About Me

Bilingual Roman Catholic priest of the Southern Dominican Province. The "homilettes" on this website are completely the work of Fr. Mele. He may be contacted at cmeleop@yahoo.com. Telephone: (415) 279-9234.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

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

In a sense today, today we celebrate a Scripture more than a man.  We know very little about St. Luke other than what can be gleaned from his writing.  The New Testament references to him are thin.  Indeed, it cannot be said with complete certainty that the “Luke” found in the writings attributed to St. Paul is the author of the third gospel.  Nothing is known of how he died, much less of where he was born. This is said not to create skepticism but awe for the magnificent work of this evangelist.

Luke refers to himself directly only twice in his New Testament writings.  At the beginning of his gospel he says that he investigated “everything accurately anew.”  He does present much material that is not found in the other gospels – the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, for examples, as well as the Christmas story from the viewpoint of Mary.  The writings’ classical style and polished Greek indicate that Luke was well educated.  Luke emphasizes the Holy Spirit in both his gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  Not only are there numerous references to the Spirit’s presence, but also the effects of the Spirit are manifest.  More than the other evangelists, Luke pictures Jesus and the disciples praying.  Also, he testifies to the Spirit’s uniting all people by continually including women and both the poor and the wealthy.

Luke is often referenced as the patron of physicians and artists.  We could easily see him as the sponsor of writers, scholars and charismatic prayer groups as well.  He is also a special friend of women, of the poor, and of those with great Marian devotion.  Really all Christians are indebted to him.  He deepened, expanded, and colored our knowledge of our Savior.  How can we not toast him and pray to him today?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

(Galatians 5:18-25; Luke 11:42-46)

The letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch come as a ray of sun shining through a miry fog.  The New Testament leaves the episcopacy in a murky state.  They detail in a limited way the qualifications for the office of bishop but say little about his functions.  St. Ignatius, who lived at the end of New Testament times, fills in the lacunae.

Ignatius clearly distinguishes the duties of bishop, priest, and deacon.  He leaves no doubt as to who is in charge.  But he has favorable words for all the ordained.  He compares the bishop with God, the Father.  For this reason he is considered the originator of the “monarchial bishop.”  He sees the priests’ role as like that of the Holy Spirit who is found sanctifying the people in all places and ways.  Deacons in Ignatius’ view are quite honored.  They are like Christ, the Savior, doing good to all whom they meet.

As much as a theologian, Ignatius is renowned as a spiritual writer.  His letters can turn deeply personal.  He reflects on his upcoming execution as an opportunity to join Christ in suffering and death.  In one memorable passage he tells Roman Christians not to interfere with his being sent to the lions.  Why? He wrote, “I am the wheat of God and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ”!  Saint Ignatius of Antioch was a martyr and a bishop, a wise man and a holy man.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 5:1-6; Luke 11:37-41)

All great religions stress the importance of almsgiving.  It is one of the five obligations of every Muslim.  Jews find testimony of it in their Scriptures written in the last centuries before Christ.  Jesus speaks of its importance to cleansing the soul in today’s gospel.  Then why do people have such difficulty giving money to the poor?

The reason is not hard to imagine.  Often enough recipients of alms do not use them for basic needs.  Rather they purchase peripheral goods and sometimes harmful substances.  As much as this is the case giving alms implicates one in an evil.  But there are other ways to help those begging assistance.

Perhaps befriending the poor, listening to the stories of their lives, and providing them with food is the best thing that can be done.  Also, when we see them on a street corner soliciting cars passing by, we might promise ourselves to send a donation to Catholic Charities or the St. Vincent de Paul Society.  Finally, praying for the poor not only secures God’s help but reminds us to do what we can.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Memorial of Saint Teresa of Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church
(Galatians 4:22-24.26-27.31-5:1; Luke 11:29-32)

One of the great debates in ethics is over the definition of freedom.  Is freedom merely the absence of physical restraints?  If this were the case, one would be free as long as no one were holding the person back.  In freedom Jack could help Jill, ignore Jill, or kill Jill.  A second, deeper definition of freedom sees it as transcending both physical and spiritual barriers.  One is free if in addition to having no physical holds to overcome, there were no inward compulsions determining how the person will act.  The person would choose between different ways of doing good because humans are made for that.  Jack might buy Jill a cup of coffee, read her a sonnet of Shakespeare, telephone her when she gets sick, etc.  Surely St. Paul has this second idea in mind when he writes to the Galatians in today’s first reading, “For freedom, Christ has set you free.”

Paul realizes that sin has short-circuited human freedom.  Since Adam no one has been able to do the good that they deeply desire to do because of pride, lust, envy, and the other vices.  Recently, however, Christ has freed them from sin by his cross and resurrection.  His obedience to God and God’s ever-gracious approval have unbound the inner hold that sin has had on humans.  Now they can love as they were always meant to do.

If we are to realize the freedom Christ has won for us, we must remain close to him.  We do so through receiving Holy Communion and the other sacraments; by reading Scripture, especially the gospels; and by associating with the good people who comprise his body, the Church. 

Friday, October 12, 2018

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 3:7-14; Luke 11:15-26)

In every election cycle candidates court the people’s favor by distributing T-shirts.   If they are incumbents, they finagle legislation that gives voters more incentives to vote for them.  Like the crowd in the gospel wondering if Jesus casts out demons because he is in league with Beelzebub, the voters should question such freebies.

Knowing the suspicions of the people, Jesus tries to assuage their doubts in different ways.  First, he uses logic.  Beelzebub would be working against himself, he says, if he were casting out demons in his name.  Then Jesus tries to convince the people of his innocence with a comparison.  He casts out demons no differently than local healers.  If they suspect him of being in league with the devil, should they not also question the validity of the village exorcist?  Finally, Jesus proposes a challenge.  They should accept his marvelous deeds – he tells them - as a sign that the Kingdom of God has finally come.  “Wouldn’t that be wonderful!” he intimates.

But Jesus does not avoid the fact that the coming of the Kingdom will entail a response on the part of its beneficiaries.  People have to convert to its standards of justice, compassion, and peace.  If not, the vacuum created by the removal of the evil spirit will invite an even more pernicious presence.  We might think of a household that has been exterminated of mice.  But unless safeguards against pests are put in place quickly, rats will invade the house in force.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 3:1-5; Luke 11:5-13)

Fr. Paul Hinnebusch used to teach theology to a charismatic prayer community in Dallas.  He said that he did not pray in tongues nor did he particularly care for other forms of charismatic prayer.  But he enjoyed being with the community because of their desire to know about the Lord.  Fr. Hinnebusch would share St. Paul’s concern about the Galatians in today’s first reading.

It can be assumed that the Galatians had a prayer style similar to what we know as charismatic prayer.  Three times Paul mentions the Spirit in the passage.  It is the same Spirit that he associates with the gift of tongues in the First Letter to the Corinthians.  Evidently the Galatians prayed in ways that are still associated with the Holy Spirit.  That is, they sang songs of praise to God and even spoke in tongues.  Paul does not criticize them for this.  But he twice calls them “stupid” because through a lapse in theology they have assumed Jewish religious practices like circumcision.  He tells them almost brutally that they are saved by faith in Christ, not by religious works.

In our desire for salvation we sometimes lapse into thinking that we are saved by our works.  We may think that no matter what we do as long as we go to church on Sunday, we will enjoy eternal life.  Or perhaps we believe that heaven is the reward of all who help their neighbors.  No, as Paul states quite clearly in this same Letter to the Galatians, the only thing that matters is “faith working through love.”  We have to peer at the cross and say, “Yes, Lord, you are my Savior; I will follow you.” Of course, then we have to follow through.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 2:1-2.7-14; Luke 11:1-14)

It is hard to overestimate the contribution of St. Paul to early Christianity.  He was arguably its greatest theologian and its most successful missionary.   Although he continually proved himself a person of undaunted courage, he could also be tender and loving.  Today’s first reading indicates another supreme virtue of Paul.

Even though he received a mandate to preach from Christ, Paul never breaks covenant with the Twelve.  Quite the opposite, in the passage from Galatians Paul shows how he gave them deference.  He went up to Jerusalem for their approval of his mission.  He also gladly accommodated their desire that he take up a collection for poor Christians in Jerusalem.  But Paul is not necessarily placid before the regular apostles. When Peter tries to avoid criticism for eating with Gentiles, Paul charges him with hypocrisy. 

Paul serves us well both as a model to be imitated and a sage to be contemplated.  He loved Christ more than anyone or anything.  He also helps us to know the Lord by writing openly of his personal relationship with him.  It might not have been always comfortable to know Paul as exacting as he was.  However, the acquaintance would have brought us much closer to our goal of salvation.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 1:13-24; Luke 10:38-42)

It is said that St. John Paul II used to teach that the first duty of every Christian is to allow herself to be loved by God.  Some people seem to believe that they must earn this love so they never stop working.    They act in a way similar to Martha in today’s gospel.

Remember the story of Jesus visiting Zacchaeus’ home; how he tells the tax collector, “’…salvation has come to this house.’”  Salvation has come to Martha and Mary’s home, but Martha does not realize her fortune.  Her only concern is service to her guests.  As admirable as this intention may be, it blocks an encounter with the Lord.  Out of obsessive concern for work Martha misses a unique opportunity for salvation.  Mary, in contrast, realizes the uniqueness of the opportunity.  She responds with attentiveness to what Jesus has to say.

The long day provides many opportunities to work.  It also offers us moments to contemplate God’s goodness and to thank Him for His bounty.  We are wise to be a little like both sisters in this gospel episode.  Like Mary we want to attend to the Lord by cherishing his words and thanking him for his goodness.  Like Martha we want to serve him by caring for the need of others.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 1:6-12; Luke 10:25-37)

Liberation theologians of the last century called attention to the need of what they called “orthopraxis.”  This long word comes from two Greek words meaning right practice. The liberationists often said that orthopraxis was more important to salvation than orthodoxy or correct belief.  That statement had some shock value, but as today’s readings indicate, the two – orthopraxis and orthodoxy – correspond like a hand in a glove.

In the first reading Paul expresses dismay with the Galatians for accepting a false doctrine.  By having themselves circumcised, they were rejecting the orthodox position that salvation comes through faith in Christ.  In the gospel Jesus shows howt faith must be applied to the workaday world.  Faith in him means to practice the active love he taught by word and deed.  The Samaritan proves worthy of salvation because he sacrificed his time, effort, and money for the man who was waylaid by robbers. 

Paul will write later in the same Letter to the Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6).  The two – faith and a working love – might be seen as two halves of a paper dollar.  Faith without works cannot purchase us anything because it lacks grounding in life.  On the other hand, love without faith is likewise worthless for salvation because it lacks abiding commitment.  Together faith and love enable us to know Christ which is the essence of eternal life.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Friday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Job 38:1.12-21.12-21.40:3-5; Luke 10:13-16)

 On the anniversary of his being ordained a bishop, St. Augustine said: “Where I’m terrified by what I am for you, I am given comfort by what I am with you.  For you I am a bishop, with you, after all, I am a Christian.  The first is the name of an office undertaken, the second a name of grace; that one means danger, this one salvation.”  More than most clerics, Augustine was aware of the great responsibility he assumed with ordination.  Jesus suggests the enormity of the undertaking in today’s gospel.

Jesus is dismissing the seventy-two disciples for their missionary journey.  He has mandated that they announce the kingdom of God.  Now, after indicating the consequences of rejecting the proclamation, he identifies himself with them, and God the Father with him.  It may be a privilege that they have been chosen to preach God’s word, but it entails a huge mortgage.  They will be responsible for other people’s salvation.  If they fail because of carelessness or giving rise to scandal, they can expect a fate more disastrous than the condemnation of Tyre, Sidon, and Capernaum.

All of us are being called today to be missionary disciples.  We are to learn from Jesus the ways of holiness, love, and justice.  And then we are to show these qualities to others.  There is not much room for slack on the mission.  But let us not be troubled so much by the responsibility.  After all, as Augustine knew well, knowing Christ has graced us.  We not only can but are delighted to share his love with others.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi

(Job 19:21-27; Luke 10:1-12)

In Luke’s gospel Jesus sends out two groups of disciples.  In the first commissioning Jesus sends the Twelve with power over demons and the ability to cure diseases.  They are to proclaim the Kingdom of God by using the powers that Jesus entrusted to them.  In the second – the one we hear about in today’s gospel – Jesus sends out a much larger number of disciples. (There are seventy or seventy two, depending on the manuscript tradition that is followed.)  Like in the first sending, Jesus tells them to heal the sick and to proclaim the kingdom but no mention is made of power over demonic spirits.

We should ask ourselves, why are there two commissionings in Luke and only one in Matthew and Mark?  And then, what is the difference, if any, between the two? Luke very well may have a universal mission in mind when he writes of Jesus’ second commissioning.  He is likely saying that the seventy (two) disciples represent most of Jesus’ followers.  They are to proclaim by word and deed the coming of the Kingdom of God.  In the more limited first sending Jesus commissions the Twelve who will become the first apostles with the power to confect the Eucharist.  Here they are given the power to forgive sins -- the sacramental equivalent of casting out demons.

Today we celebrate one of the greatest saints of the Church.  Francis of Assisi was known for his humility.  He did not think himself worthy of being a priest and even resisting being made a deacon!  Yet he found an order of preaching brothers to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  He inspires all of us to go out and tell others about Jesus Christ.  Like the seventy (two) are sent by Christ to proclaim the Kingdom, we are to tell others of the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Wednesday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Job 9:1-12.14-16; Luke 9:57-62)

Perhaps we think we do God a favor by praying every day.  We may think that God somehow needs our support.  Job’s understanding of God in today’s first reading more truly hits the spot.  God is utterly beyond us so that anything we do either individually or collectively can hardly faze Him.  Yet God has made our lives important.  He created us with a certain likeness to Himself so that we might in know and love Him.  More marvelous still, He sent us His Son to clarify our knowledge and purify our love.

Today’s gospel indicates the upshot of Christ’s revelation.  The presence of the Kingdom -- which is to say the presence of God -- relativizes all other concerns.  Even care for our parents, to whom we owe the most in this world, is subordinate to service of the Kingdom.  Jesus also suggests that giving priority to God can challenge our peace.  We may find ourselves like him without a home to call our own.

Then how do we deal with the exigencies of life?  What are we supposed to do when we cannot attend Mass because we are called to work on Sunday?  What if we see someone on the side of the road obviously needing help but have other obligations to keep?  Such situations enable our love of God to mature.  Often we can find alternative ways to fulfill all our obligations.  We may not be able to attend Mass in the morning but perhaps in the evening.  Alternatively we can pray for the person in need.  We have to realize that we cannot do everything but we always can do something (usually more than most people think) to love God as only He deserves.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels

(Job 3:1-3.11-17.20-23; Matthew 18:1-5.10)

Spiritual teacher Ronald Rolheiser the other day wrote that no one really parents children alone.  He said that single parents can count on God to guide their children along with them.  This idea expresses a very similar insight to Jesus’ reference to Guardian Angels in today’s gospel.

Jesus echoes an Old Testament tradition that God sends angels as His ambassadors to watch over human beings.  Jesus’ point is that not only leaders -- which is to say the most important people -- have divine guidance.   Children, the simplest of humans, have such help as well.  He is advising his disciples not to seek importance but to rejoice to have God as their Father.

We as well want to be recognized as important, not only by a few but by everyone.  It is a vain ambition since no one will be admired by all – not even a Pope Francis.  However, everyone can count on God’s love.  This providential care is well expressed by the doctrine that Guardian Angels continually watch over us.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Memorial of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Job 1:6-22; Luke 9:46-50)

Genetic selection is talked about as a certain reality in the not so distant future.  It is said to provide couples with the ability to have the kind of offspring they desire.  If they want a baby with as much brawn as Serena Williams or as much brain as Albert Einstein, they have only to arrange it with their geneticist.  Genetic selection has also the possibility of avoiding medical defects like autism.  What is disturbing about genetic selection, however, is that it obscures the consideration of children as a gift from God.  We hear Job declaring this truth in today’s first reading.

The Book of Job is a brilliant gem in the Bible’s jewelry shop.  For millennia it has provided a way to understand both the incomprehensibility and the ultimate goodness of God.  It also gives a portrait of a truly good man.  Job is not only notable for his patience but also for his faith.  He believes that God is the author of life and that children are His gifts to the parents who give them birth.  They do not belong to anyone except the Lord.

A theologian has expressed a valid stance for parents in the process of having children.  He said that they should be “open to the unbidden.”  That is, rather than trying to plan every aspect of children’s lives including genetic features, parents are to accept their children as they are.  Of course, they should provide their needs and instill in them moral values.  But they are to recognize that children are a gift from God not to be fabricated and engineered but cherished.  

Friday, September 28, 2018

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ecclesiastes 3:1-11; Luke 9:18-22)

In Umberto Eco’s novel The Island of the Day Before the main character is shipwrecked at a point just east of the International Date Line.  He sees his salvation in reaching an island that is west of the Date Line, seemingly existing in a previous time.  If he can get there, the reader gathers, perhaps he might undo the ills that have caused the shipwreck.  But, of course, it is an impossible quest.  The island does not exist in a time past.  Rather, the “day before” is only part of the time differentiations which humans construct to make sense of the transition of time around the world.

In the well-known passage from Ecclesiastes that we read today, the author Qoheleth speaks of another futile effort involving time.  It tells us that no matter how much time or toil we put into the project, human effort cannot achieve salvation because that is in God’s hands.  The text admonishes us to follow God’s ways according to the schedule He laid down in the Mosaic Law.

God does not abandon us in our quest for the eternal.  Rather, although it was beyond the view of Qoheleth, salvation does come through the Paschal event of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  In today’s gospel Jesus recognizes that he is the anointed one to save the world.  That is, he is the fulfillment of the timeless hope, noted by Qoheleth, that rests in every human heart.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, priest

(Ecclesiastes 1:2-11; Luke 9:7-9)

It is said that St. Vincent de Paul was largely responsible for France’s overcoming of Jansenism.  This seventeenth century heresy was destroying souls in the name of grace.  It taught the need of an obsession over not committing sin, especially of the sexual sort, so that one might be assured of the grace for heaven.  Taking its name from a Dutch bishop, proponents of Jansenism recommended constant confession as a way to avoid eternal fire.  St. Vincent, on the other hand, promoted work of charity as a demonstration of God’s favor.

Born a peasant, Vincent was ordained a priest at the age of twenty.  Very talented, he might have had a comfortable life with the revenue received from a monastery to which he was appointed chaplain.  But the acquaintance of a cardinal in Paris steered his life in another direction.  Rather than enjoying a life of leisure, Vincent began visiting prisons and galley ships to comfort prisoners.  In time he founded the Congregation of the Mission, priests first known as Lazarists and then as Vincentians, to work among poor country folk.  He is also co-founder with St. Louise de Marillac of the Daughters of Charity, who have become renowned for their work with the poor. 

Today’s gospel comments that King Herod greatly wanted to see Jesus.  So would many people throughout the centuries.  We can turn to saints like Vincent de Paul to catch a glimpse of him.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Proverbs 30:5-9; Luke 9:1-6)

Death is our biggest fear and greatest natural threat.  It may be considered the work of the devil.  It is not so bad when it comes after a long life.  The one who has lived eighty-five or ninety years may even welcome death as the end to the pains and humiliations of old age.  But when it threatens a young person or someone in middle age, it becomes a scourge.  For this reason Jesus gives his choice Twelve disciples power over demons and the ability to cure diseases.

Their mission is to proclaim the Kingdom of God.  This is no monarchial territory but the reign of justice and peace.  Subjects of the Kingdom are to live righteously, but they are freed from the terror of an early death.  The Kingdom’s full beneficence is not revealed until the end of the gospel.  It bestows not only a long, worthwhile life but also the prospect of eternal bliss.  Those who prove themselves righteous will share in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

It is fashionable today to reject eternal life as fanciful.  Some try to content themselves with following the customs and most of the commandments of Christianity.  They reason that these traditions provide a satisfying rhythm to life and a more or less workable morality.  Not only will this mental picture prove insufficient when life’s challenges mount, but it also betrays the wisdom of today’s first reading.  We are to accept the gospel in its entirety.  We also walk as Jesus’ his disciples – poor but not wanting with the gracious help of one another.  With those disciples as well we look up the road to an eternal destiny where every need is more than satisfied.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Proverbs 21:1-6; 10-13; Luke 8:19-21)

Most baby-boomers remember with fondness the Mickey Mouse Club.  Walt Disney’s daily television show of the late 1950s provided edifying entertainment without pedanticism.  Proverbs were an almost daily feature.  The show’s host repeated a proverb like the ones of today’s first reading.  Then he sang a tune, “Proverbs help us all to be better mouseketeers; that is, followers of Mickey Mouse.  The cheerful, good-hearted cartoon creation was proposed as the model for children of the generation.

The ten proverbs cited today were probably used on the Mickey Mouse Club.  They do not have a unifying theme beyond the need to be humble, earnest, honest, and kind.  They reflect the Decalogue in their moral wisdom and succinctness.

The fact that Jesus frequently uses proverbs in his preaching gives those we hear today added currency.  As he says in the gospel, his closest human relatives are they who hear such words and put them into practice.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Proverbs 3:27-34; Luke 8:16-18)

A lifetime ago poet T.S. Eliot asked of his generation questions that seem even more relevant to ours.  Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?” Eliot wrote. And, “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”  Our society seems to know more and more but acts with less and less prudence.  Information abounds, but few seem to use it well.  News media provides an example.  All too often newspapers and TV news editorialize as they report.  They picture reality through a distorted prism so that readers and viewers are left with a biased understanding of what is happening.   One can turn to Scripture as a more reliable source of knowledge and wisdom.

The passage from the Book of Proverbs today reminds us to be generous and just.  In the gospel Jesus uses proverbs to teach the crowds.  The wise, he says, will listen carefully to worthy instruction or they will lose whatever edge they have in facing life’s challenges.  Jesus is showing himself to be the fulfillment of Simeon’s prophecy at the gospel’s beginning.  He is the light of the nations who comes to reveal God’s plan for the world.

Wisdom is not knowledge and much less mere information.  It is truth about life which for most of us takes a lifetime to comprehend.  We can find it most compactly in Jesus.  If we are going to reach life’s true objectives, we should heed all that he tells us and follow always in his way.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Feast of Saint Matthew, apostle and evangelist

(Ephesians 4:1-7.11-13; Matthew 9:9-13)

A young pastor in Chicago speaks of the theology of space.  He sees his community as addressing violence wherever it happens. He reasons that the Church building should reflect an outreach to those often involved in violence. So he has opened in the middle of the church by moving the pews to the side.  Now the youth who often cause violence can gather in church for different activities seven days a week.  The pastor shows the same zeal to call sinners as Jesus does in today’s gospel.

What does Jesus see in Matthew?  No doubt, the tax collector has financial ability.  But Jesus needs preachers who will be loyal to him and then be ready to endure hardship on his behalf.  Perhaps he notices on Matthew’s face dissatisfaction with his compromised profession.  As a fine judge of character, he may see a reluctance to handle money and a need to uplift others.  In any case, he has assessed Matthew correctly.  As soon as he issues his call, Matthew leaves behind his professional accoutrements to follow.

Jesus calls every one of us to serve.  Certainly, we are not all to be apostles.  But, as the Letter to the Ephesians says, everyone is invited “for the work of ministry.”  Let us not hesitate to respond.  Like Matthew let us readily put our things aside to follow Jesus.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gon, priest and martyr; Paul Chong Ha-sang, martyr; and companions, martyrs

(I Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 7:36-50)

The Charismatic Renewal has received more than its rightful share of criticisms.  Pastors sometimes want to suppress it or to keep it from gaining a foothold.  They find its participants too emotional and insufficiently submissive to prayer norms and customs.  Yet the movement is perhaps the most effective resource for evangelization in the Church today.  Detractors might consider the message of today’s gospel before launching criticisms.

Of course, the narrative says nothing about charismatic prayer.  Rather, it tells the story of an emotional woman showing gratitude to Jesus.   She likely heard him preach of God’s mercy and came to the house of Simon, the Pharisee, to show her appreciation.  She lavishes affection on Jesus which would appear extreme except, perhaps, at a Charismatic prayer meeting.  To Simon she is giving added evidence of harlotry, but Jesus recognizes a show of genuine contrition.  He forgives her all her sins while pointing out to Simon his complacencies. 

We should see the Pharisees in the gospel as warnings that we do not criticize the ways of others to worship God.  What may seem odd or eccentric to us may please the Lord as much as our rosaries and penances.  Charismatics especially deserve our continual consideration as they both praise God regularly and bring others to the community.  Truth be told, they are more likely than most to participate in join services to the needy.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wednesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 7:31-35)

Pope Benedict XVI wrote as helpful a reflection on love as one can hope to fine.  His encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love) asks a critical question: Are there different kinds of love, or is it a single reality? If there are different kinds, then some kinds would have a higher quality than others.  In classical terms agape, normally considered as selfless love, would be better than eros or desire.  Quite unexpectedly, Benedict holds that love is singular, that agape is but a purified form of eros. Paul’s great elegy on love, comprising today’s first reading, should be read with Benedict’s insight in mind.

The passage consistently uses agape, yet it is the reading of choice at wedding ceremonies.  Its context bespeaks union, but its words relate consideration and care for the other.  It implies that love is the greatest of the virtues because it is most God-like.  While it does not deny one’s own desires, it seeks first the good of the other. 

St. Therese of Lisieux was surely correct when she recognized that through love anyone could achieve the highest of human desires – sanctity and eternal life.  Whether we are married, religious, or single if we dedicate ourselves to loving others we will not only brings others happiness but also find it ourselves.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 12:12-14.27-31a; Luke 7:11-17)

Prophets speak on God’s behalf.  They often utter truths that no one wants to hear. When Judah was being besieged by Assyrian troops, Isaiah told the people to trust in God and not in strategic alliances.  When Israel’s economy was humming, Amos chastised the nation for ignoring the needs of the poor.  In both readings today mention is made of prophets in New Testament times.

Paul lists prophets as the second most important ministry of the Church.  Prophets were not ordained but had a natural ability to speak a necessary but unexpressed truth at a given moment.  Especially Luke’s gospel presents Jesus as a prophet.  Like the primordial prophets Elijah and Elisha he raises the widow’s son from the dead.  He also reveals God’s will on questions like whether one should heal on the Sabbath.  Jesus’ prophecy culminates in Jerusalem when he predicts the destruction of the city.  He tells the people to lead virtuous so that he might rescue them at the critical hour.

The Church has prophets although not a formal ministry of prophecy.  Pope St. Paul VI was a prophet when he wrote the difficult truth of Humanae Vitae.  Prophetic voices are being raised now.  They speak of the need to include women at all level of Church decision-making.  We best listen carefully or we may be defying the will of God.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

( I Corinthians 11:17-26.33; Luke 7:1-10)

A hundred years ago the Church often separated a minority group from the dominant one. Rather than one integrated parish, there were two - a rich parish in the nice part of town and a poor parish of African-Americans, Mexicans or other immigrant group on the poor side of the railroad tracks. Unfortunately, a similar practice is sometimes allowed today.  Communities with means resist having a Eucharist in Spanish, Polish, or other language. St. Paul addresses this abuse in the first reading.

Evidently people have reported to Paul that the well-off in the Corinthian community are separating themselves from the poor.  They have what amounts to a private party while the poor wait for the formal Eucharist to begin. Paul reminds the community that the host of the gathering is Jesus himself present in spirit. In him, he says later in the letter, all are united – slave and free, Jew and Greek, Mexican and Irish, men and women - into one body. Seeking divisions betrays that unity.  It may even nullify his presence

No doubt reaching out to people from other cultures takes us out of our comfort zones. But there is really no alternative for Christians. If we are what we say we are - the Body of Christ -- then we have to act inclusively.  By integrating our communities we profess Jesus Christ as the one Lord of the whole world.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

(Numbers 21:4b-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17)

One of the earliest poems in the English language is a reflection on the Holy Cross.  In “The Dream of the Rood” the rood is a pole or a cross. The poem describes the trajectory of its existence.  It was once a tree before being cut down and formed into an instrument of death.  Brought to Calvary, the rood realized that it was being embraced by Jesus and so would suffer with him.  In the end the rood was adorned with precious stones where the Savior’s body had been attached.  The story is a kind of personal remembrance of today’s second reading.

The passage from the Letter to the Philippians is believed to have originated as a hymn sung by early Christians.  It was adopted by Paul for his lesson on humility and obedience. The Son, Christ Jesus, was always God, but at the Father’s command humbled himself to be born as human.  On earth he continued in obedience in order to fulfill his Father’s will to redeem humanity from sin.  He was crucified, but death was not the last word about his mission.  God raised him up so that he might be adored and worshiped.

Both “The Dream of the Rood” and the Letter to the Philippians encourage us to suffer with Christ.  Catholics today are facing ridicule for continuing as members of a Church whose leaders have sometimes sinned.  We can accept the humiliation as a way of participating in the Savior’s crucifixion.  Our comfort is to know that following Christ, we will come to his glory.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, bishop and doctor of the Church

(I Corinthians 8:1b-7.11-13; Luke 6:27-38)

Reading a biographical sketch of St. John Chrysostom, one is reminded of Pope Francis.  Like Francis, John was an excellent preacher.  In fact, the appellation “Chrysostom” means golden-mouth.  He was also a bishop of an imperial see who lived in simplicity and befriended the poor.  John made enemies among the elite for his outspoken opposition to aristocratic extravagances.  He particularly criticized churchmen for unseemly wealth and abuse of power.  The lives of both John and Francis indicate an assimilation of today’s readings.

St. Paul tells the Corinthians that love demands sacrifices.  He says that even if some desired action is not evil but would cause scandal, one should not do it out of love.  Paul’s words reflect a profound acceptance of Jesus’ teaching. The Lord commands his disciples to love even their enemies.  Their love must do more than wish the other person well.  It must be willing to make sacrifices for the person.

It is fair to ask if Jesus should be taken literally when he tells us to “’give to everyone who asks of you.’”  I do not believe that it is necessary that we give everything others may request.  But we do have to try to meet people’s basic needs.  We are to clothe the naked and feed the hungry.  We are also to honor the God-like dignity of every man and woman.

Wednesday, September 13, 2018

Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 7:25-31; Luke 6:20-26)

A perennial question in the Church concerns priestly celibacy.  Should married men be ordained to the priesthood?  There are former Episcopalian priests with wives who are ordained Roman Catholic priests, but here we want to consider the rule and not the exception.  Some believe that celibacy is the right option for those who believe they would be happier without a wife.  St. Paul offers an interesting alternative to this position.

Paul admits that he is speaking on his own here; nevertheless, his words are authoritative.  Believing that Jesus is to return soon, he recommends that all people not marry.  Paul says that although married couples should not separate, the unmarried should not seek marriage.  Rather, he believes that they are wise to keep the Lord constantly in mind.  Paul is well aware of the human tendency to preoccupy itself with sex if that is at hand.

Most priest celibates experience some difficulty.  Like most men they long for intimacy with a woman and to raise a family.  However, married couples do not have life easy either.  Marriage is necessary to continue the human enterprise, and celibacy testifies to the Lord’s eventual return.  It is not likely that enough men would choose celibacy without a rule for this witness to be widespread.  Therefore, it may be said that although it requires deeply felt sacrifice, priestly celibacy is valuable for preaching the full gospel.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Tuesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 6:1-11; Luke 6:12-19)

A recent article on the editorial page of The New York Times criticized the Church for its sexual morality.  The author reacted to the suspicion of homosexual activity among priests and bishops raised by the former Apostolic Delegate to the United States.  More to the point, the author said that the Church has failed “to come to grips with sex.”  Especially problematic for him was St. Paul’s condemnation of homosexual activity, an instance of which is found in today’s first reading.

Paul does not make distinctions when he declares that “sodomites,” like other kinds of blatant sinners, will not inherit the kingdom of God.  By using that term he might well have in mind promiscuous men who seek to victimize others.  Perhaps he would not as hastily doomed men in a committed relationships.  However, the issue here is the purpose of sexual activity.  The Church has always maintained that genital sex is ordered to have children.  In more recent times the Church has emphasized another purpose which is to assist a married couple grow in mutual love.  Procreative, love-nurturing sexual activity is not an ideal for the holiest couples.  It is a reality in millions of marriages throughout history and today.

Advocates of the Sexual Revolution have proclaimed that sexual activity outside marriage can be good.  With the wreckage of poverty, emotional distress, to say nothing of abortions, that has resulted from “free love,” one should think that it is they, not the Church, who have to come to grips with reality.  The Church must continue teaching, whether or not its message is accepted, what it has received from Jesus:  when a man and a woman marry, they become “one flesh” which is not to be divided.  St. Paul never denies this truth but means to affirm it with his condemnation of sodomy.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

( I Corinthians 11:17-26.33; Luke 7:1-10)

A hundred years ago the Church often separated a minority group from the dominant one. Rather than one integrated parish, there were two - a rich parish in the nice part of town and a poor parish of African-Americans, Mexicans or other immigrant group on the poor side of the railroad tracks. Unfortunately, a similar practice is sometimes allowed today.  Communities with means resist having a Eucharist in Spanish, Polish, or other language. St. Paul addresses this abuse in the first reading.

Evidently people have reported to Paul that the well-off in the Corinthian community are separating themselves from the poor.  They have what amounts to a private party while the poor wait for the formal Eucharist to begin. Paul reminds the community that the host of the gathering is Jesus himself present in spirit. In him, he says later in the letter, all are united – slave and free, Jew and Greek, Mexican and Irish, men and women - into one body. Seeking divisions betrays that unity.  It may even nullify his presence

No doubt, reaching out to people from other cultures takes us out of our comfort zones. But there is really no alternative for Christians. If we are what we say we are - the Body of Christ -- then we have to act inclusively.  By integrating our communities we profess Jesus Christ as the one Lord of the whole world.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Monday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 5:1-8; Luke 6:6-11)

Donald Trump’s “locker room banter” many times is more than bravado.  Men will brag of actual sexual exploits as if they were still school boys propelled by excess dopamine.  The same coarseness has long been in comic routines and now appears even among strangers.  St. Paul takes the Corinthians to task for showing acceptance of a similar display of lewdness.

Paul is outraged upon hearing how the Corinthian community gossips about sexual sins. Evidently the community is more amused than affronted by a member’s sleeping with his father’s wife. He chastises everyone for finding delight in the travesty.  He implies that this kind of practice indicates a loss in the Christian quest for holiness.  He says like leaven in dough they have been inflated by sin.  He exhorts them to renew the quest by distancing themselves both spiritually and physically from the guilty party.

In this time of sexual license many will think it normal, even healthy to describe sexual adventure.  The ancients labeled such description “obscene” to relegate it to the periphery.  We should be wary that such talk does not become familiar.  It will lure us into thinking the sexual intimacy may be pursued by anyone at any time.  Surely such an idea will detour us from the road to sanctity.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 5:33-39)

It is always perplexing to hear people seemingly without a prejudiced sentiment in their soul deride old age.  Perhaps they invert a friend’s age saying that she is thirty-seven rather than seventy-three.  Or maybe they repudiate that the friend has any age at all be calling her “seventy-three years young.” 

What is it about old age that we don’t like to think of ourselves or those whom we love as having a part in it?  When living things become old, they naturally die so humans at least fear growing old for that reason.  Similarly, we know that in old age people experience a decrease in ability, be it the physical capacity to work day and night or the mental ability to recall facts immediately.  But becoming old has positive sides.  People often correct destructive behavior patterns in old age, and there is some truth to the celebrated “wisdom of old age.”  Antiques have a definite charm as they imply craftsmanship and originality.  In today’s gospel Jesus reminds us of an item that generally improves with years – wine.

American Catholics need to be wary of denigrating old age because both their faith tradition and their government are practically ancient.  The Catholic Church is sometimes dubbed “the oldest institution in the world.”  Likewise, there are few constitutional governments older than that of the United States.  We can say that it is good to be old when age has a regenerating element that self-corrects corrupting tendencies and adapts to current ways of life.  In the Church we recognize this factor as the Holy Spirit.  In American society we see it as a sense of human equality.  More than most other societies we believe “that all men (and women) are created equal.”

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 3:18-23; Luke 5:1-11)

Simon makes his livelihood fishing.  Having his own boat, he probably is an accomplished fisherman.  That means he knows the sea; he is sea-wise.  But St. Paul tells the Corinthians in the first reading that there is something better than being “wise in this age.”  He exhorts them to become like fools needing instruction.  So what happens when Simon abandons his own wisdom to follow Jesus’ instruction? That’s right; he catches two boat-loads of fish. 

The catch is symbolic for Jesus.  He tells Simon that he will be catching humans, not fish, implying that there will be many.  But to do so, once again Simon must become foolish by giving up his boat and gear.  If he is to preach the Kingdom of God, he must dedicate himself one hundred percent to learning from the master.  How can Simon help but to take up the challenge?

We too must give up the quest for worldly wisdom.  That is, we must forsake the incessant pursuit of fame and fortune.  Jesus has chosen each of us to learn from him so that we might teach others about him.  We are not talking necessarily about enlisting converts here.  No, we are sent to convert others to his ways by example, instruction, and tender care.  Through our efforts may our associates become more just, loving, and faithful people.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 3:1-9; Luke 4:38-44)

Although the Catholic Church claims to be one, a telling fissure appears on its surface.  Liberal and conservative Catholics criticize each other continuously.  Liberals believe that the Church must change if its teaching is to maintain credibility.  They see, for example, a married clergy as not only desirable but critical. Conservatives believe that most changes betray the tradition handed over through the centuries. They even frown on the revived customs of taking Holy Communion in the hand and from the chalice.  St. Paul provides a needed corrective of both sides in today’s first reading.

Paul calls the Corinthians “fleshly people” for creating divisions among themselves.  “Fleshly” appears to be the same quality as “natural” in yesterday’s passage.  It refers to living according to the animal desires of dominance and sensuality.  Even though they have been baptized into Christ, Paul sees them as no more Christ-like than ruthless warriors.  He urges the Corinthians to transcend their differences by seeing God as their all-encompassing life-force.  His compassion for all must be emulated.

We do well to follow Paul’s recommendations.  Of course, we are to pursue truth by making strong arguments for what we believe.  But even truth does not allow us to denigrate those who take different positions.  Most always there will be something to note with approval.  In this way that fissure threatening Church unity will soon disappear.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 2:10b-16; Luke 4:31-37)

Medical authorities note that the misuse of opioid drugs has reached epidemic proportions.  Easy access to an assortment of prescribed and illicit opium derivatives is having drastic consequences.  Drug overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under fifty years of age.  Life expectancy for Americans has decreased in the last few years because of the epidemic.  In today’s gospel Jesus uses his authority to overcome the power of drives like opioid addiction.

Jesus has come from Nazareth where he announced that his anointing to bring relief to the oppressed.  He is confronted by a man who is said to have an “unclean demon.”  Although demons are commonly thought today to be living spirits, in ancient times they were often associated with inner compulsions.  An unclean demon could be a psychological or emotional drive for contact with decomposed matter, excrement, or forbidden food.  Jesus’ command forces this demon to leave the besieged soul.

Facing people with opioid addiction or any uncontrollable inner drive, we should turn to Jesus.  Prayer will have positive effect on the affected.  It may take a while and may not be experienced completely at once, but Jesus will bring relief.  Of course, prayer as a spiritual resource should not exclude medical assistance and emotional support.  God works in harmony with nature to bring us salvation.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

(I Corinthians 2:1-5; Luke 4:16-30)

Like some of the other national holidays, "Labor Day” has lost much of its meaning.  Few people today see it as an opportunity to celebrate work.  Instead, like Presidents’ Day and even Memorial Day, Labor Day is just another day off.  Ideally, it is an opportunity to contemplate at leisure the meaning of work and its inherent dignity. Today’s gospel can assist us in this effort.

Jesus proclaims "glad tidings to the poor." He does not have only the homeless and unemployed in mind.  The vast majority of workers at this time have difficulty meeting family needs. As is indicated in the parable of the Laborers of the Vineyard, many workers do not receive a full day’s wage.  But now that Jesus has come, workers may fret no longer.  He brings the good news of salvation. As his disciples, the rich will share with the poor.  More to the point, as God’s anointed Jesus will lead the people from fetishes and misconceptions about religion.  He will speak authoritatively so that they will follow.  Most of all he will care for the people sacrificing himself so that they may be freed from the snares of sin.

Work, of course, produces much more than money to put food on the table. As importantly, it gives all women and men occasion to confirm their inherent dignity by participating in divine creation. This may be readily seen in the efforts of engineers, scientists, and artists, but it is also true of people who labor. By cooking, selling, or cleaning, we make the world a better place.  Putting our mind as well as our muscle into work, we can legitimately call ourselves “co-creators of the world.”

Friday, August 31, 2018

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 1:17-25; Matthew 25:1-13)

Last year the movie Casablanca celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary.  Of course, that is not so great a milestone.  It was newsworthy because the movie never ceases to capture the imagination of the public.  What makes it so outstanding?  Some will say it was the acting of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart.  Others marvel at how the movie was filmed in its entirety in Hollywood.  But consider this as the reason for the movie’s popularity: it re-presents the sacrifice of which St. Paul writes in today’s first reading.

The movie portrays a man’s sacrifice of the woman he loves for her benefit and that of a foreign nation.  In the Letter to the Corinthians Paul tells of how he preaches Jesus Christ who sacrificed himself for the good of humanity.  The sacrifice, Paul says, would be considered folly by the Greeks, the worldly wise, who marvel at rational arguments.  Likewise, it would be considered inconsequential by Jews, the worldly prudent, who look for demonstrations of power.  But to those with an inkling of the true God, Christ’s sacrifice reveals the superabundance of divine love.

God’s love for us is more immense than an ocean and more intense than the sun.  We can never understand it fully, much less imitate it completely.  We only can give thanks for it and vow to follow the same Jesus Christ in all he said and did.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 1:1-9; Matthew 24:42-51)

A year before he was murdered, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered a famous speech about work.  He preached that each of us in her or his occupation should do the best job possible.  Knowing that many of the people listening to him had relatively simple jobs, he focused on street sweepers.  “If a man is called to be a street sweeper,” King said, “he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry.”  In today’s gospel Jesus calls his disciples to work with the same kind of diligence.

The passage comprises the middle section of Jesus’ “eschatological discourse” in Matthew’s gospel.  The Lord is teaching his disciples how to consider the end of time when he will come in glory.   Ironically he says that one prepares for his coming by not preparing.  Since the end will come when it is least expected, disciples must always be ready for it.  They are to assiduously fulfill their daily responsibilities.  Jesus uses a butler as his prime example.  As a worthy butler will dispense food rations equitably so must disciples perform their duties prudently.   As the responsible butler will be made chief steward, faithful disciples will find secure places in the Kingdom.

For many of us a new year is beginning at this time when summer is ending.  It is time to rededicate ourselves to our task – be it school work or waiting tables.  We do it for the Lord as much as for ourselves or for the common good.  We want people to say, “There goes a true Christian,” if they should see us at work.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Memorial of the Passion of John the Baptist

(II Thessalonians 3:6-10.16-18; Mark 6:17-29)

In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Julius Caesar, the protagonist says: "Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once."  Caesar is referring to the many occasions in which cowards betray their consciences.  Out of fear they fail to do what is right.  King Herod proves himself to be a coward in today’s gospel.

Herod fears that his guests will think of him as weak-kneed for refusing to carry out the promise he made.  He also shows himself a coward for not reprimanding his stepdaughter for her outrageous request.  Quite the opposite, John the Baptist shows real courage by speaking out against Herod for causing a public scandal.  He knows that civic leaders should give good example to the people by living upright lives. 

We are being continuously jarred by the unseemly acts of politicians.  Marital infidelity and cavorting with prostitutes are regular front-page features.  We need to look to Jesus for a remedy.  He will tell us not to cast stones on the guilty.  But he will add that their sins cannot be tolerated.  They should repent, do penance, and find consolation from us.  After all, we too struggle at times to live righteously.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Memorial of Saint Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church

(II Thessalonians 2:1-3a.14-17; Matthew 23:23-26)

It has been said that the three most influential persons in Christianity are Jesus, St. Paul, and today’s patron, St. Augustine.  It is a plausible selection.  Jesus and Paul are natural choices, and much can be said to defend Augustine’s placement in the troika. His prodigious thought lent coherency to biblical teaching.  And his long service allowed him to comment on most aspects of theology and church life.  He wrote books, theological tracts, and sermons.  His best known work, The Confessions, is found on most lists of great books of Western Civilization.  He certainly fulfilled the demand articulated in today’s first reading.

The Second Letter to the Thessalonians like most New Testament epistles emphasizes the urgency of holding to faith traditions.  “…stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught,” it says.  Unlike other religious systems Christianity understands itself as a religion with a fixed theological tradition.  Proper understanding of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit more than anything else makes one a Christian.  Morality, particularly love of God and neighbor, is also essential but in a real sense not so much as firmness of belief.

Today, as in biblical times, there are many odd ideas that pretend to be Christian.  The “prosperity gospel” provides a relevant example.   Of course, Christ never preached the desirability of riches, quite the opposite.  Endeavoring to understand our faith will help us to practice as he taught and lived.