Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Judges 9:6-15; Matthew 20:1-16)

“Some people have all the luck,” we say when we wonder why others have better looks, bigger muscles, or more brains than we.  We are like the workers in today’s gospel who come to complain about the supposedly unfair pay they have received.  They want to do something about the matter.  People today think that they can do something as well.  They want to manipulate their genetic makeup so that at least their children may look better, feel stronger, and think more swiftly.

But even scientists warn that it’s a bad idea to try to determine future outcomes by genetic manipulation.  Human makeup is so complex that trying to improve one part of it may well result in injury to another.  Also, success in life is more than the sum of one’s looks, strength, and intelligence.  It is best to accept one’s genes for what they are and then strive to become the best person that one can be.

Jesus indicates as much in the parable.  Those who complain about the salary they receive are sent packing by the owner of the vineyard.  Meanwhile those who work hard and receive gratefully what they are given appear doubly blessed.  We are wise to take our cues from them.  Let us not worry about our shortcomings but make most of the talent given to us.  We are wise to thank God daily and ask His help to be His true daughters and sons.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Judges 2:11-19; Matthew 19:23-30)

“Bear” Bryant, the football coach, won the reputation of being a harsh and successful taskmaster.  His players were notoriously slim, not because they didn’t eat but because he trained them so hard.  Coach Bryant’s teams won six national titles in his twenty-five years as the head coach at the University of Alabama.  In today’s gospel Jesus presents himself similarly as the one who leads his disciples to their goal.

The passage challenges its readers.  It seems to indicate that the sure way to eternal life is to renounce wealth and follow Jesus.  It may be asked then, “Are only vowed religious guaranteed a place in heaven?”  An affirmative answer here is faulty on two levels.  First, it misses Jesus’ point that eternal life is not so much a matter of being destitute but of following him.  True, the young man in question is ostensibly called to poverty, but more generally the sine qua non of eternal life is adherence to Jesus, not forfeiting possessions.  Also, taking a vow of poverty or even living in radical poverty does not necessarily mean having a virtuous life.  Again, eternal life is a matter of taking one’s cues from Jesus.

But we should not be overly consoled by the understanding that renunciation of wealth is not absolutely necessary for eternal life.  The rich very often find their greatest satisfaction in what they can do for themselves and not in what God does for them.  Such a stance is incongruent with following Jesus.

Monday, August 23, 2017

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Judges 2:11-19; Matthew 19:16-22)

We think of judges as magistrates who interpret laws and rules in public settings.  The judges of a dance competition, for example, determine which dancers best reflect the principles of agility, creativity, and clarity of expression.  But interpretation is not the principal function of the judges of the Old Testament.  Rather than sit back and decide, these men and women led the people forward by reestablishing righteousness when the ways of God were forsaken. 

Today’s reading from the Book of Judges indicates the difficulty that Israel’s judges faced.  The people were not given to keeping the Covenant which their ancestors made with the Lord.  Rather, they followed the heathen practices of their non-Israelite neighbors.  Their waywardness led to internal weakness and hence subjugation by foreign powers.  God raised up judges to stir ardor within the tribes of Israel to follow His ways.  Regretfully, however, the new righteousness was always short-lived.

The failure of judges to produce lasting goodness eventually gave way to the period of kings who consolidated the tribes and, at least initially, had some success in transforming the people’s errant ways.  Although this arrangement ultimately failed as well, it did bring the hope of a messiah who would bring about lasting righteousness throughout the world.  Jesus fulfilled this expectation by establishing not a political state but a holy people living in every land.  We make up part of this people today and try with all our soul to live up to Jesus’ righteousness. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Joshua 24:1-13; Matthew 19:3-12)

Once crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, I came to the toll booth and was waved on.  When I stopped to inquire why I didn’t have to pay, the toll collector said that the woman in the car ahead of me paid my toll.   I do not know the reason for the woman’s generosity. She did not know me.  Indeed, she could hardly have even seen me.  I presume that she felt grateful about something in her life and just wanted to help another person. 

As the woman was probably the recipient of a favor that she had received, Joshua reminds the Israelites in today’s first reading that their fortune is not their own doing.  Indeed, God has been their benefactor at every stage of their illustrious saga.  The point is that the people should be grateful to God by heeding His commands which are in good part directed to social solidarity.

We must beware that selfishness and greed does not allow us to forget God and neighbor.  All of us, as Joshua says, are beneficiaries of land that we did not till and cities that we did not build.  Richly endowed by our forebears, we are not so much to pay them back as to pay others forward.  That is, we are to give thanks by helping others.  We are to contribute to efforts which shape a society where everyone can live, grow, and prosper.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Joshua 3:7-10a.11.13-17; Matthew 18:21-19:1)

Thanks to Cecil B. De Mille most people know that the Bible depicts the Red Sea splitting in two so that the Israelites might escape the Egyptian charioteers.  Few, however, are aware of the Jordan River parting so the God’s Chosen Ones might enter the Promised Land.  The first reading today from the Book of Joshua tells this second story.  The responsorial psalm also refers to it.  This same psalm is part of the Liturgy of the Hours for Easter Sunday evening which helps us understand the meaning of the event in Christian eyes.

The Church reads the Old Testament as foretelling the person and mission of Jesus Christ.  Theologians call such a reading typology.  The story of the Ark of the Covenant leading the Israelites through the Jordan is a type for Christ’s bringing his followers into the fullness of God’s kingdom.  Jesus is for us the Holy of Holies whose death and resurrection make it possible for us to transverse the otherwise impassible gulf between earth and heaven.

If Jesus facilitates the crossing, then what must we do?  Our role in our salvation is both nothing and everything.  All that is required of us is to believe in Jesus by following his commands.  The gospel demonstrates the paradox of this challenge.  You would think it would be nothing for the servant whose master has just written off his large debt to forgive the small debt of a fellow servant.  But no, the servant – probably thinking “this is a different case” – punishes his counterpart.  We must not do likewise; rather, we are to open our hearts to those who genuinely ask forgiveness just as Christ has opened the way to our salvation.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 9:1-7.10:18-22; Matthew 18:15-20)

Internet applications like Skype and Facetime give contemporary women and men the experience of talking to others face-to-face without actually being in their presence. However, marvelous such conversations may be, they are hardly as intimate as being in one another’s presence.  In fact one of the current issues in prison reform is assuring that prisoners have direct, not electronic, access to visitors. In the first reading today, Moses is exulted for having known the Lord “face to face.” But what do these words mean and how do they compare with Christian belief that Christ saw the Father?

Various interpretations of the words are given.  Some say they do not indicate a direct encounter with the Lord because in the Book of Exodus God tells Moses that “’no one shall see me and live’” (33:20).  Of course, there is also the very real question of God, a purely spiritual being, having a material face.  It is best to conclude that Moses enjoyed a spiritual intimacy with God like no one else before the writing of the Book of Deuteronomy. 

At one point in Deuteronomy Moses himself mentions another prophet who will come after him.  This prophet will have God’s own words in his mouth and bring a definitive revelation of God’s will.  We find fulfillment of this prophecy in Jesus Christ.  The Gospel of John quotes him as saying, at least indirectly, that he has seen the Father: “’Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father’” (6:46).  His seeing of the Father constitutes a knowing that goes beyond Moses’ spiritual intimacy.  It is a divine indwelling whereby as Jesus again says in John: “(He) and the Father are one’” (10:30).  An approximation of this indwelling with its accompanying knowledge of God is what is promised to followers of Jesus in the beatitudes: “’Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God’” (Matthew 5:8).

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Revelation 19a.12:1-6a.10ab; I Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56)

In its first few centuries the Church had to distinguish itself from Gnosticism.  This is the belief that the human self is primarily his or her mind that lives in a body much like an idea can be said to be contained in a book.  Adherents of Gnosticism, called Gnostics, have a love-hate relationship with their bodies. Some consider their bodies as all material reality; i.e., doomed to extinction.  They loathe their bodies as the font of sin.  Others hold that since their bodies do not matter in the long run, they may take advantage of them in any way they like.  They can enjoy the pleasures of wanton eating and sex without worrying how these actions might affect them.  What is more, they think that until the mind develops and when it deteriorates beyond awareness, no person is present so that the body may be destroyed.

Christian faith, of course, takes a very different view.  Since we believe that God took on human flesh, for us the body is more than the soul’s container.  It interacts with the soul to form a dynamic entity.  We could not be who we are without our bodies.  More than that, since we believe that Christ rose bodily from the dead and that his followers are destined to experience the same resurrection, our bodies have eternal importance.  For this reason we take care of our bodies, we know that abortion and euthanasia are wrong, and we realize that it is important to keep marriage as a monogamous relationship between a man and a woman.

Today’s celebration recognizes the importance of the human body.  We see in Mary’s being assumed body and soul into glory God’s validation of the human body as good and permanent.  Of course, this was first done with Jesus’ resurrection, but now we are even more assured that it is the destiny of all Jesus’ followers.  Mary herself recognized the importance of the body as she sings God’s praises when Elizabeth mentions that she bears the Lord in her womb.  Likewise – and this is something that all of us should imitate – Mary demonstrates the importance of the body as she goes to personally visit Elizabeth when she hears of her pregnancy.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, martyr

(Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Matthew 17:22-27)

St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan friar working in Poland until he was arrested by the Gestapo.  Committed to Auschwitz, Kolbe saw an opportunity to show his love for God when another prisoner was being sent to death for a crime that he did not commit.  Because the man had a family, Kolbe offered himself as a substitute.  Pope St. John Paul II considered this act a genuine witness to the faith and canonized Maximillian Kolbe as a martyr.  In today’s first reading Moses exhorts the people to likewise give witness to their love of God.  But he does not ask them to die for God but to live for him.

The Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land.  They have every reason to hope that they and their children will have all the resources they will need to live in prosperity.  But Moses, conveying the will of God, wants more than that for them.  He wants them to fulfill their destiny of being a model of God’s justice.  So he exhorts them to remember God’s graciousness to them and to their ancestors.  He is especially concerned that they treat other peoples fairly for, he says, “…you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”

As mass immigration has become a reality in all parts of the world, we should highlight these words of Moses.  It is difficult to sojourn in different lands with different customs and a different language.  Immigrants need understanding, fairness and even compassion.  Such treatment would show our solidarity not just across national boundaries but among generations.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Memorial of Saint Clare of Assisi, virgin

(Deuteronomy 4: 32-40; Matthew 16:24-28)

The Book of Deuteronomy reads like a reflective summary of the first four books of the Pentateuch.  It literally means second law: that is, the review of the law that God gave Moses for Israel.  In today’s reading Moses exhorts the people to remember all the good things that the Lord has done for them and to respond to His love by being faithful to His commands.

God’s goodness began with His choosing Israel from all the peoples of the earth to be especially His own.  Certainly Abraham trusted God, but there were other faithful men and women people whom God did not choose to parent His people.  God also rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt in quite astounding ways.  Finally, God taught His people justice so that they might prosper not just for a generation or a century but forever.

However God’s plan was not to limit Himself to the Semitic nation on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.  Rather, he meant to include all nations into His people.  This has been accomplished through His Son, Jesus.  If Deuteronomy is a second law in the sense that it reviews the law already given, Jesus gives a fresh second law that touches deeper dimensions of the human spirit.  Today’s gospel expresses part of what Jesus’ law entails: anyone and everyone might join God’s people by choosing to walk with him.  Like Jesus we are not to evade our responsibilities – our crosses.  Rather we are to carry them out to completion.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr

(II Corinthians 9:6-10; John 12:24-26)

In Italy today’s feast of St. Lawrence may be celebrated by looking up at the night sky.  It is the time of year when shooting stars instill a sense of awe in the observer.  Stories about St. Lawrence provide hearers with a similar awe.

Lawrence was the deacon of the Church of Rome in charge of its treasury at the time of the persecution of the emperor Valerian.  When government officials demanded that he produce for them the church’s treasures, Lawrence led them to the city’s poor.  For this act of defiance, he was sentenced to death by burning.  It is said that during his execution he quipped to his executioners that he was well done on one side and they might turn him to be roasted on the other.

Most everyone wants to be recognized as unique in some way.  Currently it is fashionable to have one’s body tattooed in a singular way.  That seems like a dubious way to stand out.  We might encourage our young people to aspire to be different like St. Lawrence.  Rather than being known for doing something odd, they should want to excel in caring for others and enduring trials patiently.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Numbers 13:1-2.25-14.1.26a-29a.34-35; Matthew 15:21-28)

Today’s gospel not only shows the value of persistent prayer but also the valor of a woman who seeks the welfare of her child.  We must take care not to be scandalized by the remark of Jesus comparing non-Jews to dogs.  He only means that his mighty works are not done to impress people.  Rather, they are meant to foster a living faith in God’s care for His people.  As the woman shows that faith, Jesus readily grants her request.

Rather than contrast the urgency of the woman’s plea with the hesitation of Jesus to help her, it is more instructive to note the difference between the disciple’s desire to dismiss the woman and Jesus’ willingness to listen to her.  Like the disciples we may not want to attend to people who come begging for assistance.  It is true that granting them what they ask often is not prudent and sometimes not possible.  But we do not have to dismiss them and much less ignore them. We could listen to their needs, respond in truth and courtesy, and pray for their welfare.  Such actions are expected of us if we are truly the Lord’s servants.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Memorial of Saint Dominic Guzman, priest

(Numbers 12:1-13; Matthew 14:22-36)

The Chicago archdiocese used to be the largest in the United States.  Churches were found in almost every neighborhood, and the faithful packed them on Sundays.  It is a different story today.  Many parishes lack a resident pastor, and whole pews go empty during Sunday mass.  The Church there, as in many dioceses in North America and Europe, is experiencing crisis.  The situation is anticipated in today’s gospel.

The boatful of disciples being tossed about by the waves represents the Church after Jesus’ resurrection.  It is suffering persecution and rejection by the Jews in Israel.  Mission activity is more successful but not necessarily easier.  Preachers like St. Paul undergo supreme hardship in preaching the gospel in faraway places.  The reading shows Jesus coming to the aid of his Church.  He saves his head disciple from drowning and brings peace to the threatening elements.

St. Dominic lived in another time of pastoral challenge.  Catholics of southern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were abandoning the church because of the bad example of some of the clergy.  At the same time they were accepting an old heresy called Manicheanism which held that all material things are bad and all spiritual things are good.  Dominic took up the challenge.  He put his faith in the Lord of the gospels, preached the goodness of all creation, and lived simply and joyfully.  His efforts, assisted by the same Lord, gradually won back many of those who had fallen-away.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Numbers 11:4b-15; Matthew 14:13-21)

People’s complaining about government services has a long history.  Today citizens expect a host of benefits – education of children, protection from mercantile fraud as well as the building of roads and the defense from foreign powers.  The first reading today shows what people in Moses’ day demanded.

The Israelites have become tired of eating manna.  Although it provides them calories, they evidently find it bland to the taste.  In any case because it is all they have to eat, they have begun to abhor it.  They take their case against God to Moses, his representative.  “Give us something else;” they demand, “it was better for us in Egypt.”

We might call the people ungrateful for forgetting the drudgery of life in the old country.  But God is more understanding.  He will provide meat to enhance their diet.  Much more significantly, in time he will send his Son Jesus to feed them the Bread of Life.  In today’s gospel Jesus gives his listeners a foretaste of the banquet to come.  The people receive sustenance for the journey home.  One day they will remember this ersatz meal as like the Eucharist.  In that meal they will be nourished spiritually so that they may experience eternal life.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Memorial of Saint John Vianney, priest

(Leviticus 23:1.4-11.15-16.27.34b-37; Matthew 13:54-58)

In one of his novels Larry McMurtry tells the story of an antique collector who buys a precious item from the owners of a second-hand store.  The owners ask a price many times below the object’s value because they do not know its real worth.  In the gospel today the townspeople where Jesus grew up similarly do not recognize Jesus for who he really is. 

The people of Nazareth think that they know Jesus because they know his family.  They cannot comprehend that he is the long awaited Messiah who comes to save Israel.  Even his miraculous cures and his wonderful teaching do not convince them but just confound them more.

Some of us may likewise be scandalized by the ways that Jesus makes himself present today.  We do not meet him at a grand banquet which we have to pay thousands of dollars to attend.  No, he is present in the simple hosts and the inexpensive wine that we bring to the altar.  His teachings promising eternal life are also neither complex nor enigmatic.  Rather, they contain the straightforward message that we are to love God above all and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We must be careful not to reject Jesus as his townspeople do in the gospel.  Quite the contrary, we must be ever grateful that he makes himself available to us and to all.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 40:16-21.34-38; Matthew 13:47-53)

We might call the significance of the two parables in today’s gospel “a matter of emphasis.”  Jesus emphasizes the bad fish and the new teaching.  He summarily says the good fish will be put into buckets but explains that corrupt people are like bad fish and will be thrown in fiery furnaces.  Jesus more subtly emphasizes his new teaching in the storeroom of wisdom by inverting the expected order of words.  Rather than speaking of old before new, he gives priority to his new teaching before the ancient wisdom of the Scriptures.

The new teaching is the kingdom of heaven which now has definitively come through Jesus’ presence.  It brings joy, peace, and happiness to those who repent of their sins.  The old teaching – the Law and its commandments – has not been suspended but human concern goes beyond keeping its statues.  The bad fish are those who never repent, that is, never look at their faults, ask forgiveness, or endeavor to live Jesus’ new righteousness.

Here again Jesus challenges the sensibilities of the modern world.  We like to think that we can get away with doing evil.  Many have no problem with telling a lie or absenting themselves from Mass on Sundays as long as they help the poor.  Jesus is indicating that there is a problem.  He would agree with the ancient Greek moralists who said, “First, do no evil.”  Likewise, many today have trouble saying, “I’m sorry.”  Jesus would want us to do so every time we err.  It is part of what he intends when he tells us to repent.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 34:29-35; Matthew 13:44-46)

One of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures shows Moses with horns coming out of his head!  It was not that Michelangelo thought Moses some kind of devil.  Rather he was faithfully depicting the figure described in the Latin Bible that was used at the time.  In it the Hebrew word for radiance was incorrectly translated as horn.  Hence the great sculptor and religious devotee shapes horns protruding from Moses’ head.  Moses is radiant, of course, from having spent time with God who imparts his wisdom to him in the Ten Commandments. 

The gospels speak of Jesus as having a similar radiance when he is transformed on the mountaintop.  He also has seen God face-to-face.  We learn from him even more clearly God’s will for us.  Today’s gospel expresses that will as seeking the kingdom of God.  It tells us not to allow anything or anyone to take priority to living the joy and peace of that life.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Exodus 33:7-11.34:5b-9.28; Matthew 13:36-43)

Adoration has become again a central feature of Catholic devotion.  Almost abandoned for decades, most parishes are now designating parts of days, whole days, and even ongoing days for praying before the Blessed Sacrament.  Chapels on college campuses as well often have regular hours of Eucharistic devotion.  Evidently people today just as in Moses’ time according to today’s first reading feel the need to commune with the Lord.

The reading specifies that the meeting tent was open to everyone.  What is more, when Moses entered the tent, everyone would pray before his or her own tent.  As one commentator says, “Everyone’s life was oriented toward meeting God.”  No doubt, they share with the Lord both personal and communal needs.  They want to know God’s will for them and also seek His help in carrying out their responsibilities.

Today the Church honors St. Alphonsus Ligouri, an eighteenth century theologian and bishop.  More than most St. Alphonsus was able to clarify what God expects of people.  When we go to him in prayer, he will help us to find our way to God. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, priest

(Exodus 32:14-24.30.34; Matthew 13:31-35)

St. Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus to be like yeast in today’s gospel parable.  Although relatively few in comparison to the great numbers they serve, Jesuits have a tremendous enhancing effect.  Their power results from education but even more than that from a Christ-centered spirituality which gives them the focus and drive of St. Paul.   

Jesuits also go into the world which may be compared to the three measures of wheat flour.  In the beginning their mission was not to found monasteries where people could come for sanctification or communities from which they could go forth and retreat to preach the gospel.  No, they have traditionally been associated with the “front lines” engaging the people with an authentic interpretation of the gospel. 

The achievement of the Jesuits has been impressive.  Like the “whole batch” of bread mentioned in the gospel parable, Jesuits have been instrumental in bringing many to Christ.  They have established centers of learning throughout the world.  They have become not only among the best of theologians, but leaders in every ministry field.  As much as anyone Pope Francis epitomizes what the Jesuits.  He is well-learned but humble.  He can rub shoulders with the powerful but is at home with the poor.  He has accomplished much in his eighty years but is above all a prayerful man dependent upon God. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 13:18-23)

People often speak of the necessity to set boundaries.  These are limits that allow relationships to develop without friction.  For example, a person may tell friends that he does not want to be called after 10 p.m.  Often boundaries are implied by the nature of a relationship.  Teachers should not date their students even when both are adults. 

In the first reading today God sets boundaries for humans.  Not keeping the Sabbath or stealing injures our relationship with the Lord.  It should be noted, however, that a literal observance of the Ten Commandments hardly fulfills one’s responsibilities as a Christian.  It is not enough that she refrain from worshipping idols; she must also love God with her whole mind and heart.  It is not enough that he not covet his neighbor’s wife; he must love his neighbor as himself.  This is why, when asked, Jesus did not name any of the Ten Commandments as the greatest.

In writing his moral theology Thomas Aquinas did not concentrate on the commandments.  He realized that if we are to come to know God, we have to do much more than follow rules.  We have to practice virtue.  This is a huge task that might exhaust us from the get-go except for the Holy Spirit.  God breathes this life into our bones so that we might not only avoid evil but also might do good.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 19:1-2. 9-11.16-20b; Matthew 13:10-17)

We think of parables as little stories that illustrate what Jesus is trying to teach.  They are like the vignettes a high school teacher used to tell to make a point.  Most of his students will remember the anecdote about the bank robber Willie Loman.  Asked once why he robbed banks, Loman famously replied, “…because that’s where the money is.”  Then the teacher told his students that they must decide what is most important in life and, like Willie Loman, go after it.

In today’s gospel passage, however, Jesus says that he uses parables to confuse his listeners: “’This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’”  It is only right to ask, what gives?  The evangelist Matthew, writing perhaps fifty years after Jesus, knows that many people have already rejected the message of the gospel.  But even in Jesus’ time many follow him with no intention of heeding his call to repentance.  They merely want to see him work a wonder. For the first group Jesus death and resurrection will seem like a fantasy.  For the second his stories will sound so.

But, hopefully, it is not this way for us.  We believe that Jesus has the words of eternal life and want to follow his teachings.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary    

(Exodus 16:1-5.9-15; Matthew 13:10-17)

A senior citizen tries to pass on the Catholic faith to his adolescent grandson.  When the youth spends a weekend with him, he invariably takes him to Sunday mass.  The youth tells him that he enjoys the experience; however, he has yet to express interest in committing himself to the Church.  Today as we honor Saints Anne and Joachim, the parents of Mary and thus the grandparents of Jesus, we may speculate on their contribution to Jesus’ faith commitment.  

It may be presumed that Anne and Joachim raised Mary as a devout Jew.  They taught her how to wait upon the Lord and instructed her not to follow the winds of the time.  They reminded Mary of how God loves His people and will come to their aid in distress.  Mary, in turn, passed on these instructions to Jesus who perfectly fulfilled God’s will by his sacrifice on the cross.

Catholic grandparents today often have to teach their grandchildren the rudiments faith.  Their own children have often become so alienated from God and the Church that they understand religion as a set of dispensable rites to mark the passage of time.  Where this is the case, grandparents need to convey how human nature is distorted by sin but redeemed by Jesus’ death and resurrection.  They also want to show how heeding Jesus’ words leads to happiness and how embracing him in the sacraments will give them the strength to listen and follow.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Saint James, apostle

(II Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 20:20-28)

As gruesome statistics testify, women are often abused by the men in their lives.  Despite its affront to human dignity, domestic violence too often goes unreported and, consequently, unaddressed.  Domestic violence comprises the proverbial “elephant in the room” of which everyone is aware, but no one wants to talk about.  Sometimes, however, someone breaks the stifling silence to report the crime.  That person acts prophetically like, it is easy to imagine, James the Apostle whose feast we are celebrating today.

The gospel pictures James as the son of Zebedee who, along with his brother John, boldly answers that he can drink from the chalice that Jesus is about to take.  The Acts of the Apostles testifies that James did indeed suffer martyrdom. In fact, it appears that he was the first of the Twelve to do so.  Perhaps he spoke up boldly again when Herod Agrippa’s henchmen started looking for Jesus’ followers.  In any case he gave witness to the Lord with his life.

Probably more often than we want to admit we too should speak up in Christ’s name.  When we see hints of domestic violence, for example, we should at least ask questions.  Giving witness to Christ is more than dying at the hands of people who hate him.  It includes raising our voices, as Jesus did, on behalf of the oppressed.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 14:5-18; Matthew 12:28-32)

When I was a young man discerning a vocation to the priesthood, someone advised me to look for a sign.  It sounded like a good idea, but I never found one.  I entered the Dominican Order with questions that were resolved only years later.  Signs are problematic.  They are difficult to read and the demand for them may attest to a faulty faith.

The Pharisees and scribes want a sign from Jesus.  He has already given them indications that he is God’s messenger.  But they insist on a sign on demand which amounts to testing God.  Jesus spurns the request.  In time – he tells his inquisitors – they will have their sign, but even then they will not believe.

We should not blame others for not believing in Jesus.  Full acceptance of his teaching requires the gift of faith.  But we continue to believe that he is the Son of God who has won for us eternal life because of the signs that surround us.  Everyday we see selfless acts of love performed by people who have committed themselves to him.  We also perform such acts so that those around us may believe in Jesus as well.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 11:10-12:14; Matthew 12:1-8)

The name April comes from the Latin aprilis which is derived from the word meaning to open.  It is thought that the month was called April because it was the time when flowers began to open (bloom).  Because the Passover feast is usually celebrated during April as are Good Friday and Easter Sunday, another sense of opening is indicated.  The events associated with these days mark the opening or beginning of human liberation.

Viewing the gospel through the lens of today’s passage from Exodus deepens one’s appreciation of Christ’s mission.  Like the wool of an unblemished lamb, his life is not tainted by sin.  Moreover, its purity is infinitely richer because he performs works of love.  As the blood of the lamb spread on the lintel of every house saved the people from the judgment of God on Egypt, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross saves his followers from the judgment their sins merit.  And as the roasted flesh of the lamb provides the Israelites with food for the journey to freedom, so Christ’s flesh gives Christians the freedom to live imitating his goodness.

At times in the history of the Church some have considered the Old Testament extraneous and dispensable.  Fortunately, wiser minds have always prevailed.  As we see today, the Old Testament gives needed perspective to understand the depth of Jesus’ victory on our behalf.  Indeed, the Old Testament enables us to understand who he is.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 3:13-20; Matthew 11:28-30)

“Call me whatever you like,” people used to kid, “just don’t call me late for dinner.” Did they really mean that?  Is it all right to be called anything whatsoever as long as one has three squares a day? The first reading today indicates something different.

When Moses asks God for a name, God responds enigmatically. It is not easy to interpret what “I am who am” means.  Some philologists find the term a way to conceal one’s identity.  For them it means “I am what I am (and that’s enough for you to know).”  They understand God as saying that He is a mystery who remains beyond human comprehension.  Others find the term more revelatory.  They would say that God is declaring Himself to have all Being as His essence.  For them God is the source and horizon of all that is.

In any case the purpose of God giving His name here is to tell the people of Israel that He is on call to help them.  They now know where to look when troubles pile up.  In time God will come even closer to His people.  He will present Himself in the person of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps today’s gospel passage indicates God’s readiness to help us as well as any.  Jesus invites us to go to him when we find life burdensome.  He assures us that we will find our relief in him.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 3:1-6.9-12; Matthew 11:25-27)

The other day a woman left a picture of her five-year old grandson Luke in the sacristy.  She asked for prayers for the boy who had a brain tumor.  After mass she explained that the surgeons operated on him once but couldn’t tell if they were the tumor or his brain.  Now they were operating again.  How, people ask, could God allow a child to be stricken so?  As terrible as Luke’s cancer is, there are certainly other more perplexing calamities taking place all the time.  Why, we might as well ask, does humanity continue to suffer so much from poverty, disease, natural calamity, and war?

We believers often put the question another way.  If God is as good and as powerful as we claim, why does He not halt the violence, end the disease, and stem the disaster?  These are ancient questions that resist definitive answers.  But there are multiple attestations in Scripture showing how God takes note of human suffering and acts to relieve its conditions.  In today’s first reading we hear of God coming to the rescue of Israel trapped in an intolerably unjust situation.

God not only will deliver the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt but will also form them according to His law.  Looking back on the history of Israel, we Christians recognize that the Israelites’ unique covenant with God will not be enough to stem the tide of evil.  A more powerful solution will be required.  This will be God’s sending in time His son to save humanity.  But even that will not end suffering on earth.  Evil is no weed easy to uproot.  Still victory belongs to those who conform themselves to Christ.  He will relocate them in a new world where war, disease, and disaster are eternally void.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 2:1-15a; Matthew 11:20-24)

Other than Abraham Lincoln, no American president is better known for his moral character than George Washington.  The first president was courageous and restrained.  He sacrificed his comfort in order to serve his country.  He also arranged for the release of his slaves.  He might be compared with Moses in today’s first reading.

The incidents described in the reading portray Moses as a man of justice.  He slays the Egyptian to protect the defenseless from unjust aggression.  He admonishes the Hebrew who picked a fight with another to indicate the need for solidarity among the oppressed.  His sterling character makes him an excellent choice to lead his nation from slavery to freedom.

Moral excellence is even more attributable to Jesus.  The gospels portray him as literally flawless.  In today’s passage he cries out to the towns of Galilee exhorting them to heed his call to repentance.  Virtue will eventually impel Jesus to confront the dual powers of religion and state in Jerusalem so that the people would finally heed his message.  “’The Kingdom is at hand!’” he continually says.  So let us give up our vices in order to fully experience it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 1:8-14.22; Matthew 10:34-11:1)

The word genocide catches people attention. Since the Nazis killed over six millions Jews in an attempted genocide during World War II, nations react with concern when the claim is made.  Three years ago, for example, spokespersons for Christians in Iraq were able to win U.S. support for the beleaguered group by showing how ISIS was attempting genocide against it.  In the first reading today the Egyptians have genocide in mind as they deal with the Israelites.

The conditions for genocide are rife.  The Israelites, once no more than an extended family, have become a numerous and prosperous nation.  The ruling Egyptian kingdom views them as a potential threat to their rule.  The overlords try to wear the Israelites down with increased work, but added labor seems to make the Israelites more industrious.  As a final solution to the threat, the Egyptian pharaoh orders the death of all Israelite boys.  The girls would be married to Egyptians and their offspring assimilated in the dominant culture. 

Pharaoh’s plan, of course, fails and the Israelites are led out of Egypt to the desert where they are formed as God’s chosen people.  The saga clues us on how to deal with oppression.  We are not to give into evil but to maintain our noblest values.  As Jesus shows in today’s gospel, we are to honor those who bear the word of God and cherish that word as the source of our hope in own goodness.hi

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 46:1-7.28-20; Matthew 10:16-23)

A Mexican child will answer the call of a parent by saying, “Mande,” meaning, “Send (me).”  The implication is that the child will do whatever he is commanded.  We find this willingness to comply in the first reading when Israel responds to the call of the Lord, “Here I am.”  In other often quoted biblical texts, Samuel goes to Eli saying, “Here I am.  I come to do your will” and of the Virgin Mary answers the angel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to your word.”  It should be noted that Israel did not always acquiesce to God’s will.  As a young man, he cheated his brother in order to obtain his father’s blessing.  Through a slow but sure process, however, God has taught Israel how to trust in Him. 

Willingness to conform to God’s will is one requirement of fathering a great nation.  Another, more obvious need is to assure the welfare of one’s family.  Israel proves that he has looked after this concern when he travels to Egypt to be reunited with his son Joseph.  He has been faithful to the tradition of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham although he followed it in a highly individual way.

Jesus also manifests these two traits of nation-building.  He implicitly follows his Father’s will to the end, and he sends his Spirit, as today’s gospel indicates, to protect his apostles.  With such care the Church has become like a great nation that gives God glory throughout the earth.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 44:18-21.23b-29.45:1-5; Matthew 10:7-15)

“I have six pence, jolly, jolly six pence/ I have six pence to last me all my life./ I have two pence to spend and two pence to lend,/And two pence to send home to my wife, poor wife.”
Many sing such rhymes as this in their youth to make the best of the time when their earning power is minimal.  Perhaps the apostles have learned to sing something like it as Jesus sends them to proclaim the Good News.

Jesus tells them that they are not to “take gold or silver or copper.”  The last, a copper coin, is equivalent to the modern penny.  Jesus wants the apostles to preach the goodness of God by their poverty as well as by their words.  Completely dependent on Divine Providence, without even a penny to their name, they will show how the Lord cares for those who trust in Him.

Often enough today we forget Jesus’ instruction here.  Preachers set their fees to meet their budgets which can include huge salaries, hefty insurance premiums, and ample retirement accounts.  We should forgive them for doing so as our society expects most everyone to look after his/her own needs.  But we should never doubt Jesus’ principal consideration here.  When we bestow a blessing on those we meet, we can be assured that the gracious act will come back to us tenfold. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 41:55-57.42:5-7a.17-24a; Matthew 10:1-7)

Matthew begins his gospel with a list of names tracing the lineage of Jesus.  He starts with Abraham, the receptor of God’s promise to create a chosen people, and ends with Jesus, whom Christians believe culminates that promise’s fulfilment.  Matthew mentions a few women – like Rahab and Ruth -- whose extraordinary circumstances indicate God’s hand guiding the process despite the people’s shortcomings. 

In today’s gospel Matthew provides another list of names.  In one sense, these twelve men provide a counterweight to those of the previous list.  As the Old Testament figures lead up to Jesus, the apostles will carry Jesus’ name to the world.  In another sense, however, they are similar to Jesus’ ancestors.  Many of them seem unlikely group to carry out the work of growing an institution.  Once again we have a sense of God’s direction.

We should see ourselves as part of still another list of people connected to Jesus with similarities to the ones already mentioned.  As the first group comprised Jesus’ ancestors, we are his spiritual descendants.  And like the apostles we are called by Jesus to bring growth to his Church by caring for one another and by professing Jesus’ name wherever we go.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Memorial of Saint Benedict, abbot

(Genesis 32:23-33; Matthew 9:32-38)

In his encyclical Veritatis Splendor St. John Paul II calls conscience “the voice of God.”  There God speaks telling a person whether an action is right or wrong.  Sometimes, however, the person questions what she hears.  The initial judgment seems facile with more consideration of the circumstances being needed.  Now the person is struggling with her conscience.  In this way Jacob can be said as wrestling with God in today’s first reading.

Jacob to this point is no paragon of virtue.  Most egregiously, he colluded with his mother to rob Esau of his inheritance.  He has also married two wives and has fathered children with two other women.  Now he struggles with his conscience.  That neither Jacob nor the stranger with whom he wrestled throughout the night wins the fight indicates a mixed judgment.  He has done evil, but he is not a bad man.  He will need to change some ways, but Jacob proves himself capable of advancing God’s project of building a great nation.

Today the Church celebrates St. Benedict, a holy man who established the cenobite or communal monastic tradition in Western Europe.  As Jacob is accredited with a major role in building the nation of Israel, Benedict is recognized for his contribution to Western Civilization.  Benedictine monks preserved the legacies from Greece and Rome and added to them the wisdom of Christianity.  In celebrating Benedict we give thanks for both the humanistic and religious patrimonies that have been handed down to us through the ages.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 28:10-22a; Matthew 9:18-26)

Ask children what they will do when they grow up, and often enough they have an answer.  One girl approximately twelve years old says that she will be a pediatrician.  She will have to work hard to fulfill her plan, but it is not an impossible dream.  We meet Jacob in the first reading today in a comparable situation.

Jacob has left his house as a young man to pursue his destiny.  The reading shows him in communion with God who promises to make him the father of a nation that will bless the entire earth.  In making a shrine on the spot where he receives the revelation, Jacob shows his wholehearted acceptance.    Christians see this promise fulfilled in Jesus, Jacob’s descendant whom the world recognizes as a universal teacher of righteousness.

As we become older, our dreams often become humbler.  We no longer think of changing the world but only hope to change our own hearts.  We want to lose our preoccupation with self so that we might love others as Jesus has shown us.  It is helpful to remember that the same God who promised to accompany Jacob wherever he went is also at our side.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 23:1-4.19.24:1-8.62-67; Matthew 9:9-13)

Abraham’s purchasing land to bury Sarah may seem like a realistic detail.  In reality it is a very important step in nation-building. People have to own land before they will identify themselves with it.  They will revere as sacred the places where they bury their fathers and mothers.  There they will tell the stories which add meaning to life and bind themselves to one another.

The wise Abraham realizes these facts as he insists on buying a broad piece of land rather than accepting as a gift a narrow swath to accomplish his immediate purpose. He will be buried on the same territory as will Isaac, Rebecca and Leah, and Jacob.  It will truly become the “land of the patriarchs” worth working to grow a nation and dying to defend.  It remains a great symbol for Jews who though scattered throughout the world feel a tie to Israel.

But nations are more than land with flags.  They require virtue to create and sustain.  Families must be supported and individuals must dedicate themselves to procuring more than their own needs.  Jesus will give priority to the Kingdom of God in his preaching, but he never denies the importance of family and state to that end.  Without either we are dehumanized, and the kingdom becomes a sterile symbol.  

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 22:1b-19; Matthew 9:1-8)

Mass murderers are regularly reported as hearing voices.  They are directed by what they often explain as a divine command to commit an atrocity.  Abraham seems to hear such a dark order in today’s first reading. 

The passage, sometimes called by its Hebrew name Akeda meaning binding, challenges interpreters.  They rightly ask, “How could a just God suggest to anyone that he kill his son as a sacrifice?”  Can God really be so capricious or, more pointedly, so cruel.  No, such a conception contradicts what God has revealed about Himself.  But humans are subject to such vagaries of will.  The story may be better understood in a way that contrasts to what is written.  Rather than God directing Abraham to slaughter Isaac, Abraham may be superimposing on God an aberrant voice within him telling him to commit the outrage.  Drama is taking place within Abraham – will he accept as God’s will the voice that tells him to kill Isaac or the natural order that forbids all human sacrifice?  What may well be God’s true voice then speaks up.  Abraham clearly hears that he is not to kill his son, but to offer a sacrifice on his behalf.

People often enough claim to hear the voice of God within them.  They are not to be dismissed as demented or foolish.  But they should test that voice by comparing it with God’s will as seen in the natural law and in revelation.  If there is an aberration between the two, they must concede to what is known in the latter category.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

NOTE: I have been posting reflections for ten years and have considered discontinuing the effort. 
However, it may be advantageous for me and perhaps helpful to you if I keep up the work.  You may notice that I will often be publishing reworked homilies like the following. 

Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Amos 5:14-15.21-24; Matthew 8:28-34)

In The Good Earth, Pearl Buck’s classic portrayal of pre-revolutionary China, the protagonist has a brief encounter with Christianity.  Having gone to the city to escape the famine that consumed the countryside, Wang Lung is handed a picture of the crucified Christ.  He is fascinated by the image but has no time to inquire into who the crucified one is.  Struggling to eek out a living for his family, Want Lung is impelled to continue working.

The people of Gadarene town on the outskirts of which Jesus casts out demons in today’s gospel seem little different from that of the Chinese peasant.  Charged by Jesus to leave two wild men, the demons possess a herd of pigs whom they send hurling into the sea.  The people might be expected to welcome Jesus for saving two men from a fate worse than Alzheimer’s.  But being practical, they weigh their loss of property as greater than the benefit of having two men restored to their senses.  Rather than thanking Jesus, they ask him to leave before he causes them more trouble. 

It is as easy for us to get so caught up with business – even Church business – that we ignore what Jesus has to offer us.  It requires patience to meditate on his words in our world of a ten thousand distractions.  We can also be sure his message will demand some sacrifice on our part.  But there is an upside to opening our minds and hearts to Jesus.  He brings us the same tranquility of spirit which the former wild men of the Gadarene territory now possess.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 19:15-29; Matthew 8:23-27)

Today the United States celebrates its existence as a self-governing nation.  Two hundred and forty-one years ago the founders of the nation declared it independent from the English monarch.  Of course, the new nation had to defeat the king’s army which was done after a protracted war.  Because the peoples of many nations have risen to shake off oppressive rulers during the summer months, it is not inappropriate to speak of the relation of patriotism to Godliness today.  It is possible to use the readings of the day for the reflection.

The first reading indicates that blessings on a land do not make its people virtuous.  Lot had chosen the land to the east because of its great promise.  The people there, however, were evidently bent on evil ways.  They mistreated even the most virtuous of guests among, who can say what, other atrocities.  The Lord’s judgment on their crimes could not be more severe.  They are being annihilated.

The gospel shows Jesus’ disciples coming to him at an hour of crisis.  A raging storm is sinking their boat.  They fear for their lives and beg Jesus for help.  No time in the history of the United States reflects this situation more than its Civil War.  The nation, so wonderfully endowed, was being torn apart between those who believed in the rights of all humans to freedom and those who thought that some humans subject to slavery.  Graciously the nation’s leader at the time had a strong sense of biblical justice.  Abraham Lincoln called for “a new birth of freedom” where the “government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”

All peoples today should appeal to the Lord.  We pray to him that our countries may follow just laws assuring the freedom of all.  We dedicate ourselves to the formation of virtue like his so that wise leaders may rise up to guide the nation to peace.  And we take compassion on the poor with whom he identified so that they do not lack what they need to prosper. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

Feast of Saint Thomas, apostle

(Ephesians 2:19-22; John 20:24-29)

A debate in the philosophy of science centers on the question of the existence of spiritual being.  Some philosophers hold that matter is all that there is.  They try to reduce the mind to the material functions of the brain.  More classical thinkers respond saying that the elements of matter cannot account for the intricate capacity of thought.  They understand the mind as a spiritual substance dependent upon matter for its formation but having a reality apart from it.  In today’ gospel St. Thomas seems to be a materialist until he meets the risen Lord.

When Thomas is told that the other disciples have seen Christ after he was crucified, he demands to touch Jesus’ body before accepting the fact of his resurrection.  Jesus gives him the opportunity to do it, but does Thomas actually go ahead with the experiment?  The Scripture does not say so; in fact, it indicates that he does not. Jesus says that Thomas believes only with seeing as the other disciples.

The passage ends with Jesus giving later Christians a blessing for believing in the resurrection without ever seeing him.  Because our times challenge such belief, we want to support one another in the faith of the resurrection.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 17:1-9-10.15-22; Matthew 8:1-4)

Sometimes when I make a donation to charitable organization, I put cash in an envelope and mail it anonymously.  I would like to report that I do this to conform to Jesus’ lesson on almsgiving.  He says in the Sermon on the Mount, “’When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites* do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others.’” But, truth be told, the reason I don’t toot my horn when I donate is that I don’t want to receive a dozen more requests.  Jesus, as we should expect, is much more consistent in doing what he is right.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is approached by a leper for healing immediately after he delivered his famous discourse on the mountain.  He performs the cures and orders the man not to tell anyone about his doing the healing.  Most preachers say that Jesus desires secrecy because he does not want to be confused with a political messiah.  This is probably true, but it is also the case that Jesus is acting in perfect conformity with what he just said on the mount about doing righteous deeds in secret.

We find in Jesus our model for life.  We should always endeavor to do what Jesus did.  This does not mean, of course, that we have to wear sandals and drink wine.  But it does call us to love our neighbor not for any advantage to ourselves but because he or she is a child of God. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, apostles

Acts 12:1-11; II Timothy 4:6-8.17-18; Matthew 16:13-19)

Saints Peter and Paul testify to the inclusiveness of the Church.  Peter was a fisherman from Galilee, well within the territory of Israel.  Paul, a member of the Jewish diaspora, hailed from Tarsus in Asia Minor.  Peter worked as a fisherman before he encountered the Lord.  Paul, a scholar, served as a Jewish inquisitor when Jesus abruptly called him.  Although both had missions to non-Jews, Peter, it seems, worked primarily among his own people while Paul preached far and wide to Greek-speakers.  Their lives converged for at least a third time in Rome where they were martyred.

More importantly than dying during the same wave of persecution, they both preached Jesus Christ.  In today’s gospel, Peter identifies Jesus as “’the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”  Paul will give full meaning to those words when he writes of reconciliation through Christ, the Son.  As the Pauline letter to the Ephesians states, humans are reconciled not only to God but to one another through Christ.

Today we honor Peter and Paul together as patrons of the whole Church.  More than any other saint, the two represent the Church’s apostolicity and universality.  They left the security of their homes and indeed their homelands to tell others about God’s work in Jesus.  They reached the symbolic crossroad of the earth in Rome where they testified with their blood to God’s love for all in Jesus.

Memorial of Saint Irenaeus, bishop and martyr

(Genesis 15:1-12.17-18; Matthew 7:15-20)

A couple is married over twenty-five years.  They never have had children of their own.  Although they are Godparents to many and serve the church in many ways, they feel a great loss in their lives.  Once they considered the possibility of producing a child in vitro, but did not pursue it because that procedure violates the sanctity of human life.  The couple’s childlessness and, even more, their trust in God resemble the circumstances of Abram in today’s first reading.

Abram not only deeply desires to have a child with his wife Sarah, but also God has promised the couple heirs as numerous as the grains of dust on the earth. Now they are advanced in years and almost have given up hope.  Abram pleads with God, perhaps for a last time, only to hear God’s promise reasserted in a more glorious way: “Look up at the sky and count the stars….Just so…shall you descendants be.’”  Abram does not abandon God, who has blessed him in different ways, to worship another.  Rather he continues to do all that God asks of him.

God’s ways are inscrutable.  Couples who would seem to be wonderful parents suffer by not having children while many children suffer in broken homes.  Yet God has cared enough for those who suffer, which include every one of us, by coming to share our suffering.  He has actually moved us beyond it with the promise of eternal life as well as many spiritual blessings. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 13:2.5-18; Matthew 7:6.12-14)

In the Sermon on the Mount Matthew portrays Jesus as a great sage.  He shows him first proposing the “kingdom of heaven” as the happiness which all discerning people seek.  Then Jesus is described a revealing the new morality which will enable his disciples to reach their goal.  It is composed not so much of actions as of a disposition of the heart.  They are not to despise or will to harm anyone but to love even their enemies.  Of course, this tall order requires assistance so Matthews shows Jesus teaching his disciples how to ask God’s help.  In today’s passage from the sermon Jesus adds to the wisdom he has imparted proverbs that illustrate what he has been saying.

With the first proverb Jesus warns his disciples not to be naïve about what they believe.  People who have not been prepared to receive it will revile it.  Tell a man of the world that he should keep quiet about the good that he has done, and he will wonder why you thought he did it if not to achieve the approval of others.  Then Jesus epitomizes his message as he sums up the Old Testament: his disciples are to consider what they wish for themselves as the measure of what they will do to others.  The passage ends with another warning.  Disciples should not think the road to heaven is a lazy highway.  It is more like – Jesus tells them – a winding path which requires focus and care to navigate.

As a truly wise man, Jesus could not please everyone.  For different reasons some opposed his teachings just as Socrates found detractors in ancient Athens.  Following the ways he teaches will not always win for us either the approval of others.  However, we know from experience that doing so brings repose in the form of a friendly conscience as well as the promises of eternal life. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 12:1-9; Matthew 7:1-5)

In order to appreciate God’s call of Abram from Genesis today, one has to note the context.  Babel has just fallen and with the illusion that humans left to their own devices can do much good. Although God has scattered the peoples all over the earth, He intends to bring them together in peace.  His plan is to establish a new nation with Abram as its founder to be an exemplar of loving obedience.  This nation’s virtue will draw all peoples to it.

Abram is an unlikely candidate to engender a new nation.  Although his name means exalted father, he is, in fact, childless at seventy-five years of age!  He is also homeless and nation-less.  He does have a wife, the beautiful Sarai, whom he loves – a fact that does offer him some recommendation.  He also has ambition as he responds to the unlikely call to greatness.

God directs Abram to leave his father’s house for a new land.  There God will give him the first lessons in nation-building.  Abram will thus become the greatest of the biblical patriarchs, but not the kind which feminists love to hate.  God will teach Abram to be conscious and fair, not arbitrary and self-promoting.  He will lead Abram to a consistent respect and tender care for women, not to hardness and domination.  He will cherish his children, and not neglect them.  These are lessons for all men to note as we listen to the story of Abram unfold.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

(Deuteronomy 7:6-11; I John 4:7-16; Matthew 11:25-30)

With all the attention given to on-line learning, one might think that classroom teaching will soon be obsolete.  But this is not likely.  As much as computers abet instruction, students often need physical contact with a person.  They have questions that computers cannot understand and difficulties that only human intuition can ascertain.

In the gospel today Matthew presents Jesus as the “teacher of the ages.”  His meekness will not reject anyone.  His integrity assures that he never says one thing then does another.  The yoke that he lays on apprentices is the lessons they are to follow.  It is not unduly burdensome because he helps students bear it.  Put simply, the yoke is that his students love another. 

The heart of Jesus, pierced and aflame, symbolizes all the richness of this gospel nugget.  Its ardor reaches all people without exception.  Its vulnerability knows the trials of the weak who in different ways include everyone.  It invites each of us to enter its chambers where we might be renewed for the journey to truth, goodness, and love.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Memorial of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, martyrs

(II Corinthians 11:1-11; Matthew 6: 7-15)

As the Fourth of July approaches, Americans think about patriotism.  What might they do for their country?  They may want to display a flag or to explode firecrackers.  But these acts are superficial.  Love of one’s country entails sacrifices for the good for which the country stands.  We have examples of this deep kind of patriotism in today’s saints.

Saints John Fisher and Thomas More lived in Tudor England.  John was a churchman and Thomas, a lawyer.  They were loyal subjects of Henry VIII until the king placed himself above justice.  They then ceased to serve although they did not protest publicly.  Still Henry demanded their allegiance and eventually beheaded them for not giving it.  Among Thomas’ last words was the proclamation of patriotism's right order: “I am the King’s good servant, but the Lord’s first.”

Americans will soon have to struggle with the questions of illegal immigration.  Millions of immigrants have either entered the United States illegally or stayed, again illegally, beyond the time permitted by their visas.  Most of these people have established a home in the country.  They have worked, gave birth to children, and built strong social ties.  Patriotism calls citizens to discern a just way of resolving their status.  It seems cruel to send the undocumented packing.  Yet law-breaking should not be ignored.  Somehow the undocumented must be penalized without jeopardizing their future.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, religious

(II Corinthians 9:6-11; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

St. Aloysius Gonzaga died rich in the eyes of God although perhaps poor in the sight of many in the world.  He gave up a claim to his family’s fortune to become a Jesuit.  Once a religious, he dedicated himself to caring for the victims of the plague which was racking Italy.  Eventually he contracted the disease and died from it.  His willingness to give himself completely out of love for Christ amply illustrates today’s first reading.

St. Paul is urging the Corinthians to be generous in his collection of alms for the Christians in Jerusalem.  He tells them that they will reap what they sow.  In other words, if they make significant sacrifices, they will merit marvelous reward.  Because God ultimately produces eternal life as well as crops, they will not be disappointed for their efforts.

We may tire of being pestered by charities.  As we hear of names being passed from one charitable organization to another, we may not want to help anyone new.  Let us not make such a decision out of frustration, however.  Rather let us pray for the grace to make prudent use of our resources for the good of the needy. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary time

(II Corinthians 8:1-9; Matthew 5:43-48)

A long time ago a protégé of Reinhold Niebuhr commented on the difference between him and the great twentieth-century American theologian.  He said that where Niebuhr strove for perfection, he just wanted “to be a little bit better.”  The statement indicates the faulty human condition at the heart of today’s gospel passage.  It also helps clarify what Jesus means by “perfection.”

Jesus reverses the wisdom of the ages when he tells his followers that they must love their enemies.  They may not hate them, but pride makes them want to appear as better than all rivals.   Jesus demands that such competition cease.  He deems perfection not in achieving “all A’s” or in besting all opponents but in loving those who would do one harm.  This kind of love, he says, makes one truly like God, the Father.

We should not underestimate the great challenge in loving one who would do us wrong.  Achieving perfect grades or a perfect score might be a neurotic pursuit, but loving an enemy is no easy task.  It takes prayer as much as effort.  We pray for the spirit to makes us so meek that our predominant goal is always to please our heavenly Father.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 6:1-10; Matthew 5:38-42)

Rodney King became an unlikely prophet twenty-five years ago.  The former convict and then alleged victim of police abuse called for reconciliation among peoples during the Los Angeles race riots of 1992.  The people were reacting to the acquittal of the police officers who apparently brutalized King while arresting him.  Nevertheless, King pleaded for peace: “I just want to say - you know - can we all get along? Can we, can we get along?” Rodney King’s words echo St. Paul’s in today’s first reading.

Paul appeals to his beloved Corinthians to end all strife among themselves.  “’Behold now is the acceptable time’” Paul says, “’now is the day of salvation.’” Paul proceeds to use himself as an example for reconciliation.  As he has suffered hardship and distress for the sake of the Lord, so should the Corinthians put behind them disagreements and resentments.  Mutual love must become the mark of Christians as a testimony to the grace bestowed on them by God through Jesus.

We too must rise above personal preferences and petty differences to embrace one another in solidarity.  It becomes difficult when we believe that we are in the right but suffering a loss of esteem or property.  Nevertheless, civility should always mark our approach and understanding, our attitude.  As long as no one is seriously jeopardized, we probably can afford some loss of resources for the sake of Christ’s peace.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 5:27-32)

Pope Francis has been accused of creating confusion over today’s gospel message.  Noting the possibility of divorced and remarried persons receiving Communion in Orthodox churches, Francis floated the idea to the synod of bishops meeting two years ago in Rome.  It cannot be said with complete candor that just because Jesus in the gospel forbids marriage of divorced people, that it is absolutely impossible.  After all, in the very next section of the Sermon on the Mount he forbids the taking of oaths.  Yet presidents and peons have sworn in the name of God.

But divorce affects life at its deepest levels.  It ends a relationship where two people by word and deed have promised lifelong fidelity.  It often leaves children in desperation.  Moreover, as Christian marriage is a sacrament expressing Christ’s love for the Church, divorce becomes a countersign of that love.  Furthermore, the proscription of divorce has been the perpetual practice of the Church since antiquity.

Of course, Francis only wanted to exhibit God’s mercy.  Many innocent people have been adversely affected by divorce, and many divorced persons have undergone significant conversions.  Life’s contingencies do not always neat solutions to these situations.  Yet Francis eventually yielded to the majority opinion of the synod.  In his apostolic exhortation The Joy of Love he restates the traditional teaching of the Church with some pastoral recommendations.