Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 2:1.6-14; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

A generation ago the movie “Chariots of Fire” won critical acclaim.  It told the story of the British runners who beat the favored Americans at the 1920 Olympics.  The drama centered largely on Eric Liddell, a devout Christian.  Liddell was forced to make a decision between competing on Sunday and honoring the Third Commandment.  He did not hesitate to choose the Lord.  Liddell demonstrated the same courage as Elijah whose spirit Elisha seeks in today’s first reading.

Elijah is the paragon of prophets.  He speaks truth to power and exhorts the people to faithfulness.  God favors him the supernatural capacity of calling down fire on opponents.  He also suffers for his convictions.  In asking for a double portion of his spirit Elisha is both reaching for greatness and risking his future.   He too will accomplish great deeds but not without a share of anguish.

Eventually Jesus will prove to be the greatest of the prophets.  He will insist that both kings and commoners observe the true spirit of the Law.  No one will suffer for his convictions more unjustifiably than he.  Without being asked, he gladly sends his Spirit upon us.  We are to carry on his pursuit of inner righteousness come what may.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 21:17-29; Matthew 5:43-48)

For practical purposes Ahab gets away with murder in today’s first reading.  He witnesses the treachery of his wife but does nothing to stop her.  He appropriates Naboth’s garden like a bandit.  He even repents of his crime and does not face retribution.  The story sounds incredible but there is a parallel happening today.

The wealthy in our society are creating safe havens for themselves while leaving the poor in misery.  They construct gated communities where they are shielded from the plight of the less fortunate.  They send their children to the best schools while education for the poor often lacks funding.  Their politicians and economic advisors make available ways to avoid paying taxes.  But they become outraged if a poor person uses food stamps to buy a sirloin steak.  Meanwhile the wealthy are more likely found in church thanking God for the good life they have.  Where is the justice of it all?

We find justice in Jesus Christ.  He insists that his followers take care of the poor.  More than that, we are called to be the source of reconciliation.  We are to work for the unity between rich and poor, women and men, black and white.  If we forsake this responsibility, our posterity will face the social turmoil that Ahab’s descendants experienced.  We pray now for the virtues of justice and prudence to bring about social peace.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 21:1-16; Matthew 5:38-42)

Few gospel passages have provoked more soul searching reflection than that of today and tomorrow.  Seemingly Jesus is calling his disciples not to defend their families, much less themselves, if attacked.  Is that even humane?  Or is Jesus exaggerating as when he says one must hate one’s parents to be his disciple (Luke 14:26)?

Thomas Aquinas justifies killing in self-defense if one does not intend to kill the aggressor.  The case is not one of doing evil to achieve the good because the defender acts in place of the civil authority.  For Aquinas only the state acting as God’s minister in pursuit of the common good can take a life. 

Then is Aquinas faithful to the gospel?  One would be reckless to accuse Thomas Aquinas of biblical infidelity.  He sees Jesus correctly as talking of personal righteousness.  Jesus does not intend that his statement be generalized to cover every case of evil.  He does insist, however, as tomorrow’s passage will show that we love our enemies.  This means that we do not want them harm.  But if they present themselves as unjust aggressors unstoppable short of killing, then let it be done.  Aquinas will make one exception to this rule.  An ordained man cannot kill under any circumstances.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(1 Kings 19:9a.11-16; Matthew 5:27-32)

Of the longings of the human heart sexual desire takes a primary place.   Beyond intimacy, men want to dominate women and to use them for self-propagation.  Women seek to manipulate men for protection and for children to mother.  Jesus addresses this mutual exploitation with his commandments in today’s gospel.

Once again Jesus calls for a change of heart.  His disciples have to avoid lust, the inordinate desire for sexual pleasure.  Desire becomes inordinate when one seeks sexual relations with someone other than his wife or her husband.  Desire also looms inordinate when it views one’s wife or husband as an object for sexual pleasure.  As Jesus’ instruction on divorce indicates, spouses are to cherish one another.  Marriage commits two people to love one another in order to raise children in the likeness of God.

Jesus equating lust with adultery has caused many people to feel a burden of guilt. Is such guilt warranted?  We think so.  It is not that we want people to feel bad about themselves.  To the contrary, we want people to feel accomplished by foregoing pernicious desires.  Lust can lead people beyond adultery to abandonment of family.   By itself, it redirects a person from his or her primary responsibilities to dwell on fantasies.  Although painful, guilt moves one to repentance.  It is part of the journey to holiness.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 18:41-46; Matthew 5:20-26)

Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” explains the meaning of his call to repentance.  In the previous chapter of Matthew’s gospel Jesus preaches, “’Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”  Today’s gospel passage continues to describe what that exhortation entails.

Repentance is more than a public sinner’s changing his ways.  It is more than an average person’s not cursing her adversary.  It is everyone’s letting go of any animosity felt toward neighbors.  Put simply, repentance is a conversion of heart.  Jesus challenges his disciples to forsake the desire for revenge when they are offended.  He calls them to reject dismissing a person whom they find irritating.  Rather they are to seek to know, understand, and to love everyone, especially problematic people. 

We all want to be esteemed.  When someone offends or ignores us, we naturally feel hurt.  We are probably too civil to strike back physically.  Rather, we will say hard words about the person.  More likely, we will harbor demeaning thoughts about him or her.  This is not the way of a follower of Christ.  We must repent.  If we look deeper into the person than her bravado, we will find a child of God also longing for recognition.  As an image of ourselves then, we can understand and love her.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, priest and doctor of the Church

(I Kings 18:41-46; Matthew 5:20-26)

 “How long will you straddle the issue?” Elijah asks the people of Israel.  He is challenging them to choose between the Lord God and Baal.  The former is credited with liberating Israel’s ancestors from servitude.  Baal is associated with fertility.  He is thought to produce rain for the people’s crops.  The people must decide now to whom they will give allegiance.

First, however, they should take note how the Lord is active in their lives every day.  He has provided the Law to guide them to justice.  He also has responded to their pleas on numerous occasions. He does so in today’s passage.  Elijah calls out to the Lord in need.  Once again, the Lord acts with mercy and power.

People today continue to straddle the same issue.  They know of Jesus Christ who has given them a more perfect Law.  With him they can freely, even joyfully live in righteousness.  They also know of humanly made gods with far-reaching influence.  Technology which enthralls as well as makes living easier is the best example.  People worship it, in a sense, by pursuing constantly new inventions. Which one will we choose?  Christ who works from within enabling us to love unselfishly or the world of endless fascination.  We cannot straddle the issue forever.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 17:7-16; Matthew 5:13-16)

According to social philosopher David Brooks people like to think of themselves as good.  Yet they find themselves, as always, giving in to selfishness and other vices.  How do they live with the contradiction?  They mix and match trying to keep themselves on the positive side of the moral ledger.  For example, they may cheat on their income tax by saying that everybody does it.  At the same time they may give fifty dollars to the Peter’s Pence collection.  Such moral calculus hardly approaches what Jesus has in mind in the gospel today.

Jesus wants his disciples to be perfect.  They are to give good example and, indeed, attract others by their moral rectitude.  In fact, they are to live in such exemplary ways that their neighbors will thank God for having them in their midst. 

We should never justify immoral acts by saying that everyone does them.  The statement is false and in any case does not live up to Jesus’ expectations.  Some moralists criticize using as a guide to good behavior, “What would Jesus do?”  Perhaps it is difficult to extrapolate Jesus’ actions to modern society.  But we can certainly ask, “What does Jesus want us to do?”  We hear him telling us in the gospel today to act as a model for everyone to follow.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Memorial of Saint Barnabas, apostle

(Acts 11:21b-26.13:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12)

There is a simple description of St. Barnabas in the Spanish Language.  He is a “santo varón”.  Literally, the term means holy man, but it implies a more uncommon virtue.  Barnabas fills the bill perfectly well.  At the beginning of Acts he generously contributes to the community.  In today’s second reading Barnabas rejoices when he encounters living faith in Antioch.  He also shows courage in searching out Paul and zeal to go forth as a missionary.  In an argument with Paul about Mark who once abandoned them, Barnabas shows a willingness to forgive.

Barnabas exemplifies the fourth of Jesus’ beatitudes in today’s gospel.  He hungers and thirsts for righteousness.  He wants to go beyond the letter of the law to embody its spirit of acting like God.  He does not hanker to be rich or famous but to always do what is right.  He would be a fine example for parents teaching their children Christian discipleship.

In truth Barnabas makes a worthy model for all of us.  When we feel a desire to take an annual cruise or buy a luxury car, Barnabas teaches us simplicity.  When we cannot find the time to visit a sick friend, Barnabas shows us how to go out of our way.  When we have trouble enduring a difficult person, Barnabas demonstrates patient love.

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

(Hosea 11:1.3-4.8-9; Ephesians 3:8-12.14-19; John 19:31-37)

The metaphorical heart comes in different sizes, textures, and temperatures.  A big heart will generously share one’s resources.  A hard heart will spurn a plaintiff’s dire plea.  A warm heart will listen attentively to another’s problem.  Today we celebrate Jesus’ “sacred heart.”  The term is meant to convey the Savior’s immeasurable love for his people.  It is holy not because it stands apart from others.  Quite the contrary, the Sacred Heart of Jesus extends itself to everyone.  Jesus loves even those who hate him.

Today’s second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians speaks not of Jesus’ heart but our own.  However, it proposes that our hearts be nurtured in the love which emanates from his heart.  It is the love propelling Fr. Rob Galea, a popular youth leader in Australia.  Fr. Rob tells how he encountered Jesus after being entrenched in teen-age vice.  He says he confessed all the pain and anger that had moved him to sin.  Then he experienced the joy and hope of his mercy.  Now Fr. Rob sings and preaches of Jesus’ love around the world.

Fr. Rob’s experience is duplicated a million times a day, every day of the year.  It can be ours as well when we recognize the false claims of our ever-domineering will.  We have to acknowledge that we are not the center of the world.  Christ is because although completely innocent, he suffered out of love for the world.  His love has renewed our hearts so that we might glorify him by loving others.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Thursday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Timothy 2:8-15; Mark 12:28-34)

“…the word of God is not chained,’” St. Paul tells his disciple Timothy in today’s first reading.  It is not chained because, first, it is an idea and not a body that can be locked down.  It also is not chained because it is liberating.  It moves people to act.  It foresees an end that is both desirable and attainable.  It promises life in the full – the absolute joy of knowing God.  Yet its vision is so threatening to some that they actually try to prohibit it.  This occurred in El Salvaor during the 1970s and 1980s.

El Salvador was experiencing severe social oppression.  Many rich families wanted to maintain their economic privilege at the expense of the poor.  Church leaders organized small faith communities among the poor s a pastoral service.  These groups reflected on the word of God together.  They dwelt upon passages articulating God’s love for the oppressed.  At the same time an armed revolution assisted by Communist governments was gathering momentum.  Both movements - the small faith communities and the revolution -- spoke of social liberation.  But their means and ends differed.   Nevertheless, the wealthy’s armed militia started to persecute poor people for possessing a Bible.  Heroes like Archbishop Saint Oscar Romero spoke out against this repression. 

We too might see the word of God as a source of liberation.  It can free us from the anxiety of not having all that others have.  It also assures us that the really important goal is eternal life.  It cannot be chained.  On the contrary, it can unchain us from useless worries and prideful ambitions.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Wednesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Timothy 1:1-3.6-12; Mark 12:18-27)

The American people have had a split mind on Lyndon B. Johnson, their thirty-sixth president.  Some have praised him for his concern for the poor.  Others have judged him as an obsessive and coercive politician.  One edifying assessment came from Joseph Califano, a former Secretary of Heath, Education, and Welfare.  Before holding that position,  Califano had served President Johnson as a domestic policy aide.  He wrote that Johnson invited him to his Texas ranch to get acquainted.  As they were touring the property, they saw a poor man waking on the side of the road.  Johnson told Califano, “See that man over there.  The difference between him and us is only this much.” Johnson was holding up his hand with the thumb and index finger only a fraction of an inch apart.  Johnson’s words and gesture echo what Paul writes in today’s first reading.

Paul is writing his disciple Timothy to give instructions on pastoral ministry.  First, however, he insists that Timothy realize the source of his call.  He says that Timothy was chosen not for any merit or by any birthright.  He might have never known the salvation of Christ.  But God called him gratuitously “according to his own design.”  Timothy needs to thank him for this gift which ultimately means eternal life.  Furthermore, like Paul he should make every effort to serve the Lord.

We do well also to recognize the wonder of being saved by Christ.  We do not really miss out on much fun.  Rather we know the peace of divine love.  Of course, we want to serve him in return.  We would not possess divine love if we did not share it with others.  Reading Paul’s advice in this letter we learn some of the basics of service.  Our preparation is filled out by attentiveness to Church leaders today.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Memorial of Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr

(2 Peter 3:12-15a.17-18; Mark 12:13-17)

As commonly observed, we live in a fractured society and a fractured Church.  In society, the fault line touches abortion.  Should the state prohibit abortion?  Liberals think that the state has no business regulating what a woman does to her body.  Conservatives rightly see the newly formed being in the woman’s body as human.  Therefore, the state has an obligation to protect it.  In the Church the determining issue is artificial contraception within marriage.  Liberals believe that it should be permitted while conservatives see it as wrong.  Today’s gospel considers an equally divisive issue in Jesus’ day.

“’Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?’” a group of Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus.  The Pharisees would say “definitely not” as the tax compromises a Jew’s loyalty to God.  The Herodians, on the other hand, think that such accommodation is only realistic.  That the two parties are collaborating against Jesus indicates the great animus Jesus arouses.  More interesting, however, is how Jesus deftly handles the challenge.  Rather than falling into his adversaries’ trap by answering their question, he sidesteps the issue.  He says, in effect, that each person must decide for herself what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar. 

We would be more like Jesus if we refuse to categorize people according to a standard question.  We need to respect everyone by engaging him in dialogue.  We also should take care not to abhor others because their opinions differ from ours.  Lastly, we should try to claim as our own the positions of the Church on moral and social issues.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Monday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Peter 1:2-7; Mark 12:1-12)

Global warming is a fact.  No one should deny that temperatures have been increasing steadily for thirty years. But there have always been cycles of warm and cold temperatures for ages.  The critical debate concerns human responsibility for higher temperatures.  Are artificial pollutants sealing warm air in the atmosphere? Today’s gospel can shed some light on the moral dimension of the issue.

Jesus is locked in a battle of wits with the religious establishment of his place.  He sees its leaders as hampering God’s freeing the people of injustice.  For him they are like the vineyard that produces sour grapes in the Book of Isaiah.  His parable implies that like the leaders’ ancestors killed the prophets, they will murder him.

The vineyard in Jesus’ parable may also be taken as the environment.  The wicked farmers then are those who wantonly contaminate it for profit.  Whether or not the result is rising temperatures, leaders of industry are polluting the earth.  As a result, common people – especially the poor – suffer.  Often the biggest culprits do not stop at murder in pursuing their aims. 

Everyone should take care in treating the environment.  Although we may not have many resources to manage, we still can improve it.  Using fewer disposable items is something all might do.  Disposing hazardous wastes in designated places also assures a safer earth.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Memorial of St. Justin, martyr

(I Peter 4:7-13; Mark 11:11-26)

The title “Good Samaritan” will always belong primarily to the protagonist of Jesus’ parable.   But many others have earned the distinction through the ages.  Perhaps none, however, have a claim on it as unique as St. Justin’s.  Born in Samaria with a hunger for truth, he converted to Christianity.  In it he found an integrity to satisfy his need.  He died a martyr after being given the choice of worshipping idols or being executed.  Justin’s life conforms to the admonitions in today’s first reading.

Peter’s letter warns its readers to be “serious and sober-minded.”  Nothing is to interfere with their attention to God and their love of neighbor.  It also mentions a “trial by fire” for peace-loving Christians. Even though they exhibit exemplary behavior, they will not escape the world’s envy or its contempt.

In an election year we must remain vigilant.  There are many issues on which we are to evaluate candidates. We may be scorned for not giving central importance to bread and butter questions like the economy.  We may be criticized for not indiscriminately wanting to “send a message” to the president.  Like Justin, however, we search for truth in Christ and live accordingly.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Luke 1:39-56)

The sportswriters were frustrated.  They wanted the star athlete to talk about himself, but he continually deferred to others.  His teammates’ play allowed him to stand out.  His family’s support was instrumental in making him who he was.  The dialogue resembled, in a way, Mary’s speech in the gospel today.

In visiting her kinswoman, Mary is given a supreme compliment.  Elizabeth calls her the “most blessed …among woman” for bearing Jesus inside her womb.  At this point one would expect Mary to return the compliment.  Alternatively, she might explain her feelings in being given such an honor.  But her eyes are fixed on God.  She does not speak of her own virtue or anyone else’s.  Instead, she gives all the credit to the Lord.  He “has looked with favor on his lowly servant.”  He “has done great things” for her.  He always “has mercy on those who fear him.”

Most of us enjoy talking about our achievements so much that we slip into vanity.  Mary, the model disciple, reminds us that God is the source of every good deed we do.  To sing His praises, not our own, is our role as agents in the new evangelization.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Peter 1:18-25; Mark 10:32-45)

With so much emphasis on sex today we might think of it as a wholly contemporary concern.  In truth, however, extramarital sex has always been on people’s minds.  What may be new is its widespread social acceptance.  Few today stand up to condemn it.  Of course, the catechisms call it sinful, but often preachers steer clear of the subject.  Liberal-minded people seem largely concerned that sex does not divert youth from career tracks.  Conservatives often appear lost in pursuing a realistic course of action. The New Testament letters testify that licentiousness troubled the first century.  They see Christ as leading the people out of the morass.

Today’s reading from the First Letter of Peter typically exhorts the people to “love…from a pure heart.”  It reminds them that “’all flesh is like grass’” that withers.  Therefore, they are to place their hope in God and not surrender themselves to debauchery. 

Youth may respond to the argument of coherency.  After all, they have a sense of justice even if not fully developed.  Coherency requires congruence between what one says and does.  The argument goes like this.  The sexual act is the most intimate way to demonstrate one’s love.  Therefore, it should be accompanied by a profession of one’s love in marriage.  Absent this public profession, it is a lie as sure as Brutus’ profession of love for Caesar.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Peter 1:10-16; Mark 10:28-31)

Novelist Ann Lamott writes of Rosie, a young tennis player who is prone to cheat.  Rosie calls balls that hit the line “out” in order not to lose a point.  A man sees her doing this and tells her so.  But more than correcting her, he befriends Rosie and admits, “I did what you did....I cheated.”  The young player eventually recognizes her fault and overcompensates.  She starts calling balls that go beyond the line “in” so as not to appear dishonest.  But then Rosie summons the courage to call all the shots as she sees them.  One day during a match her friend sees Rosie calling shots correctly and begins to leave.  Her mother asks him if he doesn’t want to see Rosie win. The man answers, “’I already have.’”

In today’s first reading Peter calls the Christian community to the integrity which the man calls Rosie.  Christians are to give up “the desires of our former ignorance.”  In turn, they are to live in accord with the holiness of God.  Honesty needs to be implicit in everything they do.  For this reason they are to “gird up the loins of (their) mind.” That is, they are not to say things because they are self-advantageous.  Rather they are always to speak in ways that are true and helpful to others. 

Perhaps more than ever in the communication age we are inclined to lie.  Facebook and other Internet aps have facilitated the desire to exaggerate if not to fabricate.  To initiate a message or image that “goes viral” fulfills the dreams of many even if it distorts reality.  In truth, however, it is just another example of the oldest sin of pride.  In line with our Christian vocation we should take care not to exaggerate and never to lie outright. 

Monday, May 28, 2018

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time (Memorial Day)

(I Peter 1:3-9; Mark 10:17-27)

Today the United States celebrates Memorial Day.  For generations Americans have isolated a day at the end of May to pray for their war dead.  These primarily include young men who died in wars fought to defend their country.  Because they were young, they tended to rashly follow their hearts’ desires.  The prayer is that God will forgive them any sins and reward them for serving their country.  In this way they too will partake of the rich inheritance promised in today’s reading from I Peter.

The Letter of Peter is written for Christians who suffer persecution.  The suffering may stem from friends whose corrupt pleasures the disciples of Christ no longer share.  Or it may come from authorities who cannot tolerate their abandoning the ancient gods.  The letter exhorts those Christians to carry on the struggle.  It holds up as a reward the prize of heaven.  It also suggests as an even more basic reason to resist temptation in their relationship with Jesus.  He will one day be revealed as savior of the whole world.

As well as our war dead we should pray today for those who are being persecuted for their faith.  Whether they are Christians in Pakistan, Muslims in Myanmar, or Baha’is in Iran, we pray that they will realize the promise of Jesus Christ.  Having tried, as they did, to serve others, we pray that God will welcome them into eternal life.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(James 5:9-12; Mark 10:1-12)

Before epoxy glues were sold commercially, scientists would demonstrate their strength to students.  They took two pieces of chain with plugs at the end and fastened them together with the epoxy.  Then they asked two husky boys to pull on either side of the chain.  Meanwhile, they put a safety cord connecting both sides in case the chain should give.  Of course, the boys could not pull the cemented chains apart.  The epoxy glue held the two sides together as if they were always one.  In today’s gospel Jesus is saying that marriage has a comparable solidity.

The permanence of marriage evidently has always been at issue.  When Moses saw the problem of troubled marriages, he wrote a provision for divorce into the Law.  However, Jesus will not accept Moses’ allowance as the Creator’s intention.  He forbids divorce as against the design of matrimony.  He uses strong language to defend his position.  Those who divorce to marry another person commit adultery.

Divorce continues to plague society and, therefore, the Church.  Recently some bishops have tried to allow for some exceptions to Jesus’ rule.  However, Pope Francis has concluded that Jesus’ prohibition remains intact.  True, he has facilitated matrimonial annulments.  But in line with the synod called to consider the question, Francis supports the gospel tradition.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(James 5:1-6; Mark 9:41-50)

George Orwell wrote Animal Farm as an allegory to critique Soviet Communism.  He used farm animals to indicate different types of people who revolt against a delinquent farmer.  At the beginning of his story the pigs ardently organize the other animals. They claim that with a change of regime all will be treated equally.  When the revolution succeeds, however, one of the pigs connives for leadership.  He systematically eliminates rivals and acts more tyrannically than the farmer. Today’s rather difficult gospel should be read as providing a similar lesson.

Jesus is teaching his disciples about their future proclamation of the gospel.  He tells them that they can expect some relief - such as a cup of water - in their efforts.  He warns them, however, that they should never exploit others.  He emphasizes that if they lead others from virtue, they will be punished like the worst of criminals.  Jesus is aware of the tendency of initial ideals being corrupted with the acquisition of power.  This is what happened in Orwell’s allegory and sometimes, sadly, even in Church leadership. 

In his parable Jesus uses salt in a novel way.  He sees it like the ideals which inspire people to work fervently in pursuit of their goals.  But the ideals may wane like salt may turn unsavory. Then like salt becomes useless except to melt the snow, ideals become empty words. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(James 4:13-17; Mark 9:38-40)

A Catholic novelist recently wrote of her conversion experience.  She said that she grew up Episcopalian but without firm direction.  She went to an Ivy League School where she succumbed to sexual temptations.  Undergoing an intellectual conversion, she refrained from premarital sex for a while.  She then fell back into serious sin and experienced what she calls “a baffling illness.”  She was saved from the dire situation by a charismatic healer named Grace.  The novelist assisted Grace’s mission activities until she became a Catholic.  The story is similar to what today’s gospel conveys.

The passage resembles what probably happened many times in the early Church as it does today.  Preachers who are not connected to apostolic churches minister in the name of Jesus.  The apostolic churches had to ask themselves if the upstarts should be tolerated.  This is the question that his disciples ask Jesus.  His answer is unequivocal: “’Do not prevent them.’”  They may not have all the seven sacraments or entirely correct teaching.  But they are still preforming works of genuine love.

It is sometimes difficult for Catholics to tolerate other Christian communities.  We see them as intellectually and liturgically wanting.  Moreover, sometimes they ridicule the Catholic Church with calumnies and misinformation.  But many of their adherents probably love Jesus as much as we.  The situation calls for forbearance.  Perhaps a dialogue with the other church may eliminate the undue criticism.  Common service projects and even mutual prayer services may change attitudes.  Even if they are against us at first, they may become working allies.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(James 4:1-10; Mark 9:30-37)

Once in a while at the end of mass someone speaks out, “St. Michael, defend in battle…”  The prayer dates back 142 years to the pontificate of Leo XIII.  At that time the papacy found itself at a loss vis-a-vis worldly powers.  St. Michael was called upon to defend the Holy See’s interests.  The tune of the prayer is similar to today’s first reading.

The author of the text understands his readers to be in conflict with themselves.  He sees their grace-enlightened minds struggling against their passions inclined to do evil.  Distrusting spontaneity, he exhorts them to soberly resist all temptations of pleasure.

Such outlooks on the world appeal to us who sometimes feel conflicted by natural desires.  However, the goods of the world should not be spurned completely.  Made for our use and enjoyment, they make us grateful to be alive.  But they are not to dominate our aspirations either.  We are made for something better - love that blossoms into eternal life.  We should interpret James as a warning about over-indulgence in material creation.  Even more we should be joyful and thankful for the gift of life.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

(Acts 1:12-14; John 19:25-34)

Today for the first time throughout the world the Church celebrates Mary as Mother of the Church.  Pope Francis decreed the innovation in order to tie Christian life more closely to the cross and to Mary.  Today’s gospel eloquently illustrates this linkage.

The passage relates John’s version of Jesus’ death and of the formation of the first Christian community.  From the cross Jesus introduces his mother to his beloved disciple and his disciple to his mother.  He does not mean simply that his beloved disciple care for his mother.  Rather, he wants them to unite with his other disciples as a community of believers.  As the Church requires the Holy Spirit, the gospel specifies that Jesus “hand(s) over his spirit,” ostensibly to them.  Mother and son form one family, the children of God, whose task is to proclaim the Father’s love to the world.

We are called into that relationship.  With Mary teaching us, we learn how to reflect over the events of our lives as encounters with God.  With brother and sister Christians we give witness to Christ’s resurrection by our joy in humble service.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 25:13b-21; John 21:15-19)

A Marianist brother, like many people, loved to fish.  He used to say that a fisherman takes his watch off, puts his line in the water, and never worries about time.  The brother only confirmed other slogans about fishing such as, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day at the office.”  Understanding how much fisherman love their occupation helps us appreciate today’s gospel.

Jesus wants Peter to commit himself first and foremost to him.  He asks his disciple, “Do you love me more than these?”  The question is not meant to show that Peter loves Jesus more than the other disciples love him.  How could Peter claim that after denying Jesus publicly three times?  No, the question seeks to ascertain if Peter will work for Jesus or will return to fishing.  The pronoun “these” refers to the accoutrements of fishing – boat, nets, and lines.  When Peter answers Jesus unequivocally, “’Yes…,’” Jesus assigns him the task of leadership of the Church.

We should consider ourselves queried in the same way as Peter.  Do we love the Lord more than our own occupations or other  interests?  Jesus does not necessarily mean that we forego other pursuits.  However, he does want us to make him the first priority of our lives.  We are to love him more than our work, even more than our children and our very selves.  It is a tall order to commit to, and it may take a lifetime before we can comfortably respond, “Yes.”  But assent is required if we are to have the eternal life Jesus promises.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 22:30.23:6-11; John 17:20-26)

In today’s gospel Jesus tells his Father that he has made known His name to his disciples.  What is that name?  The answer is as evident as it is telling.  Jesus continually calls God “Father.”  He is making the same point as found in the parable of the “Prodigal Son.”  God is the loving father that seeks a change in his rebellious children’s hearts.  He wants to dress them in fine clothes -- the virtues – so that they stand out as exceptional people.  He intends to feed them a banquet -- the Eucharist – so that they have eternal life.

Jesus further says that he will continue to reveal his Father’s name.  He means that he will send the Holy Spirit to reveal the breadth and depth of the Father’s love.  The Spirit will uncover the meaning of the paschal mystery as giving his followers an eternal destiny.   It will also reveal the nature of reality and history so that their faith will be fortified.

We await the celebration of the Spirit’s coming this Sunday.  It will flood us with the peace and joy of knowing the Father’s love.  It will likewise move us to share that love with others.  After all God created humans to live together in harmony as His family.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 20:28-38; John 17:11b-19)

Passing a large Evangelical church, the deacon commented over its recent history.  He said that a few years ago after a disagreement with the pastor, a member formed his own church.  The two Christian churches were among several others in the village of no more than a thousand people.  

The proliferation of separate churches is a common phenomenon.  It is said that there are more than forty thousand Christian denominations world-wide.   This development betrays Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers in today’s gospel. 

Jesus prays that his disciples may not be given to the ways of the world.  He wants them to avoid egotism which results in division.  In contrast, they are to practice humility which respects the authority established in his apostles.  As the first reading attests, church unity has proven to be a daunting challenge.  Since in its early days, the Church has contended with people who “pervert the truth” to gather their own followers.

Given this reality, it is remarkable that the Catholic Church encompasses a seventh of the world’s population.  It also maintains the faith of the apostles.  But these facts cannot be taken as reasons for complacency.  We must strive to control our rebellious tendencies.  We too may become so dissatisfied that we want to form another sect.  We also should work for reconciliation with other Christian communities.  This means understanding our Catholic system of thought so that we might share it with others.  It also involves prayer for unity and penance for past offenses.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 20:17-27; John 17:1-11a)

In Spanish there are different words for our two senses of knowing in English: saber and conocer.  Saber means to have knowledge of something.  Ella sabe quién es el presidente (she knows who is president).  Conocer is a more personal kind of knowledge.  Él conoce Chicago porque se crió allá (he knows Chicago because he grew up there).  Of course, conocer implies a relationship with another.  In today’s gospel Jesus says that eternal life consists in knowing personally (conociendo) God the Father and the Son.  If this does not excite us, perhaps we are unware of having had the experience.

Winston Churchill once said of his friend Franklin Roosevelt, “Meeting him was like opening a bottle of champagne, and knowing him was like drinking it.”  More should be said of knowing God the Father and the Son.  If Jesus’ parable of the “Prodigal Son” has currency, God is a little like the father of a boy’s best friend.  After a childhood squabble with the friend, his father came looking for the boy to take him to their school’s football game as he had always done.  Knowing Jesus is something like the comradery among soldiers fighting together in the trenches.  They would give their lives primarily for one another’s sake.

We know God the Father and God the Son in at least two ways.  First, we read the Scripture which is their story.  It tells mostly of their love for us.  Second, we pray to them.  They will not fail to help us in our need.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Feast of Saint Matthias, apostle

(Acts 1:15-17.20-26; John 15:9-17)

In the entire Bible Matthias is mentioned only in today’s passage from Acts.  The man himself evidently did not do anything of unique importance.  It is his office as an apostle that makes his selection a primary concern in the Christian community.

Most probably Jesus chose twelve apostles to give his movement continuity with Israel.  He recognized in the nation more than divine selection.  He saw it holding critical tenets of God’s self-revelation.  Israel knew, long before Jesus, that God loves unconditionally.  It also knew that God calls each human being to more perfectly reflect the divine image.  The role of Jesus’ apostles was to proclaim that God’s love and His promise is fulfilled in Jesus.  The community reiterates the continuity by maintaining a body of twelve primary witnesses to Jesus.  However, with the death of the original apostles, it did not see the need to name others.

The apostles handed on a system of belief which the Church still preserves.  For this reason in part the Church is recognized as apostolic.  The belief system unites our local church or diocese with all the others within the Roman Catholic Church.  It also unites, at least in the same faith, the Roman Church with Catholic and Orthodox Churches around the world. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 18:9-18; John 16:20-23)

According to the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus said, “’It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). People who find themselves harassed by church donation seekers may take some comfort in knowing that this saying is not recorded in any of the four gospels.  Their relief may gain momentum when they read today’s gospel.  Jesus quite clearly states, “’Whatever you ask the Father in my name will be given to you.’”  In fact, a form of this promise is found in each of the four gospels!

But what does Jesus mean by it?  Perhaps all of us have prayed for something with faith and persistence that was not granted.  Recently a woman came to me sounding profoundly disillusioned.  She complained that she prayed for her mother to live, but the elder died.  Is Jesus then to be taken at his word?  Of course, he is.  An old African-American preacher once advised, “Until you have been knocking on the closed door for years with your knuckles bleeding, you do not know what prayer is.”  Persistence may not be a matter of days or even years.  It may require decades or even centuries.

Christians have been praying for two millennia that Jesus return soon without its full realization.  We see signs in the falling of the Iron Curtain, for example.  But we also recognize that all earthly progress is bound to fall short of God’s Kingdom.  Encouraged by the progress made and hopeful that it might grow, we continue to pray.  We take Jesus at his word because we have already received more than a fair share of blessing.  We pray always in his name confident that our Father in heaven will grant us all that is good.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 18:1-8; John 16:16-20)

Of all the innovations of the past fifty years none seems as incredible as walking on the moon.  It was the first contact ever of a human being with a celestial object.  Interestingly, after the Apollo program ended, humans have never landed again on a celestial body.  When Jesus refers to his resurrection in today’s gospel, he speaks of a more extraordinary occurrence.

Jesus keeps saying, “…in a little while.” In fact, the phrase is used seven times in the passage.  It refers to both his death and resurrection.  “In a little while,” he will be crucified.  Then in another “little while” he will rise from the dead.  His disciples cannot appreciate what he means because the concept of individual resurrection is utterly novel.  The Pharisees teach of a general resurrection.  But that one person would rise independently from the dead is as foreign an idea as a moonwalk was in the nineteenth century.

We too may have difficulty believing in the resurrection.  It is helpful to remember that Jesus’ was attested to by someone diametrically opposed to him.  St. Paul persecuted Christians until Christ encountered him on the road to Damascus.  The promise that Jesus’ resurrection gives of our own is essential.  It fixes our eyes on eternal happiness when they are readily sidetracked by banal interests.  Forty days after we first proclaimed Jesus’ rising this year, it is worth the effort to do so again.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 17:15.22-18.1; John 16:12-15)

A former seminarian no longer goes to church.  His wife gives his reason as no longer believing in the resurrection.  The man may be seeking an excuse to sleep late on Sunday, but he knows the critical issue of faith.  This is evidenced by reading Paul’s exhortations in the Acts of the Apostles.  In his sermon to Jews in Pisidia Paul preaches that Jesus’ resurrection fulfills the Scriptures (Acts 13:30-32).  In today’s reading he tells the Greeks that God raised Jesus from the dead as testimony of his coming to judge the world.  In both cases Paul did not accomplish very much.  In his First Letter to the Corinthians he indicates that he had to change his message.  He writes, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified…” (I Cor 1:22-23a).

Paul never got very far in preaching to Jews, but Greeks came to embrace his message.  They did so because the world longs to hear of one who would sacrifice his life out of love for another.  Despite evidence of narcissism most people suspect that they are not really worth much.  They look for testimony that someone loves them.  This is the message of the cross.  As Paul writes elsewhere, “…God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

We need not worry how the resurrection can take place.  Everyday science reveals occurrences which never before were imagined, much less explained.  But we must act on our belief in the resurrection.  We should make some sacrifice of what we treasure for the good of others. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 16:22-34; John 16:5-11)

Today’s first reading from Acts serves as testimony to its accompanying gospel passage.  In the gospel Jesus tells his disciples that the Spirit will come to assist them.  He says that it will prove the world wrong in its judgments about sin, righteousness, and condemnation.  Jesus’ reasoning is subtle, but the story of Paul and the jailer illustrates what he means.

Regarding sin the Roman world of Philippi saw Christians as worshipping a false God.  So when that God frees Paul and Silas from jail, Christians are vindicated.  In turn, the people who refuse to believe in Jesus are convicted of sin.  Then Paul’s intervention stopping the jailer from committing suicide demonstrates the righteousness s of Christians.  Meanwhile the cultural value that moves one to kill himself is shown to be wanting.  Finally, the Christian movement has made its start in Europe.  Not only the Jews who gathered at the river but pagans as well are turning to Jesus.  Satan has been condemned is on the run. 

It is true that Jesus’ triumph is not clearly evident these days if it ever was.  An increasing number of young and old say they have left the Church.  Morals seem to be deteriorating throughout the world.  But Christ is gaining ascendancy in many parts of Africa and Asia.  The world also recognizes Pope Francis as its moral guide.  There is no need to feel defeated.  Quite the contrary, we should double our efforts to show that Jesus is the way to happiness.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 16:11-15; John 15:26a-16:4)

In today’s reading from Acts, Paul crosses the Hellespont into Europe.  It is the beginning of a new frontier.  The gospel evidently arrived in Rome through others apostles. But Paul, like Christopher Columbus in America, is the one whom history records as taking the monumental step.

Paul does not begin preaching in the marketplace before non-believers.  Rather he goes on the Sabbath to a river clearing where local Jews habitually pray.  He obviously figures that they would be the ones most likely to give him a fair hearing.  His effort bears fruit.  A female proselyte to Judaism becomes his first convert.  It only can be speculated what draws her to Jesus.  Perhaps it is his message of love for neighbor who included even one’s enemies.  Maybe it is his courage to face opposition even to the point of death.  Or perhaps it is the promise of eternal life that his resurrection makes him.  It will never be known.

But we can examine our own motives for belief.  It would be disappointing to hear that we espouse Christianity only because our families do or because it connects us to important people or even because it gives some meaning to our lives.  Hopefully, we can say that Christ’s teachings draw us, his story engages inspires us, and his Holy Spirit has compelled our assent. Even more we believe because Christ promises eternal life and provides us the means to attain it.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:22-31; John 15:12-17)

Sr. Marie Chin was a Sister of Mercy from Jamaica.  She became famous as a speaker on the spirituality of mercy.  She told the story of how she discovered mercy with the help of a leper.  When she was in secondary school she accompanied a woman religious to a leper colony.  Knocking on the door of one of the huts, they heard a voice from inside say, “Come in.” Entering, she saw a something that repulsed here.  The leper, named Miss Lillian, had a completely deformed face.  She stretched out her arm, which was little more than a stump without fingers, to the youth.  “Go on,” Miss Lillian said, “put your hand in mine.”  Marie responded, “I can’t; I’m afraid.”  But the leper woman said, “Yes, you can.”  Marie did not know where the grace came to touch that rotten hand.  But all of sudden she found herself shaking hands with the leper. The story helps explain why Jesus has to command us to love one another.

As anyone over twenty should realize, love is often not easy.  For this reason Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky called love in action “a harsh and dreadful thing.”  Love, after all, requires commitment and often suffering as well.  Most of us would never love everybody, and some of us might never love anybody without Jesus’ command.  Also necessary to accomplish the seemingly impossible feat of loving as he loved is his help. 

We ought not to worry if we do not feel affection for others.  That is not of the essence of love.  We should, however, treat everyone with respect.  Those for whom we feel a particular repulsion we can, at least, pray for.  We pray that they receive God’s grace to become better people and that will come to know his eternal love.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Feast of Saints Philip and James, apostles

(I Corinthians 15:1-8; John 14:6-14)

Saul, the first king of Israel, was recognized for his good looks.  He is introduced in the Bible in this way: “There was no Israelite handsomer than Saul; he stood head and shoulders above the people” (I Sam 9:2b).  One commentator says that his demeanor was what most recommended him to be king.  In contrast, nothing is said in Scripture of how Jesus looked.  Nothing.  Yet he tells Philip in today’s gospel that anyone who sees him, sees God the Father.

Philip is asking for a theophany.  He wants an experience of God like Moses had at the burning bush.  He expects to see something that would be called “awesome” today.  Jesus corrects his largely mistaken notion that the experience of God is always earth-shaking.  When he identifies seeing the Father with seeing himself, he has his self-sacrificing love in mind.  Jesus preaches, teaches, and most of all lives this love.  That is what his Father, as well, is all about.

Philip is no slower learner than we are.  We too often look for a revelation of God in fantastic ways.  The truth is that God reveals Himself to us daily.  He appears every time someone goes out of her way to help another.  When we perform such acts, we become His angels.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter 

(Acts 15:1-6; John 15:1-8)

Today the Church celebrates St. Athanasius.  A fourth century bishop, he made a brilliant insight to overcame a theological crisis.  The burning question at the time was Christ’s divinity.  Was he “really God” or just “like God?” A priest named Arius with his many followers took the latter position.  They believed the preponderance of evidence in Scripture favored a weak Christology.  Athanasius reasoned to the contrary.  He taught that accepting Christ as truly God corresponded to the deepest New Testament intuition.  The crisis was resolved at the Council of Nicea in accord with Athanasius’ insight. Christ, the council taught, has the same divine nature as the Father and the Spirit. Today’s first reading tells of a similar crossroads in Church history.

Could only Jews who professed Jesus be saved?  Or did Jesus’ death and resurrection save non-Jews as well? The question was theoretical in the earliest days of the Church when all believers were also Jews.  As non-Jews heard about Jesus, however, it turned into a crisis.  Did they have to submit to circumcision to be considered part of Jesus’ vine?  Requiring it would have severely dampened missionary efforts.  In the passage the issue is brought to the apostles and presbyters of Jerusalem for resolution.  They will decide that faith in Christ satisfies as the basis of salvation.

We should note how the Church has from the beginning deliberated issues in council.  Not even Scripture has answers to all theological and moral questions.  Rather successful outcomes require dialogue and trust in the Spirit’s presence to Church leaders.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 14:19-28; John 14:27-31a)

Although St. Joseph the Worker is an optional memorial, it is one of those feast days that most Catholics remember.  It is fitting, therefore, to apply the readings for the Easter season to work.  Fortunately, it can be done today without stretching the meaning of at least the first reading.

The passage from Acts describes the glory and the hardship of the work of the apostles.  Paul and Barnabas have successfully evangelized apparently thousands of people.  When they return to Antioch, they duly celebrate their accomplishment.  The job has not been easy, however.  Today’s reading also depicts Paul being stoned and left for dead.

All work has similar benefits and costs.  Even in pitching hay a worker develops some skill.  Honest work also brings the satisfaction of contributing to the common good.  On the other hand, work contains elements that challenge physically, mentally, and emotionally.  As the apostles did at the start of their mission, we want to commend our work to God.  And as they no doubt include in their celebration, we need to thank God for work accomplished.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 14:5-18; John 14:21-26)

Fernando de Loazes was archbishop of Valencia during the sixteenth century.  His humanist background saw heavy-handed inquisitorial attempts to convert Muslims as futile.  In fact, he succeeded in evangelization by convincing non-believers of the gospel’s efficacy.  St. Paul had the same experience fifteen hundred years before.  In today’s first reading Paul struggles with cultural differences as he preaches in Lystra.

When Paul cures the paralytic, he no doubt expects to gain the attention of the people.  After all, the crowds in Jerusalem listened to Peter after he made a similar cure.  So Paul prepares himself to preach about Jesus.  But Jews can differentiate between God and His prophets with healing power.  Greeks, on the other hand, assume that the healer is a god.  Paul and Barnabas then are proclaimed “Zeus” and “Hermes” of mythological fame.  Because the people speak the lingua franca, the apostles are unaware of what is happening.  Only when the people bring animal offerings do they catch on.  Paul then tries to reason with the people, but his argument is in vain.  As when he preaches natural theology in Athens, the people are not affected.   He learns by experience the lesson of today’s gospel.  People need to be convinced of God’s love through the love of those who work in His name.

We too can evangelize by showing God’s love to others.  We do this when we listen to another’s pain and respond with a word of understanding.  Love evangelizes more powerfully than either logic or force.