Friday, July 20, 2018

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 16, 2018

Memorial (optional) of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 13, 2018

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Memorial of Saint Benedict, abbot

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 9, 2018

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 6, 2018

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Feast of Saint Thomas, apostle

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

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

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

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