Friday, April 1, 2011

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Hosea 14:2-10; Mark 12:28-34)

Preachers have long noted that the first tablet of the Ten Commandments deals with love of God, Jesus’ first commandment, and the second with love of neighbor, Jesus’ second commandment. Some interpreters have tried to equate the two or even substitute one for the other. These efforts inevitably result in folly.

Attempting to love one’s neighbor without first loving God is like trying to balance a plate without a center on a stick. Humans disappoint one another causing one to compromise her commitments. The universal failure of Communism provides ample proof of this. Moved by the love of God, however, one can maintain her love for others despite indifference and even deception.

The First Letter of John bluntly proclaims the absurdity of trying to love God without loving one’s neighbor. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar” (I John 4:20). God, the Father of all, requires us to love His image in all His children.

The scribe in the gospel story wins Jesus’ approval because he correctly reinterprets the Ten Commandments. But Jesus makes a reservation. He says only that the scribe is “not far from the Kingdom of God.” In order to place himself squarely within that realm, the scribe must put his insight into practice.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Thursday of the Third Week in Lent

(Jeremiah7:23-28; Luke 11:14-23)

A seminarian in Washington, D.C., during the time of Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979 was having difficulty deciding whether to go the Mass on the Capitol Mall. He reasoned that it was not likely he would come close to the popular visitor and that he could better use the time for study. Then he heard a sermon urging everyone to attend. The preacher said that the visit was unique – the first time a pope visited the U.S. Capitol. The seminarian took the advice and attended the mass along with hundreds of thousands of others. He was never less than hundreds of yards away from the pontiff, but, nevertheless, was for a long time grateful he made the effort to see him in person. In the gospel the people surrounding Jesus have a similar kind of decision to make.

When Jesus tells the people that the Kingdom of God is at hand with his coming, many resist trusting his word. Like the seminarian they give half-hearted excuses for their reservations. They say that Jesus is in league with the devil, or that he needs to prove himself by still another miracle. Jesus commands their trust by pointing out that he has already shown himself to be Satan’s adversary and the doer of mighty deeds.

Some of us as well may harbor reservations about giving ourselves fully over to Jesus. We may say that if the Savior really has come, the world would be better. Perhaps it is the presence of so much poverty, violence, and disease that upsets us. Yet we should realize that the world by definition is compromised by evil. Jesus took measures against the maladies that trouble us and others also. By aligning ourselves with him, we will be better overcome the evil that troubles us. As importantly, by belonging to Jesus, the evil of our own hearts will be exposed and extricated.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday of the Third Week in Lent

(Deuteronomy 4:1.5-9; Matthew 5:17-19)

Historians say that when Abraham Lincoln gave his Gettysburg Address, he was quite conscious that he was rewriting the United States Constitution. That document, composed seventy-four years before, had considered the value of Black slaves as three-fifths that of free people. Lincoln reached back to the Declaration of Independence declaring all men (and, implicitly, women) equal. He had every intention of turning this proposition into law but died although he died before realizing it. But even the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments could not make Blacks equal in American society. Still we should see Lincoln’s efforts as a way of bringing the American promise to perfection something akin to what Jesus does to the Mosaic law.

The reading from Deuteronomy today expresses the virtue of the Law God gives to Moses. “Observe (its statutes and decrees) carefully,” Moses says, “for thus you will give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations…” However, the Law lacked an inner dynamism that would provide the people reason and strength to live perfectly. That force is the Holy Spirit which lurks in Jesus’ words on the Mount and is released definitively in his death and resurrection. Knowing the power of his Spirit, Jesus can say, “I have not come to abolish (the Law) but to fulfill (it).”

The Spirit fills our being with the love of God, that is, His love for us. We become partakers of God’s very life which enables us to love everyone, even our enemies. In the process we are made God’s heirs destined to share His happiness for eternity.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday of the Third Week in Lent

(Daniel 3:25.34-43; Matthew 18:21-35)

There is a problem implied in Jesus’ parable. If one is to forgive continually, then what should be done if the servant who, after being forgiven his debt, then demanding immediate repayment of his fellow servant, and finally being reprimanded by his master for insincerity, were to ask for forgiveness again? Should he not be pardoned?

Obviously, Jesus would not agree. Forgiveness turns on the genuineness of the guilty party’s contrition. The servant shows that his original petition is insincere since in a similar case with roles reversed, he refuses to show mercy. The commandment to forgive “seventy-seven times” applies when the offender really intends to change his or her ways. If the request for forgiveness merely simulates contrition, one would be foolish to honor it.

We sometimes worry about the sincerity of our own intentions when we find ourselves confessing the same sins every time we go to Confession. Does God forgive us? We must never underestimate God’s mercy. It is more abundant that the grains of sand on a seashore. But God is also implicitly discerning. He reads human hearts with infinitely greater perspicacity than a copy editor reads text. He knows when we really intend to change our ways. But He also knows that bad habits are difficult to break and allows us plenty of opportunities to mend our ways.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday of the Third Week in Lent

II Kings 5:1-15ab; Luke 4:24-30)

A number of years ago people played “Catholic Trivia.” Those with eight, twelve, or even sixteen years of Catholic education excelled in the game. They were capable of rattling off the gifts of the Holy Spirit or giving the numbers for the various kinds of books in the Bible. But were they any closer to salvation than others?

Although it is fair to say that we hope so, it is only wise to admit that some with this sort of familiarity with things religious may be far from God. Jesus is making a similar point in the gospel today. His townspeople think that they know him because they remember his manners as a boy. But their very closeness to him, as if they stood at his back, impedes them from recognizing him as Lord.

Theologians make the distinction between knowing about God and knowing God. The first kind of knowledge may be interesting and even helpful, but it is the second kind that brings us to life’s goal. We know God not primarily by taking trips to the Holy Land or memorizing the Catechism. No, first and foremost, we know Him by following His way of love.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

(Isaiah 7:10-14.8:10; Hebrews 10:4-11; Luke 1:26-38)

A Catholic pro-life activist had an inspiration. In order to raise funds for the diocesan Respect for Life Office he would organize a banquet. The celebration would take place on March 25, the Solemnity of the Annunciation. His reason for having it today, of course, is that Jesus literally becomes human at the moment of his conception which the Church considers as happening when Mary assents to the angel’s pronouncement.

As important as the Annunciation is to pro-life activities, its deeper significance lies in another realm. In becoming human, God relates to humans in a new way never heard of before or since. He puts Himself in touch with us as one who shares every aspect of our life. We see Him, hear Him, touch Him, and smell Him. To be sure, He is still beyond us but we have incredibly intimate sensations of what He is like. It is like the movie a dozen years ago shot completely from the hospital patient’s perspective. Seeing it, one has a much better idea of what it means to be hospitalized.

As Christmas has turned into a beehive of commercial activity, we may take time today to contemplate the mystery of the Incarnation. We want to ponder how Christ’s humanity has affected us personally and how it has changed the world. We will likely come to the realization that we resist it having a very great effect. If so, we want to ask God to open us to His singular offer of everlasting life.

Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Second Week in Lent

(Jeremiah 17:5-10; Luke 16:19-31)

“Richard Corey” is a tragic poem about a man with a heart like a dry peach stone. Although he is much admired, Corey is still unable to show any compassion. In the end he kills himself because he cannot form loving relationships. In the first reading the prophet Jeremiah laments such a malignant heart. In the gospel Jesus gives us an example – the rich man who ignores the beggar at his door.

Certainly the rich man is not punished just for having wealth. That would be like chastising a healthy person for taking a hike. But wealth as well as health has attendant obligations which Pope Paul VI once called a “social mortgage.” The rich must share some of their resources so that the needy not lose their human dignity. Jesus in this Gospel of Luke never tires reminding his disciples of this responsibility.

Donating to the poor carries some risks. A beggar may squander our beneficence on drugs, and even some highly regarded charities have misused contributions. But we must not allow these concerns to override God’s call to generosity. Prudence indicates who deserves our offerings and how much is appropriate to give. Failure to comply with its dictates will bring about our heart’s malignancy.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Memorial of Saint Toribio of Mogrovejo, bishop

(Jeremiah 18:18-20; Matthew 20:17-28)

We humans usually do what we do for mixed reasons. We come to mass on Sunday perhaps because we love God but also because we want to be seen by our neighbors and because it is such an ingrained habit that we have no real alternatives.

The gospel today urges us to clean up our act. Let your first and foremost motive always be love of God, it tells us as Jesus admonishes his disciples that they are to serve others and not themselves. In truth, we should avoid the limelight to insure the purity of our motives. This may mean that we make anonymous donations or that we refrain from talking about our good deeds.

Today the church in Peru celebrates her illustrious patron, St. Toribio of Mogrovejo. As a layman in Spain, he was chosen as Archbishop of Lima. At first, he protested the irregularity, but later conceded. At his post, he urged colonists and probably the indigenous as well to conform themselves to Christ not to their worldly ways. He would tell them, “Christ said, ‘I am the truth’; he did not say, ‘I am the custom.’” Just so we must rid ourselves of the custom of self-seeking as we do God’s will.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday of the Second Week in Lent

(Isaiah 1:10.16-20; Matthew 23:1-12)

“Power tends to corrupt,” Lord Dahlberg-Acton wrote to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Acton wasn’t condemning the possession of power since it is necessary to bring about anything that is worthwhile. But he was cautioning his friend that having power entails responsibility because it could as easily be used for evil as for good.

In the gospel Jesus comments on the abuse of power by the scribes and Pharisees. He criticizes their way of exploiting the prestige – a kind of power -- they have for purposes of self-aggrandizement. He then forbids all titles of prestige among his followers.

The question is frequently asked, “If Jesus prohibits the titles of ‘father’ and ‘Master’ and ‘Rabbi,’ then why have at least the first two terms been used in the Church for centuries?” Although an argument may be made in defense of the titles by examining the context of the gospel passage, it seems most honest to say that the Church, the ultimate interpreter of Scripture, determined early on that she would not insist upon a literal following of Jesus’ words here. The case is like the Church’s acceptance of oaths even though Jesus specifically prohibits them (Matthew 5:34-37). The Church believes that the title of “father,” used out of respect for the training, dedication, and experience of priests, is legitimate. However, she also holds priests accountable for living up to the title by judiciously carrying out their responsibilities.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Monday of the Second Week in Lent

(Daniel 9:4b-10; Luke 6:36-38)

In Clint Eastwood’s award-winning picture Unforgiven, a corrupt sheriff is meted out severe retribution by an almost ruthless bounty hunter. The sheriff’s dying words are a pathetic, “I didn’t deserve to die like this.” How did he deserve to die after tolerating murder in his jurisdiction? His lament stands in contrast to Daniel’s in the first reading today.

Daniel does not dodge communal blame for the Israelite exile. He recognizes that his people did sin against God by ignoring the prophets’ warnings. They did not obey God’s laws, especially the injunction against idolatry in the first commandment, “I am the Lord, your God; you shall not have other gods besides me.”

The self-criticism of Daniel gives the gospel passage a different twist. We are accustomed to hearing this gospel as a simple exhortation to be generous in our dealings with other. Juxtaposed with the passage from Daniel, we should understand Jesus as telling us not to consider whether we are treated fairly or not – “stop judging…” – by others or even by God. Rather we are to acknowledge that we are guilty of sin, that God has forgiven us, and that His mercy is full reason for us to treat others kindly.

Fiday, March 18, 2011

Friday of the First Week in Lent

(Ezekiel 18:21-28; Matthew 5:20-26)

Over twenty-five years ago Jim had a coronary bypass. It was radical surgery, but the discipline that his doctors imposed was even more extreme. A heavy smoker since he was a teen, Jim had to give up cigarettes cold turkey. A professional in a demanding administrative job, Jim had to take time to exercise every day. Overweight, he had to shed excess pounds. In short, if he was going to live much longer, Jim he had to turn on head life-long habits at the age of fifty. Jim’s brother died shortly before the bypass reminding him that doctor’s instructions are not professional drivel. Jim is alive and well today at eighty plus year. He may not be as thin as his doctor would like, but he doesn’t smoke and habitually exercises.

In the gospel Jesus calls for a change of life-style every bit as radical as Jim’s although on a spiritual level. We are no longer to get angry with or make fun of a brother or sister. Here Jesus refers not so much to our blood relatives but to the men and women of our church. If the Christian community is to be “the light of the world,” as Jesus says, its members have to constantly give good example. Refraining from anger and mockery (“Raqa” means empty-headed) are but the beginning of respect for others.

Is it then permissible for us to curse or deride people who don’t belong to our church? Such hair-splitting is what Jesus steers his disciples from in the Sermon on the Mount. The Scribes and Pharisees would make such distinctions so that they might indulge their passions while priding themselves for moral superiority. In truth Christians through the centuries have frequently acted in this way. But Jesus has called us to a new righteousness which decries self-congratulations. We are to see in everyone a potential sister or brother and to treat her or him accordingly.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Esther C:12.14-16.23-25; Matthew 7:7-12)

The young man was late for a crowded event. Because parking was tight in the downtown area, he said a prayer that he would find a space quickly. Pleasantly surprised but not really astounded, the man hardly rode a block before he saw a car pull out of a parking place which he easily entered. God always seemed to answer his prayers when the man turned to Him in need.

Jesus teaches us the same lesson in the gospel. He does not hesitate to call God our “Father” as well as his. As any father, God loves us and provides what we need. “Do we have to ask Him?” we wonder. Not really, but recognizing our dependence on Him makes us more like His only-begotten son, Jesus.

The evangelist attaches to Jesus’ exhortation to pray the challenge that we care for one another. As in the “Our Father” where we ask God to forgive our offenses as we forgive others, we are to care for others as we ask God to care for us. This only reiterates what we just said: God’s true daughters and sons act like Jesus.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wednesday of the First Week in Lent

(Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 11:29-32)

Ancient Nineveh lay in the area of the current Iraqi city of Mosul. No historical records indicate Jonah’s preaching there, but there is a site called “Jonah’s Tomb.” Devout Muslims and curious tourists gather at the place to recall the reluctant prophet whose preaching is said to have converted a notoriously depraved nation.

The first reading shows Jonah announcing God’s wrath with Nineveh and the people responding. The author emphasizes how it is a sincere, communal repentance. Not only common folk but also royalty and even animals of the city fast and change heart. In the gospel Jesus calls his generation “evil” because it refuses to change accordingly despite his best preaching efforts.

Now is the time for us to repent as well. If we eat more than what is healthy, we better cut back. If we allow ourselves to get upset, we should remember that God is at the helm. If we talk about others’ faults, we need to counter the tendency by praying for those with whom we have difficulty. We have heard Jesus’ call to reform. For his sake we want to change our ways.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tuesday of the First Week in Lent

(Isaiah 55:10-11; Matthew 6:7-15)

The great American film director and actor Clint Eastwood epitomizes an economy of words. He made his name in movies as the laconic stranger of “spaghetti westerns” (i.e., cowboy movies shot in Europe). When Eastwood directs a film, he famously cuts much of the wording from its original script and finishes it with only a month of shooting. Could Eastwood not be pleased with Jesus’ advice about prayer today?

The “Lord’s Prayer” prioritizes God’s goodness as it rapidly courses through seven petitions. “…thy Kingdom come, thy will be done,” it says upfront, trusting that the fulfillment of these requests will bring blessings. The remaining four petitions are a bit longer and more specific, but in no way do they detail what the heart desires. They merely relieve the anxiety of living as doves in a sinful world.

Jesus means to emphasize that as our Father, God knows our needs better than we. There is no need on the Father’s part to remind Him of the many people who are hurting. Yet the practice of naming those for whom we pray likely helps us to focus our love. Still, lest we become lost in our concerns, we do well to just meditate on any one of the seven petitions thinking of how God might fulfill it.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Monday of the First Week in Lent

(Leviticus 19:1-2.11-18; Matthew 25:31-46)

The Scriptural readings for today’s mass strike a balance between negative and positive acts. Leviticus enumerates several “thou shalt nots” (although modern translations make it, “You shall not”). Knowing that humans are as likely to do evil as they are to fail doing good, the Church wants to remind us not to steal, judge harshly, or hate. The gospel, on the other hand, emphasizes that avoiding evil is not enough for salvation. The saved will also feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the imprisoned.

We might ask which is more important – to avoid doing what is wrong or to do what is good? Can we risk doing harm by trying to do good? Or is it better to play it safe by never taking any chances? In medicine, at least, an answer to these puzzling questions seems to emerge. The Hippocratic Oath, which physicians took for centuries, clearly sides with the need to avoid malfeasance. After promising to offer dietetic measures to heal the sick, the oath-taker swears not to hasten death, induce abortion, or to molest patients or householders whom they visit. By nature conservative, the tradition means to temper the penchant of risk-taking.

It is fair to say that avoiding harm is essential but insufficient. If love is the supreme virtue, it entails that we act positively toward others by at least praying for them when we cannot offer physical or moral support. During Lent we may take stock of our lives by daily asking ourselves two questions: What evil have I done today? What good have I failed to do?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Friday after Ash Wednesday

(Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matthew 9:14-15)

Fifty years ago every Catholic adult was supposed to fast every day of Lent. The fast consisted of not eating more than one full meal a day, not eating between meals, and not taking meat more than once a day except on Friday when it was completely prohibited. Probably because many began flouting the fast and others scorned the backsliders, the practices were abandoned in 1966 in favor of the much lighter fast the Church imposes today.

Christians fast for several reasons. As with Jesus in the desert, fasting prepares us for a religious mission. It focuses our attention on what must be done and recognizes the need for God’s assistance. During Lent our focus is renewal in the Spirit that comes at Easter. Fasting also brings us in solidarity with the poor by experiencing their want of food and also by freeing up resources that might be shared with them. Finally, it serves as an outer sign of inner affection for the Lord as when a lover will sacrifice a free night to accompany his beloved to the library.

In the reading from Isaiah today, the prophet excoriates the people for undermining the purpose of fasting. Rather than disposing them to care more deeply, fasting serves the people as a subterfuge for their greed. Because It has made the Jews more sanctimonious than saintly and more corrupt than compassionate, Isaiah wants to alter the rules. The desired fast will no longer be so much what the Jews give up but what they give. They must feed the hungry and release the unjustly imprisoned. Only then will God accept their self-denial as legitimate expressions of love.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

(Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 9:22-25)

“Freedom is not free,” goes a popular adage. What’s in mind here is that freedom must be defended from those who would force a people to act according to their designs. But freedom is not free in another, deeper sense. True freedom is more than the absence of exterior controls but the application of inner control to do what is good, truthful, and beautiful. One develops such control only with considerable intention and effort. A master artist freely applies paint to canvass producing lovely images only after years of practice. Likewise, to live righteously requires concentrated effort.

The passage from Deuteronomy speaks of God’s challenge to the Israelites. They are to choose life by developing the freedom that God has won for them. This means that they are to practice every day the virtues taught to them in the desert. Failing to do so, allowing those virtues to atrophy by following the ways of the people with whom they will live, will mean their death as a people. History has borne out God’s prediction. The Jews have maintained themselves as a nation for three millennia by following the Torah. On the other hand, no living trace remains of the Canaanites and Amorites.

During Lent we are likewise challenged to grow in freedom by refining the theological virtues won for us in Christ’s death and resurrection. Our repentance from sin as Lent begins faithfully recognizes Jesus as our savior. Our fasting for God’s sake and acts of charity on behalf of others throughout the forty days make us more loving people. And our focus on the Paschal mystery at the season’s end increases our hope of participation in Christ’s resurrected life.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

(Joel 2:12-18; II Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

An administrator at the University of Notre Dame once complained how hard it was to receive large grants for scholarships and other kinds of special funds. He said that there were plenty of benefactors willing to put up seven figure sums for buildings that they would bear their names, but few who would give more “in secret” as Jesus recommends in the gospel today.

We should not see the shortcoming as endemic to the wealthy. Most everyone wants to have his or her good deeds noticed. It is a way of hedging one’s faith investment. If God does not care about our goodness or does not exist as atheists say, then at least other people may give us some credit for our efforts. Such a disposition bespeaks the searing need for Lent.

Now is the time to think deeply about our lives. We know that God exists because we are. More importantly, we assert that God has sent His son Jesus to save us from folly because of the blessings we have received following him. But it is more accurate to say “half-heartedly following” Jesus. We not only like to be seen doing good as he warns against but also refuse to eradicate our less reprehensible sins that separate us from full communion with God and neighbor. We have these forty days expressly for repenting of these unfaithful ways and recommitting ourselves unreservedly to the Lord.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit 2:9-14; Mark 12:13-17)

Tobit tries to please God and to help his neighbor. Being more zealous than prudent, however, his sense of righteousness causes him to err. In the segment of his story today he accuses his hard-working wife of stealing. We can almost hear him cry after discovering his mistake, “God, what a mess I make of everything. Why don’t you take my life?” Perhaps some of us, after committing similar blunders, have felt the same self-disgust.

As reckless as Tobit’s suspicions are, must Anna respond so bitterly? Does she need to chastise her husband for performing good deeds in the past? No, her words sting Tobit like a slap in the face. She also has to control her emotions. A more prudent response in her case would be, “Take it easy, Tobit. Don’t I also love God? I would never steal another’s belongings.”

Neither Tobit nor Anna needs to despair. God hears the cries of those who call to him. Learning from them, we should curb the inclination to judge others harshly. It is a much safer practice to pray for the person we are tempted to criticize. Then if it turns out that our impulse to criticize was indeed misguided, we can thank God for sparing us a situation where we would have acted foolishly.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Monday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit 1:3.21a-8; Mark 12:1-12)

In a reflection on funerals the Committee on Divine Worship of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops calls the human body “’the primordial sacrament’ that makes the life and love of God present in the world.” For this reason Christians have traditionally reverenced the dead body in funerals. Moreover, our belief in the resurrection of the dead when Christ returns impels us to bury the body decorously. These traditions stem from Jewish customs regarding the dead of which we have a glimpse in the reading from Tobit today.

Although there is an air of pretension about him, Tobit should be seen as an upright, God-fearing man. In burying the dead man, he saves the memory of the person from the curse of having his carcass become prey to animals. The fact that his neighbors mock him for doing good indicates moral cynicism that infects an oppressed people. To be sure, Tobit’s piety should be admired, not disdained.

We live in a culture which seems to deny death. Cremation quickly removes the body that handily reminds survivors of the loss of life. Funerals “celebrating life” feature stories more appropriate at a birthday party than a burial. Most telling, a presumption reigns at funerals that no matter how they lived, the dead revel in eternal life. Of course, we hope that everyone will partake in God’s heavenly banquet. However, acknowledging the possibility of damnation, the Christian tradition is to pray for the dead’s salvation, not to assume it.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 44:1.9-13; Mark 11:11-26)

Poets use objective correlatives as ways of describing the mind’s inner-working. For example, when Robert Frost describes watching the woods fill up with snow, he means to tell the reader about his contemplating the eeriness of death.

The evangelist Mark presents an objective correlative in the passage today about the fig tree that does not bear fruit. Jesus curses its sterility as a sign of disgust with the Temple which he will enter shortly. Because the Temple has not fostered a holy people, it is doomed. The money changers are only the tip of the iceberg. More dangerous, the priests control the business and profit handsomely from it. As Jesus curses the fig tree, he will throw the money changers out of the Temple. And as he cleans up the Temple, he will perfect the Temple sacrifices with his own death on the cross.

Of course, we should not think of Jesus as anti-environmental for cursing the fig tree. Throughout the gospel Jesus is at home in nature. He retreats from the crowds to the mountains. He spends time by the sea. He even pacifies stormy weather. St. Paul will acknowledge that Jesus redeems the natural world as he saves humankind.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thursday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 42:15-25; Mark 10:46-52)

Ministers working in hospitals and prisons are accustomed to patients and inmates telling them that they will contact them after being released. However, such communication seldom takes place. It is not that they lied before or that they intentionally wish to avoid those who helped them, but that they lack the spiritual energy to revisit the place of confinement. Bartimaeus in the gospel today would be an exception to this observation. Jesus sends him away, but he steadfastly follows Jesus.

The passage is a healing story laced with irony. Bartimaeus does not see Jesus with his eyes but possesses faith in him, which is another way of seeing. He acknowledges Jesus as “’son of David’” meaning that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. By restoring his physical sight, Jesus confirms the efficacy of Bartimaeus’ faith. Although one might argue that in obedience to Jesus, Bartimaeus should have gone his own way, he is more coherent for following the one whom he believes will liberate Israel from bondage.

We are not being called to such a radical following since Jesus does not now humanly walk the earth. Nevertheless, if, like Bartimaeus, we acknowledge him as our savior, we should conform ourselves to him spiritually. This means not only that we accept the suffering that comes our way without grumbling, but also that we go out of our way to share the burden of those who may be hurting more than we.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesday of the Eighth Week In Ordinary Time

(Sirach 36:1.4-5a.10-17; Mark 10:32-45)

In the last days of 1776 George Washington and the cause of American independence were having a rough time. The general had been routed in New York, and confidence in him was waning. The army was literally in tatters, and the winter was one of the worse in years. Added to all this, many of the soldiers’ inscriptions would expire on January 1. Then fortune suddenly blew the other way. On Christmas night the American army in a surprise attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton took almost nine hundred prisoners with few casualties. Most of Washington’s soldiers reenlisted wanting to follow their commander to victory. Such a turnabout is what Ben Sirach seeks in the reading today.

In the second century before Christ, the people of Israel are almost completely suppressed. Long conquered, they are forced to see their holy places desecrated by their Greek rulers and the compromised Jewish elite. Ben Sirach, who lived in Jerusalem, wants to remind the people of their rich heritage. In the prayer that comprises today’s passage, he pleads God to give a demonstration of power to restore the people’s morale. He is coy about his reason, however, preferring to cajole the Lord with pretensions of worldly praise if He exalted His own.

God, of course, does not need public support. He seems to eschew it, in fact. In the gospel Jesus predicts that he will be defiled, whipped, and executed. He will rise from the dead as well but will appear only to a select few so that they might realize that the greatest grandeur lies in self-sacrificing love not acts of awe and wonder.