Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Memorial of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Zechariah 8:20-23; Luke 9:51-56)

Little flower,
in this hour
show thy power.

An extraordinary minister of Holy Communion prays this prayer as she visits hospital patients.  As St. Therese of the Child Jesus often appears, the prayer exudes simplicity and faith.  Over the years it has given solace to many sick people.  It also reflects the way of Jesus in the gospel today.

The disciples are insulted by the Samaritan townspeople’s rejection of Jesus.  James and John want to destroy their village with fire.  But Jesus has a better way of showing authority.  He ignores the affront and moves on to Jerusalem where his power will be seen in the cross and the resurrection.

The life of St. Therese of Lisieux is at once very different and very similar to that of Jesus.  As such it serves as a model for all of us.  She lived in a monastery and died of natural causes.  Jesus, of course, was an itinerant preacher who died on a cross.  Both, however, gave themselves to perfect love of God and neighbor.  We should do likewise.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Memorial of St. Jerome, priest

(Zechariah 8: 8:1-8; Luke 9:46-50)

The family came to the priest with a problem.  They were not Catholic but were seeking his advice because they believed priests know about much spiritual matters.  They said that the daughter, who was present, spends a lot of time in a nearby cemetery talking with the dead.  They added that they had just begun visited a non-denominational church.  What advice could the priest give them?  Perhaps Jesus provides an answer in the gospel.

Jesus warns his followers of Christ to beware of thinking of themselves as the greatest. He wants them to serve, not to look for praise.  They are not even to see themselves as Jesus’ exclusive helpers.  People of different communities may render valuable service calling on his name. 

In accord with Jesus’ will, the priest prayed with the family and recommended that the child have counseling – perhaps a school psychologist or even the pastor at the church they seemed to like.  Certainly the Catholic Church would be able to assist the girl, but more critical at this point is that the family find professional help that the girl may obtain a firm grip on reality. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, priest

(Haggai 1:1-8; Luke 9:18-22)

St. Vincent de Paul founded the Daughters of Charity to take care of the poor.  When some began to worry because their mission would take them away from common prayer, Vincent told them that the concern was not justified.  He said that they were leaving Christ to go to Christ.  In today’s gospel we see Jesus in a similar disguise.

Peter correctly reveals the identity when he calls him “the Christ of God.”  But Jesus tells him and the others not to talk about it because the identity could only be misunderstood.  Jesus is not one to rule with an army and judge with a police force.  Rather he comes as one anointed (the root of the word Christ) to serve the people.  He is a teacher and a leader whom the people voluntarily follow.

Christ does not walk among us to day but that does not mean he is not present.  One of the more acute modes of his presence is the poor.  By assisting them we have an opportunity to know his love and to realize his promise.  

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Haggai 1:1-8; Luke 9:7-9)

Fifteen years ago the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was building its new cathedral with a price tag of $300 million. A group of lay Catholics who worked with the very poor were especially scandalized by the amount and actively protested the construction.  With prophetic boldness they claimed there was a needless extravagance.  Confident that the Archdiocese was caring sufficiently for the poor, Cardinal Mahoney proceeded with the project.

We hear of a similar tug-a-war between spending on social needs and constructing a monument to God in the reading from the prophet Haggai today.  In this case, the prophet takes the side of construction.  He speaks out what he hears God telling him: that concentrating on human needs has brought little social benefit; now is the time to give God His due and to trust in God’s providence.

Interesting, economists have verified the strategy of spending money on social projects like a Temple in times of recession.  It provides jobs for people which stimulate consumer spending and the creation of wealth.  Building a temple or a church will also remind us to keep our priorities in order.  First we worship God and then take care of other needs.  He will see that we are not left wanting.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezra 9:5-9; Luke 9:1-6)

In the middle of the American Civil War, President Lincoln signed a proclamation calling for a day of public prayer and humiliation.  The document recognized that while God had been so generous in His blessings upon the United States, the nation had forgotten Him.  This spirit, notable for its absence today, is similar to the sentiment expressed by Ezra in the first reading.

The issue causing Ezra’s public repentance with the approval of the people is the apostasy of many Israelites.  In great numbers Jerusalem’s men have taken foreign wives and converted to pagan idolatry.  Ezra knows that faith is both precious and elusive.  Unless the people take strides to practice and preserve their faith, it will slip from their possession like a fish held out of water.

Few seem to have the stomach for private penance, much less public demonstrations of remorse.  Friday is a day of penance on the books, but even church organizations do not hold back from celebrating on that day.  Yet penance is more building up the self than tearing it down.  It acknowledges God as the supreme source of a people’s strength and appeals to Him to correct their faults.

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezra 6:7-8.12b.14-20; Luke 8:19-21)

In 515 B.C., the returned exiles from Babylon dedicated the second Temple or Temple of Zerubbabel.  It is said to have been of the same dimensions as Solomon’s magnificent edifice but completely lacking the latter’s luxury.  Nevertheless, it served for five hundred years the need of the Jews to express their appreciation of the Lord with sacrifices.

Today’s first reading gives a little detail of the second Temple’s day of dedication.  There is a sense of relief that the structure is finally completed after taking more than twenty years since work first began.  The carnage of animal sacrifice is significant, but even more impressive is the ordering of priests and Levites.  Back in their places of offering sacrifice and speaking on behalf of God, the priests once more give to the people a sense of the divine presence.

Catholics have two orders of priesthood – a common priesthood and an ordained one.  All the baptized can offer worthy prayers to God because they partake of Christ.  Nevertheless, it is the sacrifice of Christ on the cross re-presented by the ordained in the Eucharist that brings the most intimate union with the divine.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Memorial of Saint Pius of Pietrelcino, priest

(Ezra 1:1-6; Luke 8:16-18)

The wives of two men watching television in their own homes come to their respective husbands.  Each woman says, “I have something to tell you.”  One man says back, “O.K., what is it?”  The other turns off the television, motions to his wife to sit next to him, and says the same, “O.K., what is it?”  Which of the two will really hear what his wife wants to tell him?  In the gospel today Jesus warns the people to take the care of the second man in hearing his words.

The passage is composed of three sayings that follow Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seed.  The seed, of course, is a metaphor for the word of God and the different types of ground that it falls on represent different kinds of hearers.  Jesus is exhorting the people to be fertile ground, that is, again, listeners who pay close attention to his words.

After hearing the gospel passages read at mass for thirty, forty, and fifty years we may take them for granted.  But if we do not heed them, they cannot give us life.  We do well to take them to heart.  They can change our lives from the ordinary to the saintly.  They can bear abundant fruit in us.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Memorial of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon, priest and martyr, and St. Paul Chong Ha-sang, martyr and companions, martyrs

(I Timothy 6:2c-12; Luke 8:1-3)

When St. Dominic was founding the Dominican Order, he started by establishing a convent of women converted from the heretical sect in southern France.  They provided spiritual support for the soon to be organized band of friars.  Dominic could draw from Jesus’ experience in today’s gospel.

Luke mentions that a group of women accompanies Jesus and the Twelve as he proclaims the Kingdom of God.  The gospel emphasizes that they were more than enthusiastic followers but provide necessary material support for the troupe.   The third gospel takes pains to present women alongside men.  In this past Sunday’s gospel, for example, the parable of the woman who searches her house for a lost coin follows that of the shepherd who does not rest until he finds the lost sheep. 

Especially in Church circles women can be taken for granted today.  Such practice is deplorable because it betrays Jesus’ legacy.  Certainly measures have to be taken to avoid scandal, but including women in decision-making positions, as Pope Francis has promised, seems much in line with Jesus’ own practice.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Timothy 4:12-16; Luke 7:36-50)

In one of the great sermons from antiquity St. Augustine exhorts priests and bishops to take good care of the community of faith.  Thinking of his own responsibilities, he says: “In addition to the fact that I am a Christian and must give God an account of my life, I as a leader must give an account of my stewardship as well.”  Augustine only echoes the first reading today telling a church leader to take extra care in how he lives.

St. Paul’s disciple Timothy is told to “attend to yourself and to your teaching.”  That is, he must live righteously and also instruct others to do the same.  The passage concludes: “…preserve in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”

Of course, ordained ministers with the huge burden of responsibility they carry must heed the advice.  They do not need our adulation or material gifts but our attention and prayers.  It also applies to the growing number of lay ministers who take on, at least temporarily, parallel duties of teaching and consoling.  Certainly, it applies to parents as well who have the task of nurturing their children in the faith.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Timothy 3:14-16; Luke 7:31-35)

“You will be known by the company you keep,” our mothers used to tell us.  They were only repeating a proverb that generally serves listeners well.  Not only are people inclined to judge us as good or bad on the basis of our associates, but also we tend to become like our friends. 

But folk wisdom has its limitations.  What do we do, for example, when proverbs contradict one another?  Is “discretion the better part of valor” or is “the one who hesitates lost”?  Obviously, we have to look beneath the surface to attain the truth in matters like this.  Just so, Jesus appeals to his listeners in the gospel today to look beyond what meets their eyes to the effect that his eating and drinking with sinners creates.  He is not conforming to their sinful ways, but they are repenting of their sins. 

Jesus is telling us not only to stop judging by superficial criteria but also to step out of our social confines.  He wants the young to greet the elderly, blacks and whites to dialogue, and workers to extend a hand to the unemployed.  Whether we talk about Jesus or not when we reach beyond our typical company, we give testimony to his goodness by imitating his ways.  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Timothy 3:1-13; Luke 7:11-17)

The first reading today gives us a perspective on the early Church.  From what it says, we can tell that it is written in the latter part of the first century, at least fifty years after Jesus was crucified.  Churches are well developed with bishops and deacons.  But the situation is hardly the same as we have it today.  Insisting that bishops be married “only once,” the reading indicates ignorance of priestly celibacy which has held for bishops even longer than for priests.

What has caught the attention of many is the letter’s reference to women coming directly after its remarks about deacons.  Do these comments refer to female deacons or the wives of deacons?  It is very possible that the former is the case since there seems to have been need of female deacons to baptize adult women by submersion without causing scandal.  If it is true that women deacons assist the Church in biblical times, then we may see them again.  The Church is wary of innovation but has often renewed old traditions, like the catechumenate fifty years ago.

It is important that we remember that the institutions of the Church have evolved over time and also that these changes are based on principles found in Scripture.  Thus, a married clergy is also within the realm of possibility. Indeed, the Church has recently ordained many married, former Episcopalian priests who converted to Catholicism.  But the Church is hardly likely to betray the principles it has maintained through the ages – for example, that once ordained a priest may then marry (again).  All this is to assure, as the reading today recommends, that we may have much confidence in our faith in Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Memorial of Saint Cornelius, pope and martyr, and St. Cyprian, bishop and martyr

(I Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 7:1-10)

Persecutions in the early Church were not as severe and frequent as sometimes imagined but they did occur.  The Romans were generally lax about religious laws only insisting that people pay respect to their gods without necessarily abandoning their own.  Of course, Christians could not acknowledge the existence of other gods and, therefore, were persecuted when it was politically expedient. St. Cyprian was executed as a witness to faith in Christ while St. Pope Cornelius died in exile for being Christian. 

In the first reading today, Christians are exhorted to pray for those in authority so that they might avoid persecution.  It is not to be a prayer for show but, as the author states, that the authorities might realize God’s will of universal salvation.  The gospel likewise testifies to this purpose as Jesus praises the faith of a Roman officer.

Some may find it quaint today to pray for the salvation of non-Christians given Vatican II’s acknowledgment that one following his or her conscience will come to be saved.  However, Pope Benedict has offered some insight into the situation when he asks whether people who convert their opinions and desires into norms of conscience and do anything they wish may be saved.  No, the world desperately needs the saving truth of Jesus if everyone is going to be transformed into a saint.

Friday, september 13, 2013

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, bishop and doctor of the Church

(I Timothy 1:1-2.12-14; Luke 6:39-42)

Pope Francis has raised eyebrows by moving out of the papal apartments and telling well-wishers that it would be better for them to give money to the poor than to spend it on a trip to Rome.  This is the spirit of St. John Chrysostom whom the Church remembers today.  As Patriarch of Constantinople, then the capital of the Roman Empire, John brought on the wrath of the wealth by refusing to host lavish parties and by accusing the empress of lavishness.

John Chrysostom could justly criticize the aristocracy of Constantinople because he was a faithful disciple of Jesus.  As Jesus says in today’s gospel, when a disciple is fully trained, he will become like the master.  Just as Jesus often chastised the powerful for their neglect of charity so John Chrysostom had little patience for spendthrift Christians.

Pope Francis is calling the Church to a deeper sensitivity toward the poor and war-weary.  No doubt, he realizes that the complexities of poverty and of warfare are daunting; nevertheless, he wants Christians to exhibit more urgency in dealing with them.  In other words, he wants us to become true disciples of Jesus.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thursday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 6:27-38)

In yesterday’s mass the gospel reading began Jesus’ great sermon.  Many think of that sermon being delivered on a mountain because that is setting in the longer, more demonstrative version of the Gospel according to Matthew.  In Luke’s gospel, however, from which we hear these days, mountains are reserved for Jesus’ communion with the Father.  The third gospel describes the plain as the place of encounter between Jesus and other humans.

Jesus is addressing his disciples when he says that they should turn the other cheek and lend to those who have never given them anything.  In other words, he is telling them not to react to others but to be proactive like God in treating them kindly.  There is a story of a man who lived by the sea and every morning would throw the starfish marooned on the beach back into the water.  Why did he bother to save a few starfish?  Conscious of it or not, he did it in fulfillment of Jesus’ command to be proactive in treating others with kindness.

In the great sermon Jesus lays out the oral form of his New Law.  To be sure, it is impossible to uphold this law under the condition of original sin.  But Christ has afforded us the Holy Spirit, the essence of the New Law, who enables us to do the impossible. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 6:20-26)

“Nine-eleven” – there is no greater date of infamy in the minds of most Americans than today.  Twelve years ago their nation was traumatized by viewing a jet passenger plane ram into a New York skyscraper and later seeing that building crumble like an avalanche.  The experience invited rage and begged revenge – what the reading from Colossians today tells Christians to avoid. 

Colossians describes the Christian mystery of being a new creation amid a passing world.  It urges the faithful to leave behind inordinate passions and to live in Christ’s peace.  It reminds them that in him no one or no group has higher status, but all share equal dignity as brothers and sisters of the same family.

Most Americans have lost the sense of outrage over the attacks twelve years ago although some whose husbands or children died in the attacks may still feel enraged.  Neither sentiment is adequate.  We should not be forgetful or seething.  Rather as Christ would have it, let us pray for the dead, those they have left behind, and indeed the perpetrators of the crime.  Let us live the reality that we are in Christ so that the whole world may find peace in him.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tuesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 6:12-19)

The Coptic Christians in Egypt are said to be tattooed in childhood with the sign of the cross.  The mark not only brands them for Christ among the Muslim majority, it also reminds them of their salvation.

The reading from the Letter to the Colossians today charts the dimensions of that salvation.  Our selfish desires are buried through our participation in the cross by means of Baptism.  Its power also raises us up to live in the world as free men and women attracting others to Christ.  Any debt that we owed because of past sins the cross of Jesus pays in full through the blood of the cross.  Finally, it subdues the powers of evil that might allure us from the path of righteousness.

We may not want to be tattooed, but we are wise to keep an image of the cross before us.  Could anyone claim that a Christian who lays a crucifix on her desk at work is imposing her religion on others?   Could not a cross or crucifix be found to accommodate any decor or style of household furnishings?  Of course, the concern of somehow offending others or even good taste is hardly what keeps us from retaining a cross before us.  The real issue is whether or not we want to be dominated by the one we call “Lord” who hung upon the cross.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Memorial of St. Peter Claver, priest

(Colossians 1:24-2:3; Luke 6:6-11)

St. Peter Claver lived most of his life in Cartagena, Columbia, where he took care of the slaves recently imported from Africa.  Practicing his medical skills on the Africans, he exhausted himself trying to meet their needs.  Biographers mention that he died almost isolated from his Jesuit brothers, so radical was his dedication to the slaves.  His story makes an ample relief for the passage from the Letter to the Colossians.

The words read today might perk up a half- deaf person’s attention.  “In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church,…”  Is the author claiming that there is something deficient about Christ’s passion and death that the Church needs additional sacrifice?  Hardly! What Paul, the presumed author although many scholars today express reservations, means is that the message of Christ’s redemption must be carried to the world by his preaching which includes suffering as a witness to its truth. 

Of course, the need to “fill up what is lacking in the affliction of Christ…” is not limited to Paul or to early Christianity.  Rather it is renewed in every era, in every society.  We too have to suffer patiently so that others may know of Christ’s salvation of the world.  We too carry his message to the world by taking pains to care for others.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 5:33-39)

Pope Francis has asked everyone in the world to fast and pray tomorrow (Saturday) for peace.  His immediate motive is the civil war in Syria which continues to take a terrible toll of life and welfare.  The conflict pits not only the government against a large segment of the population but also the dominant Muslim faction against religious minorities such as Christians.  Already there are over one and a half million Syrian refugees outside the country with millions more displaced within. 

It is only right to ask how Christ can be called the “fullness” of life and “peace” as heard in the first reading today from the Letter to the Colossians when such atrocities as the Syrian war occur with frequency.  Of course, the world often chooses not to follow Christ thus bringing on itself the dreadful consequences reported daily in the media.  More importantly, however, Christ is present today working in myriad ways not least of which are good people’s efforts which Pope Francis is pleading to become organized and directed.

Christians traditionally fast by not eating between meals and taking meat once a day.  Such an effort tomorrow together with concerted prayer – the Eucharist if possible – will change us into more peaceful people.  It will also prompt the war-makers to take stock of their options in search of non-violent means to realize their goals.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 1:9-14; Luke 5:1-11)

When people win at a slot machine in a casino, almost invariably they play again.  Whether they think they may be on a winning streak or feel a pang to give back some of what they have taken, they feed the slot least one more coin.  Fishing may be compared to gaming inasmuch as luck is involved.  Therefore, one might expect Simon, James, and John to go into the deep at least one more time after the miraculous catch they make in today’s gospel.

But the account indicates that the three do not even bother to sell the fish that they have hauled in.  Rather, they leave at once everything to follow Jesus.  Their reason is obvious.  Despite the fact that Jesus is “Lord” in whose presence they cannot help but feel unworthy, he has called them to follow him.  At this point returning to fisherman’s life would be like preferring to view Roman graffiti to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. 

Jesus also calls us to do likewise.  No, he does not mean for all to leave their careers, but he insists that we look at what we do in a new way.  We will no longer work primarily for our own benefit but to serve him.  Whether we are builders or beauticians, assembly line workers or sales reps, we will make sure that what we are doing conforms to his righteousness and then redouble our efforts so that our work honors him.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 1:1-8; Luke 4:38-44)

The Gospel according to Luke presents Jesus in many different ways.  He is preeminently a man of prayer.  Who could argue that his most moving parables are not found in the third gospel?  In no other gospel is Jesus pictured as reconciling people in so many situations.  It also may be said that in Luke’s gospel Jesus is peripatetic; that is, he is always on the go.

Today’s gospel not only shows Jesus ready to hit the road, it also gives the reason for his travelling.  He says, “’…I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.’”  Jesus is so intent on moving from place to place because his message is so vital.  The “Kingdom of God” is nothing less than God Himself.  Jesus is saying that now God is at hand in a way never seen before.  Through Jesus God drives out demons, cures illnesses, and reconciles enemies.

Surely today the same message needs to be preached.  In many ways the world is losing its moorings.  Codifying “homosexual marriage” in different jurisdictions is one of the latest and most serious manifestations of this loss of control.  We need God to save us from our excesses and to lead us to genuine care for one another.  And we are needed to follow Jesus in proclaiming God to the world. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great

(I Thessalonians 5:1-6.9-11; Luke 4:31-37)

Every once in a while the work of Nostradamus, a sixteenth century French writer, is dusted off to make a prediction of the end of the world.  The supposed seer wrote a thousand verses of poetry that are interpreted, most always after the fact, to have prophesized the future. But little from his work can be taken with prior precision to say when or even what events will occur.  In the first reading of today’s mass St. Paul tells his readers to dismiss such foretellings of the imminent end of the world.

Paul echoes Jesus in saying that the end will come like a “thief at night.”  His readers are thus to stand ready at all times to greet the Lord when he arrives to claim his own.  Paul evidently believes that the end will come sooner rather than later, but his point is that the Thessalonians should not make special preparation for that end.  Rather, he advises that they stand semper fidelis by living as “children of the light.”  That is, he wants the Thessalonians to be a showcase of charity and peace.

We do not know when the world will end.  Scientists predict that in hundreds of millions of years the sun will run out of fuel, expand, and engulf the earth in flames before it burns out.  But that is only one scenario.  It is also possible that the end will come about by a colossal meteor colliding with the earth.  What is more likely is that humans will end life on earth through nuclear weapons.  We are wise to stay prepared as Paul tells us.  There is no need to live in perpetual fear, but there is real reason to practice charity and peace.