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 trial.is 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.