About Me

Bilingual Roman Catholic priest of the Southern Dominican Province. The "homilettes" on this website are completely the work of Fr. Mele. He may be contacted at cmeleop@yahoo.com. Telephone: (415) 279-9234.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Amos 7: 10-17; Matthew 9:1-8)

The way Amos rants against injustice one might think that Israel was the most decadent of all the nations in history. But it has been noted that his prophecy falls at a time of peace and prosperity and, presumably, some care for neighbor. We might say that greed and hatred are not necessarily prominent in Israel as they are built into all social structures with as much frequency as the corner store. In Latin America today, for example, after generations of naming the problem, political corruption is growing exponentially. A recent seminar in Ecuador notes that the increased corruption has its roots in the drug trade and the desire of politicians to assure their reelections.

As he indicates in the first reading, Amos is not thrilled about denouncing injustice. He was a simple farmer and shepherd until the Lord called him to warn the northern kingdom of its sins. Now he has no choice but to preach as God directs him. The man’s lot induces our pity as even the priests of the land find his message overbearing.

Eventually, Jesus will come to hack at the root of sin. The gospel today, of course, relates how he forgives sin. His absolution is not meant as only the removal of an external blotch. Much more wonderfully, he provides the grace that leads those whom he touches beyond sin into the community of righteousness. There may still be need for prophets in this community, but we should be able to note some progress against corruption and other injustices.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Amos 5:14-15.21-24; Matthew 8:28-34)

In The Good Earth, Pearl Buck’s classic novel of pre-revolutionary China, the protagonist has a brief encounter with Christianity. Having gone to the city to escape the famine that consumed the countryside, Wang Lung is handed a picture of the crucified Christ. He is fascinated by the image but has no time to inquire into who the crucified one is. Struggling to eek out a living for his family, Want Lung feels impelled to continue working.

The situation of the people of Gadarene town on the outskirts of which Jesus casts out demons in today’s gospel seems little different from that of the Chinese peasant. Charged by Jesus to leave two wild men, the demons possess a herd of pigs whom they send hurling into the sea. We might expect the people to welcome Jesus for saving two men from a fate worse than Alzheimer’s. But as practical people, they weigh their loss of property as greater than the benefit of having two men restored to their senses and ask Jesus to leave before he causes more financial woe. The people seem curious about who Jesus is and respectful of his powers; nevertheless, they forego any message he might have for them.

It is as easy for us to get caught up with business – even Church business – that we ignore what Jesus has to offer us. It certainly requires patience to listen to his words as they come through the gospel, especially in our world of a ten thousand distractions. We can also be sure his message will demand some sacrifice on our part. But when we open our mind and heart to him, Jesus invariably brings us the tranquility of spirit which the former wild men of the Gadarene territory now possess.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

(Acts 12:1-11; II Timothy 4:6-8.17-18; Matthew 16:13-19)

We prefer to think of the Church as a community of believers and a sign of God’s presence in the world than as an institution. But because it has laws, customs, and lands, the Church has been able to thrive through the centuries. The institution, of course, is headquartered in Rome where Saints Peter and Paul came to facilitate the evangelization of the world.

Rome, especially in the first century, is unlike any other city. Romans are practical people and ancient Romans were consummate lawyers and engineers as well. Their aptitude for organization, which they lent to the Church, and their excellent roads enabled Christianity to flourish. Part of the genius of both Peter and Paul was to take advantage of all the benefits that the “Eternal City” offered.

Today, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, the people of Rome have a holiday while Catholics around the world have opportunity to contemplate the authority of the pope, the bishop of Rome. Like Peter he is the symbol of unity of the Church. Like Paul he has the commission to assure the spread of the gospel, especially to pagan nations. With men of great holiness and wisdom serving as popes over the past century, we also have added reason to celebrate today with Romans.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Memorial of St. Ireneus, martyr

(Amos 2:6-10.13-16; Matthew 8:18-22)

“It’s the song the whole world over;
It’s the poor, what get the blame;
It’s the rich, what get the curry.
Ain’t it all a blooming shame.”

This folksong would have been as valid in the prophet Amos’ day just as it is in our own. Amos is outraged at the crimes he finds taking place in Samaria, the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He sees good men being sold into slavery as if they were cheap footwear (“a pair of sandals”) and peasants’ land being expropriated while they are “trampled into the dust.” The list goes on. In fact, Amos’ seeming impreciseness (“For three crimes of Israel and for four”) is just another way of saying “many.”

It is tempting to overlook this reading as prophetic rant and to proceed to Jesus’ more curious words, “the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” But such dismissal would ignore the very reason of Jesus’ urgency. He comes to restore righteousness not only to Israel but to the whole world. He provides both the clarity of mind and the strength of will to live justly, not only in his day but also in ours.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 25:1-12; Matthew 8:1-4)

We often think of pariah as describing the untouchables of the Indian caste system. The actual term, however, is dalit. Some Hindus evidently consider dalits as not having been formed from any of the body parts of their deities. Dalits include leather workers, street cleaners, landless peasants, and people from a host of other humble professions. Discrimination against dalits in India has largely disappeared in urban areas and in the public sphere. But it still exists in rural areas where dalits may be prohibited from sitting in eating places and using water sources.

In the gospel Jesus meets a dalit of his time and place. Lepers were so feared among ancient Jews that they were banished from populated areas and in rural areas had to wear a bell to warn others of their coming. Yet Jesus shows no fear of the leper who encounters him as he descends the mountain of his famous sermon. Showing what it means to treat others as he would be treated, he touches the untouchable and cures him of leprosy.

We still have dalits in western society. Twenty years ago people were often afraid to touch AIDS patients. In some locales today the undocumented may be resented with the animus felt for dalits in rural India. Alzheimer patients and, often enough, elderly living in nursing homes suffer such neglect that they may feel as if they lacked any relationship to divinity. Like Jesus we must remember to treat all these groups as we wish to be treated.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

(Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66.80)

The Gospel according to Luke tells that the angel Gabriel appears to Mary when Elizabeth’s pregnancy is in its sixth month. For this reason the Church places the births of Jesus and John the Baptist six months apart. More ingenious is the date of placement and the reason behind it. Jesus’ and John’s births are put at the winter and summer solstices, respectively, because they refer to light. Jesus is the prophetic light shining in darkness. John proclaims in the gospel that he must decrease while Jesus must increase (John 3:30) – a reality reflected in the beginning of daylight’s decline in June and the start of its increase in December (in the northern hemisphere).

John anticipates Jesus. He calls him the prophet who is to bring about God’s judgment. He may even consider the coming of Jesus more turbulent than it proves to be when he says that Jesus would burn chaff with unquenchable fire. As much as he anticipates Jesus, John also models how Jesus is to be followed. Like John, we are not to deny or avoid the truth confronting us, however painful it may be. John denounces Herod Antipas’ wickedness just as Jesus challenges the treachery of the people’s leadership. Like them we face difficulty trusting in God’s care. Also, like John we recognize how we are not to seek our own glory but to act so that the world may know and love the Lord.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 22:8-13.23:1-3; Matthew 7:15-20)

A very old television drama tells the story of a man who leaves his native place to read every book in the Library of Congress. When he returns, he gives a report on the wisdom he has learned. An anticipative crowd gathers to listen to the man’s discoveries. “In sum,” he says, “this is the wisdom of the world: “I am the Lord, your God; you shall not have strange gods before me. Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day...”

In a real sense the Ten Commandments summarizes all of the Old Testament and, indeed, “the wisdom of the world.” The unnamed king in the first reading today, who has the perspicacity to recognize the magnitude of the newly found “book of the law,” rightfully tears his garments after hearing its contents. It is not that the law is something forgotten and remembered, but that it is encountered for the first time and mesmerizes its listeners with the scope of its promises.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in imitation of the patriarchs of the early Church, bases its moral section on the Ten Commandments. Of course, the contents have to be expanded and commented upon, but still it has all the rudiments of living in a way that brings justice to the world, peace to the soul, and glory to God.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 19:9b-11.14-21.31-35a.36; Matthew 7:1-5)

A few years ago a Catholic magazine parodied the Church’s concern that people who are not prepared to receive Holy Communion nevertheless go to take it. The magazine likened giving notice that reception of the Eucharist is intended for faithful Catholics in the state of grace to having a bouncer at the Communion rail. Yet the gospel proscription today of giving “what is holy to dogs” has been interpreted from ancient times as a warning not to admit the un-baptized or the unrepentant to the Eucharist.

The Eucharistic bread and wine are, above all, Christ himself. He comes to bring us peace and to strengthen us against evil. Everyone, of course, needs this assistance. But unless one recognizes him and is not spiritually dead due to mortal sin, accepting him in Communion, like exercising immediately after eating, will not improve but imperil one’s well-being.

Of course, suggesting that people are like dogs sounds rash to our ears. It was an expression of first century Judaism just as twenty-first century Americans innocently call elderly women and men “guys” – a term once reserved for young men. We do well not to judge Jesus by the colloquialisms he uses but to judge ourselves by his standard, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction...”

Monday, June 21, 2010

Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga

(II Kings 17:5-8.13-15a.18; Matthew 7:1-5)

The story is told how an English newspaper held an essay contest in the early 1930s. Participants were to submit compositions answering the question, “What’s wrong with the world today?” Even more than at most times, there were troubles then. The great economies of the world were in depression. Many people were looking toward communism as an answer to social problems. Germany was on the verge of rearmament. Interestingly, the winning essay did not touch on any of these concerns. As a matter of fact, it was composed of just two words. “What’s wrong with the world...?” “I am,” wrote G.K. Chesterton to capture the prize.

Chesterton took to heart Jesus’ message in the gospel today. Rather than criticize others’ faults, Jesus insists that we are to acknowledge and correct our own. Still, at times we will have to make judgments over others’ performance as, for example, a supervisor assessing an assistant’s work. We might remember the Native American adage then, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 11:4-9.9-18.20; Matthew 6:19-23)

It is said that if you give a child a choice between a worn dime and shiny penny, she will choose the penny. This may be true in general, but often enough there is a different result. Since they have difficulty making choices, children generally want both offerings. A sign of maturity is the ability to decide on a goal and to marshal one’s resources to achieve it.

In the gospel today Jesus is calling his disciples to maturity and beyond. He wants us not only to choose a heavenly treasure but to live implicitly righteous lives in order to achieve it. Wealth is a fleeting blessing, he would say, where divine love lasts forever. To achieve eternal life we are to share with others the love which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 48:1-14; Matthew 6:7-15)

Although no book of the Bible bears his name, Elijah may be considered the preeminent prophet of Israel. As a prophet, he received a special revelation from God, spoke on God’s behalf, and suffered at the hands of kings and people because of God’s message. However, he was not martyred, which was considered the prophet’s fate. Rather, he was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot, which was fitting since fire was Elijah’s trademark. Pope Benedict in his book Jesus of Nazareth writes that the people of Israel awaited Elijah’s return so that he might experience a true martyr’s death.

Because of his expected return, some thought Jesus himself was Elijah reincarnated. When he asked his disciples who the people were calling him, they answered that some considered him to be Elijah. But Jesus had another candidate for the Elijah role: John the Baptist, who was beheaded after telling the truth about Herod Antipas. For Jesus, John’s death anticipates the prophetic “Day of the Lord” which is how the evangelists saw the paschal event.

Christians understand the prophets as foretelling Jesus’ coming. How did Elijah do this? There are incidents about Elijah that parallel experiences in Jesus’ life like providing food for the widow and her son prefiguring Jesus’ feeding the multitude. Perhaps more indicative, however, is the story of the Lord God coming to Elijah as a whisper at the mouth of a cave. We see the whisper as Jesus, the full revelation of God in the quite unassuming figure of a carpenter from Nazareth, and the cave as the depths of his being where he talks with the Father because he is one with Him.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 2:1.6-14; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

Students at a Catholic high school would piously enter chapel during the lunch break for mass when their priest-teacher was observing, grade book in hand. Once the teacher left his post, however, the adolescents would sneak out thinking that they put something over him. But the teacher -- no one’s fool -- likely gave no real credit for mass attendance. He probably was well aware of what his students were up to and just hoped that the chicanery would result in their saying a few prayers.

In today’s gospel Jesus warns about performing acts of piety so that others may see them. He says that such hypocrisy finds no favor with the Father. He does not say, but we can presume, that such behavior has a net negative effect as one of its purposes is deception. We know eternal life or heaven to be reserved for the righteous with no wicked or faulty admitted. This means that when we are called, all deceit, hatred, and base desires will have to be seared from our souls. This purgation is often pictured as taking place on the outskirts of hell with all its blazing heat. Of course, we really don’t know what purgatory is like. Still we can say from our experience in trying to undo harmful habits that it is likely to be an unpleasant process we would do well to avoid. It would be much easier for us if we make transparency our way of life now.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 21:17-29; Matthew 5:43-48)

“It’s not fair,” we may protest, “King Ahab deserves to be exiled for killing Naboth, not exonerated for robing himself in sackcloth.” God’s mercy always seems to come after and trump His justice. But surely we see things backwards here. God always intends to bring about justice by showing mercy. As long as we show contrition for our sins, God will forgive us. But God’s mercy must not be taken for granted as if we may plot the resumption of a sinful act. Contrition presupposes the will not to sin again.

The child’s dilemma challenges this perspective. A child comes to Confession forever with the same sins – disobeying her parents or fighting with his brother, among other peccadilloes. Are these sins then forgiven? Or, perhaps, they are not sins in the first place? Of course, typically they do not comprise what we know as mortal sins, but nevertheless they should be fairly considered and dutifully given penance. Taken seriously, the girl here will grow in consciousness to realize the benefit of her parents’ judgment and the possibility of following it. Likewise, the boy will become aware of his brother's and, indeed, every human being’s dignity and not abuse it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 21:1-16; Matthew 5:43-48)

“’Frailty, thy name is woman,’” Prince Hamlet says of his mother, the queen, in Shakespeare’s play. But it is not true. Some women, like Lady Macbeth in another Shakespearean play, are as hard as the seats in the church basement. There is nothing frail either about Queen Jezebel in the first reading. As her husband, the king, pouts over not being able to obtain a parcel of land, she cooks up a treachery that would impress the Godfather. She not only defrauds but murders to steal the land away. Then she triply defies God’s law by arranging false witnesses testify that they heard poor Naboth curse God. Not frailty but pure wickedness characterizes this dame!

Some may see Jezebel as a figure of the archetypal Eve and cast all women in a negative hue. But we must resist the temptation. In Genesis, both Adam and Eve willingly share the forbidden fruit. In contemporary life, men much more typically than women commit heinous crimes. What sin always demonstrates, however, is the human need of redemption. Somehow men as well as women must be freed from the burden of guilt attached to their crimes.

“...all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God. They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus...,” declares St. Paul in the Letter to the Romans. Christ has freed Jews and Greeks, men and women, the dark and the light complexioned from the guilt which would hold them in sin like a car stuck in sand. We celebrate this redemption in the Eucharist. Here he frees us from our wanton desire to possess and to dominate like King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Ezekiel 34:11-16; Romans 5:5b-11; Luke 15:3-7)

In the second reading St. Paul speaks to us of God’s great love for humans. In the gospel Jesus draws us a picture of it. The Lord describes how the Father’s love extends even to those who reject his ways by the story of the man who goes looking for a lost sheep. When Jesus asks who would not leave behind ninety-nine sheep to look for one stray, we might think that this was the custom of the time. However, he probably has in mind that more prudent shepherds would stay with the flock to minimize their losses. His point is to say God’s love for each person is extravagant – like that of a caring shepherd who knows each sheep by name and cannot bear to think of any becoming prey of wild beasts.

Does God love us who try to stay close to Him as much as a retrenched sinner? This, of course, is the dilemma of the elder son in the parable of the prodigal which follows that of the man who has lost a sheep and the woman who has lost a coin. (Luke shows that God loves men and women without partiality by regularly including stories of women alongside those of men.) How can we doubt it? The image of the Sacred Heart perpetually on fire demonstrates that God’s love burns beyond the almost endless energy of nuclear fission to include all creation, especially each and every human being. We are sometimes advised not to locate any human in hell. The reason for this warning is that God’s love is so magnanimous that it can penetrate the thickest firewall of human turpitude.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 18:41-46; Matthew 5:20-26)

In his book Blood Brothers Elias Chacour, the archbishop of Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, tells of a reconciliation he catalyzed as the pastor of a small Palestinian town. The parish was riddled with factions. Families as well as the community were divided. The young pastor, Fr. Elias, decided to act on the crying need of peace. At the end of Mass on Palm Sunday, 1967, he hastened to the back of the small church and locked the door. Then he announced that no one would leave until they forgave one another. He said that they were not Christians simply because they came to church. He told them that they were disgracing the body of Christ by not forgiving one another of old grudges. Shocked by the demand, perhaps insulted by the charge, and not knowing what to do, the people just stood there. The pastor began to sweat. He could hear the gait of a mule outside and may have thought himself as dumb as the animal. Then a man, the police constable of the town, spoke up. He said that he was the biggest sinner of all for hating his own brothers. He apologized to everyone. Then he went to his brothers who rushed out of their pews to him in mutual forgiveness. Fr. Elias writes, “Within an instant the church was a chaos of embracing and repentance.

Jesus commands such repentance from the heart in the gospel today. Of course, when he says “brother,” he does not mean only brothers and sisters of the same parentage but everyone created in the image of God, the Father. Critical to note as well, Jesus is not seeking here forgiveness of others when they offend us. Rather, he is asking us to recognize our offenses and ask pardon of others. Too often, we become so stuck on how others have hurt us that we overlook how we have slighted our neighbors.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes great demands on his followers. We wonder if we can ever live up to them. We need to remember that Jesus provides his Holy Spirit to shore up our weaknesses. As Pope Benedict has said, “Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes away nothing and gives everything.”

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 18:20-39; Matthew 5:17-19)

This year American Catholic theologians remember one of their greatest practitioners, Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J. Fifty years ago, Fr. Murray published his monumental work on natural law and American governance, We Hold These Truths. His personal saga relates a reversal of fortune which we might compare to Elijah’s in the first reading. Fr. Murray had been censured by the Vatican for his claims that humans must be free to choose for themselves religious belief. In time, however, he was vindicated and eventually became responsible for one of the groundbreaking documents of Vatican II, the Dignity of the Human Person, which recognized the inviolability of conscience.

Elijah was isolated by Israel’s king and shunned by the people. In the episode that we have heard today God rescues Elijah from oblivion and raises him to the stature of Israel’s prototypical prophet. King Ahab had all but apostatized. The people of Israel were following him. Now Elijah calls everyone to accountability. “If the Lord is God, follow him; if Ball, follow him,” Elijah charges. But the people demur. Elijah then erects an altar reminiscent of Moses’ at the formation of the covenant. Then, he calls down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice he has made. God readily grants his prophet’s request, and the people are left with undeniable evidence that the Lord is God.

Jesus will give the people a similar choice when he says in the Sermon on the Mount, “No one can serve two masters....You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:15). Mammon, a word directly from the language Jesus used, means wealth or property. It has been the reigning Baal since the coinage of money. Jesus like Elijah presents his followers with the option of pursuing it or the righteousness of God. Despite countless demonstrations that money cannot bring happiness, people are still charmed by its promises. Yet we know at the bottom of our hearts – in our consciences Fr. Murray would say – that only God can fulfill our desires.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tuesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 17:7-16; Matthew 5:13-16)

It is not just that the widow of Zarephath gives up what represents her last piece of bread that impresses us but that she would do it for a foreigner whose religion she does not share. It would be as if a Muslim living in India were to freely donate one of her kidneys to a Christian in Argentina. But, of course, the widow does have something in common with the prophet. People the world over share a hidden desire for God who reveals Himself as goodness and truth in the depths of the human soul.

Since it consists of the same bread that we offer to God at mass, the woman’s offering prefigures our Eucharist. Just as God accepts the widow’s sacrifice and transforms it into a never-ending blessing for her and her child so too the bread which the Church consecrates becomes the body of Christ providing eternal life. The episode reminds us that hunger for God lies deeper than our appetite for bread. In pursuing the former, we find not just enough bread for our nourishment but the full promise of life which bread can only vaguely symbolize.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 17:1-5; Matthew 5:1-12)

A recent photograph of Pope Benedict captures some of the drama in today’s gospel. The picture shows the pope looking out from a window of the Vatican over a crowd of 120,000 people. All eyes are on him just as the gathering before Jesus on the mountain give him its complete attention. He sits down not to relax but to indicate his authority as a judge today always sits in her courtroom. The words he utters are intended for his disciples standing before him, but the crowd is by no means excluded from hearing his message. Indeed, just as his words will begin to form his disciples, who have only recently been called, so they will arouse the interest of the vast assembly.

We are familiar with the content of Jesus’ address. We call the segment given today “the beatitudes,” a word meaning “blessings.” Jesus is telling the people what it is like to be his disciples. To us it does not sound like fun to be “poor in spirit,” in mourning, or “persecuted for the sake of righteousness.” But Jesus not only insists that such conditions are blessed when experienced in his company; he actually names the blessings. His followers are in possession of the kingdom and comforted by the king. In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict offers an example of a disciple testifying to the glory received under the duress of following Jesus. St. Paul writes the Corinthians of his hardships: “We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body” (II Cor 4:8-10).

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Timothy 3:10-17; Mark 12:35-37)

A Protestant layman once told a Catholic priest how he envied him. The layman said that he would love to have meditation on Scripture as his life’s work. Lay people can, of course, study the Scriptures, but for most, their efforts comprise an avocation. Priests and Protestant ministers, on the other hand, have the responsibility of reflecting regularly on Scripture to derive its meaning, and convey that understanding to others in an appealing way.

St. Paul in the first reading today also shows the highest regard for Scripture. He knows that it provides a solid ground to base one’s life upon. Timothy, as the leader of a community, must especially root his life in Scripture. From it he will find success as God’s minister and support as a vulnerable human being. In fact reflecting on Scripture daily, like a diet enhanced by omega-3 fatty acids, will enrich anyone’s life.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Wednesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Timothy 1:1-3.6-12; Mark 12:18-27)

An inter-Catholic affair made national news a few weeks ago. The bishop of Phoenix dismissed a religious sister from the city Catholic hospital’s ethics board after she advised a pregnant woman suffering from pulmonary hypertension to abort her baby rather than face possible death to herself and her child. Journalists wonder how anyone might be required to give up her life for a person who is not even half-formed yet.

The Catholic answer, which will seem unrealistic to many, is that God has empowered us for heroism with the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is what St. Paul is referring to when he prescribes that Timothy “stir into flame the gift of God that you have.” Being daughters and sons of God, Christians are always to do good and never evil. Of course, depriving a completely human being of life is a serious evil morally equivalent to murder. The fact that our society accepts it as a practice to avoid difficulty casts a huge dark shadow on us as a people.

When Jesus taught us to pray “lead us not into temptation,” he probably had situations like the pregnant woman’s in mind. We do not want to be tried more than we have the capacity to withstand. However, we also conclude the prayer with “deliver us from evil” knowing that God will come to our side no matter the challenge confronting us.