Monday, February 3, 2014

(Optional) Memorial of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr

(II Samuel 15:13-14.30.16:5-13; Mark 5:1-20)

A priest from Latin America was about to say his first mass in the U.S. on February 2.  He expected to see a crowd in church as the Presentation of the Lord is a popular feast day in his country.  But he was disappointed when only a few people arrived for mass.  In his homily he criticized Americans for being so lax in their faith.  The next day, February 3, he was assigned the mass at the same hour as the day before.  This time, however, the church had a crowd which made the priest feel that his preaching was effective.  Entering the sacristy after mass, he learned that the numbers had nothing to do with his homily.  The sacristan presented him with a set of candles and told him to bless the throats of the people.  The priest, who had never heard of the tradition of blessing throats on St. Blaise day, received a lesson on American Catholic culture. 

In the order of holy things the Presentation of the Lord -- when we meditate on Jesus as the light of the world -- deserves much greater attention than the blessing of throats.  During the Eucharist of the Presentation we encounter the Lord in his resurrected glory so that we might say with Simeon, “Lord, now you can let your servant go in peace.”  We mean, of course, that we are prepared to die because we know that Jesus will give us his eternal care. 

On the other hand, the blessing of throats, which might be done with the same effect on any day of the year, is a sacramental.  It is meant to remind us of Jesus’ action in the world to save us from sin.  It still is beneficial to have our throats blessed, but it is far better to attend mass and receive the body and blood of Christ.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Memorial of Saint John Bosco, priest

(II Samuel 11:1-4a.5-10a.13-17; Mark 4:26-34)

Although it sounds incredible, modern scholars debate the existence of King David.  Of course, his person is well attested in the Bible, but extra-biblical historical evidence that he lived and ruled is questionable.  The best extra-biblical record of his existence is an inscription found on a piece of rock discovered a number of years ago in a northern city of ancient Israel.  The inscription, which can be dated to one hundred and fifty years after the traditional dates of David’s reign, mentions his dynasty, the “House of David.”  Perhaps a better case for David’s existence can be made from the very realistic experience of his life given in the first reading today.

Although an accomplished warrior, David does not accompany his army in the expedition against the Ammonites.  Whether or not he has grown lethargic in his elderly years, he should have been grateful to God for the victory of his troops.  Quite humanly, however, David turns his back on the Lord by sinning grievously – twice.  First, he commits adultery with the wife of one of the soldiers who was fighting his war.  Then, when he learns that the woman is pregnant, he has the soldier killed to avoid causing scandal. 

David follows the way of all flesh.  He allows his passions to control his judgment and does not flinch at committing atrocity to conceal his lustfulness.  When his sins are finally uncovered, he does show remorse, but that hardly makes up for the terrible injustice and the horrendous example.  His debt and that of all our sins will be paid by his descendent, Jesus of Nazareth.  He is the only, truly innocent human being – one who does not flinch a moment to battle evil, even to the extent of making the ultimate sacrifice so that sin no longer will compel the rest of us.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(II Samuel 7:18-19; 24-29; Mark 4:21-25)

Ethicist Michael Sandel a number of years ago published a book with the curious title The Case against Perfection.  By “perfection” Mr. Sandel does not mean the human attempt to be virtuous.  Rather, he has in mind the idolatrous quest by parents to manipulate their child’s genetic makeup so that he or she would have apparently perfect attributes.  That is, Sandel argues against the ever increasing possibility that parents may have their child’s genes bioengineered so that he or she is born with “perfect” intelligence, beauty, emotions, and the like. 

Sandel uses the idea of theologian William F. May to make his case.  He says that parenting must retain an “openness to the unbidden.”  This means that parents must not try to control everything about their offspring.  They are wise to leave genetic makeup and, as the children grow older, other aspects of their development in the hands of God or nature.  Of course, parents might have a genetic defect corrected and should promote their children’s education.  But these efforts should not turn into an arrogant quest to produce the perfect human being.

David in the first reading today demonstrates an “openness to the unbidden.”  First, he humbly recognizes that what he has and done are not his work alone but gifts from God.  Then, he expresses his gratitude to God for the bounteous gifts.  Finally, he asks God to bless his offspring that they may live up to the promise of greatness that God has made to him.  Of course, David’s request is fully realized in the coming of Jesus Christ. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(II Samuel 7:4-17; Mark 4:1-20)

In an appeal for simplicity, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” a song John Denver made famous, calls life “a funny, funny riddle.”  In a similar way Jesus in today’s gospel explains that the secrets of life are revealed in parables.

Jesus’ usage of parable seems strange, even inimical.  At first hearing he makes them sound like riddles that are told so that people would have trouble understanding.  On the other hand, parables are known today as comparisons to help the simple-hearted believe in the mercy of God.  Which explanation is correct?  Unsurprisingly, both are.  The parables are indeed meant to help simple people trust in God.  Sophisticated people also may interpret them correctly.  But if sophisticates are driven by the thirst for power, pleasure, or prestige, they will dismiss parables as foolish folk tales and be unmoved by their wisdom. 

Jesus is asking that we prepare ourselves to be receptive ground for the word of God.  He wants us to make its understanding our priority in life, preferable to watching television, making money, or going to the gym.  To accomplish this goal we must read the word it slowly, ponder it carefully, and pray to God to enlighten its meaning. 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest

(II Samuel 6:12b-15.17-19; Mark 3:31-35)

St. Thomas Aquinas was born nearly eight hundred years ago in a society very different from our own.  Yet his ideas, which were not unappreciated in his time, remain the source of rich inquiry today.  Science, which seems so thoroughly modern, can find in Aquinas’ philosophical speculations much food for thought.  The Big Bang theory, for example, once thought avant-garde in the twentieth century, rests well with Aquinas’ metaphysical conclusions about a Creator who preexisted creation and continues to uphold in existence every one of the billions of galaxies spread across the universe along with their components.

But Aquinas’ understanding of such a comprehensive Creator did not conflict with his attention to a personal God.  Like the relation between gargantuan stars and infinitesimal sub-atomic particles, Aquinas accepted the biblical insight that God loves each item in His creation, especially – it needs to be added – the human person.  It might be said that Thomas saw the human being as the hinge between the big and the small that comprise the universe, and Jesus Christ as the link between God and the human person. 

Most often images of Aquinas show a sun beaming on his chest.  That sun represents Thomas himself.  His thought has enabled humans to see more clearly the relation between the created order and the God of faith.  At times it shines so brightly that it blinds.  That is the profundity of his thought which can leave our minds perplexed.  But the warmth of its rays can also console.  That is his understanding of Jesus Christ which helps us to locate our final hope in him.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(II Samuel 5:1-7.10; Mark 3:22-20)

Can God make a rock so big that He cannot lift it?  No, that would be a contradiction for the all-powerful God.  And could there be a sin so bad that God could not forgive it?  No, that too would contradict the God, the Father of mercies.  Then what is this talk about the unpardonable sin in the gospel today?

Jesus comes to earth as God’s very forgiveness.  That is, to believe in him by becoming his disciple is to receive forgiveness.  To reject him, as the scribes from Jerusalem do by accusing him of collusion with the devil, is to deny God’s forgiveness.  It is like the old story of the man who drowned in a flood after refusing to get in a safety boat saying God would rescue him. 

Then can only Christians be saved?  Yes, but not only professed Christians.  The Holy Spirit acts in ways that seem strange to us.  Working from within, the Spirit moves many to Christ’s compassion and truth without their even knowing it.  If such people were on hand when Jesus walked the earth, they would never have rejected him.  We need to ask ourselves if we would have?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, bishop and doctor of the Church

(I Samuel 24:3-21; Mark 3:13-19)

Vatican II’s proclamation of the universal call to holiness surprised many people who somehow thought it an innovation.  Of course, it was not.  The Scriptures claim it (cf., I Thessalonians 4:7), and spiritual theologians like St. Francis de Sales have made it a foundational principle.  Francis’ Introduction to the Devout Life gives insight to how people in different walks of life may come to know the Lord intimately.  Perhaps the misinterpretation of today’s gospel has caused the confusion over this important truth.

Jesus calls his apostles from the growing number of disciples who have followed him.  They are likely capable men with gifts of communication and tolerance to face the challenges of itinerant preaching.  Those he does not choose for the task remain people charged to “repent and believe in the gospel.”  In other words, they are still called to holiness even though, for one reason or another, Jesus does not specify their contribution to the Kingdom in the same way as the twelve.

Called to holiness by God, we endeavor to form a close relationship with Jesus.  We learn about him through studying the gospels.  We speak to him in prayer where we tell him of our love.  And we ask his assistance with all our needs.  His reply to us comes through our daily experience, especially the murmurings of conscience.   

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thursday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Samuel 18:6-9.19:1-7; Mark 3:7-12)

Every year from January 18 - 25 Christians of all stripes are asked to pray for Church unity.  The festival of prayer ends with the celebration of the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. Of course, the apostle to the Gentiles not only championed Church unity but also expressed a willingness to sacrifice himself so that the majority of his fellow Jews would join the former pagans in accepting Christ.  For various historical reasons, unity is elusive, but today’s gospel hints at a good reason for cooperation among all Christians.

Throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus strives to keep his identity as God’s Son hidden.  In today’s passage he admonishes the unclean spirits, the only ones who are aware of whom he is, not to make him known.  His reasoning is not hard to fathom.  Jesus wants to demonstrate that God will save His people even more through suffering than through deeds of power.  In 1901 the Protestant scholar William Wrede published his idea of a “Messianic secret” to describe Jesus’ intention to hide his identity.  Wrede’s explanation has been refuted over the years, but his thesis has spurred study and reflection by Christians from different traditions.

Catholicism is indebted to Protestantism for the latter’s Scriptural scholarship as it owes respect to Orthodoxy for its attention to liturgy.  Other churches and faith communities can similarly look to Catholicism for ordered unity.  All Christians should share their different gifts so that God’s plan for His Church may be fully realized.  Of course, real unity cannot be achieved without a demand for truth.  But for that reason as well, we must not allow pride and prejudice to derail the quest. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Wednesday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time (Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children)

(I Samuel 17:32-33.37.40-51; Mark 3:1-6)

A national Catholic newspaper predicted that tens of thousands would attend today’s “March for Life” in Washington.  Given the typically cold weather there in late January, the number is not small.  Rather it is indicative of the great courage of the pro-life movement.  The marchers prove themselves true disciples of Jesus who in the gospel today also displays untypical courage.

The situation almost sounds like a scam.  The Pharisees, looking for grounds to persecute Jesus, perch themselves in the synagogue on the Sabbath to examine his actions.  A man with a withered hand serves as their bait.  Despite his awareness of the Pharisees’ design, Jesus invites the disabled man forward.  Defiantly he asks if it is not lawful to cure on the Sabbath.  The Pharisees cower in silence.  Then Jesus boldly cures the lame hand.

Abortion is the proverbial elephant in the room that few wish to talk about.  All people know that the fetus is a human life which deserves protection.  But they often prefer to say nothing probably because prohibiting abortion means curtailing sexual activity which many believe that they cannot live happily without.  We need to bravely express the stark truth about abortion whether by marching in the cold or by button-holing associates.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Memorial of St. Agnes, virgin and martyr

(I Samuel 16:1-13; Mark 2:23-28)

St. Agnes was such a beautiful girl that many young men wanted to marry her, but she was determined to consecrate her virginity to God.  In the midst of the Diocletian persecution at the beginning of the fourth century she was denounced to the authorities and beheaded.  There can be little doubt that she considered herself wedded to Christ – the only one worthy of such sacrifice.

In the struggle against hardness of heart Jesus demonstrates his worthiness as today’s gospel shows.  The Pharisees want to criticize Jesus’ disciples for picking grain to eat on the Sabbath.  Evidently the latter were hungry with no ready food available.  If they were to celebrate the Sabbath at all, they had to find something to eat.  Jesus amply defends them by saying that the Sabbath was made for people to enjoy. 

Today people go to the opposite extreme.  They often turn the Sabbath into a day of total recreation.  Although rest and renewal are certainly integral to the celebration, we must not forget that it is the Lord’s Day.  Like St. Agnes we remember him foremost by attending mass if at all possible.  Then we can recreate with family and friends.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Samuel 15:16-23; Mark 2:18-22)

Fifty years ago Martin Luther King Jr. published Why We Can’t Wait.  People were asking at the time, “Do Negros have to take to the streets and cause civil unrest?”  Other wondered, “Why can’t they just wait for the nation to see the justice of their cause?”  Echoing Abraham Lincoln, Dr. King replied that no man or woman can exist half slave and half free.  Such a condition thwarts the mind and kills the soul.  King’s position resembles Jesus’ defense of his disciples in today’s gospel.

The people question Jesus about his followers’ never refraining from food and drink.  They point to other teachers of the time whose disciples vigorously did so.  But, as in so many other ways, Jesus differs from other teachers in his consideration of fasting.  He recognizes that his time with the people is limited and that he must celebrate with them God’s mercy.  His short life may even be considered an extended Sabbath during which people should no more fast than they should be silent at a social.  He urgently wants all to know and appreciate his gracious Father like his disciples are doing.

Today the United States remembers the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with a national holiday.  It may seem somewhat exaggerated given that he is the only person to be so celebrated annually besides Jesus on Christmas.  However, the injustice against which King effectively contended was so outrageous that it is fitting that the nation takes a timeout to consider.  While we are at it, we might also contemplate that more than anyone else, Jesus was King’s source of inspiration and eternal hope.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Memorial of Saint Anthony of the Desert, abbot

(I Samuel 8:4-7.10-22a; Mark 2:1-12)

Monks are often thought of as men in retreat.  But they do not see themselves in that way.  Rather they recognize their solitary life as enabling them to battle with the evil spirits of pride and concupiscence.  If they win the upper hand, they will have peace with God, nature, the self, and – when in community –others.  Today the Church celebrates the man credited with founding Christian monasticism – Anthony of the Desert. 

As a young man Anthony received his calling to be a monk as he heard the gospel account of the rich, young man who asked Jesus what he might do to inherit eternal life.  Jesus answered that he would have to sell all that he had, give the money to the poor, and then follow him.  The man did not find the wherewithal to fulfill Jesus’ prescription, but Anthony did.  At Jesus’ suggestion he sold his inherited property, provided for his sister then gave the rest of the money away, and proceeded to the desert.  There he witnessed Christ by holiness, charity and wisdom.  If Anthony’s life was difficult, it was also long.  He lived to be one hundred and four years old.

It is not necessary, of course, to enter a monastery to do battle with pride and concupiscence.  We must engage these nemeses every day of our lives.  The struggle cannot be won without asceticism; that is self-denial.  We should let go of caring what others may think about us and what are desires tell us we need.  In their place we need to allow the gospel fill us with hope.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(I Samuel 4:1-11; Mark 1:40-45)

After every human tragedy – earthquake, hurricane, tsunami – humans ask themselves why it happened.  They wonder whether God is capricious, whether they did not respond properly to God’s initiatives, or whether He exists at all.  Such questions echo the elders of Israel in today’s first reading.

 “’Why has the Lord permitted us to be defeated today by the Philistines?’” the men ask themselves. Apparently assuming that the problem lies with God’s lack of attention, they summon the Ark of the Covenant to be brought to the battlefront.  “Surely the Lord will wake up,” the elders seem to say, “when He sees His people’s need.”  Of course, the tactic fails.  God knows quite well what their situation, yet chooses not to support the Israelites. 

God has His reasons which will always, to some degree at least, remain obscure to humankind.  We might speculate in the case under consideration that God is changing the center of human authority from judges to a king as well as the center of cultic worship from Shiloh to Jerusalem.  But God’s reasons are, in the end, unfathomable.  If we could figure them out, we would sit on an equal level with God.  This is not to say that God caresses and despises humans at whim.  No, He has definitively shown favor toward all of us in Jesus Christ.  What Jesus suffered to liberate humans from sin manifests majestically the Father’s love.  We must respond by embracing whole-heartedly the mystery of God -- both when it seems to favor us and when it seems to reject us.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(I Samuel 3:1-10.19-20; Mark 1:29-39)

The reference in today’s gospel that Peter had a mother-in-law is the only indication that he was married.  Ironically, the Roman Catholic tradition, which looks to Peter as a key figure in its theology, has insisted on celibacy for a clerical norm whereas Protestant communities of faith find in Paul, the attested bachelor, its theological hero.  Of course, Jesus too was a committed celibate and defended that state of life as summoned by God on behalf of His kingdom.  One theologian thinks it necessary that celibacy be maintained as a discipline to preserve this insight of Jesus.

Still the argument for relaxing the discipline within the Catholic Church is cogent.  In both countries with a long Christian heritage and those where the Church is still getting started there is a shortage of priests.  Few doubt that ordaining married men would not result in a spike of vocations to the priesthood.  Counterarguments have weight also.  There are the traditional problems of patrimony to the offspring of the priest.  More forceful is celibacy’s concrete testimony of the priority of God in a world that is obsessed with issues of sexuality.

As Catholics we need be wary of simplistic ideas on either side of the argument for a married clergy.  Certainly many married men can perform the duties of a priest.  On the other hand, most married men will not want to live in extremely deprived areas where the gospel needs to be preached.  What is paramount is that we continue to “ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest field.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2013

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(I Samuel 1:9-20; Mark 1:20-28)

Ever fascinating, Pope Francis does not sidestep criticizing the clergy.  His reprimand of the German bishop who spent a lavish amount of money on his residence made world news.  Not so noticed by the press, he took aim at insipid clerical preaching in his recent exhortation The Joy of the Gospel.  Francis realizes that the people follow their clergy.  Where priests zealously live the gospel, the people will follow suit.  The first reading provides an example of a priest from the Old Testament whose laxness created great trouble for ancient Israel.

In the reading from I Samuel Eli harshly and erroneously rebukes Hannah for coming to the temple drunk.  In the end he sounds contrite enough for his mistake; however, further reading of I Samuel reveals Eli making other costly misjudgments.  He does not ban his two sons Hophni and Phinehas from temple service after they wantonly extort people.  More tragically, he evidently allows the Ark of the Covenant to be used as a talisman in the war against the Philistines leading to its loss in battle.

Although the universal priesthood of the baptized is rightfully given center attention in the Church today, we should not underestimate the need for competent, hard-working, holy priests.  At least in the United States, they do not need money or other material gifts, but they should be prayed for.  When they err in a significant way (or are perceived as having done so), they should be told politely rather than criticized behind their back or excused frivolously.  

Monday, January 13, 2013

Monday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

(I Samuel 1:1-18; Mark 1:14-20)

Many rabbis in ancient Israel had disciples.  But none treated their disciples like Jesus did his.  Other rabbis received students who came to them for instruction.  Jesus went out to seek his disciples as today’s gospel shows.  The duty of other rabbis was to teach their disciples the law.  Jesus, however, has another purpose  – to make his disciples fishers or gatherers of people.  Other rabbis had their disciples serve them; Jesus, on the other hand, came “to serve, not to be served.”

Jesus’s ways are so distinctive because he comes to proclaim the arrival of God’s Kingdom.  He knows that now is not the time to study God’s law; it is time to embrace the fulfillment of all that the law promises.  It is the difference between preparing for a feast and sitting down at table.  The people must be moved to give up prejudice toward other nations and hostility toward one another.  They must be shown that God, the Father of all, calls all to solidarity.

It may seem to some that the moment of the Kingdom has passed, that we live in post-religious times when the best we can hope for is growing the world economy so that everyone will have access to the Internet.  But this is not so.  The Kingdom is still within our grasp because Jesus is not a mere human whose bones have long rotten.  He is the resurrected Lord who always calls us to greater love.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Friday after the Epiphany

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

Today’s first reading speaks of the Spirit of Jesus testifying to his being Son of God.  It is saying what Jesus himself expresses in the synagogue of Nazareth according to Luke’s gospel: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”  That is, Jesus’ marvelous deeds give testimony to his divine origin.  Something very similar can be said about Jesus’ followers.

Christians, including us, have been given the Spirit at Baptism to perform loving deeds.  We are enabled to assist others without concern for personal gain.  Indeed, we can help the oppressed even though it may bring about some loss.  One man has driven fifty miles every week for over five years to visit inmates in a state prison.  He is a cursillista who chose prison ministry as his apostolate.

Some of us are called to give further testimony.  These are the martyrs like the 500 Christians in India who were slaughtered by Hindu radicals in 2008.  Their adhesion to the faith despite the constant threat of persecution gives the most eloquent testimony to Jesus’ Spirit acting in them as well as Jesus’ being God’s Son.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Thursday after Epiphany

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

According to baseball lore Babe Ruth stepped up to bat during the World Series in Chicago and pointed to the centerfield fence.  He was evidently indicating that he would hit the ball beyond it and that is what many people have said that he did.  In fact, so many people have testified that saw Ruth that day “call his shot” that one radio host commented that there must have been 500,000 thousand people attending the game!   In the gospel today Jesus in a sense calls his shot although, of course, before a much smaller number of viewers.

The passage does not say that Jesus chooses the scroll he is to read.  Rather it presumes that it is given him randomly.  Yet it seems to be the one he wants as he reads the famous passage from the prophet Isaiah that speaks of one being anointed to bring relief to the oppressed.  Then Jesus boldly suggests that the passage is fulfilled in his person.  And the rest of Luke’s gospel testifies to that fact.

Christmas reminds us that Jesus has come to save us from distress.  He brings glad tidings that we don’t need as much as we think we do nor do we have to produce as much as others.  But he insists that we trust him by showing compassion on those less fortunate than we.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Christmas weekday

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

“Are we to fear God?” the man asked the priest after mass.  When the priest gave a qualified “yes,” the man walked away disappointed.  “Why would one fear God who loves him or her so much that He gave the world His Son?” the man seemed to be asking in his retreat.  The first reading today casts some light on the question.

Implying that fear of God is natural, John writes, “…perfect love drives out fear.”  In the beginning fear reigns because the force that created the stars and the mind that designed the human brain compel awe with accompanying fear and trembling.  But in Jesus Christ God has revealed Himself to be tenderer than a happy mother toward her child.  To the extent that one accepts Christ’s revelation, he or she no longer need fear God but can delight in His favor.  The person then imitates God in His love for others.

Of course, faith sometimes wanes.  We don’t necessarily lapse into fear but replace as our heart’s desire the God created us with a poor substitute – most often, fun, fame, or fortune.  We no longer imitate God’s tenderness but become hardened in our pursuit of satisfaction.  For this reason the Church retells the story of God’s love every year with Christmas.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tuesday after Epiphany

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

A guest at a soup kitchen once questioned the affection of a volunteer who served him.  “Miss Bea,” the man said, “do you love me?”  The wife and mother replied, “Yes, Henry, I love you.”   “Miss Bea,” the man went on, “would you come home with me?”  “It ain’t that kind of love, Henry,” the woman objected.

There are different ways of loving which the wise person distinguishes.  But love itself is a thrust for unity.  Married couples express love for one another in varied ways, especially by the act of physical union.  The volunteer showed her love for the poor man by caringly serving his need to eat.  Where the first reading today says, “God is love,” it means that God desires to be one with everything that is.  God’s love transcends natural love in that its scope includes the undesirable.  For example, God loves us in our sinfulness.  Indeed, God desires us so much that He came to live among us and died so that we might partake of His life. 

God has also graced us with His love.  We can desire to be with God even though we cannot see Him.  Our desire to love Him leads us to care for all His creatures even though they have little to do with us and, indeed, even though they mistreat us.  Choosing to love both God and others, we participate in God’s own life.  This is eternal life.  It begins here in our loving both appropriately and universally and not, as some think, in death.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Christmas Weekday

(I John3:22-4:6; Matthew 4:12-17.23-25)

Driving in the country, one feels relief when the lights of a city appear ahead.  The driver is assured that he or she is not alone and that if necessary, food, fuel, and lodging will soon be available.  The gospel today speaks of Jesus as a similarly reassuring light shining in the rural darkness of Galilee.

Jesus begins his preaching away from Jerusalem.  Of course, he comes from Nazareth in Galilee, but there is a strategic reason to preach at first away from the cultural center.  Sophisticated city-dwellers are likely to reject out of hand Jesus’ message of God’s radical love for sinners and the correspondent response that this love elicits.  But after the message gains traction in rural areas, the people of Jerusalem will more likely listen to him.

Spiritual darkness surrounds us today in many ways.  Self-satisfaction has replaced family and community as the principal object of people’s concern.  Religion is often less important than devotion to one’s football team. In the midst of this darkness we, at least, glimpse the church which Jesus left behind as a lighthouse leading us safely home.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Friday, Christmas Weekday

(I John 2:29-3:6; John 1:29-34)

It is not uncommon in a Shakespearean drama to have the main character talked about before he is presented on stage.  In the first scene of Hamlet, for example, the protagonist’s friends flirt with his father’s ghost and then say that he will make the ghost speak.  In the Gospel of John, the most dramatic of the four, Jesus is likewise not present in the initial scene but is referenced by John the Baptist.  Today’s passage relates this opening scene.

John the Baptist first describes Jesus as “’…the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,’” that is the one whose sacrificial death will free humanity from the bondage of sin.  Then he uses a paradox -- “’A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me because he existed before me’” – which refers Jesus’ preexistence as God’s eternal Son.  Finally, the Baptist relates how he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove to indicate that he has the definitive power to bestow full life on a diseased people.  It is a very brief scene that telescopes all that Jesus will accomplish in the rest of the gospel.

As Christmas carols worthy of the name incessantly remind us, Jesus came to save us from the folly of our sins and the annihilation of death.  John the Baptist gives the same message here at the beginning of John’s gospel but without the soothing images of a babe at his mother’s side.  Yet our response should approximate the song of the angels over Bethlehem: “Glory to God in the highest…” 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Memorial of Saint Basil the Great and Saint Gregory Nazianzen

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

Saints Basil and Gregory Nazianzen were fourth century bishops in the eastern part of the Roman Empire.  Because of their intimate friendship, they share a common feast day.  They also played a significant role in defending the divinity of Christ against the Arian heresy.  Their testimony to Christ may be likened to that of John the Baptist in today’s gospel.

In the Gospel of John the Jews from Jerusalem are set against Jesus.  Later in the gospel they will contest his claim that he gives his flesh to eat.  Here they play a similar role vis-à-vis John.  They first ask who he is and then if he might be related to the expected Messiah.  John’s replies must have frustrated them as he only claims to be the precursor of one is greater than he. 

We think that we may know who Christ is by saying that he is the Son of God.  But because he is that, we can never know him completely.  Yet this fact should not keep us from trying to know him more.  He will keep surprising us by both his gentleness and strength.  As the New Year takes shape, let us promise ourselves to make every effort to dialogue with Christ in order to know him better.