Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mary, the Holy Mother of God, solemnity

(Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

Scientists have reported significant medical benefits of infant circumcision. The procedure is said to reduce the risk of a large range of pathologies from the HIV virus to cervical cancer in sexual partners. These findings corroborate what was considered at the root of the practice in ancient Israel: the male foreskin is a center of impurity. The gospel today shows Jesus undergoing circumcision, but its emphasis is quite different than preventing disease.

Mary and Joseph have Jesus circumcised because they are pious Jews intent on obeying the prescriptions of Jewish law. The gospel of Luke portrays Mary as particularly intent on fulfilling the word of God. The angel Gabriel told her that the name of the child was to be named “Jesus” – a mandate that is duly carried out here. Mary also keeps all the happenings of Jesus birth in her heart because she knows that they are ordered by God’s command.

In Mary we have a grand intercessor and model. Everyone should feel free to bring his or her needs to this gentle woman. More than that, we should imitate throughout the new year both her contemplative spirit for all that occurs in life and her obedience to God’s commands.
The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:18-21; John 1:1-18)

For some Catholics the ponderous words of today’s gospel are quite familiar. These people were raised before the Second Vatican Council when the first fourteen verses of the passage were recited at the end of every mass. For this reason they are sometimes referred to as “The Last Gospel.”

The passage’s opening verses address the ancient controversy of whether Christ was really God. Some postulate that belief in Christ’s divinity contradicts God’s unity. The verses show how Christ, the Word, can be the one God yet exist in distinction from the Father: he comes from the Father yet not after the Father since he and the Father with the Spirit existed before time began when there was no before and after. The passage further relates that the Word actually took on human flesh to ground Christian belief not in hypothesis but in the deeds of an historical persona, Jesus of Nazareth.

Used as the gospel we read at the final mass of the year, the passage allows us to peak beyond the end of time while it reinforces the purpose of the Word becoming flesh. As Christ existed with the Father before time began, his work as human makes us God’s children so that we might exist with him, the Father, and the Spirit when time ends.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

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

The word “Holy Innocents” this year will be mostly associated with the child victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The hearts of people the world over go out to their parents who like “Rachel weeping for her children” cannot be consoled “since they (are) no more.”

But because its carnage of innocent babes continues to mount, something must also be whispered about the depenalization of abortion whose anniversary will be commemorated shortly. In forty years the Supreme Court decision has led to the slaughter of around fifty million human lives in their initial formation in America. In many of these cases the parents weep in silence since they ultimately caused their own heartache.

Jesus is born to take away our tears. His law, written in the gentlest manner on our hearts, frees us from enslavement to the passion at the root of unwanted pregnancy. It is the rule of true love which undergoes sacrifice for the real good of all.
Feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist

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

In the first couple centuries after Christ, Christians had to contend with the heresy of Docetism. Finding incredible the apostles’ testimony that the Son of God became human, Docetists believed that he only had the appearance of a man but in reality remained a pure spirit. In the section from the Letter to John which we read today, the writer offers a striking rebuttal. “What we…touched with our hands,” the author says, “concerns the Word of life.”

Today we are challenged by the contrary heresy that Jesus was not God at all but only human. Proponents of this way of thinking acknowledge Jesus’ wisdom and goodness but do not think him worth one’s allegiance to death if necessary. According to these detractors, Jesus is just one in a series of many holy men and women including Buddha, Gandhi, and perhaps Mary Baker Eddy.

Some may be attracted to the contemporary rejection of the Christian claim of Jesus’ divinity as freeing faith from mythical elements. But we best not forget that holding it dismisses, in effect, our fellowship with the Father and the Son and, therefore, the promise of eternal life found in the Letter of John. Faithful Catholics will likewise not concur with the idea that Christian belief is mythical. Our reason is not only that such a stance takes away hope for eternal life but, more to the point, because it conflicts directly with the testimony of those, like John, who actually knew Jesus and have told us about him.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Feast of St. Stephen, proto-martyr

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

“Is it an accident…,” St. Thomas Becket asks in his Christmas sermon according to playwright T.S. Eliot, “that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ?” Not at all, he goes on to say. Martyrdom is the design of God to draw humans back to the love which the birth of Christ reveals. In other words, the Church proposes today’s Feast of St. Stephen as a reminder that Christ was born to die out of love for the world.

Although many households take down their Christmas lights today and stores haul out Valentine decorations, the Church does not intend that people go back to life as usual. Rather, she wants to make them realize that they are being called deeper into the mystery of holiness which does not shun the world but seeks to sanctify it. Celebration at what is good and sorrow when good is thwarted by evil are two ways Christians show others God’s care for them. Christmas festivities will continue until the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, but they will always be tempered by the understanding that material substances are readily corruptible while virtue lasts forever.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Nativity of the Lord (Christmas)

On Tuesdays many Catholics pray the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. These include the memorable events of Jesus’ passion – his agony in Gethsemane, his being flogged and mocked, his supporting the weight of the cross, and his brutal death. If Christmas falls on a Tuesday, however, the remembrance of Jesus’ ordeal is supposed to give way to the joyful celebration of Jesus’ birth – how the Virgin Mary’s consent to God’s will led to her conceiving, birthing, and raising the Savior. Nevertheless, this year many will feel the need to meditate as usual on his death.

Eleven days ago a young man shot and killed twenty-eight people, twenty of whom were only six and seven years old, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School of Newtown, Connecticut. Although the assassin apparently understood that what he did was wrong since he took his own life, he was almost certainly mentally deranged. He also seems to have had a vendetta against his mother, a divorced woman, who tried to care for him. The murders have invoke the disturbing question of what it means to have “the Savior of the world” in our midst when human tragedies such as the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary happen with increasing regularity.

Perhaps such catastrophes are evidence that people have rejected Jesus’ teachings on love and peace. Some will argue that the refusal to ban hand guns signifies a society’s option for violence. Others will say that the core problem is the people’s unwillingness to assist those suffering from mental disease. Still others will insist that if parents were willing to make sacrifices to keep their marriages together, their children would receive all the attention they need. All these explanations for the violence have merit, but there is a more fundamental truth that should be understood.

Evil or, if you wish, the devil is a larger, darker, and more grotesque enemy than we can imagine. It is an inherent condition of the world, and it has perpetrated its contempt for innocence from the beginning. But its days are numbered. Jesus, who took the initiative to challenge evil, has broken its back. Now it can only roam like a rabid dog looking to spread its infection on any and every one before it dies.

We must not let sorrow for the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary smother our joy today. Jesus the Savior has come. His resurrection from the dead has opened the gates of heaven for those innocent people. His sending of the Holy Spirit empowers us to join the struggle against evil. We see him as a defenseless baby at this moment but know that he is our unconquerable leader.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(II Samuel 7:1-5.8b-12.14a.16; Luke 1:67-79)

At first glance the first reading and the gospel appear disconnected. The reading from II Samuel is a familiar prophecy of the coming of Christ in the line of David. The gospel seems to be an ode to joy on the part of Zechariah with the birth of his son. However, a closer look reveals a profound intimacy between the two.

In the gospel Zechariah predicts the coming of God as “the dawn from on high.” The word for this in Greek is anatole which also translates the Hebrew of Nathan’s prophecy to David that God will raise up one “sprung from your loins” to become the eternal king. Thus, Zechariah announces the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy with the coming of the one for whom John the Baptist is to prepare the way.

The scene is set. The Savior is about to make his appearance in the world. We are to look for the rising star tonight who shall enlighten our way to glory.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

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

In many ways human beings are like all the other kinds of animals. They are born, they live, and they die. But there are differences. Unlike other animals humans think, represent their thoughts in symbols, and use the symbols to communicate with one another. These capacities leave humans with questions: Where do they come from? What happens to their spirits at death? How does their universal understanding of good and evil come about? Faith gives a perspective to address these questions. It is like a telescope which enables a human to see the universe more clearly. Today’s gospel makes a ringing endorsement of faith.

When Mary visits Elizabeth, the latter greets her with a string of blessings. “Most blessed,” she says, “are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Then Elizabeth names the cause of Mary’s blessedness. It is not that she is a virgin who is about to give birth. Nor even that she will me “the mother of my Lord.” No, Mary is blessed for believing “what was spoken to you by the Lord…”

We too have the faith that Elizabeth praises. We too believe what the Lord tells us: that Jesus is His Son; that he died on the cross to redeem our sins and then rose from the dead; and that we await his coming in glory to judge the world. The beginning of the realization of these truths, and not reindeer and snowmen, is what Christmas is all about.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

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

Christmas is a season of signs. Every gift signifies the giver’s affection for the recipient. Although signs may show disfavor as well, the signs offered in the readings today are both positive.

In the first reading Isaiah suggests that King Ahaz ask for a sign to show that God supports him. Faced with a military challenge, the king wants to capitulate to his enemies who will adulterate his nation’s worship. He likely refuses to ask for a sign not out of piety but from a fear to trust in the Lord. By contrast in the gospel Mary, trusting all the while in the Lord, readily accepts the sign that Elizabeth is pregnant in her old age.

Should we be seeking signs when confronted with decisions? God has not only sent us the ultimate sign in His Son Jesus but also has endowed us with His Holy Spirit. Rather than seeking additional signs, it is better to prudently discern how Jesus’ teachings apply in a given situation and then acting accordingly with the Spirit.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

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

It is said that for Jews the first commandment is not: “Thou shalt have no strange gods before me,” or even: “Love God with all your heart…” No, their first commandment comes from the initial words God speaks to humans: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Thus, Zechariah and Elizabeth – two God-fearing people – feel “disgrace” both naturally and religiously for their not having born a child.

Luke punctuates the fact that Zechariah seeks a sign from the angel who bore the news of his son’s unlikely conception. The request is reminiscent of people in the gospel demanding a sign from Jesus. These skeptics are unsure about Jesus even after he demonstrates his divine authority time and again.

What God calls forth from Zechariah -- and from us as well -- is trust. He gives his word to Zechariah that Elizabeth is going to bear him a child. A wise person might admonish the priest, “Enough; believe it, Zechariah, and give praise to God.” Jesus speaks similarly to us. He tells us in the early days of Advent to prepare for his return. This means that we are to care for the needy, to pray for those who persecute us, and to thank God continuously for everything we have.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

(Jeremiah 23:5-8; Matthew 1:18-25)

An old priest was describing his father. He said the man was the most honest person he had ever known. When asked if his father was religious, the priest responded, “Yes, he is the reason why I became a priest.” Joseph, introduced to us in the gospel today, is such a man.

Joseph has reason to make a public case against Mary. Not only does it seem that she has been unfaithful to him, but also Joseph would be able to keep the dowry he likely was given for Mary. But Joseph, being “a righteous man,” that is one who always follows God’s loving will, prefers to divorce her quietly. He is acting as if he just decided that the marriage wouldn’t work out. Thus, he saves Mary the humiliation of public inquiry into her pregnancy. Of course, the revelation by the angel provides Joseph reason to take Mary into his home despite her already having child.

In being born a human of Mary, the wife of Joseph, Jesus will provide us the grace to act like his righteous foster-father. He will teach us God’s ways and then die on the cross dispensing the Holy Spirit so that we may stay on that sometimes difficult road.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Monday of the Third Week in Advent

(Genesis 49:2.8-10; Matthew 1:1-17)

An African-American preacher once began his sermon by introducing himself. “I am a nobody,” he said, “who has come to tell anybody about somebody who came to save everybody.” The preacher’s claim reflects part of Jesus’ genealogy according to Matthew’s gospel.

It has been noted how the list starts with familiar figures: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and so on. Once it gets to the kings of Judah, the names – Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz – may be recognizable but they are certainly less familiar. The names of the final section are mostly unknown –Abiud, Azor, Zadok. But they too have a role in bringing about the Messiah.

Like these last characters, most of us will never become famous. Yet this fact by no means deprives us of a place in salvation history. Jesus commissions each of us, as he did the Eleven at the close of Matthew’s gospel, to tell others all that we have been taught. We are to speak of God’s love for everybody, of Jesus’ call to repent of our selfishness, and of the Christian community where we may live in harmony with all kinds of brothers and sisters.

Friday, December 14, 2012

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

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

Freedom enables humans to choose between the good things available to them. It is not attracted by evil. Sometimes choice is made between objects that rival one another – football teams to follow or high schools to attend. St. John of the Cross chose the reform branch in the Carmelite Order over the more lax traditionalists. Surely there were positive elements in the latter group, but John thought that for him, at least, it was better to live among idealistic religious. We see a similar choice being offered in today’s gospel.

Jesus criticizes the people of his time for not taking up the call to repent their sins and trust in God. He indicates that they might have done it by following John’s strict lifestyle or by his own that gives more slack. Following either model, they would have let go of full reliance on their own prowess. They would have treated others with kindness, not a tit-for-tat rigor.

We are soon to celebrate the birthday of our Savior. How can even the strictest Christians not look forward to some material delight in honor of the One who created all things good? But whether we rejoice by singing the “Halleluiah Chorus” with full orchestra or by chanting “Silent Night” a cappella, we must remember that he came to call us out of ourselves toward an ever good and gracious God.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Memorial of St. Lucy, virgin and martyr

(Isaiah 41:13-20; Matthew 11:11-15)

There is a charming story of St. Thomas Aquinas that may help us appreciate Jesus’ appraisal of John the Baptist in today’s gospel. As a student of St. Albert the Great, Thomas was ridiculed by his colleagues as a “dumb ox.” Albert, however, recognizing his student’s genius, commented, “We call him the dumb ox, but in his teaching he will one day produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world."

When Jesus says of John “…the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he,” he does not mean to undermine John’s importance. He only wishes to say that John is great because he announces the coming of the Messiah who has arrived in Jesus himself. Jesus sees John as outside the Kingdom because he has not yet committed himself to Jesus. For John, Jesus is the “dumb ox” who has to prove himself. Of course, Jesus does just that repeatedly but most wondrously by his self-surrender on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

Advent is a busy but also a holy season. Some of us find ourselves overcommitted and needing more time. Others feel satisfied that Christmas greetings have all been mailed and Christmas presents all obtained and wrapped. In both cases we need to step back a moment and realize that the season is about the coming of Jesus, not about human desires. We pray that we may encounter Jesus more deeply and witness to him more clearly now than ever.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

(Revelation 11:19a.12:1-6a.10ab; Luke 1:26-38)

In his apostolic exhortation, entitled The Church in the America, Blessed John Paul II declared Our Lady of Guadalupe the “Evangelizer of the Americas.” The story of her apparitions to the native Juan Diego bears witness to the title.

In 1531, seven years after the Spanish conquest of the Aztec empire, the missionaries were unable to make significant inroads among the people. There were a few converts like Juan Diego but nothing like the mass numbers that came into the Church after the apparitions. Perhaps it was the intransigence of the missionaries to go to the centers of prior indigenous worship that restricted evangelization. The account of the apparitions is well known. The Virgin of Guadalupe first appeared to Juan Diego on the morning of December 9 on Tepeyac hill outside Mexico City, the site of a previous temple to a pagan goddess. Speaking in the indigenous language, she introduced herself to him as “the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God by whom one lives, creator of heaven and earth.” Then she dispatched Juan Diego to Bishop Zumárraga in Mexico City with a request that a church be built on the spot of the apparition so that she might aid the indigenous people. The bishop met with Juan Diego but demanded a sign before he would believe his story. The sign came three days later when, at the mandate of the Virgin, Juan Diego brought to the bishop flowers which he found growing quite out of season at the summit of Tepeyac. When Juan Diego let the flowers fall from his tilma (outer garment) the image of the pregnant Virgin dressed as a native princess was emblazoned on it. From the retelling of the story by the natives themselves within six years nine million indigenous Mexicans became Catholic Christians.

This account underscores for us several principles of the New Evangelization. First, the New Evangelization begins with our relationship with Jesus being renewed. Both Juan Diego and Bishop Zumárraga experience a deepening of their faith through the encounter with the Virgin of Guadalupe representing her son. Second, along with spiritual renewal, we need to increase our knowledge of the faith. The Virgin gives Juan Diego a short doctrinal lesson with her introduction as “the ever Virgin Mary, Mother of the true God by whom one lives.” The facts that she appears on the site of a former pagan temple and speaking the native tongue also indicate cultural aspects of evangelization. Finally, once evangelized, we have to give witness to the good news be retelling the story and, although not apparent here, by living it.

In this “Year of Faith” Pope Benedict has challenged all serious Catholics to take up the work of the New Evangelization. The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the Evangelizer of the Americas, indicates the contours of this task.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

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

One man describes his encounter with Jesus in this way. He and his wife had just received the diagnosis of her having cancer. The man felt overburdened with distress as if he would not be able to help his wife through the prescribed treatments. In his small parish he had the task of locking the church door at the end of the day. That night as he was discharging his duty, he felt the Lord embrace him and heard him say, “Don’t worry. Everything will turn out all right.” Both readings today portray God acting in a similar way.

The first reading is taken from the opening of the second part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. God is speaking to the divine assembly. He asks that His people, whom have suffered exile for three generations, be consoled. Then He is pictured as carrying the weakest home. The gospel is just as descriptive. Jesus portrays the Father as risking the loss of his flock to search for one lost lamb.

We need not fear that we are ever completely lost in life. God, who cares about us more than our own parents, will come to our rescue when the storm clouds mount. We can trust in Him.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Monday of the Second Week in Advent

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

Not too many years ago Lake Erie was declared “dead.” It was not that there was no life within it but that its living specimens had become odious and toxic to the people on its shores. Human-produced contaminants caused the dismal condition. It turned into a national emergency when the pollutants carried by the Cuyahoga River emptying into Lake Erie broke into flames. Since that time with cooperation from Canada the pollutants have been reduced, and Lake Erie has recovered some of its vitality. The reading from Isaiah today describes a similar regeneration taking place in nature.

Isaiah imagines the Messianic age with streams bursting through the desert sands and wastelands becoming veritable recreation parks. His vision makes a fitting metaphor for Jesus whom the gospel shows healing a man both spiritually and physically. It may seem peculiar to compare Jesus with an eco-system, but such an image conveys the life-giving relationships that his presence engenders.

Jesus bestows such relationships on us in the sacraments. In Baptism we become members of his Church which instructs us in his ways. In the Eucharist we are joined even closer to one another and to the Lord himself. Reinforced in these ways, we can turn and assist others in their need for fullness of life.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church

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

Saint Ambrose was not raised a Catholic. Rather his father belonged to the governing class of Roman citizenry which afforded Ambrose a classical education. Ambrose joined the catechumenate in Milan where he was provincial governor. He chose to look from the perspective of faith which brought his intellectual formation to completion. The gospel today portrays Jesus as fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of enabling sight in the root sense of the word.

Isaiah prophesizes that in the fullness of time blind persons like Helen Keller would be able to see flowers and butterflies. Jesus is able to provide that kind of blessing. But his cure does not stop there as if seeing beautiful things were all that humans desire. More importantly, Jesus confirms the faith of the blind men in him as Lord. This gift sees them past all the challenges on life on the road to salvation.

We believe in order to see. That is, we accept the truths of faith so that we can have a rightful understanding of the world. We need not fear that faith conflicts with science. They cover different realms and are compatible. Belief even aids research as it insures that investigation will serve humanity.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

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

Bicyclists are wary of sand. If they a patch of some on the road ahead they are likely to point at it with a warning to their companions. They know that sand can cause tires to slip and riders to fall. They need the bare, rock-hard road for a peaceful ride. In both readings today we see references to rock and in the gospel a lesson about sand.

Isaiah writes, “…the Lord is an eternal rock.” He means that one can trust him like a cyclist a rock hard road. Jesus calls acting on the word of God like building a house on rock. The person who does so will never slide into the pitfalls of guilt. On the other hand, the person who always does what is easy, like a builder who lays a foundation on sand, will soon be in trouble.

During Advent we are to prepare for judgment. If we find ourselves firmly established on the word of God, we can rejoice. If, on the other hand, we see our foundation crumbling because we always did what came easy, we better start building quickly on firmer ground.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 25:6-10a; Matthew 15:29-37)

A generation ago it was said that the average American gained ten pounds over the year-end holidays. The added weight could hardly be less now. Perhaps, then, some will have difficulty appreciating Jesus’ concern about the people’s hunger in today’s gospel.

But just as the multiplying of loaves signifies the Eucharistic bread, so the hunger of the crowds is not so much physical as it is spiritual. Like people today, they crave meaning in their lives, acceptance of their efforts, and esteem for themselves as persons. Jesus fulfills all these needs. He loves each person who comes to him as an individual and invites all to join him in his Father’s kingdom.

The invitation does not come without expectation, however. If we are to join Jesus as his brothers and sisters, we must accept his help to live righteous lives. Jesus sends us the Holy Spirit that we might care for others with the same purity of heart that he loves us.
Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

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

The prison minister related the kind of story she hears over and over again. A small black man, who apparently just arrived in the city, was wrongly accused of purse-snatching. That the fellow was hardly aware of what was happening was so obvious that the arraigning judge released him on reconnaissance. But the poor man had nowhere to go. He was homeless and almost penniless.

Even if we believe that the legal system is fair and functional, we should realize that such misfortunes as what befell the black man in the story happen with some regularity. Especially those without money to pay lawyer fees are vulnerable to miscarriages of justice. There are also abuses at the other end of the spectrum. The rich sometimes “get away with murder” because their attorneys know how to manipulate the system.

In the first reading today the prophet Isaiah announces that these injustices are coming to an end. A Messiah, he says, will be born to establish righteousness throughout the land. He will hear the cases of the poor along with the rich. He will prosecute villains and allow the innocent to walk with heads high. As a result, we will become a truly peaceful society with the equivalent of Asians and Africans, capitalists and communists, surgeons and street sweepers all taking care of one another. The good news of Advent is that this vision has been realized in Jesus of Nazareth and that it will be universalized shortly upon his return in glory.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, priest

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

One chronicler says that St. Francis Xavier was “the pampered son of a Basque noble.” Yet in due time he was able to shed the trappings of wealth to live as a missionary. It would be hard to believe that life in Asia for a Jesuit missionary was anything but grueling. What made Francis eager to go there? Probably as a founder of the Society of Jesus, Francis took to heart the order’s motto, “For the greater glory of God.”

The feast of St. Francis Xavier serves well at the beginning of Advent because he reminds us of the closeness of Christ. A Jesuit is trained to walk with Christ as his sole companion. He can live outside of community with the same enthusiasm as one who is well supported by comrades because he senses Christ’s presence. He can argue the reasonableness of Catholic belief because he is convinced of Christ’s love.

Advent is a paradoxical time. It has penitential elements, but we cannot help but anticipate the imminent arrival of Jesus. The glory achieved by Francis Xavier assures us that whatever discipline we undertake is worth the effort and whatever modest celebration we make is not out of order.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Feast of Saint Andrew, apostle

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

In his seminal exhortation on evangelization, Pope Paul VI wrote: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” Little is said about the apostle Andrew in the gospels outside of the stories of his being called by Jesus. But as Paul VI said, the witness that he gives in those calls speaks forcefully through the ages.

Peter and Andrew are probably like most fishermen. They love the sea not only as the source of food for the table but also for the freedom it brings. But the call of Jesus is more powerful than the attraction of the sea. They tarry not a minute but respond to the call at once. More than any kind of curiosity on their part, such witness indicates Jesus' charisma that he will fulfill their deepest longings.

We need to give witness as well. It starts with how we present ourselves. Do our homes feature a cross identifying Jesus as he who brings peace to our lives? Do we mention Jesus as the source of our success or do we talk about ourselves as all important? Exhibiting a cross and invoking Jesus’ name tells other of his importance and provides us standards according to which we should pattern our lives.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 18:1-2.21-23.19:1-3a.9; Luke 21:20-28)

According to an old Mayan calendar the world is supposed to end within four weeks. Do not take warning. Such predictions have been made and remade repeatedly throughout history. Although today’s gospel may seem to add its own forecast of doom’s day, it really leaves the question open-ended.

The gospel states what Luke, its writer, knew as fact. The world will not end with the fall of Jerusalem. Luke knew this because he likely penned his story ten to twenty years after the Romans destroyed the temple. In what is most probably editorial construction, Luke quotes Jesus as saying that the end of the world will come with the close of the “times of the Gentiles.” This obscure phrase possibly means when the gospel is brought to all the Gentiles. Given the “New Evangelization,” the age of the Gentiles is very much in process. Only then are signs to appear in the heavens foretelling Jesus’ coming.

Luke’s point is decidedly not to predict the end but to encourage followers of Jesus to keep the faith. We must make ready to stand tall for Christ by dropping to our knees in love of God and stooping to help our neighbor.

Wednesday, November 26, 2012

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 15:1-4; Psalm 98; Luke 21:12-19)

Non sequitur” is a Latin expression that means a conclusion does not follow from the evidence given. Listening to Jesus in the gospel, one might think that “not a hair on your head will be destroyed” is a non sequitur. From all that Jesus warns about the seizure and persecution of his followers, it sounds contradictory to predict that their coiffures will not be upset. But Jesus has something else in mind when he gives this assurance. He means that faithful Christians will receive eternal life when they risk giving testimony to him in the world.

The passage indicates the difference between optimism and hope. It is sometimes thought that the two words carry more or less the same meaning, but this is not the case. Optimism is an attitude that expects every situation to turn out rosy. It overlooks the possibility of any harm with a sunny disposition. Hope, in contrast, recognizes suffering as part of the human condition but sees deliverance, in the long run at least, coming from the person in whom hope is placed. Hope is not as self-reliant as optimism, nor is it so sure that relief is around the corner.

In facing trials – whether persecution for the faith, debilitating sickness, or other threats to well-being – we hope in Jesus. He promises to deliver us from harm when we stand by him. The surety of deliverance does not preclude the possibility of suffering, but our confidence in Jesus is ratified by his resurrection from the tomb.
Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 14:14-19; Luke 21:5-11)

“Clearance rate” refers to the percentage of crimes committed that are solved. The justice system in the United States has a relatively high clearance rate for violent crimes such as murder and aggravated assault. Non-violent crimes like theft and burglary are another story. The majority of these activities have clearance rates between ten and twenty percent. The first reading from the Book of Revelation, however, assures that in the end justice will be served.

The text uses the gospel image of a harvest to describe the final judgment. The first angel with a sickle presumably harvests the wheat crop which is evidently judged worthy. The second angel then turns its sickle on the grape harvest which is delivered to the “great winepress of God’s fury.” Why all of the grapes are deemed unworthy is a puzzle. In any case, the reference was picked up by Juliet Ward Howe in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” which speaks of “trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”

“Actions have consequences,” we frequently hear today. They impact our lives in multiple ways but ultimately on how we will be judged. Good acts bring eternal life. Bad acts will result in death.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 14:1-3.4b-5; Luke 21:1-4)

As the priest holds up the consecrated host with the chalice before Holy Communion, he makes a disquieting statement. “Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb,” he says. His words indicate much more precisely than the old translation what is about to take place. The people will partake of the Lamb of God. Of course, they do not bite into corporal tissue; rather they eat the bread and drink the wine that have been transubstantiated into the body and blood of Jesus. The imagery of the Lamb pervades the first reading from the Book of Revelation today.

The passage consistently reads “Lamb” but clearly refers to Jesus. Rather than picture a giant sheep, the reader should see Christ designated by a metaphor with theological significance. The hundred and forty-four thousand who follow him are those who testified with their lives to the Lamb’s divinity. Their positions can hardly be envied as they had to suffer martyrdom to be in such close company with the Lamb.

What are we to make of it all? At the year’s end we are reminded of the price of our salvation. Not only did Jesus have to die to defeat the Evil One, but many others gave their lives so that we might know the Lord. These realizations fill us with the kind of gratitude that makes us more willing to share of ourselves for the salvation of others.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Memorial of Blessed Miguel Pro, priest and martyr

(Revelation 10:8-11; Luke 19:45-48)

Blessed Miguel Pro was executed eighty-five years ago today by the Mexican Army for a trumped up charge of conspiracy in an assassination attempt. He was a young Jesuit priest who had recently returned to his country after formation in Belgium. At the time Mexico was in the throes of religious persecution by the state of the Catholic Church. Fr. Pro had to administer the sacraments clandestinely until he was arrested and shot. He died with the refrain “Viva Cristo Rey” (Long live Christ the King) on his lips.

Christ the King, whose feast will be celebrated on Sunday, is the hope of Christians suffering religious persecution. They know that sooner or later Christ will triumph over religious bigotry, no matter the setbacks people of faith now experience. The reading from Revelation today hints of this victory. The sweetness that John, the author, tastes comes from his narrating the ultimate triumph of Jesus. The sourness in the stomach reflects the great suffering caused in the process.

Some are predicting religious persecution in the United States soon. The Church has certainly lost its credibility among many people. The Mexican experience of the last century should advise all that harassment and suppression are possible. But whether or not there will be persecution of the Church, Catholics look to Christ the King for assurance that truth and goodness will ultimately prevail.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day

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

In one episode of “The Simpsons” Bart is to lead the family in grace before dinner. He speaks up saying something like, “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing!” Such shallowness could only come from an insolent youngster or a fool.

Anyone who has thought about the benefits that he or she has must come to the realization that they are beyond what one person or group of people could have produced or purchased. Rather, society has handed over to its members not only a share of material wealth but also the virtues of maintaining them and the secrets of producing more. Yet even society did not receive the raw materials for its products and the inspiration to distribute them with a measure of fairness out of the blue. Although some may dissent, most people recognize that behind all the goodness of the earth there is a Creator God who cares about them.

Thanksgiving Day is the time that the American nation reserves to honor the ultimate source of the prosperity it enjoys. It would be shameful if Americans gave thanks only one day a year. But it is a credit to Abraham Lincoln and perhaps other politicians to have a particular day designated every year for the purpose of expressing gratitude. All of us sometimes feel shortchanged, but we still should have no difficulty raising our voices in unison with other Americans today. We simply have to thank God for the spiritual and material benefits He has heaped on our nation.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Revelation 4:1-11; Luke 19:11-28)

Celebrating today’s feast may seem like engaging in historical fiction. After all, there is no authoritative account of Mary’s infancy. But liturgists assure that its purpose has significant weight.

The feast was originally associated with the dedication of the basilica of St. Mary the New in Jerusalem. As such, it celebrates Mary as the temple of the Lord, and this in two ways. First, Mary bears the unborn Jesus in her womb. Second, Mary meditates on the Word of God in her heart. St. Augustine actually taught that the second form of gestation is more important than the first because Jesus gives it preference in this same gospel of Luke (11:28).

We too can take the Word of God into our hearts, meditate upon it, and allow it to bear fruit in our actions. Diligently doing so makes us like gothic cathedrals rising to heaven.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 3:1-6.14-22; Luke 19:1-10)

George Harrison expressed the desire of Zacchaeus and each of us when he sang, “Lord, I just want to see you.” Zacchaeus climbs a tree to get a clear view of Jesus. People today have to strain their imaginations to picture him. Although Jesus is portrayed in popular art as tall, long-haired, and handsome, the gospels actually say nothing about his physical appearance.

But seeing Jesus holds no great advantage. Most of those who saw Jesus in the gospels chose not to follow him. Indeed, the majority of witnesses to his miracles turned their backs on his call to conversion. More important than seeing Jesus is having faith in him. Believing that he reveals the Father’s boundless mercy brings one close to salvation.

Surprising to many, Zacchaeus expresses such faith. As a tax collector, Zacchaeus is expected to swindle the poor, not to give them half his fortune. The only recognizable motive for his doing so is his belief that Jesus bears God’s peace. He is perhaps thinking, “What better way to spend my money than to share it with Jesus’ special friends.” We do well to sort out our year’s end surpluses in the same way.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 1:1-4.2;1-5; Luke 18:35-43)

People watching, one observes young couples walking hand in hand but older couples often following each other as if they have lost interest in partnership. The first reading from the Book of Revelation laments a similar loss of ardor of the Church of Ephesus.

The Book of Revelation is part of a prominent form of Scriptural literature called "apocalyptic." Such writing offers predictions about the end of times, but its purpose is actually to shore up fading hope in the present. In the passage today Ephesus is experiencing a dampening of enthusiasm in Christian love with the postponement of the expected coming of Christ in glory, and the author John is doing something about it.

The apocalyptic is no stranger today. People speaking of private revelations from the Blessed Mother often include predictions of the end time. They need not be ignored. As pesky as they may be, their message should remind us to purify our motives in doing good.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(II John 4-9; Luke 17:26-37)

One bishop says that he avoids using the terms “liberal” and “conservative” because they are divisive. It certainly is true that many people in the Church distinguish themselves from others with these categories. It may be noted that John the Presbyter in the first reading today employs a similar label, “progressive,” to distinguish himself and his congregation from those who follow a false teaching.

The Second Letter of John does not elaborate on the erroneous doctrine. It does say that the deceivers do not accept Christ coming in the flesh. Although this reference may be a denial of Jesus’ return at the end of time, it more likely negates that Jesus actually offered himself as a bloody sacrifice for the salvation of the world. Furthermore, today’s passage suggests that those who refuse to acknowledge the passion and death of Jesus are not likely to follow his commandment of love.

Many today are “progressive” to the extent that they think a woman has a right to extinguish the life a baby growing in her body. Others are so “traditional” that they believe that capital punishment should be preserved as a way of dealing with criminals. We must take seriously that Christ’s coming in the flesh has profoundly altered our perspective regarding the taking of every human life.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Memorial of St. Albert the Great, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Philemon, 7-20; Luke 17:20-25)

As St. Ambrose is perhaps best known for bringing St. Augustine into the Church, St. Albert the Great is most famous for mentoring St. Thomas Aquinas. But Albert was more than Thomas’ teacher. When Thomas’ orthodoxy was under attack, Albert rose from retirement to defend his prize pupil. In the first reading today we read of St. Paul taking on similar roles.

Paul’s letter to Philemon is a personal entreaty to take back a runaway slave named Onesimus. Paul made Onesimus a Christian. In justice he believes that Onesimus should return to his master. But being a practical person, he also knows that Philemon is likely to whip Onesimus for daring to flee his household. To help his newly made Godchild, the apostle writes a masterful letter of persuasion reminding Philemon that he owes Paul his very soul for having converted him also to Christianity.

A few commentators today wonder why Paul did not condemn slavery. Evidently the institution was brutal in Paul’s time, and there was the realization of how Christ defeated all the powers of evil. But Paul was more concerned about preparing the communities that he converted for the expected return of the Lord, then for advocating for great social changes. In any case Paul gives us example in doing what he can to lighten the heavy yoke of a brother in the Lord.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Wednesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Titus 1:1-9; Luke 17:11-19)

It is remarkable that the Letter to Titus has to remind the early Christians to obey state laws. We think of these men and women as so devout that they would never tell a lie much less steal a cow. Today we equate being Christian with being law-abiding although, unfortunately, aberrations abound. There are also a few issues that have moved some contemporary Christians to civil disobedience.

Each year for that last twenty-three mostly Catholic citizens have protested the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA) located at Fort Benning, Georgia. Although the Army claims SOA trains Latin America military to be more ethical as well as more effective soldiers, it is also true that a couple of the most notorious thugs in recent hemispheric history have graduated from SOA. Protesters believe that the school needs to be shut down. During the protests a contingent showing the earnestness of their cause crosses a line defying a federal law and are promptly jailed.

Actually the School of the Americas no longer exists. Through the efforts of protesters the Army changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and its curriculum. However, American militarism in Latin America has continued catalyzing the continuance of the dissent.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Memorial of Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini, religious

(Titus 2:1-8.11-14; Luke 17:7-10)

“Who do you think you are on the streets all night, Mother Cabrini?” fathers in Denver would chide their daughters who came home late. St. Frances Xavier was a phenomenon. Born in Italy, she headed a religious congregation of women at thirty years old and then came to the United States where she crisscrossed the country founding hospitals and schools in her work especially with Italian immigrants. She ably reflects the kind of dedication that Jesus expects of his disciples in today’s gospel.

Jesus sounds harsh as he tells the apostles that they should work without rest or complaint. It is significant that his audience is the Twelve who are destined to lead churches. They are not to give in to the temptation of accepting adulation from the people as if they were the Lord himself. Rather they must remember that they have been chosen precisely because they are capable of working field-and-house, day-and-night.

So how about the rest of us? Are we to work as tirelessly as Jesus’ chosen twelve? First, let us remember that the work of the Lord is not entirely drudgery because the Lord himself accompanies us. We can talk with him at any time. Then, we must be mindful of all that must be done to prepare the harvest. Unfortunately, there are not always many hands to share the task. Finally, we know that Jesus in his love wants us to be built up not crushed by our ministry in his name.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Memorial of Saint Josephat, bishop and martyr

(Titus 1:1-9; Luke 17:1-6)

St. Josephat would have been pleased with the Second Vatican Council. He was a bishop of the Byzantine Catholic Church which had to defend itself from the hegemony of Latin Catholics as well as of Orthodox. At Vatican II the Universal Catholic Church recognized eastern churches as more than “rites” within the Catholic Church celebrating the sacraments in unique ways. They became to be seen as true churches with independent leaderships working in coordination with the pope.

Working relations between the Orthodox and Catholics have improved only slowly. Even today there is suspicion in Moscow of the Catholic Church. Blessed John Paul II was so loved throughout the world that no doubt orthodox leaders worried that he would attract their flock to the Catholic fold given the opportunity to visit Russia.

So many wrongs have been perpetrated by Catholics and Orthodox over the centuries that Jesus’ command in today’s gospel to forgive seven times could serve only as a starter. Strong faith that solutions can be found without compromising the integrity of either branch of Christianity is on order. Such an accomplishment would be tantamount to having a mulberry tree march on demand into the sea.

Friday, November 9, 2012

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)

“Crystal Cathedral” is a massive church built in Orange County, California, through the efforts of evangelist Robert Schuller. Made of glass and housing a mammoth organ, the structure was recently sold to the Catholic Diocese of Orange when its parent company filed for bankruptcy. Never before an authentic cathedral since there was no bishop presiding there, the church will soon live up to its name. It is being refashioned and will likely be renamed “Christ Cathedral” for the diocese’s new bishop Kevin Vann.

As all Catholic churches, Christ Cathedral will celebrate today as a special feast. The Cathedral of St. John Lateran in Rome is the pope’s cathedral and, therefore, the “mother and head of all churches of the city and of the world.” It too is an impressive structure even though its fame, size, and beauty have been eclipsed by the Basilica of St. Peter.

Churches are privileged places of encounter with God. They both exhort silence and ring out joy. Silence is necessary so that comers can speak to God in their inner chambers. Bells acknowledge that God is always active among His people.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Philippians 3:3-8a; Luke 15:1-10)

A man speaks of his experience of God. He says that when he learned of his wife having breast cancer, he felt particularly low. He went into church that evening as he usually does to lock up, in the dark he felt the Lord taking him into His arms and holding him. From then on, the man knew that everything was going to be all right. Almost certainly St. Paul refers to an experience such as this in the first reading today.

Paul is never ashamed of being a Jew. Quite the contrary, he knows that Jews have been chosen by God to bear the divine promise of salvation. He is likewise almost gleeful to have been faithful to the Covenant between God and Israel. But Paul is also certain that in the end, being a Jew is not all that important. It is much more rewarding to have encountered Jesus Christ. As he so uncompromisingly states, “…I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

We too know the Lord Jesus. If we have not felt the all-encompassing embrace of his arms already, we are likely to do so shortly. He loves us and will protect us from the ultimate harm of being lost and never found.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Wednesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary time

(Philippians 2:12-18; Luke 14:25-33)

“Question authority,” the youth of the Sixties trumpeted. It echoes the rebelliousness of the age but perhaps may be justified in the contexts of racial bigotry and of foreign militarism. St. Paul, however, makes a contrary plea to the Philippians in today’s first reading.

“Do everything without grumbling or questioning,” Paul advises his readers. He is referring to his own mandates which, he knows, have been forged in personal sacrifice according to the norms of Christ. Basically, those mandates are emulate Christ in everything; that is, to be humble and caring in the midst of societal hypocrisy.

Religious leaders will win the respect and trust of their communities by living charitably, transparently, and prayerfully. Noting these qualities, we can forgive most of the faults they may have and willingly follow their directives.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 14:15-24)

The Year of Faith, which Pope Benedict initiated last month, has the ambitious objective of launching a new evangelization effort. Catholics, with faith rekindled, are to reach out to family, friends, and neighbors who have lost the spark of faith. In the enterprise they are likely to meet some of the same excuses that Jesus relates in the gospel parable today.

Two of the invitees who reject the offer to the dinner party say that they have business to attend. They resemble the majority of people today who, far from seeing their work as a vocation from God, view it as a career that they choose and cultivate themselves. Faith for these people is of marginal importance – if not a means to a social network that might advance their careers, then a sector of one’s private life that gives identity and customs to highlight times of transition. The other example that Jesus gives is the man who has just married. Is it far-fetched to suggest that his excuse is pleasure? Perhaps many in our society see Catholicism as teaching mores which may interfere with their pursuit of sensual gratification.

Other trends explaining contemporary disaffection from the Church can be so readily named that it may seem impossible to stem the tide. Yet Pope Benedict believes that the task is doable. Just as the master of the house in Jesus’ parable sends his servants to go out again and invite the unfortunate and otherwise marginal people, so the pope is urging us to return to the people who have rejected the initial invitation of faith with a more vigorous appeal. We are to testify how God’s love has given our lives direction, stability, and happiness, and will do the same for them.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Philippians 2:1-4; Luke 14:12-14)

Sometimes people ask if it is a sin to tell your hostess that you liked her soup when you thought it awful. Of course, it is; but bluntness may be uncharitable as well. In any case, Jesus openly tells his host in today’s gospel that he could have done better.

When Jesus chastises the Pharisee for inviting the well-to-do and not the needy, he is commenting on an established practice that remains in vogue today. Some people calculate whom they will invite to their weddings and banquets on the basis of how much money they will receive as a gift or what might be done for them in return. It may come as a surprise that Jesus is not really opposed to the custom! But he would not have his disciples make their calculations not on whether they may receive a fat check as a gift or perhaps an invitation to a brunch at the Four Seasons. No, they should count on an eternal reward for feeding the hungry or entertaining the lonely.

The holidays are almost upon us. Perhaps some of us are already drawing up lists of guests for Thanksgiving dinner or our annual Christmas party. Let us not too quickly exclude the widow next door because she doesn’t have a mate or the man who always comes to church alone because he might be gay.

Friday, November 2, 2012

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

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

We know that we have become old when we count more friends among the dead than the living. A twenty or thirty year- old will likely have experienced the demise of only a handful of loved ones. But this is hardly the case for a person who has reached sixty or seventy. She or he longs for eternal life as the reunion with the many deceased people who shaped their lives. Today, the Solemnity of All Souls, we have a foretaste of that event.

Cemeteries, which normally have few visitors, become crowded today. People come with flowers and, in some cultures, food for their beloved dead whom they often address with affectionate terms. But the occasion is not completely nostalgic. Prayers are raised that God pardon the sins of the dead which might have been considerable.

We believe that God is a merciful father who cares about the fate of His children. Even the people who seem to have defied His goodness are not beyond the scope of our prayer today. After all, only God knows the condition of human hearts - those which may have been so deformed by life’s vagaries that their culpability was muted and those whose last beat may have resounded in contrition.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Solemnity of All Saints

(Revelation 7:2-4.9-14; 8 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a)

Yesterday's costume parties hint at today's feast. Just as people wore clothes of different nations and periods of history, so saints come from a variety of backgrounds. And just as regular people don the dress of the standouts of the ages, so they might become saints.

Blessed Pope John Paul II canonized more saints than all previous popes. He did not do it for exercise. Rather he wanted to give Catholics models to help them live holy lives. Individuals with distant relatives who were canonized have found special inspiration to struggle against evil inclinations. In examining the lives of the saints postmodern Christians will find examples of women and men who dealt successfully with questions and doubts similar to their own.

Still it is not easy to become a saint. We need not only models but divine grace to love as we ought. Fortunately the Holy Spirit has also come so that we might successfully take up the quest.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 6:1-9; Luke 13:22-30)

The title of a new, well-advertised book asks a question which approximates the one in the gospel today. Will Many Be Saved? evidently gives an answer similar to Jesus'.

Jesus does not actually say that many will be condemned but certainly the logic of his statement points in that direction. He adjures his listeners to make every effort to live holy lives because, he implies, only those who commence the quest early and persist in long day’s struggle will achieve their end. However, his exhortatory language resists the conclusion that he means only a privileged few will find eternal happiness.

Nevertheless, we are wise to take Jesus’ words literally. If it is the case that most people will fall short of eternal life, then our efforts may prove eminently worthwhile. If God is as indulgent as some people think, then we will at least be giving good example that might save others from natural folly that warps human lives.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 5:21-33; Luke 13:18-21)

There is a story about a man who came home late one night. He found the front door locked and had to knock. “Who’s there?” came the voice of his wife inside. “I am,” he said back, but nothing happened. He knocked again. “Who’s there?” the woman inside repeated. “I am,” the man replied, but again there was no movement. The man then had an inspiration. He knocked a third time, and when he heard the query, “Who’s there?” he responded, “You are,” and the door was opened. Perhaps it was today’s first reading that inspired the man to answer so effectively.

The reading reiterates the teaching of Jesus in the gospel who himself takes the reference from the Book of Genesis. Ephesians’ intent, however, is not just to relate the unity of matrimony but to use the bridal couple as a symbol of Christ and the Church. As united as man is to his wife in sexual intimacy, it teaches, so the Church is one with Christ.

As insightful as the passage is, it is often resented by contemporaries because it suggests to them subservience of a woman to a man. The difficulty is more with our imagination than with an implied inequality. It is the man who is to show deference to his wife by loving her more than his own life. This kind of self-sacrifice is the way Christ loved the Church. Would any prudent person object to submitting to another who is ready to die for her true happiness?

Monday, October 29,2012

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 4:32-5:8; Luke 13:10-17)

It is a sin against the first commandment to put one’s trust in another god, but does this mean that you cannot keep a tiger tooth for good luck? It is a sin against the second commandment to take the Lord’s name in vain, but does this mean that you sin by saying, “Oh God,” when you see something awesome? It is a sin not to honor one’s father and mother, but what are you to do when they tell you that they do not want to hear from you again? In today’s gospel Jesus addresses a knotty question such as the ones posed here.

Apparently nothing in the Mosaic Law expressly forbids healing on the Sabbath. However, certain Pharisees at the time of Jesus apparently consider such action work. Following such an interpretation, the leader of the synagogue chastises the crowd for seeking cures from Jesus. Knowing that the leader is making a dubious distinction, Jesus corrects him. He knows that his Father’s activity is essentially liberating. God freed the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt and constantly liberates their descendants from moral and spiritual blindness with the Law. Now Jesus imitates his Father by freeing the woman from a particularly gruesome malady.

It would be unfair to say that Jesus is rationalizing his action. Again, the Law does not forbid Sabbath healing. More to the point, he is appealing to the people’s sense of justice and prudence in interpreting the Law. Always, he indicates, we have to use our intelligence aided by the virtues to determine what the Lawgiver expects with any given statute.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 4:1-6; Luke 12:54-59)

In his poem “The White-Tailed Hornet,” Robert Frost observes that humans do well to compare themselves with higher beings. If they do not, he predicts that they will suffer one catastrophe after another. Frost’s lines are worth remembering: “As long on earth/ As our comparisons were stoutly upward/ With gods and angels, we were men at least,/ But little lower than the gods and angels./ But once comparisons were yielded downward,/ Once we began to see our images/ Reflected in the mud and even dust./ ‘Twas disillusion upon disillusion.” The passage from the Letter to the Ephesians today bears a similar wisdom and elegance.

Ephesians urges its readers “to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.” It claims that they have been chosen by God to be members of God’s family. As God’s children then, they are to live not only peacefully as if the absence of quarrelling was all that matters, but in such unity that all strive to have a like mind and heart based on truth. It is a tall order, but it can be accomplished with God’s grace which is “over all and through all and in all.”

Anger is a definite roadblock to peace and unity. We must get over our outrage with what others appear to say and do. In place of it, we should pray for the supposed opposition and then try to dialogue with it.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 3:14-21; Luke 12:49-53)

The juxtaposition of the first reading and the gospel today disturbs the spirit. The gentle words from Ephesians about the Christian as rooted in love sound diametrically opposite the jarring gospel where Jesus promises to judge the world with fire. An outsider might wonder if Jesus were a lion or a lamb.

If we have difficulty with the two clusters of images, perhaps we should examine what love is about. It desires not so much the comfort of others as their wholeness. President Obama describes his mother’s love for him with the story of her getting him out of bed at four in the morning to review his lessons. When he complained, she told him, “This is not a picnic for me either, Buster.”

Jesus’ love moves him to die so that we might experience eternal life. Reaching it demands our acceptance which may in turn involve the sacrifice of pleasure and even of relationships. But we should never underestimate the value of belonging to the Lord. As the Letter to the Ephesians says, it is “the breadth and length and depth” of happiness.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 3: 2-12; Luke 12:39-48)

“How odd of God,” wrote Ogden Nash, “to choose the Jews.” The Letter to the Ephesians today would turn this verse on end. “How odd of God,” it seems to say, “to include Gentiles.” It is odd because Gentiles have not spent forty years in the wilderness learning God’s ways. They have not been steeped in the Law which teaches that family and community must be placed above individual desires. A Jewish bioethicist provides an example of what is meant here. He has considered the possibility of assisted suicide if in old age he becomes a burden to his family. Then he reconsiders realizing that hastening his death would deprive his children of the opportunity to express their care and fulfill their responsibilities to their parents.

Too often Christians spurn Jewish faith as if it worshipped a hostile God. Yes, Jesus enhanced our appreciation of God by calling him “Father” and by revealing himself as Son. But we must remember that this, at least in part, came from his mastering Jewish traditions. When we can embrace Jews as our elder sisters and brothers in faith with much to teach us and turn to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and people of other religious beliefs or no beliefs at all as if they were younger siblings in need of Christian example, then we approach realization of the mystery of Christ envisioned in the Letter to the Ephesians.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 2:12-22; Luke 12:35-38)

We often hear Christ referred to as the "prince of peace," but the Letter to the Ephesians sounds quaint calling him "our peace." To help us understand what the letter means we can think of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet." At the end of the drama, with both hero and heroine lying dead because of their families' mutual antagonism, the two opposing patriarchs vow to reconcile their differences. Christ similarly serves as the impetus to peace among all nations.

As a human, Christ models all that is virtuous so that every considerate person will naturally feel contrite to hear how human folly caused his death. As God, Christ’s death frees us from the bondage that sin has imposed. Sin offends God, but it really hurts us. It estranges us from God’s love and even from one another’s support. Christ’s sacrifice of himself for our sake makes up for these shortcomings by renewing our relationship with God and with one another. We may think of having a brother doing a heroic feat after we messed up in an ordinary challenge. Associated with our brother, we no longer feel the shame of our own failure and spontaneously desire to act like him.

But we must not think that Christ’s victory means that all accomplishment comes without effort. No, we must especially avoid giving into temptation which can undermine the best of our intentions.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 2:1-10; Luke 12:13-21)

The Christian Foundation for Children and Aging connects Catholics with means in the United States to people with significant depravation in developing twenty-two countries. Working through itinerant priests preaching in parishes around the U.S., CFCA has established 300,000 helping relationships. In each relationship a sponsor family or individual gives thirty dollars a month to support a poor child or family. Can we not call CFCA a significant way of conforming to the Lord’s will in today’s gospel?

Jesus especially in the Gospel according to Luke excludes no sociological group from the graces of the kingdom. Rather, he invites both rich and poor to experience eternal life. But he also indicates that the wealthy have to demonstrate their trust in God by using their resources to assist the needy. He does not say that they must give up everything, but he does condemn the hoarding of resources for their personal benefit.

We should not think that it is wrong to build up an IRA; but as we do that, we should also be thinking of how we might help the poor. The Church has numerous organizations which could use our financial support. In contributing significantly to them we will have what might be termed a spiritual nest egg redeemable for eternal love and peace.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 1:11-14; Luke 12:1-7)

It is said that a Christian during the early centuries of persecution would walk up to a stranger and make a line on the ground with his foot. If the person would draw a line through the first to make a cross, the two would know that they could talk freely. If the other did not respond, then the conversation would not mention faith in Christ. The gospel today seems to reference such a custom.

Jesus says that what has been whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed on housetops. He apparently means his Lordship, which his disciples knew of but did not understand well. After his resurrection with the coming of the Holy Spirit, they will see clearly and profess openly that in Jesus sins are forgiven and people experience eternal life.

Today religion has once again been privatized. Social pressures intimidate people from talking openly how God has affected their lives. Ironically, it is a message that others not only need but want to hear. When we give testimony to our faith, we strengthen others’ resolve to live righteous lives that benefit society and lead to their salvation.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

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

If the Church were to use only one gospel, many people would want it to be the Gospel According to Luke. Although not the most profound theologically, Luke’s Gospel shines in ways that touch us deeply. It gives the most detailed account of Jesus’ birth as well as of Mary, the mother of God. It also relates the most memorable of Jesus’ parables and shows Jesus constantly in prayer. This list could go on almost indefinitely.

We call the author of the third gospel “Luke” but cannot be sure who he was or even if “Luke” was really his name. Several sources from the second century identify him with the Luke who is occasionally mentioned in the Pauline letters as we heard today. Because at one point in these letters he is described as a “beloved physician,” he is honored by medical professionals as their patron. Perhaps because of his beautiful descriptions of characters such as the prodigal son and the good Samaritan, it is also said that he was an artist and so enjoys the patronage of that profession as well. But it seems more accurate to name his profession as how he describes himself: an historical researcher who puts in good order the events of the life of Christ (see Luke 1:1-3).

But Luke is more than a historian because his narrative, as we see in today’s gospel, announces the “kingdom of God.” Luke found that kingdom personified in Jesus himself who comes to show mercy on all people, especially those whom the world tends to ignore – the poor, women, and almost hopeless sinners.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

(Galatians 5:18-25; Luke 11:42-46)

In the early 1990s an American Dominican priest working among the poor in El Salvador began to receive death threats. Determining them to be credible, the priest’s superior called him back to the United States. No doubt, the priest returned with a divided heart. He would have preferred to stay with his people, but such persistence might have cost his life. St. Ignatius of Antioch evidently had a different perspective on a similar situation.

From the letters he wrote as he traveled from Antioch to his execution in Rome, we know that Ignatius looked forward to being martyred. When it seemed that Christians might find a way to have the penalty commuted, Ignatius pleaded with them not to do so. He evidently wanted to be eaten alive by lions. It is not sacrilegious to ask whether such a stance is more pathological than pious.

Life is a good that we should generally preserve. As St. Paul hints in his letter to the Philippians, it is better that one work for Christ if possible than unite with him in death. Still life is not the greatest good. That distinction belongs to God alone. Obviously, Ignatius found enough glory being given to God in his martyrdom to make the sacrifice of his life for it a worth exchange.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 5:1-6; Luke 11:37-41)

Take a look under the hood of a car in a used car lot, and you are likely to be surprised. The engine and other mechanisms often are pressure sprayed so that they look like new. Of course, how well these pieces work should be tested. In today's gospel Jesus comments on an analogous case of clean outsides and rotten insides.

From reading the gospels there almost seems to be a war going on between Jesus and the Pharisees. Obviously Jesus criticizes some of their ways, but he probably enjoyed the company of some, like the man whose house he is visiting, and found a zeal for the law in common with most of them. In today's passage he addresses the supercilious concern with cleanliness that goes beyond what the law requires. As he implies, looks are nothing in comparison with reality. A person’s character should no more be judged by his or her manicure, than a book should be judged by its cover.

And yet we insist that people wash their hands before coming to church and that they wear clean clothes. Are these demands "pharisaical"? Normally they are not. First, it is a matter of hygiene. Cleanliness bespeaks the absence of at least some harmful germs. Second, outer appearance often symbolizes the state of the soul. We dress up to go to church to indicate that we have put on Christ. Jesus was a practical man. As his disciples, we will wash ourselves regularly if possible, but we generally do not go overboard with extra rinsing or refusing to shake hands with another before we eat.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Memorial of Saint Teresa of Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Galatians 4:22-24.26-27.31-5:1; Luke 11:29-32)

Women today often speak of a "glass ceiling" prohibiting them from advancing to the highest places in an organization. Through the glass they see their goal, but the presence of the glass impedes them from reaching it. Unfortunately the glass ceiling has always been a social reality; however, once in a while a woman has been able to penetrate it. St. Teresa of Avila certainly did.

Teresa was born in the city of Avila, Spain in the sixteenth century. It was a time of great national prosperity owing to the riches of the Americas which Spain was able to exploit. As often happens with prosperity, however, people become relaxed - a condition that especially compromises religious life. Noting that the Carmelite Order had become largely undisciplined, Teresa began a reform that reached past the convents of nuns to the friars of the Order. In addition to turning the tide of laxity, Teresa wrote religious classics that have edified many spiritual lives for over four centuries.

Living in a time of almost universal superfluity, our society has also given itself to a certain laxness. For example, the habit of doing penance on Fridays, that is mandated by Church, is commonly ignored. We need religious leaders like Teresa of Avila to guide us in living a disciplined life of sacrifice and prayer as well as a true appreciation of God's bounty.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 3:7-14; Luke 11:15-26)

Pelagius was a fifth century monk who thought like many moderns. According to his critics (few of his works remain), he taught that humans do not need God to be good. Rather, he evidently claimed that human nature has the wherewithal to become saintly. These ideas were condemned by the Church, and the passage from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians that we read today indicates why.

For Paul the experience of trying to fulfill the 613 precepts of the Jewish Law inevitably ends in failure. It is like trying to cross the ocean with an oxcart. The vehicle is simply not up to the task. But God in His mercy has sent His son Jesus Christ to provide a viable alternative. Acknowledging him as Lord and seeing his death on the cross as the means of salvation will provide one the grace to live a holy life.

“Is the act of believing then a human work?” we may want to ask. In other words, do we cooperate with God’s grace? These are highly nuanced and hotly debated questions. Certainly, the act of faith engages the human will. But it hardly takes an effort to believe when God’s graciousness is perceived in contrast to human folly.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 3:1-5; Luke 11:5-13)

Paul’s frontal attack against the Galatians – “O stupid Galatians, who has bewitched you?” – makes us wonder what kind of people would tolerate such criticism. Most likely Paul is addressing a community of Christians he founded in the northern part of the province of Galatia. The fair-haired and light complexioned inhabitants of that area migrated in the third century before Christ from the region of the Pyrenees Mountains separating what is presently France and Spain. “Galatians” comes from the same root as the Latin word Gallia which refers to the expansive tract of Western Europe that includes modern France.

In Paul’s day Galatians were considered something like the giant but amicable Brobdingnagians of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. One biblical commentator describes the Galatian as “large, unpredictable simpletons, instinctively generous, ferocious and highly dangerous when angry, but without stamina and easy to trick.” Paul evidently considers them good-hearted enough to accept his sharp disapproval without rejecting the gospel he preached. He likely developed a deep rapport when ill health caused him to stay with them for an extended time.

Paul’s language, however, reveals more about himself than about the Galatians. For Paul the single, most important fact of life is God’s redemption of humanity in Jesus Christ. To his mind Christ commissioned him to preach this truth to non-Jews. He does not mean to subjugate anyone with his harsh speech but only to urge them to accept the salvation won by Christ. If strong language is necessary, he would muster the highest indignation. If refined rhetoric would do the job, he would polish his argument. As he himself would write to the Corinthians, “I have become all things to all, so that I might save at least some” (I Cor 9:22).

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 2:1-2.7-14; Luke 11:1-4)

Shosaku Endo was a Japanese Catholic novelist. In his greatest work, The Silence, he wrote of a Jesuit priest laboring in the Japanese missions when Christians were being persecuted. The priest is betrayed to the authorities and told that if he apostatizes, many humble Japanese Christians would be liberated from ruthless torture. The priest agonizes over the decision. In the gospel today Jesus shows his disciples how they must pray to be delivered from such situations.

The Our Father is the apex of Christian prayer even though it does not mention Christ. Rather, it takes its place of priority because it is Jesus’ own prayer. That is, it is not only the one Jesus taught to his disciples, but also evidently the one he echoed in Gethsemane. “Father,” he will say on that occasion, “…not my will but yours be done.” At the same time he will tell his disciples, “Pray that you may not undergo the test.” (cf. Luke 22:40b,42b) The test, of course, refers to the situation of suffering grave persecution for the faith.

Gratefully, most Christians today are not “subject…to the final test” as Jesus exhorts his disciples to pray. But we are, all the time, confronted with temptation, as the more familiar rendition of the prayer has it. Internet pornography is one such temptation. Lying to escape a banal censure is another. In the Our Father we ask God to deliver us from these situations as well.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 1:13-24; Luke 10:38-42)

Bishop Ken Untener believed that homilies should be short. In workshops around the country he told priests that the Catholic Church is so rich in reminders of the faith that the people do not need long sermons. Rather, he advised, preachers should take from the gospel the truest truth that they can ascertain and tell that to the people. St. Paul seems to do precisely this in the first reading today.

What’s important to Paul is not his life as a Jew or his acquaintance with the apostles. No, he insists that the critical event of his life, which gives meaning to everything that he is and does, is his encounter with the Son of God, Jesus Christ. He does not elaborate on the nature of the meeting, but he does indicate that it made him an apostle with the special mission of preaching the gospel to foreign nations or, as it is translated in the reading, “the Gentiles” – that is most of us.

Protestants often talk about coming to know the Lord Jesus, which leaves many Catholics wondering what they mean. Blessed John Paul II, however, encouraged us to develop a relationship with Christ. We encounter Christ in one another, especially in the poor who trust themselves implicitly to the Lord’s care. We meet him also in listening to the Gospel and even more profoundly in the reception of Holy Communion. It is the summation of these events contemplated over years that most of us have a sense of relationship with the Lord. Like for Paul then, he becomes the whole point of our existence.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday of the Twenty-seventh week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 1:6-12; Luke 10:25-37)

In political debates candidates often pander to the desires of the public. The would-be presidents or senators avoid stating their convictions or detailing their plans. Rather, they appeal to corrupted human nature by criticizing their opponents. In the first reading today St. Paul assures us that he is not such a person.

Paul has been informed of a serious aberration in the faith of the Galatians. He preached salvation through faith in Jesus and the imitation of his love. Since he left them, however, other preachers have convinced them of the need to obey the gamut of Jewish laws if they were to follow Christ. After all – the preachers would say – Jesus was a Jew. In his letter Paul assures the Galatians that trying to abide by the Jewish law would entangle them in a mud pile of regulations. He does not court the favors of the Galatians by telling them that they could have it both ways. They must either accept Judaism or accept Jesus.

We may wonder if the Catholic Church has become somewhat like Judaism with its seemingly myriad laws and regulations. We look at some Protestant communities which give their communion to anyone who wants to partake and ask ourselves if the Catholic Church should not be more inclusive. Such questions may be facile, however. The Church looks for true repentance from people who have erred. It further guides the faithful in Christian discipleship with just enough precepts to keep us centered on the Christ’s love.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Friday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

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

The great theologian Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote, “Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” Although today it is presumed that doubt is not disbelief as Cardinal Newman was implying in his statement, it still is a serious matter. In any case human beings quite naturally have difficulty accepting matters that they cannot understand. Job certainly does so, and today’s reading does not condemn him for the problem.

In answering Job’s complaints that he has suffered unjustly, God indicates that His purposes are more complicated than Job can imagine. God knows the intricate relationships among all components of heaven and on earth. Job only knows how to run a farm. But God mercifully addresses himself to the suffering Job lest he despair. Even though the response does not answer Job’s difficulties specifically, it does reveal God’s care.

Perhaps we cannot refrain from asking questions, but it is critical that we also do not stop giving praise to God for all the good we find on earth. Fuller answers about suffering and other mysteries will come in time, especially as we reflect on the mystery of Jesus’ death for our sakes. For now, however, we need to give thanks.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi, religious

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

No one wonders why the popes have called religious leaders to pray for peace in Assisi. The patron of that charming Italian town is a universal saint. The stories written about him for almost eight hundred years charm the most Christian-suspicious heart. How he called the sun his brother and how he tamed the wolf have won the world to his side. Recently, however, a well-credentialed Catholic biographer has written a biography with a different take on the man.

Augustine Thompson is a Dominican priest and medieval scholar. He has published a book on Francis’ life that leaves out the charming but unhistorical stories. Rather Fr. Thompson highlights a man whose poverty stems from the Eucharistic meditation of the Word of God emptying himself of divinity to be broken and shared by many. The author shows Francis tormented by the challenges of leadership while all the time wanting to be nothing more than the salt of the earth.

So Francis still inspires us. He may no longer move us to try to befriend ferocious animals, but he makes us to think about Christ’s presence in our midst. We should no longer feel unlike Francis if we are not charismatic leaders. Rather we should all ask how we may be ourselves and as humble as a dandelion at the same time.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wednesday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Job 9:1-12.14-16; Luke 9:57-62)

The refugees from Syria are only the latest in a long, never-to-end line of innocent people suffering. No doubt, they fled from their homes wondering why they could not live on in peace. They endured two generations of brutal dictatorship, but their so-called liberators seem equally authoritarian as the tottering regime. We hear Job asking similar questions in the first reading today.

Job’s conscience is clear. He knows that he has done no wrong to merit the loss of family, fortune, and health that he has experienced. But he also knows that God can easily brush aside his arguments if he tries to plead a case. He feels frustrated and hopeless. For now he is content to suffer steadfastly. He will neither curse nor challenge God.

The suffering of Job becomes a less dark story in the light of Christ. He is the only truly innocent human being, yet he suffers one of the cruelest punishments imaginable. But death is not the final word with him. Jesus rises from the dead to eternal life and promises his followers a similar destiny. We still may question why some must go through a horrific middle stage, but we know that their future is secure if they remain close to him.

Tuesday, October 2 2012

Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels

(Job 3:1-3.11-17.20-23; Matthew 18:1-5.10)

St. Augustine is famous for saying to his people: "I am fearful of what I am for you, but I draw strength from what I am with you. For you I am a bishop, and with you I am a Christian. The former designates an office received, the latter the foundation of salvation." Obviously, Augustine hardly took his work as a bishop as a privilege; rather, it was an onerous obligation placed upon him. It meant reproving the people when they were thinking erroneously and providing basic resources when they experienced dire need. It would not be unfair to call Augustine’s chores like being a Guardian Angel to his congregation.

Guardian Angels specify God’s love. He takes care of human beings by setting their hearts on the supreme good, which is Himself, and providing the means to sustain themselves physically. In the gospel Jesus speaks of children having angels in heaven charged with these tasks. But that does not exclude the possibility of God extending such personal care to everyone. After all, in a sense all humans are God’s children.

Today we give thanks to God for His constant and unsurpassable love by remembering His instruments, the Guardian Angels. The surety of God’s watching over us should prompt us to take similar care of one another.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Saint Terese of Lisieux, virgin and doctor of the Church

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

Can it be only coincidence that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta bears the same name of today’s patron saint? More than likely one of the saintliest women of the twentieth century took the name “Teresa” from the nineteenth century mystic. Mother Teresa is famous for saying, “We can’t do great things, but we can do little things with great love” which reflects perfectly what St. Therese of Lisieux wrote of as her “little way.”

Some may think it easy to practice love in a convent where everyone prays continually. But anyone who has lived in such close quarters knows that kindness and patience is supremely challenged when one faces the same people with their disturbing idiosyncrasies over a period of years. The grace with which Therese bore such difficulty made her a saint, and her perspicacity in relating the development of her soul made her a doctor of the Church.

No life is without irritation and frustration. All of us should ask for the grace to overcome these challenges. The Holy Spirit then fills our hearts with love so that we, like Therese, may become holy.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

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

In the middle of the Cold War a Catholic Navy officer was serving as the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion on a nuclear submarine. His conscience began to trouble him as he contemplated being part of a missile launching that killed millions of people. He was eventually allowed to resign his commission. Although the stance seems extreme, it is certainly in line with the way Jesus sees himself.

The gospel today shows Jesus asking his disciples whom they think that he is. It is the Lucan rendition of the same scene that appears in the Gospels according to Mark and Matthew. In all cases Peter responds that Jesus is the Christ, the long-awaited Messiah who was to lead the Jews to freedom and dignity among the nations. In Luke, however, Jesus' response is fast and furious. He rebukes all the disciples (Peter is only acting as their spokesman), perhaps telling them to keep such ideas to themselves. As the other gospels in their own way make clear, Jesus does not want to be associated with a warrior-Messiah. He is a man of peace who comes to proclaim God's love, not to whip anyone into shape.

The Church has never forbidden Christians from serving in the military and going to war if necessary. Yet certainly Christian thought and practice is conditioned by Jesus foregoing any identification of a warrior. He is identified in the Scripture as the Prince of Peace. As his faithful servants, we strive to keep the peace and to limit injury in warfare.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, priest

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

It is said that St. Vincent de Paul was largely responsible for France’s overcoming of Jansenism. This seventeenth century heresy has the power to take over one’s soul with its obsession about being saved. Taking its name from a Dutch bishop, proponents of Jansenism would recommend constant confession as a way to avoid eternal fire. St. Vincent, on the other hand, would have the faithful work acts of charity as a demonstration of God’s favor.

Born a peasant, Vincent was ordained a priest at the age of twenty. So obviously talented, he might have pursued a comfortable life with the revenue of a small monastery to which he was appointed chaplain. However, the acquaintance of a cardinal in Paris steered his life in another direction. Rather than enjoying the comforts of the rich, Vincent began visiting prisons and galley ships to comfort prisoners. In time he founded the Congregation of the Mission, priests first known as Lazarists and then as Vincentians, to work among poor country people. He is also responsible for the Daughters of Charity, who have become renowned for their charity.

Today’s gospel comments that King Herod greatly wanted to see Jesus. So would many people throughout the centuries. We have only to turn to saints like Vincent de Paul to catch a glimpse of him.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

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

It was said that a Jesuit novice was once given a unique mission. According to the story, he was given a small sum of money and told to report to a Jesuit house in a faraway place. Evidently, he was expected to hitchhike across the country and, along friends made on the way, to rely on his own resources for a while. The story smacks of hyperbole, but it rings also of the gospel account in today’s mass.

Jesus sends his apostles out with nothing in their pockets “just in case.” Rather, they are to depend completely on Providence working through the townspeople they encounter. Of course, they will offer to the people release from demons, cures of diseases, and the good news of God’s kingdom, but these blessings are not meant as ways to finagle hospitality or to reward it. Rather, they represent God’s favor upon those who accept His grace. Indeed, Jesus indicates that some villagers will likely shut their doors in his apostles’ faces.

The dependency of the apostles upon Providence thrills our consciences like a bugle call. Today in our society most people, including church workers, strive to avert risks. The credit card has long served as a way never to be caught without money. With cellular telephones in emergencies help is only a few pushed buttons away. Other resources like generous insurance policies protect against catastrophes. Although these privileges are often defended as prudential, they may leave us with the disturbing question: What does it mean today to trust in God’s Providence if we are always avoiding risks?