About Me

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

Friday, July 19, 2019

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 11:10-12:14; Matthew 12:1-8)

Over the last few years the word weaponize has crept into English vocabulary.  It means to use an issue to hurt politically one’s opponent.  The fuss at the U.S.–Mexican border today has been weaponized by both political parties.  Democrats and Republicans are using the plight of Central America immigrants to their political advantage.  In today’s gospel Jesus criticizes the Pharisees for weaponizing the issue of sacrifice.

The Pharisees envy Jesus.  He speaks with authority while they cite sources ad nauseum.  Here the Pharisees chastise Jesus because his disciples have not kept the regular Sabbath observance.  Ostensibly because they have had nothing to eat all day, they eat grain picked in the field.  Jesus defends their action by showing that the law admits exceptions.  More important than Sabbath ritual, he says, is the quality of mercy.  God can judge whether his disciples are transgressing the law.  People should think mercifully when they see others in apparent need.

We may ask ourselves about beggars on street corners.  Should we give them money?  Virtuous people often do, but social workers sometimes recommend otherwise.  Stories of abuse exist as well.  There remains the obligation to help the needy.  Perhaps by a regular contribution to the local Gospel Mission is in order.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 3:13-20; Matthew 11:28-30)

Most people these days prefer being on a “first name basis” with everyone.  Perhaps some seniors are jarred when telephone sales reps use their first names as if they played cards together.  But the younger generation generally finds such familiarity unremarkable.  For this reason some may have a hard time understanding the concession God is granting to Moses in today’s first reading.  When He reveals His name, “I am who am,” He is inviting interruption.  It is as if God’s were giving out cell number.  Now Moses and the Israelites can call to Him for assistance at any time.

By revealing His name, God is showing how much He cares about Israel.  In the Old Testament He focuses attention on the small nation.  But it is only an initial step in a larger plan.  Through Israel God will bring the whole human race together.  For a while, Israel seemed incapable of minding God’s ways. Eventually, however, one of its members will obediently carry out God’s purpose.  This one, of course, is Jesus, the son of Mary.

It is said that “I am who am” reveals the essence of God, i.e., the source of all being.  Jesus will show beyond any doubt that being is not a passive or indifferent at its source.  To the contrary, it is both active and compassionate.  Through Jesus God will break down the stubbornness and hatred that keep humans from Him and from one another.  In Jesus God will reach out to all – especially the lowliest of people -- to make them one with Him.

Wednesday, July 18, 2019

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 3:1-6.9-12; Matthew 11:25-27)

Humans today enter a church to encounter God.  In more primitive societies God was typically found in nature.  The latter is the case for Israel in today’s first reading.  Moses meets the Lord on the mountainside of Horeb.  As a sign of submissiveness to God, Moses must remove his sandals at the site.

God wants Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt.  He seems ideal for the task.  Having been raised in the royal family, Moses can speak directly to Pharaoh.  He also has the trust of the people.  He had slain the Egyptian who was beating the defenseless Israelite.  Still Moses needs God’s assurance of support. 

God also speaks to us in the sanctuary of our consciences.  He means to liberate us from the wrongful ideas and runaway emotions that can lead to ruin.  We should heed what He says.  He loves us and will supply all the strength necessary to love our neighbors.  He has in mind for us a more satisfying reward than any payoff the world offers.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel

(Exodus 2:1-15a; Matthew 11:20-24)

Moses’ mother uses both work and wit to save him from destruction.  She takes pain to hide him when he is born so that he would not be taken away.  When that is no longer possible, she strategizes to have Moses adopted into the royal family.  She even manages to take care of him on behalf of the Egyptian princess.  Her care is of the order celebrated on this Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

In Christian tradition Mary, the Mother of God, is known in various ways.  She is the Virgin Maiden who disposes herself completely with God’s call.  She is also the Queen of Apostles, the first human to proclaim God’s love in Jesus Christ.  She is also the great protectoress giving shelter to those under siege.  Our Lady of Mount Carmel should be seen especially in this last way.

She is associated with the brown scapular.  Scapulars were originally exterior clothing worn over the shoulders as an outer vestment.  They were like sweaters or, if worn alone, light jackets to provide protection against the elements.  In time the brown scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel became famous for protecting its wearer from vices.  Because the full-body version was not needed for this spiritual purpose, its size was reduced.  Today the scapular is but two cloth emblems linked by two laces but still worn over the head.  As always with sacramentals, the scapular itself does not protect anyone.  But it does remind us to ask Mary to pray for us to God.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Memorial of Saint Bonaventure, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Exodus 1: 8-14.22; Matthew 10:34-11:1)

A man tells the story of his daughter.  When she was a teenager, she became pregnant outside marriage.  She wanted to have her baby, but her mother encouraged her to have an abortion.  For the elder, the girl was not only too young to be a mother but also needed to finish her education.  The girl desperately turned to her father who was divorced from his wife.  The man believed in his daughter and promised to help her keep her baby.  Relieved, the girl said that she had bought a bus ticket to another town in case no one would support her at home.  Whether she knows it or not, this girl is following Jesus’ instructions to his apostles in today’s gospel.

It is not that Jesus has abortion in mind as he lectures his apostles.  Rather, he knows that his righteousness will always unleash opposition.  His insistence that divorce opposes the Creator’s original intention will cause a furor among those who favor a more lenient standard.  His reaching out to the grubby poor will scandalize those with a high sense of propriety.  In these ways Jesus forces people to choose.  Will they stand with him or conform to the defective ways of their family.

We may not have to choose between family and Jesus.  We may not have to choose between family and Jesus.  Our choice may be between Jesus and the urgings of the heart.  Will we follow our sexual impulses or will we resist sinful sexual desires?  Will we support organizations that assist the homeless or perhaps help them ourselves?  Or will we totally ignore those who roam the streets?  Facing issues like these, we realize that Jesus does not bring the peace of mind that we may desire.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 46:1-7.28-20; Matthew 10:16-23)

A narrative is a story.  The word is used often to explain a people’s ethos or values.  Today’s first reading reveals one of Israel’s significant narratives.  God tells Jacob not to fear going to Egypt.  There, He says, his family will prosper to become a great nation.  This narrative will give Israel reason to be tolerant of other kinds of people living among them but not sharing their culture.

The gospel relates a significant Christian narrative.  It tells of how followers of Jesus will be persecuted because of his legacy.  It indicates that they are not to retaliate but to respond with the truth which the Spirit will give them.  In this way the world will come to know Jesus’ message of enemy love not just as doable but also as salvific.

Narratives help us to appropriate the lessons taught by our founders.  They form us with an identity and a common understanding.  As descendants of Israel we should be tolerant of other peoples.  As followers of Jesus, we should be ready to suffer insult rather than strike back at our detractors.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Memorial of Saint Benedict, abbot

(Genesis 44:18-21.23b-29.45:1-5; Matthew 10:7-15)

Today St. Benedict is being held up as a model for men and women disillusioned with Western society.  He is seen as an innovator whose legacy slowly, methodically, and completely transformed the decadent remains of Roman civilization.  Benedict’s followers established monasteries as centers of retreat, labor, and conservation of classical works.  In doing so, they were able to live the Christianity they professed while justifying its claim as the culmination of history.

The contemporary movement resurrecting the model of St. Benedict is called the “Benedict Option.”  It began with observations by the moralist Alasdair MacIntyre.  The well-regarded philosopher wrote that Western Civilization has lost its way in a morass of individualism and relativism.  He conjectured that there is no use trying to correct the situation.  Rather, he said, people of good will must begin again with the ideals of St. Benedict in mind.

Benedict himself may have seen what he did as a response to Jesus’ instructions in today’s gospel.  Jesus had a project in mind when he sent his apostles to preaching the gospel.  They were to announce the “Kingdom of heaven,” i.e., God’s remaking the world in His love.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 41:55-57.42:5-7a.17-24a; Matthew 10:1-7)

 “Food security” has been defined as all people having access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food.  It is a modern idea but an ancient problem.  In today’s first reading food insecurity brings Joseph’s brothers to Egypt.  Experiencing famine in their native land, they turn to the region’s giant producer.

Today agricultural science has kept the supply of food well ahead of population growth.  Still populations can go hungry because of a disruption of food supplies.  Wars and despotic governments may cause a lack of access to food and resulting famine.  These conditions testify that the good news of God’s kingdom has not been heeded.  In the gospel Jesus sends out twelve chosen disciples to preach that message.

When we embrace God’s kingdom, we no longer worry about food.  We understand that God will provide all that we need for happiness.  God’s kingdom summons us to assist one another – family, first, but never exclusively.  God, the King, invites us to assist Him in relieving the burdens of the needy.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 32:23-33; Matthew 9:32-38)

Mike did so well in high school that he won a scholarship to a fine eastern university.  In college he began to drink and then to use drugs.  To cover up his addictions Mike lied and deceived family and friends.  It was not long before he lost his scholarship and then failed out of school.  He left for the west coast to start over but never left his bad habits.  One day he tried riding his bicycle on the beach.  Soon his tire got stuck in the sand, and Mike fell over.  His situation –immobilized without the possibility of getting started again – reflected what was happening in Mike’s life.  He knew that he had to take a radically different course if he was to fulfill his destiny.  We see Jacob in an analogous situation today.

Jacob struggles with the man of God.  The incident may be interpreted as a metaphor for Jacob’s troubled conscience, the voice of God.  He knows that he swindled his brother Esau and now cannot sleep because of guilt.  He also sinned by marrying two women and by having children outside of marriage.  Jacob survives the encounter and even manages to extract a blessing from his opponent.  But he knows that he will have to somehow reconcile with Esau.  The blessing consists in his no longer being defined by his twin brother.  At birth he was given the name Jacob meaning heel catcher.  It was an apt name because he was born lurching after Esau who came out of their mother’s womb first.  From now on, however, he will be called Israel after God Himself.  The name means you have struggled with God.

We too know what it is like to struggle with God.  We don’t like to admit sins against charity and much less against chastity.  As God does not destroy Jacob, he will not abandon us because of our sins.  Rather, He lets us know that we are His sons and daughters whom He is ready to forgive.  He also blesses us when we take account of our sins and make amends for them.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 28:10-22a; Matthew 9:18-26)

We think of Jesus as a carpenter or a healer, but foremost he was a teacher.  He taught the people while sitting down in the custom of his time.  Thus, in today’s gospel when the official asks Jesus to revive his daughter, he must rise to accompany him.  Jesus shows no reluctance at all to make the effort.  In fact, he is subservient throughout this section.  He takes time to heal the weak woman with a hemorrhage on the way.  And does not allow the dirge singers to impede him from carrying out his purpose.

Throughout the gospels Jesus teaches as much by his actions as by his words.  As he taught the necessity of trusting in God, he exhibits such faith by taking the dead girl’s hand. In this case he does not have to say a word.  The girl rises as if she had a near-death experience. 

Jesus teaches us, most of all, of the goodness of life.  He shows us that it is God’s most essential gift and that it should be valued accordingly.  He also teaches that it is not the greatest gift.  That distinction belongs to the kingdom of God or, even better, God’s love for us.  When we die for God’s love, we can be assured of its blessing.  This will be nothing less than the absolute fullness of life.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

Today’s first reading mentions Abraham’s attempt to buy land from the Hittites for the burial of his wife.  The sale is problematic because Abraham is a resident alien without rights to own territory.  Eventually he is granted the right, and a purchase is made.  Abraham thus has a foothold in the land that God promised him.  In time through work, shrewdness, and conquest, all the land of Canaan will belong to Abraham’s descendants.  For this reason Jews today claim a right to settle throughout the region.

Of course, the right of the Jews to the whole region, classically called Palestine, is contested by Arabs.  These mostly Muslim people have inhabited Palestine for most of the last millennium and beyond.  They resent the recent Jewish settlements in areas beyond the boundaries of modern Israel. 

The question of ownership cannot be easily resolved.  Do Jews because of their direct descent from Abraham have a divine right to all Palestine?   It should be remembered, however, that Abraham is seen as the father in faith to Christians and Muslims as well.  As a way to settle the issue of ownership, we might see Jesus as the key figure in bringing about justice for all.  Jews and Muslims as well Christians can find in him a brother.  Indeed, people throughout the world have a relationship through him to one another.  The land belongs to everyone.  Nevertheless, for the time being it is expedient that the state of Israel administer it.  Its government still has an obligation to see that all people in the region are fairly treated.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 2:1b-19; Matthew 9:1-8)

Today’s first reading is a hallmark of the Bible and of Western Civilization.  In it God tests Abraham by telling him to kill the son he had longed for.  Abraham does not delay in complying and stops only when God sends a contravening order.  By his obedience, Abraham shows himself a worthy beneficiary of God’s awesome blessing.  He can be a true father to many nations.

As the United States celebrates its foundation today, it faces a test similar to Abraham’s.  The premise for its freedom from England was based on natural law.  As its founders proclaimed on July 4, 1776, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  The test is whether the nation will continue to pursue freedom in accord with God’s will as given in human nature.  The alternative path on which the nation is headed is to dally in invented freedoms like abortion and homosexual marriage.

We come together today to implore the risen Lord present in our midst.  We ask him to straighten the distorted path the United States has taken in recent years.  We pray that a nation so well-endowed with resources may not deviate from the way of freedom upon which its founders set it.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Feast of Saint Thomas, apostle

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

Although St. Peter and perhaps St. John are the most important apostles, St. Jude and St. Thomas are the ones with whom most people identify.  St. Jude is known as the patron of hopeless causes.  Both saints and more retrograde sinners have considered their situations as impossible.   St. Thomas doubted the resurrection when he heard about it from his confreres.  Like him most people wonder if the apostles were “just seeing things.”

Today’s gospel passage seems to have been written to dispel such doubts.  In its initial section Thomas demands physical proof that Jesus has risen.  He says, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands…I will not believe."   Then Jesus appears again and shows Thomas his hands.  The response goes beyond belief in the resurrection to belief in Jesus’ divine nature.  Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God!”

We have to believe in both Jesus’ resurrection and divinity without physical proof.  But there is plenty of circumstantial evidence attesting to the claims.  His teachings and example have allayed passions and promoted human welfare.  The Church he established and identified as his living body continues to thrive.  Most of all, he continues to speak in our hearts assuring us of his love and exhorting us to love one another.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 19:15-29; Matthew 8:23-27)

General George Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff during World War II and later Secretary of State, was renowned for his self-control.  It is said that after making critical decisions involving thousands of lives, Marshall could take a nap.  In today’s gospel Jesus proves himself to be a person of even greater composure.

Jesus’ disciples are amazed that the sun and moon seem to snap at his command.  It is almost as remarkable that he could sleep in a small boat being rocked by a storm.  The story is meant to teach more than Jesus’ authority over nature or his serenity.  It is also a lesson in Jesus’ presence to the Church after the resurrection.  The ship in the storm symbolizes the Church in its infancy.  It is being challenged in every direction – persecutions, heresies, contentious questions like accommodation of non-Jews.  The portrayal of Jesus sleeping represents the temptation of thinking that he is indifferent about these challenges.  But all the disciples have to do to secure his help is beseech him in prayer. 

We too at times may feel overwhelmed by the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  Perhaps we have promised to do more than now seems possible to accomplish.  Or maybe our children bring home problems that we thought happen in only the most troubled of families.  We too can find recourse in the Lord Jesus.  As he calmed the storm for his disciples, he will assist us in our need.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 18:16-33; Matthew 8:18-22)

Americans are fond of telling their children that George Washington never lied.  Historians will verify the first president’s exceptionally virtuous character.  The story not only speaks well of the country; it also provides a model for children to follow.  The first reading gives a similar testimony to Abraham’s character. 

The passage begins with God contemplating whether to share with Abraham his plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  It suggests that Abraham should know God’s ways so that he might instruct his people wisely.  Hearing of God’s plan, Abraham shows what kind of person he is.  He plaintively asks God to reconsider destruction if there could be found a significant number of honest people.  Like God, Abraham has a compassionate heart that does not want to see people suffer unnecessarily.

God calls all of us to compassion.  Like Abraham we should pray for those who seem destined to suffer.  People diagnosed with cancer, for example, should be remembered in our prayers.  Like God we should try to minimize suffering as much as possible.  Since people who are sick often seek consolation, we should be ready to give them our support.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

(Ezekiel 34:11-16; Romans 5:5b-11; Luke 15:3-7)

St. John Vianney, the “Cure of Ars,” lived in France in the early part of the nineteenth century.  Conditions then and there seem to have been much like today in the United States.  Enlightenment thinking made headway among the people.  Many no longer attended Mass.  John Vianney joined a band of faithful priests in trying to reconcile the people with the Church.  He did not preach because his theology was considered weak.  But he became known as an attentive and compassionate confessor.  In time people came to Ars from all over Europe to confess their sins.  It is said that he listened to people sins with the “tenderness of Christ.”  Today, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the Church celebrates that Christ’s tenderness.

In the gospel Jesus describes the love of God with the parable of the shepherd and the loss sheep.  Even though the shepherd has many sheep, he goes through the trouble to search one that is lost.  The rescue attempt is made in the desert where the shepherd may lose his life. But he takes the risk out of love for the lost sheep.  Jesus himself is God’s reaching out to save every man and woman.  He seeks to bring them peace and happiness. 

Having experienced Christ’s love in Penance, we want to reach out to others.  We will tell them about Christ, the Good Shepherd, and how he may be encountered in the sacraments.  We should not try to water down the teachings of the Church which have become an obstacle for many.  But we can explain its teachings follow from the gospel, are logically coherent, and have withstood the test of time.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 16:1-12.15-16; Matthew 7:21-19)

Often enough great people prove themselves foolish in simple aspects of character.  Thomas Jefferson was certainly an accomplished statesman. His erudition enabled him to write the noble words of the Declaration of Independence.  His affability allowed him to negotiate effectively as America’s ambassador to France.  Yet he smudged his record by evidently keeping a slave, Sally Hemings, as his mistress.  The story told of Abram in today’s first reading contains a similar breach of character.

Abram listens to the plan of his calculating wife Sarai.  Whether he has relations with her servant Hagar out of lust or out desperation, he is acting foolishly.  He needs to trust God’s plan in creation that marriage is a faithful covenant.  Instead he attempts to “build a house on sand” as Jesus warns against in the gospel.  The result could have been predicted.  No one is satisfied.  Sarai comes to feel slighted. Hagar is eventually abandoned.  And the offspring Ismael will be raised without his father.

Jesus maps the way to greatness in the Sermon on the Mount.  We hear its last instalment in today’s gospel reading.  The Sermon exhorts self-control but, even more, self-deliverance to God’s Providence.  God will provide us what is necessary for a worthy life.  Even more importantly, He will bring us to our home in Paradise.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 15:1-12.17-18; Matthew 7:15-20)

In order to stem the tide of divorce, some American couples have entered “covenant marriages.”  This is an agreement that the two parties will seek counseling before marriage and will limit their grounds for divorce once married.  The arrangement takes the name “covenant” from the type of relationship between Abram and the Lord witnessed in the first reading today.

The terms of the covenant require Abram to be faithful to God.  As long as he maintains that faith, he can be assured of the Lord’s fulfilling His promise.  History bears out how God has magnificently done so.  Abram has had innumerable descendants.  Today they include not only the millions of Jews throughout the world, but the billions of Christians and Muslims as well.

We have entered into a new covenant with God through Jesus Christ.  By being baptized in his name we become heirs to a new land.  We will inherit heaven with the resurrection from the dead.  But this legacy can be lost if we stop believing in him.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 13:2.5-18; Matthew 7:6.12-14)

The movie The Fugitive received much acclaim as an action drama.  It showed a physician who is wrongly convicted of murdering his wife.  The doctor escapes police custody but is pursued by a deft marshal.  He is able to escape arrest until he uncovers the real murderer.  In the last scene the marshal takes the physician, who has not yet been officially exonerated, into custody.  Rather than handcuff him, however, he allows the doctor to freely ride to the courthouse.  The marshal’s graciousness resembles Jesus’ in a scene from Matthew’s gospel.  When he realizes a Canaanite woman has real faith, Jesus alters the warning he makes in today’s passage about giving what is holy to the dogs.

Of course, Jesus is not literally talking about dogs when he admonishes his disciples.  Dogs are heathens who do not believe in God, the all-loving Father.  Jews of the first century regularly saw Gentiles as “dogs.”  Hence, Jesus is telling his disciples to be wary about teaching them religious doctrine.  The Canaanite woman, who is a Gentile, appears later in the gospel.  She asks Jesus to exorcise the demon possessing her daughter.  Jesus responds with an unbecoming statement echoing what he says today about giving what is holy to dogs.  However, when the woman demonstrates that she believes, Jesus changes his assessment and grants her request.

Our Lord always gives good example.  If he is mistaken about someone, he does not have to save face by trying to hide his error.  Perhaps he would be more careful about the image he uses the next time he preaches about teaching Gentiles.  In any case, he would not want us to deride anyone by calling them “dogs.”  And when we misjudge someone publicly, he would want us to apologize for our mistake.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

(Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Lucas 1:56-66.80)

Besides Jesus, who should be named as the three most important figures in the gospels? Many would not hesitate to say Mary, the mother of Jesus.  St. Peter would also be a popular choice.  But the third place would be up for grabs.  Some might nominate St. John, the son of Zebedee and often considered to be the “Beloved Disciple.”  A few might argue that Judas was indispensable in setting the stage for the crucifixion.  However, John the Baptist is the best choice.  His role as forerunner of Jesus makes more influential that even Peter.  For this reason the Church celebrates John’s birthday today.

Today’s gospel focuses on John’s naming.  His mother insists that he will be called John.  Zechariah’s support of his wife’s choice leads to the return of his ability to speak.  The name means The Lord has shown favor.  John will live up to this omen.  Through him the Lord has shown favor to his parents who longed to have a child.  Through his ministry of preaching and baptizing many will come to repent of their sins.  And finally with his humble recognition that he is not the Messiah, the world will turn to Jesus for salvation.

We celebrate John’s birthday today, approximately the summer solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere) and six months before Christmas.  The date fits details of what is reported of the Baptist in the fourth gospel.  There Jesus calls him “a burning and shining lamp’ (John 5:35).  John himself testifies to Jesus by saying, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Friday, June 21, 2019

Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, religious

(II Corinthians 11:18.21-30; Matthew 6:19-23)

Aloysius Gonzaga was an Italian noble who joined the Society of Jesus at a tender age.  As a novice, he may have heard the warning of keeping “custody of the eyes.”  This term means to turn one’s gaze from compromising sights.  Its reference generally regards sexual allurement.  Aloysius would have heeded such advice.  He did not live long enough to be ordained a priest.  However, his short life was exemplary that in time he was named “patron of Catholic youth.”  Today’s gospel may be taken as an admonishment to Christians to similarly keep “custody of the eyes.”

Jesus calls the eyes the “lamp of the body.”  As such they allow images to settle in one’s mind.  Good eyes will screen healthy images from compromising ones.  Healthy images like nature in bloom lift the soul to give God glory.  Corrupt images like pornography create illicit desire.  Bad eyes do not make these distinctions.  They allow unhealthy images to wreak havoc in the mind.

It may sound fastidious to remind another of sexual desire.  Yet many people today – mostly men but, no doubt, women as well – are obsessed by sexual desire.  Counselling may be needed, but a friendly reminder not to fix one’s gaze on another’s sexual organs can resolve the difficulty.  We are sexual beings which is wonderful.  But sexual desire like all others must be tempered by virtue.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 11:1-11; Matthew 6:7-15)

The story of Job illustrates an important point in the Our Father.  Job is a rich man who pleases God.  Satan, who in the story is part of the heavenly court, believes that Job is faithful because things go his way.  God then allows Satan to test job.  He loses in a flash his property, his family, and his health.  He is tempted to curse God for his misfortune but doesn’t.

In the standard form of the Our Father, we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”  We are asking God not to have us tempted like Satan tempted Job.  Pope Francis does not like the wording, however, because it can imply something different.  It sounds like God might tempt someone like a drug lord tempts youth to sell drugs for large commissions.  The pope has reportedly approved a translation which says, “Do not let us fall into temptation.” 

It is not likely that the pope’s translation will gain much traction.  The standard prayer is so well established that people will have great difficulty uttering different words.  The real problem is not so much the present wording, which have a legitimate meaning.  Rather the problem is that we do not listen to what we are saying when we pray the Our Father.  We do not tune into the words that Jesus himself has offered us for our salvation.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 9:6-11; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

“Giving has never made anyone poor,” a fund-raising adage touts.  The saying is not meant to be exclusively spiritual as if the only benefit one can expect for being generous is a reward in heaven.  Quite literally, it means that people who give to the poor find themselves the beneficiaries of material blessings.  Of course, this is not an investment strategy, but it may be more than intuition.  Like the proven realities that people who go to church earn more, have children who are more likely to do well in school, and live longer, it may be possible to show that on the average those who support charity find themselves soon recompensed.

It is true that St. Paul has spiritual benefits most in mind when he writes to the Corinthians, “…whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully.”  However, his thought for today concludes by saying to the faithful, “You are being enriched in every way…”

As much as God inspires awe in the view of a mountain peak or an ocean sunrise, He works wonders in everyday experience.  We need not be surprised when it happens and can almost expect it.  Still it may be presumptuous to predict how God will astound us next.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 8:1-9; Matthew 5:43-48)

The gifts of the Holy Spirit allow their bearers to see the world as God sees it.   The gift of piety well exemplifies what this means.  Piety may conjure the image of attending church devotions, but its true meaning runs much deeper. With piety a person recognizes every human as a child of God.  Doing this it is perfectly aligned with today’s gospel reading.

Jesus gives his disciples the hefty commandment to love their enemies.  He uses his heavenly Father as an example.  God provides rain for the wicked farmer as well as for the virtuous one because both are His children.  Likewise, disciples should treat both the bad and the good as brothers or sisters.  The commandment does not require one to expose herself to danger, but it does demand of her respect and fairness.

When we regard the unlovable as brothers and sisters, we will go out to greet them.  If there has been animosity between us and them, we will dispose ourselves to forgive them.  These actions will bring us satisfaction as well as the world more peace.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 6:1-10; Matthew 5:38-42)

Although the Bible is the “word of God” written for the edification of all humans, each its books has a particular context.  Sometimes the context is apparent as in the Letter to Philemon where St. Paul pleads for the liberation of a slave.  Sometimes, however, it is obscure so that readers today cannot understand all the work’s references.  Scholarly opinion of the Letter to the Hebrews, for example, is divided regarding its original readers and intent as well as its author.  There is an element of uncertainty regarding the context of Paul’s so-called Second Letter to the Corinthians.  (Saying “so-called” just indicates that there is reason to think it is a compendium of letters written after Paul’s more famous First Letter.)

The uncertainty of the Second Letter regards the issue of reconciliation to which Paul refers in today’s reading.  In the previous verses he urged the Corinthians to “be reconciled to God.”  Here he indicates that the difficulty they were having with him caused their alienation from God.  What is the difficulty?  Perhaps some Corinthians took offense at some of Paul’s accusations in the First Letter.  Perhaps they have been influenced by a false interpretation of the gospel.  In correspondence between intimates rarely is the context fully explained.

Nevertheless, the Second Letter to the Corinthians reveals an enormous amount of information about St. Paul.  It tells us of his remarkable suffering on behalf of Christ and of his ongoing dialogue with him.  We stand in awe of this scholar missionary martyr.  We also thank God for his work that is, at least in part, responsible for our coming to know Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 5:27-32)

Lust may be the most problematic of the vices.  Yet it is not the most serious.  Indeed, Thomas Aquinas calls it the least offensive of the capital sins because it is the most natural.  This does not mean it is not harmful nor matter of mortal sin.  Quite puzzlingly in very recent times sociologists have discovered that Americans are less likely to have sexual relations than at other times since the sixties.  Evidently youth are substituting pornography and masturbation for sexual intercourse.  What might we derive from today’s gospel about this disturbing tendency?

Of course, Jesus makes here the provocative statement that anyone who looks at a woman with lust commits adultery.  The reference to sinning with one’s hand also hints of sexual offense.  The description of divorce and remarriage should likewise be considered as sexual deviance. 

With all these sexual matters we might think that Jesus frowns upon sexual intimacy.  But this way of thinking is simply not true.  Jesus and, certainly, the Church value sexual relations greatly.  They both deepen the love of marriage partners as well as facilitate the growth of the human family.  But we must be sure in our understanding of sexual intimacy.  It is for married couples and is not to be done primarily for pleasure but out of mutual love.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

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

(II Corinthians 3:15-4:1.3-6; Matthew 5:20-26)

Ask any person what she most wants in life.  It’s very possible she will respond “God.”  But for many God seems unattainable.  They may come to the conclusion that God does not exist or that the quest for him is too troublesome.  As a result, they settle for less satisfying goals, more often than not pleasure, power, or luxury.  St. Paul, in contrast, did not weary of the search for God.  He found Him through our Lord Jesus Christ.  In today’s first reading he intimates how he located Him.

Paul says that Jews are at a disadvantage in finding God because they do not recognize Jesus as Lord.  Christians, on the other hand, can see God revealed clearly.  This vision enables them to live truly good lives.  As Jesus himself says in the gospel, their righteousness brings them to the glory of heaven.  Paul sees himself as a servant who makes Jesus known to others.  He does not mind the task, which entails grave hardship, because Jesus wills it. 

We too are called to reveal the Lord Jesus so that others may find God.  We carry out this mission by showing goodness in the name of the Lord.  Amidst a culture of self-promotion and crudeness our acts of love will bring others’ attention to Jesus.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary time

(II Corinthians 3:4-11; Matthew 5:17-19)

A woman was making her case for changes in Church teaching.  She focused on the issue of divorce and remarriage.  Her reasoning for defending the right of Catholics in such a situation to receive Holy Communion was straight forward.  Just as Jesus brought the teaching of the Old Testament to a new level, so the Holy Spirit is advancing the people of God a step beyond.  Divorce, women ordinations, same-sex marriage are parts of the fresh teachings.  But such a logic conflicts with Scripture as well as established Church teaching. 

In today’s first reading St. Paul indicates the grandeur of the gospel.  He sees it as much more glorious than the already wondrous teaching of the Jewish Scriptures.  The gospel helps to clarify what Paul means.  Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets.  In other words, he will bring them to perfection.  In the Gospel according to John he speaks of the Holy Spirit as coming to the Church.  Its role, however, will not be to modify the gospel but to clarify its hidden and debatable meanings.

We may feel confused at times because the Church changes some practices.  Certainly the use of the common languages for the sacraments presented such a change.  But it is inaccurate that the Church has changed its basic teachings.  She can never change her stand on the inviolability of marriage, its reality as a union of a male and a female, and the reservation of the priesthood for men.  However, Church leaders realize that attitudes of male dominance are sinful and must be eradicated.  They know to remain faithful to the gospel they must promote the equal dignity of all.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Memorial of Saint Barnabas, apostle

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

St. Barnabas is mentioned a number of times in Acts and the letters of St. Paul.  From all that is said, he is an exemplary Christian disciple.  He donates the proceeds from the sale of his land to the community of disciples (Acts 4:36-37).  He is sent to Antioch as a representative of the Church to investigate the new Christian community there.  One may find in him the gifts of patience and mercy in an incident that occurred while preaching with Paul.  Barnabas’ desire to allow John Mark to rejoin the preaching team after previously abandoning the effort contrasts with Paul’s demand that he stay behind (Acts 15:39).

Today’s reading from Acts even testifies to his virtue calling him “a good man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24).  The same Spirit asks that he and Paul be set aside for missionary work (Acts 13:2). It further indicates his ability by naming Barnabas the first of the prophets and teachers at Antioch.

We might strive to imitate Barnabas.  We certainly can be generous with what we own.  We can also be of faith and ready to forgive others.  We should also be willing to speak up in favor of Jesus and the Church.  Jesus’ teachings of self-sacrificial love may be ridiculed by some.  The Church has no shortage of detractors for its stand in favor of the integrity of marriage between a man and a woman and also the dignity of life.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

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

Today’s gospel is usually understood as an indication of Jesus’ love for his mother.  He does not leave her helpless but entrusts her care to his beloved disciple.  Insightful commentators, however, find an even more significant meaning in the passage.  They compare it to Jesus’ inclusion of his mother in his company of disciples in Luke’s gospel.  When Mary comes to see him, Jesus remarks that his mother and his brothers are “’…those who hear the word of God and do it’” (Luke 8:21).

Mary stands with the beloved disciple at Jesus’ cross.  The two comprise Jesus’ most faithful support group.  They bear with the ignominy of association with a condemned man.  They also endure the pain of seeing their loved one suffer and die.  When Jesus expires, the text reads, “…he handed over his spirit.”  This handing over may be validly interpreted as sending the Holy Spirit to this new community of love that he has just formed.  In other words, by this action Jesus is establishing his church.

We should not underestimate the role of Mary in the Church.  By virtue of her closeness to Jesus she is its greatest intercessor.  By virtue of her presence at significant events in his life, she is one of its leading witnesses.  And by virtue of her reflection and action on the word of God, she is its model disciple.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

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

Many evangelical Protestants openly profess their love of Jesus.  But surely love of the Lord is as much a characteristic of true Catholics.  Mother St. Teresa of Kolkata used to describe herself by saying, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”

In today’s gospel Jesus uses love for him as the sole criterion for the substitute leader of his flock.  Some will scoff that it is silly to say that we love someone who died two thousand years ago.  They will question what kind of love it is if the beloved, like a homerun king or a rock star, has millions of professed lovers.  But these objections really do not faze believers because they know that Jesus is alive and dwells among them spiritually. 

We too can have a personal relationship with Jesus.  By meditating on the gospel and by caring for the poor, we sense that he is close to us.  Because he is God, he can assist all who hold him as their beloved. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

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

“Suit the action to the word, the word to the action,” Prince Hamlet instructs a troupe of actors in Shakespeare’s famous drama.  The mandate fittingly describes what is taking place in today’s gospel.

The passage concludes Jesus’ “priestly prayer” at the end of his long Last Supper discourse.  He has prayed to the Father for his disciples to whom he has revealed the Father’s love.  Now he will proceed to give the perfect demonstration of that love with his sacrificial death.  It is the Father’s love because, as he says, he and the Father are one.  The prayer includes the petition that his disciples may be one with him and the Father.

We are to consider ourselves among the beneficiaries of Jesus’ prayer.  The word handed down to us has made us one with him.  In giving testimony to him by works of charity, we have his support as well as his instruction.  We need not fear if our intentions are misconstrued or if others hate us for doing good.  He will come to us as he does to Paul in the first reading saying, “Take courage….”

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Memorial of Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr

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

In today’s first reading St. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem where he senses trouble awaiting.  He has called the presbyters of Ephesus together for a final exhortation.  He warns them about false prophets who will try to lead astray their congregants.  The life of today’s patron exemplifies Paul’s care about true teaching.  Also like Paul, St. Boniface died giving testimony to the faith.

Boniface was a British monk eager to preach in Germany, a missionary land.  Once there within a span of just twenty years he converted different pagan peoples and established the Church.  Rather than retire in one of the monasteries he founded, Boniface returned to the missions.  He was killed while reconverting a tribe of Germans that had lapsed into pagan practices. 

Our times have seen many unorthodox ideas gain followings.  Recently a former priest, discontent with the teaching of the Church on sexual ethics, wrote an article in a leading magazine calling for the abolition of the priesthood.  It is doubtful that the idea will take root, but it does erode people’s faith.  As much as at any time in history, we need men and women like Boniface who will testify to the truth.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

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

The old priest died the other day.  After being last seen resting, he was found on the floor without life signs.  Some say that he had the best death possible – without suffering or myriad hospital procedures.  But this point is debatable. Both readings today show another way to die.

Paul feels compelled by the Spirit to return to Jerusalem.  He senses that his end is near.  On the journey he stops at the port of Miletus and sends for the church workers in Ephesus to meet him.  Then he begins his farewell address.  In today’s reading he reviews his ministry on behalf of Christ.  In tomorrow’s he will give the ministers advice regarding how to care for the people.  In both readings his care for them is evident.

In the gospel Jesus has been proclaiming his love and instructing for his disciples throughout the long final discourse.  Today he begins the conclusion of his remarks with a prayer to God the Father. He calls the disciples “the ones…given me” as a way of indicating his affection.  He also directly prays for them.

No one can enjoy suffering.  But we should not always run from it.  Through suffering we can draw closer to Jesus on the cross.  It even allows us to share in his work of redemption.  Suffering in the dying process may also afford us opportunity to confirm our love for those who mean the most to us.  Like both Paul and Jesus we want to take full advantage of it.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and Companions, martyrs

(Acts 19:1-8; John 16:29-33)

After two or three days without sunshine most people become gloomy.  Think of how somber it must feel to have only an hour or so of sun for a number of weeks.  This is the experience of those working in Antarctica now and in the Arctic region in December.  Perhaps it might describe the lives of those disciples whom Paul meets in today’s reading from Acts.

Christianity without the Holy Spirit is sheer will power.  It is trying to love without feeling, trying to think without peace of mind.  The Holy Spirit provides heightened awareness and greater urgency so that one can do what it difficult.  Once the disciples of the passage receive the Holy Spirit, they begin to praise the Lord and make the necessary connections between him and their daily lives.

Next Sunday, the Feast of Pentecost, we celebrate the Holy Spirit.  We should be asking God now to renew the Spirit’s presence within us then.  We want to see each person as a brother or sister so that we might love them as Jesus commands.  We want to feel the Father’s closeness so that we might thank Him as is our duty.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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

Visits usually are said to be visitations when they are pre-planned and follow a prescribed form.  A bishop makes visitations to parishes to check financial and sacramental records.  Families have visitation rights to see their loved ones in prison.  Today the Church celebrates the most famous visitation of all: Mary going to the home of her kinswoman Elizabeth.  Neither planned nor formal, her visit qualifies as a visitation because of the dignity of the one whom she carries in her womb.

Mary bears the Messiah, the anointed king of Israel.  She takes him to meet the prophet of the country with whom he is to collaborate.  Most people, of course, do not realize what is happening.  But the child-prophet within Elizabeth’s womb has no trouble making recognizing his lord.  He leaps for joy in his presence.  Mary and Jesus will not stay very long, but the two –Jesus and John – will meet again.

The same Jesus makes more than a visitation to us.  With the Father and the Holy Spirit he makes our souls a place of residence.  That truth should make us joyful like John.  We should also turn to him in every need.  Whether to resist temptation or to find work, he is there to help us.  

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

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

A novel about couple undergoing a trial in their marriage reaches a climax when an adolescent dies in a freakish accident.  At his funeral the youth minister says that the boy is much happier now because he is with the Lord.  Realizing that these words will sound platitudinous, she urges the distraught congregation to have faith.  She reminds everyone of a verse from Ecclesiastes saying: “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.  She has God in mind.  He can hold together any people who are struggling, be they a couple with a marriage problem or a community overwhelmed with grief.  Jesus intimates the same kind of faith in today’s gospel.

The disciples seem naively unaware of the ordeal that Jesus faces.  When he tells them that in a little while they will no longer see him, he is referring to his impending crucifixion.  But then they will see him because God will raise him from the dead.  Earlier Jesus urged his friends to have faith in him.  To overcome the grief they are about to experience they will need to trust in God.

Death separates us from those whom we love.  We believe that God will raise up from the dead all who believe in him.  Yet when it swallows up those about whom we care about the most, we can hardly help but wonder.  At such a moment we are wise to retreat into prayer and mutual support.  Doing so, we will not have to wait for the general resurrection to experience God’s glory.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 7:15.22-18.1; John 16:12-15)

No doctrine of the Church is harder to grasp than the Holy Trinity.  How the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are both three and one almost defies explanation.  They are not three individuals making up a collective like a three-person volleyball team.  The three persons have but one mind and one will.  The Son, of course, has taken on a human nature, and his body is part of his heavenly presence.  But this extrinsic quality does not explain the real difference among the three.  They differ only by their relationships – one is Father; one is Son; and one is the life or Spirit among them.  In today’s gospel Jesus reassures his disciples with reference to the unique triad and unity of the Holy Trinity.

Jesus underscores the unity of the Trinity when he says that the Spirit will teach only what it receives from him.  In turn Jesus passes on only what he has received from the Father.  One might ask whether only the Spirit would be present to Jesus’ disciples or to Christians today.  No, Jesus has said in this same discourse that all three are present to his disciples.  The Church would formulate the Trinity’s presence in this way: “The Father is present to us through the Son and in the Holy Spirit.”

Although they are one, we can develop a relationship with each of the three divine persons.  To do this daily we can make an examination of conscience with the three in mind.  We can say, “Thank you” to the Father, the source of all things, for any good that we have experienced during the day.  We can say, “Forgive me,” to the Son who died because of our sins for any sins we committed.  And we can say, “Please…” to the Holy Spirit who is sent to help us for any special need we have tomorrow.