Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

(Zechariah 1:14-17; Luke 1:39-47)

When Pope Francis travels abroad, he usually goes to the poorest countries or spends much time in the poorest parts of the country he is visiting.  Last week he went to Myanmar and Bangladesh, two of the most problematic nations on earth.  Next month when he visits Peru, Francis will travel to the remote Amazon region where the indigenous are struggling for survival.  He evidently chooses to visit marginalized populations for the same reason that the Lord goes to Jerusalem in today’s first reading.

Zion or Jerusalem at the time of the prophet Zechariah is a shadow of what it was in the days of David and Solomon.  The city was destroyed by the Babylonians and now is trying to rebuild itself without much success.  But God is coming to aid the effort.  He will make the city once again a place of international significance.  People from all over the world will travel there to give praise to the same God.

We can understand the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a similar way.  She is God’s special envoy dispatched to the indigenous of Mexico.  They have been defeated by the Spanish and find themselves being diminished by plague and subjugation. Mary’s semblance as well as her dress is much like their own.  They can feel the pride of blessing with her gracious presence.  Undoubtedly they feel much like Elizabeth in the gospel proclaiming, “’And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’”  Mary’s response provides the reason.  God takes pity on the poor and lifts up the lowly.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Monday of the Second Week of Advent

(Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 5:17-26)

Once a man invited family and friends to his home for a party.  No liquor was served, but a hearty meal was eaten.  Prayers were also said in thanksgiving.  The party celebrated the man’s sobriety.  Fifteen years to the day he had given up drinking.

Of course, drinking is not bad in itself.  Nor can alcoholics be blamed for every drink they take.  As Alcoholics Anonymous teaches, compulsive drinking is a disease that diminishes moral responsibility.  But at some point alcoholics must account for their actions while intoxicated.  When they repeatedly do careless work and act abusively at home after drinking, they must either stop or recognize their sin.  Then their abstaining from drink becomes the source of complete healing.

In the gospel Jesus forgives the sin of the paralytic as the first step toward total healing.  As Jesus suggests, his saving of the man’s soul is a greater claim to his being the Messiah than his healing of the man’s lameness. But to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah in the first reading, Jesus makes the lame man “leap like a stag.”

Jesus comes to save all of us from our sins.  He brings forgiveness when we repent our wrongdoing.  As we turn away from our vices – whether obvious ones like drinking too much or more subtle ones like looking at others as objects of desire – Jesus will provide us the grace to live gracious and loving lives.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Genesis 3:9-15.20; Ephesians 1:3-6.11-12; Luke 1:26-38)

Sin has been in the news a lot lately.  Not just the crimes that typically make the headlines, but the kinds that most people think of when they hear the word.  A Hollywood producer has been accused of multiple sex offenses, so have politicians, and entertainers.  One hopes that the revelations will lead to a widespread cleanup in the media as well as in people’s personal lives.  Today’s feast could serve as a prescription for the reform.

Mary’s Immaculate Conception looks forward to Christ’s saving work on behalf of all humankind.  The first reading intimates the problem.  Adam and Eve’s sin unleashed on the world a tempest of sexual desire that has never abated.  The couple pants for and, at the same time, is ready to betray one another.  Their descendants through the ages will inherit these conflicting passions.  But the hope for peace is not extinguished.  God sends His angel to Mary whom He has prepared to mother a savior.  Her willingness to accept the responsibility sets in motion the world’s redemption.  Mary’s son Jesus will atone for sin so that humans can, as noted in the second reading, become “holy and without blemish.”

For our part we must keep sexual desires properly directed.  This means strict control of Internet sites and general avoidance of lust.  More than that, we call on Christ to cleanse our eyes to see every person as a sister or brother.  He remains are last, best hope.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Isaiah 26:1-6; Matthew 7:21.24-27)

St. Ambrose was the Roman governor of the region around Milan before he became bishop of the city.  Although he had not even been baptized when elected bishop, he did have a fine sense of theology.  At least, he knew that the teaching of the Arians was mistaken.  The Arians believed that Christ was not God.  Such an idea not only runs contrary to much of the New Testament, it also compromises the efficacy of Baptism.  Ambrose was quickly baptized and ordained priest and bishop.  He continued to defend the teaching of the  Council of Nicea and the Church of Rome that Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Word of God, equal with the Father and Holy Spirit.

Today’s first reading speaks of  a strong city that keeps faith.  Milan under the tutelage of St. Ambrose exemplifies this kind of city.  The gospel  compares Jesus’ words with a house built on rock.  By teaching Trinitarian doctrine, Ambrose was able to strengthen the foundation of biblical faith in his people.

The crisis produced by the Arian heresy is associated with the great feast that we are now anticipating.  On the twenty-fifth of the month we will celebrate the birth of the God-human.  It is nothing other than a mystery which invokes our attention and meditation.  Considering St. Ambrose, a great defender of the doctrine, should help us be more attentive to its meaning for us.

Wednesday, December 7, 2017

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 25:6-10a; Matthew 15:29-37)

Last week Pope Francis met with local leaders of the Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Christian faith traditions in Myanmar. Each leader had an opportunity to express his hopes for the dialogue.  Pope Francis said that the meeting demonstrated unity in diversity and that the diverse traditions should learn from one another.  He added that all are brothers with the same Father.  The meeting reflects the hope of today’s first reading and its fulfilment in the second.

The vision of the prophet Isaiah of a heavenly banquet features the coming together of all peoples.  It remarks that the veils that prevent both individuals and nations from seeing the goodness of others are now lifted.  Everyone can enjoy the richness of foods from other cultures.  Jesus fulfills this vision.  He heals different types of debilities.  He feeds all present, who likely include non-Jewish Greeks.  The fact that there are seven baskets of left-overs indicates that the food is plentiful and everyone is content.

Advent reminds us that Jesus is close-by.  He is bringing us together with other kinds of people and will satisfy all our just desires.  To have full advantage of Jesus’ offer we need to recognize our need for him.  Then we must turn to others, whatever their faith or nation, as brothers and sisters. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tuesday of the First Week in Advent

(Isaiah 11:1-10; Luke 10:21-24)

A woman once described how she could no longer watch nature films on television.  Viewing the drama of a killer whale chasing a smaller whale and her calf left her permanently disgusted.  She said that the film crew followed the predator stalking mother and calf for hundreds of miles.  Then it recorded the killer whale separating the two before making its kill.  The visual experience was so jarring that the woman now dreads the sight of animals preying on one another.

We may think that original sin has caused alienation between humans and God and among other humans, but the transgression has even wider effect.  The sin of Adam and Eve is said to have imperiled relationships among animals as well and, really, among all beings of creation.  For this reason Paul writes the church in Rome, “...creation waits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God” (Rom 8:19). 

In the first reading the prophet Isaiah strikingly illustrates how the alienation is about to end.  A ruler shall come from the line of King David who will restore original justice.  He will cast out evil and lift up the oppressed.  His actions will teach everyone fear of the Lord, the lack of which characterizes the present state of universal victimization.  Proof of the new reign of justice will be found when the most vicious of animals fraternize with the most defenseless.  We see this prophecy’s fulfillment in Jesus Christ.  As today's gospel indicates, he brings knowledge of God the Father to all who care to listen.  He humbles the arrogant and lifts up the lowly.  With his expected return in glory soon, peace will reign everywhere.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Monday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 8:5-11)

At the end of World War II the British air force almost completely destroyed a German city.  There was, however, a Catholic church with a tall steeple still standing.  The pastor of the church looking from the steeple saw a single bomber flying near. He thought that the plane would target the church and quickly evacuated the premises.  Sure enough, the church was bombed but the priest saved his life.

War is terrible.  It destroys the spirit as well as the body. It is dismissive to physical structures, no matter their value or significance.  For this reason Isaiah in today’s first readings looks toward war’s end.  He foresees the time when peace will reign perpetually on the earth.  Then, all nations will come to Jerusalem to learn God’s righteous ways.  To hasten the coming of that time, Isaiah says, Jews have to walk in God’s ways today.

During Advent we Christians take to heart Isaiah’s message.  We express aloud our yearning for lasting peace and strive to purify our lives of hatred.  But we realize that eternal peace is not in the end our doing.  We have a part to play for sure, but Christ is the one who is to transform our world.  He will turn the tables on the hostile and promote clean-hearted.  We raise our heads along with our hopes for his coming. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 7:2-14; Luke 21:29-33)

John Donne’s meditation “No Man is an Island” is reminiscent of Jesus’ parable in today’s gospel.  A bell tolls in Donne’s essay, and people ask, “Who died?”  The point is that a tolling bell should remind everyone that she or he is going to die.  Similarly Jesus uses the image of a fig tree to tell his disciples to take notice to what is happening around them.

Just as the budding of the fig tree foretells the coming of summer, the destruction of Jerusalem augers the return of Jesus in glory.  Although his return has not yet taken place in a definitive way yet, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70.  Apparently the “times of the Gentiles,” which Jesus refers to earlier in the long passage, is still in effect.  Nevertheless, billions of people have come to their individual end in death.  Jesus’ words then should be taken as a warning of this eventuality.

We prepare for death by living as justly as possible.  First, we owe God constant and fervent thanks.  Then we must care for ourselves and those closest to us – family, co-workers, and friends.  Finally, we need to assist the poor.  We have to use our resources to help them live with dignity.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Feast of Saint Andrew, apostle

(Romans 10:9-18; Matthew 4:18-22)

In his seminal exhortation on evangelization, Pope Paul VI wrote: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”  Little is said about the apostle Andrew in the gospels outside of the stories of his being called by Jesus.  But as Paul VI said, the witness that he gives in these calls speaks forcefully through the ages.

Peter and Andrew are probably like most fishermen.  They love the sea not only as the source of food for the table but also for the freedom it brings.  On the sea in their boat no one is tells them what to do.  But for the two brothers in today’s gospel the call of Jesus is more powerful than the attraction of the sea.  They tarry not a minute but respond to his beckoning at once.  Their leaving boat and even their father testifies to Jesus’ primacy over everything else. 

We need to give witness as well.  It starts with how we present ourselves.  Do our homes feature a cross identifying Jesus as he who brings peace to our lives?  Do we mention Jesus as the source of any goodness we have and the goal of our lives beyond death?  Exhibiting a cross and indicating Jesus’ authority in our lives serve to purposes.  They evangelize others, and they keep us rightly focused.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 5:1-6.13-14.16-17.23-28; Luke 21:12-19)

Recently Fr. John Jenkins, C.S.C., the president of the University of Notre Dame, publicly defended one of the university’s faculty members from an unjust accusation.  When a law professor of the university was nominated for a federal judgeship, a number of senators attacked her as living by dogma.  What bothered the senators was the professor’s conviction that abortion is wrong.  Fr. Jenkins wrote an open letter saying that he too lived by dogma as do millions of other Americans.

The implied criticism of Church dogma reflects today’s gospel.  Jesus tells his disciples that they will be persecuted because they preach him.  The persecution begins soon after his death and resurrection as attested in the Acts of the Apostles.  It waxed and waned for three hundred reaching a climax just before the Emperor Constantine granted Christians religious freedom.  And it has never really ended until the present day.  Christians themselves have sometimes provoked harsh reactions, but more often people resent the Church for preaching the justice of God’s kingdom.

We should not be surprised if we hear snide remarks made against us.  A generation ago Catholics were supposedly undermining the common good by having large families.  More recently we are ridiculed for believing in what the sophisticated call fantasies such as the resurrection of the dead.  As Jesus advises, we should not become too outraged.  Rather our stance should always be like his cool defense of what we believe.  It does not rest on sophisticated argument but on the gospel we receive from him.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 14:14-19; Psalm 96; Luke 21:5-11)

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias” relates how the statue of an ancient Egyptian king was found in the middle of a desert.  The statue’s shattered state belied the sign it bore naming the figure “Ozymandias, King of Kings” and telling the on-looker to despair in awe.  The poem reminds the reader that the greatest works of art as well as the greatest people are all time-bound.  Their fame hardly lasts for centuries, much less for eternity.

In the gospel Jesus relates the same prophetic message.  People gaze starry-eyed at the wonders of the Temple, but Jesus tells them not to be impressed.  The Temple, he says, will fall as it indeed did barely a generation after his death.  Jesus also warns his disciples not to follow unreservedly the great personages who may claim to be like him.  These men and women will also pass away.

We Christians give full allegiance only to God.  He is the source and goal of our lives.  Yes, we cooperate with others in effort to make of the earth a decent habitat for all humans.  But we should not become too comfortable and never complacent here.  We seek a peaceful earth so that we might come to know and love God who promises us heaven as our true home.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 1:1-6.8-20, Luke 21:1-4)

A man with a Ph.D. in biology enjoys talking about the diet of Chinese peasants.  He says that since they are dirt poor, Chinese peasants can afford little meat and dairy products.  Rather, he explains, they mainly eat vegetables and receive the protein that their bodies require from beans and other legumes.  The authority is convinced that this diet is not inferior but significantly superior to richer, western diets.  He believes that the fats westerners assimilate from eating meat not only threatens their hearts but also are related to cancer.

The results of the vegetarian experiment related in the first reading today, then, should not be surprising.  Although the chamberlain believes that Daniel and his companions would be undernourished by the diet, actually they prove to be healthier than the others because of it.  But, of course, good nutrition is not the prophet’s point in relating this story.  He means to tell us that when we abide by the Lord’s will, things always work out for the best.  We do not need to worry, as Jesus says, about what we eat and drink or about what clothes we wear when seek first God’s kingdom.

Jesus reaffirms this lesson in the gospel today.  He praises the poor widow for generosity, a virtue extolled throughout this Luke’s gospel.  Sometimes we think that we might ignore God’s will as expressed by Jesus in order to secure more of a desired good.  Some people argue, for example, that it would be all right to take the life of a patient suffering from incurable cancer so that she does not suffer.  But such an action would violate the sanctity of human life, one of the highest principles of God’s law.  No, we want to go out of our way to comfort and console those in agony.  When we do so, both they and we will benefit. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions, martyrs

(I Maccabees 4:36-37.52-59; Luke 19:45-48)

Today Vietnamese Catholics celebrate their heroes.  St. Andrew Dung-Lac and companion martyrs gave their lives rather than relinquish their Christian faith.  These “ultimate sacrifices” have made it possible for their descendants to look forward to eternal life.  The celebration is similar to that described in the mass’s first reading.

The passage tells of how the Jews burnt offerings and sang hymns of praise for eight days.  They were celebrating the rededication of the Temple that had been desecrated by pagan overlords.  Many valiant Jews died in the hostilities that liberated the land from foreign rule.  In his day Jesus too celebrated the feast, which is commonly known as Hanukkah.

More important, for our purposes today at least, is Jesus’ great sensibility for the Temple itself.  As the meeting place of God and humanity, he chases the money changers from its confines.  His followers will later note how Jesus himself is the prime referent for our encounter with God.  In this sense he has replaced the Temple with his flesh and blood.  Nevertheless, Christians still need places to pray so they construct temples, which we usually call “churches.”  Still at the dedication of a Catholic church it is always Jesus who is glorified.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

(for Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time see below)

Thanksgiving Day

(Sirach 50:22-24; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Luke 17:11-19)

Huntington’s Disease is one of the worst maladies known in medicine.  It attacks the brain leaving bearers of the disease physically and mentally incapacitated.  In listening to testimonies of Huntington Disease sufferers, one is surprised to hear some describing themselves as “blessed.”  It is not a universal claim, but it is heard from different patients.  People have been good to them and they have experienced something of the sweetness of life.

On Thanksgiving Day most people likewise sense that they are blessed.  There is time to reflect on all that they have and are.  They can name some of those who provided them education and opportunity, but they realize that the list cannot be exhausted.  Indeed, most get an inkling that the blessing has been bestowed from on high.  We know this elusive, benign benefactor as the Lord God who made us and sustains us.

The Samaritan in today’s gospel has a true insight into the extent of God’s blessing.  After being cured of his leprosy, he goes to thank Jesus.  He might have followed his nine companions to the Temple.  There he would have paid homage to God as well as have received the confirmation of healing from the priests.  But the Samaritan realized that Jesus had something fundamental to do with his fortune.  And so should we!  God has not only blessed us with human life; through His Son Jesus Christ He has granted us a share in His eternal life.  We experience a foretaste of this new life when we come together for the Eucharist.  We also receive a sense of eternal life as we gather with family and friends around the Thanksgiving table.

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Maccabees 215-29; Lucas 19:41-44)

A proverb says, “The old man who will not cry is a fool.”  Everyone should come to tears as she or he realizes that life is often tragic because people fail to learn its most important lesson.  The lesson is to give glory to God by caring for one another.  Too often humans take life as a game in which they are to gain as much prestige and prosperity for themselves as possible.

In the passion account of Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the women of Jerusalem that they are not to weep for him but for their children.  In today’s passage he does exactly this.  Jerusalem refuses to learn life’s lesson taught in the Law, reiterated by the prophets, and confirmed by Jesus himself.  Its inhabitants would rather retain its values of wealth and honor.  Although Jesus is hardly an old man, in his day at thirty-three years he has already entered middle age.  In any case he shows himself as wiser than the ages with his tears.

Should we cry at what we see around us?  There is, for sure, enough egotism about to make even children weep.  After we shed our tears we should resolve to live lives worthy of the gospel.  That is, we should amend our ways by placing the good of others alongside our own and by praying that God turn the situation around.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, virgin and martyr

(II Maccabees 7:1.20-31; Luke 19:11-28)

One of the greatest achievements of the twentieth century was completed on December 10, 1948.  On that day the United Nations overcame cultural and ideological barriers to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Of course, the system of rights and responsibilities has not always been honored by its signees.  Even the United States for a number of years after the declaration’s passage permitted widespread racial discrimination.

One right at the very core of the freedoms expressed in the Universal Declaration is that of practicing one’s religious beliefs.  Taken seriously, religion is not a personal choice much less a whimsical fancy, but the following of one’s conscience where God speaks to the person.  It is also constructive of a good society.  All religions worthy of the name should guide their adherents to virtue.  Where religion is repressed, on the other hand, rebellion follows discontent and disruption of peace.

The pious story in today’s first reading tells of a vicious ruler who tries to suppress the Jewish religion.  Evidently many Jews went along with the barbarism, but not all nor, perhaps, even the majority.  Those who did buy into the tyranny possibly thought, like many do today, that religion does not matter as long as there is food on one’s table.  The mother and her seven sons knew better.  Because they believed that violating a commandment of God is worse than death, they willingly accepted the latter.  Their sacrifice anticipated that of Jesus who likewise died in obedience to God and that of St. Cecilia, a third century Roman martyr, whom we remember especially today.  However, Jesus’ martyrdom was greater in a real sense than all others.  Although he lived a completely righteous life according to the tenets of Jewish belief, he suffered not just the outrageous decision of the political regime but the contempt of the religious leaders in his land.  

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(II Maccabee 6:18-31; Luke 19:1-10)

The readings today tell the stories of two Jewish heroes.  The first is an old man, Eleazar, whose lengthy life has become the source of sorrow.  Foreigners are imposing their ways on his native Israel.  What is worse, the people are cooperating with the oppressors.  Now his own friends call him to join in their abandonment of God’s law.  He resists the temptation and pays the price of fidelity with his life.

The second hero is an unlikely tax-collector.  Zacchaeus supposedly takes what doesn’t belong to him under government auspices.  But really he is a man who is so righteous that he exults in the possibility of seeing Jesus, God’s prophet. He proves his zeal by showing Jesus that he goes beyond the law’s letter.  He is willing to give half, not just a tenth, of his belongings to the poor and pay back four times, not just twice, if he has extorted anything from anyone.

There is another Jewish hero whom we celebrate today.  She was as faithful as the morning sun in following the law.  She could not refrain from singing God’s praises.  Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple.  She is dedicated to God who will ask her to give birth and educate His Son, Jesus.  Because she too has lived a righteous life, the responsibility will not be impossible.  Because she can count on God’s grace, she will accomplish the task with distinction.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Maccabees 1:10-15.41-43.54-57.62-63; Luke 18:35-43)

Faith is sometimes said to be another way of seeing.  Rather than perceiving color, faith finds spiritual lights.  Faith is aware of a God who loves humans.  It accepts the promise of resurrection of the body and eternal life.  In the gospel today faith enables the blind man to recognize Jesus as the “Son of David,” the long-awaited Savior.  This faith would have saved the blind man even if Jesus did not bless him with physical sight.

Determination characterizes the blind man almost as much as his faith.  When the people rebuke him for calling out, he does it all the louder.  Because of his insistence, Jesus notices him.  It might be asked whether the blind man is more interested in attracting attention to himself than in being cured.  Jesus, however, finds him sincere when he grants his request. 

The blind man immediately follows Jesus.  He literally becomes Jesus’ disciple.  We can take him as a model disciple.  His faith, determination, and sincerity before the Lord show us how to better follow Jesus.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, religious

(Wisdom 13:1-9; Luke 17:26-37)

On cold autumn days one may be inclined to worship the sun.  Its warm rays bring a modicum of comfort, and its brightness cheers up the prospect of a long, cold winter.  Who is not grateful for these gifts?  There are further ways in which the sun benefits humans.  It brings about the growth of food and provides energy for a plethora of artificial comforts.  Nevertheless, today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom critiques sun worshippers as not looking deep enough into reality.

Wisdom was written to assure the Jews of ancient Alexandria of the worth of their religious tradition.  It finds wanting the tenets of scientific inquiry when compared with the implications of biblical faith.  Heavenly bodies, it concludes, are hardly worth human credence.  One has to look beyond material being to find the omnipotent, spiritual cause for existence.

Today scientists do not look to the heavens to find their God.  Many do not believe in any first cause at all.  If such a creator exists at all, they say, it could hardly be the personal God of the Judeo-Christian tradition.  We, however, know by faith that God loves each one of us even those whose lot is very difficult.  We have seen in Jesus our God’s gracious touch.  Now, as today’s gospel has it, we await his coming to prove us right.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Wisdom 7:22b-8:1; Luke 17:20-25)

People usually think of their own age as the greatest.  But is our own age so wonderful?  Its representative products – the iPhone, the plasma TV, the global positioning device – seem to provide the rich with outlets for their wealth more than they help me to live more happily.  Can we not ask with T.S. Eliot a few generations ago, “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Today’s first reading reminds us that wisdom has an eternal character that is available in every age.  It is also universal so that both rich and poor may partake of it.  In contriving twenty-one attributes the author shows how wisdom, and not the products of technology and commerce, makes life worthwhile.  The number, incidentally, symbolizes absolute perfection being the product of seven -- representative of simple perfection -- and three -- indicative of the divine.

Wisdom admonishes us to discern the true value of every created good.  It recognizes the satisfaction that comfort and convenience bring us but realizes that these do not comprise happiness.  Most importantly, it understands that fulfillment is found in our striving to live righteously.  Beginning with God and not overlooking the simplest person nor ignoring ourselves we wisely give everyone her/his due. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Optional Memorial of Saint Albert the Great, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Wisdom 6:1-11; Luke 17:11-19)

St. Albert has been justifiably called “the great” for his many accomplishments.  He excelled as a scientist, a philosopher, and a theologian.  He also won the respect of both peers and superiors.  He was elected provincial of his German Dominican province spending much time defending the mendicant orders from their detractors.  He was also made a bishop with the task of reforming his diocese. 

Albert could hardly have been a proud man.  Despite his achievements and high positions he spent the last years of his life defending his student, St. Thomas Aquinas.  The latter, whose name today is synonymous with Catholic orthodoxy, was accused of heresy for writing favorable things about pagan philosophers.  As one who searched for truth, Albert did not allow the misjudgment to prevail. In the quest for righteousness Albert heeded the advice of today’s first reading.  The Book of Wisdom teaches that great people must not exalt their own power.  Rather, they need to both study and follow the ways of the Lord.

Our minds do not likely measure up to Albert’s intellect.  Nor is it probable that we have his organizational capacity.  But we can emulate his holiness.  We can be humble before others.  We can study and perhaps defend the truths which the Church teaches.  Most of all, we can love God by seeking to do His will above everything else.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Wisdom 2:23-3:9; Luke 17:7-10)

The Book of Wisdom was probably composed during the century before Christ in Alexandria, Egypt.  In some ways the Jews in that context were dealing with the same challenges Christians face today.  Individualism was on the rise along with skepticism concerning traditional beliefs.  In face of religious persecution religious people were turning to paganism and secular philosophy for consolation.  The author of Wisdom searched the ancient texts to address these challenges.  He maintained that by living according to the Law Jews could be assured of eternal life.

This sounds like Christianity's message, but there is a critical difference.  Jesus promises much more than the existence of the post-mortem soul flying like a spark in a fire.  His resurrection from the dead offers followers the prospect of their bodies being likewise glorified.  Like him they are to enjoy the wonders of creation without the maladies that present corporality bears.

Wisdom's message is especially timely in November when we remember our beloved dead.  It shores up our hope for reunion as it anticipates eternal life.  We should not presume, however, such a blessing as a given for all who have lived.  It is the outcome of those who have made the conscious decision to serve the Lord.  As today’s gospel indicates, we must humble ourselves and help others. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

Memorial of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, virgin

(Wisdom 1:1-7; Luke 17:1-6)

St. Frances Xavier “Mother” Cabrini died shortly before Christmas exactly one hundred years ago.  She left behind a legacy of charitable work that stretches throughout the United States.  With great zeal she established hospitals, orphanages, and schools from New York to Settle.  More basic still, faith working through love moved her to accomplish so much.  Like Mother Teresa of Kolkata in the latter part of the twentieth century, Mother Cabrini was known as a living saint in the first part.  She may be considered an example of today’s gospel lesson.

Jesus’ disciples stand daunted by his command that they forgive a brother seven times a day.  They ask him for an increase of faith to meet the challenge.  Jesus responds saying that they have more than the requisite amount.  He says that the tiniest bit of faith could uproot trees and move them into the sea.  They only have to employ it.  Mother Cabrini had to overcome great obstacles in her life from a weak physical constitution to difficulties with prelates.  But unwavering faith enabled her to coordinate resources on both sides of the Atlantic to improve the lot of millions of poor people.

We are wise not to underestimate our own possibilities.  When we put our minds to a task and ask God’s help, we too can achieve significant results.  Jesus will be with us to enlighten our way and fortify our  will.  With him as the object of our faith we can assist many.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Memorial of St. Leo the Great, pope

(Romans 15:14-21; Luke 16:1-8)

A leading social activist was fond of saying: “Money is like fertilizer; it needs to be spread around before it does much good.”  In the gospel today Jesus expresses assent to this way of thinking.  He uses a parable to demonstrate to his disciples that they should disperse their resources.  If they wish to gain a place in eternal life, they must help the poor.

Nonetheless, this parable has furrowed Christian eyebrows through the ages.  Many wonder whether Jesus is approving of fraud when he praises the steward who uses his master’s money to assure his own welfare.  However, Jesus’ approval is similar to that of a theft victim standing in awe of the thief who picked his pocket without him feeling a thing.  One should be impressed by the capacity of the steward to provide for his future with the few resources remaining to him.  Jesus does not call his action righteous only phronimOteroi, a Greek word that is better translated as disposed (to the times) than as prudent.

The key to the passage is to understand what it means to be “children of the light.”  Christ has opened our eyes so that we see the poor as our brothers and sisters providing us opportunity to demonstrate our love for him.  Surely our discipleship of Christ involves more than prayer and fellowship.  It requires service which we render by working for a just society.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

(Ezekiel 47:1-2.8-9.12; I Corinthians 3:9c-11.16-17; John 2:13-22)

Today’s feast, the Dedication of St. John Lateran, is somewhat of an anomaly.  That is, it is somewhat unusual.  We seldom celebrate the anniversaries of churches.  But the Lateran Basilica, as St. John’s is often called, is also known as the “mother church of Christendom” or “the pope’s church.”  In celebrating it we celebrate all Christian churches.

Today’s gospel shows Jesus driving money-changers from the Temple area.  Speaking of anomalies, we see Jesus in this scene, which is repeated in each of the four gospels, using force.  He did not regularly resort to arms or tolerate their employment.  Jesus remains the Prince of Peace who warned us that the one who “lives by the sword dies by the sword” and commanded us to “love your enemies.”  Yet he takes us the whip evidently as an extreme act to show necessary regard for God’s house.

We should have a similar reverence for our churches.  God can encounter humans anywhere He chooses.  But we build churches that glorify Him so that He might choose to meet us there regularly.  As we enter church, we customarily dip our fingers in the holy water font and make the sign of the cross.  This signifies our cleansing ourselves of the contaminants of the world – the inordinate desire for fame, fortune, and fun – so that we might listen to God talk to our hearts.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wednesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 13:8-10; Luke 14:25-33)

The mystic Henri Nouwen wrote a book about praying with open hands.  He said that prayer is difficult because it demands that we open our inmost being – our sins, our desires, our insecurities – to God.  The image he used to express the reluctance to do this is a closed hand.  A closed hand often clings to something that it cannot release.  One cannot pray with a closed hand but must open it.  In today’s gospel Jesus says something very similar.

At the end of this astounding passage Jesus tells the crowd that they must give up all their “possessions” if they wish to follow him.  In first century Israel this sacrifice often entailed loss of house and family as one is ostracized for being a Christian.  Today “possessions” should be considered as more inclusive.  It means not just material things but the old prejudices, dislikes, and corrupt hearts to which people are wont to cling.

Giving up all that we have frightens us. “Perhaps we are being deceived,” we say to ourselves.  “What if I change my mind?” we ask.  Jesus would answer that he is with us to provide the support we need to find our way to eternal life.  There we shall be rewarded well beyond any sacrifice we are asked to make now.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 12:5-16ab; Luke 14:15-24)

Linus, the character of the Peanuts cartoon series, is fond of saying: “I love mankind; it's people I can’t stand.”  He is wise for recognizing a very common frailty.  Most people consider themselves as tolerant and respectful of others.  But in individual cases they often show themselves to be less understanding than they think.  In today’s first reading St. Paul exhorts the community at Rome to live up to their expectations.

After laying out his theology, Paul has begun his moral exhortation in this twelfth chapter of the Letter to the Romans.  He wants the community to avoid competitiveness and disdain.  They are to recognize one another’s gifts, to be sincere in their displays of affection, and to be compassionate to those who are suffering.

We must see individuals as our opportunities to practice charity.  By charity we do not mean contributions to organizations.  Rather, it is the virtue by which we love God and neighbor. It is not easy as other people differ from us, sometimes so much that what they do does not make sense.  Yet they are – to one extent or another – children of God and, therefore, worthy of our care.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 11:29-36; Luke 14:12-14)

Anti-Semitism has marred western civilization since the time of Christ.  The polemic against the Pharisees and, to an extent, all Jews in the gospels is understandable.  Jews had ejected Christians from synagogues where they prayed together.  Although some Church Fathers wanted to protect Jews, others quite vehemently condemned them.  The influential Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 mandated that Jews wear marks of identification which could not help but increase hateful discrimination.  The Jewish list of grievances extends for volumes.

St. Paul certainly had a different perspective. He never forsook his Jewish heritage although, of course, he swore complete allegiance to Christ.  In today’s passage from the Letter to the Romans Paul affirms that God’s election of Israel as His “Chosen People” cannot be undone.  As unlikely as it may seem, he foresees the time when they too will become part of Christ’s fold. 

With society becoming increasingly fractionated, we must be ready to stand up for all minorities.  We should not allow prejudicial remarks against Blacks, Jews, and other traditionally slandered peoples go uncontested.  Jesus was a Jew, but more importantly he suffered and died on behalf of all.  If we really love him, we will defend the dignity of all human beings.

Friday, November 3, 2017

(Optional) Memorial of Saint Martin de Porres, religious

(Romans 9:1-5; Luke 14:1-6)

St. Martin de Porres has been named the patron saint of interracial justice.  He was the son of a Spanish father and a Panamanian (African) mother in Lima, Peru.  He knew racial prejudice growing up.  As a child, he felt called to be a Dominican friar, but he was not permitted to join the order.  Because he had African parentage, it was not supposedly possible for him to become a religious.  He did not abandon his vocation but offered himself as a servant for the local Dominican monastery.  Faithfully serving the friars in menial tasks, he was put in charge of distributing the community’s alms to the poor.  In time he was allowed to take the one vow of obedience which all Dominicans make.  He cared for Lima’s sick with his knowledge of herbal medicine and was known as a friend to all kinds of animals.

Martin not only reconciled peoples of different backgrounds but also various kinds of animals.  He tore down walls of hateful discrimination by showing love and patience to everyone.  Like him people of African descent in American society have waited patiently for equal treatment.  Yes, some have demonstrated openly their disgust with being treated with suspicion and contempt.  And there is a disproportionate amount of social pathology in African-American communities. But most of the people there work hard and deserve to be duly respected. 

In today’s first reading St. Paul writes of the Jews as his “own people.”  Becoming a Christian, he did not forsake identifying himself with his nationality.  Likewise, we need not imagine a color-blind American society.  African-Americans have a culture and a tradition that have helpfully contributed to American life.  They should not be considered inferior but should enjoy equal dignity with citizens from other backgrounds.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day)

(Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40)

At the funeral mass of a man who committed suicide someone made a curious testimony.  He said that the deceased lived a good life and was surely enjoying eternal rest.  For ample reason the Church no longer denies Christian burial in case of a suicide.  But it is presumptuous to claim that one who takes his or her life is with God.  The best that can be done is to hope that the person was not fully aware of what was being done or repented before life drained away.

Many of us may find ourselves in a similar condition someday.  Hopefully we will never attempt taking our own lives.  Nevertheless, our integrity has been compromised by the bad choices we have made.  We choose to hang onto to grudges rather than to forgive.  We have robbed people of their good name if not their purses without making amends.  We continually put ourselves first with hardly a thought for the suffering.  Surely these sins have led us away from Jesus.

As we pray for the souls of all today, we rightly assume that others one day will pray for us.  We pray that despite their sins they have come to know Jesus.  We pray that he will not reject them however great their sins may be.  At the same time we utter a prayer for ourselves as well: that we recognize the sins that we have committed, have made reparation as far as possible, and that God will be merciful to us as well as others.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Solemnity of All Saints

(Revelation 7:2-4.9-14; I John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a)

Mr. Blue is the story of a saint.  The main character was never canonized and, in truth, existed in the author’s, Myles Connolly’s, mind.  But there probably was a model on which the story was based.  In any case, Mr. Blue reminds readers of people in their lives who practiced all the virtues, especially faith and love.  These men and women may never have been recognized universally as saints in part because one of the virtues they cherished was humility.  In today’s Feast of All Saints the Church honors all such people.

They are indeed many.  The first reading from the Book of Revelation describes them as “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”  It is said that since the beginning of humanity there have lived one hundred billion human beings.  The really good ones make up that “great multitude.”  The criteria for counting them as saints come from today’s gospel. Saints are “poor in spirit,” “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and strive to be “peacemakers.”  In short, they are always ready to sacrifice themselves for God’s sake.

We praise holy women and men not just by recalling them today but by imitating their virtue every day.  We pray for the realization of grace that assists the poor with their needs, speaks humbly and truthfully at all times, and fulfills all responsibilities to society.  Doing so will include us among the number who are praised today.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:18-25; Luke 13:18-21)

The car window opened, and an object flew out – perhaps a plastic cup – littering the road.  It was a small act of defiance of both law and public decency indicative of a careless person.  But little things add up.  An estimated fifty-one billion articles of litter are deposited on the roads of the United States alone every year! 

Yet litter is hardly the biggest environmental problem.  Other worries far outsize trash on roads.  The way humans consume fossil fuels causes pollution that likely contributes to global warming.  Their cutting down rain forests results in the destruction of animal habitats which, in turn, causes land to dry up.  St. Paul describes the situation well in today’s first reading.  Creation groans in anticipation of a redeemed humanity so that the environment may be saved.

Paul is far from being desperate about the situation.  He perceives creation already being liberated by the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is changing our hearts to value the environment as a common patrimony.  Good people have begun to cooperate in protecting natural resources.  We want future generations to know the wonder of otters, octopuses, and owls.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:12-17; Luke 13:10-17)

An article in the October edition of First Things offers a perspective for reading today’s gospel.  Entitled “Empathy is not Charity,” the article criticizes the contemporary urgency to feel the pain of the suffering.  Such empathy often enough leads to actions that undermine truth and justice.  It may cause, for example, one to counsel a woman with a problem pregnancy to have an abortion.  Charity will move us to help the woman bear the child with all necessary support.

Jesus shows like concern for the woman who has been crippled for eighteen years.  He does not feel her pain but removes it.  Of course, the synagogue leader accuses him of working on the Sabbath which in Deuteronomy celebrates God’s gift of liberation from slavery.  But Jesus knows that he has not infringed any Sabbath rule.  Rather he has liberated the woman from oppression – an action quite in synch with the Sabbath.

We should not say that it is wrong to empathize with others.  Often trying to feel the pain of another gives us a true understanding of the situation that we face.  But we must realize that charity – the purest form of love – is not primarily taking away the other’s pain.  It is a matter of doing what is best for the one suffering as well as for everyone else.

Thursday, October 26, and Friday, October 27, 2017

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 6:19-23; Luke 12:49-53)

An unforgettable scene in the movie “Malcom X” shows a man dying in a rundown rental room.  He once made a small fortune in the numbers racket; that is, in collecting small bets on the final numbers of the daily stock market trading.  As bank robber Willie Sutton reputedly said: “That’s where the money is.”  He had spent most of it on liquor, drugs, and other vices.  Now he was paying the price.  As today’s reading from St. Paul’s Romans says, “…the wages of sin is death.”

Paul recognizes that sinful humans will always die.  Reflecting on Genesis, he concludes that the curse of Adam is a tendency to sin that ensnarls all humans on a steady downward trajectory.  That is everyone except Jesus (and by special dispensation his Immaculate Mother).  Jesus not only transcended enslavement to sin but boosted his followers out of their entrapment.  Trusting in Jesus as Lord, women and men can now overcome the tendency to love creatures more than the Creator – the essence of sin.

We need to hold ourselves close to Jesus – desperately. Heeding his warnings and following his example, we actually become freer, happier people.  We become, in other words, beneficiaries of the gift of eternal life.

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 7:18-25a; Luke 12:54-59)

At the end of Luke’s gospel Jesus is pictured accompanying two of his disciples leaving Jerusalem on the day of his resurrection.  He explains to them the gospel and shares with them a meal.  In today’s passage from the same gospel Jesus tells the crowds that they are on the way to see their judge with someone they have offended.  That offended one accompanying them is the same Jesus.

He has come from God to make humans aware of their sins and to deliver them from them.  As St. Paul says in the reading from Romans, “Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Humans must make peace with Jesus by confessing their sins and petitioning his mercy.  Otherwise, at death they will face the Supreme Judge with his blood on their hands.

Although Jesus in the gospel here is portrayed as our “opponent,” he is more kindly than adversarial. He is ready to forgive the most grievous, the most embarrassing, and the most conventional of our sins.  We do not have to be afraid of telling them to him.  Actually he is always our friend more than our opponent.

Tuesday, October 24, and Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 5:12.15b.17-19.20b-21; Luke 12:35-38)

Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the United States has more than sinful and scandalous; it has been outrageous.  About three thousand priests over a period of fifty years have been accused of such crime, according to the Church’s Promoter of Justice at the Vatican.  Could any good come out of such a cesspool?  Now it is safe to answer, “Yes.”  The Church’s response, at least in the United States, has been thorough and effective.  At one time the Church was lax in supervision: now it is exemplary.  The checks to abuse that it has positioned have made it a model for curtailing the evil.  The process can be sighted as an example of what St. Paul means in today’s reading from his Letter to the Romans that “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.”

Paul is writing of the fallen state of human nature which goes back to the first man and woman.  Even with the aid of the Covenants, humans were unable to curtail sinful activity.  Then Jesus came to stem the downward thrust.  He not only lived righteously but died to make manifest the egotism at the root of sin.  His death, however, left no trace of personal disgrace as he rose in glory, the first instance of the blessing that is promised to all his followers.

The Holy Spirit has given the Church a resiliency to overcome scandals like sexual abuse fifteen years ago.  The Spirit works through each of us.  It urges us to abide by the norms that have been set up and to always examine our consciences so that we always act with prudence.  With the Spirit’s guidance the Church has become the template for sexual temperance in the U.S. and beyond.

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 6:12-18; Luke 12:39-48)

St. Augustine famously told his people, “With you I am a Christian, for you I am a bishop. The second fills me with terror, the first, with great consolation.” The fear flowed from the responsibility he had to guide his diocese.  He knew that God would judge him harshly if he failed to discharge his duties or if he used the episcopacy for his own gain.  It goes without saying that Augustine took note of the gospel passage we read today.

In the passage Jesus warns his apostles that they are susceptible to a stricter judgment than others.  Because he has taught them himself, they can have no excuse for abusing their authority.  The bishops today are the successors of those apostles with the same responsibility of guiding the Church.  Priests do not share the fullness of the apostolic mandate, but they are likewise well tutored in the gospels.  Both bishops and priests can expect stiff punishment if they fail to give judicious pastoral care.

Sometimes in hearing the Eucharistic Prayer we may wonder why the clergy are given special mention.  Some priests, you may have noticed, change the wording to include all ministers or all people.  This is a forgivable sin.  But surely it is charity that moves us to pray especially for bishops, priests, and deacons.  They bear grave responsibility which they may fail to handle well leaving everyone in jeopardy. 

Friday, October 20, and Monday, October 23, 2017

Friday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 4:1-8; Luke 12:1-7)

The French philosopher Albert Camus made a hero out of the rogue mythological king Sisyphus.  In Camus’ story Sisyphus temporarily redeems humanity by putting Death itself in chains.  As a punishment for his deception, the gods assign Sisyphus the task of pushing a boulder up a mountain.  It is an arduous task, but the worst part is that when Sisyphus near the summit, the gods arrange that the boulder falls to the bottom.  Then Sisyphus must repeat the travail. 

Sisyphus’ fate is not unlike the dilemma of humans without Christ.  Try as they might, humans on their own could never be justified before God.  The Law pointed them in the right direction, but proved to be more than any person on his or her own could fulfill.  St. Paul tells us today that justification comes by faith as it did in the case of Abraham.  In the coming days we will hear Paul proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection as the definitive content of faith.  To be justified, Paul will say, we must believe that God raised Jesus from the dead.

The news of justification through faith is too grand for a grim realist like Albert Camus to bear.  Camus thought that the best humans could do is to achieve integrity and, perhaps, an esprit de corps in carrying on the daily struggle of life until death.  But we Christians dare to hope for more because of the testimony of those like Paul.  He encountered the risen Jesus who changed his life and sent him to proclaim the message of eternal life.

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 4:20-25; Luke 12:13-21)

The Church of the early late fifteenth and early sixteenth century suffered from having too much wealth.  The popes acted more like princes than prophets.  Monks and religious hardly gave witness to the poverty of Jesus.  Sometimes, indeed, they had personal servants.  Understanding the incongruity of such comfort with religious profession, saints like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross began the reform the Carmelite Order.  They might have taken their cues from today’s gospel.

In the passage Jesus refuses to get involved in a family dispute over inheritance.  It is not that he wants to ignore real-life tensions.  Rather, he wants to testify that God, not material resources, brings salvation.  He calls the farmer in the parable a “fool” for not recognizing that the future is more in God’s hands than in his own.

Certainly we are challenged to live our faith in this time of abundance.  Everyday there are more “necessities” to obtain and “upgrades” to purchase.  We must not allow ourselves to be led astray by these ruses.  Rather, let us learn that the best we can do with material superfluity is to share it with the needy.  

Wednesday, October 18, and Thursday, October 19, 2017

Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

(II Timothy 4:10-17b; Luke 10:1-9)

If the Church were to use only one gospel, many people would want it to be the Gospel According to Luke.  Although not the most profound theologically, Luke’s Gospel shines in ways that touch the human heart deeply.  It gives the most detailed account of Jesus’ birth as well as of Mary, the mother of God.  It also relates the most memorable of Jesus’ parables and shows Jesus constantly in prayer.  This list could go on almost indefinitely.

We call the author of the third gospel “Luke” but cannot be sure who he was or even if “Luke” was really his name.   Several sources from the second century identify him with the Luke who is occasionally mentioned in the Pauline letters as we heard today.  Because at one point in these letters he is described as a “beloved physician,” he is honored by medical professionals as their patron.  He is also said to have painted a portrait of the Virgin Mother which is kept in the Basilica of St. Mary Major Thus, he enjoys the patronage of artists as well.  But it seems more accurate to name his profession as how he describes himself: an historical researcher who puts in good order the events of the life of Christ (see Luke 1:1-3). 

Yet Luke is more than a historian because his narrative, as we see in today’s gospel, announces the “kingdom of God.” Luke found that kingdom personified in Jesus himself who comes to show mercy on all.  Luke is especially careful to show the inclusiveness of this “all” as he is especially solicitous of the poor, women, and almost hopeless sinners. 

Memorial of Saints Jean Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, priest and martyrs, and companions, martyrs

(Romans 3:21-30; Luke 11:47-54)

A lovely story indicates the sanctity of the North American Martyrs whom we celebrate today.  St. Isaac Jogues was captured by the Iroquois and tortured terribly.  His fingers were cut off, but he was able to escape his captors and eventually returned to France for healing.  While there, he wrote the pope for permission to celebrate the Eucharist since Church law at the time specified that the priest’s hands must be intact to celebrate Mass.  The pope wrote back saying that anyone who sheds his blood for Christ should not be denied the privilege of drinking the blood of Christ. (Another note: at the time only priests at the altar drank from the chalice.)  Isaac then returned to North America where he was captured again and martyred.

In today first reading Paul tells how Christ died to save all – Jew and Gentile.  But to be saved one must believe in his death and resurrection.  Jean Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, and companions not only believed but also demonstrated their faith by risking their lives as missionaries.  Their eloquent testimony with blood has brought many Native Americans to embrace the faith and edifies the character of others.

Today we accept the doctrine of Vatican II that one does not have to explicitly profess faith in Christ for to be saved.  We hold that following one’s conscience can result in salvation.  But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that following one’s conscience is simply a matter of acting consistently with whatever values one claims.  No, one must discern that the God who made us also loves us and that we must follow His lead.  It is a tall order indeed to believe this without first-hand witness to Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 16, and Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 1:1-7; Luke 11:29-32)

In today’s first reading Paul from the Letter to the Romans calls himself “a slave of Christ.”  He does not mean that Christ forces him to do things against his will, quite the contrary.  Christ has freed him to act according to what his will most deeply desires. He writes further along in the letter of his former sinful condition, “For I do not the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (7:15).  Then he reports of being freed through faith in Christ.

The evil that Paul refers to is largely covetousness.  Humans want what does not belong to them.  It may be riches but as often as not it is illicit sexual pleasure.  Certainly one of the most confessed sins today is viewing pornography.  Viewing lascivious images depersonalizes sex and turns eros into individual gratification.

We are wise to turn to Christ when we are tempted by covetousness.  He enlightens the darkness of our hearts so that we can see clearly what is good for us.  He will give us the temperance to control our animal desires.  He will not treat us as slaves, but as younger sisters and brothers whom he wants to flourish in goodness and happiness.

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

(Romans 1:16-25; Luke 11:37-41)

In the early 1990s an American Dominican priest working among the poor in El Salvador began to receive death threats.  Determining them to be credible, the priest’s superior called him back to the United States.  No doubt, the priest returned with a divided heart.  He would have preferred to stay with his people, but such persistence might have cost his life.  St. Ignatius of Antioch evidently had a different perspective on a similar situation.

From the letters he wrote as he traveled from Antioch to his execution in Rome, we know that Ignatius looked forward to being martyred.  When it seemed that Christians might find a way to have the penalty commuted, Ignatius pleaded with them not to do so.  He evidently wanted to be eaten alive by lions.  It is not sacrilegious to ask whether his outlook may be in part pathological.

But Ignatius also knew the corruption in many pagan hearts.  To this Paul testifies in today’s first reading.  Pagans, Paul writes, abandon their consciences differentiating right from wrong to follow the whims of their hearts represented by idols.  By dying as a martyr, Ignatius witnesses to the truth that God has created us to be just and holy as He is.  He does not tarry in professing his faith because he knows that God will reward him soon.

Thursday, October 12, and Friday, October 13

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Malachi 3:13-20b; Luke 11:5-13)

Today’s first reading is reminiscent of the so-called “New Atheists.”  These writers not only expressed their disbelief in God but also showed contempt for Him.  One wrote a book entitled, “God Is Not Great.”  Another blamed religion – often defined as “the love of God” -- for most of the wars in history. 

The reading from the prophet Malachi looks at the world from God’s perspective.  It expresses His outrage that people would deny that they have defied God after commending evil-doers and doubting the need to repent of one’s sins.  God then promises justice.  He says that those who fear Him will be duly rewarded while those who flouted His authority will perish.

We must take care not to become too impressed with the arguments of the “New Atheists.”  Generally they can be reduced to the questions people have asked for centuries.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why do bad people seem to prosper?  It is good to keep in mind that Jesus, the Son of God, suffered terribly before being raised to glory.  Walking in his way is to often skirt trouble, but completing the journey is to find true happiness.

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Joel 1:13-15.2:1-2; Luke 11:15-26)

A local parish just had its first “Christ Renews His Church” retreat.  The men responded well.  Most who signed up for the event attended, and most who came on Friday night stayed until Sunday.  But the end of the retreat was not the end of the process.  As the retreat was closing, the leaders scheduled a follow-up meeting where the men would share how they felt returning to “the world.”  Such follow-ups are prevalent in popular movements from Cursillos to Marriage Encounters.  Jesus hints at their necessity in today’s gospel.

Jesus has just driven out a demon.  The people wonder how he obtained such power.  He tries to convince them that it comes from God not the devil because the devil would not work against himself.  Then Jesus teaches the people that once cleaned of their impurities they must stay close to the Lord.  He might say that trying to remain in virtue without prayer and penitence is trying to stay clean without soap and water.  As he puts it, the devil can return with evil spirits more pernicious than what possessed the person before.

We do not use the terminology of spirits and demons even of evil today.  But this does not mean that they do not exist.  More sophisticated, we typically call the moral problems people face vices, deviant behaviors, and the like.  In any case, once we emerge from a bout with evil, we are wise to remain close to the Lord so that greater problems do not overwhelm us. 

Tuesday, October 10, and Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 10:38-42)

Since no historical records exist of the mass conversion of Nineveh and since the story of Jonah drips with exaggeration, the book is taken as an instruction to later Jews rather than a chronicle of an actual event.  It certainly indicates God’s will that other peoples be saved.  It also warns against prejudice.

Nineveh’s complete repentance is seen in the way both king and people change their hearts.  This sense is punctuated by dressing the animals in sackcloth.  Given that every society has some backsliders, Jews would have marveled to hear how thorough the conversion of their feared neighbors to the northeast was.  These were the same barbarians who had ravaged their ancestors.  Perhaps, the Jews could conclude, they are not as bad as they seemed.

The Book of Jonah is instructive to us as well.  It tells us not to consider any people or any person as beyond saving.  God works wonders. Those whom we may regard as despicable may come to surpass us in rendering true worship to God.

Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 4:1-11; Luke 11:1-4)

With Halloween approaching, let’s reflect on what the word means.  We find a form of it in the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer read in today’s liturgy.  The prayer asks God to make “hallowed” His name.  It is a request that God’s name be reverenced or made holy.  The word Halloween is short for all hallows even, the eve of all the holy ones.  We have a sense of this meaning since the next day we celebrate the Feast of All Saints.

When we pray “hallowed be your name,” we express our desire that God’s name be reverenced throughout the world.  We want God to be honored and obeyed that He might have His due glory and we might live in peace with all.  It is then a giant petition even though it sounds simple.

The movement toward a universal recognition of God’s name should begin with us.  We should do more than not take His name in vain.  We should give it honor by testifying to others our gratefulness and continuous need for God.

Friday, October 6, and Monday, October 9, 2017

Friday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time 
(Baruch 1:15-22; Luke 10:13-16) 
In 1863 Abraham Lincoln signed a bill declaring a “day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer.” America was experiencing the blight of civil war and rightly held itself responsible. “We have forgotten God,” the bill declared, and also “we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace.”  Such a public call to repentance would never be made today.  But it is exactly what Jesus expects in today’s gospel. 
Chorazain, Bethsaida, and Capernaum – these are not notoriously bad cities.  There sin is likely a malaise that prevents them from noticing that the Messiah stands in their midst.  Rather than repent, they carry on business as usual.  Jesus declares that they have missed their opportunity, that their train left the station, that they will be left in oblivion. 
Just because our nation may never repent does not mean that individuals or groups should not.  We do offend God and should ask pardon and do penance.  While we are at it, let us go beyond the superficial.  We get angry ourselves and make others angry, but these are hardly the worse of our sins.  More grievously, we lie, lust, and ridicule.  We ignore the needs of others while we forever grasp at what our hearts desire.   

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary time 
(Jonah 1:1-2:2.11; Luke 10:25-37) 
A few years ago a leading Catholic university removed the crucifixes from its classrooms.  Having a multi-ethnic student body, the university administration reasoned that the crucifixes might offend students of other religious traditions.  One Muslim student, however, was bothered by the removal.  After all, he asked, what kind of guest would he be if he could not respect the symbols and artifacts of his hosts’ religion?  Eventually, the crucifixes were returned to the classrooms, and their removal, no doubt, was attributed to political correctness. 
The Book of the Prophet Jonah similarly testifies to people from other religions showing greater sensibility to true religion than they of the dominant tradition.  Jonah, the Jew, is disgusted with the Lord for his parallel love of other peoples.  He flees when God commands him to preach in the city of Nineveh, Israel’s captors.  In his flight the sailors on the ship that transports Jonah show more regard for the Lord than he.  They pray to God for help and shudder to think that their act of appeasement may not please God. 
We find Jesus making a similar point in the gospel.  He describes the Samaritan who comes to the aid of the dying stranger as giving God greater praise than the priest and Levite who, most likely for liturgical reason, would not touch him.  Everyone is wise to recognize the Holy Spirit working among different peoples and religions just as surely as it lavishes graces upon her or him.