Thursday, August 1, 2014

Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Exodus 40:16-21.34-38; Matthew 13:47-53)

If “the glory of God is the human person fully alive,” then the saints are that glory’s best representatives.  St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s fulsome life certainly reflected God’s greatness.  He was both a jurist and a canonist, wrote one of the premier works on moral theology, administered a diocese as its bishop, and founded a vigorous congregation of male religious (the Redemptorists) and an order of contemplative nuns.  However, the first reading provides a more traditional concept of God’s glory.

The Book of Exodus shows how God’s glory comes to rest on the Ark of the Covenant which Moses has built.  That glory is seen as a cloud which fills the tent housing the Ark.  Nothing is said of the nature of the cloud, but the impression is given that it is a cumulus that permeates the tent like the light from a 350 watt bulb.  Perhaps, however, that glory is a cloud of incense rising from the pots of worshippers.

We can exhibit God’s glory by both our worship and our living.  When we join in liturgical music and prayer, God is given due praise.  And when we work for the good of all in the name of the Lord – even if we are only sweeping the kitchen floor – we likewise point to God’s greatness.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Memorial of Saint Ignatius, priest

(Exodus 34:29-35; Matthew 13:44-46)

At one point Ignatius of Loyola prayed, Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess.  But are liberty and free will qualities that one can barter?  Or is the saint only expressing metaphorically his desire to subject himself to God as St. Paul wrote of being God’s “slave”?  It seems that free will is an inalienable gift beyond one’s power to trade away.  Nevertheless, the wise person would exchange it if she or he could for a share in the Kingdom of God as today’s gospel describes.

Jesus is explaining the value of the Kingdom of God (which is to know God Himself).  He says that it is more precious than the costliest items – a choice piece of land or a handsome pearl.  To procure it one has to make the requisite sacrifices.  Like a student desiring to get into Harvard, the aspirant of the Kingdom must discipline himself or herself to God’s will.  That is, she or he must love as Jesus teaches. 

If we cannot give up our freedom, we certainly can employ it to opt for God.  We will be chaste rather than promiscuous, generous rather than selfish, obedient rather than unruly.  It is more than a fair exchange.  All in all, we give up little and gain everything.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Exodus 33:7-11.34:5b-9.28; Matthew 13:36-43)

Years ago a movie entitled “The Bad Seed” showed an eight year-old girl twice committing murder.  It turned out that the child was the natural daughter of a serial killer.  The movie along with today’s gospel, which could be given the same title, begs the questions: Is the doing of evil predetermined by factors such as nature or, to take the contrary position, environment?  Or does each human person have a free will to choose right from wrong?

In the gospel Jesus uses a parable to illustrate why God allows evil to exist in the world.  He is not giving a philosophical discourse on its origins.  As the world knows, good and bad populate the earth simultaneously.  Jesus is saying that God allows the coexistence in order that the good may not be harmed in an attempt to eradicate evil.  But, he assures, in the end the good will remain and the wicked will be consumed. 

As research continually shows, both genetics and environment affect how we behave.  Yet there is a core choice that each person makes that supersedes these tendencies.  Those inclined toward aggressiveness can choose reconciliation.  Those raised in households virulent with lies can opt for the truth.  Christ will determine at the end of time the extent of each person’s achievement.  Our task is to pursue goodness as best as we can and to set example for others.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Memorial of Saint Martha

(Exodus 32:15-24.30-34; John 11:19-27)

It seems capricious of the Church to honor Martha with an obligatory memorial while not giving her sister Mary a similar distinction.  After all, in Luke’s gospel Jesus recognizes that Mary has acted more prudently than her sister.  However, if part of the Church’s strategy in allotting the celebration of the saints is the edification of the faithful, we have to search for what Martha has to teach us.

First and most important, Martha shows us not to be shy about approaching Jesus.  He is our friend who will help us when we are perplexed, especially when our distress is great as in today’s gospel.  Second, Martha provides a sterling example of the virtue of hospitality.  She sacrifices herself to entertain Jesus just as the Benedictines recommends that every guest be treated as if she or he were the Lord.  Finally, again in today’s gospel passage, Martha makes the same act of faith in Jesus as Peter does in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke when she calls him, “the Messiah, the Son of God.”

Martha may not have sat at Jesus’ feet, but she knows his worth.  We are wise to contemplate Jesus’ words like Mary and serve him in others like Martha.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 13:18-23)

Grandparents sometimes kid, “If we knew how much fun it would be to be grandparents, we wouldn’t have bothered having children but have had grandchildren right off.”  They are referring to the joy of seeing the wonder of children without all the responsibilities of assuring their growth.  But increasingly grandparents take on those responsibilities as their own children give birth outside of marriage.  They will find a necessary resource for the task in today’s first reading.

The Ten Commandments, which the first reading dictates, serve as the basis of a true life.  Parents are wise to teach them to their children as early as possible.  Perhaps more importantly, they have to model them so the tragedy of one-parent families does not occur often.

Today we celebrate Saints Joachim and Anne, the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the grandparents of Jesus.  Although they are known them strictly through legend, we can assume that they were God-loving people who practiced the Ten Commandments and handed them on to their children and grandchildren.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Feast of Saint James, apostle

(II Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 20:20-28)

In an old television drama the father of a teenage basketball player comes in a room bragging about his son’s performance the night before. “Twenty-seven points,” he shouts, “How about that kid of mine?”  Nobody seems interested in listening to him, however.  His son hogged the ball, and the team lost.  In the gospel today the mother of James and John sounds a bit like this proud father as she recommends her sons to Jesus.

Jesus does not chastise the brothers for desiring higher offices.  He does not call their ambition a sin or tell them that they should be ashamed of their mother.  What concerns him is the possibility that the brothers seek vainglory and not the good of others.  Jesus advises the twelve that leaders must seek the welfare of their followers.  He uses himself as an example.  Just as he – the Son of Man destined to judge the world – does not seek his own good but that of everyone, so must they, his disciples, follow suit.

James learned the lesson well. He became the first of Jesus’ twelve apostles to give witness to their master with his life.  Today we honor him both by our prayers and, more importantly, by our imitation of his sacrifice that gives glory to Jesus.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 16:1-5.9-15; Mathew 13:1-9)

Those old enough to have experienced the gas shortages of the 1970s may remember how people reacted by hoarding the gas that was available.  A cartel of oil producers reduced its output so that there was less gas available on the American market.  Gas became more expensive, but people did not buy less.  Rather they hoarded what was available waiting in line for considerable time to make sure that their gas tanks were always filled.  In today’s first reading God wants to see a different kind of response to the shortage of bread that the Israelites experienced in the desert.

Not long after the exodus from Egypt the people food supply runs low.  Many start to worry that they would starve and complain that they should never have left captivity.  God hears their cries and plans to provide food.  But He wants to test the people’s trust in Him by demanding that they do not hoard the bread-like manna that He will send.  Rather they are to take only enough bread for their daily ration although twice as much is to be allowed on the sixth day of the week so that they would not have to gather food on the Sabbath.

Fear of not having enough can move people to act greedily.  Hoarding is not being prudent but selfish. In times of shortages we need to be especially conscious of the common good and to trust that God will provide for our welfare. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 14:21-15:1; Matthew 12:46-30)

Fr. Chuck Gallagher, S.J., initiated “Parish Renewal” over thirty years ago as a way of involving the whole Church on the model of his popular Marriage Encounter program.  At one point in the weekend retreat the pastor promotes parish unity by saying, “Blood is thicker than water.” “How do we share the same blood?” the parishioners will wonder.  The pastor then explains, “We all drink the same blood of Christ.”

Jesus emphasizes the unity of his disciples with him in today’s gospel.  He teaches that even closer to him than his blood relatives stand those who accept God as Father.  They have taken to heart his message and can be counted upon to assist the suffering with whom Jesus especially identifies.

God has given us one another in the Church as friends who make life enjoyable and relatives to support and help.   Along with Jesus himself they give us cause to thank and praise God.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene

(Exodus 20:1-17; John 20:1-2.11-18)

In one of the most touching scenes in world literature Hector, the Trojan prince, visits his family before going off to battle.  His wife and son implore him to stay with them and not risk death in the vain war.  But Hector’s sense of duty compels him forward.  In a sense the gospel today showing Mary Magdalene’s clinging to Jesus parallels the ancient Greek drama.

Jesus’ words to Mary, “Stop holding on to me,” indicate both Mary’s affection for the Lord and also her incomplete understanding of the resurrection of Jesus.  He has overcome death, but he does not return to his disciples as a permanent, enfleshed companion.  Rather he will ascend to his Father so that the Holy Spirit may be sent to institute his followers into God’s family.  When Mary recognizes this truth, she dutifully carries out Jesus’ command to proclaim his resurrection.

The Holy Spirit has raised us also in the divine company.  Like Mary we love the Lord and long to see him enfleshed.  But for now, again like Mary, we are content to proclaim his resurrection by living lives of virtue.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 11:10-12:14; Matthew 12:1-8)

We may recognize the first reading today as what is given on Holy Thursday when we commemorate the Lord’s Supper.  Just like Jesus on the night before he died and most Jews throughout their history, we hear the story of God’s liberation of the Israelites from captivity in Egypt.  God accomplished this mighty feat by means of a plague that took the lives of the first-born of the captors. 

Perhaps a recent innovation, contemporary Jews sometimes include a prayer for their persecutors in the retelling of the story.  They recognize how terrible it is for parents to lose any child and pray that God will ease the suffering of those who suffered loss on account of Israel’s liberation.  Certainly Jesus has us praying for our enemies in this spirit.

Recently the Texas Legislature passed a bill that will restrict the number of abortions in the state.  The measure was deeply contested with many people both for and against the legislation coming forward to promote their cause.  We cannot help but be thankful for the legislation that will save human lives.  But at the same time we should pray for those who opposed it and those who in despair may pursue dangerous methods of aborting their babies.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 3:13-20; Matthew 11:28-30)

In Spencer Tracy’s classic portrayal of Fr. Flanagan in the movie “Boys Town,” a boy presents himself to the priest with a smaller boy on his back.  Perhaps not to alarm the priest, the boy says, “He’s not heavy, Father, he’s my brother.”  The lad’s statement echoes Jesus’ message in today’s gospel.

The “yoke” to which Jesus refers in the passage was a common metaphor used by the rabbis for the Law.  One is yoked to God who guides the person to salvation.  That Jesus’ yoke is “easy” will sound incongruous because he makes demands that go beyond the trying mandates of the Law: love your enemy; don’t lust after women, etc.  But it is not really hard because Jesus who loves us will help us all along the way.

We should not fear but rather revel when challenges face us on every side.  It is time to redouble our prayer to the Lord.  He will graciously see us through the crisis.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 3:1-6.9-12; Matthew 11:25-27)

“If you want something done,” an old adage says, “ask a busy man.”  If you are a busy person with tasks piling up, what are you to do?  If you ask God for help, you will not be disappointed.  As God promises to assist Moses in the reading today, He is always ready to aid all who bring their needs to Him.

Moses’ challenge is humongous.  Rescuing the people of Israel will not only mean confronting the Egyptians with what will be the end of their way of life but also convincing the Israelites to make a long exodus through the desert.  Only a fool or the firmest believer would not say, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Whenever we find ourselves faced with a mountain of challenges, we need to stop and ask God for assistance.  Perhaps we have triple exams on a day at school or a full week of appointments, commitments, and deadlines.  It is not time to panic but to petition the Lord to see us through to the other side.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

(Exodus 2:1-15a; Matthew 11:20-24)

Today’s optional memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel celebrates one of the most revered manifestations of the Blessed Virgin.  She is said to have given St. Simon Stock, the prior general of the Carmelite Order in the middle of the thirteenth century, the order’s brown scapular that served as part of its habit.  At the same time Our Lady is said to have promised salvation to those who persevere in wearing it.

The scapular has been radically reduced so that it is not always a garb at all but a neck pendant that can be easily worn under regular clothing.  No doubt millions of lay people around the word do just that trusting Our Lady’s promise.  The story sounds quaint and ingenuous, but it only underscores the narrative unfolding in the first reading these days where God comes to the aid of His people when they are perishing.  Today’s segment shows how the Israelite’s human liberator Moses is spared death by a generous act of Providence.

Wearing a scapular is not necessary to be saved, but it may remind us of our Lord whose death on the cross extends to us the possibility of eternal life.  He also has shared with us his Blessed Mother whose pleading on our behalf contributes to our never losing faith.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Memorial of Saint, Bonaventure, priest and doctor of the Church

(Exodus 18-14.22; Matthew 8:34-11:1)

When St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan friar, was studying in Paris for the celebrated master’s degree, the diocesan clergy opposed his candidacy.  The mendicant orders were ascendant throughout Europe, and friars took over many professorial positions at the University of Paris threatening the dominance of the diocesans.  Through an order by the pope Bonaventure was granted the degree and became one of the Church’s greatest theologians.  The gospel today hints at a similar instance of unfortunate rivalry.

Jesus almost sounds as a troublemaker as he warns his disciples to expect hostility when they follow him.  It is not that he advocates the use of force or any immoderate behavior.  But the righteousness to which he is calling his disciples live will set them against their own families.  They are not to worry as he will more than compensate them for any loss they sustain for his sake.

Parents give permission for adolescent daughters to take contraceptives.  Families inculcate racial prejudice.  Elders tell children to lie on their behalf.  There are many familial matters for faithful followers of Jesus to resist.  One consolation we have in doing so is that we join the company of saints like Bonaventure.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 46:1-7.28-30; Matthew 10:16-23)

If one wants to end a conversation quickly, she might bring up the subject of death.  No one really likes to talk about it.  In fact, as the title of a great book published forty years ago suggests, many practice The Denial of Death.  Thus, people try to hide their mortality by refusing to make a will or plan their funeral.  In today’s first reading, God puts the inevitability of Israel’s death squarely before him.

The Lord tells Israel not to worry but to go to Egypt where he will die.  However, death will not be his absolute destiny.  His name will live on in his people which will become great under God’s protection.  Reassured, Israel complies with God’s command.

We believe that God has given us a greater destiny in Jesus, his only begotten Son.  United to Jesus by his cross and resurrection, which we assume in Baptism, we share Jesus’ eternal glory.  For us death is not the end but a new beginning.  In it we will feel the love of God more deeply than ever possible on our earthly sojourn.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Memorial of Saint Benedict, abbot

(Genesis 44:18-21.23b-29.45:1-5; Matthew 10:7-15)

St. Benedict started monasteries in different parts of Italy and is considered as the Father of Western Monasticism.  But his influence has gone far beyond religious life fostering the roots of European civilization.  The rule that he wrote for his monks incorporates virtues like hospitality which gives the guest an honored place in the host’s household.  His monks were to treat strangers as “another Christ.”  In today’s gospel Jesus also comments on hospitality.

Jesus tells his apostles that they can expect lodging when they go to preach.  “The laborer,” he says, “is worth his keep.”  But those laborers have to bless the households that receive them with peace.  This is not a trifling gesture but a word of dynamic force because it is uttered by divinely commissioned apostles.  Hospitality then invokes a blessing upon the one who receives it and the one who gives it.

“My house is your house,” Latin-American people are fond of saying.  The phrase indicates that they have assimilated the key Christian value.  When we respond, “Peace be with you,” we also manifest the Christian way of life. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 41:55-57.42:5-7a.17-24a; Matthew 10:1-7)

The woman had lived a profligate life.  In her youth she had committed all sorts of sins, mainly sexual.  Now she felt great remorse.  Although she had confessed the sins before, she needed to do so again -- completely and deeply.  We see a semblance of this kind of guilt in the first reading today.

Joseph’s brothers kneel before him whom they would have left for dead.  His request to see the only brother not in the company reminds the rest of their betraying Joseph years before.  Their guilt surges as they say to one another, “Alas, we are being punished because of our brother.”  Joseph, however, is ready to forgive.  He has a plan to reunite his family, but there are risks.  He may be revealed to all Egypt as a Hebrew and thus lose his precious status as keeper of the Pharaoh’s treasury.

The story should remind us of the relationship between Christ and us.  Before him crucified we can see ourselves as hopeless sinners.  But he came to reconcile us to God by the outrageous plan of the crucifixion itself.  Thus, guilt serves a dual purpose: it reminds us of Jesus’ death for us and urges us not to sin again.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 32:23-33; Matthew 9:32-38)

A boy of about ten or eleven years old had a providential experience that affected his entire life.  The boy heard from friends about the adolescent prank of stealing inner tube caps.  One day he was playing at the curb of the street and began unscrewing the inner tube cap of a car that was parked there.  Before he had the cap off, however, the car’s owner came out shouting, “What are you doing to that car.”  The buy screwed the cap on quickly and was never tempted to steal again.  In the reading from Genesis Jacob undergoes a similar life-changing experience.

Jacob has left his father-in-law’s ranch a wealthy man.  His own wits, not God, made him rich.  But God is not far away.  He is the stranger with whom Jacob wrestles.  The struggle is actually a metaphor for Jacob’s troubled conscience, the voice of God.  He knows that he swindled his brother Esau years before and now cannot sleep because of guilt.  Jacob survives the encounter and even manages to extract a blessing from his opponent.  He will have to somehow reconcile with Esau but will no longer be defined by his twin brother.  He was given the name Jacob meaning heel catcher because he was born lurching after Esau who came out of his mother’s womb first.  From now on he will be called Israel after God Himself since Israel is said to mean you have struggled with God.

We too know what it is like to struggle with God when we ask ourselves questions like, “Did I dwell too long on an impure thought?” or “Would it be wrong to leave work early without permission?”  As God does not destroy Jacob, he does not abandon us because of our sins.  Rather, He lets us know that we are His sons and daughters whom He forgives and blesses when we honestly take account of our sins and make amends for them. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 28:10-22a; Matthew 9:18-26)

Ask a child what they will do when they grow up, and often enough they have an answer.  One girl of approximately twelve years said that she will be a pediatrician.  She will have to work hard to fulfill her plan, but it is not an impossible dream.  We meet Jacob in the first reading today in a comparable situation.

Jacob has left his house as a young man to pursue his destiny.  The reading shows him in communion with God who promises to make him the father of a nation that will bless the entire earth.  Jacob accepts the revelation by making a shrine to the Lord on the spot where he received it.  It is a long, long story, but eventually the promise is fulfilled in Jesus, Jacob’s descendent.  The whole world recognizes him as the model of righteousness.

As we become older, our dreams often become humbler.  We may no longer think of changing the world but hope to change our own hearts.  We want to lose our preoccupation with self so that we might love others as Jesus has shown us.  It is helpful to remember that the same God who promised to accompany Jacob wherever he went is also at our side.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 23:1-4.19.24:1-8.62-67; Matthew 9:9-13)

Building inspectors are often considered corrupt by the nature of their profession.  It is claimed that they have so much authority to accept or reject many hours of labor that they will gladly overlook faulty wiring or missing fire alarms for a few dollars under the table.  For this reason they may be considered modern tax collectors who bore the same reputation in Jesus’ time as today’s gospel notes.

The passage apparently affirms the tax collector’s dishonestly when Jesus tells the Pharisees that he comes to call sinners.  Its underlying claim, however, is that the “man named Matthew” is also open to the Lord’s command to follow and obeys it.  It implies as well that he will forfeit any unrighteous tendencies as he submits to Jesus’ instruction.

We must remember that we too are tax collectors of sorts.  By reason of a corrupted nature all of us are given to taking dishonest money, illicit pleasure, or what have you.  Nevertheless, at the same time like Matthew God has graced us with openness to truth and love.  We learn from Jesus how to live out this new way of grace.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 2:1b-19; Matthew 9:1-8)

The Lord’s test of Abraham related in the first reading today is one of the greatest stories of the Bible and, indeed, Western Civilization.  God asks Abraham to put his destiny completely in His hands.   Passing the test by willfully carrying out the command to kill his favored son until the last moment when God names another victim, Abraham shows himself a worthy beneficiary of God’s awesome blessing.  He can be a true father to many nations.

As Americans celebrate their nation’s birth today, it faces a momentous test similar to Abraham’s.  The promise of freedom, which the nation’s founders claimed on July 4, 1776, was based on the principles of natural laws expressed in Thomas Jefferson’s famous words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  The test is whether the nation will continue to pursue freedom in accord with God’s will as given in human nature.  The alternative path, on which the nation seems to be headed, is to dally in contrived freedoms like abortion and homosexual marriage.

We come together today to implore the risen Lord present in our midst to straighten the misguided turns the United States has taken in recent years.  We pray that a nation so well-endowed with a gracious people, prudent laws, and abundant resources may not deviate from the path of righteousness upon which its founders set it. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Feast of Saint Thomas, apostle

(Ephesians 2:19-22; John 20:24-29)

A debate in the philosophy of science centers around the question of the existence of spiritual being.  Some philosophers hold that matter is all that there is.  They try to reduce the mind to the material functions of the brain.  More traditional thinkers respond saying matter alone cannot account for the marvelous capacity of thought.  Of course, the question bears heavily on faith which Jesus addresses in today’s gospel.

Thomas appears to be a materialist demanding to touch the body of Jesus before accepting his resurrection as fact.  Jesus gives him the opportunity to do so, but does Thomas actually go ahead with the experiment?  Although Caravaggio in a famous painting portrays Thomas as probing the Lord’s side, the Scripture does not say so.  Indeed the passage indicates that he does not when Jesus says that Thomas believes only with seeing as the other disciples.

The passage ends with Jesus giving Christians through the centuries a blessing for believing in the resurrection without even seeing him.  Because our times more than most challenge such belief, we need to support the faith of one another.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 19:15-29; Matthew 8:23-27)

In one of her short stories, American Catholic novelist Flannery O’Connor shows a man taking his grandson on a day trip to Atlanta.   The two have such a harrowing time that the boy comes to see the city as so evil that he never wants to return.  In ways the Book of Genesis has a similar vision of cities.

Sodom is not only the city where God’s messengers are manhandled; it is corrupt to the core.  Like the city of Babel before it, Sodom cannot help from becoming wicked because sinful men and women come there in droves to conspire against God.  Rather than curtailing their sinful desires, they seek autonomy or self-rule, which is often no more than justifying one’s evil tendencies.  The results are calamitous as the calling down of fire on Sodom shows.

God has made clear how He wants us to live first by giving the Israelites the Law and then by sending His Son Jesus.  He perfects the Law with the grace of the Holy Spirit.  Now we can build societies based on eternal justice if we practice Jesus’ ways.