Thursday, November 23, 2017

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

Thanksgiving Day

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

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

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

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

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, virgin and martyr

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 17, 2017

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, religious

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thursday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2017

Memorial of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, virgin

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2017

Memorial of St. Leo the Great, pope

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Wednesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 6, 2017

Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 3, 2017

(Optional) Memorial of Saint Martin de Porres, religious

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 2, 2017

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

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

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

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

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