Monday, February 2, 2015

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

(Malachi 3:1-4; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-32)

Today’s feast is formally called the “Presentation of the Lord.” More traditionally it is known as “Candlemas Day.”  For centuries on this day churches blessed all the candles that they would use in the course of the year.  The inspiration for this grand event is Simeon’s declaration in today’s gospel that the baby Jesus is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles.”  He is the Israelite through whom Isaiah’s vision of world unity and peace will be fulfilled.

Jesus is the flame – light and heat in a cold, dark world.  But he is not the whole candle.  The trunk of the candle -- its wax -- is humanity.  Like wax humans have fat -- their pride, greed, hatred, and lust – which is to be burned away.  Jesus, who may be compared to the refiner’s fire of the first reading, rids us of these vices.  Doing so, he allows us to participate in his illumination of the world.  With our lives so chastened, we are rendered sincere – a word coming from two Latin words meaning “without wax.” 

Let us be sincere to all by leaving behind our vices.   Instead of pursuing pride and lust, let us follow Jesus, the light of the world.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

There are signs that we are entering into a new era of religious intolerance.  Hateful fundamentalists are using militant sections of their religious texts to persecute peoples of other beliefs. Equally discomforting, secularists are ridiculing religion as the source of war among peoples rather than the great pacifier of abusive passions that it has predominantly been.  Like the Letter to the Hebrews recommends, we must place our confidence in Christ.  He will provide the spiritual resources to endure present difficulties while working for peace among peoples.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Thursday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

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

For quite a while, Catholics in the United States have maintained a consistent Sunday mass attendance.  More or less twenty-three percent honor the Sunday obligation.  “What’s so good about that?” some might ask.  Actually, it is not an impressive record.  But non-attendance is nothing new in the history of the Church as the first reading today attests.

The Letter to the Hebrews underlines a fault in the customs of the people.  It tells its readers, “We should not stay away from our assembly…”  Evidently, some in the community have given up the practice of common worship.  It is possible that they lived in fear of being noticed at Christian worship as the letter at different points suggests religious persecution.  More likely, however, the people were growing apathetic waiting for Christ to return. 

We can do something to increase mass attendance.  Showing interest in the people who come to worship, perhaps taking the time to talk with them over coffee when the service is over, will make everyone a more caring individual.  After all, it is Christ whom we engage in the Eucharist.  He doesn’t leave us when we are dismissed but brightens our whole lives.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest

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

If the seed is the word of God and if it produces an abundant harvest when it falls on fertile ground as today’s gospel proclaims, then it has seldom yielded more than when it struck the ears of Thomas Aquinas.  Few writers have been more prodigious and few thinkers more profound than the thirteenth century Dominican friar.

What made Aquinas such rich soil for an intellectual yield?  Three factors come to mind.  First, as a child he was sent to a Benedictine monastery for school.  There he probably learned to savor the word of God in his heart so that he could appreciate its every aspect.  Second, as an adolescent Thomas studied Aristotelean philosophy in Naples.  The ancient Greek’s rigid analysis of the real world gave the budding genius a penchant to express the truth with the purity of an angel.  Finally, Thomas embraced the radical life of the Dominican friars who depended implicitly on Divine Providence and allowed no concern to impede their vocation of saving souls.

Like all the saints, Thomas Aquinas was especially endowed by God.  As very few possess his genius, we can hardly rival his holiness.  But God continually breaks down the rocky texture of our lives so that we might, like Aquinas, produce an output of wise words and loving deeds that assist others on the road to salvation.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tuesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

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

Catholics and Protestants have long tried to prove one another wrong on matters of doctrine.  The perpetual virginity of Mary is a particularly contentious debating point.  The Church has declared that Mary remained a virgin before, during, and after giving birth to Jesus.  Protestants often use today’s gospel passage as a proof text that Mary had other children besides Jesus.

The passage speaks of Jesus’ mother and brothers coming to see Jesus.  It shows Jesus gesturing at his disciples and calling them his “mother and (my) brothers.”  The scene leaves a sense of the remarkably close relationship Jesus has developed with those who follow him.  It may not be complimentary to Jesus’ family, but it does not show Jesus renouncing them either.

Biblical experts tell us that Mary’s virginity is not addressed in the New Testament.  They say that the names of Jesus’ brothers given later in Mark (James, Joses, Siman, and Judas) are plausibly the sons of the Mary who is pictured with Mary Magdalene and Salome at the cross with Jesus.  Thus, these “brothers” may very well have a more distant affiliation with Jesus than a sibling relationship.  In any case we are wise not to be querulous about the issue.  Rather, there is reason to rejoice in the possibility of joining with Jesus’ disciples as his “mother and (my) brothers.”