letter to “all the holy ones in Philippi with the bishops and deacons.” Is it not odd that there would be more than one bishop at the primitive church in Philippi? And who are all the deacons? We might stir up the waters a bit by recalling that in his Letter to the Romans, Paul describes Phoebe, a woman, as having a diaconal function. Remembering also that Paul’s work in Philippi began with his encounter of Lydia and other women, it is not preposterous to ask if some of the deacons referred to here are women.

It is possible that Paul has women in mind when he writes to the Philippians. However, this does not mean that they are ordained ministers as we think of the diaconate today. When Paul writes “deacon,” he may intend what we think of when we say “lay ecclesial minister.” Likewise, almost certainly he is not addressing multiple bishops as we consider the term but rather the community’s leaders, a virtual parish council. Obviously, Paul is writing before the time when bishop and deacon carry the theological meanings which they have today.

The Church has never definitively ruled out ordaining women to the diaconate. The matter is under study. However, even if making women-deacons never happens, women still perform valuable ministry. In a short story titled “The Deacon,” Mary Gordon describes a woman religious performing all kinds of services in a busy, urban parish. The tale reflects what many of us realize well. The Church simply could not function without the ministry of women.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, apostles

(Ephesians 2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16)

The names of Simon and Jude (really Judas) round out the list of Jesus’ apostles except for the notorious traitor, Judas Iscariot. The twelve form an inner circle of disciples whom Jesus appoints to judge the twelve tribes of Israel. In this light we might think of them as the Old Testament rulers in the period between the death of Moses and the institution of the kingdom. But we should not limit their purview to the bounds of old Israel. The new order which Jesus establishes is meant to include the entire world. To this end there are legends of apostles bringing the gospel as far as distant India and Spain.

Jude and Simon are placed at the end of the list because of their historical obscurity. Curiously, Jude has become one of the most prominent of the twelve perhaps because his name is associated with impossible causes which many people see themselves as having. As in the case of Jude, there is another Simon among the twelve, the one whom we regularly recognize as Peter. In order to distinguish the two in the gospel today, Luke mentions that Simon is known as a Zealot. It would be anachronistic to say that this means Simon belongs to a revolutionary band as the Zealots will become a couple decades later. But in order to understand the twelve as a disparate group united by love of the Lord, we may think of Simon as zealously faithful to Jewish Law in contrast to Matthew who may have been the publican Levi living an unholy life prior to his encounter with Jesus.

The homage we pay to Simon, Jude and all the apostles comes from their role linking us to Christ. They are sent to preach the good news and to lead the community which Jesus has established. If not for them, we would not be who we are – members of Christ’s body, the Church, striving to love faithfully with his Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 6:1-9; Luke 13:22-30)

Pupils in Catholic schools used to ask many questions of religion teachers to both satisfy curiosity and to waste time. A typical question was, “Sister, if you were killed walking to church for confession, would you go to hell?” The sisters, who knew how to play the game as well, often answered, “What do you think?” In the gospel today we meet Jesus responding as nimbly as the sisters to a tough question.

“Lord, will only a few people be saved?” someone in the crowd asks Jesus. Perhaps the Pharisees trained the questioner to think that most people are lazy, no-good hell-bounds. People today, aware of God’s mercy, are more inclined to ask a question to the opposite effect, “Doesn’t God save everyone?” Although we may try to practice the faith, all of us have loved ones who ignore the commandments. “God surely cannot just condemn them to hell, can He?” we wonder.

Jesus adroitly sidesteps the issue. Whom the Father will save or damn is up to Him to decide. Yet Jesus seizes the opportunity to create a proverb. “Strive to enter through the narrow gate,” he advises. He means that we must discipline ourselves to do what is right and to avoid what is wrong. There is scant place among his followers for slouches who say, “A peek at pornography or a little lie won’t hurt anyone.” Nor are we faithful disciples if we ignore those in need.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 5:21-33; Luke 13: 18-21)

No New Testament passage is more difficult for many people today than the first reading. A wife having to submit to her husband offends contemporary sensibility which sees absolute equality between the sexes. In order to avoid the difficulty some modern translations of the passage use a less grating word than “submit.”

In a couple of ways abuses of masculine power will be avoided. As much as the text obligates wives to submit to their husbands, it commands husbands to love their wives. That is, they should treat their wives with all possible care which implies pleasing them whenever possible. Also, it is a given that a woman does not have to comply with a husband’s dictate that is sinful. For example, the wife will not have to remain at home should the husband becomes violent.

Difficulties arise, of course, when husband and wife have differing opinions. She would like to paint the family room pink, but he prefers a soft green. Or he wants to leave a significant amount of their estate to charity, but she thinks their children will need the full inheritance. The directive in Ephesians does not prohibit discussion of problems or even final disagreement over resolutions. It does, however, mandate -- for unity’s sake and to demonstrate the Church’s subordination to Christ -- that she allow him ultimate determination of the matter.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 4:32-5:8; Luke 13:10-17)

It’s a sin against the first commandment to put one’s trust in another god, but does this mean that I cannot keep a tiger tooth for good luck? It’s a sin against the second commandment to take the Lord’s name in vain, but does this mean that I sin by saying “Oh God” when I see something awesome? It’s a sin not to honor one’s father and mother, but what am I to do when they tell me that they do not want to hear from me again? These questionable situations are similar to what Jesus faces in today’s gospel.

Apparently nothing in the Mosaic Law forbids healing on the Sabbath. However, certain Pharisees at the time of Jesus interpreted such an act as violating Sabbath observance. Following such an interpretation, the leader of the synagogue chastises the crowd for seeking Jesus’ cures. Knowing that the comment is an unsubstantiated interpretation, Jesus corrects the synagogue leader. He sees the Father’s activity among His people as essentially liberating. God freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and constantly liberates the people from ignorance with the Law. Now Jesus is only imitating his Father by freeing the woman from a particularly gruesome malady.

It would be unfair to say that Jesus is rationalizing his action. Again, the Law does not expressly forbid Sabbath healing. However, he is appealing to the people’s sense of justice and prudence in interpreting the Law. Always, he indicates, we have to use our intelligence aided by the virtues to determine what the Lawgiver expects with any given statute.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 4:1-6; Luke 12:54-59)

In a remarkable painting the seventeenth century artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio depicts Jesus calling Levi, the tax collector. Light streams from behind Jesus to expose a look of complete surprise on the tax collector’s face. As Jesus points to Levi with a hand in the pose of God’s on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Levi is said to point his finger at himself as if to say, “Me? You must be kidding.”

As Jesus calls the tax collector to follow him, he beckons each of us. Like Levi, we may be astounded by the summons. “Am I fortunate or deluded?” we ask ourselves. “Does it mean that I have to give up everything?” we worry. The reading from Ephesians today does not demur in impressing on us the reality of the call. It also reminds us of the burden such a call imposes. We will have to bear with the idiosyncrasies of one another and strive to make our own less annoying.

Sooner or later our effort will cause us to ask, “Is the call worth it?” A recent analysis discovers four stages of happiness: satisfying our physical senses, bettering our neighbors, coming to peace with others, entering into a relationship with God. The first two kinds are fleeting while the latter settle deeply within the soul. Ephesians proposes these final types of happiness as it speaks of “unity of the spirit through the bond of peace” and “one God and Father of all” as our destiny in Christ Jesus. It harbors no doubt that the assured goal more than justifies any energy exerted.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 3:14-21; Luke 12:49-53)

Jesus sounds frightening in this gospel passage. He speaks of setting the world on fire and dividing families. We should note, however, that by this point in the narrative Jesus has set his sights on Jerusalem which gives everything he says particular urgency.

Although it may seem disrespectful, we may not always endorse and sometimes should oppose the values and habits of our families. Becoming disciples of Jesus means giving our first and greatest loyalty to God. A song from the musical “South Pacific” tells of being taught to “hate all the peoples your relatives hate.” Such prejudice needs to be rejected. Most of us, mercifully, have grown up in families which instilled a love of both God and neighbor. However, no family is perfect. Graced by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we should cast off the elements of imperfection in our particular family. If this means disownment, there remains for us the more important company of Jesus.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 3: 2-12; Luke 12:39-48)

“How odd of God,” wrote Ogden Nash, “to choose the Jews.” The Letter to the Ephesians today would turn this verse on end. “How odd of God,” it seems to say, “to include Gentiles.” It is odd because Gentiles have not spent forty years in the wilderness learning God’s ways. They have not been steeped in the Law which teaches that family and community must be placed above individual desires. A Jewish physician and bioethicist provides an example of what is meant here. He has considered the possibility of assisted suicide if in old age he becomes a burden to his family. Then he reconsiders realizing that hastening his death would deprive his children of the opportunity to express their care and fulfill their responsibilities to their parents.

Too often Christians spurn Jewish faith as an aberrant to true love of God and neighbor. Yes, Jesus added to our appreciation of the Father by revealing himself as Son, but he was enabled to do this by mastering Jewish traditions. When we can embrace Jews as our elder sisters and brothers in faith and turn to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and people of other religious beliefs or no beliefs at all as if they were younger siblings in need of Christian example, then we approach realization of the mystery of Christ envisioned in the Letter to the Ephesians.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 2:12-22; Luke 12:35-38)

It is said that Jesus enjoyed eating and drinking so much that he chose to spend his last hours with his disciples doing just that. However true that it is, we must not trivialize the Last Supper by thinking of it simply as a going-away party. Jesus used it as the occasion to actualize all that he did in the world. He transformed a meal – in this case the traditional Passover Supper – into an eternal legacy by which he would be physically present throughout the ages. The reading from the Letter to the Ephesians today summarizes what that meal, which we know as the first Eucharist, means.

The letter calls Jesus “our peace ... who broke down the dividing wall of enmity through his flesh.” Jesus becomes our peace at the Eucharist not primarily because we begin mass with the penitential rite, but because in the mass we re-member or reconstitute Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross at Calvary. He gives his flesh and blood to reconcile us to God and to one another. It is this peace that the Letter to the Ephesians underscores here indicating that only through reconciliation with God may our reconciliation with one another take place. The Second Eucharistic Prayer of Reconciliation emphasizes this truth: “You gave him up to death so that we might turn again to you and find our way to one another.”

Monday, October 18, 2010

Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

(II Timothy 4:10-17b; Luke 10:1-9)

If the Church were to use only one gospel, many people would campaign that it be the Gospel According to Luke. Although not the most profound theologically, Luke’s Gospel shines on elements of faith that touch us deeply. It gives the most detailed account of Jesus’ birth as well as of Mary, the mother of God. It also relates the most memorable of Jesus’ parables and shows Jesus constantly in prayer and making a preferential option for the poor. The list could go on almost indefinitely.

We call the author of the third gospel “Luke” but cannot be sure who he was or even if “Luke” was really his name. Several sources from the second century identify him with the Luke who is mentioned several times in Pauline letters as we heard today. At one point in these letters he is described as a “beloved physician.” For this reason he is honored by medical professionals today as their patron. It is also said that he was an artist and so enjoys the patronage of that profession as well. But it seems best to name his profession as he describes himself: an historical researcher who puts in good order the events of the life of Christ (Luke 1:-3). However, he is more than a historian because his narrative, as we see exemplified in today’s gospel, everywhere announces the “kingdom of God,” personified in Jesus himself, calling us as its fortunate citizens.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Memorial of Saint Teresa of Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Ephesians 1:11-14; Luke 12:1-7)

On his visit to the United States, Pope Benedict warned American bishops about privacy in religion. He said, “To the extent that religion becomes a purely private affair it loses its very soul.” The pope only echoed what Jesus tells us in the gospel today. We are to be especially wary of hypocrisy, which is to say one thing and do another.

Pope Benedict’s remarks on privacy probably had much to do with some Catholic public officials’ refusal to work for outlawing abortion. The officials claim that such an endeavor would be imposing their private beliefs on the general public. But that is hypocritical since taking the life of an inborn baby is not a matter of belief but an outrage against humanity. It is a veritable denial of the most basic right of a living human being.

Catholic officials should not check in their religion when they come to the halls of public service but allow its moral principles to guide their decisions. Of course, this does not mean that they need to wear a cross around their necks, but awareness of Jesus’ cross should remind them that they may have to sacrifice popularity to do what is right. They may console themselves with the words of St. Teresa: “Let nothing trouble you; let nothing make you afraid…God alone is enough.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thursday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 1:1-10; Luke 11:47-54)

For a long time the Western Hemisphere dated historical events in reference to the birth of Jesus. Occurrences that took place before his birth were dated as so many years “B.C.” or before Christ. For example, Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. Occurrences after Christ’s birth were designated as so many years “A.D.” or Anno Domini, that is, in the year of the Lord. The system of dating follows the assertion made in today’s passage from the Letter to the Ephesians. The passage states that in the fullness of times God summed up all things in Christ. He, then, is the center of history.

In deference to people of other faiths many people today use “B.C.E.” and “C.E.” signifying before the common era and in the common era. This may sound treasonous to Christian ears believing what we do about Jesus’ divinity. But the new designation no doubt promotes harmony with non-Christians and shows Christian goodwill.

Nevertheless, in Church documents and among the Christian community “B.C.” and A.D.” give us pause to marvel at what God has accomplished in Christ. As the Letter to the Ephesians relates, through him God has overcome human depravity. We no longer are slaves to our passions but children of God capable of meritorious acts. Being aware of this enormous benefit may be far from assimilating it for ourselves. But still we employ the initoals “B.C.” and “A.D.” to remind us that the journey has begun.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 5:18-25; Luke 11:42-46)

In the gospels Jesus seems to have a running battle with Pharisees. But we should not think that Pharisees are necessarily his enemies. As he has done before and will do again in Luke’s gospel, Jesus in today’s passage is dining at the home of a Pharisee. Obviously there are some differences of outlook, but Jesus also holds much in common with Pharisees. We may validly suppose that some of the criticism in the gospels of Pharisees stems not so much from Jesus’ time but from the time of the evangelists when Pharisee-like Christians were bearing down hard on others.

Catholics even today, like some Pharisees of Jesus’ time and Christians of the first century, sometimes pay too much attention to details and too little to the gospel message. Some go to church checking to see if the holy water fountains are filled rather than reviewing the Mass’s readings. Others like to gossip about the pastor’s use of a profanity without noticing their sin of detraction.

In today’s gospel Jesus compares the nit-picking Pharisees to “unseen graves.” He means to say that they are already dead because they do not accept the love of God which brings life. St. Teresa of Avila, less somberly but with the same impatience, once prayed, “God save us from sad-faced saints.” Both she and Jesus realize that righteous living is not so much frowning on other people’s sins as turning to God in thanksgiving for our blessings and praying for those in special need of help.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 5:1-6; Luke 11:37-41)

Two words in the first reading today beg clarification. First, Paul tells u as well as the Galatians that Christ has set us free. He means that Christ has freed humans from the onus of the Law as a way to please God. The Law never worked very well in the first place like kerosene lamps for reading. But Paul does not mean that humans can do whatever they wish now that the Jewish Law has been abolished. Rather, he says, it is for freedom that Christ has freed them. Here freedom refers to the life of the Spirit residing within. Without the Spirit freed people are no better off than an illiterate person who comes to a library to learn. With the Holy Spirit they live exemplary lives that bring joy to neighbors and truly please God.

The second word that needs pondering is faith. Martin Luther stressed the idea that faith alone brings salvation. But did he mean an abstract faith which gives only verbal assent to the truth of Christ’s resurrection? That is not what Paul concludes as he extols “faith working through love.” Without love faith withers like flowers cut off from their stems. Love in a sense is the object of our faith. We are not speaking of human love here, but the divine kind which has rescued humans from the darkness of absolute zero for no absolutely benefit to itself.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 4:22-24.26-27.31-5:1; Luke 11:29-32)

A story is told about a rabbi who walks through the woods and is accosted by a robber. “Give me the most precious thing you carry,” the thug demands. The rabbi thinks for a moment, then reaches into his bag and pulls out a huge diamond as big as a grapefruit. The robber takes the diamond and flees. Later the same day, however, he returns to the rabbi. He now orders the rabbi, “You better hand over to me the treasure that you have that made giving up the diamond so easy.”

Just as there is no satisfying the robber, there is no pacifying the people in the gospel passage who demand a sign from Jesus. Any further cure or exorcism that he performs would only create the desire to see additional works of wonder. There will never be enough evidence for them to believe that he comes from God because that takes a humble act of faith. That is, they will have to repent of all false desire and begin living God’s justice.

How about us? We may think that we are living pretty good lives. Perhaps we would give ourselves a “B+” or an “A-” for conduct. But we know that we would do better if we felt absolutely certain that God is in our midst. We too must consider that the Queen of the South and the people of Nineveh may condemn us as well those gathered to hear Jesus in the gospel. After all, God comes to us in word and sacrament in this very Eucharist, and still we only make an eighty-five to ninety percent effort.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 3:7-14; Luke 11:15-26)

In every election cycle candidates court the people’s favor by distributing T-shirts and, if they are incumbents, finagling legislation that gives constituents unlikely benefits. Like the crowd in the gospel wondering if Jesus casts out demons because he is in league with Beelzebub, the voters should question such freebies.

Knowing the suspicions of the people, Jesus tries to calm their anxieties in different ways. First, he uses logic. Beelzebub would be working against himself, he says, if he cast out demons. It would be as foolish as cutting off your nose to spite your face. Then Jesus makes a comparison. He casts out demons no differently than local healers. If they suspect him, should they not also question the background of the village exorcist? Finally, Jesus proposes a challenge. They might accept his marvelous deeds as a sign that the Kingdom of God has finally come. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful!” he intimates.

But Jesus does not avoid the fact that the coming of the Kingdom will entail a response on the part of its beneficiaries. People have to convert to its standards of justice, compassion, and peace. If not, the vacuum created by the removal of the evil spirit will invite an even more pernicious presence. We might think of a household that has exterminated all the mice that inhabited it. Unless safeguards against pests are put in place quickly, rats may come in force.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

(Galatians 3:1-5; Luke 11:5-13)

Paul’s frontal attack against the Galatians – “O stupid Galatians, who has bewitched you?” – makes us wonder what kind of people would tolerate such criticism. Most likely Paul is addressing a community of Christians he founded in the northern part of the province of Galatia. The fair-haired and light complexioned inhabitants of that area migrated in the third century before Christ from the region of the Pyrenees Mountains separating what is presently France and Spain. “Galatians” comes from the same root as the Latin word Gallia which refers to the expansive tract of Western Europe that includes modern France.

In Paul’s day Galatians were considered something like the Brobdingnagians of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. One biblical commentator describes them as “large, unpredictable simpletons, instinctively generous, ferocious and highly dangerous when angry, but without stamina and easy to trick.” Paul evidently considers them good-hearted enough to accept his sharp disapproval without rejecting the gospel. He probably developed a deep rapport when ill health caused him to stay with them for a protracted time.

Paul’s language, however, reveals more about himself than about the Galatians. For Paul the single, most important fact of life is God’s redemption of humanity in Jesus Christ. For some mysterious reason Christ commissioned him to preach this truth to non-Jews. He does not mean to subjugate anyone but only to express his love for his hearers by moving them to accept the salvation won by Christ. If strong language is necessary, he would work up the highest indignation. If refined rhetoric would do the job, he would polish his argumentation. As he himself would write to the Corinthians, “I have become all things to all, so that I might save at least some” (I Cor 9:22).

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 2:1-2.7-14; Luke 11:1-14)

Pope John Paul II, who is legitimately called “the Great,” received his doctorate degree from the University of St. Thomas in Rome. One of his professors, an elderly Dominican priest whom the pope credited as having special influence on him, was once asked how he remembered the future pope. The old man confessed that he had so many students over his decades at the university that he could not remember him. His surprising comment has been cited as a mark of honesty.

St. Paul writes of a situation in which he was called to respond with equal honesty. He saw Peter eating what was probably pork with the non-Jews of the Christian community in Antioch. But as soon as Jewish officials from Jerusalem arrived, Peter separated himself from the ham eaters. In order not to confuse non-Jewish Christians, Paul speaks out against what he calls in today’s passage from his Letter to the Galatians “hypocrisy.”

Too often we try to please ourselves or others by disregarding the truth. It is not easy to tell a friend that he is doing something sinful or to speak up when an official equivocates about what is happening in one’s firm, but there is an obligation to do so when such action results in harm. Paul is not afraid of being honest because he knows that Christ is with him. He is also with us. After thoughtful, prayerful reflection we should not remain silent when we see people being hurt by another’s transgressing the truth.
Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 4:22-24.26-27.31-5:1; Luke 11:29-32)

Most diocesan and religious vocation directors have a policy of not allowing recent converts to begin the formal formation process for priests and religious. They know well that the enthusiasm of those embracing the faith is apt to wear thin after a while. In order to assuage fears that he too might be just a firebrand, St. Paul assures his readers in the passage heard today that after his conversion he spent three years in a kind of retreat to Arabia. Although it is not certain what he did there, he seems to have waited before beginning his proper mission in Western Asia.

We might speculate what Paul was thinking about during that time abroad. By this date the gospels were long from being written. And it was Paul himself who gave us the earliest known writings of Christianity. But Jesus was being preached by the apostles and their designates whom Paul no doubt conversed with. It is also possible that some of Jesus’ sayings had by this time been written down. What is extraordinary is how closely Paul’s writings conform to these sayings which were later gathered together in the gospel narratives. Cynics sometimes try to draw a line between Jesus and Paul, but careful comparison of his theology with the gospels shows relatively perfect harmony.

Paul was not only convinced intellectually that Jesus brought salvation, he experienced first-hand of what it consists. Today we read Paul’s own summary of that experience. He mentions no blinding light or falling down (this information is given in the Acts of the Apostles written much later), but that God revealed Christ to him as an act of grace. We might say that whatever happened, Paul definitely saw the light of revelation and that his life was turned upside down because of it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi, religious

(Galatians 1:6-12; Luke 10:25-37)

Because of St. Francis’ love of the poor, his embracing poverty, and his unfailing effort to bring about reconciliation, he has been called “another Christ.” We too see in him a reflection of Jesus who lived hundreds of years before. We should similarly find a likeness of Christ in the Good Samaritan.

We are used to thinking of the Samaritan as a person like ourselves who should overcome prejudice to love everyone. An older interpretation of this parable, however, identifies us with the victim lying in the road. In this reading we have been brutalized by sin and left for dead in our folly. Then, the analysis continues, Jesus out of compassion comes to save us from damnation.

Our response to Christ for his generosity is to heed the commandment he gives to the scholar of the law inquiring about the requisites of eternal life. In going and doing like the Good Samaritan we imitate Christ. St. Francis serves as a worthy model in this endeavor. After his conversion from youthful swagger, Francis dedicated himself to preaching salvation by deed even more than by word.