Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 1:1-2:2.11; Luke 10:25-37)

A few years ago a leading Catholic university removed the crucifixes from its classrooms. Having a multi-ethnic student body, the university administration reasoned that the crucifixes might offend students of other religious traditions. One Muslim student, however, was bothered by the removal. After all, he asked, what kind of guest would he be if he could not respect the symbols and artifacts of his hosts’ religion? Eventually, the crucifixes were returned to the classrooms, and their removal, no doubt, was attributed to political correctness.

The Book of the Prophet Jonah similarly testifies to people from other religions showing greater sensibility to true religion than they of the dominant tradition. Jonah, the Jew, is disgusted with the Lord for his parallel love of other peoples. He flees when God commands him to preach in the city of Nineveh, Israel’s captors. In his flight the sailors on the ship that transports Jonah show more regard for the Lord than he. They pray to God for help and shudder to think that their act of appeasement may not please God.

We find Jesus making a similar point in the gospel. He describes the Samaritan who comes to the aid of the dying stranger as giving God greater praise than the priest and Levite who, most likely for liturgical reason, would not touch him. Everyone is wise to recognize the Holy Spirit working among different peoples and religions just as surely as it lavishes graces upon her or him.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Memorial of Saint Jerome, priest

(Baruch 1:15-22; Luke 10:13-16)

In 1863 Abraham Lincoln signed a bill declaring a “day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer.” America was experiencing the blight of civil war and rightly held itself responsible. “We have forgotten God,” the bill declared, and also “we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace.” Such a public call to repentance would never be made today. But it is exactly what Jesus expects in today’s gospel.

Chorazain, Bethsaida, and Capernaum – these are not notoriously bad cities. There sin is likely a malaise that prevents them from noticing that the Messiah stands in their midst. Rather than repent, they carry on business as usual. Jesus declares that they have missed their opportunity, that their train left the station, that they will be left in oblivion.

Just because our nation may never repent does not mean that individuals or groups should not. We do offend God and should ask pardon and do penance. While we are at it, let us go beyond the superficial. We get angry ourselves and make others angry, but these are hardly the worse of our sins. More grievously, we lie, lust, and ridicule. We ignore the needs of others while we forever grasp at what our hearts desire.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Feast of Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel and Saint Raphael, archangels

(Daniel 7:9-10.13-14 or Revelation 12:7-12ab; John 1:47-51)

Hester Prynne, the adulteress in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterpiece The Scarlet Letter, had an “A” sewn on her clothes. However, she went about town doing so much good for so long a time that the people began to think that the letter stood for “angel.” Today’s feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael underscores this very humane quality of angels.

One might think of angels as creepy characters. They are pure spirits created by God to perform His work. But in truth we generally think of angels as quite amenable company, like those in the popular television series Touched by an Angel. Of course, it is because God is so good that His messengers can hardly be anything but caring.

Today’s feast celebrates three angels renowned in the Bible. St. Michael is known for his protection against evil. St. Gabriel is seen as the bearer of good news. And St. Raphael is remembered for his coming to the aid of the downtrodden. Together they represent the work of all the heavenly hosts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Nehemiah 2:1-8; Luke 9:57-62)

Giovanni Bernadone’s father opposed his vocation to a holy life. Giovanni only wanted to live simply and dedicate himself to the Lord by works of charity and reparation of churches. To do so, however, he had to forsake his family and did so by making a spectacle of the separation in the town square. Before long, Giovanni Bernadone was recognized as the holiest person of his time and is still revered as such today. Only, we know him as St. Francis of Assisi.

St. Francis’ priority of Christ before father and mother illustrates the gospel message today. But it pulls in the opposite direction of the first reading. Nehemiah’s desire to return to Jerusalem where the bones of his ancestors are buried bespeaks strong allegiance to the family.

Ideally, the claims of one’s family correspond with the demands of God’s kingdom. But where the two conflict, Jesus insists that we follow the kingdom’s lead.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, priest

(Zechariah 8:20-23; Luke 9:51-56)

Let’s picture ourselves living in the year 1600 when St. Vincent de Paul was ordained. Arguably the most magnificent century in all history has just ended. Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel. The Spanish colonized America. Martin Luther called the Church to reform. Vincent’s life story testifies to the wonder of the age. Born into a peasant’s family, he received a university education. But with all the great feats of the past century Europe and, for the most part, the world lacks true holiness. Vincent would supply this need with his attention to the poor.

In the gospel Jesus likewise surprises his disciples with a fresh idea of holiness. Going up to Jerusalem, Jesus admonishes James and John for thinking that because he is Messiah, he will use his power to destroy his offenders. No, as God’s anointed one, he will demonstrate forbearance and peacefulness to all. In the end he delivers himself to his enemies that results in the Father's establishing universal reconciliation through his death and resurrection.

Working with the poor is often frustrating and disappointing. Sometimes they do not respond as we would have it. But we must care about them because, as Vincent de Paul taught, they are God’s special friends. We can rest assured that through such work we will become His friends as well.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Zechariah 8:1-8; Luke 9:46-50)

What is it about children that makes Jesus say to accept them is to accept him? It is hard to tell because childhood keeps on changing. No doubt, being a child in Jesus’ time was very different than it is today. Nevertheless, there is at least one constant in childhood that was existent in the first century, became prominent between 1850 and 1950 when -- according to social commentator Neil Postman -- childhood reached its epitome, and still is perceptible today. It is that children follow the directives of their parents confident that obedience will lead to their welfare. In the gospels Jesus trusts his Father so implicitly, but many adults balk at doing what God’s commands.

It is true that we adults have the considerable task of discerning what God wants. But more problematic is our ego’s fantasy that God’s will conforms to our every desire. One sage has called “the dark night of the soul” precisely letting go of “our ego’s hold on the psyche.” We are to open our minds to the word of God and change our lives in accord with His directives. It is often a painful process of fidelity, but it has a satisfying ending. We come to know ourselves as God’s children and can rejoice in His love.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Memorial of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, priest

(Haggai 2:1-9; Luke 9:18-22)

St. Pio of Pietrelcino, known as Padre Pio, is famous for having received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ, and for his perspicacity as a confessor. He suffered debilitating sickness throughout his life which corresponds to the stigmata. His sensitivity as a confessor also may be related to his acquaintance with pain. In the gospel today Jesus expresses awareness that he will similarly have to suffer if he was to realize his true identity.

Luke’s account of Jesus’ admonishing his disciples not to reveal his identity as Messiah differs from Mark’s and Matthew’s. In Luke, immediately after he commands his disciples not to tell anyone, Jesus states his reason: “The Son of Man must suffer greatly…” It is not so much that Jesus is the Messiah that he wants kept secret but that the Messiah will have to suffer. The people, he understands, will not accept the idea of a Messiah who has to suffer. In the popular mind messiahs are to relieve the suffering of others, not to suffer themselves.

We want to be god-like, and we think that this means to be invulnerable. In one sense it is true. God is spirit that cannot physically suffer. But the basic message of Christianity is that God in His omnipotence took on a human nature so that He might suffer with us. In doing so, He has transformed our pains into seeds of glory. The process can be illustrated. First, in freely accepting suffering Jesus expresses God’s love. His desire to endure hardship with us teaches us to share the suffering of others. Second, by suffering patiently Jesus reminds us that suffering is not an outrageous offense which we do not deserve but rather is triggered by human sin in which we participate. Finally, Jesus’ suffering does not end in oblivion but in resurrection. This truth gives us hope that by suffering with his love and patience, we may also share fully in his divine life.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Haggai 1:1-8; Luke 9:7-9)

President Obama has recently called for huge federal outlays to create jobs for Americans. His strategy is straightforward. Providing work will stimulate national spending that hopefully will revert into tax dollars to pay back the government. We can see a similar rationale in the Book of the prophet Haggai from which the first reading is taken today.

In the passage the people complain that now is not the time to rebuild the Temple. They were experiencing such need that they felt there was no surplus for undertaking a giant construction project. The prophet meanwhile counters with a contrary economic argument. The cause of the people’s troubles is precisely not having a fitting place of worship so that God might bless the nation with prosperity. In the end Haggai’s view wins out.

Nevertheless we can be wary of such schemes as the one the President is now proposing. They may only deepen the national debt. Yet at least the government is showing concern for the unemployed which its part of its responsibility. God should be pleased. Still it cannot be said that His pleasure will necessarily mean a return to economic prosperity.
Feast of Saint Matthew, evangelist

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

For almost a hundred years countries have honored their war dead with a “tomb of the unknown soldier.” With the discovery of DNA, the custom has faced a challenge. Most every fallen soldier, no matter how mutilated, may be identified through his or her DNA make-up. But, of course, war dead are still given due respect by the reverence paid to their multiple burial sites. Today the Church honors an evangelist whose identity has undergone the reverse challenge to that of unknown soldiers.

Although Matthew, the publican, has traditionally been associated with the author of the first gospel, historians cannot find firm evidence for the linkage. Most certainly the gospel was written by a scribe who did not know Jesus historically. From the way the gospel is written, we can say that the author was fluent in Greek, was conversant with the Jewish Scriptures, and had a developed sense of Church structure.

We need not be disillusioned that we cannot identify with precision any of the four evangelists. But we should rejoice in the fact that they have related to us the story of Jesus. It is this story rendered in four unique versions which keeps us on the path of righteousness. It is this gospel that leads us to salvation.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezra6:7-8.12b.14-20; Luke 8:19-21)

Catholic author George Weigel contrasts the culture that built Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris with the one that erected the Grande Arche in the same city. The first structure -- intricate and subtle – is a testimony of the faith of the late Middle Ages when people collaborated for the common good under divine tutelage. In contrast, the Arche’s imposing simpleness testifies to modernity’s attempt to establish justice without God based on the freedom of each person to do as he or she wills. The superiority of the former structure enlightens the first reading today.

Darius, like Cyrus in yesterday’s reading, is said to recognize Israel’s God. Both emperors provide secular testimony to the Lord’s greatness. According to the Book of Ezra, Darius even ordains that the taxes of a portion of his empire fund the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. The project will not only provide Jews a place of worship but will also give their culture a center. It will foster the wisdom with which God endows His people.

Although religion is not to be imposed on anyone, we must not relegate it to the home. We need beautiful churches to both glorify God and promote human achievement.

Monday, September 20, 2011

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezra 1:1-6; Luke 8:16-18)

Tension reigns today between Iran (modern Persia) and Israel (the Jewish state that incorporates most of the former Kingdoms of Judah and of Israel). President Ahmadinejah of Iran has made threatening remarks against the Israeli regime. Meanwhile, President Netanyahu of Israel proverbially talks softly but carries a big, big stick – nuclear weapons!

The first reading from the Book of Ezra reminds us that relations between the two nations were not always strained. In fact, with a long history of association, Iran and Israel have shared many ups and downs. The peak, recounted in the reading from Ezra today, sees King Cyrus of Persia promoting the reestablishment of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jerusalemites have been living as exiles in Babylonia for seventy years when Cyrus liberated them.

Christians may consider this return of the Jews to Jerusalem as a type or preview of Jesus’ going up to the holy city at the end of his ministry. His death and resurrection there will establish a new Temple constructed not of stones but of his flesh and blood. In his temple people will give the most fitting praise to God. That praise today would be incomplete, however, if it is not accompanied by a plea for peace among the rival nations.

Friday, September 16, 2011

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

(I Timothy 6:2c-12; Luke 8:1-3)

A cartoon shows a fat corporate executive describing a recent business decision. “It was a matter,” he says, “of either losing a friend or losing money.” No doubt is left as to which of the two the tycoon values more.

However, the New Testament repeatedly indicates that money makes a poor substitue for a friend. In Luke’s gospel Jesus often warns against the accumulation of wealth although, as today’s passage indicates, he and his disciples had needs which the women’s money met. Perhaps Scripture is nowhere more wary of money than in the first reading. We should note, however, that First Timothy does not condemn money itself as the root of evil but “the love of money.”

Should charities accept money from patently sinful sources? Much good can be done with so-called tainted money, but then virtue’s kissing vice leaves many people morally bewildered. Scandal must be avoided, but at times thieves may make reparation for their crimes by privately reciprocating institutions that care for the needy.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

(I Timothy 4:12-16; John 19:25-27)

The son of an eighty-plus year-old man just died. The father says that it is hard to describe the loss he feels. Every day his son used to call him at noon. Now noontime, like a bell without a clapper, rings completely hollow. We can imagine Mary at the cross, far from glorying in her son’s triumph over sin, feels the emptiness of most parents of dead children.

In the gospel Jesus entrusts his mother to his beloved disciple. The act not only guarantees her welfare but also, in a more profound way, represents the beginning of the Church. Mary will form, in a sense, the heart of the community by not only remembering Jesus’ earliest days but also revealing the significance of his mission.

Many old men and women sit alone in apartments and nursing homes. Their physical needs may be provided for, but they need to hear the voices of people who care about them. We will never replace a son or daughter who is no longer or perhaps never was there for them. But like the beloved disciple to Mary, we may provide some consolation.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

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

Very shortly mass in most English-speaking countries will be celebrated with a new translation from the Latin. Catholics will notice the difference from the very beginning of the service as they answer the priest’s greeting with the words, “And with your spirit.” During the consecration of the bread and wine, they will hear a more jarring change. Rather than say that Jesus’ blood was shed “for all” as he has done for forty years ago, the priest will say that it was shed “for many.” The Holy See has assured that the Church believes that Jesus died for all and not just a chosen many. The issue is being faithful to the words that are found in the gospel text which uses “many” although in an open-ended sense which includes everyone.

Today’s gospel leaves no doubt that Jesus did, in fact, die for all. The two verses that conclude the reading are said to be the loveliest in all Scripture. They end with the words, “For God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”

The matter at hand has practical implications. If Jesus did not die for all, then people might try to name those who are excluded. Some will say the Chinese are without salvation and begin to discount them as an honorable people. Others would make a similar assessment of Africans or Muslims. This kind of thinking, of course, is racist. Jesus died for all because God loves all as His creation. We too strive to love all because we love God first and foremost.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

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

(I Timothy 3:1-13; Luke 7:11-17)

Of all the qualities for a bishop named in the first reading today, the most striking for Catholics today is that he be a man who is “married only once.” Before one jumps to the conclusion that Scripture prescribes a married clergy, it must be remembered that the letter was written at a time when the offices of bishop, priest, and deacon were still coalescing. There were married clergy in the first Christian centuries, but they were expected, at least in the writings of the time, not to have sexual relations with their wives.

Evidently St. John Chrysostom never married. In fact, he lived for a while as a monk although could not permanently tolerate the harshness of desert life. As a bishop he distinguished himself for his rejection of the high life of his see, the patriarchy of Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Allowing married men to become priests and bishops in masse would resolve the shortage of clergy in many countries today. However, it would no doubt open the door to other problems like the scandal of clergy divorces. A stronger reason to keep the current discipline of celibacy is the witness that it gives in a world supersaturated with sex. People need strong models of happy lives that don’t seek pleasure in viewing pornography or find sexual satisfaction an essential for personal fulfillment.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 7:1-10)

A generation ago the former Beetle George Harrison published a song called “My Sweet Lord.” It tells of the artist’s desire to meet Jesus. “I really want to be with you,” the words go. In a fantasy novel entitled A Day with a Perfect Stranger a woman does meet him. She is an airline passenger who is given a seat between two men one of whom is Jesus. The traveler in the window seat chides her when she mentions that she is having difficulty supporting her husband’s newly found faith. The man in the aisle seat leaves the armrest for the woman to use. Which of the two do you suppose is Jesus?

In the gospel passage the centurion remarkably never meets the Lord. He sends Jewish elders to make his request for the healing of his servant. It is not that he considers himself more important than Jesus. Quite the opposite, he does not want to bother Jesus with the necessary courtesies of greeting a foreign official. He believes that Jesus can cure his servant from a distance. Jesus takes note of this faith and grants his request.

We may not have the personal encounter with Jesus that our hearts desire. But we do have his blessing as surely as the centurion in the gospel. Especially in the Eucharist we listen to Jesus’ words encouraging us to trust in him. We also touch him and hold him inside ourselves in the reception of Communion. Jesus does more than let us use an armrest. He gives himself for us to lean on.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Memorial of St. Peter Claver (priest)

(I Timothy 1:1-2.12-14; Luke 6:39-42)

Stephen Spielberg’s movie “Amistad” tells part of the story of the horror of the slave trade. It depicts how Black Africans were crammed on ships like cattle where they lost their status as human beings in the eyes of most of the world. However, people like the heroes of “Amistad” and St. Peter Claver, whose feast is celebrated today, saw through human pretensions and gave the Africans the care they deserve.

Like the slaves who received the ministrations of Peter Claver probably felt, the Letter to Timothy, begun in the first reading today, expresses how St. Paul revels in divine mercy. The apostle can give thanks to God for calling him out of an atmosphere of hatred and reproach in his pursuit of Christians into one of gentleness and love as Christ’s follower. It pains Paul to think of his former days, but that memory also spurs him to suffer greater trials than most can imagine to bring the comfort of Christ to others.

All of us have been similarly saved by Jesus even though many do not recognize his salvation. Christianity has established a civilization of justice and love -- not perfectly but perceptibly. The human gains of his followers aside, Jesus has, most of all, won for us the promise of eternal life. Now we know that even if we are victimized by others, we can still look forward to peace and joy.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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

Recently Facebook began a thoughtful service. Each Sunday it sends members a notice with the names of friends who will have a birthday that week. Many members will in turn send their friends an email saying that they are glad they are alive. This message is very close to how philosopher Joseph Pieper defines the meaning of love. According to Pieper, love is precisely to receive from another the confirmation, “It’s good that you are; it’s wonderful that you exist.”

Today the Church expresses her love for Mary, the mother of Jesus. We celebrate her birthday saying, “It’s (very) good that you are alive.” We love Mary, first and foremost, for being the instrument by which Jesus, the Savior, came into the world. Her consent allowed his being born and her care provided him a choice environment for growth. Second, we love her because she has showed us how to follow Jesus. As his perfect disciple, she listened to, meditated upon, and acted on the word of God. Finally, we love her for interceding for us before the Godhead. We remember how she told her son about the need for more wine at the wedding feast and confidently bring our particular needs to her attention.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 6:20-26)

“There is a difference between the rich and the poor,” the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald told his friend Ernest Hemmingway. “Yes,” replied the other with characteristic terseness, “money.” As attractive as Hemmingway’s truism sounds, Fitzgerald gives a more powerful premise. The poor are generally less educated and more likely victims of various social pathologies. Also, although not likely considered by Fitzgerald, the poor have God on their side as Jesus makes clear in the gospel today.

Preachers have long noted that the beatitudes in Luke have none of the spiritualizing tendencies that are seen in Matthew. In Luke it is “the poor” who are blest, not “the poor in spirit.” Likewise, those who are simply “hungry” in Luke are being fulfilled, not those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” The wanting can now rejoice because Jesus has come to champion their cause. In contrast, those who have enough and more better beware because Jesus will not allow them much slack.

Are we to be condemned then if we own a house and a car? And if we sleep in the night shelter, are we assured of Paradise at death? Such conjectures are inevitably made and should be determinedly resisted. Jesus makes a priority of the poor but sends his Spirit on all of us to take up his causes. The poor also have to respond to his grace with care for others or face an undesirable judgment.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tuesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 6:12-19)

The Coptic Christians in Egypt are said to be tattooed in childhood with the sign of the cross. The mark not only makes them stand out among the Muslim majority, it also reminds them of their salvation.

The reading from the Letter to the Colossians today charts the dimensions of that salvation. Our selfish desires are buried through our participation in the cross by means of Baptism. Its power also raises us up to live in the world as free men and women attracting others to Christ. Any debt that we owed because of past sins the cross of Jesus pays in full through the blood of the cross. Finally, it subdues the powers of evil that might allure us from the path of righteousness.

We may not want to be tattooed, but we are wise to keep an image of the cross before us. Could anyone claim that a Christian who lays a crucifix on her desk at work is imposing her religion on others? Could not a cross or crucifix be found to accommodate any decor or style of household furnishings? Of course, the concern of somehow offending others or even good taste is hardly what keeps us from retaining a cross before us. The real issue is whether or not we want to be dominated by the one we call “Lord” who hung upon the cross.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Monday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time (Labor Day)

(Colossians 1:24-2:3; Luke 6:6-11)

Aldi’s supermarkets feature low-cost food and fast, friendly service. When asked if the stores would be open on Labor Day, an attendant happily reported “no” Aldi’s stores are closed every holiday and employees are paid for the day off. If we think of Labor Day as an extension of the Sunday rest, we might ask whether the supermarkets’ board of directors have an ally in Jesus.

In the gospel today Jesus defies the scribes and Pharisees who absolutely reject any work on the Sabbath. He presents himself as God’s agent who comes to restore creation to its original goodness. Because correcting physical malady falls under the scope of that restoration, Jesus argues that it cannot be prohibited. This reasoning is hardly legal fancy-footing but represents a commonsense approach to a conundrum created by dedicating a specific day of the week to rest.

The happy coincidence of reading this gospel passage on Labor Day provides additional opportunity to reflect on the nature of work. We work in order to live, but also to create a better society. On the other hand, rest is necessary to replenish energy and to recognize that there are higher purposes in life than making money and shopping. Regular Sunday worship and relaxation serve these exalted purposes. With or without government mandating that everyone do so, we are wise to curb gainful activity on Sundays in favor of faith, family, and even some fun.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 5:33-39)

Once, a teacher of pastoral ministry compared the students in his class to different animals of the forest. A solitary timid person was named a coyote, and a very plodding student was said to be a horse. But how was the teacher to view the fellow who seemed to have everything together? The student in mind could laugh with the merry and had no trouble commiserating with the sad. The instructor saw him a pond – the entity in which, through which, and around which all the other animals dwell. The author of the letter to the Colossians makes such a comparison in describing Jesus.

According to the passage, Jesus is the one in whom all things were created. Like an environment, then, Jesus provides space so that nature can take place and progress onward. He is the first to experience the ultimate human destiny of the resurrection from the dead. Finally, he heads the Church giving it direction and correcting its faults.

The passage is actually a hymn of praise to Jesus probably adapted by the author of the letter to introduce the important themes just mentioned. We regularly recite it in the Divine Office to give Jesus our highest admiration.