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.