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.