January 2-6


Christmas Weekday (Friday, January 6, 2012)

(I John 5:5-13; Mark 1:7-11)

Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould opined that humans may not be as superior as they think. He acknowledged that the human brain has unequaled powers, but offered as a comparable marvel the ability of certain bacteria to withstand temperatures of several thousand degrees. And so the academic debate rages: are humans merely a twig among the wide array of evolutionary branches? Or are they at the pinnacle of earthly creation?

Christians should have no doubt about the answer. We believe not only that humans have been created in the image of the Creator, but also that the Creator has deigned to take on our human flesh. This second truth has especially vaulted humans far beyond other participants in the realm of biological life. Because of the Incarnation, being human can no longer be strictly associated with error and guilt. It is more appropriately considered with decency, respect, and love. This is the import of Christmas, the feast that still commands our attention, almost two weeks after its celebration.

Although humans are capable of the heights of heaven, they sometimes act more like dogs fighting over food. Sin has so tarnished the image of God that some have difficulty perceiving their potential for goodness. As the reading from the First Letter of John states, we must turn to Christ as the witness of the glory which is within our reach.

Memorial of St. John Neumann, bishop (Thursday, January 5, 2012)

(I John 3:11-21; John 1:43-51)

In a cinematic adaption of the French classic Les Miserables, the hero Jean Valjean writes his wife a letter from jail. Because monotony rules prison life and also because he a simple person, Valjean just repeats, “I love you,” over and over again. We may have a sense that John’s First Letter does basically the same thing.

John has testified that God is love. In order to please God then, John indicates that Christians must imitate His loving. This means that love flows from words into action. If not, he would say, then it is counterfeit. The test comes when one sees a member of the community in need. Just as Jesus gave his life for his followers, one has to assist the needy brother or sister.

Love, like all virtue, is not a habit in the sense that it is performed in a rote way. It calls for creativity as well as care. We may say that we love others, but we betray that word if we treat each person with the same chatter and the same piece of bread. No, love implies acknowledgement of the other’s individuality with a fresh and sincere response to her/his need.

Memorial of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, religious (Wednesday, January 4, 2012)

(I John 3:22-4:6; Matthew 4:12-17; 23-25)

The gospel passage says that Jesus “withdrew to Galilee.” But we should not think of him as beating a retreat. Actually, he is charging to the battlefront. Herod Antipas has just arrested John the Baptist for criticizing his unlawful marriage. Jesus leaves the solitude of the Jordanian desert to take up John’s banner in Galilee. His message is even the same as John’s, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Herod Antipas, the Baptist’s nemesis, can hardly ignore it.

Like Jesus we are sometimes called to show courage. A shouting match turns into a fist fight where someone is going to get hurt. We should intervene or, at least, call for help. More often we exhibit courage by facing difficult tasks with calmness and determination. St. Elizabeth Ann Seton demonstrated such courage in her short life with many accomplishments. She mothered five children and then became a woman religious founding the Sisters of Charity. She also set up the parochial school system in the United States, established orphanages, and wrote spiritual reflections. Pope Paul VI canonized her as the first native-born American saint in 1975.

The Feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus (Tuesday, January 3, 2012)

(I John 3:7-10; John 1:35-42)

Western societies generally revere the name of Jesus so much that it is reserved for the Lord. Spanish culture is the significant exception to this rule. But Jesus was a popular name in biblical times. “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” Certainly, it is an apt name for the Christ who, as God’s agent, saves humans from sin and death. Because of Jesus we can live in freedom and look forward to heaven.

But providing the literal meaning of a name does not reveal why the name “Jesus” is “most holy” as we proclaim on this feast day. For this we must look deeper. We should note that in the four gospels dares to call Jesus by his name alone, without any titles or formalities. This is not his mother or one of his disciples. It is the so-called good thief. On the cross he calls out to his companion in suffering, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The direct appeal does not incur reprimand but approval. Jesus awards the man for his boldness. “This day,” he tells him, “you will be with me in Paradise.”

The name “Jesus” is most holy because when we call it out in faith, God listens. We can be dying sinners and still expect mercy when we call it repentantly. To be sure, it is not a magic formula but the last, best hope of a contrite heart.

Memorial of Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory Nazianzen, bishops and doctors of the Church (Monday, January 2, 2012)

(I John 2:22-28; John 1: 19-28)

The great painting of the crucifixion by the German master Mathis Grunewald shows a diminutive John the Baptist standing on Jesus’ left pointing to the Lord. “What is he doing there?” we might ask, “Wasn’t he killed before Jesus?” Of course, he was. But he stands at the cross to give the same testimony that he does at the beginning of the gospel: Jesus is the Lamb of God who must increase while others must decrease, at least in comparison to him.

Today’s gospel forms part of the testimony that John gives in the first chapter of the fourth gospel. It may be noted that little is said of John’s baptizing and nothing about Jesus baptizing. John, the evangelist, is not interested in Baptism here, but in the Baptist’s testimony. Evidently in the first century John was considered as a rival of Jesus and the true Messiah. In the passage today John clarifies that he is not the long-expected one and that Jesus is greater than he.

We often exaggerate our own importance. We may like to talk about our accomplishments or use our money to attract notice. John gives us pause. As great as he was, he gives testimony to Jesus as greater than he. Jesus is the one that deserves everyone’s attention and our praise.

December 26-30


The Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (Friday, December 30)

Genesis 15:1-6.21:1-3; Luke 2:22-40)

A popular modern sculpture of the Holy Family challenges traditional sentiments. It shows St. Joseph embracing Mary with Jesus in her arms. What outrages some is the physical contact between Joseph and Mary. Pious artists of the past were careful not to hint of physical intimacy.

Scripture asserts that Mary conceived of Jesus as a virgin and never indicates that she had sexual relations. St. Jerome, the preeminent Biblical scholar of the Patristic era, held that Joseph also was a virgin. The two – Mary and Joseph – obviously were of the same mind and heart as the gospel today indicates, but they did not share the same bed.

What then are we to make of those who criticize the contemporary Holy Family statue? Are they fuddy-duddies or do they maintain a sense of right order? Mary and Joseph model many virtues that are necessary for us as citizens of both earthly and heavenly society. Compassion, courage, and charity name but a few. To see them as exemplars of self-restraint in our age of over-indulgence seems not just valid but very helpful.

The Fifth Day in the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord (Thursday, December 29)

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

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

John is not challenging Christians to love those who hate them here. Nor is his meaning that Christians have to love blood brothers and sisters. He is simply reiterating Jesus’ commandment to his disciples that they love one another. It may sound easy, but hard feelings can sprout like weeds in a vegetable garden when humans associate. Disputes have originated in the Altar and Rosary Society and among Knights of Columbus as if these organizations were bands of pirates. Everyone feels frustration, envy, and even enmity in community at times. John is saying that we must overcome these troublesome sentiments.

John would be oversimplifying, however, if he means that Christian love may stop at the church door. Rather it is the case that we learn toleration, respect, and compassion in the family and in community so that we may, in turn, go out and love even those who hate us.

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs (Wednesday, December 28)

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

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

It may offend sensitive people to entertain frivolity on a day commemorating the slaughter of children. But perhaps Holy Innocents Day jokesters just take to heart the belief that the infants have gone to God. “So why not rejoice?” they might ask. Somehow, however, that is just too facile an attitude. It does not recoil at the injustice of the blood of children. It also begs the question, “Why live at all?”

The answer to the last question is obvious for older folk. The Baltimore Catechism used to teach, “We live to know, love, and serve God in this world and to be happy with him in the next.” The tragedy of people dying young is that they cannot come to know God very well. Yes, they should receive the beatific vision in heaven, and there is something marvelous about the prospect of seeing God through children’s eyes. But just as an entomologist will appreciate the subtleties between different types of insects in ways that escape the average person so growing in wisdom through the years will make us more enthralled at God’s glory. There should be no regret then in becoming old then if we accordingly grow in wisdom. Conversely, it is sad when one dies young.

Feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist (Tuesday, December 27)

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

Once a disillusioned pilgrim returned from the Holy Land lamenting the conditions he encountered. Not only was there strife between Jews and Arabs, but hawkers constantly besieged him with souvenir trinkets. Even in Bethlehem there was conflict. The man marveled at how times have changed, but he only had to read the Scriptures closely to realize that trouble is nothing new to the area.

Although the Gospel of Luke depicts a tranquil setting for Jesus’ birth, there is much evidence of turmoil during New Testament times. In John’s gospel Jesus conducts a running debate with the Jews who try to kill him. The Letters of John report a feud between the community of the beloved disciple and a secessionist group who apparently believed that morals do not matter. Of course, there is the acrimonious debate between Jesus and the Pharisees which is believed to reflect trouble between the first Christians and their Jewish compatriots.

In spite of all this conflict, the writer of the First Letter of John offers a testimony of hope. Much more than a dream or vision, the testimony involves a real person – one he looked upon with his eyes, heard with his ears, and touched with his hands. He is saying that despite the tumult we face today, Jesus, the Word of life, is on hand promising eternity for faithful followers.

Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr (Monday, December 26)

(Acts 6:8-10.7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22)

The play Murder in the Cathedral tells the story of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170. Half-way through the play, the archbishop delivers his Christmas sermon. He asks the congregation, “Is it an accident … that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ?” No, the Church deliberately places the Feast of St. Stephen on the day after Christmas to remind the faithful that God’s Son came into the world to die for their sins.

Unless people think that the dual sentiment of Christmas is the invention of the Medieval Church, the same duality is found in both Luke’s and Matthew’s Nativity accounts. In Luke after Jesus is born his parents take him to the Temple where Simeon prophesizes that Jesus will be a sign to be contradicted or, more colloquially, to be done in. In Matthew the horror is more palpable. Jesus’ birth occasions the jealousy of King Herod who has thousands infants murdered to protect his kingship.

We must take to heart the cross sentiments of Christian life. Our happiest celebrations, like the birth of a child, should not make us forget that infants around the world die of malnutrition. Similarly, our most intolerable burdens, like the loss of a loved one, should not go without faith in Christ’s victory over sin and death. We live both the death and the resurrection of the Lord deep in our hearts everyday.

December 19-23


Friday of the Fourth Week of Advent (December 23, 2011)

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

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

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

God also acts to relieve the situation. He sends John to warn of punishment for sinners and also gives us Jesus who will employ another strategy. Jesus will expose the barrenness of life in pursuit of pleasure, which is a form of self-love. It may gratify some immediate desire but ends in the coldness of the earth. By contrast, emulating Jesus’ love for others -- including our own offspring -- puts us on the path to eternal happiness.

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent (December 22, 2011)

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

The movie It’s a Wonderful Life has more than a Christmas scene to recommend it as an all-time holiday classic. More importantly, the film demonstrates all the hope that the child Jesus brings into the world. The schemes of the villain Potter are vanquished while poor people are enabled to live with dignity. Most of all, God comes to the help of his faithful servant, George Bailey, in his moment of desperation.

What director Frank Capra puts on film, Mary proclaims in the gospel today. She sings of how in sending His son into the world God meets the needs of the poor and sends the rich away empty. Mary makes these claims after pondering all that the angel and Elizabeth tell her. She is showing herself to be a true apostle as she listens to the word of God, turns it over in her heart, and then gives it fresh expression. Now we rejoice with her and proclaim, as she does, the goodness of God to others.

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent (December 21, 2011)

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

Caryll Houselander, a twentieth century mystic, wrote that during Advent Christ is to grow within us as he grew in the Virgin’s womb. At this late date he should be almost full-term and making himself felt as Elizabeth’s John in today’s gospel. He would be telling us to look no further for consolation. Gift-giving, tree-trimming, and cookie-cutting have their places in Christmas festivities but the real benefit comes from worshipping the infant king. Once, Honduran peasant children were discussing their Christmas gifts in the village church. No one mentioned a new coat and much less a smart phone. No, to the children of that village Christmas gifts were not what they received from Santa but their offerings of obedience and prayer to the baby Jesus. Would anyone doubt that those children had a richer sense of Christmas than children receiving stacks of gifts taller than themselves?

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent (December 20, 2011)

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

It is said that a military commander may not send troops on a “suicide mission” without their consent. A society can conscript a person into the army as a matter of the common good. The common good may further dictate that the conscripted soldier enter combat with the possibility, but not the surety, that he or, we need to add, she may die in action. If, however, there is near certainty that the soldier will be killed, the military should obtain his/her permission since soldiers are enlisted to give their service, not their lives.

In this gospel of the Annunciation, God gives to the Virgin Mary a similar prerogative to withdraw from his plan of salvation. Although the passage uses the declarative mode “you will...,” the angel waits for her consent. She is free to refuse to cooperate with the heretofore unheard of plan of conceiving by the Holy Spirit to give Israel its long-awaited Messiah. In a famous homily, St. Bernard of Clairveaux pictures the world hanging on Mary’s word. Of course, she expresses her willingness and thus advances the process of the Incarnation.

As God does not force Mary to participate in His plan, He does not force salvation on us. We are free to accept or reject it. Although it is an entirely gratuitous gift, salvation involves some effort on our part. We have to heed the words of Jesus. But his commands are not so much burdensome as they are liberating. We may think of them as directions from a GPS. They provide us the best possible way to get us to where we want to go.

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent (December 19, 2011)

(Judges 13:2-7.24-25a; Luke 1:5-25)

We feel for couples who want to have children but remain barren. Often they seem to be the best of people – she, gentle and caring and he, responsible and understanding. Raising offspring like themselves would not only fulfill their dreams but would also give hope to their neighbors for a nobler society. Why, we ask, does God not grant the continual prayer of such a pair?

Children, however, are not created to satisfy personal and/or social needs but to serve God’s design for justice. In both readings today God grants the barren couples a son to further His purpose of preparing for the coming of Christ. Manoah and his wife will give birth to Samson who will defeat the enemies of the Israelites among whom Jesus will be born. Zechariah and Elizabeth will give birth to John who will announce that the Lord is at hand.

Is it then that God answers the prayers of some couples but not others? Not really. God answers all our prayers. In paving the way for Jesus, God assures that our deepest desires -- for peace, love, and life – can be satisfied.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

(Isaiah 56-3a.6-8; John 5:33-36)

A lovely poem by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore treats the somber theme of death. It says that death is not what is popularly thought -- the “extinguishing (of) the light.” Rather, it consoles, death is “putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” The same interplay of two kinds of light governs the Christian perspective of the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus.

In today’s gospel passage Jesus calls John “a burning and shining lamp.” He lightens the way to Jesus himself as the Savior of the world. In the beginning of the gospel Jesus is called “the true light that enlightens everyone who comes into the world.” He teaches how to live and provides the necessary help to fulfill his instructions.

As we in the Northern Hemisphere experience the minimum of sunlight during late December, we reflect on Jesus as the light more radiant than that of any star. He insures a worthy life now and eternal life in a realm beyond our dreams.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

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 advocates are sickened by candidates for public office waffling on the issue out of political expediency. Certainly people can change heart on any issue, but abortion politics defies parameters of true conversion. John the Baptist stands as the direct opposite of the ambitious politician.

In today’s gospel Jesus does not see John the Baptist as a reed bending in the wind because he sought to please people trying to justify their sins. To the contrary he counts him as a prophet because he holds people accountable to God’s law. Jesus assures as well that the Baptist a not court dandy wearing kingly gifts of fine robes. Rather he is content with the crudest of garments because he trusts in the Providence of the. The irony of the declarations about John is that despite all of his virtues as a prophet, Jesus does not compare him 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.

John the Baptist is a saint worthy of our emulation as well as our invocation. Yet like all humans he was, at least at times, partially blind to the fullness of God’s goodness. We want to stand like him always making ourselves smaller so that Christ may become greater. But we also want to remember God’s mercy which exceeds His righteous judgment.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, priest and doctor of the Church

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

A phrase in the new translation of the Mass almost clangs against the ear. The Second Eucharistic Prayer begins in the usual mode of petition then it takes a sharp turn to descriptive language. “…by sending down your Spirit like the dewfall,” it says reminding the people to soak their passions and prepare themselves for the germination of a whole new world. A very similar image echoes in the reading from Isaiah.

The Lord God is declaring His will for the people. They have been is darkness, but now a new beginning has come. “Let justice descend,” God says, “…like dew from above.” Justice will purify the heart and mind of each person to create a society which attends to God’s will. It takes definitive shape in Jesus who opens the eyes of the rich swollen with greed and preaches hope to the poor trapped in envy.

Impeding the coming of justice, the commercialism of Christmas drives us into obsession with material gifts, whether we mostly give or take them. We still can pray that Christ penetrates our hearts like the dew. We need his grace to resist the preoccupation with presents and packaging and to aspire to due change in the social order.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Memorial of Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr

(Zephaniah 3:1-2.9-13; Matthew 21:28-32)

Probably because her name suggests the word for light, those with eye problems invoke St. Lucy for assistance. Little about her is known with certainty, but there are pious stories of her eyes being plucked out and then restored. Fortuitously, her association with light draws out the meaning of today’s gospel.

Of the two sons in Jesus’ parable, the one who does the will of his father sees the light. The other son, thinking that paying lip service to his father’s wishes is enough, walks in darkness. The irony is that Jesus connects the son having the light with the suspects of his day – “tax collectors and prostitutes.” Conversely, he associates those who consider themselves pretty good with the son wallowing in darkness.

Conversion in this life never ends. Even if others consider us as good folk, we have to strive to love God more thoroughly and to consider ourselves more honestly. This is God’s will for us – what it means for us to “go out and work in the vineyard.”

Monday, December 12, 2011

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

(Zechariah 2:14-17; Luke 1:39-47)

On the wall of a diocesan pastoral center hangs a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The other day an end table with a dish of roses was discreetly placed beneath that image. The table still may have impeded passage but nevertheless seemed quite appropriate during the novena of today’s feast. The roses it bears, we should understand, illustrate in part the significance of Guadalupe.

Roses growing abundantly out of season comprised the sign that corroborated Juan Diego’s story of having encountered the Mother of God. The rose itself, often considered the epitome of floral beauty, ably represents the Virgin. However, the roses’ symbolic value metamorphosed into the actual image of the Virgin as they fell from the Indian’s shirt. It is that image which has stirred the most discussion about the appearances.

Many characteristics of the image deserve commentary – the blocked out son, the color of the mantle and inner garment, the down-bent eyes reflecting the presence of Juan Diego. One such characteristic corresponds well with the gospel today in which Mary, having conceived by the Holy Spirit, visits her cousin Elizabeth. The black cord tied around the Virgin’s bosom indicates that she is carrying within her the Son of God whom she will present to the world with a critical message. In the gospel she will tell Elizabeth that God has lifted up the lowly while dismissing the arrogant. In Mexico she announces to both Indian and European – that is, to everyone -- that we must come together to honor God by creating a society based on human dignity.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Friday of the Second Week in Advent

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

In an illustration of a Bible drawn by hand and illustrated with gold leaf, angels are announcing the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds around Bethlehem. Most of the shepherds listen to the message, but in the corner two -- a man and his maiden -- merrily dance away. The illustration forthrightly depicts what we know by experience: the good news is intended for all but some choose not to heed it.

In the gospel today Jesus expresses his frustration with those who deliberately ignore the call for repentance. He says that it has been preached in varied tones – the sternness of John the Baptist and the festiveness of himself; still, most in his generation find objection to it. Could it be that the idea of a God who cares so much that He comes as a human is too much for these people to bear?

In two weeks we will be celebrating the feast of God’s coming. More than anything Christmas tells us how much God loves us – so much that He gives up His place in the heavens, as it were, to accompany us in our need. Our response must only be one of attentiveness to what He has to say.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

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)

In the novel Our Lady of the Forest a sixteen-year old girl’s new found innocence resembles the Virgin Mary’s. After being abused and living as a flower-child, the girl’s life is permanently altered when she experiences an apparition of the Blessed Mother. She no longer seeks anything for herself but only strives to serve the good of others. The tale hints at the import of today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

The reading from Genesis suggests Mary’s complete victory over sin when God excoriates the serpent. However, more tangible authority is found in the gospel when Gabriel’s addresses Mary as “full of grace.” Together with a long tradition, these two Scriptures moved Pope Pius IX, in consultation with the bishops of the Church, to proclaim that Mary was without sin all her life.

If we know ourselves well, we realize that we often fail to respond with charity. However, this reality, accurately called “sin,” will not last forever. Just as God’s grace preserved Mary from all sin, He will move us beyond ours. We do, of course, have to cooperate which should not be too hard if we believe that our reward is eternal life.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church

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

As Isaiah testifies in the first reading, “God is great.” He is much greater than humans – either as individuals or as a collective. St. Ambrose recognized this. Instead of pursuing fame and fortune for himself, he answered God’s call to serve as bishop of Milan. Unfortunately, many people try to compete with God. Rather than accept His precepts of right and wrong, they attempt to establish for themselves norms of behavior. The results are typically disastrous. People become stressed out with disappointing relationships and unfulfilled aspirations.

In the gospel Jesus clarifies the alternative. Living his way brings peace and security since he helps those who come to him. Yes, it does involve some self-sacrifice, but it avoids the hurts that self-righteousness inflicts.

If it sounds too simple to us, we don’t understand the nature of God’s greatness. More than anything else, God’s greatness consists in His love for all. He enables the weak as well as the strong, the dull as well as the bright, the poor as well as the rich to know his support.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Memorial of St. Nicholas, bishop

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

A pastor is giving hundreds of bags packed with candy and a toy to the children of his parish today, the feast of St. Nicholas. Nicholas was a zealous bishop in the fourth century about whom little else is truly known. There is a legend about him throwing three bags of gold into the home of three impoverished girls who were about to be handed over to prostitution. The money was used for dowries, and the three girls were happily married. From this tale comes the custom of gift-giving on St. Nicholas Day.

Although charming, such a story pales in comparison to the generosity shown by God in the readings today. The prophet Isaiah envisions God liberating His people from captivity in Babylon. This vision is ultimately fulfilled by Jesus, the good shepherd, in the gospel. He gives up his life to rescue sinners from absolute perdition.

Although children are too often indulged with candy, a little treat along with a hearty catechesis is in order today. We want to teach our young of Jesus’ gift of himself which is far more delightful than any sweet. His love brings us eternal happiness.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

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

The young man wanted to see a priest. He said that he needed to talk about his life awhile and then go to confession. He was in no hurry, he said, because this time he wanted the grace of the sacrament to stick. Is the paralytic of such a mind when he is lowered in front of Jesus in today’s gospel?

The gospel relates how the Scribes and Pharisees feel indignation with Jesus’ pardoning of the paralytic, but it doesn’t say how the pardoned man hears Jesus. Perhaps he is disappointed because he was looking for a physical healing. After all, he is introduced as “a man who was paralyzed.” But perhaps that description just tells what people see when they look at him. It is possible that he came to see the holy one, Jesus, to seek his consolation for having lived wickedly. If so, hearing words of forgiveness may sooth him more than being healed.

To answer the question which Jesus poses to his critics honestly, we would have to say that it is easier to talk about forgiveness of sins than to spontaneously heal someone. For us, as for the Pharisees, it sometimes seems impossible that our guilt may be wiped away in an instant. But such a mighty deed becomes credible when we recognize Jesus for whom the gospels claim him to be - the Son of God who has come to us.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Friday of the First Week of Advent

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

Fr. Mark Link, the Jesuit spiritual director, recommends a simple examination of conscience at day’s end. He advises listeners to pray, “Thank you, Father,” and name a blessing bestowed that day. Then they are to say, “I am sorry, Jesus,” and identify a particular sin or shortcoming experienced. Finally, they are to petition, “Holy Spirit, help me,” and include a challenge that will be faced tomorrow. Performing this simple exercise, Christians will realize the promise of Isaiah in the first reading.

Isaiah looks toward the coming of the Messiah as a time when “the eyes of the blind shall see.” This prophecy is literally fulfilled in the gospel when Jesus restores the sight of two blind men. He comes as well to give his followers sight or, maybe better, insight. They are to recognize his hand in providing the light of the sun and the water of the earth. They are to see his face in the poor and needy.

Absorbed in ourselves, we are blind to the goodness that abounds around us. Hearing Jesus’ gospel call, we recognize egotism as a significant cause of our inability to see. Eradicating it with concentrated effort and prayer, we experience the Lord in our midst which is the goal of Advent.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thursday of the Frist Week of Advent

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

People often come to churches looking for a handout. Not unusually they ask for cash to pay rent or purchase gasoline. It is difficult for churches to meet all these requests partly because of limited resources but also because church staff members frequently do not recognize the petitioners. If the needy were members of the congregation, however, the staff would make every effort to secure assistance. Today’s Scripture readings indicate why this is so.

The passage from Isaiah and the gospel today are related by the mention of the “Rock,” which is God on whom the people can rely. The reading from Isaiah is also connected to the basic gospel message proclaimed by Mary in her canticle praising God’s goodness. As it says, God comes to disperse the arrogant and raise up of the lowly; He provides a strong city with high walls to protect the humble. The city here refers to the Church, the community of faithful, who look out for one another.

We remember the poor, especially at this time of year. Whether or not they are members of our parish, we provide them assistance so that they too find joy in God’s coming. But if they are people who kneel with us in prayer, we naturally exert greater energy. They have a prior, although not an exclusive, claim on both our heart and our bounty.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Feast of St. Andrew, apostle

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

Although we know very little about St. Andrew, most Catholics remember the date of his feast before that of any other apostle. November 30 is etched in our minds because of its association with Advent. The feast does not mark the beginning of the season, but the Sunday nearest it is always the first day of Advent.

As Advent marks a new liturgical year, the Feast of St. Andrew reminds us of the dynamism of preaching. Today’s gospel shows Jesus calling the fishermen Andrew and his brother Peter to follow him. The call is so strong that the brothers do not hesitate a moment but leave their fishing nets and even their father in the boat. In the first reading St. Paul articulates the process of preaching. The word of God is not just read or recited but interpreted for the people in their own context. In this way all will come to know God as their common Father, Christ as their Savior, and each other as brothers and sisters.

This vision of a universal family coheres with the prophecies of Isaiah during the first weeks of Advent. We have to live it among ourselves, work for it among associates, and pray for it among the nations of the world.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 11:1-10; Luke 10:21-24)

A woman writes of her faith as the glue that holds her life together. She says that when her seven-year-old was hit by a car, she stormed heaven that his life might be spared. God favorably responded, and she remains imminently grateful. Jesus almost sings with similar gratitude in the gospel today.

Seventy-two of his disciples have just returned from a missionary expedition. They witnessed wonders like demons being repulsed in Jesus’ name. Now he praises God for providing such powerful testimony of goodness that they, like the woman who stormed heaven, may trust in Him completely.

During Advent we raise our expectations to see God work wonders. There is the almost universal goodwill of Christmas to look forward, but as short-lived and compromised as the season is, we will likely become disillusioned if we place much hope in it. No, now is the time to think really big as Isaiah envisions in the first reading. We redouble our efforts and prayers for the development of all peoples, for an end to the arms race, and for human rights in the Middle East.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 8:5-11)

Every so often a municipality advertises a “guns for cash” deal in hopes of reducing the number of firearms within its limits. There is usually a generous response, and the mayor and chief of police are photographed with a stack of guns in the background. A close examination of the guns, however, would reveal that the vast majority are useless! Such programs never make a city safer and may even result in more crime as people, deluded into thinking that there are fewer dangerous firearms around, take less precaution. The reality of “guns for cash” illustrates how the prophecy in the first reading today remains to a good extent an unfulfilled dream.

In one of the most hope-filled passages in all Scripture Isaiah foretells the day when nations will convert their bombs into books or, as he puts it, their “spears into pruning hooks.” It is a time of Messianic fulfillment when Israel’s king will win the favor of the world so that all peoples will accept the adjudications of his God. Christians, of course, see the prophecy partly realized in Jesus, the teacher of peace. But they have to admit that the arms build-down foretold by Isaiah still awaits completion.

Yet we not only hope for a safer world but put our shoulders to the task. We should acknowledge schemes such as “cash for guns” as well-intentioned but naive. Nevertheless, we begin by cultivating peace among ourselves as a way of life. Then we take the effort to bring our peace to other places and cultures. Finally, and most critically, we place our hope for peace not so much in our own but in God’s with constant prayer.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 7: 2-14; Luke21:29-33)

It is difficult for most people today to appreciate apocalyptic literature. Certainly contemporary concerns -- keeping a job and educating the children – are legitimate, of course. However, they pale really in comparison to the woes of apocalyptic times. People engage in apocalyptic thinking when ravaging armies come into their lives and systematic servitude becomes a looming threat. Apocalyptic writers offered hope to victims of calamity by providing a vision of eventual triumph after a long, hard struggle.

The only example of a completely apocalyptic work in the New Testament is the Book of Revelation. There faithful Christians are assured victory over their Roman persecutors, “the whore of Babylon.” In the Old Testament the Book of the Prophet Daniel is the prime example of the apocalyptic. Written during the oppression of the wicked Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Daniel foresees an eventual reversal of lots. Israel will overturn its oppressor, and God will reign over it forever.

Interestingly, the grotesque passage from Daniel that we read today makes sense when it is interpreted with the aid of the Book of Revelation. The text at hand is obscure. But John, the visionary of Revelation, cites the same passage evidently working from a different manuscript to provide a sensible rendition of its meaning. The passage is apparently an alternative account of the reading from Daniel heard at mass on Tuesday; that is, the succession of empires leading to the everlasting reign of God.

We should not take apocalyptic literature as a literal description of the future. Then how are we to understand it? We might spiritualize its meaning: we must struggle against the evil in our lives, be it lust, greed, or hatred. Or we might allow it to remind us of peoples in the world live today suffering the same kind of oppression as the ancients: Christians in the Near East and Tibetans, Mynamarians, and Congolese in their native lands come to mind. Or, finally, we might appropriate the hope offered by these texts as our future when we take up God’s ways: a time of universal peace, goodwill, and friendship.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Day

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

After Thanksgiving dinner the family invited its dinner guests to stand in a circle. Each person was asked to announce her or his reasons for being grateful to God. Most said that they were thankful for their families. The children of one family expressed heart-felt gratitude for their baby sister who seemed to have been born unexpectedly but who brought new joy to the household. The gospel today expresses how important such exercises of giving thanks are.

In the passage Jesus bestows salvation on the one healed leper who remembers the source of his blessing. As important as good health is, it is not the end and goal of life. Salvation, our eternal welfare, is. Jesus indicates that salvation comes as a gift from God when we give Him thanks. It should be added that such thanksgiving needs to be more than a one time or even annual affair. No, the thanksgiving that results in salvation is a way of life that finds expression not just in worship of God but also in service to others.

Our Thanksgiving customs, like most things today, have become unfortunately secularized. The day is associated more with eating turkey and watching football than with offering thanks to the Lord. We do well to institute a custom of giving thanks like the family in the illustration above. It will encourage everyone to count his or her blessings. It should also provoke service to the poor so that they too will have manifold reasons for giving thanks.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 5:1-6.13-14.16-17.23-28; Luke 21:12-19)

The writing on the wall has been decipherable for some time now. Yet many still refuse to pay attention. The sexual revolution of the 1960s propelled by the contraceptive pill has caused more misery than could have been imagined. Children born without fathers to protect them, women and men contracting diseases, and the felt need to destroy emerging life are all pathologies attributable to the frivolization of sex. Sexuality is rightfully considered as God’s gift to creation for its continuation. Humans have turned it into a vehicle of common pleasure.

In being both being blind to the writing on the wall as well as misusing God’s sacred vessels, humans today duplicate the story of the Babylonians in the first reading. The latter should have been conscious of what they were doing when the robbed the Jerusalem Temple of its sacred objects. But they were completely oblivious. They also might realize that the peculiar writing on the wall can be nothing but a message of doom for their rapaciousness.

With good reason we want our young to shun present ideology which attempts to control the outcomes of sex rather than respect it for the holy and creative force that it is. In teaching them discipline regarding sexual appetites we are providing a map to both righteousness and happiness.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, virgin and martyr

(Daniel 2:31-45; Luke 21:5-11)

Recent events have shown that the United States, as powerful a nation as it is, cannot control the course of the world. Its withdrawal from Iraq indicates that it has lost the will to assure a peaceful society there. And the persistence of the Taliban in Afghanistan challenges the American quest for justice in that land to the breaking point. The country must reassess its purposes as prophet Daniel proposes in today’s first reading.

Daniel, writing from an historical perspective, recognizes that mighty kingdoms come and go. He is supposedly warning the king of Babylonia but actually has all the rulers of the earth in mind. His message is that they not strive to conquer more lands but to concern themselves with true justice and peace. In the end God will judge the nations of the world. In Daniel’s prophetic imagination, God’s kingdom is the stone that becomes a mountain that fills the whole earth.

We Americans have cause to be grateful for the blessings heaped upon our country. Our nation has all-in-all contributed to a better world. But we should not be lulled into thinking that every American initiative is just. Our leaders are wise to remember that Americans have caused hardship in the name of democracy and that they too are subject to judgment.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Daniel 1:1-6.8-20; Luke 21:1-4)

Jews are often thought of as competitive even to the point of being merciless. Certainly Shakespeare views the Jew Shylock in this vain. The foil to the protagonist of his drama “The Merchant of Venice” would have a man die in retaliation for all the affronts that he and his people have received. More intricate but, on a superficial level at least, just as belligerent the Jewish lead character of the movie “The Pawnbroker” looks down on the non-Jews who surround him. However, knowing the Scriptures should leave us with an opposite evaluation of Jews.

Although it is true that the Pharisees are depicted in the gospels as hypocritical defenders of the Jewish Law, they need not be considered ideal or even iconic Jews. Jesus, of course, is a Jew until the day he dies. So is his mother Mary whose Jewishness the Church celebrates on this feast of her presentation in the Temple. Daniel and his confreres in the first reading today might be considered ideal as they are willing to sacrifice the pleasure of eating succulent meat and tasting choice wine in order to observe the kosher laws. The poor widow hailed by Jesus as truly generous is also Jewish.

Our responsibility is not just to refrain from demonizing Jews. Rather we should recognize and be grateful to them. Some of their literature is dismissive of Christ and probably contemptuous of Christianity. But they have contributed enormously to Western civilization and have maintained the Covenant into which our Savior is born.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Maccabees 4:36-37.52-59, Lucas 19:45-48)

The first reading today describes the origins of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah. Some treat this feast as the Jewish Christmas because it is celebrated around the same time of year with special attention to children. However, its significance to Jews seems as thin as a pencil in comparison to the meaning of Jesus’ birth to Christians.

As we have heard for the last week, the Maccabees clan resisted the reforms of the Seleucid (Syrian) king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The king tried to impose pagan customs on the people to the extent of desecrating the Temple with an altar to Zeus. After eight years of outrage, Mattathias Maccabeus and his sons rebelled. They rallied faithful Jewish forces behind them to oust the occupiers. In the passage today Mattathias’ son Judas leads the rededication of the Temple and declares an annual celebration which Jews observe today as Hanukkah.

In the gospel we find Jesus performing a vaguely similar cleansing of the Temple. The situation, of course, is very different but it is the same zeal for the holy that impels Jesus to drive out the vendors. Both readings remind us of the centrality of a consecrated place to worship. We might praise God anywhere and should pray wherever we find ourselves. But formerly the Temple and now the synagogue for Jews and the church for Christians have unique importance. They are the designated places of encounter with God hallowed by the prayers of forbearers in many cases for ages.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, religious

(I Maccabees 2:15-29; Luke 19:41-44)

With secure ways to imprison violent convicts most Western countries and many American states have abandoned capital punishment for most crimes. The exception to this rule is treason which still carries the death penalty in states like Michigan, the first English-speaking jurisdiction to ban it for other felonies. These facts provide context to understanding the two killings that shock sensitive readers in the passage from I Maccabees today.

Mattathias takes the lives of a Jew who was offering an illegitimate sacrifice and of the king’s messenger, probably not Jewish, who is promoting the abominable sacrifices. At least the death of his first victim is mandated by the Law (Deuteronomy 13:7-10). But both killings should be taken as legitimate execution. Just as some contemporary jurisdictions treat treason as the only capital crime, sacrifice to idols in ancient Israel is uniquely offensive. It violates the Covenant in a way that not only affronts the Lord but diminishes the faith of the people, which is considered necessary for Israel’s survival.

We must not commend actions such as Mattathias’ if done today; nevertheless, we should be cautious about condemning the Jewish hero. Jesus never faces such a critical situation although he does use force in cleansing the Temple. It is his teaching, however, that inclines us to shy away from capital punishment. He implores us to love our enemy, which does not necessarily exclude putting him to death, but certainly suggests it. Capital punishment, as the Church teaches, is a penalty of last resort when the common good is genuinely and severely threatened.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(II Maccabees 7:1.20-31; Luke 19:11-28)

Doomsday prophets seem eternally upon us. Many forecasted disaster in “Y2K.” Earlier this this year a radio commentator predicted with considerable effect the end of the world in May. Now several authors have written of an apocalyptic happening when the ancient Mayan calendar supposedly runs out in December of next year. The scientific community has produced several life-ending scenarios as well. Showing evidence that a meteorite crashing into the earth millions of years ago caused the extinction of dinosaurs, astronomers declare that a similar occurrence can happen again with little warning. Similarly geologists point to past cataclysmic eruptions inside the earth which are likely to change its face again. More important for us, Jesus in the gospel today hints at what it will be like at the end time.

Jesus is about to ascend to Jerusalem. There he will be crucified and rise from the dead. Now he wants to leave the people with a sense of what to expect after those traumatic events take place. His parable is an allegory about his paschal journey from which he will return to judge his followers. He emphasizes that if they pursue goodness, they will be richly rewarded. On the other hand, if they idly wait for his coming, they will be left empty-handed.

We have no idea when the world will end. Indeed, according to Jesus, only “the Father” can say that. But whenever it takes place, we want to anticipate it by working diligently because Jesus has indicated that his return will take place co-terminally. This means that we are to strive for justice in the world, love among our associates, and peace in our hearts.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Memorial of Saint Albert the Great, bishop

(II Maccabees 6:18-31; Luke 19:1-10)

Conventional wisdom sees old age as a time of relaxation. The aged should not have to work and may be excused from the disciplines other adults are expected to keep. St. Albert the Great shunned this kind of thinking for himself at least. When he saw that the legacy of St. Thomas Aquinas under attack, he left the leisure of his cell to defend Thomas’ teachings. It was hardly a matter of pride in Aquinas as his former student. Albert realized as much as anyone that Thomas’ writings would be one of the richest treasures in the Church’s storehouse.

In the first reading we hear of another senior who refuses to allow himself to be seduced by comfort. Eleazar could avoid torture by flaunting the Jewish Law along with the masses. His sense of righteousness, however, does not permit it. He further rejects causing scandal by refusing to feign eating pork in order to escape death.

We owe the elderly respect and in many cases thanks. They have given us life and built a society recognized for justice and development. But their work is not finished. In our age of wavering virtue we need them to exemplify faith in God and commitment to righteous living. Without these the gains of the previous generation will be lost in the next.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Maccabees 1:10-15.41-43.54-57.62-63; Luke 18:35-43)

The language of faith is often undercut by popular thinking. When a person says that she “believes” something, most people hear a modicum of doubt in her voice. They understand her to mean that she does not know for sure but only thinks that what she says is true. This kind of qualified assertion is hardly what the Church understands by faith. Faith is a way of knowing with more certainty, not less, that what is said is true. The reason for such conviction is that the tenets of faith have been revealed by the Lord.

In the gospel the unnamed blind man, called Bartimaeus in Mark’s version, demonstrates real faith. Not wavering a bit, he acts on his belief that Jesus is the Messiah by making a scene. Because such faith is always rewarded, the man receives the sight which he requests. The gospel adds that he wastes no time to follow Jesus. True faith in Jesus can do no less.

In a way it is understandable why many people possess faith that is tainted by doubt. Some of the concepts that the Church has held as part of faith in the past have been abandoned. One example is the literal accuracy of the account of Adam and Eve. Another is the belief that the world is at the center of the universe with the sun revolving around it. But these have always been secondary beliefs. What is at the Heart of faith, called the “hierarchy of beliefs,” is non-negotiable. We should accept those truths with all our minds and, more importantly, live from them.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, bishop

(Wisdom 13:1-9; Luke 17:26-37)

“Don’t ask for whom the bells toll, it tolls for thee,” writes poet-priest John Donne. Of course, the bells he has in mind are the death toll. Although many people prefer to put off thinking about it, the hour of life’s end is always approaching. For those with sixty years behind them, it will surely be sooner rather than later.

Jesus makes the same point in the gospel today. With an image that might chill a polar bear, he warns, “Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather.” He means that death is part of life because we have bodies which will one day be the food of worms if not birds. So, Jesus admonishes, humans should prepare for the inevitable.

Jesus’ injunction to deal with mortality deserves more than passing attention. Although it is certainly legitimate to stave off death through healthy living and medical practice, we need to give ourselves over to death in a sense by self-denial. Jesus himself is our primary example. He took up his cross not just in Jerusalem but throughout his public ministry. St. Martin of Tours serves as another model. He gave up a military career to follow Christ, and when he became a bishop, worked tirelessly to administer his diocese as efficiently and effectively as possible. We follow by living for others not for ourselves, by performing periodic penitential acts, and by praying constantly.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, pope

(Wisdom 7:22b-8:1; Luke 17:20-25)

People often think of the present age as the greatest. But are its representative products -- I-phones, plasma TVs, global positioning devices – really so wonderful? Or do they, like the fashions of every age, just provide the rich with outlets for their wealth and the poor with objects to crave? Can we not ask with T.S. Eliot a few generations ago, “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Today’s first reading reminds us that wisdom has an eternal character that is available to every age. It is also universal so that both rich and poor may partake of it. In contriving twenty-one attributes the author shows how wisdom, and not the products of technology and commerce, makes life worthwhile. The number, incidentally, symbolizes absolute perfection being the product of seven, representative of simple perfection, and three, indicative of the divine.

Wisdom admonishes us to discern the value of everything. It recognizes the satisfaction that comfort and convenience bring us but realizes that these do not comprise happiness. Most importantly, it understands that fulfillment is found in our striving to live righteously giving each his or due, beginning with God, not overlooking anyone nor ignoring our own potential.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

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)

In a world torn by war and other forms of violence the Community of Sant’Egidio is reaching out for reconciliation. Sant’Egidio is a Catholic lay organization whose members pray together and do works of charity. Because the community recognizes war as the cruelest agent of poverty, it has taken an active part in peace negotiations among warring peoples. Its modest successes demonstrate how the image of church as healer proposed in the reading from Ezekiel today can be realized.

Ezekiel shows the Temple, the archetype of church, as the source of healing and welfare. From its bowels water flows with regenerative power that produces life-giving plants and even freshens the sea. It can do so, of course, because it is the pole of the earth where God meets humanity.

Christianity has crowned the concept of church with a new meaning. It is no longer strictly the place where we pray but our very community. Most radically, it is Christ whose body becomes both altar of the perfect sacrifice and embryo of a new people. In him our wounds are healed and our enmities reconciled.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Wisdom 2:23-3:9; Luke 17:7-10)

The Book of Wisdom was probably composed in the century before Christ in Alexandria, Egypt. In some ways the Jews in that context were dealing with the same challenges Christians face today. Individualism was on the rise along with skepticism and general dissatisfaction concerning traditional beliefs. Formerly religious people were turning to paganism and secular philosophy in order to thwart the threat of persecution. The author of Wisdom searched ancient texts for remedies to these challenges. He maintained by living righteously according to the Law, Jews could be assured of eternal life.

This sounds like Christianity's message, but there is a critical difference. Jesus promises much more than the eternal existence of the soul flying around like a spark in a fire. His resurrection from the dead offers followers the prospect of glorified bodies. They are to enjoy the wonders of physical creation without the maladies that corporality in its current mode inevitably bears.

Wisdom's message is especially timely in this month of November when we remember our beloved dead. It shores up our hope for eventual reunion as it points to the moment in eternity when we will all huddle together in familiarity and joy.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Wisdom 1:1-7; Luke 17:1-6)

The revelation that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced darkness, dryness, and depression on her way to sanctity shocked the world. Yet despite her trials every morning before the sun came up, she prayed an hour before the Blessed Sacrament. Her prayer probably echoed that of the Apostles in today’s gospel, “Increase our faith.”

The Apostles ask for more faith after Jesus challenges them to a new kind of holiness. Not only are they never to give scandal causing others to sin, but they are to be always ready to forgive the sins of others. They feel incapable of following these commands.

In truth, unaided they are! None of us can live the righteousness of Jesus solely by means of natural virtue. It is the grace of the Holy Spirit poured into our hearts that provides the decisive margin. The Spirit moves us to both inordinate zeal for personal perfection and compassionate understanding of others’ foibles.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Memorial of Saint Charles Borromeo, bishop

(Romans 15:14-21; Luke 16:1-8)

Two Protestants visiting Rome were amazed by the immensity of St. Peter’s Basilica. One said to the other, “I wonder how much it cost.” The reply was, “Half of Christendom.” The answer implies the trouble which the granting donations for a fee caused. Unable to stomach the transactions, Martin Luther made his famous protest which led to much of northern Europe seceding from papal authority. The Church badly needed reform from within which men like St. Charles Borromeo carried out.

It does not seem unlikely that Charles Borromeo would make a statement like St. Paul’s in the first reading today. “…I will not dare to say anything except what Christ as accomplished through me…,” Paul writes. Like Paul Charles faced a huge task. Nepotism was rampant in appointing bishops and cardinals. Some clerics not only had children but promoted their advancement. The Council of Trent outlined a program to reestablish right order, but it took intelligent, diplomatic, and holy men like Charles to implement it.

In praying to St. Charles Borromeo we implicitly recognize the Church as an institution. Perhaps some of us are uncomfortable with thinking of the Church in this way. But unless it had a definite structure, it would hardly be able to exist much less administer the needs of more than one billion people. Still it behooves the leaders of the institution not to think of themselves as corporate executives but as servants of the Lord.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Memorial of Saint Martin de Porres, religious

(Romans 14:7-12; Luke 15:1-10)

St. Martin de Porres, a half-Black Peruvian, at first thought of himself as unworthy of religious life. When the Dominican friars of Lima, who accepted him in their convent as a servant, wanted him to join their ranks, he was resistant. Was it the color of his skin that made him consider himself as unfit? Or perhaps it was the awareness of himself as a sinner? In either case his humility seems exaggerated today. It may be that Martin eventually reappraised his own self-worth to realize that although he was not perfect, he too was redeemed by Christ.

In today’s gospel Jesus demonstrates that no one is outside the range of God’s salvific action. Tax collectors, at least in Jesus’ day, are notoriously greedy. “Sinners,” perhaps Luke’s euphemism for prostitutes, are likewise given to depravity. But Jesus expresses loving care for these unsavory types by the dual parables of the shepherd and the housekeeper. No one should consider herself or himself as so lost that God would not go out of His way to rectify her or his life.

Christian holiness starts from the realization of oneself as a sinner. Everyone should recognize that deep down he or she is inordinately self-centered and avaricious. From this consciousness we hear Jesus’ call to conversion and look to him as both model and impetus for overcoming the inclinations to sin. Then we legitimately see ourselves as works of a new creation with full membership in the company of saints.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

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

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

The preacher declared, “We all go to purgatory when we die.” Then he gave his reasoning: no one on this earth is perfect and everyone dies in need of purification.

On one level the preacher may be too hopeful. Evil does exist, and some people submit to it. We pray that no one is condemned to hell, but we should not forego the possibility. On another level, the preacher may not be optimistic enough. There are a few who live spectacularly holy lives and are duly accorded heaven at death. But generally the preacher has it right. Most people never fully give up selfishness and will need some work before mounting God’s heights.

Today we pray for the dead hoping that in time other Catholics will pray for us. Purgatory may not be the dreadful fire that is sometimes depicted. We could think of it as a kind of program for substance abusers. But as cozy as some programs may be, substance abusers want to return to their families. Just so, the souls in purgatory long to be with God.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Solemnity of All Saints

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

Mike is a simple, honest fellow. He never went to college but has been able to earn a comfortable living by working with unions. He sees himself as so fortunate that he wants to give back to others some of what God has bestowed on him. Unlike many with similar motivation Mike helps people anonymously; that is, he tries not to make a show of his generosity. Someday Mike may be among the people that we celebrate today, the Feast of All Saints.

In Matthew’s gospel, after Jesus calls “blessed” those who are poor and meek, yearn for justice, and suffer persecution, he tells his disciples that they should strive for holiness without calling attention to themselves. As if it were possible, they are not even to let their left hand know what their right hand is doing. Because many have followed Jesus’ admonition through the ages, the number of saints vastly exceeds the 10,000 or so that are on the Church’s books. Especially these anonymous ones are called upon today for assistance.

But, of course, invocation of the saints is only half our responsibility. We must imitate the saints’ holiness as well. Our “random acts of kindness” should also be “anonymous acts” as much as possible. When we live in this way, we will find ourselves not just pleasing God but also living in peace.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 11:29-36; Luke 14:12-14)

A religious education program conducted its classes prior to Halloween every year in the parish cemetery. When daylight ebbed, the children grew skittish and ran back to the cemetery entrance where they might feel the security of numbers. The experience provided a spark in the religious ed curriculum but was actually a missed opportunity. Rather than provide a lesson on eternal life, the organizers of the event only added a thrill in an overheated season of excitement. Today is a teachable moment when a walk through a cemetery may reveal God's goodness to people accustomed to taking it for granted.

Humans are created with souls united to bodies as intimately as words and music make up a song. Death separates the two bringing the body to decay and the incorruptible soul (or spirit if you wish) to carry on alone. But there are few historical records of mischief-making spirit-sightings. More likely spirits yearn for bodily reunion perhaps like we feel when we have a tune in our head but have forgotten the words that match it.

Here we see the unsearchable ways of God that St. Paul refers to in the first reading. The souls of the saved are destined to be reunited with their bodies at the end of time just as Jesus' body and soul came together in his resurrection with the result of actual sightings. It promises to be even more glorious than the finale of Beethoven's Choral Symphony where words and music are joined to God’s eternal glory.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, apostles

(Ephesians2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16)

“Jude the Obscure” is the title of a novel by English author Thomas Hardy, but it might as well be the name of the second of the two apostles whom we celebrate today. Besides its appearance on the lists of apostles given by Luke, Jude’s or, since in Greek the two names are spelled in the same way, not the traitorous Judas’ name is mentioned only in the Gospel according to John where he asks Jesus why he will reveal himself to his disciples apostles but not to the world (John 14:22). It is not likely that this apostle wrote the New Testament letter that bears the same name.

Simon’s story is a bit thicker than that of Jude although all that we know of him comes from the distinction the evangelists make between him and Simon Peter. Luke says that he is known as “a Zealot,” meaning that he is passionate about fulfilling the Jewish law. Nevertheless, we should not think of him as a member of the revolutionary band that is known as Zealots a generation after Jesus. In Matthew and Mark, the same Simon is designated “the Cananean” which stems from the Aramaic equivalent of the Greek word zelotes.

The first three evangelists are in accord that Jesus intentionally chooses only twelve men to form his core group of disciples. They also show that the disciples come from different backgrounds -- fishermen and a tax collector, for example. The fact that Simon is a zealot about the Law while Matthew’s (or Levi’s) tax collecting downplays the Law’s authority further indicates that Jesus has a plan in mind. He wants his followers to resolve their differences as a sign that he has come to reunify the twelve tribes of the Kingdom of Israel. Inclusion of non-Jews into the Kingdom is also anticipated in the gospel, but it must wait the inauguration of the Church after Pentecost.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:31b-39; Luke 13:31-35)

When St. Paul writes of nothing separating the Christian from the love of Christ, he no doubt has his own experience in mind. He not only felt the existential pain of distancing himself from friends and -- who knows? – family when he left mainline Judaism but went on to endure torture and the miseries of third class travel in the first century. The latter included walking long distances and scaling mountains always with the fear of robbers. Or, as an alternative, Paul endured the misery of deck passage with the difficulties of cooking, resting, and relieving oneself. In all these trials he still felt the love of Jesus.

But Paul’s personal encounter with the resurrected Christ propelled him forward. It was not a spiritual experience but, as he wrote to the Corinthians, an appearance every bit as real as the one to the other apostles. The encounter engraved in Paul’s heart the love of Jesus for him so that he could endure hardships and eventual martyrdom.

We may wish for such a personal encounter with the Lord like Paul’s, but how many are ready to endure the trials that such an experience brought? We are grateful for the spiritual experiences of Christ that we have in the good people we meet and in the Eucharist we share with fellow believers.

Wednesday, Octobr 26, 2011

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:26-30; Luke 12:22-30)

Jack Bernowitz was working at a financial company into middle age. When the economy turned south a few years ago, Jack lost his job. Rather than worry about finding more work in finance, Jack followed a long-held inkling to learn to cook. He enrolled in culinary school and now works as a pastry chef. As St. Paul says in the Letter to the Romans, “All things work for good for those who love God.”

Paul’s encouragement has enabled theologians to resolve the problem of evil. No one -- good or bad -- can escape suffering in life. Disease, death, the hardness of others, and self-deception touch every human life, sometimes in quantities that seem disproportionate and even unjust. Most always, however, as Paul writes, the situations resolve themselves for the better if those involved do not lose faith. Even when life ends on a bitter note, Christians look forward to eternity where the hand of the Almighty is not obscured from sight.

When we know people who experience the scourge of evil, we need to offer consolation. But often such moments are not the times to talk about things working out for the good. As God’s witnesses we go forward with the proverbial shoulder to cry on. Our presence alone witnesses God’s mercy. The few words of comfort we offer are enough to insure God will improve the situation.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:18-25; Luke 13:18-21)

“What is the Kingdom of God like?” Jesus asks in the gospel today. It is like a mustard seed that grows into a large bush sheltering God’s creatures. It is also like a bit of yeast that folded into a small amount of dough produces enough bread to feed a family. We might also say that the kingdom of God is like the inclusiveness that St. Luke shows throughout his gospel.

In today’s passage we find the inclusiveness in a parable involving a male planter followed by one with a female householder. At the beginning of the gospel the angel Gabriel appears first to Zachariah and then to Mary. After Jesus is born, his parents take him to the Temple where they meet the seer Simeon and then the prophetess Anna. Luke reminds us throughout his work that women as well as men are direct participants in and beneficiaries of the Kingdom. They are by no means second-class Christians.

The Catholic Church is often criticized as being sexist or, more simply put, of favoring men over women. Regrettably there is evidence to support the assertion. However, we should not accept the charge that because the Church insists on a male clergy, it is sexist. After investigating the issue fully, Pope John Paul II concluded that the Church cannot ordain women at least as priests or bishops because Jesus did not do it. It is still possible that the Church will decide to ordain women deacons as it is certain that women served in that role in its initial centuries.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:12-17; Luke 13:10-17)

People are horrified when they hear of Jehovah Witness parents refusing to allow their child to receive a blood transfusion that would save the child’s life. But Jehovah Witnesses are just interpreting an Old Testament proscription of partaking of the blood of another (Leviticus 17:10). In the gospel today the leader of the synagogue takes a comparable position as he chastises the people for coming to Jesus to be cured on the Sabbath.

Jesus obviously does not interpret the Scriptures quite so stringently. We should note that in this case the issue is whether Scriptures allow anyone to cure – which is a form of work – on the Sabbath. The Book of Exodus calls for “complete rest” or “be put to death" (Exodus 31:14). Yet we should not think of Jesus as a free-thinker. One commentator says that Jesus takes a “commonsense approach to Sabbath observance” that allows peasants to keep their farm animals and the poor to be relieved of suffering.

“Then why does the Church forbid abortion in cases where mother and baby are likely to die if a pregnancy is allowed to continue?” some will ask. It is a very difficult question that does refer to real, although rare, situations. The answer lies in abiding by Jesus’ injunction against doing evil (as in Matthew 5:39). The difference between the abortion case and the one in the gospel today is that it involves directly taking an innocent human life, which is always forbidden. It should be noted that intervention to save the mother that does not involve the direct killing of the fetus is generally permitted.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 7:18-25a; Luke 12:54-59)

“Red sky in the morning: sailors, take warning….” Seamen have used this rhyme or similar words for 2,000 years to predict the weather. Stormy days are forecasted when the morning sky is red because 1) high pressure in the east causes dust particles to collect at a low altitude and refract sunlight in the red range and 2) the high pressure system is followed by low pressure with storm clouds moving in from the west. It sounds rather complicated, no? But this is the point Jesus is making in the gospel today. If people can figure out the meaning of a red sky, they should consider the signs of another, more important, kind of storm. He is referring to judgment day which is approaching with his death.

When he mentions the need to settle with one’s opponent, Jesus is again warning the people to prepare for judgment. They should realize that if they go before the divine court claiming innocence, God -- who will be both their opponent and judge -- will surely convict them of wrong-doing. Jesus advises that it would be far better to reconcile with God now.

It may be hard for some of us who attend mass or who read Scripture daily to identify ourselves in this reading. Perhaps we notice that Jesus is addressing himself to the crowds and not to his disciples. Yet all of us at times find ourselves at odds with what we know to be true. Jesus is urging us as well, then, to recognize our sinfulness and to ask forgiveness.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 6:19-23; Luke 12:49-53)

The ancient city of Pompeii was buried under a river of volcanic lava in 79 A.D. and left unseen for 1700 years. When it was uncovered, the world had a snapshot of life in the Roman Empire. One house, by no means extraordinary, has a statuette of a boy lifting his phallus with the opening of the gate to salute the visitor. Perhaps even more than people today, Romans were obsessed with sex. For this reason St. Paul, writing not long before ancient Pompeii was buried, can address the perniciousness of sexual license.

Paul’s letters and, to some extent, the gospels leave the impression that many early Christians were and found Christianity as a way out of sexual enslavement. Christianity not only provides a support group to help one overcome lascivious desires but also the grace of the Holy Spirit to pursue a virtuous life. Paul emphasizes in today’s reading another reason to forego immoral sexual actions. He writes that the outcome of sexual sin is death in contrast to eternal life which Christian discipleship offers.

Sex, like all creation, is a natural good for which we give God thanks and praise. It has been corrupted, however, through sin with universal enslaving potential. For these reasons we are cautious about our approach to sex. We should not think of intimate sexual relations as inherently foul or dirty, yet we cannot proclaim it as a good outside marriage.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Memorial of Saints John de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, priests and martyrs, and companions, martyrs

Romans 6:12-18; Luke 12:39-47)

Msgr. Charles King was a priest’s priest. He gave himself completely to the shepherding of souls. He did take a weekly day off and once in a while left town for a few days’ rest and recreation, but he will be remembered as giving 100 percent of himself to pastoral care. As an example, on Sundays after parish masses were celebrated, Msgr. King called shut-ins of the parish to offer his support in their trials. This pastor illustrates what Jesus has in mind when he answers Peter’s question in the gospel today.

“Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” Peter asks Jesus on behalf of his companions. In his answer Jesus implies that it is meant for his apostles not so much as missionaries but as pastors. They are to guide communities of faith providing exemplary pastoral care. Above all, they should avoid using their authority by exploit their flocks.

Pastors need the Spirit’s special support and, therefore, the prayers of the faithful to fulfill their responsibilities. When we think about it, we come to realize that such prayers redound to everyone’s benefit. Not only are the people in the pews assisted by their parish priests, but those same people also have shepherding roles. Certainly the parents among them are to guide their children, and every Christian should be conscious of leading others to God by his or her good example.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

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

Today many dioceses sponsor an annual “White Mass” for medical professionals because it is said that St. Luke, whose feast is being celebrated, was a doctor. The legend comes from the Letter to the Colossians which calls Luke “the beloved physician.” There is as well a subtle shred of evidence within the gospel testifying to Luke’s being a medical practitioner; namely, of all the evangelists Luke takes the most critical attitude toward lawyers.

Luke has also been named the “patron of artists.” This distinction stems from a tradition that he was a painter as well as a doctor. Another reason to call Luke an artist is his ability to retell Jesus’ parables. With all the acumen of a Chaucer or Dante Luke relates the stories of “The Prodigal Son,” “The Good Samaritan,” and “Lazarus and the Rich Man” – all of which are exclusively found in his gospel.

We also might call Luke the “patron of the poor” for his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, which he also wrote, give paramount consideration to the lowly of the earth. We can as well designate Luke the “patron of prayer” and “patron of the Holy Spirit” –themes that are at least as pronounced in his gospel than in the others. Finally, while we are at it, let’s declare Luke the “patron of Marian devotion” and “patron of devotion to the child Jesus.” Once again, no gospel writer has as much to say on these topics as Luke.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

(Romans 4:20-25; Luke 12:13-21)

Theresa lived ninety years close to God. She raised a large family and served at her parish first as a crossing guard for the school, then as the secretary and in various other capacities. Theresa, of course, regularly attended Mass and was considered by many as a trustworthy friend. Most everyone would like to have some of Theresa’s qualities whether it be her wisdom, her dedication, or her care of others. Theresa today helps us understand some of the dynamics of faith.

We sometimes hear faith described as “blind” and entailing a “leap” into the unknown. These phrases have a limited value in describing what faith entails. There may be moments when faith seems like a blind or dubious choice, for example, when a martyr is called to renounce her faith or die. Also, faith does demand a leap or letting go of complete control of one’s life and trusting in God. But usually our faith is firmly based not only on the Gospel message but on the solid examples of saints like Teresa.

In the first reading today Paul assures us that faith will win God’s favor. When we believe that Christ died for our sins and God raised him for our justification, we will share in his glory. To be sure, the faith implied here is more than a nod of assent to various propositions about God. Rather, it involves discipleship of the Lord Jesus.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 4:1-8; Luke 12:1-7)

The five year-old did not have a dime in his pocket, yet he rode the cars at the carnival all day. How did he manage it? His father was the ice cream salesman who recycled the tickets received from the purchase of ice cream to the amusements manager. Privileges often come with relationships and not with merit. St. Paul emphasizes this lesson in his Letter to the Romans.

Paul uses the story of Abraham in today’s reading to illustrate that human salvation comes about by faith, which is a relationship with God. Abraham was a very good man, yet his merits did not win him God’s blessing. Genesis insists that his faith induced God to promise him a nation of descendants. In a similar mode Paul sees the very fallible men and women of his day as capable of salvation by virtue of their belief. That is, by faith in Jesus they will not be lost to pride, power, or pleasure.

Some of us may seem to be always at the top of the game. But even these relatively few are liable to fall on their faces. Our only hope is to cling to Christ in the way of discipleship. He will teach us how to live with love in our hearts which propels us beyond worldly seductions into eternal life.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thursday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 3:21-30; Luke 11:47-54)

In a book of prayers, the great twentieth century theologian Karl Rahner asks if God is the God of all the laws which the Church has on record. There certainly are many rules, rubrics, and regulations in Church files. Rahner answers his question with characteristic paradox. No, God is not the God of laws, but he is the God of the one law of love. When a person obeys the laws, which may seem trivial, out of love for God and not to appease the powerful, then he or she is assured of finding God in acquiescence.

Rahner recognizes the possibility that some Church rules may be too burdensome for people to bear. He finds in the gospel itself testimony that those who legislate such unwarranted will be held accountable. In the gospel yesterday and today Jesus charges the Pharisees and Scribes with doing just that. They need to repent every bit as much as thieves and adulterers.

Jesus again champions our cause by revealing God’s will. He shows us that people who appear to be holy may not be living according to God’s way. He wants us to be holy but takes pains to point out that holiness has less to do with binding regulations than with freeing people of slavery to power or pleasure so that they may love as God loves.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 2:1-11; Luke 11:42-46)

The great psychoanalyst C.J. Jung observed that people frequently criticize and condemn in others what they dislike about themselves. He calls the shunned characteristic one’s “shadow” and implores people to make peace with it before it wreaks havoc. Jung develops language to name the same evil that St. Paul describes in the reading from the Letter to the Romans today.

Paul is making a diatribe. He does not actually have his readers in mind when he accuses people of ignoring the defects in themselves that they criticize in others. The “man” addressed is all men and women who delude themselves into thinking that they are better than others by ignoring their own shortcomings. Paul adds that purposeful blindness merits punishment.

Reconciling with our shadow means more than recognizing our faults. We need to accept them in the context of the benefits that God has bestowed. He has permitted the faults – be they the almost universal desire for undue recognition or something darker like compulsiveness about physical pleasures -- so that in correcting them with His grace we might grow more thankful as well as virtuous.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 1:16-25; Luke 11:37-41)

The trajectory of Dominique Strauss-Kahn sheds some light on St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Mr. Strauss-Kahn is the French diplomat who was accused of raping a hotel worker in New York a few months back. It turned out that most probably the two engaged in consensual sex, but the public reaction did not die down with the dismissal of rape charges. Once talked about as a candidate for the French presidency, now the people of France, according to one press report at least, have dismissed Strauss-Kahn as a viable choice. They ask, do we want a man who would engage in casual sex to be our leader?

In the reading from Romans today, Paul shows how those who ignore God’s revelation in natural law will similarly be left to their own ruin. People should realize from the way the world functions sex outside of marriage is not okay. Rather humans must strive to overcome the inclination to lust. The gospel, described by Paul as the “power of God,” offers humans the best possibility of accomplishing the task. It gives people not just a community as a support group or eternal life as an incentive but the grace of the Holy Spirit to act virtuously.

Then why do some Christians remain seemingly imprisoned by sex? The human psyche is an area more complicated than the traffic of a city. It is possible that some need specialized help to forego the urge to pleasure. For all in such need, we pray for special intervention. After all, for many of them it is a question of hell in the hereafter but, for all the guilt they experience, of living hell on earth.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 1:1-7; Luke 11:29-32)

This epithet was once given for a foolish man: “He is often wrong but never in doubt.” Unfortunately sometimes humans are reluctant to even recognize the possibility of having erred. Even when faced with the loss of family or life, for example, some alcoholics refuse to admit the inability to control their intake of liquor. Yet recognition of one’s faults and the courage to change are necessary for positive growth. Winston Churchill stated the process well: “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” Jesus tells us something similar in the gospel today.

The people whom Jesus addresses are not what we would consider bad people. They are not thieves, murderers, adulterers, or the like. But they do identify God’s will with their own ways of thinking. Samaritans, they might say, are damned because they do not worship correctly. People are poor, they may add, because they have sinned. Jesus tries to correct these mistaken ideas with fundamentally two parallel truths: God is love and God wants humans to love one another. These truths, however, run against the human tendency to see God as a judge given to punishment and to love others

We cannot escape the sinful human situation with its prejudices. But we can change our positions when we find them in error. The key is to discover the sources that will reveal the truth to us and indicate the ways we need to change.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

(Joel 1:13-15.2:1-2; Luke 11:15-26)

“Ten for joy, five for sorrow” described the rosary for most of its trajectory. That is, the original fifteen mysteries were divided into three equal groups featuring stories surrounding either the birth of Jesus or his paschal triumph. Few people argued for the need of reflection on the ministry of Jesus although Blessed Pope John Paul II noted the lacuna. In the year 2002 he inaugurated the luminous mysteries to help Catholics understand the words and actions of Jesus as integral to his saving mission.

Today’s gospel provides an illustration of a luminous mystery. Jesus’ proclamation of the reign of God does not go without opposition. People wonder, could his marvelous deeds be done by virtue of diabolical power? No, Jesus claims, if the devil were behind his power to save, he would not allow Jesus to remove other demons. Jesus then invites people to recognize the too-good-to-be-true truth: his authority over demonic power comes directly from on-high. He is not someone to be shunned but embraced and followed.

The rosary, which we celebrate today, may not be every Catholic’s cup of tea. But especially as we become older, we may find great consolation in reviewing the gracious events of our salvation while beseeching the Lord, especially through Mary’s intercession, for help with personal struggles.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Malachi 3:13-20b; Luke 11:5-13)

Why do some people have difficulty asking God for help? Perhaps they do not want to feel foolish should God not grant what they ask. Or maybe they like to consider themselves as not owing God any favors. Or perhaps they just don’t think God cares enough to help. In the gospel today Jesus provides two images to free people from these errant ideas about God.

First, Jesus suggests that God may be considered a friend to whom we may go with little as well as big problems. That is, we might ask God for a loaf of bread just as well to heal mother’s cancer. But, Jesus indicates, God is better than a friend because He will assist us not just to avoid the embarrassment of denying someone He knows. No, God is like a father – the second image – who grants what we need because He deeply loves us. That is, God seeks only what is good for us. The difference between God’s friendship and every other friendship -- or, for that matter, God’s Fatherhood and any other fatherhood -- is that God can bestow the perfect gift, the Holy Spirit, who fills us with joy, love, and peace.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 4:1-11; Luke 11:1-4)

Emergency airline safety often requires speed. In the case of an evacuation, everyone should be out of the plane in ninety seconds – a real feat as it takes at least ten times that to fill up the plane. Of course, to facilitate rapid exit, personal belongings are left behind. This represents a considerable sacrifice when one must leave behind a computer. Yet there is no real alternative when human lives are at stake. In the first reading God calls upon Jonah to make a similar realization.

The Book of the prophet Jonah was written after Jews became aware that the Lord God was more than their personal savior. He is, of course, creator and redeemer of all peoples. Because Jonah at first does not understand the universality of divine love, God utilizes a simple plant to teach him. As God says, if Jonah could mourn the demise of a plant, should not He (God) have greater remorse over the possible loss of the men and woman He created?

Sometimes we feel frustrated over inconveniences that are forced upon us for the sake of others. A good example is having to park our cars away from our destination while handicap parking is readily available nearby. In these instances we might remember Jonah’s lesson. People with great needs may be the beneficiaries of our sacrifices.
Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi, religious

(Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 10:38-42)

In 1219 Francis of Assisi went to Egypt on a missionary journey. When by a stroke of luck he was able to meet Sultan Malik al-Kamil, the two tried to convert each other. Kamil challenged Francis to walk across the image of a cross woven into a carpet thus committing apostasy. Francis did so but reminded the sultan that there were three crosses on Calvary and he had trod on the cross of the bad thief. Then Francis offered to walk across burning coals if the sultan would convert to Christianity. The sultan demurred saying that if he would forsake Islam, both he and Francis would be executed.

Francis may not have converted the sultan, but his experience did change the heart of his own order. When his friars established the norms for missionary activity among Muslims, Francis insisted that they prohibit any attempt to use weapons as a means of conversion. Nor were they to taunt Muslims into making martyrs of them. The same “conversion of ourselves” is at work in the Book of Jonah. The story of a mass conversion in Nineveh is apocryphal, but the purpose of the book is to move Jews to a conversion of heart. They are to note the attentiveness of the pagan Ninevites to the word of God and to respond with similar thoroughness.

Franciscan friars at their best still call us to renewed conversion. Walking in their habits, attending to the needs of the poor, bringing goodwill to all, Franciscans call us out of the narrow concerns into which even pious people may wander. They urge us, as did their great founder, to compassion, simplicity, and holiness.