Friday, February 1, 2013

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 10:32-39; Mark 4:26-34)

During World War II a Protestant community in rural France saved an estimated 5000 Jews from the Holocaust. The Huguenots of Le Chambon-sur-lignon sheltered and hid Jewish refugees from the Nazis and their French collaborators. The townspeople provided their persecuted guests with papers and transport to freedom in Switzerland. Moved by the collective memory of their ancestors being victims of Catholic persecution centuries before, they responded with compassionate service to the horrific ordeal of the Jews. Their story reflects the first reading today.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds the people of their heroism during an earlier persecution. He (or she?) mentions how they joined in the suffering of fellow Christians who were imprisoned for their faith. The author is encouraging the people not to give up. Rather they must keep the faith despite trials and the delayed return of Christ.

Religious persecution is perhaps as old as religion itself. There are signs that we are entering into an era of renewed intolerance of Christians. Whether or not we will see segregation and physical abuse, Christian beliefs and moral practices are already being ridiculed. Like the Hebrews we must place our confidence in Christ. He will provide the spiritual resources to endure present difficulties and reward us with eternal life.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Memorial of Saint John Bosco, priest

Hebrews 10:19-25; Mark 4:21-25)

The man identified himself as Catholic, but he asked a question that comes from another religious tradition. “Do you believe in karma?” he said. “What is that?” was the reply. The man explained that karma is the teaching that one gets what he or she gives. If she does good, good things will happen to her. If he does evil, then he will be punished in some way. Is this what Jesus is driving at in today’s gospel?

Jesus promises, “The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given to you.” It sounds like karma, but it goes beyond a simple tit-for-tat. Jesus means that those who give of themselves in love like him will experience eternal life – the “more” in his assertion.

When we respond to injury with care – maybe in the form of a prayer for our malefactor – we align ourselves with Jesus. He is the light that illumines our lives now and will not dim as we enter the darkness of death.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 10:11-18; Mark 4:1-20)

”It is greater than God and more evil than the devil. The poor have it, the rich need it and if you eat it, you'll die. What is it?” This riddle may challenge even ingenious people. The solution, by the way, is “nothing.” Nothing is greater than God or more evil than the devil. The poor have nothing, and the rich lack nothing. If one eats nothing, he or she will die. In the gospel today Jesus is suggesting that his parables will sound like such a riddle for those who do not believe.

Jesus’ assertion that those outside the kingdom will “see but not perceive” is paradoxical. For believers a parable aids understanding. But if one lacks faith, parables will either appear as riddles or, alternatively, fantasies. In the case at hand, comparing preaching the word to casting seed will make sense to the believer who realizes that faith must be nurtured or it will die. But unbelievers cannot extract any sense from the story.

At the moment faith appears to be a withering commodity. Some expressly deny it. More often people simply do not practice it. But this is not the first time in history that faith has waned. We can only pray for these people that their hearts will change so that they may reap the abundant blessings that faith brings.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 10:1-10; Mark 3:31-35)

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, there were a number of television shows portraying the fathers of families as judicious, caring, and in every way admirable men. Father Knows Best featuring Robert Young epitomizes this type of father. Other examples that come to mind are Leave It to Beaver with Hugh Beaumont and My Three Sons with Fred McMurray. In the gospels Jesus holds his Father in what may be called an analogical esteem to the father characters of these shows .

In today’s passage Jesus looking at his disciples says, “…whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” The fact that he does not include “father” in this listing is not oversight. Rather it indicates the unique and privileged relationship he has with his Father in heaven. He will compare no one, not even remotely, to Him.

Jesus’ Father is ours too by virtue of his salvific mission. We can call on God with our everyday needs and rely on His compassionate love. The more we do so, the more we will find our lives fulfilled and the more we will take care never to offend Him.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church

(Hebrews 9:15.24-28; Mark 3:22-30)

Engage a Catholic philosopher in a discussion about Thomas Aquinas and you are apt to be told that he was such a great theologian because first and foremost he was a philosopher. Yet it is said that the only academic title Thomas ever had was that of Doctor of the Sacra Pagina, that is Scripture. It is interesting to note how economists place Thomas prominently in the development of their science. Of course, he was an eminent man of letters having written poetry, prayers and hymns that are still in vogue.

Thomas Aquinas was a man of multiple talent and monumental ability. He knew everything that there was to be known in his time. Still more importantly, he was a saint because he combined his achievement with a supreme love for God and a gentle disposition toward neighbor. On his deathbed, he accredited Christ as the end of all his efforts. Preparing to receive the Eucharist, he prayed, “For you have I labored, for you have I studied and preached and taught.”

Friday, January 25, 2013

Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle

(Acts 22:3-16; Mark 16:15-18)

Ending the Week of Christian Unity on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul may give the impression that Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic Christians hope to convert one another. But this, of course, is not at issue in the ecumenical project. The occasion is nevertheless appropriate because all people must undergo continual conversion if they are to become holy. The Shaker song “Tis a Gift to Be Simple” expresses this necessity well: “… by turning, turning we come round right.”

Paul’s life underwent various conversions. The most dramatic turning is recorded in today’s first reading where Paul is changed from a zealous Jew to a radical Christian. Another turning point comes with the catastrophe of trying to preach logically to the Athenians at the Areopagus. Rebuffed, he decides that from then on, he will preach only Christ crucified. Perhaps another conversion takes place as Paul stops preaching to Jews in synagogues and starts talking to pagan clients as he plies his tent making trade.

Most of us would do well to attempt the following simple conversion. Rather than refrain from talking about religion among friends and family because of the differences that the topic arouses, we should declare what God has done in our lives and ask our associates to tell about their faith experiences. Also, sharing prayer as we break bread and perhaps again at the end of an evening will weave webs of mutual respect and, with God’s grace, eventual unity.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Hebrews 7:25-8:6; Mark 3:7-12)

As the Week of Christian Unity draws to a close, it might be asked how one of the great Catholics of Reformation times treated Protestants. St. Francis de Sales was a priest and bishop in Switzerland, a country that largely converted to Calvinism. Influenced by religious rivalry, Francis broadly backed social and political pressures to bring Calvinists back to the Church. But when he faced Protestants directly, he spoke to their hearts.

Francis believed that intellectual arguments do not change people’s ways as much as calling forth the good in everyone. He would say that it is not necessary for a farmer to pray like a hermit, but offering his simple prayer sincerely put him on the path of holiness. His friendly persuasion attracted a number of Calvinists to Catholicism. But more important than conversions, his arguments allow for common ground today among lay Catholics and Protestants search who search for ways to be Christ’s disciples.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Memorial of Saint Marianne Cope, virgin

(Hebrews 7:1=3.15-17; Mark 3:1-6)

Back when there was concern that the AIDS virus might be transmitted through touch, a woman visited an old friend dying of the disease in a hospital. While taking leave, she did not hesitate to embrace him as a sign of her affection. The words of Marianne Cope, whose feast is celebrated for the first time today as a saint, echo with the woman’s action: we are “to make life as pleasant and as comfortable as possible for those of our fellow-creatures who God has chosen to afflict.”

Marianne came to the United States from Germany as an infant. At twenty-four, she entered religious life and promptly showed her ability as a school teacher. She also was instrumental in founding the first Catholic hospitals in mid-state New York. Missionary zeal must have moved Sr. Marianne to help the lepers with whom St. Damien worked in Hawaii before the islands became American territory. She continued her mission with lepers and children there until her death in 1918.

Today’s gospel pictures Jesus as performing the same kind of compassionate service as Marianne Cope. Indeed, he no doubt inspired her ministry. In healing the paralytic Jesus shows that he is not afraid of the consequences of doing a truly good deed. Despite the inevitable criticism for healing on the Sabbath – an act which the puritanical find defiant of the Law – he knows that showing such mercy pleases the Father.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children

(Hebrews 6:10-20; Mark 2:23-28)

The famous South Rim of Big Bend National Park used to have sections cordoned off so hikers could not pass. The park curators wanted to create sanctuaries so that eagle hens might successfully hatch their offspring. Unfortunately our society does not insist on the same treatment for its human offspring.

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s infamous decision to allow abortion on demand. For some inchoate reason the majority decided that a woman’s choice to have or dump her already conceived offspring trumps that baby’s right to life. We can see Jesus in the gospel today as protecting that right against the lesser claim. His defense of his disciples’ picking grain to eat on the Sabbath preserves their right to food against the charge of the Pharisees that absolutely no work should be done on the Sabbath.

The leadership of the Church in the United States has asked all Catholics to pray today for an end to abortion on demand. Of course, such a prayer would be in vain if we do not at the same time nurture an ethic of life. We should refrain from harsh judgment and action. Let us also take care of those in need especially by assisting those women with troubled pregnancies.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Memorial of Saint Agnes, virgin and martyr

(Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 2:18-22)

Writer Frank McCourt tells of a bus driver who was able to relate to an African-American high school student in a way that he never could. McCourt’s class was returning from a cultural activity when the student began talking with the bus driver who was also African-American. She asked the driver about his family. The driver said that he had children and was working hard to send them to school so they wouldn’t have to drive buses for a living. He said that Black people had to work hard in the United States if they were going to get by but in the end that was good because the struggle made them stronger.

Just like the bus driver could relate to the student in McCourt’s story, Jesus is able to relate to us. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus knows human suffering and offers men and women a hand in overcoming the self-pity and resentment it tends to create. In fact, with the graces merited by Jesus’ own suffering, humans can turn those bitter reactions into the virtue of compassion. In other words, they can be made stronger.

Today the United States honors one of its greatest heroes. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke up for struggling minorities who were being deprived of opportunity to show their ability. He preached to the well-off of Christ’s love for the poor and also to the impatient of Christ’s way of nonviolence. He dreamed not so much of a color-blind America but of a country where all people would be respected for the “content of their character.”

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 4:1-5.11; Mark 2:1-12)

In a discussion of a supreme power that gave rise to the forces producing the universe, the celebrated atheist Richard Dawkins once admitted the possibility of such a being. But he quickly distanced himself from belief in any kind of God who cares about individual humans. In today’s gospel Mark gives glimpses of Jesus who does precisely what Dawkins finds incredible.

In the Old Testament, God is said not to judge by appearances because He knows the human heart. Jesus in today’s passage likewise knows the hearts of the scribes who silently accuse him of blasphemy. More than that, Jesus shows that he indeed can forgive sins, which is also said to be an attribute only of God, when he heals the paralytic after pronouncing his sins pardoned. It may be added that the four men who work to put the paralytic before Jesus show the same faith in Jesus as was reserved for God in the Old Testament.

Lots of things today interfere with faith in Jesus. People look for instant gratification of all their desires. Scientists like Dawkins regularly scoff at the idea of a loving God. The majority in society no longer attends church. We must not let these or any other condition interfere with our trust in the Lord. Staying close to him, our sins will be forgiven and we will enter unhampered into eternal life.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Memorial of Saint Anthony, abbot

(Hebrews 3:7-14; Mark 1:40-45)

The life of St. Anthony is as edifying as it is interesting. He was born into a wealthy Christian family in Egypt. Listening to the gospel story of the rich, young man, Anthony decided not to allow himself to lose eternal life. He sold what he had, gave his money to the poor, and went into the desert to follow Christ as a monk. There he found a monastery from which he emerged, at 105 years of age, to defend orthodox Christianity against the Arian heretics.

Anthony’s feast day gives us opportunity to consider Egypt’s Christian minority today. Descendants of a rich Christian tradition that includes Anthony, Athanasius, and a host of other saints, Egyptian Christians are being persecuted as a religious minority. The country’s recent revolution, well supported by Western powers, has not helped their lot. More than ever, their lives and well as their faith totter under Muslim prejudice.

The situation of Christians in Egypt may not differ much from that of the “Hebrews” to whom the first reading is addressed. They likewise have the difficult task of opening their hearts, as the letter asks of the Hebrews, to their neighbors, some of whom revile them. They too have to show Christ’s love for their persecutors which will win them salvation.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 2:14-18; Mark 1:29-39)

Not long ago, a guest columnist in the New York Times wrote a story about Derek Jeter, the great shortstop of the New York Yankees. The columnist, who knew Jeter personally, told how he asked his friend for an autograph picture for his son. The star replied with the requested gift. Today’s gospel shows Jesus acting similarly.

Jesus has just called Simon and Andrew to follow him. After he heals a man with an unclean spirit in the local synagogue, he enters Simon’s house and is told of the fisherman’s sick mother-in-law. Jesus does not waste any time to cure her. Intensely human, Jesus does not hesitate to assist his new disciple’s loved one.

We want to cultivate a relationship so that he will help us. We will not only ask him to cure our sick friends and relatives but also seek his assistance in driving away the unclean spirits that disturb our peace. Making such requests is not taking advantage of our relationship. Indeed, Jesus came to earth precisely to render us such help.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 2:5-12; Mark 1:21-28)

A contemporary spiritual writer believes that it is next to impossible to teach spirituality to youth. He claims that they are too preoccupied with themselves to be filled with the Holy Spirit. One would hope to find exceptions, but the author of the Letter to the Hebrews makes an interesting statement to a similar effect regarding Jesus.

The Letter states that Jesus was made perfect only through suffering. Of course, he possessed perfection in his divine nature and had the possibility of reaching perfection, as we all do, in his human nature. But, the author goes on, he had to suffer to become truly loving, which we should see as the essence of perfection. This means that he had to suffer to attain humility and compassion. Those who suffer become aware sooner than others that they are not the center of the world’s attention. They also recognize that others face problems even more serious than their own.

It is not easy to suffer, of course. Yet we can face suffering with the hope that, like Jesus, it will bring us to a greater love for others. By allowing suffering, God moves us along the way of eternal life.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 1:1-6; Mark 1:14-20)

The elderly priest felt frustrated. Every place he telephoned, it seemed, was answered by a machine. All he wanted was to hear a human being so that he could take care of some business. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is cognizant of a similar need in the first reading today.

The letter indicates that God has changed His interface with His people. Rather than communicate through interpreters, He is going to speak directly by sending them His Son. No more will He seem remote and His message arcane. Rather He will be like a neighbor who knows the people’s situation and has undergone their problems.

Today we begin afresh our journey with Christ. He calls each of us just as he called the sons of Jonah and of Zebedee. It is a privilege to follow him. He will heal us of our hurts while he teaches us his ways. We want to stay close to him.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Christmas Weekday

(I John 5:5-13; Luke 5:12-16)

Bishop Leroy Matthiesen of Amarillo became a national sensation after he told a deacon in his diocese working at the Pantex Nuclear Plant that he should follow his conscience and leave his job. When Bishop Matthiesen was offered a contract for his autobiography, he was warned that he had to write it immediately because interest in his story would not last long.

In the gospel people similarly come in search of Jesus after he heals a leper. The passage indicates that they not only want him to cure their illnesses but also to listen to him teach. Interestingly, Jesus does not double efforts to maximize his popularity but continues to withdraw in prayer. He knows intuitively what most of us forget in face of public admiration -- the source of eternal life is not in worldly recognition but in communion with God.

Whether we are famous or whether our virtue is known only by our loved ones, we are wise to imitate Jesus in prayer. Daily conversation with God offers us the opportunity to recognize our limitations and to draw on the Lord’s strength.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Christmas weekday

(I John 4:19-5:4; Luke 4:14-22)

Very soon Barack Obama will deliver his second inaugural address as president of the United States. No doubt, he will mention the challenges facing his administration: millions of undocumented immigrants, high unemployment, medical costs that continue to rise beyond inflation, a continuing war in Afghanistan, to name just a few. Similarly, Jesus addresses the challenges of his times in what may be called his inaugural sermon in the Gospel of Luke.

Interestingly, Luke has Jesus making his first presentation in his hometown of Nazareth. It is as if Jesus were a politician returning home to launch his professional career. He references the prophet Isaiah to announce the issues on which he intends to concentrate. He will lift the spirits of the poor, win amnesty for political prisoners, relieve the burden to the oppressed, etc. In short, he will fulfill God’s promise of justice made since the beginning of time. Of course, the people are edified by his speech. They know that what he says are not just words but testimony to deeds already accomplished.

Still at the beginning of a new year, we should make some resolutions about what we would like to see happen in our lives this year. If we are true followers, we will peg our hopes to the Lord Jesus. We will ask his grace to be more patient on the road and more attentive to our work. In doing so, we will notice how our needs fit well with his intentions to serve.

Wednesday, January 9, 2012

Christmas weekday

(I John 4:11-18; Mark 6:45-52)

Surveys show that most Americans believe that heaven exists and that they will have a place in it. They hold to these beliefs apparently without regard to what they actually do. Is it to be presumed, therefore, that they are living the perfection of love described in today’s reading from the First Letter of John? The reading states quite boldly that “confidence on the day of judgment” marks a perfect life.

To answer the question some context for the letter should be given. Its author is exhorting his community not to follow a renegade group. He gives evidence that this group lives in a liberatine way probably because its members believe that they are saved by the mere fact that the Son of God came into the world. The author, to the contrary, shows that following Jesus’ teaching is also a requirement for salvation.

We too must be careful about presumption of attaining eternal life as well as of losing hope that it exists at all. After all, to be human means, in part, having the freedom to reject God’s love. It is all right to hope that every human being accepts God in her or his heart of hearts. However, we should strive to manifest His love in all our thoughts, words, and actions.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Christmas weekday

(I John 4:7-10; Mark 6:34-44)

It has been suggested that St. Luke portrays the infant Jesus as lying in a manger because he will one day give himself as food. As the manger serves as a feeder for farm animals, so it holds he who becomes the "Bread of Life" for his followers. The evangelist likely had more in mind than the Eucharist in relating the incident of the manger, but the observation does provide ample food for thought.

In any case, today’s Christmas season gospel relates Jesus feeding the mass of people with the meager offering of five loaves and two fish. The scene, narrated by each of the four evangelists, anticipates Jesus’ feeding his disciples with his body and blood at their farewell meal. The Father sent him precisely to demonstrate His immense love. Could any action be more significant than allowing oneself to be chewed up so that he may nourish his partakers?

We, of course, participate in the same agape feast. Through the Church Jesus’ offering is extended to us so that we might have the strength to follow in his ways.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Christmas weekday

I John 3:22-4:6; Matthew 4:12-17.23-25)

Scripture scholar Raymond Brown gave his little book with reflections on the birth of Christ a provocative title. He called it An Adult Christ at Christmas. His wanted to show that the infancy narratives are more than the beginning of the gospel story. Rather they contain the basic gospel message from Jesus' initial success in Galilee to his ultimate rejection, death, and resurrection. Something similar takes place in today's gospel selection.

It may be asked why the beginning of Jesus' ministry is featured in the mass today when we are still in Christmastime? Would it not be more appropriate to review a segment of the infancy narratives, perhaps part of the long passage where he is brought to the Temple or maybe the Holy Family's journey in Egypt? However, the initiation of Jesus' preaching also fits well at the present time. As indicated by the passage, he was born to tell the world of God's merciful love. He is also the great light that will lead humanity out of the morass of folly into which sin has brought it.

Machines are able to work in darkness, but we need light. We require not just illumination to walk about but, more importantly, inner light or wisdom. Jesus’ light enables us to recognize the often serious needs of others as well as the excessive attention we often give ourselves. His light is also made up of energy so that we may love God above all and others as ourselves.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton, religious

(I John 3:7-10; John 1:35-42)

“The one who loves much, does much,” the mother told her son. Reinforced by the mother’s example of unselfishness, the proverb echoed in the child’s mind throughout his life. Perhaps St. Elizabeth Ann Seton gave a similar lesson to her five children. She certainly practiced its wisdom. Her accomplishments are almost exhausting to name, much less to carry out. St. Elizabeth founded a religious congregation, set Catholic education on firm footing, visited the sick, established orphanages, and wrote spiritual reflections.

The First Letter of John reminds us that such love in action is not found naturally in humans but comes from God. The love of the Trinity overflows into creation and reaches its pinnacle in the Incarnation. There God the Father’s only-begotten Son comes to shows humans how to love one another. In the gospel Jesus invites two of John’s disciples to “come and…see.” Taking up the offer, they no doubt saw how Jesus enables us to love everyone, including themselves.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

(Optional) Memorial of the Most Holy Name of Jesus

(Phil 2:1-11; Luke 2:21-24)

“What’s in a name?” an infatuated Juliet asks the handsome Romeo. At first, the two mistakenly believe very little substance resides in a name. But they come to learn there is really much at stake. For their love to mature they must accept who they are and make necessary sacrifices to overcome the difficulties their identities create.

We reserve much import for the name “Jesus.” Dogs may be named almost any regular name but never “Jesus.” But we should not think that other men are never called in this way. In fact, it is a common name in Hispanic cultures and was a popular name for men in biblical times. “Jesus” means “Yahweh saves.” Certainly, it is an apt name for the Christ who as God’s agent saves us humans from sin. He does this basically in two ways: by imparting wisdom through his teachings and by bestowing grace through his death and resurrection. Because of Jesus humans can live in freedom and look forward to heaven.

But providing the literal meaning of a name hardly tells enough about it. It certainly does not reveal why the name “Jesus” is “most holy” as we proclaim on this feast day. For this we must look deeper. Perhaps a telling use of the name late in Luke’s gospel will satisfy our need to know more about the name “Jesus.” Only one person in the four gospels dares to call Jesus by his name alone, without any titles or formalities. This person is not his mother or one of his disciples. It is the so-called good thief. On the cross he calls out to the Lord, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42). The direct appeal, of course, brings the thief no reprimand. Quite the contrary, Jesus seems to award his boldness. “This day,” the Lord tells the criminal, “you will be with me in Paradise.”

The name “Jesus” is most holy because when we call it out in faith, God listens. We can be dying sinners, but as long as we repentantly ask Jesus’ mercy, we can depend upon it. To be sure, it is not a magic formula. But it is the last, best hope of a contrite heart.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Memorial of Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory Nazianzen, bishops and doctors of the Church

(I John 2:22-28; John 1: 19-28)

Mere mention of “anti-Christ” raises the specter of consummate evil – the devil branded “666” coming to menace the whole world before Christ appears in glory. In the New Testament, however, the use of the terms conveys a less threatening figure. It only appears in four passages, all of which occur in the Letters of John and one of which we find in today’s first reading.

“Anti-Christ” in the Letters of John refers to anyone who refuses to accept Jesus as the Christ. They might be termed as well “against Christ” since they deny Christ’s coming in the flesh. Of course, the author of the letters finds these people subversive and despicable since they were once part of the Johannine community but have since followed the errant belief and may be leading others to follow suit.

Today we celebrate two great theologian saints, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen. They are apparently celebrated together because they were the best of friends. Perhaps more importantly here is that both wrote extensively to increase the understanding of the Blessed Trinity – how the Father and the Son have existed together with the Holy Spirit from the beginning of time and how Christ and the Spirit were sent from the Father to redeem and glorify humankind.