Monday, September 1, 2014

Monday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time (Labor Day)

(I Corinthians 2:1-5; Luke 4:16-30)

Today many young people prefer to receive Holy Communion on the tongue.  A generation ago, most took the host in the hand.  Some of this latter group probably had hygiene in mind, but others were thinking of the dignity of the human hand.  We work with our hands – whether we are bricklayers or brain surgeons.  In a sense work gives the hand its dignity.

We work so that we might eat, of course.  But we also work to give glory to God by making the world a better place to live.  In fact, the worthiness of one’s work may be measured by how much it improves society.  This does not mean that those whose work is humble – an attendant in comparison with a technician – are not significantly benefitting society.  Indeed, done with care, the work of the attendant may make a greater contribution to the human community than the sloppy performance of a genius.  The labor movement has assisted in this effort by training and exhorting women and men to work with pride.

Jesus in the gospel is presented as a worker.  We see him today returning to his hometown where he is known as the son of Joseph, the carpenter.  The Gospel of Mark calls Jesus a carpenter himself.  But he perceives a call to the most worthy work of all.  No more will he be building houses.  Rather, he recognizes that God, his true Father, wants him to proclaim God’s love to the world.

Fiday, August 29, 2014

Memorial of the Passion of John the Baptist

(I Corinthians 1:17-25; Mark 6:17-29)

In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Julius Caesar, the protagonist says: "Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once."  He is referring to the many occasions in which cowards betray their consciences during their lifetimes by failing to do what is right.  King Herod proves himself such a coward when he executes John the Baptist in today’s gospel.

Herod does not wish to be seen as a liar or a coward in front of his guests.  As he promised his stepdaughter anything that she asks, he feels compelled to deliver the head of an innocent man which she requests.  Ironically, Herod acts like the coward what he wants to avoid being known as.  A brave man would have scolded his stepdaughter openly for making such an outrageous request.

On the other hand, John the Baptist showed real courage by speaking out against a public scandal.  He put his life on the line by criticizing Herod for marrying his brother’s wife.  His death is rightly memorialized through the centuries as a testimony to truth and decency.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Memorial of Saint Augustine, bishop and Doctor of the Church

(I Corinthians 1:1-9; Matthew 24:42-51)

A seminary professor, accustomed to lecturing sitting down, said that when teaching today’s patron saint, “I stand for Augustine”!  There is certainly reason for such propriety.  More than any other thinker, St. Augustine shaped Christian theology.  He was to the Church what the Federalists -- Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison, combined -- were to the government of the United States; that is, the chief commentator of its ideals.

Augustine’s achievement may be attributed to several contingent factors.  He lived a long life during a period of many challenges to the faith.  Of course, he was a genius, but also he had an excellent humanistic formation.  His writings were formative because they were directed toward the great theological controversies of the time.  He refuted Manicheanism, a belief system which attracted Augustine as a young man, that denied the value of material existence.  He also waged a theological war against Donatism, an error holding that the value of the sacrament depended upon the holiness of its minister.  The end of his life was given to fighting Pelagianism, which held that a person can achieve salvation with human power alone.  Beyond these controversies Augustine commented brilliantly in seminal works on the Trinity and the Christian’s role in the world.

Besides being the greatest theologian of the first millennium other than the New Testament writers themselves, Augustine also distinguished himself as a bishop, which occupied the majority of his time. His sermons, four hundred of which have been preserved, are a testimony to Scriptural insight, theological acumen, and rhetorical eloquence.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Memorial of St. Monica, holy woman

(II Thessalonians 3:6-10.16-18; Matthew23:27-32)

St. Monica is known today for her praying for her son, the great St. Augustine.  She was a holy woman who remained faithful to her unfaithful husband and solicitous of her son’s conversion. Augustine seems to have gone through opposite phases of detesting the world and glorying in its pleasures.  For a while he was a Manichean, the sect that professed belief in a benign principle of the spirit and an evil principle of matter.  He also had a mistress and once prayed famously, “Make me chaste, O Lord, but not just yet!”

In today’s gospel Jesus castigates such inconsistency.  He tells the Pharisees that their intentions do not match their actions.  If they want to honor the prophets, then they must follow the prophets’ call to reformation of heart.

We should not be dismayed to see Augustine’s and the Pharisees’ inconsistency in us.  It is deeply human in the sense that our physical emotions often run counter to right reason.  We should pray for one another like Monica prayed for Augustine.  We need to ask the Spirit to transform our hearts completely so that we might love like God loves.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(II Thessalonians 2:1-3a.14-17; Matthew 23:23-26)

Perhaps the most challenging reality for students of the Bible is the assertion of scholars that a few Biblical books were forgeries.   The very notion sounds absurd.  “How can Scripture, which is by definition inerrant, contain works that give false information?” good people ask.  However, St. Augustine among others was aware that all the information contained in the Bible was not completely accurate.  Vatican II declared that inerrancy has to do with the truths of the faith that God wished to pass on.  It must be remembered as well that the forgeries were not made to gain but to assure readership.  In any case today’s first reading has something to say about Scriptural forgery.

The writer warns readers of a letter being circulated that was written by another using his (presumably Paul’s) name.  This note testifies to the fact that there indeed were known forgeries of Paul’s letters.  But even more intriguing is the possibility, as many biblical scholars today believe, that II Thessalonians itself is a forgery.  The reasons for saying this include differences in emphasis between it and I Thessalonians.  For example, where I Thessalonians credits the people with good sense about the time of Christ’s return, II Thessalonians disapproves of the people’s obsession with the exact time of the event.

We must remember that the Bible is a compendium of books inspired by God but written by fallible human authors over a stretch of a thousand years.  We should not expect complete internal coherence, much less conformity to current literary standards.  Still we hold that the Bible contains God’s blueprint for life.  We must prudently follow its teachings as the Church guides us if we are to attain the eternal life it promises.