Friday, May 1, 2015

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 13:26-33; John 14:1-6)

The Philippines will remember Douglas MacArthur for the words he spoke at his forced departure from the country at the beginning of World War II.  He promised the people, “I shall return,” and he did.  No doubt, some Filipinos joined the resistance to the Japanese invaders on the strength of MacArthur’s promise.  In the gospel today Jesus means to instill such confidence in his disciples with a similar promise. 

Jesus is having a farewell dinner with his disciples.  He does not want them to think that he will forget them.  Rather, he exhorts them to trust that he will come back for him.  Thomas objects that they will get lost in the meantime because they do not know the way.  He assures them that they do: “I am the way and the truth and the life.”  Jesus is the way; that is, following him leads to God.  He speaks the truth; that is, they have not been deceived about the way.  And he conveys life; that is, he has provided them strength for the journey in the Eucharist.

We sometimes find ourselves in bleak situations.  Perhaps we face job termination, mortgage foreclosure, or an “iffy” diagnosis.  We must not cower but be confident.  As Jesus spent his last night consoling his friends rather than seeking pity for himself so we can undergo our trials similarly trusting God.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Memorial of Saint Pius V, pope

(Acts 13:13-25; John 13:16-20)

For a while the Council of Trent seemed to fall out of favor in the minds of many twentieth century Catholics.  After all, Trent standardized the liturgy to the extent that the common person not knowing Latin could hardly participate in it.  More recent views, however, sees Trent as one of the most effective ecumenical councils in history.  It reformed Church thought and practice when it was being severely tested.  Today the Church celebrates the man who executed those reforms, the Dominican Pope St. Pius V.

Pius was elected pope two years after the end of the council.  One of his priorities was to eliminate extravagance in the papal court.  Another was to assure the clergy reside in their parishes.  He also – to the chagrin of many today -- bolstered the Inquisition and suffered little tolerance for French Protestants and the English queen.  Today Pius V is best remembered for forming the Holy League which stopped the advance of the Ottoman Empire in Europe.  Pius credited the naval victory of Don Juan of Austria at Lepanto in the Greek Mediterranean to the intercession of the Virgin Mary and named the day of the victory, October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

In today’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples that no messenger is greater than the one who sent him.  Seeing the harshness with which Pius V treated the enemies of the Church, we might be reassured by this statement.  Jesus also says that whoever receives his messenger receives him.  Working for Christ, St. Pius V deserves our appreciation for his efforts to renew the Church and to save Western Europe from Ottoman dominance.

Wednesday, May 29, 2015

Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, virgin

(Acts 12:24-35a; John 12:44-50)

In English few religious women attain the status of “Mother.”  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is recognized with that distinction and also St. Frances Xavier Cabrini.  But in general religious women are called “Sister.”  In Spanish-speaking countries, however, the terms “Mother” and “Sister” seem to be interchangeable.  Today the Church honors St. Catherine of Siena, a religious who was surrounded by a large family of men and women who called her “Mother” even though she was younger than most of them.

Catherine lived in the fourteenth century.  At the tender age of seven she is said to have dedicated herself to Christ.  As an adolescent, she was allowed to spend her days in prayer and fasting which turned out to be preparation for a very active apostolate.  When she was twenty-one, she attracted a following of women and men, even priests, whom she directed as a kind of religious superior.  Since childhood, Catherine was associated with Dominican priests who defended her as she became influential from the criticism of citizens.  Soon she entered one of the great issues of the time, the displacement of the pope to Avignon.  Catherine was instrumental in bringing him back to Rome although later the situation actually became worse. Nevertheless, she continued her struggle for Church unity under the bishop of Rome.

Catherine’s spirituality was preeminently Christocentric.  She thought of herself as married to Christ and spent her life building up his body, the Church.  Such dedication could not help spill over to work for a better society.  Today Catherine is recognized as the co-patron of Italy along with St. Francis of Assisi and one of the co-patrons of Europe.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:19-26; John 10:22-30)

Calling citizens of the United States “Americans” did not happen on the first day of the revolution.  It took time for the people to understand themselves in this way.  Perhaps the name was secured when George Washington in his farewell address to the republic wrote, "The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation." What does the term convey?  The true answer to this question can only be “different things to different people.”  Still Americans are generally recognized for their freedom to express themselves in the way that each individual thinks best.  In today’s reading from Acts we hear the story of how Christians attained their identity.

In the Acts of the Apostles the followers of Christ in Jerusalem retained their Jewish customs.  They went to the Temple to pray and adhered to Jewish dietary laws.  As the movement spread, however, Jewish customs were gradually left behind.  When the disciples of Jesus came to Antioch, they evangelized among pagans as well as Jews. It was impossible to see them any longer as Jewish so they were called Christians.  Later on it was said of Christians, “See how they love one another.”  Love for others beyond family and close friends became the characteristic mark of Jesus’ followers.

We know that it is often difficult to have patience with those who frustrate us and to pray for those who persecute the oppressed.  We struggle to tolerate, much less love, everyone.  Yet this is the Christian heritage into which we have been immersed with Baptism.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:1-18; John 10:1-10)

 Blessed John Henry Newman understood how logical argument seldom moves anyone to belief.  Most often, he wrote, belief is catalyzed by “informal inference,” which is feeling, intuition, or unconscious motivation.  Jesus certainly understood the need for non-rational motivation as he preached with vibrant images like the “good shepherd” and, what we hear today, the “gatekeeper.”

Sometimes preachers try to explain the roles of “good shepherd” and “gatekeeper” as the same, but the attempt is in vain.  Jesus uses both images to indicate the different ways in which he ministers to us.  In the discourse which begins in today’s gospel he will call himself the “good shepherd,” the one who lays his life down for his sheep.  But now he refers to himself as the “gatekeeper” or “gate” with two functions.  First, he only lets those shepherds whom he calls – people like Pope Francis – to care for his sheep.  And second, he also allows the sheep to go to pasture when it is safe and under his watchful eye.

Very few of us live in bucolic society, and even if we did, shepherding is not the same as it was in Jesus’ time.  Yet these images still resonate with us.  We know that many wander through life without much sense of its purpose.  Those who manage to clarify a goal sometimes get helplessly sidetracked.  Accepting Jesus as our keeper and shepherd we will be saved from becoming lost.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Friday of the Third Week of Easter

(Acts 9:1-20; John 6:52-59)

Fifty years ago Catholics were strictly forbidden to participate in Protestant services.  Today they may enthusiastically sing Protestant hymns, listen to Protestant preaching, and join hands with Protestants for prayer.  But Catholics should never receive Communion from Protestants.  The reason for this strict prohibition is implied in the gospel today.

Jesus tells the synagogue assembly that his Flesh is real food and his Blood, real drink.  He is referring to the Eucharist which he will leave for his disciples.  The Flesh is real food because it is made from bread.  The Blood is real drink because it is produced from wine.  Yet it is not bread and wine that his followers consume but, again, his Flesh and his Blood.  Protestants generally do not accept the new substances that the bread and wine become.  But even if they do, there has been a breach in the line of their ministers receiving ordination from Jesus’ apostles.

In some ways relations between Catholics and Protestants have never been better.  Still serious differences exist, and at times the rivalry between us and them is intense.  Because we all claim Jesus as Lord, we should cooperate as much as possible.  We should also pray for the day in which we can partake with integrity and together of Jesus’ Flesh and Blood.