Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Revelation 11:19a.12:1-6a.10ab; I Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56)

We might think that the Church honors Mary just for being the mother of Jesus.  As we too well know from the recent “royal wedding,” relations to the sovereign have special status.  But Mary’s relationship with Jesus runs deeper than blood.  The Church recognizes her as the first and most committed evangelizer.  In today’s gospel passage Mary proclaims the good news of Jesus before he is born!

Mary sings of how God saves the poor, among whom she considers herself. She says that God has “’has lifted up the lowly’” and “’has filled the hungry with good things.’”  This is very good news for all who have waited patiently for the Messiah.  Not only the destitute but also the faithful who generously help the needy can now rejoice.

Mary is rewarded for her own faithful attentiveness to God with a special place in heaven.  She occupies this space body and soul according to the ancient tradition of the Church.  We gladly sing her praises, follow her example, and pray for her intercession before the Almighty.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, priest and martyr

(Ezekiel 2:8-3:4; Matthew 18:1-5.10.12-14)

Today the Church recalls a martyrdom whose valor parallels those of ancient times.  Arrested by the Gestapo during World War II, Franciscan friar Maximilian Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz.  Three months later, a fellow prisoner escaped.  According to the prison’s outrageous rule, ten innocent men were to be executed for the “crime.”  Knowing one of the men selected for the punishment to be a young father, Fr. Kolbe offered himself as a replacement.  The death sentence was carried out with an injection of carbolic acid. 

In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of the necessity of becoming like a child if one is to enter the Kingdom of heaven.  Certainly liberality regarding personal sacrifice characterizes children.  Much more than adults, children at least speak of their willingness to give all they have for the well-being of others.  Maximilian Kolbe’s demonstration of this willingness well into middle age assures him of a place among the saints.

Today’s society presents interesting opportunities to demonstrate such heroism as Maximilian Kolbe’s.  We may ask ourselves whether we should donate a kidney to a person whose life is in danger for lack of a functioning one.  Although there is no obligation to do so, such a sacrifice certainly qualifies as another example of fulfilling Jesus’ call to become like little children.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary time

(Ezekiel 1:2-5.24-28c; Matthew 17:22-27)

Every other summer the Church presents a healthy selection of readings from the prophets of Israel in weekday masses.  Some may wonder why the Church bothers with these ancient authors.  For centuries the answer was because the prophets foretell the coming of Christ.  But since the Vatican renewal, the prophets and, indeed, the entire Old Testament are read with a wider scope.

In today’s reading the prophet Ezekiel tells of his call to proclaim the word of God.  He finds himself in Babylonia as an exile.  The heavens roar with thunder, and the lightning gives way to a vision of glory. God appears in human form.  The scene is reminiscent of a famous definition of God as mysterium tremendum et fascinans (fearful and fascinating mystery).

God calls us out of ourselves and our petty concerns to serve Him.  The experience can be frightening. It means letting go of at least a modicum of peace.  But following the Lord’s directive, we will find greater happiness.  He will lead us to a life transcending our dreams.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr

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

The Church’s calendar is so filled with memorials for the early martyrs that some may think there were more in antiquity than today.  But they would be mistaken.  More people die because of their belief in Christ now than ever.  The Christians who were slaughtered by ISIS soldiers a few years provide all too real evidence that blood continues to flow for Christ.

Today’s gospel assures that martyrs do not die in vain.  In the parable of the grain of wheat Jesus compares a martyr with a seed.  Just as the grain must die if it is to bring about an abundance of grains to eat, so must there be martyrs to attract the multitudes to Christ.  For this reason the Church has claimed, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.”

Today we celebrate one of the most illustrious Roman martyrs.  Lawrence was a deacon in charge of the Church’s treasury.  It is said that when the imperial authorities came searching for the Church’s treasures, Lawrence led them to the poor whom the Church has always fed.  The authorities lost no time in punishing this act of defiance.  We should emulate Lawrence in both ways indicated here.  We should testify to the Church’s option for the poor.  And we should readily make sacrifices for the Lord.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Thursday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 31:31-34; Matthew 16:13-23)

It has been seven-three years today since the city of Nagasaki was devastated by the atomic bomb. The ruin was calamitous – estimates indicate that a quarter of the population perished and a good portion of the city destroyed.  It completed demoralized the Japanese resistance which almost immediately surrendered to the Allied forces.  One might think of Nagasaki in picturing Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy in the first reading.

Hope in the holy city is scant as the Babylonians have desecrated the Temple, killed thousands of people, and taken into captivity many other thousands.  “What good could possibly come of all this?” the prophet, a survivor, surely asks himself. But he does not remain in disillusion very long.  He feels the Holy Spirit welling inside him.  Like a musical round that refuses to leave one’s head repeating words of consolation, the Spirit speaks.  “I will write my law upon their hearts,” it says.  The people will never stray from God’s law again because it is to be engraved in them.  To the contrary it will bring righteousness to individual lives and justice to society.

The law of which the prophet foretells and Jesus proclaims is none other than God’s Holy Spirit.  Inscribed upon our hearts with Baptism, the Spirit prompts us to always do good, to avoid evil, and to love sincerely.  It has written counterparts in the Sermon on the Mount and other Scriptural passages.  But the New Law is first spiritual, intractable, and comforting even if it demands of us everything.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Memorial of Saint Dominic, priest

(Jeremiah 31:1-7; Matthew 15:21-28)

Most effective people set limits on their work.  Without limits they may find themselves dispersed and their projects come to nothing.  A therapist writes of the limit he imposed on a sibling who was draining him emotionally and financially.  He had to focus his attention on their mother with Alzheimer’s, his own family, and his clients.  In today’s gospel Jesus tries to set a limit with a pagan woman who asks him to help her daughter.

At first Jesus politely tells the woman that he cannot meet her need.  He says that his mission is among the Jewish people.  But the woman refuses to accept his reason.  Then Jesus attempts brushing off her request with barbed humor.  The woman, however, throws the remark back at him.  Jesus, whose love for people knows no bounds, finally gives in and grants her needs.

Today the Church remembers St. Dominic Guzman, the founder of the Order of Preachers.  Like Jesus, he set limits but was willing to transgress them.  Dominic was a man imminently disposed to do the will of his colleagues.  That was a self-imposed limit.  But there is one recorded incident when he seemingly acted unilaterally although, no doubt, under the Lord’s direction.  In August of 2017 the group of men Dominic gathered together was living with him in southern France.  Dominic decided to send them out two-by-two to different cities in Europe.  Some objected that it was not yet time to begin the apostolate.   Dominic only replied that he knew what he was doing.  The bold action has resulted in significant accomplishments both for the Church and western civilization.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 28:1-17; Matthew 14:22-36)

A man tells of a revelation during a particularly trying time.  He felt his world crumbling after his wife was diagnosed with cancer.  The night they received the news while locking the doors of his parish church, he stopped to make a plea for mercy.  Then, he says, he felt an arm reaching across his back and a voice telling him that everything will be okay.  How else could the man interpret this experience except as a divine pronouncement?  The apostles in today’s gospel would have known what this man was feeling after their encounter with the Lord.

The passage is often taken as an allegory for the early Church in crisis.  Jesus is risen and ascended into heaven.  The nascent Church, symbolized by the little boat, is having great difficulty, perhaps from persecution or maybe from internal disputes.  The stormy sea represents primordial, destructive forces that always threaten human projects with annihilation.  But the Lord, who seemed to the apostles to be absent, is actually there to help them.  He tells them not worry.  He even bids their leader to act boldly in face of the crisis.

Just as much as hurricanes and earthquakes threaten the order of creation, accidents and diseases lurk among us.  We need not hesitate to call on the Lord for protection.  But let us not forget to thank him when the clouds break, the sun shines, and we feel as free as butterflies.  

Monday, August 6, 2018

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

(Daniel 7:9-10.13-14; II Peter 1:16-19; Mark 9:2-10)

When Pope St. John Paul II visited the United States in 1987, I and perhaps others had a moment of truth.  At the time the world was being traumatized by the AIDS epidemic.  Many feared that not just any contact but simply being the presence of an AIDS patient risked contamination.  John Paul, however, showed the world that AIDS patients deserve care not isolation.  In San Francisco he hugged the AIDS patients that were invited to meet him.  With all his strictness he proved to be a person of compassion more likely expressing the will of God than any of his critics.  In today’s gospel a similar revelation takes place.

Jesus’ disciples have an inkling of his divinely appointed leadership.  Peter had recently declared that Jesus was the Messiah.  But then Jesus, quite astoundingly, said that he would have to suffer and die at the hands of men.  A question no doubt arose in their minds, “Can Peter have been right in seeing him as the long-awaited king of Israel?” Jesus then takes his most prominent disciples to the mountain where his glory is revealed.  Peter named him correctly.

As we know too well, we live in an age of disbelief.  People no longer believe that God, His angels and saints are here to help us.  We too can find reassurance in the episode of the Transfiguration.  Yes, Jesus is the Messiah.  He died to free us from the burden of our sins.  He is leading us to the glory of the saints.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Friday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 26:1-9; Matthew 13:54-58)

You Can’t Go Home Again is the provocative title of a novel by novelist Tom Wolfe.  The story describes the plight of a writer who publishes a successful book about his hometown.  When he returns to the town, he finds his former neighbors upset with how he has portrayed them.  Apparently it is not that they have changed so much as it is he who changed.  Now he sees deep into reality to note people’s motives and desires.  Jesus has a similar experience when returning to Nazareth in today’s gospel passage.

Jesus, it can be assumed, tells the people of Nazareth about his Father, God.  This claim disturbs his neighbors.  “”Is he not the carpenter’s son?’” they ask openly. Rather than heed what he says about God, they dismiss his preaching as pretentious.

We must take care not to treat Jesus similarly.  He is the Son of God who deserves our utmost attention and obedience.  He is not like any other human being whose message in part is destined to be relativized.  Rather his words will always resound with how to live in harmony with the Father.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 18:1-6; Matthew 13:47-53)

Preachers today often speak of God’s “unconditional love.”  Rightly understood, the statement is on target.  God’s love is not conditioned by our actions.  He loves sinners as wells as saints. He wants the best for all humans.  He is always there to help them if they but turn to Him.

Yet it seems that some run too fast with the idea of God’s unconditional love.  They seem to say that it assures everyone a place in the Kingdom.  They want to claim that nothing anyone does might deprive him or her from life eternal.  A funeral director, who hears plenty of homilies about God’s mercy, said that this was one of the results of Vatican II. 

But, of course, the bishops arrived at no such conclusion fifty years ago nor could they do so today.  It would counter Jesus’ teaching in the parable of a huge catch of fish some good and some bad.  In the first reading as well the Lord declares Himself able to reject a people to whom He has shown great love.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

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

(Jeremiah 15:10.16-21; Matthew 13:44-46)

The prophet Jeremiah is treasured because his work it is so confessional.  Like St. Paul and St. Augustine, he does not flinch from revealing intimate feelings.  Even when his thoughts cast him in a dismal light, he expresses them. 
In today’s first reading Jeremiah finds himself ridiculed for preaching the Lord’s judgment on Judah.  He is ostracized and persecuted after predicting Judah’s downfall.  His despair becomes so great that he feels that God Himself has betrayed him.  So he calls God “a treacherous brook,” that cannot be relied upon for water.  It is a faithless remark, but God neither condemns nor coddles Jeremiah for it.  Rather God allows Jeremiah to repent.  He gives him the opportunity to experience God’s goodness rather than wallow in self-pity.  Fortunately, Jeremiah opts for God.

Today the Church honors St. Alphonsus Ligouri.  In the eighteenth century Alphonsus served as a bishop, authored a well-reasoned moral theology, and founded the Redemptorist Order.  Like Jeremiah, he experienced misunderstanding and persecution.  Also like Jeremiah and as model for the rest of us Alphonsus remained true to the Lord.  When we feel wrongly judged, we too should respond with trust that God will redeem us. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Memorial of Saint Ignatius Loyola, priest

(Jeremiah 14:22-27; Matthew 13:36-43)

The devastation of Jerusalem described in today’s first reading may be compared to the Church in the sixteenth century.  The Protestant Reformation brought about the abandonment of monasteries.  Negligence by priests of their spiritual responsibilities fostered a spirit of rebellion among the people.  Often deadly rivalries sprung up among families, communities, and nations.  St. Ignatius, whom we celebrate today, countered the abuses of the time with the gospel.

Ignatius was a soldier but also an intellectual.  He experienced a conversion from reading the biographies of saints.  He noted the challenge to both peace and truth that settled upon Europe and acted to meet it.  He founded the Society of Jesus whose members would be both disciplined and learned.  They learned to refute the errors of the reformers and model the self-sacrifice of Christ’s servants.  In his endeavor Ignatius was as successful as any founder of a religious congregation.

We not only may honor St. Ignatius but also imitate some of his ways.  His Spiritual Exercises, the program which comprises the basis of Jesuit formation, is available to all.  It enables practitioners to experience the conversion to which the gospel calls everyone.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 13:1-11; Matthew 13:31-35)

It might be better to speak of the “the reign of God” rather than “the kingdom of heaven”.” “Heaven” is a circumlocution, a way to avoid saying the holy name of God.  “Kingdom” is a static concept denoting a geographical entity more than the dynamic power that Jesus has in mind.

In any case Jesus wants his hearers to know that God’s authority does not require pomp and ceremony.  It is found in the humblest of things and grows into things extraordinarily beneficial.  A mustard seed turns into a plant providing nesting space for many birds.  A little yeast added to the right proportion of flour makes enough bread to feed a neighborhood.

These parables assure us that we do not need the devotion of a monk to receive God’s help.  He answers the sincere prayers of sinners as well as of saints.  This does not mean that we can pray to God like a gambler hedging his bet so that he doesn’t lose.  No, if we are going to turn to God for help, we should return to God’s ways.  If we want to look to Him as our Father, we should act like His faithful children.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 3:14-17; Matthew 13:18-23)

In a television drama, a detective is asked if he believes in God.  He answers that he used to and hints that he lost his faith when his wife was killed in a hit and run accident.  The vignette demonstrates what Jesus means in the gospel by saying that some seed falls on rocky ground.

No one’s life is always easy.  Everyone suffers setbacks and experiences limits.  Yet everyone as well is beckoned to respond in faith to God’s loving initiatives.  He gives life and, more significantly, sends men and women to preach of His mercy.  Rebelliousness and outrage hinder a positive response.  These obstacles comprise the rocky ground of the parable.  Still it is not inevitable that anyone lose faith.  Jesus is urging his listeners to soften the ground of their lives by breaking up clods of anger.  As countless suffering people have testified, God is more generous than anyone deserves.

We live in an age of disbelief.  Statistics may say that a majority still believes in God, but the idea-makers are predominately agnostic and the faith of many is tenuous. Now more than ever perhaps it is our responsibility as believers to testify to our faith.  We can tell others how when we pray, good things happen.  At the very least, prayer enables us to cope with misfortune without cursing or self-pity.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

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

(Jeremiah 2: 1-3.7-8.12-13; Matthew 13:10-17)

Anne and Joachim are recognized as the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  They are not mentioned in Scripture and known only from the dubitable “Gospel of James.” It is fashionable today to think of them as the grandparents of Jesus, but there is no link of them to him at all.  Still positive conjectures may be made of them.  Because Mary is knowledgeable of the Old Testament, it is likely that Anne and Joachim formed her in this way.  They probably avoided the pitfalls to which today’s readings refer.

Jeremiah’s oracle speaks of Israel having grown cynical with age.  The people have come to take for granted the goodness of God.  They no longer dream that their faithfulness to the Covenant promises them a glorious future.  In the gospel Jesus tells his disciples that many hear his parables not as the metaphors that he intends but as riddles.  Their minds have been closed with the passing of years to the possibilities that God offers in Jesus.

We must guard against the pitfalls of cynicism and despair.  It may seem incredible that we will be raised from the dead with all other followers of Jesus’ law of love.  But that has been the promise since Jesus’ own resurrection.  Now we must learn from him how to love truly from the heart.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Feast of Saint James, apostle

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

A sonnet by an anonymous Spanish mystic tells of perfect Christian love.  It reads that the author is not moved to love God by the hope of heaven or to fear God by the fire of hell.  No, what moves this devotee is God’s love for him demonstrated on the cross.  In today’s gospel Jesus helps James and John rise to that perfect love.

The situation appears pathetic.  The mother of James and John comes to bid for her sons’ high places in Jesus’ kingdom.  Jesus, however, does not allow the woman to embarrass his apostles.  He calls them to solidarity with him in the suffering which he is bound to endure.  The two brothers willingly assent.  Then Jesus tells them that he cannot reward them with the seats of highest honor.  Rather he says that the secular order will be reversed in his kingdom.  There those who serve will be considered great, not those who sit in high places.

Catholics are sometimes criticized for loving God out of a supposedly selfish concern to achieve eternal life.  This desire is not selfish but natural.  After all, we are made to love ourselves as well as others.  But life teaches us, as Jesus instructs James and John, that there is something better than a high place in heaven.  That, of course, is standing with Jesus in suffering as well as in rejoicing.  We come to understand that the happiness of heaven consists precisely in Jesus’ companionship.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Micah 7:14-15.18-20; Matthew 12:46-50)

The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah.  Both lived in Judah during the heyday of Assyria when the Northern Kingdom of Israel had fallen.  They preached trust in the Lord as savior without concessions to the superpower.  Micah is cited in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah as responsible for the reform movement of King Hezekiah.  He promised the destruction of Judah which prompted a return to the Lord.   In today’s passage Micah describes God’s mercy for those who repent of wrong-doing.

He says that God “does not persist in anger forever, but delights rather in clemency.”  He assures the people that God “will have compassion…, treading underfoot (their) guilt.”  No one understands God’s infinite love more than Jesus.  In today’s gospel Jesus indicates an intimate knowledge of it.  In speaking of family relations he reserves a singular place for his father.  Others may be his “brother, sister, and mother,” but only God is his “Father”.

Jesus would not deny that God is our Father as well.  Indeed, his whole mission is to tell us of God’s fatherly care.  There is no reason to fear His justice when we repent of our wrong-doing.  God will gladly cancel our guilt and give us peace.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Micah 6:1-4.6-8; Matthew 12:38-42)

Both readings today speak of outrageous demands.  Whether knowingly or not, people dictate to the Lord as if he were a schoolboy.  Their requirements have to be rejected if God and not humans is to have authority.

The reading from Micah describes a court scene.  Judah has obviously been at fault regarding its Covenant with God.  So how are they going to make amends?  Judah proposes that God accept standard offerings which already proven to be insincere.  Then it makes an indecent offer – that God receives their children in a holocaust sacrifice!  In the gospel the scribes and Pharisees demand a sign from Jesus after he has given seemingly as many signs as fill Times Square!

Micah famously explains what people owe to God: “…to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  Anything less than this would be pure pretentiousness on the part of Judah.  Similarly, the scribes and Pharisees owe Jesus, as the most accomplished rabbi of the age, their utmost attention.  We should go beyond these requirements to give the Lord our fullest devotion.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Isaiah 38:1-6.21-22.7-8; Matthew 12:1-8)

Pope Francis and the rest of the world prayed for the Thai schoolboys and their coach trapped in an underground cave for three weeks.  God evidently heard the prayers as all were rescued although one rescuer died in the effort.  In today’s first reading God likewise hears the prayer of Hezekiah, king of Judah.

Hezekiah is reckoned as a righteous king. He reformed the nation’s religious observance by demanding strict allegiance to worship according to the law.  He could unashamedly turn to God for help when he was said to be dying.  God not only healed him of his ailment but added fifteen years to his life.

Still sometimes God does not seem to answer our prayers.  We have all prayed for people who did not recover from their illness.  What are we to think then?  That God is fickle -- answering some prayers and ignoring others?  No, we believe that God always does what is best for us.  We know that even Jesus prayed that his crucifixion might be suspended.  If our requests are not granted, God will make us stronger through suffering.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Isaiah 26:7-9.12.16-19; Matthew 11:28-30)

The eighty year-old women knelt beside her bed every night.  Rosary in hand, she prayed for her family.  She did not have children of her own; she never married.  But she prayed for her sisters and brother, her nephews and niece, and her grand-nieces and nephew.  Did she pray for herself?  Probably she did since her life was not the happiest.  Her solitariness likely called within her like a broken record, “What’s wrong with you, Mary?  What’s wrong with you?

In today’s gospel Jesus particularly invites those who never married and the widowed, the divorced and homosexuals who try to live chastely to share their burden with him.  He will give them support because he too felt loneliness as a burden.  He never married but that does not seem to have caused him grief.  Rather it was being betrayed by one trusted disciple and denied by another, being condemned by the leaders of his nation and being scorned by Rome, the supposedly great defenders of justice at the time, that made him feel abandoned.  His forlornness is dramatically demonstrated on the cross when he cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus asks all of us to take upon ourselves this yoke of loneliness.  He wants us to love one another – both friend and foe – even when it is difficult.  It seems like a daunting challenge, but it turns out to be the way to happiness, precisely because we share it with him.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Isaiah 10:5-7.13b-16; Mathew 11:25-27)

Assyria was a mighty empire extending through most of the Middle East including Egypt.  It easily conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel in the eighth century before Christ.  Although it considered itself the “cradle of civilization,” its army as much as its cultural institutions brought it notoriety.  In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah denounces Assyria’s warrior ways.

Isaiah states that God had used Assyria to punish the wayward kingdoms like Israel.  But Assyria went beyond its mandate.  It sought to wipe away other nations when it arrogantly attributed a godlike power to itself.  For this reason Isaiah predicts the fall of Assyria which came about in the late seventh century B.C.

We should allow the fate of Assyria to serve as a lesson for us.  For whatever gifts we have, we need to be grateful to God.  We have to ask ourselves how we might employ those gifts for God’s sake.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Isaiah 7:1-9; Matthew 11:20-24)

Forty-five years ago the respected psychoanalyst Karl Menninger astounded American society.  Although a defender of mental illness, Menninger published a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin?  His answer to the question was that regular people often try to cover up responsibility for their evil acts with medical jargon.  Menninger understood, along with Jesus in today’s gospel, that this kind of evasion indicates a sick society.

Jesus preaches that before they can experience the love of God, people must acknowledge their faults and change their lives.  He says that inhabitants of Capernaum, where he lived, have been especially reluctant to meet this demand.  Hardly the ever-smiling pacifist, Jesus preaches eventual destruction to those who refuse to repent.

Still Jesus was no “fire and brimstone” preacher like John the Baptist.  But he does recognize the commonness of sin and the need to purify ourselves of it.  Whether our sin be sloth or sex, we must stop making excuses for it.  Rather we need to confess it and make every effort to put it behind us.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Memorial (optional) of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

(Isaiah 1:10-17; Matthew 10:34-11:1)

Although the celebration is optional, today many Catholics remember Our Lady of Mount Carmel.  She is associated with the protection of the faithful from sin and its consequences.  To this effect many wear a brown scapular, originally an article of clothing meant to shelter one from the elements.   It is worth asking why we look to Mary for help in need and not directly to Christ.

The simple truth is, however, that we cannot look to Mary without looking to Christ.  She is, after all, his mother.  More to the point, she stands for the Church ever since Jesus formed it from the cross.  There he gave his mother to his beloved disciple and him to her.  She is the Church’s most distinguished member, the one most faithful to God.  Since the Church is the Body of Christ, she represents him in his physical presence on earth.

As we looked to our mothers for help in our infancy, we look to the Church today.  The Church guides us to justice.  Its sacraments provide us assistance to overcome life’s greatest challenges.  Its members support us along the way to eternal life.  When we think of the Church in this way, we may give it the face of Mary.  Today we proclaim that Our Lady of Mount Carmel represents the Church protecting us from every evil.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Hosea 14:2-10; Matthew 10:16-23)

Today’s first reading ends the Book of the Prophet Hosea.  The prophet’s oracles were delivered to the northern kingdom of Israel.  Although Hosea typically denounces idolatry and social injustice, his message is more one of hope.  As its central image, the prophet offers his relationship with his prostitute wife.  Although she is unfaithful, he waits lovingly for her return.  God then is like the prophet ready to forgive his rebellious wife Israel if she buts repents of her infidelity.

In the passage at hand Hosea exhorts Israel to recognize its need of the Lord.  It is to beg God’s forgiveness as it reforms its way.  Not only are the people to give up idols; they are also to show compassion to the vulnerable. As a result they will thrive like a great tree unfolding its branches to the sky.

Has Israel ever returned to the Lord like Hosea envisions?  We should answer, “Yes, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.”  He alone has given God total worship.  And he alone has shown the poor thorough compassion.  As Lord, he acts on behalf of all the people.  We who swear allegiance to him then are considered righteous because of his deeds.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Hosea 11:1-4.8e-9; Matthew 10:7-15)

Demons are usually associated with the devil.  However, the word has a more generalized meaning.  They may be more properly thought of as evil spirits.  These spirits are the vices that commonly ruin people’s lives.  Pope St. Gregory the Great famously named seven – greed, envy, lust, sloth, anger, pride, and gluttony.  They are now classified as the seven capital sins because they give rise to other sins.  In today’s gospel Jesus gives his apostles orders to drive these demons out of those whom they encounter on their mission.

The Church uses the Sacrament of Reconciliation to fulfill Jesus’ mandate today.  Through the sacrament the penitent’s sins are forgiven and her resolve not to sin again is strengthened.  In these ways Reconciliation witnesses to the Kingdom of heaven which the apostles are to proclaim.

The Second Vatican Council declared that every Christian is called to holiness.  The novelty of this statement was that many lay people had thought that this state of perfection was the pursuit of religious and clergy, not themselves.  But just because holiness is meant to be universal does not mean that it is easy to attain.  We have to develop the virtues in order to live righteously.  In the quest we should make frequent use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to lift us up when we falter.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Memorial of Saint Benedict, abbot

(Hosea 10:1-3.7-8.12; Matthew 10:1-7)

St. Benedict founded monasteries.  He also was responsible for the “Rule of St. Benedict,” a description of the ideal monastic life.  It might seem, then, that St. Benedict would be honored as a man who promoted retreat.  His name, however, is associated with the evangelization of Europe.  His legacy is similar to that of the apostles whom Jesus sends out to preach in today’s gospel. 

Evangelization is a multi-faceted project.  It is more than telling people about Jesus.  Evangelization includes shaping a culture responsive to the gospel.  For this to be done evangelizers must build churches and found schools.  They have to influence government to allow the people to practice their faith.  And they need to inculcate a sense of Christ being part of the people’s lives all day, every day.  Benedictine monks have been carrying out these practices for fifteen centuries.

Many wonder if Christian evangelization has not come to an end.  In this time of globalization societies are becoming more and more pluralistic.  Moreover, young people in many western countries are abandoning their Christian heritage.  Christian customs and traditions have lost a central place in much of Europe and North America.   Yet Christian culture cannot be lost.  It has Christ himself as its cornerstone.  Furthermore, its supreme value of self-sacrificing love is the deepest desire of the human heart.  We need other Benedicts to retrace the way.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Hosea 8:4-7.11-13; Matthew 9:32-38)

Isn’t it strange that today’s gospel refers to the people as like sheep in one sentence and in the next as a field of harvest?  Shepherds and farmers are notorious rivals.  Witness Cain and Abel for example.  Then why does Matthew mix these metaphors?

Perhaps he wants to contrast Jesus’ perspective with the narrow outlook of the Pharisees.  The passage begins with the Pharisees accusing Jesus of casting out demons “by the prince of demons.”  They refuse to include in their field of vision a positive reading of Jesus’ actions.  Rather they choose to see him narrowly, as in league with the devil.  Jesus, on the other hand, cures “every disease and illness.”  His broad perspective allows him to resist evil and support goodness in all their forms.

We too should strive for inclusiveness.  We must not approve bad behavior, but we should help everyone live good lives.   Even those people commonly associated with bad behavior we need to care about.  This is what Jesus means when he says, “The harvest is abundant…” 

Monday, July 9, 2018

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Hosea 2:16.17c-18.21-22; Matthew 9:18-26)

Today’s gospel should seem like déjà vu.  It is an abbreviated parallel to the passage read a week ago Sunday from the Gospel of Mark.  It pictures Jesus as somewhat more than the “man of God” as people thought of him in his day.

Jesus shows himself to be a servant of God when he wastes not a minute in going to help the official’s daughter.  The woman with hemorrhages certainly considers Jesus a holy person when she thinks that by touching his cloak, she could be cured.  In fact she touches it and is healed.  Jesus then reveals just how like God he is.  When he enters the official’s house, his daughter appears to be dead.  Yet when he takes her hand, she comes to life.

But Jesus is more than a "man of God."  When he rises from the dead, he shows himself to be equal to God -- the true Son of the Father.  We look to him to raise us like the official’s daughter from the stupor in which often find ourselves.  We tend to go along with the masses believing that happiness consists of being rich or being powerful or being sated with pleasure.  When Jesus takes our hand and awakens us, he shows us something different.  We see that true happiness consists in being generous, humble, and befriended by Jesus himself.  Of course, he will do more for us than that.  Because he is God, he will also raise us from the sleep of actual death when the time comes.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

Building inspectors are often suspected of corruption because of the nature of their profession.  They can overlook faulty wiring or missing fire alarms for a few dollars under the table.  For this reason they may be considered like the tax collectors of Jesus’ time.

Today’s gospel affirms tax collectors’ dishonestly when Jesus says that he has come to call sinners.  But its hidden and more important message is that the “man named Matthew” is open to repentance.  When the Lord commands him to follow, Matthew jumps to the command.  The action implies that he will forfeit any unrighteous tendencies as he submits to Jesus’ instruction.

We must remember that we too are tax collectors of sorts.  By reason of a corrupted nature all of us are given to taking dishonest money, illicit pleasure, or what have you.  Nevertheless, at the same time like Matthew God has graced us with openness to truth and love.  We learn from Jesus how to live out this new way of grace.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Amos 7:10-17; Matthew 9:1-8)

Fifty years ago Pope St. Paul VI made a prophetic statement.  In his encyclical Humanae Vitae Pope Paul said that artificial birth control will lead to disregard for women.  He reasoned that when husbands grow accustomed to contraception, many will no longer look on their wives primarily as equal partners in the creation of a family.  Rather, he said, they will see them more as objects of sexual desire.  Pope Paul suffered great unpopularity, even ridicule for the stand he took.  He may be seen as another Amos as pictured in today’s first reading.

Amos has exhorted Israel to reform its ways.  He has criticized especially the royalty for not giving leadership that truly trusts in the Lord.  As a result, he is ostracized by the high priest and told to go home.  His prophecy that Jeroboam will die by the sword evidently did not come to pass as predicted.  However, the northern kingdom of Israel was exiled with the Assyrian invasion.

Even Catholics have a hard time accepting that the sexual revolution engineered by artificial contraception has led to great misery.  Physical and emotional poverty caused by absent fathers is prevalent in both wealthy and poor nations.  Sexual desire has a tremendous hold on humans.  This in itself desire is not bad; rather, it is quite magnificent.  But such a powerful force needs to be checked by reason constructing prudent laws to guide the will.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time (Independence Day)

(Amos 5:145-15.21-24; Matthew 8:28-34)

As the United States celebrates the anniversary of its foundation, stress fractures appear along its base.  The people are deeply divided on a number of fundamental issues.  At what point in a human life should a person be given the protection of law?  What constitutes a family?  Is there a right to take one’s life?   What responsibilities does the nation have for the poor of other lands?  To what extent should a person be allowed to protect her own life?  These questions are testing the strength of the nation.

Turning to Scripture for help with answers, we find in today’s first reading the prophet Amos exhorting Israel to act justly.  Speaking on behalf of God, he stresses the necessity that the people do what is good.  For Amos this means full adherence to the Mosaic Law, not just to its prescriptions for ritual.  Jesus in the gospel demonstrates how this is carried out.  He goes out of his way to liberate two men who are possessed by demons.  It is an act of justice as well as mercy.  No one should be subjected to the domination of evil.

As citizens of the United States we see Jesus as our hope as well as our model.  Like him we want to assist our neighbors live in peace.  We also pray to him for guidance.  We need his Spirit to discern how to promote universal flourishing.  We need as well his grace to lead the nation in making sacrifices for that end. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Feast of Saint Thomas, apostle

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

The world has become increasingly secular.  Although most people say they believe in God, they no longer posit all hope in Him.  They see a doctor when sick and a lawyer in civil disputes.  They find solace in sports and television drama.  They anticipate technology’s latest product more than the coming of God’s Kingdom.  But people didn’t believe completely at other points in history.  Today’s gospel records an instance when one man refused belief in Jesus’ resurrection.

Thomas has reason to doubt the report of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  There could be no doubt that Jesus had died.  His blood was drained from his body until water appeared.  He was also put in a tomb where he lay for over a day.  Yes, Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, but Lazarus never walked through a closed door.  Nevertheless, when Thomas is confronted by Jesus, he must let go of his disbelief.  He does more than that, however.  Along with the other apostles, Thomas leaves his native place to preach Jesus Christ to the world.  Their success is amazing.  Through their and others’ effort whole nations have accepted God, the Father of Jesus.

Is Christianity doomed by the advance of secularism?  Some think that its survival requires forming small communities isolated from the dominant culture.  But perhaps it’s too early to call for circling the wagons.  People can find real fulfillment only in personal relationships, not in technological wonders.  If we can demonstrate the value of Christian virtues in forming such relationships, there may be a reconversion.  We will have to proceed like Thomas and many others preaching the gospel with our lives.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Amos 2:6-10.13-16; Matthew 8:18-22)

Economic equality has never been the goal of Christian social thought.  Rather from Scripture to modern papal thinking, Christians have opted for justice.  This means that a society looks out for all its members so that everyone’s basic needs are met.  In contemporary times this vision is being ignored.  The wealthy are separating themselves from the poor.  They are more likely to live in gated communities and to send their children to private schools.  They also are more often found in church than the poor.  One wonders, however, if they hear the message from Scripture read there.

In today’s first reading the prophet Amos expresses outrage at the rich person’s disregard for human dignity.   He says that the rich would sell a slave for a trifling.  He adds that they take the poor person’s few garments as collateral for loans.  Then they have the nerve to lie on those garments in the Temple.  In the gospel Jesus identifies himself with poor people when he says that the Son of Man has nowhere to sleep.

In an age of globalization, creating a just society becomes increasingly complicated.  But this fact does not excuse us from the responsibility.  With so much technology available, there is no shortage of resources to supply everyone’s needs.  We need to rethink priorities.  Instead of always strategizing to become wealthier, we should make sufficiency for the poor a goal.  Action steps will include greater social correspondence among all social sectors.

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

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

Today we celebrate the two greatest apostles.  Peter was named by Jesus in front of his other disciples to lead the Church.  Paul’s call took place in a personal encounter with the Lord.  He was sent specifically to non-Jews who came to make up the majority of Christians.   Both were martyred in Rome around the year 64.

The histories of both Peter and Paul illustrate the Christian belief in a personal God.  Today’s first reading shows Peter being miraculously rescued from prison.  It came at a critical time.  Peter like James was about to be slain by the sword of one of Herod’s henchmen.   The Lord, however, spared him so that he might bring Church administration to Rome.  Paul always felt himself in close communion with Jesus.  The second reading testifies to his sense of Christ assistance at crucial junctures in his mission. 

The critical element of Christian belief is that God is personal.  He not only exists from eternity as a communion of persons, he also became human to interact with us.  The testimony from the lives of both Peter and Paul today shows that his personal presence did not end with his Ascension.  Christ comes to each of us as well in varied ways.  He is found in the Christian community where divine love is palpable.  He is heard in the word of God and even ingested in the Eucharistic sacrament.  He is also, quite wonderfully, present in the solitude of our hearts.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Memorial of Saint Irenaeus, bishop and martyr

(II Kings 24:8-17; Matthew 7:21-29)

Today’s gospel completes the great “Sermon on the Mount.”  Although most of its material originates with Jesus, Matthew gives it form.  He cuts and pastes Jesus’ teachings to provide a summary of Christian moral catechesis.  The closing parable can be taken as an outline for Matthew’s work. 

Jesus exhorts his followers to build their houses on rock not on sand.  That is, he wants us to ground our lives in the beatitudes.   The beatitudes describe our goal in life, basically “the kingdom of heaven.”  If the beatitudes comprise the foundation of moral practice, the commandments form its building blocks.  They oblige us to do the seemingly impossible like “love your enemy.”  They also forbid what seems to come most naturally -- “to look at a woman with lust.”  These commandments would be impossible to fulfill without divine help.  For this reason Jesus includes in his catechesis a lesson on how to pray.

The “Sermon on the Mount” ends with a number of proverbs.  This material is hardly redundant or peripheral.  It adds needed demonstrations of how we are to pursue God’s will and not our own. Only in doing so will we have accomplished the repentance which Jesus preaches.  Having established the expectations for Christian life, Matthew will begin his account of Jesus’ ministry.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary time

(II Kings 22:8-13.23:1-3; Matthew 7:15-20)

Two generations ago false prophets said that the world was being overpopulated.  They predicted mass famine if artificial methods of birth control were not disseminated.  The truth, even then, was that some people – notably Americans – use disproportionate amounts of resources.  Even so, there have not been the great shortages of food that doomsday sayers forecasted.  In today’s gospel Jesus criticizes so-called prophets in his day who cause unnecessary consternation.

Jesus may well have in mind those who speak of God’s coming wrath to win the support of the people.  They condemn the lack of religious rigor of common people while failing to show compassion to those suffering hardship.  They are wolves under the appearance of shepherds.

Today false prophets criticize the Church for its positions in defense of human life.  They say – contrary to Church teaching -- that a concern for human dignity leads to helping the dying take their lives.  But a true concern for human dignity recognizes that every human being is made in the image of God.  We pay homage to human dignity by serving the dying until their natural end.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 19:9b-11.14-21.31-35a.36; Matthew 7:6.12-14)

Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFMCap, has the intriguing title of “preacher of the papal household.”  His duties include delivering a weekly sermon during Advent and Lent to Vatican officials.  In one Lenten sermon Fr. Cantalamessa advised that people not love others like they loves themselves.  He reasoned that many people are so self-indulgent that they do harm by treating them as they treat themselves.  Although the preacher makes a good point, Jesus’ maxim found in today’s gospel remains valid.

As Jesus indicates, the “Golden Rule” is not his alone.  Different versions of it are found in the sacred writings of most religions and well as the Hebrew Scriptures.  Since everyone wants to be cherished, the rule has been rephrased as “Love others as you love yourself.”  Jesus himself makes this revision in the Gospel of Luke.   The statement takes for granted that we want what is truly good for ourselves -- nothing false, spiteful, or harmful.

A number of years ago there was a controversy about another rule of thumb involving Jesus.  People wondered if “What would Jesus do?” (“WWJD?” was the popular acronym) is a sufficient guide for action.  Some thought it impossible to know what Jesus would do.  Really?  Doesn’t he tell us what he would do when he says, “’Do to others what you would have them do to you.’”

Monday, June 25, 2018

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 17:5-8.13-15a.18; Matthew 7:1-5)

In his encyclical Mater et Magister Pope St. John XXIII wrote of three stages for social action.  People are to look, to judge, and to act in order to bring about needed change.  The process seems to conflict with today’s gospel where Jesus tells his disciples, “’Stop judging…’” What he means, of course, is that they are not to be hypercritical.  If people were to stop judging, they might as well forego their intellectual powers.

Hypercriticism is judging another excessively harshly.  It gives no leeway for a possible error in one’s perception of another’s way of being.  Hypercriticism assumes an air of superiority over others whose motives are not fully known. Tobit is hypercritical when he accuses his wife Anna of stealing a goat in the biblical story.  Those who judge all refugees as self-serving are likewise hypercritical. 

As Jesus’ disciples, we cannot avoid judging.  But we should not judge severely.  Rather we should aim at viewing a situation completely, assessing motives fairly, and acting carefully.  This process amounts to removing any beam from our eyes and helping our neighbor remove theirs.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 11:1-4.9-18.20; Matthew 6:19-23)

Today’s first reading will seem odd to many.  Not only are the characters involved in the story unfamiliar.  It also tells a sordid tale, hardly edifying as part of the word of God.  Many will want to ignore it and move on to the gospel.  However, the Church has chosen this reading for a purpose which begs illumination.

After Ahab’s wife Jezebel had Naboth, the poor farmer, killed and his land expropriated, Ahab repented.  It was said that God was pleased with Ahab’s change of heart and did not punish him.  Rather Ahab’s descendants would suffer the consequences of his offenses.  This saga is played out with Athaliah, Ahab and Jezebel’s daughter.  She married Jehoram, the corrupt king of Judah.  Jehoram died leaving his son Ahaziah king; and Athaliah, the queen mother.  Jehu of Israel killed Ahaziah along with another Jehoram, the king of Israel, and most of Ahab’s other descendants.  In this way Ahab’s dynasty in Israel ended.  Meanwhile Athaliah seized power over Judah.  She had all claimants to its throne killed, including her own descendants.  However, one of Ahaziah’s sons, Joash, was rescued.  The high priest eventually anointed Joash king and had Athaliah slain.

The gruesome story illustrates what Jesus teaches in the gospel.  We have to make treasures of the right things.  If we want power to rule over people without regard to caring for them in God’s name, we will come to ruin.  But if we use the authority given to us for true human welfare, we will prosper in God’s eyes.


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

(Sirach 48:1-14; Matthew 6:7-15)

Although no book of the Bible bears his name, Elijah may be considered the preeminent prophet of Israel.  As a prophet, he received revelation from God, spoke on God’s behalf, and suffered because of God’s message.  However, he was not martyred, which was considered the prophet’s fate.  Rather, he was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot.  Pope Benedict in his book Jesus of Nazareth writes that the people of Israel awaited Elijah’s return so that he might experience a true martyr’s death. 

Because of his expected return, some thought Jesus himself was Elijah reincarnated.  When he asked his disciples who the people were calling him, they answered that some considered him to be Elijah.  But Jesus had another candidate for the Elijah role: John the Baptist.  John, like other prophets, was beheaded after telling the truth about Herod Antipas.  For Jesus, John’s death anticipates the prophetic “Day of the Lord,” the day of reckoning. 

Christians understand the prophets as foretelling Jesus’ coming.  How did Elijah do this?  There are incidents about Elijah that parallel experiences in Jesus’ life like providing food for the widow and her son prefiguring Jesus’ feeding the multitude.  Perhaps more indicative, however, is the story of the Lord God coming to Elijah as a whisper at the mouth of a cave.  We see the whisper as Jesus, the full revelation of God in the quite unassuming figure of a carpenter from Nazareth.  The cave too invokes Messianic meaning. It is the depth of being from which Jesus talks with the Father with whom he is one.