Friday, October 1, 2010

Memorial of Saint Théresè of the Child Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Job 38:1.12-21.12-21.40:3-5; Luke 10:13-16)

"Their’s not to make reply, Their’s not to reason why, Their’s but to do and die." These well-known lines of Alfred Lord Tennyson exalt the valor of the British cavalry in the Crimean War. The horsemen were ordered against impossible odds to attack the Russian front. When they did, their losses were heavy. Is it God’s intention in His answer to Job that humans are likewise “not to make reply” to the evil we face? Are we prohibited from reasoning, “'Why’ is this happening to me?” Must we only suffer and sacrifice?

From the first reading today it may seem so. In answering Job’s complaints that he has suffered unjustly, God indicates that His purposes are more complicated than Job could imagine. God knows the intricate relationships among all components of heaven and on earth. Job only knows how to run a farm.

However, God never says that it is wrong for Job to question. After all, He created Job with a heart to feel, a mind to think, and a mouth to ask. God tolerates Job’s questions; he does not punish him for asking. In the end God even provides some answers. The day will soon come when God will reveal more of His purpose to Job-like questioners. When God sends His son into the world to die upon the cross, God shows that He acts first and foremost out of love for humans.

Thrusday, September 30, 2010

Memorial of Saint Jerome, priest and doctor of the Church

(Job 19:21-27; Luke 10:1-12)

The gospel today sounds like an episode of times past. It needs adaption. Just as St. Jerome translated the Bible from Greek into Latin so that more people may readily read its content, we must apply this passage’s lessons to our day.

For sure the harvest is abundant. Most people are aware of the gospel message through the preaching of Jesus Christ for twenty centuries. But there are wolves among them who not only evade the gospel call to repentance but also entice others to abandon the way of virtue. If we remind them of the need to come to church, they may respond that they are “spiritual not religious.” Or, alternatively, they may say that there is but “one God and each person may worship Him in her or his own way.” Or, they may challenge us to show that God indeed exists and cares about us. How are we to respond to these objections?

Jesus first would have us model the glory of gospel life by our simplicity and joy. We do not brag about our accomplishments or show off our successes but humbly and happily serve those whom we encounter. As we know, right living relays a powerful message. Then we address the contemporary objections to faith. The spiritual life points to the presence of God who has revealed Himself in the community of believers. One cannot be spiritual and, at the same time, abandon religious practice. Also, history shows how that the faith community has grown through the centuries with some aberrations that no longer follow the practices prescribed by traditions going back to Christ, the Son of God who came to reveal the Father’s will. All believers may worship the same God but not necessarily in the ways that God prescribes. Finally, we cannot prove that God loves us because that is a matter of faith. However, believing has brought peace to millions throughout time as it can to doubters today.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels

(Daniel 7:9-10.13-14; John 1:47-51)

Quantum mechanics proposes that positions of subatomic particles cannot be determined with certainty. Indeed, it presumes that a particle can be in two places at the same time. Albert Einstein refuted this idea saying that there must be specific position for each particle because “God does not play dice with the universe.”

Just as Einstein and other contemporary physicists have speculated over the movement of subatomic particles, Thomas Aquinas and other theologians in the Scholastic Age contemplated the presence of angels on a pinhead. Their purpose was not to count angels but to indicate God’s presence to humans in distress. The scholastics, following Scripture, maintain that God’s ways are infinite since He uses these spiritual entities to carry out His will.

Today’s feast of the archangels encourages us to trust in God’s Providence by offering a glimpse into the mechanics of God’s ways. In the gospel Jesus predicts that his disciples will see the Father assist him bear the greatest of human suffering by sending angels over him. Similarly, we can be reassured that God will help us when we turn to Him with our needs.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Job 3:1-3.11-17.20-23; Luke 9:51-6)

Lest the parable of the “Good Samaritan” make us think that Samaritans incarnate virtue, today’s gospel notes Samaritan intolerance. For practical purposes Jesus is denied hospitality in a Samaritan village simply because he is a Jew. We may conclude that prejudice is a human defect that is seen when a majority people feels threatened by a minority. It seems that this phenomenon is showing itself among Americans today with the influx of Latin immigrants.

Where the disciples are ready to respond quite aggressively to Samaritan hostility, Jesus shows restraint. As a matter of fact, he shows disfavor with the disciples for their impulsiveness and not with the Samaritans for their lack of neighborliness.

At one point in this same Gospel According to Luke, Jesus says that he did not come to bring peace. But that is a very relative statement. He is not here to abet the peace of self-satisfaction and indifference. Rather, he means to assist his followers conquer their prejudices and agressiveness, even when victory means setting them apart from family and friends. The end result, however, is a purer love for everyone – friend, foe, and especially God.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Memorial of St. Vincent de Paul, priest

(Job 1:6-22; Luke 9:46-50)

Fr. Jack Hickey founded the original Dismas House, a refuge for ex-offenders just released from prisons. He died a premature death twenty-five years ago but is recognized within Dismas Inc. as its inspiration. Of course, to establish such institutions requires money which Jack pursued with all due urgency. He is quoted as saying that he would have accepted money from the devil for Dismas Houses. Of course, such establishments must avoid material and most formal cooperation with evil, but we see the writer of Job picturing God in a certain sense colluding with evil in the first reading today.

Very critically, God does not perpetrate evil in Job even though He does not restrain it entirely. The reason for this reality will be explained by the story in due time. Today we should only make a few notes. First, as we have said, God does not directly cause evil. Second, the whole of creation, even Satan himself, serves God’s purposes. And third, the good person Job complies implicitly with God’s will to give us a model of how to respond when evil touches our lives. Faithful Jews and Christians for millennia have said with him, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!”

More often than ever, perhaps, humans are tempted with the idea that God as we know Him from the Bible does not exist. Science seems to explain most everything that humans once attributed to God. But we should not become disillusioned. Science can and should explain the natural universe. But it cannot explain nature’s creator whom we know as “God.” We believe God is completely beyond us, a being infinitely more mysterious than even general relativity and quantum mechanics. Yet God has chosen to reveal Himself to us out of love. We have prospered with this belief and following His same love.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-11; Luke 9:18-22)

In Umberto Eco’s novel The Island of the Day Before the main character is shipwrecked at a point just beyond the International Date Line. He sees his salvation in reaching an island that is on the other side of the Date Line, seemingly existing in a previous time. If he can get there, the reader gathers, perhaps he might undo the ills that have happened in his life. But, of course, it is an impossible quest. The island does not exist in a time past. Rather, the “day before” is only part of the time differentiations which humans construct to make sense of day and night around the world.

In the well-known passage from Ecclesiastes that we read today, the author Qoheleth speaks of another futile effort involving time. It tells us that no matter how much time or toil we put into the project, human effort cannot achieve salvation because that is in God’s hands. The text admonishes us to follow God’s ways according to the schedule He laid down in the Mosaic Law.

However, God does not abandon us in our quest for the eternal. Rather, although it was beyond the view of Qoheleth, salvation does come through the Paschal event of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He is the fulfillment of the timeless hope, noted by Qoheleth, that rests in every human heart.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, priest

(Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; Luke 9:7-9)

Over a generation ago physicist Steven Weinberg sounded a scientist’s existential knell. He wrote, "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." That is, the more knowledge of the universe humans have, the less significant they seem in comparison with the totality of reality. Weinberg seems akin to Qoheleth, the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes, whom we hear in the first reading today. Both, at least, are pessimistic about the prospect of humans finding fulfillment in their own achievements.

Qoheleth is really not a kill-joy. When he writes that “all is vanity,” he does not mean that human effort is useless and happiness illusory. His concentration on “vanity” is meant to indicate that people should not place their greatest hopes in new ideas or other humans, all of which cannot overcome the formidable enemies of sin and death. He observes that there have been innovations before, yet humanity goes on with just about the same mix of good and bad as always. Great men have also come and gone without improving human virtue. Unfortunately, Qoheleth never encountered Christ. If he had, he would have discovered the one exception to his rule. In Jesus we can become truly good people destined for eternal life.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Proverbs 30:5-9; Luke 9:1-6)

A short story tells of a young couple of modest means. They attend a lower-class Protestant church, perhaps Baptist, with devotion. As years pass, the couple becomes wealthier and their tastes change. They find themselves socializing with different people and following these people to higher brow churches – a progression something like from Methodism to Presbyterianism to Anglicanism. Eventually, the woman dies and the man (if I remember the story correctly) chooses not to have a church funeral. The man, at least, has lost his faith in Jesus.

The reading from Proverbs today reminds us to ask God for sufficiency, not for wealth or poverty. Riches tend to make one forget about God as the short story attests. Although the poor are said to attract God’s concern, poverty is hardly desirable in itself. As Proverbs indicate, it may cause loss of trust in God’s providence. “In medio virtus stat” (virtue stands in the middle), the scholastics taught. We are best off neither rich nor poor but with just enough so that we do not forget both to thank God for today’s bread and to ask Him for tomorrow’s.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Feast of Saint Matthew, apostle and evangelist

(Ephesians 4:1-7.11-13; Matthew 9:9-13)

Once a social worker in a Catholic nursing home was doing what we might call “gospel therapy” with a resident. She read the first part of a verse expecting him to complete it. It was amazing how many of the verses the aged resident knew so well that his response was automatic. For example, she might have said, “I am the way.” And the respondent would supply, “And the truth and the life.” Many of the worker’s verses were drawn from the Gospel According to Matthew which are etched in the memories of most Catholics. For example, she said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit...”; “Come after me and I will make you...”; “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine...”

Today we celebrate the feast of the author of this “first” gospel. As with the other gospels we know little with certainty about his background. Because his Greek language is refined, he was not likely a Hebrew-speaking disciple of Jesus. Since the gospel refers to the destruction of the Temple, which occurred in the year 70 A.D., he probably composed the work after that date and, therefore, was of the second generation of Christianity.

In the Gospel passage selected for today’s feast, Jesus characteristically quotes the Old Testament. The evangelist Matthew alters those words a bit, however. Where the prophet Hosea says that God wants mercy more than sacrifice, Jesus is quoted as saying that God wants mercy and not sacrifice. Whatever Jesus’ original words were, Matthew also expresses his purpose for coming to the world. We should take them to heart because they contain the key to salvation. Let us do a bit of gospel therapy. If we hear, “I did not come to call the righteous...” What are we to answer?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Memorial of Saints Andrew Kim Taegon, priest and martyr; Paul Chong Hasang, martyr; and their companions

(Proverbs 3:27-34; Luke 8:16-18)

A lifetime ago poet T.S. Eliot wrote what many people wonder today. “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?” Eliot asked, “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” Our society seems to know more and more but act with less prudence. Information abounds, but few seem able to use it profitably. Schools, where knowledge should be passed on, may provide a good example. All too often they stand out for apathy and resistance rather than the pursuit of understanding.

In the Scripture readings at Mass this week we will hear several wisdom passages. Today’s passage from the Book of Proverbs reminds us to be generous and just. Also, Jesus uses proverbs to teach the crowds in the gospel today. The wise, he says, will listen carefully to worthy instruction or they will lose whatever edge they have had on life’s challenges. Later in the week we hear the wisdom of Ecclesiastes warning that human achievement is vain without proper acknowledgement of God.

Wisdom is not knowledge and much less mere information. It is truth about life which takes almost a lifetime to comprehend. We are wise not to dismiss the readings from Scripture this week as commonplace or already mastered. Rather we should ponder them anew and measure our lives according to their contents.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 8:1-3)

A famous painting by the French master Georges de La Tour hangs in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. It shows a loosely-clad woman sitting in front of a looking glass in meditative stupor. She is fingering a skull, which sits in front of, and almost blocks from view, a burning candle. “What’s it all about?” she seems to ask herself as she contemplates life and death, herself and Christ, the light.

The painting is called “The Repentant Magdalene,” but this may be a misnomer. That title reflects a popular but unfounded belief that Mary Magdalene was a reformed prostitute. Preachers through the ages have concluded that Mary Magdalene, mentioned for the first time in Luke’s gospel today, is “the sinful woman” who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears of yesterday’s gospel passage. But today’s gospel only identifies her as the woman “from whom seven demons had gone out.” Demon possession in the New Testament is associated with sickness and hysteria, not moral depravity. Mary Magdalene’s relation to the woman of the previous chapter is likely one of inclusion, that is the evangelist Luke includes the story of the women accompanying Jesus following that of “the sinful woman” to indicate how Jesus attracted different kinds of women as well as men to himself.

But certainly the questions that La Tour’s Magdalene seems to ask are likewise inclusive of all humanity as well. What’s the point of it all? Is our destiny just dry bones that will whither completely in time? Or is Jesus the fire who enlightens our minds today and will empower our resurrection from the dead tomorrow? We Christians know the answers to these questions. Our task is to live their implications in our everyday lives.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Memorial of Saints Cornelius, pope, and Cyprian, bishop and martyr

(I Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 7:36-50)

Albert Camus, the twentieth century French existentialist, wrote in The Myth of Sisyphus that suicide is the most important philosophical question. First and foremost, he opined, one should decide whether life is worth living before bothering to think about any other thing. In a similar vein, it might be said that the most important religious question for us Christians is whether Jesus rose from the dead. We might suspend every other article of faith until we address that issue.

In the first reading today Paul faces the question head-on. He tells us not just that Christian witnesses have testified to Jesus’ resurrection since it presumably happened, but also that he personally, and quite unlikely, saw the risen Christ. He admits that the vision was a special grace and that it completely turned around his life.

Reading the letters of St. Paul, we feel like he is a contemporary. There is no stiltedness to his words or lack of sensibility in what he says. Rather, he writes as honestly and passionately as Rachel Carson in The Silent Spring or John Steinbeck in Travels with Charlie. The witness of these letters, confirmed by Paul’s enduring multiple hardships to proclaim it to others, reassures us that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is no fiction. He rose to give us, like he gave Paul, the grace to conquer sin in our lives and to survive the death that is to come.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

I Corinthians12:31-13:13; John 19:25-27)

Besides Jesus himself the most prominent and the most sympathetic character in Mel Gibson’s drama “The Passion of the Christ” is Mary, his mother. She is present in many of the flashbacks and in the graphic scenes of his being whipped (where she takes it upon herself to preserve his precious blood as a treasury of grace). She also stands as his cross, a loving witness of the world’s redemption. Nothing is said in the Gospel of John, the only one of the four that pictures Mary on Calvary, of how she feels to see her son crucified, but who could doubt that her emotion is one of inexpressible sorrow?

An ancient Eastern Christmas prayer speaks of Mary as the fairest of the human race and thus the perfect gift for the Christ child. Perhaps we should reserve the distinction of being the fairest for the infant himself, but Mary does represent the Church in her semblance of perfection. As she agonizes, we too are moved with deep sorrow to see Jesus die. While she lets go of a son, we part with a brother. He is, we know too well, better than we in every way – more generous to the needy, more ready to forgive, more insightful and wiser. The experience of watching him die slowly, painfully, and unjustly is almost unendurable. Graciously, however, he is not lost to Mary or to us forever. God will acknowledge his goodness and raise him to everlasting life. Sorrow will not reign as the definitive Christian virtue. It is only a step in the journey to full love.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Number 21:4b-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17)

Although the swastika has been used for eons with varied significances, most people see it today as a symbol of Nazism. As such, it conveys the idea of a misconceived super-race with the supposed right to conquer and suppress any nation or people. Analysts have found this meaning stemming from the design of a cross that is turned in upon itself.

Since Jesus death and resurrection, the cross has been associated with human transcendence through belief in Jesus’ divinity. The horizontal bar symbolizes human destiny without Christ doomed to destruction. But Christ, symbolized by the vertical bar, gives humanity eternal possibilities if humans but attach themselves to him through faith. However, the right angles of the swastika represent humanity’s turn to itself again intercepting the hope of transcendence.

All this may sound like heady speculation, but it also may give us a better appreciation for the Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross that we celebrate today. In Roman times the cross was a sign of death, much like a hangman’s noose today, because it was used to execute criminals. Jesus, however, transformed it into a symbol of life by embracing death in perfect love according to the Father’s will. Following him as our Lord and Savior, we can view the cross as an assurance of our new destiny.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, bishop and doctor of the Church

(I Corinthians 11:17-26.33; Luke 7:1-10)

Last year in the Catholic Campaign for Human Development annual collection some people showed their disgust with the organization by placing messages of protest in the collection basket at Mass. Whether or not their protest is legitimate, we can ask if it is appropriate to publicly show division among the faithful at the Eucharist. Is it not expressing factions in a similarly offensive way that St. Paul criticizes in his First Letter to the Corinthians?

As theologians will remind us, the Eucharist is the primordial sacrament of reconciliation. Because the Lord becomes physically present in the elements of bread and wine, we should approach it humbly. Following Jesus’ recommendations in the gospels, we first seek reconciliation with those whom we find offensive and then come to thank him for giving us peace. It is not the time to express indignation.

We owe thanks to God for that division in the Corinthian church. Because of it, Paul gives us the earliest extant reflection on the Eucharist. The text reassures us that our Mass is not an invention of the early Church to conjure the spirit of Jesus. No, it is a true memorial established by the Lord to make his life-giving body and his sin-forgiving blood present to us.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 9:16-19; Luke 6:39-42)

In Frederico Fellini’s film memoir Amarcord all the townspeople including a blind man go to the bay to welcome a luxury liner. When the vessel comes into sight the blind man feels the excitement of the crowd and exclaims, “I can see it! I can see it!” The people have conveyed to him not just the appearance of the liner but its magnificence in the bay on the balmy summer night. In the gospel today Jesus exhorts his disciples to prepare themselves to give similar testimony so that others may see.

Faith is a new way of seeing. It transcends our limitations, like the blind man "seeing" the luxury cruiser, to perceive what is invisible to the eye. It tells us that we are loved with greater intensity and richer promise than we can possibly feel. It assures us that our struggle to follow our consciences has eternal value. Christ’s followers – that is, we who eat his body and drink his blood – must convey these realities to those who think that only what the hand can touch has existence and will endure.

We give testimony to faith by both saying and doing. Publicly thanking God for the benefits we receive reminds others of His existence. Foregoing small satisfactions to assist others testifies that God calls everyone to care for one another as He cares for us, His children.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, priest

(I Corinthians 8:1b-7.11-13; Luke 6:27-38)

Suarez, Lonergan, Rahner, Marechal, de Lubac, Chardin – these are names of great Jesuit thinkers. The Society of Jesus has distinguished itself perhaps more than any other religious community for academic theology over the last 450 years. Yet the greatness of the band is demonstrated more by the holiness of its members. Certainly St. Peter Claver endowed this latter category.

Peter Claver traveled from Spain to Colombia as a young Jesuit in the early eighteenth century. After he was ordained there, he began to work with slaves in the port city of Cartagena. He cured the slaves of illnesses and gave them instructions in the faith. He was fearless in entering disease-infested slave ships – all “for the greater glory of God.”

In the first reading today St. Paul instructs the Corinthians the truth Peter lived. As helpful as knowledge may be, it is always second to love. Knowledge can inflate one with pride. Love, on the other hand, makes others strong. Out of love for sensitive co-believers Paul advises his readers to forego enjoying meat sacrificed to idols as he might advise parents today to take care not to watch television with mature themes with their children. Out of love for God Peter Claver dedicated his life for the welfare of the most socially oppressed of His children.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Micah 5:1-4a; Matthew 1-16.18-23)

Although it is different in the southern hemisphere, in the north we celebrate the birth of Mary when summer’s heat dissipates into comfortable warmth. The weather outside mirrors Mary’s presence to the Church as gentle and consoling. For this reason, we confidently turn to her for assistance in praying to God.

Of course, stories of successful Marian intercession are many and varied. She was beseeched for years to pray for the conversion of the Soviet Union. One of the great blessings of our times, although still not fully realized, has been the peaceful dismantling of atheistic Communism.

It is not necessary to ask Mary’s help. After all, the New Testament proclaims Jesus himself as our primary intercessor. But Mary, as the gospel today indicates, keeps our faith moored to the surety that Jesus is human as well as divine. Going to Mary with human needs is not doing an end-run around Jesus. Quite the contrary, it is acknowledging Jesus as completely concerned with our requirements and aspirations.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tuesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 6:1-11; Luke 6:12-19)

Paul’s list of wrongdoers in the first reading today is revealing. Most of the sinners transgress the boundaries of passion. Talk of the sexual revolution in the 1960s should not make us think that promiscuity was invented toward the end of the last century. The New Testament underscores the prevalence of sins of the flesh through the ages. In fact, we should note how Jesus as well as Paul emphasizes the power of God to spare humans the dismal consequences of illicit sex.

We might also take note of how Paul writes of “sodomites,” not “homosexuals.” The two are not co-terminus as not every homosexual engages in sexual activity. The necessary distinction reminds us that homosexuality itself is not immoral and that homosexuals deserve the same respect as any other person. In fact, in the present age of sexual license homosexual adults living chastely deserve admiration.

Most noteworthy about the passage, however, is the primacy of communal conflict on Paul’s list of vices. Christians are not to fight publicly with one another since open hostility undermines the reputation of the Church as well as its unity. Disagreements will erupt in any human organization, but they are to be resolved peacefully. Paul’s emphasis on unity indicates the social nature of sin. When Christians sin, they not only offend God but also one another. The Church has a mission to be a light to the world. Sin dims that light so that non-Christians may not know Christ.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Monday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 5:1-8; Luke 6:6-11)

Although humans pride themselves on intelligence and freedom, we more often behave as creatures of habit. Rather than think about what we do, we usually prefer to act as we always have. Unfortunately, by not thinking we can cause harm or ignore suffering in our midst. Such is the situation of the gospel reading today. The people refuse to challenge the idea that no one can cure on the Sabbath because such a deed, it is presumed, would violate the prohibition against working on the day of rest. Fortunately for the man with the withered hand Jesus thinks differently and acts on his conviction. He assures us that one does not sin by restoring full health on the day that is meant to celebrate life.

Customarily on Labor Day, Americans have their last fling of summer. They fill golf courses and picnic groves or perhaps just stay at home watching tennis. As desirable as recreation and rest may be, Labor Day has a greater purpose. It is a time to thank God for the work that we do five days a week, fifty weeks a year. It is also a fitting occasion to pledge to work more intelligently, like Jesus in today’s gospel, keeping the good of others always in mind.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Saint Gregory the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

(I Corinthians 4:1-5; Luke 5:33-39)

The Harvard economist Joseph Schumpeter once observed that one servant is worth a thousand gadgets. Devices like a GPS, I-Phone, and microwave oven may enhance convenience and satisfaction, but can they ever replace a loyal, competent servant? In the reading from I Corinthians today, Paul shares some insights into the Lord’s service.

The “us” to whom Paul refers as Christ’s servants is not meant to be all Christians, but those like himself who minister to the community. In Paul’s mind ministers directly serve Christ, not the people. This means that they take orders from the Lord and not from the faithful among whom they work. Of course, by not subjecting oneself to human authority, the minister risks becoming arrogant and autocratic. Paul, however, finds a safeguard in the criterion of trustworthiness. A true servant of Christ will prove himself or herself faultless in conduct, including humility.

Today the Church celebrates one of her most distinguished servants, Pope Gregory I. He worked tirelessly at the end of the sixth and beginning of the seventh centuries to support the plague-ridden Italian people, to improve relations between the eastern and western churches, and to promote missionary activity. He was distinctly aware of serving the People of God as he coined the term by which popes still identify themselves, “the servant of the servants of the Lord.” The church has honored him by calling him “Pope St. Gregory the Great.”

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 3:18-23; Luke 5:1-11)

A witness to the process of canonization of St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers, testified that the saint never became agitated or angry. Even on arduous journeys, Paul of Venice said, Dominic “was always happy in tribulations and patient in adversities.” This note regarding another saint may help us appreciate the holiness of Simon Peter in the gospel today.

Simon must feel tired and frustrated as he returns from a long night of fishing without catching anything. We might think of the writer who spends hours before her computer before realizing that she has typed nothing worth saving. Or Simon at this moment may be compared to the farmer who comes home to find his garden completely ruined by raccoons. Simon may want to swear and certainly needs to rest before considering his next outing. When Jesus at that moment tells him to put out to sea and lower the nets again, he may even consider exploding, “What do you know about fishing?” But instead he tells the Lord calmly what took place during the night and without hesitation does as Jesus commands. The result, of course, is a catch so stupendous that Simon is completely humbled and entirely changes his life.

Very often in the New Testament followers of Jesus are exhorted to patience, kindness, and gentleness. Roughness, bitterness, and rancor are not Christian virtues. Not only do soft words and obliging ways attract others to Christ, they also act like gentle rains producing abundant fruit for their practitioners.