Monday, March 19, 2018

Solemnity of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(II Samuel 7:4-5a.12-14a.16; Romans 4:13.16-18.22; Matthew 1:16.18-21.24a)

Christians today do not mean to impose their faith on society.  But they do hope to “inculturate” the faith.  This strange but not unfamiliar word (to Catholics, at least) means to create an atmosphere that facilitates the practice of the faith.  Faith is inculturated when there are “Good Samaritan” laws to protect from litigation someone who assists a stranger in great danger.  Another example of inculturation is the dedication of a moment for prayer before a public event.  Unfortunately, in many places where Christianity once was prominent inculturation has been eroded by decidedly secular tendencies.  An example of counter-inculturation is the depenalization of abortion.

Inculturation is related to St. Joseph Day because Joseph assured that Jesus was raised in a religious atmosphere.  Hopefully, I do not stretch the meaning of the word too far by saying that Joseph provided not just the basic material resources and a Davidic patrimony for Jesus but also a sense of what it means to be Jewish.  It is possible that this might not have happened if Jesus were an orphan or grew up in the streets.

Joseph, as today’s reading from Romans suggests, is a model of faith.  He believed God’s revelation that Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit when he accepted her into his home and supported her and her son Jesus.  We should look to St. Joseph to intercede for us.  As one who received the special favor of being named the foster-father of Jesus and of carrying out the role diligently, he will have influence on our behalf before the Almighty.

Friday, March 16, 2017

Friday of the Fourth Week in Lent

(Wisdom 2:1a.12-22; John 7:1-2,10.25-30)

Today’s readings tell of rejection.  In the first, wicked men reject one of their comrades because they take his virtue as an indictment of their vices.  The writer of Book of Wisdom did not have Jesus in mind.  But the characterization fits the conflictual relationship between over-zealous Pharisees and Jesus.  The gospel shows the inhabitants of Jerusalem rejecting the possibility of Jesus being the long-awaited Christ or Messiah.  His actions conform to what is expected of the Messiah.  Nevertheless, they dismiss the idea because they think they know his origins.

The episode indicates the challenge to early Christianity of why believe in Jesus.  After all, he did not demonstrate his authority with grand displays of power.  He certainly did not supplant the Roman rule.  One counter-argument is suggested in today’s gospel.  Although Jesus was born among common folk, he has heavenly origins which the people could not possibly see.  The first reading intimates another reason for belief.  The Jewish leadership was too proud to recognize their sins and to see in Jesus the authentic teaching of God.

We too have to ask ourselves why believe in Jesus.  We do not want to reject him nor do we want our faith based only in custom or only on the arguments that were advanced to us as children.  We should find an answer in Jesus’ self-sacrificing love.  Unlike even Socrates, he was completely innocent of all crime.  Yet he submitted himself to one of the cruelest forms of punishment ever invented.  Jesus showed himself as God by dying out of love for us.  His resurrection after three days, although not seen by the population at large, confirms for us his Lordship.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Exodus 32:7-14; John 5:31-47)

In his innovative call for evangelization, Pope Paul VI wrote of the incomparable value of sterling witness to the gospel.  “Modern man,” he said, “listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”  In today’s gospel Jesus offers witnesses to his working on God’s behalf.

Jewish authorities have been hassling Jesus for curing a paralytic on the Sabbath.  Jesus has defended the action as a work of life that God performs every day of the week.  Now he concludes his defense with three witnesses.    First, he claims that John the Baptist testified on his behalf.  John spoke of Jesus as the one on whom he saw the Spirit of God come down from heaven.  Jesus also says that Moses gave testimony to him.  He may have in mind here the passage from Deuteronomy which tells of a prophet in whose mouth God will put His very words.  Most of all, Jesus offers his own deeds as witness to his working on God’s behalf.  These deeds are not so much the great signs that he has performed but the way he does everything with love.

Jesus told Nicodemus, “’…God so loved the world that he gave His only Son.’”  This love is most tellingly shown when Jesus dies on the cross to redeem the world of sin.  That event centers history.  We have to go back to it continually to begin to appreciate its meaning.  It is what we will be doing in two short weeks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Isaiah 49:8-15; John 5:17-30)

A doctor had taken a special course in listening to heartbeats.  He became able to detect not only the thump of a heart functioning badly but also the whiz of its slightest tremor.  This ability enabled the doctor to warn young patients of heart problems that will likely face thirty years into the future.  In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of a hearing sensitivity in his followers as sharp as this doctor’s.

He says that those who hear his word his voice will come out of their graves to pass into eternal life.  What does his voice sound like?  It is the whimper of those in need.  It is the plea of the sick for companionship and the petition of the refugee for safe harbor.  Because Jesus’ followers can discern such sounds, they are able to perceive his call when they are dead.

 We have entered into a new phase of Lent.  The readings are no longer about penance but about promise.  Drawn especially from the Gospel of John, they describe the eternal life which is the destiny of those who follow Christ.  It is the reward of those who have learned how to discern his voice.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Lent

(Ezekiel 47:1-9.12; John 5:1-16)

“...I think the river is a strong brown god,” T. S. Eliot wrote in his majestic poem, The Dry Salvages.  John, the evangelist, would reverse the idea.  The river is not a god, but God is like a river.  In today’s first reading a river flows from its source in God’s Temple to not only grow every kind of nutritional and medicinal fruit but also to purify the oceans.  The gospel then portrays Jesus with even greater healing power than the Temple river.

The paralytic at the Sheep Gate is as sorry a dolt as seen in the gospels.  He cannot arrange a way to make use of the healing pool in the Temple precinct. When Jesus heals him on the Sabbath, the man reports the deed to Jesus’ enemies who are looking for something to indict him.  Yet Jesus shows no regret in taking pity on him.

Nor does he regret showing pity to us.  We may be wavering, even unfaithful. We may take him or put him low on our list of priorities.  But he remains ready to forgive, to heal and to assist us.  As Holy Week approaches, we want to recommit ourselves to follow him closely.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Monday of the Fourth Week of Lent

(Isaiah 65:17-21; John 4:43-54)

The readings today focus on innovation.  In the first the Lord announces that He is about to create something so great that it will forever change life as it has been lived. The gospel gives a hint of what that change will be by relatedly a previously unheard of feat.  It shows Jesus healing the dying son of a royal official without even seeing him.  More wondrously, Jesus will bring new life to women and men living in different places and at different times.

Jesus accomplishes new life for people by rising from the dead on Easter Sunday.  As he rose, they will rise as well at the end of time when he returns to earth in glory.  Until relatively recently there was a lot of fanfare about Easter.  Most Christians wore something new on that day to symbolize the new life that was promised.  Everyone went to church.  Now the day seems to have less significance for most Christians than Mother’s or Father’s Day.  Perhaps Easter promises too much for people who are regularly awed by the products of technology. 

We should strive to keep Easter faith strong.  The best way to do so is to invite others to participate in the events of Holy Week and to celebrate Easter Sunday in an especially festive way.  Whatever the blessings that we have experienced in our lives, they are nothing compared to what Christ’s Easter victory promises.

Friday, March 9. 2018

Friday of the Third Week of Lent

(Hosea 14:2-10; Mark 12:28-34)

Jesus’ “first commandment” in today’s gospel originates in the Book of Deuteronomy.  It is taken from a famous passage known by its first words, “Shema Yisrael” – “Hear, Israel”. The passage then dictates the commandment that Jesus cites and concludes by saying that the words should hang “as a pendant on your forehead.”  Probably the author never intended a literal pendant, only that Jews would fix the command firmly in their minds.  But, as in many things religious, some fanatics started to wear headbands with receptacles carrying the written words.  There is challenge enough with loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

To love God with all our heart means to love Him unreservedly.  We cannot love Him in this way if we are going to love at the same time contrary things.  We cannot love God and at the same time look at pornography.  The soul is the seat of supernatural life.  To love God with all our soul is to love Him so that we may have the fullness of supernatural life in heaven.  It is to love Him by carrying out His will that we forgive and assist others in need.

When we love God with all our mind, we take care to learn more about Him.  We read books and magazines that help us understand His ways.  And when we love God with all our strength we make sacrifices for Him.  Our added prayer and fasting during Lent are signs of a strong love for God.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

(Jeremiah 7:23-28; Luke 11:14-23)

In today’s first readings Jeremiah accuses the people of Jerusalem of turning their backs on God.  They have not been faithful to the Covenant that they have made with the Lord.  The judgment could hardly be more severe.  According to Jeremiah, they no longer even pretend to be faithful; they do not even say the word.  The situation has not really improved by Jesus’ time.  He sees the same hardness of heart shown toward God’s ways of justice and mercy.  The people seem to refuse to accept Jesus as God’s prophet in order to follow their own preferences.

The same offense may be found in our society although, perhaps, magnified.  Faithfulness to one’s baptismal promises is now considered a betrayal of self.  Of major importance are the values that one chooses to recognize himself.  Forget about one’s culture, family background, even previous choices, one must do what he thinks is necessary to do at the moment. 

Faithfulness is an all-encompassing virtue.  It acknowledges one’s readiness to live in the ways that we have professed.  But we are not only faith to principles; we are also faithful to the people or the person who has imparted those principles.  For us Christians this means faithfulness to the Lord Jesus.  We promise to do as he commands because we know that he will provide our deep and lasting happiness. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

(Deuteronomy 4:1.5-9; Matthew 5:17-19)

The Scripture readings may remind us of the story of the wise man and the robber.  Once a wise man was traveling through a forest when he was stopped by a robber demanding the most valuable thing the wise man was carrying.  Without hesitating a second, the wise man opened his bag and pulled out a diamond as big as a grapefruit.  The robber took the diamond and went his way.  Later that same day, the robber returned.  He said that the wise man must have in his possession something more valuable than the big diamond.  Otherwise he could not have possibly given the diamond away so easily.  That something was what the highwayman now wanted from the wise man. 

Of course, the wise man had wisdom to know that the most important things in life are not riches.  They are spiritual realities like faith in God, a good character, and the moral virtues.  In today’s first reading Moses reminds the Israelites how valuable is the Law that God has given them.  He tells them that if they keep the Law, other nations will come to admire them.  In the gospel Jesus states that he has come not to take away Moses’ Law but to fulfill it.  He will perfect the law by emphasizing the need to love one’s neighbor from the heart.  Personal righteousness is always more than providing resources to the needy; it is caring for them from the heart.  This heart-felt care is like the “something more valuable” that the wise man possessed. 

We have to find effective ways of showing our care for the needy.  Monthly contributions to organizations that feed the homeless or provide social services for the poor may be the best we can do.  But it is better to dedicate some time ourselves to helping others in great need.  In this way we will form relationships with the poor so that we can love them from the heart.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

(Daniel 3:25.34-43; Matthew 18:21-35)

Last week the governor of Texas commuted the sentence of a man who killed his mother and brother.  The man was supposed to be executed, but with a recommendation of the Board of Pardons and Parole and also the petition of the killer’s father, the sentence was changed to life in prison.  Anti-death penalty supporters considered the change of sentence as a victory for their movement.  Perhaps death penalty proponents saw it as a step backward.  It would be better to review the decision through the lens of today’s gospel than as an ideological war.

Jesus is urging his followers to forgive those who repent of their crimes not superficially but “from the heart.”  He wants them to rejoice in the conversion of a sin as well as to love their enemies.  However, he does not show tolerance for the person who receives forgiveness but does not show it to others.  Such people, he might say, have to learn the hard way if they are to learn at all.

We have to take our lives seriously.  They are not games which we play over and over winning sometimes and losing other times until we die.  Rather our lives are more like a long educational process in which we will hopefully become loving people like our teacher and Lord Jesus. If the man whose sentence was commuted has not learned to forgive offenses against him, a long life in which he dies in bed will be no better than a short life in which he dies at the hand of an executioner.  He will never reach the goal in life which is, again, to love like Jesus.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Monday of the Third Week in Lent

(II Kings 5:1-15ab; Luke 4:24-30)

The first two and a half weeks of Lent deal with penance to make up for our sins.  We emphasized the need for prayer, fasting, and works of charity to overcome our egotistical desires.  The third week of Lent opens another perspective.  Now we have to ask ourselves if we are giving proper testimony to Jesus.  Today’s readings confirm Jesus as a prophet.  Do we see him in that way?

Naaman almost missed his opportunity for being cured of leprosy.  He wanted to dismiss the advice of the prophet Elisha who told him to just wash in the Jordan River.  Fortunately, his servants were able to convince him that he had little to lose by complying with the prophet’s order.  In the gospel passage the people of Nazareth do not have such good advice available.  They reject Jesus’ claim of being appointed by God to bring comfort to the oppressed.  Indeed, they are about to kill him for claiming to be a prophet.

Placing faith in Jesus is a risky venture.  We may not lose our lives or our fortunes, just the consideration of being “one of the guys.”  Accepting Jesus as a prophet means to stand with him by visiting the sick or greeting a child with a severe deformity.  It may also mean objecting to a slander that someone makes or questioning the standing opinion that is based on hearsay.  Former Vice-President Joe Biden speaks favorably of rival Jesse Helms when both men were in the Senate.  He says that they were able to accomplish much for their country because they refused to denigrate each other as some of their political allies would have had them do. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

(Genesis 37:3-4.12-13a.17b-28a; Matthew 21:33-43.45-46)

One of the many social problems of abortion-on-demand is that it facilitates bias against people with genetic abnormalities.  Most babies with Downs Syndrome are now being aborted in the so-called “developed nations.”  A similar rejection is seen in today’s first reading where Joseph’s brothers conspire to kill him for being his father’s favorite son.

But not all the brothers are so contemptuous.  Rueben, the eldest of the lot, suggests that they hold Joseph prisoner while he figures out how to send him home safely.  Another brother, Judah, seems to have a similar sentiment, but his suggestion to sell Joseph to Ishmaelite traders may just be a way to turn a profit.  In sum, the motive of all the brothers, save Rueben, is treachery.  They exemplify the dark side of humanity in crying need of renewal.

We are coming to the middle of Lent.  Hopefully, we have noticed by now that our motives are sometimes not just mixed but can be perverse.  Perhaps we have been envious of friends and family members receiving credit.  Perhaps we have advised someone to have an abortion because the baby would not be normal as most people think of the term.  Now is the time to repent of this wrongfulness and to beg God’s grace.