Friday, June 1, 2012

Memorial of St. Justin, martyr

(I Peter 4:7-13; Mark 11:11-26)

The title “Good Samaritan” will always belong to the protagonist of Jesus’ parable about the man who helped a foreign stranger in need. But St. Justin is also worthy of the distinction. Born in Samaria with a hunger for truth, he converted to Christianity which he found capable of satisfying his need. He died a martyr when he was given the choice of worshipping idols or giving up his life. Justin’s life conforms well to the admonitions in today’s first reading.

Peter’s letter warns its readers to be “serious and sober-minded.” Nothing is to interfere with their attention to God and their love of neighbor. It mentions a “trial by fire” for peace-loving Christians indicating that their exemplary behavior will escape neither the world’s envy nor its contempt.

In an election year we must remain vigilant. There are many issues on which we are to evaluate candidates. We will be scorned for not giving central importance to bread and butter questions like how the economy may best serve our personal interests. Like Justin, however, we turn to Christ who will satisfy our need for what is true.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Luke 1:39-56)

The sportswriters were frustrated. They wanted the star athlete to talk about himself, but he continually deferred to others. His teammates’ play allowed him to stand out. His family’s support was instrumental in making him who he was. The dialogue resembled, in a way, Mary’s speech in the gospel today.

In visiting her kinswoman, Mary is given a supreme compliment. Elizabeth calls her the “most blessed …among woman” for bearing Jesus inside her womb. At this point one would expect Mary to return the compliment or to explain what she did to merit such an honor. But her eyes are fixed on God. Rather than speak of her own virtue or anyone else’s, she gives all the credit to the Lord. He “has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” He “has done great things” for her. He always “has mercy on those who fear him.”

Most of us enjoy talking about our achievements so much that often enough we slip into vanity. Mary, the model disciple, reminds us that God is the source of every good deed we do. To sing His praises, not our own, is our role as agents in the new evangelization.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Peter 1:18-25; Mark 10:32-45)

It is unsurprising that the current question of religious freedom has a sexual issue at its root. In no way does Church’s teaching diverge more from contemporary social mores than on sexual norms. In this case the Church maintains that since artificial contraception violates God’s natural law, it cannot support the mandate to fund it in its health insurance plans. The first reading today indicates that sex has from the beginning been a pitfall of which Christians must be wary.

Like the sixth beatitude the passage admonishes its readers to love “from a pure heart.” That is, they are to overcome the desire to exploit the beautiful out of animal pleasure. Rather, they are to care magnanimously for all according to the Savior’s example. The verse about all flesh being ephemeral like grass, from the prophet Isaiah, adds ancient testimony to Jesus’ lesson.

We do not hold that sex is “dirty” or bad in itself. But we do believe that it must be reserved for marriage where it binds two people together who would otherwise be both lonely and less wise. Outside of marriage it gives rise to egotism and manipulation.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Peter 1:10-16; Mark 10:28-31)

In his novel The Shack, William Young describes the Holy Spirit as a young Asian woman who like an electron in an atom seems to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Young’s Spirit differs remarkably from his portraits of the Father, a joyful hulk of a woman, and the Son, the classical Jewish carpenter. No doubt, the Spirit as a wispy maiden, as well as the Young’s conceptualization of the Father will offend sensibilities. But there is no way to adequately describe the central mystery of faith.

Today’s reading from the First Letter of Peter twice mentions the Holy Spirit. The Spirit inspires Old Testament prophets with indications of Christ’s paschal event. The Spirit also moves the apostles to preach the gospel to the people with insight into their needs. The reading might have added, but didn’t, that the Spirit enables Christian holiness by illuminating the world’s allurements.

We are wise to develop a habit of daily prayer to the Holy Spirit. The Father may seem distant at times, and the Son perhaps too righteous to approach with our persistent faults. But the Spirit, as sure to come as the morning sun, will see us through any trial.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time (Memorial Day)

(I Peter 1:3-9; Mark 10:17-27)

“Where have all the flowers gone?” asks a popular folk song of the 1960s. It answers its own question: flowers have gone to young girls, who have gone to soldiers, who have gone to graveyards, from which have sprouted more flowers. And so the world never seems to learn that war terribly wastes human life. Today the United States remembers its war dead, mostly young men who were killed in military actions instigated by others. Many will pray that all those who have given their lives in defense of their country will receive the inheritance afforded by Christ as the reading from the first letter of Peter states.

The letter is obviously meant to shore up the hope of early Christians suffering persecution. The author reminds them that faith has eternal salvation as its goal. He assures them that whatever trial they experience will be richly rewarded if they can, like their brother Jesus, love those who oppose them even when their enemies’ swords are raised against them.

Since expecting soldiers in battle to love their enemies means more self-denial than most people can muster, we pray that God will be merciful to the dead ones. We hope that He will examine their lives to find one selfless deed reminiscent of His Son and for that allow them a dwelling place in His kingdom.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 25:13b-21; John 21:15-19)

Evangelical Protestants impressively profess their love of Jesus. But surely love of the Lord characterizes Catholic belief. Blessed John Paul II encouraged the faithful to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. Mother Teresa used to describe herself by saying, “By blood, I am Albanian; by citizenship, an Indian; by faith, I am a Catholic nun; as to my calling, I belong to the world; as to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”

In the gospel today Jesus highlights love for him as the most cogent prerequisite for leadership in his service. Calling Peter by his original name, Jesus elicits this love as he gives the mandate to shepherd his flock. Out of love Peter will take similar care for Jesus’ followers similarly as he would the Lord himself.

Our love for Jesus moves us as well to love one another. All of us like Peter have leadership roles to play. Parents must guide their family in the faith. Workers must transform the world in accord with God’s plan for peace. Even children give example to one another of God’s love for all.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 22:30.23:6-11; John 17:20-26)

“Suit the action to the word, the word to the action,” Prince Hamlet instructs a troupe of actors in Shakespeare’s famous drama. The mandate fittingly describes what is taking place in today’s gospel.

The passage concludes Jesus’ “priestly prayer” at the end of the long Last Supper discourse. He has prayed to the Father for his disciples to whom he has revealed the Father’s love. Now he will proceed to give the perfect demonstration of that love with his sacrificial death. It is the Father’s love because, as he says, he and the Father are one. The prayer includes the petition that his disciples may be one with him and the Father.

We are to consider ourselves among the beneficiaries of Jesus’ prayer. The word handed down to us has made us one with him. In giving testimony to him by our charity toward all, we have his support as well as his instruction. He will come to us as he does to Paul in the first reading saying, “Take courage….”

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 20:28-38; John 17:11-19)

The world for the Gospel of John, as for most of us, is a den of iniquity. Although Jesus can say, “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son...,” it remains a place of darkness, the realm of Satan. For this reason, Jesus says in today’s reading, “I do not belong to the world.” The ambivalence goes back to the Genesis where God creates the world as good, but then it is compromised when the woman and her husband sow havoc by considering themselves as equal to God.

Now Jesus is reversing the trend. He will not allow the world’s mire to pollute his disciples. He has imparted to them the truth of God’s love. They will overcome the world’s tendencies to self-promotion by loving one another even at the expense of self. Jesus has shown them the way. Soon they will follow. Their love for him will take them to far away places to preach his name. They will not be ensnared by the world’s seamier side because Jesus prays for them in the gospel today.

His prayer protects us as well. There is no point in trying to flee the world. As long as we have bodies, the world will be part of us. In fact, we have a mission in the world as surely as the apostles in Acts. We too have to give witness to God’s love for the world by our charity.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 20:17-27; John 17:1-11a)

In the motion picture “Glory” a regiment of African-American Union soldiers give their lives in battle with a superior Confederate force. Their self-sacrifice for the well-being of the nation testifies to the appropriateness of the title. In the gospel today Jesus testifies to a similar claim for glory.

Jesus has entered his final hour. As if it were the prefatory prayer at Mass, he begins his prayer to the Father which will lead to his passion, death, and resurrection. He asks God for the grace to endure the ordeal that will end in his glory. He has already won glory for the Father by preaching His love for the world. Now he seeks to model that love by giving himself on behalf of the world.

We also can achieve glory by acts of self-sacrifice. Daily acts of self-denial give glory to God and redound to our own glory. We might also ask God for courage to accept death when it comes. We hope to die faithful to God by reconciling with our enemies and asking our loved ones to pray for us.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 19:1-8; John 16:29-33)

Garrison Keillor tells the story of preparations for snow storms in the Minnesota town where he grew up. He says that at the beginning of the school year children from the country were assigned “snow parents” at whose houses they would spend the night if the busses were unable to take them home. The little Keillor was shown the house where he was to stay which he remembered because of a statue of the Virgin on its front lawn. One day, wishing to meet his would-be benefactors, he went to their home and introduced himself to the woman who answered the door as her “snow child.” The woman invited him to come in and to sit down. Then she brought him milk and cookies while she called her husband.

In such a harmonious way Jesus invites us to be his friends. As today’s gospel puts it, he will be our peace amidst the storms of the world’s ceaseless tensions and troubles. Staying close to him, we need not worry about loss of prestige or even life. He will keep us safe for eternal happiness. All we must do is to believe in him.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 18:9-18; John 16:20-23)

In the United States the word pioneer is associated with characters like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. In Ireland when one hears “pioneer,” she or he thinks of the pledge to give up drinking alcohol. In the nineteenth century when a similar pledge or promise was introduced by Fr. Theobald Matthew, it led to a movement which radically reduced crime. In today’s reading from Acts Paul shaves his head to fulfill a promise which likely included abstinence from alcohol.

The Nazarite vow or solemn promise has a long history in Israel. Curiously Samson is described as Nazarite in the Book of Judges, but he is required to refrain from using a razor. His mother, however, is to drink no alcoholic beverage nor eat unclean food during her pregnancy. Here we see the similarity to Paul’s vow. No motive is given for taking the vow, but it may be presumed that Paul takes it as a way of giving God thanks for the successful mission in Europe.

Besides religious sisters and brothers, ordinary people can make promises to God that they will perform some gratuitous action to honor Him. They should not be taken lightly although neither should they be held so rigidly that they cause harm. It is always wise to pray when making a promise, for example, when giving up some simple pleasure during Lent, that the Holy Spirit will provide the grace to fulfill it or to prudently forsake it when necessary.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 18:1-8; John 16:16-20)

Weeping is caused by secretion of fluid from the lachrymal glands. The action lubricates the surface of the eyeball. But exactly how this helps the one who cries is an open question. Some experts say that weeping is merely a response to strong emotions. Others claim that it serves a physiological purpose by removing hormones associated with stress.

Self-examination associates crying with loss of affection. For this reason, parents sob at the weddings of their children, and survivors weep at funerals of their loves ones. In this vain Jesus in the gospel today anticipates the tears of his disciples on the night before his death. “(Y)ou will weep and mourn…but your grief will come to joy,” he tells them knowing that the resurrection will follow his crucifixion on the next day.

In a different gospel and context Jesus assures us, “Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.” He has the same reward in mind that he promises in today’s passage. When our tears express a love for Jesus that plays out in service to one another, we can be assured that they will end in our glory.

Wedensday, May 16, 2012

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter (Acts 17:15.22-18.1; John 16:12-15) “Nature and Nature's laws lay hid in night: God said, ’Let Newton be!’ and all was light.” With these words Alexander Pope honored Isaac Newton, the renowned English physicist. Newton’s Principia Mathematica described the laws of motion in the seventeenth century. The work was considered infallible until Einstein reformulated the laws in terms of relativity. It cannot be said that Newton actually discovered the laws, which are more or less self-evident. But he did explain them so that the world might understand their dynamics. His work may be compared to how Jesus describes the role of the Spirit in today’s gospel. When Jesus says that the Spirit “will declare to you the things that are coming,” he is referring to his death and resurrection. Because the significance of this paschal event is beyond human intelligence, they need an interpreter. Jesus cannot explain them because the disciples have not yet experienced them. He has already declared himself to be “the truth.” Now he says the Spirit will guide the disciples to “all truth”; that is, the full meaning of himself. The Spirit must be active in our lives if we are experience the effects of Jesus’ redemption. The Spirit moves us from attachment to the superficial delights of creation, sets our hearts on eternal life, and propels us to give of ourselves in love so that we may achieve our heart’s desire. The Spirit is an unimaginable, completely gratuitous gift that the Father sends us through Jesus.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Memorial of Saint Isidore (patron of farmers)

(Acts 16:22-34; John 16:5-11)

The way some people talk, farming in the United States is strictly big business. It is probably mostly so, but there are marvelous exceptions like Joel Salatin’s farm in Virginia. There crops are rotated, cows eat grass, and chickens feed on bugs. It is the kind of farming associated with St. Isidore, whose feast is celebrated today in rural areas around the world.

St. Isidore was a Spanish peasant of the twelfth century. He did not own his own land but diligently worked the manor of another. In his simplicity and devoutness he appears much like the jailer in the reading from Acts. The man is so bereaved by the thought of prisoners’ escaping on his watch that he wants to kill himself. Paul saves him from committing the terrible deed and introduces him to one worth dying for. The jailer, along with his family, embraces Jesus along.

We must remember that saints are not usually found among “world champions” or “the world’s richest.” Rather saints are people who live every moment of everyday trying to please the God who, they know, cherishes them as sons and daughters.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Feast of St. Matthias, apostle

(Acts 1:15-17.20-26; John 15:9-17)

Eleven men make up a football team, and there are “twelve apostles.” No coach would send only ten players onto the field, but is it unthinkable that there would be only eleven in the inner group directing the early Church? We might say “no,” but in the first reading today the community of disciples in Jerusalem evidently considers it critical that there are twelve leaders. One of its first decisions after Jesus’ ascension is to replace Judas, the lost soul.

Jesus was definite about choosing only twelve as his core group of disciples. He wanted no more and no less in order to epitomize his mission. Jesus came to initiate God’s Kingdom by gathering together the twelve tribes of Israel as a magnet to attract all peoples of the earth. He needed one leader for each of the tribes.

The New Testament does not mention Matthias other than in this passage. His significance is to indicate the clarity of Jesus’ vision for the church he founded. This realization should fill us with confidence. The Church to which we belong is no happenstance but the product of Jesus’ conscious design. Just as deliberately, Jesus has chosen us to constitute the Church’s membership. As today’s gospel indicates, we are his friends fully formed by his teaching and commissioned to witness to him in the world.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter (Acts 15:22-31; John 15:12-17) In "Peter Pan," the captivating story about coming of age, children are taught a lesson on wish-making. When Tinker Bell, the fairy, comes on scene to grant any worthy wish, the smaller children ask for frivolous things like candy and toys. They seem perplexed when their requests are not honored. Then they catch on. They should seek noble qualities, like happiness and peace. This is the kind of request that Jesus has in mind in the gospel today. Jesus tells his disciples, whom he now regards as friends, that they have developed a new level of consciousness. They will no longer be thinking in the ways of the world; that is, doing what they like and looking out primarily for their own welfare. No, from now on they will pursue the common good and do God's will above all. Christians still may trivialize faith by trying to use it to pursue personal whims. They believe that they could use it to ask that the Cubs win the pennant or for some other frivolous thing. But faith has an infinitely higher purpose. It is to connect us to God so that we might have the fullness of life. We should not restrain from asking God to meet our needs, but our petitions should always be in line with the plan that He has for us. Let us ask for patience to take good care of our children and for courage to face pain and death. Such requests, Jesus assures us, the Father always honors.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Easter (Acts 15:7-21; John 15:9-11) In his encyclical Ut Unum Sint Blessed John Paul II expressed the willingness to envision a new form of papal leadership. In a significant outreach to Orthodox and Protestant Christianity the pope asked for suggestions to change his office to accommodate non-Catholic Christians without compromising truth. His offer is reminiscent of the concession that the first followers of Christ are making in the readings from the Acts of the Apostles today. In the beginning Judaism was as much a part of Christianity as Mother's Day is part of being American. God chose the Jews to be His own people, and, as Jesus says in the Gospel of John, "Salvation is from the Jews." But this does not mean that one necessarily has to become a Jew to be saved. Peter proclaims what Jesus' disciples know instinctively: salvation does not come from Jewish ritual and dietetic observance but from the grace of the Jew, Jesus Christ. The great ecumenical question for us is not how much change in the papacy we are willing to accept but how much personal renewal we are willing to make. Some Catholics may harbor prejudices against non-Catholics which surely have to go. Most of us need to emulate the virtues of other kinds of Christians - like the serious study of the word of God. Finally, all of us must pray more determinedly with Christian brothers and sisters for unity.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Wednesday of the Fifth W eek of Easter (Acts 15:1-6; John 15:1-8) When astronaut Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the moon just after mission commander Neil Armstrong, one of the first things he said was a line from today’s gospel: "I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit.” Then, retrieving from his spacesuit the Eucharistic host and vial of wine which he had taken from his church, he gave himself Communion. In the gospel Jesus assures his disciples that they will accomplish much if they stay close to him. Their works will be the fruit of love because his words (or commands) are centered in love. As such, they will see their people flourish and they themselves becoming wiser and stronger. We keep ourselves connected to Jesus especially by the Eucharist. Here the word of God prunes our excessive desire and fortifies our weaknesses. Here we participate in the ultimate sacrifice that frees us from the damper of sin and sets our sights on our eternal destiny.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter (Acts 14:19-28; John 14:27-31a) Perhaps the peace worked out at Versailles in 1919 is emblematic of the fleeting peace which the world gives. It may have ended World War I, but it also set the stage for World War II. By imposing so many hardships on Germany, it virtually assured that nation’s rebellion. Surely this is not Jesus’ peace. The peace which Jesus presents in this final supper with his disciples is fully realized only after his resurrection from the dead. On that evening he will appear to disciples with "peace" on his lips. Then he will breathe on them the Holy Spirit who forgiving their sins fills them with power. If this same peace is given to us in Reconciliation or the Eucharist, why do we not always feel it? We need not doubt its presence but must realize our capacity to embrace it has been compromised by mental, psychological and even physical factors, only some of which are we conscious. By praying over God’s word we can allow Jesus’ peace to deepen us so that we might freely love like him.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter (Acts 14:5-18; John 14:21-26) The Decalogue, of course, refers to the Ten Commandments. But "Decalogue" does not mean "ten commandments" but "ten words." It is as if each commandment is to be considered a separate word of God. With this understanding Jesus' answer to Judas' question about why he does not reveal himself to the world makes more sense. "The world" in John's gospel is the realm of darkness with Satan as its "prince." The world, as Jesus says in today's passage, does not keep his words (really the Father's words) which may be summarized by the commandment to love as he loves. Jesus then does not bother with the world because it refuses to listen to him. It would be as fruitless as trying to teach etiquette in the midst of a food fight. Our evaluation of the world may not be quite as negative as the evangelist John's. In teaching the uncommitted, be they large or small, we may see vestiges of the Holy Spirit. Yet we should not become too optimistic. We may feel the pain of martyrs before we see the word of God taking hold.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter (Acts 13:26-33; John 14:1-6) John Hick was a theologian to ponder but not to follow. With well thought out criticisms of dogma he challenged orthodox Christian thinkers to sharpen their arguments. One of his contentions is that the Bible is written in the language of lovers so that where it claims that Jesus is the way to salvation, one should hear something like a young man saying to his sweetheart, “I cannot live without you.” The first reading today, however, seems to reject such romanticism. Paul does not mince words as he stands up in the synagogue of Antioch Pisidia to tell the Jews that their leaders put Jesus to death. Nothing short of being completely convinced that Jesus is the only savior could have moved him to such bold speech. Behind his conviction, of course, is the singular event of Jesus being raised to eternal life. Since Paul witnessed the resurrected Jesus, he cannot but speak directly to it. We may wonder if we should not be open to new revelations as the apostles expected the people of their time to accept Jesus. We may ask ourselves, “Isn’t God constantly speaking to His people?” Yes, God is giving private revelations, but it is just commentary on the definitive word revealed in the extraordinary man Jesus. He loved, spoke, and acted perfectly. There will never be anyone as worthy to follow.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Feast of Saint Philip and Saint James, apostles (I Corinthians 15:1-8; John 14:6-14) Try standing on one foot with your eyes closed. If you last fifteen seconds, consider your balance remarkable. Eyes open and focused make the same feat easy. As sight enhances balance, Jesus' disciples need a new vision to understand what he is talking about in today’s gospel. The reading begins with Jesus responding to Thomas' remark that since the disciples do not know where Jesus is going, how can they know the way? He tells Thomas and the others that he is the way to the Father because he is in the Father and the Father is in him. Then Philip, whose feast day we are celebrating, comments in an equally obtuse way that showing them the Father would be all that is needed. But it is obvious that Jesus’ followers require the Holy Spirit to comprehend that Jesus and the Father are one. (This happens at the end of the gospel when Thomas exclaims to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.) The Spirit provides us with a new way of seeing. It is like a physician having a MRI when making a diagnosis or a soldier having a night vision device on midnight patrol. Its presence allows us to accept Jesus' teaching as not so much demanding as life-giving and then to turn to him in our need.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Saint Athanasius, bishop and doctor (Acts 12:24-13.5a; John 12:44-50) Before the Church affirmed its the aching on Christ's divinity, the issue was mired in controversy. Using ample New Testament evidence, the priest Arius taught that it was logically impossible for Jesus to be God for God's nature is infinite whereas the human soul has limits. Arius said that God becoming human would be like putting a mountain in a box. Half of Christianity including the Roman emperor, it seems, agreed with him. Arius' argument, however, was satisfactorily countered by Athanasius whose feast day we celebrate today. Athanasius was a brilliant priest and later bishop of Alexandria, a center of Greek learning. He answered Arius by agreeing partly with him. If God's nature were only infinite, it would not befit a human. However, Athanasius argued, God's nature is really incomprehensible. As absolute mystery, impenetrable to human reasoning, God could have become human as Scripture with equally ample testimony implies. Today's gospel may be cited as indicating Jesus' divine nature. He says that anyone who sees him sees also the Father who sent him. We hang on such testimony. God cannot be dismissed as modern atheists claim. Although we cannot say anything about His nature as it is shrouded in mystery, we can say that He is compassionate and just because Jesus who reveals the little that we know of God is like that.