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, September 20, 2019

Memorial of St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon, priest and martyr, and St. Paul Chong Ha-sang, martyr and companions, martyrs

(I Timothy 2c-12; Luke 8:1-3)

St. Andrew Kim Tae-gon was the first native Korean to be ordained a priest.  After formation he returned to his native country where Christianity was forbidden.  He ministered to his people a while but eventually was taken into custody.  He was tortured and beheaded at the age of twenty-five.  His dying testimony reflects the spirit of Mary Magdalene in today’s gospel.  Andrew said as he was being put to death: “My immortal life is on the point of beginning.”

No doubt, Mary Magdalene felt her life beginning anew when she met Jesus.  She had been possessed by “seven demons.”  Whether or not she had the traumatic experiences of those claiming to be possessed today, she underwent severe harassment.  Jesus relieved the condition and gave her new purpose.  Of course, she wanted to stay close to him.  That is what eternal life is about.

We should want the same.  Jesus delivers us from the roads that lead nowhere: pleasure, power, and prestige.  He gives us not just the promise of “immortal life” but meaning and goodness every day.  Even if it means martyrdom like St. Andrew Kim’s, we stand in the best good company with Jesus.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Timothy 4:12-16; Luke 7:36-50)

We may think of Jesus as unfriendly toward all Pharisees, but this is not the case.  True, he chastises a few, but then he eats with others.  He has a lot in common with Pharisees.  Like them Jesus is a layman and learned in the Law.  Also like the Pharisees, Jesus teaches in synagogues and exerts effort to live righteously.  Nothing should seem peculiar, therefore, in Jesus’ entering a Pharisee’s home in the gospel today.

Simon, the Pharisee, becomes scandalized with Jesus.  He sees our Lord allowing a notoriously sinful woman to bathe and anoint his feet.  As if that were not enough, Jesus also lets her kiss them. Although he does not say it, Simon thinks that Jesus cannot be a prophet.  If he were, Simon figures, Jesus would look into the woman’s heart and see that she is not worthy.  But Jesus proves himself a prophet with Simon’s criterion.  He knows the woman’s heart to be repentant and thus receptive of God’s grace.  Likewise, he reads the cynicism of Simon’s heart that criticizes too much and loves too little.

Jesus demonstrates God’s mercy as he forgives the woman her sins and enlightens Simon of his.  Mercy at times requires fraternal correction as Jesus calls Simon to task for cynicism.  It also allows a humble person to express love in her own way even if it means embarrassment.  We should pray that Jesus will treat us as graciously as he does these two sinners.  As church-goers, we are susceptible to cynicism, which is finding faults in others.  When we criticize others harshly, may Christ remind us of our sin.  May he also offer us opportunities to show our love for him.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Wednesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Timothy 3:14-16; Luke 7:31-35)

Cardinal Avery Dulles once wrote a book that must have sold a million copies.  Titled Models of the Church the book described alternative ways to understand the Church.  Sacrament, servant, and herald are just three of the images he used.  In today’s first reading the writer gives two others.

The Church is termed “the household of God.”  Its members belong to God’s family by virtue of their baptism.  They are in a process of spiritual growth to become like their heavenly Father.  The Church is also called a “pillar and foundation of truth.”  This metaphor conveys permanence of doctrine in a world where truth seems to be relative to circumstances.  The reading exhorts the contemplation of Jesus, who is named “the mystery of devotion.”  Church members find in him their model for living.

It is said now that the young do not want to commit themselves to anything.  In other words, they do not want to devote time and effort to anyone or anything but themselves .  They want to stand aloof and to “be cool.”  Doing so, they might be noticed and perhaps admired.  However, they might as well miss something. They might not be “taken up in glory” like Jesus,

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Timothy 3:1-13; Luke 7:11-17)

Today’s first reading lists criteria for choosing bishops and deacons in the late first century Church.  These offices are only roughly equivalent to what has developed.  Still the advice provides guidance in selecting ordained ministers given today’s clerical crisis.

Both bishops and deacons need to be stable, practical, and caring.  Most importantly, they should not give the devil inroads into their souls.  That is, they should not be deceitful, greedy, or self-indulgent.  They will keep the devil at bay by remaining close to Christ in prayer.  If they mean to serve the Church, they must be intimate with Christ, its head.

Much is being said about the cause of sexual abuse.  Pope Benedict wrote that it is to be found in the sexual permissiveness of our time.  Pope Francis seems more convinced that it is the misuse of power inherent in clericalism.  Both these men would agree that the cancer needs to be treated by prayer.  They no doubt would agree that there must be greater attention to the selection of candidates.  But even there what should be sought are humble men who seek God’s assistance.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Memorial of Saint Cornelius, pope and martyr, and St. Cyprian, bishop and martyr

(I Timothy 2:1-8; Luke 7:1-10)

Saints Cornelius and Cyprian lived in an age of martyrdom.  Both also faced challenges to their offices as they traced middle ground in a controversy over apostasy.  Cornelius was pope; the latter, the bishop of Carthage in the middle of the third century.  An upstart priest named Novatus assumed Cyprian’s office during a persecution which sent Cyprian into exile.  Novatus accepted back into the Church lapsed Catholics without any significant penance.  They had given up the faith rather than be martyred. Cornelius supported Cyprian’s stand against easy return. 

In Rome Cornelius was challenged by a priest named Novatian on the other side of the return issue.  Novatian taught that no one who apostatized could be readmitted to the Church.  He also declared himself pope.  A synod of bishops eventually condemned and excommunicated him.  Both Cornelius and Cyprian were martyred not long after their status controversies were settled.

The first reading today recommends that we should pray for everyone.  We want all to be saved although we realize that salvation is beyond human capacity.  It requires that we take up our cross to follow Jesus.  This means doing what only what God can do; hence, the need for prayer.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Memorial of Saint John Chrysostom, bishop and doctor of the Church

(I Timothy 1:1-2.12-14; Luke 6:39-42)

Pope Francis has raised eyebrows by moving out of the papal apartments.  This is the spirit of St. John Chrysostom whom the Church remembers today.  As Patriarch of Constantinople, then the capital of the Roman Empire, John criticized the wealthy for not caring for the poor.  Pointedly, he accused the empress of lavishness.

John Chrysostom criticized the aristocracy of Constantinople as he was a faithful disciple of Jesus.  As Jesus says in today’s gospel, when a disciple is fully trained, he will become like the master.  As Jesus chastised the powerful for neglect of charity, so John Chrysostom challenged spendthrift Christians.

Pope Francis is calling the Church to a deeper sensitivity toward the poor and war-weary.  No doubt, he realizes that the complexities of poverty and of warfare are daunting.  Nevertheless, he wants Catholics to show more urgency in dealing with them.  In other words, he wants us to become true disciples of Jesus.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Thursday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 3:12-17; Luke 6:27-38)

Paper ghosts, witches, and skeletons have already invaded department stores.  Halloween decorations can be purchased now for an event still seven weeks away! Children and certainly some adults as well are wondering what costume they will put on.  Today’s first reading suggests some articles for Christians to wear.  They are to be put on not just on one day a year but every day.

The passage recommends that the Colossians “put on…heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” It means that they are to practice the virtues of forbearance and love. In his Letter to the Romans St. Paul says it even more poetically.  “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ…,” he says. He wants his readers to act like Jesus day in and day out.  If they do not know how, they might check today’s gospel for instructions.

It has been said that it is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking than to think yourself into a new way of acting.  In other words, if we wish to lose weight, it is better to eat less and exercise more than to imagine ourselves as thin.  Alternatively, if we wish to become like Christ, we best stop judging others and pray for those who mistreat us.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Wednesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 6:20-26)

The first part of today’s first reading serves as an alternative second reading for Easter Sunday. It conveys the less emphasized implication of Christ’s paschal victory.  Christians have been lifted up by Christ to live exemplary lives.  It is as if they were moved to a mountaintop where the air is fresh and the atmosphere free from distortions.

The author, who is either Paul or one of his later disciples, names two sets of vices corrupting earthly existence.  Both can be seen for what they are in the new, clear environs.  The first set largely deals with sexual desire which often moves people to shameful acts with tragic consequences.  The second group has to do with inner disorder that may burst out to inflict serious injury on others.  The writer also reminds Christians of the equality Christ bestows on his adherents.  Paupers and princes, nomads and farmers have the same exalted status in Christ.

It is always helpful for us Christians to remember what we have become.  We principally do not belong to a race, nation, or family.  We are not even our own.  We belong to Christ who empowers us to live righteously in an often corrupt world.  We will probably experience many advantages living so, not the least of which is a clear conscience.  But the most marvelous reason to hold close to Christ will be realized at the end of time.  Then he will unite our bodies and souls to live with him in glory for eternity.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Tuesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 2:6-15; Luke 6:12-19)

Long before the bricks and mortar of a new church are set in place, the architect must draw a blueprint.  Without one, the structure can never be satisfactorily completed.  In today’s gospel, Jesus demonstrates that he has such a plan for the building up of the community of Church. 

The passage significantly begins with Jesus at prayer.  Because naming of the apostles is a critical step in Jesus’ design of salvation, it requires intense prayer.  The disciples chosen for the office are not any “Tom, Dick, and Harry.”  Rather they are individuals who are differentiated when two happen to have the same name.  By calling them “apostles,” a Greek word meaning ones sent, Luke indicates their preaching mission.  The fact that there are twelve, the number of the tribes of Israel, should not be lost.  Jesus is establishing a new Israel with twelve tribes albeit from the whole world.  For this reason after Jesus’ resurrection the disciples will elect someone to replace Judas Iscariot.

We might ask ourselves what plan we have for our own lives.  Whatever it is, hopefully it leads to God.  If it is not yet formed or if it needs revision, we are wise to begin with prayer.  We pray for wisdom to draw up a plan that will be doable and satisfying.  We also pray that we may have the courage to carry the plan out. 

Monday, September 9, 2019

Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, priest

(Colossians 1:24-2:3; Luke 6:6-11)

The scribes and the Pharisees watching Jesus in today’s gospel have a counterpart in the contemporary Church.  Many people waited to see what St. John Paul II would do regarding the definition of Mary as “co-redemptrix of the world.”  Knowing that he had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother some thought that John Paul would bestow on her the title. Others, realizing the title would cause some to confuse her role with Jesus’, were wary of it happening.  In the end the pope never made the declaration perhaps because he did not want to alienate Orthodox and Protestant Christians who see some things differently than Catholics.  However, today’s first reading gives some biblical justification for bestowing the title.

Paul claims in the passage that his sufferings make up for “what is lacking in” Christ’s.  In other words, he is working with Christ for the salvation of souls.  Or, it might be said, that he is sharing in the work of redemption.  This makes him, in a sense, a “co-redemptrix.”  Indeed, it may be said that everyone who prays for or make sacrifices on behalf of others has that role.  Of course, Mary may be considered the principal co-redemptrix.  Her prayers like her being excel above others’.

We regularly pray for others and it is not passé to fast or donate to charity on their behalf.  Doing so, we assist Christ in his redeeming work although his death and resurrection are sufficient.  It is like our fathers bringing us to work when we were young.  They may have asked fold some papers for them and we thought of ourselves as partners.  Christ allows us to have a role in the salvation of souls.  In doing so, we marvelously contribute to our own salvation.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 5:33-39)

The novel All the Light We Cannot See won a Pulitzer Prize a few years ago.  It tells the story of perhaps the world’s greatest diamonds.  The jewel gets concealed in an intricate box for safekeeping during World War II.  The first reading today follows a similar story line.

The passage reveals how Jesus is God’s image on earth.  He created the universe, holds it together, and is bringing about its destiny.  He accomplishes the last objective by founding the Church.  This institution, which becomes like his avatar, gather people together from every race, nation, and language.  Yet Jesus Christ is almost hidden in history.  He is in a back-water part of a historically almost irrelevant nation.  He commands no armies and wins no military victories to manifest his power.

Christ is our secret and, at the same time, our glory.  Imitating his legacy in the gospels, we reflect his merciful power.  Growing ever closer to him by means of the sacraments, we prepare ourselves for eternal life.

Thursday, September 5. 2019

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 1:9-14; Luke 5:1-11)

When people win at slot machines, almost invariably they play again.  They may think they are on a winning streak or may feel a need to give back some of what they have taken.  In any case, they feed the slot at least one more coin.  Fishing may be compared to slots inasmuch as the result is beyond one’s complete control.  Therefore, Simon, James, and John might be expected to return to the deep at least one more time after the miraculous catch they make in today’s gospel.

But the account indicates that the three do not even bother to sell the fish that they have hauled in.  Rather, they leave everything at once to follow Jesus.  Their reason is obvious.  Despite the fact that Jesus is “Lord” in whose presence they cannot help but feel unworthy, he has called them to follow him.  At this point returning to fisherman’s life would be like preferring Roman graffiti to the Sistine Chapel. 

Jesus calls us to do likewise.  No, he does not mean that we must leave our careers, but he insists that we look at what we do in a new way.  We will no longer consider our work primarily as a way to make money.  We will look upon it more so as a way to serve others.  Whether we are builders or beauticians, assembly line workers or sales reps, we will make sure that what we do conforms to his righteousness.  Then we will redouble our efforts so that our work duly honors him.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 1:1-8; Luke 4:38-44)

The Gospel according to Luke presents Jesus in many different ways.  He is the preeminent man of prayer.  It is said that in the third gospel Jesus prays before taking every significant action. Jesus appears here as one of the world’s greatest story-tellers.  Who could argue that his most moving parables are not found in Luke’s gospel?  Luke also presents Jesus as the great reconciler.  Even Herod and Pilate become friends after dealing with Jesus.  It also may be said that in Luke’s gospel Jesus is peripatetic; that is, he is always on the go.

Today’s gospel shows Jesus ready to hit the road again.  It also gives the reason for his constant travelling.  He says, “’…I must proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.’”  Jesus is intent on moving from place to place because his message is vital.  The “Kingdom of God” is nothing less than God Himself.  Jesus is saying that now God is at hand in a way never seen before.  Through Jesus God gives the people practical help.  Jesus with God’s grace drives out demons, cures illnesses, and reconciles enemies.

Surely today the same message needs to be preached.  In many ways the world is losing its moorings.  The increasing number of refugees manifests the lack of social justice.  We need God to save us from our excesses and to lead us to genuine care for one another.  And so we are needed to follow Jesus in proclaiming God to the world.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

(I Thessalonians 5:1-6.9-11; Luke 4:31-37)

In the choir loft of an old church there are images of St. Cecilia and St. Gregory the Great, today’s patron.  Very little is known with certainty of Cecilia.  But Gregory’s incredibly productive papacy is well documented.  He evidently at least dabbled in music so that “Gregorian chant” is attributed to him.  Gregory also promoted missions and wrote theological treatises.  He was a Renaissance man, nine hundred years before the Renaissance unofficially began!  As people are amazed at Jesus in today’s gospel, others stood in awe of this great churchman.

Jesus speaks with such authority that demons supposedly heed his words.  The reservation implied by “supposedly” is not meant to deny evil spirits.  The Greek word daimon originally meant an uncontrollable urge, perhaps to do something evil.  It may be that Jesus is speaking with such insight and authority that people take control of their lives.  His words may fortify them to act justly despite the impulse to do otherwise.

People often confess the same sin time after time.  It may be anger or lack of attention to prayer, but the most confessed sin is lust.  More specifically, it is viewing pornography.  We have to look to Jesus to overcome this demon.  Gregory the Great, who wrote a famous treatise on morals, would certainly recommend a turn toward Jesus.  It may take time, but asking our Lord for help in prayer can arrest any urge however seemingly uncontrollable.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Monday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Thessalonians 4:13-18; Luke 4: 16-30)

It was customary for presidential candidates to begin their political campaigns on Labor Day.  They often returned to their hometowns to present their policy agenda.  Jesus does something similar in today’s gospel.

Jesus is about to launch his career as a reforming prophet.  Quite dramatically, he returns to Nazareth to lay out his objectives.  By no means does he profess “a rising tide will lift all boats.”  No, he will direct himself to the needs of the poor, the sick, and the oppressed.  However, everyone – poor and rich alike – will have to reform their ways.  The townspeople think that they might be privileged because they know Jesus’ family.  But Jesus quickly disabuses them of the idea.  To participate in the Kingdom of God, he indicates, one has to work for the common good.  That goal takes precedence over individual desires.

Today, Labor Day in the United States, bespeaks the need to reflect on the nature of work.  Whether it is to heal, to build, or to clean we should see it as both a gift received and a gift given.  We not only have received a job but, more basically, the ability to work.  We work not only for our own benefit but also to make the world a better place.  As Jesus hints in the gospel, with this frame of reference we prepare ourselves for God’s Kingdom.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Thessalonians 4:1-8; Matthew 25:1-13)

Should not the five virgins who brought extra oil have shared their excess with the ones who didn’t?  Perhaps, but that is not what Jesus was getting at in this parable.  A parable is not just a moral lesson; it is a comparison that engages the listener to make a point.  In this case the point is not the need to be generous but something deeper.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells his disciples that they are the “light of the world.”  In other words, they are to shine like the lantern in a lighthouse to give testimony to him.  They thus shine when they perform works of charity.  The lamp oil of today’s parable is the goodness that is transformed into charitable works for the world to see Jesus.

We too are Jesus’ disciples with the mandate to give light to the world.  In doing this we not only assist the poor but also show kindness to those around us.  People will take note and give glory to God.  They will recognize us as Jesus’ disciples fulfilling his mandate to enlighten the world.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

(I Thessalonians 3:7-13; Mark 6:17-29)

In the gospel reading today and in one of the first readings last week a man makes an oath to do something that turns out to be immoral.  Herod promises his stepdaughter anything that she might ask.  He does not imagine her wanting him to murder.  In the Book of Judges Jephthat promises to sacrifice the first thing that emerges from his house upon his return if God grants him victory.  Does he likewise not contemplate the possibility of killing someone?  In any event he was not thinking of making a holocaust of his own daughter.  We must ask, “Are such oaths binding?”

No, they are not because they involve doing something evil which is always wrong.  In both cases, unfortunately, the men are so proud that they see themselves as God whose word of necessity is efficacious.  They need humility.  The should humble themselves by begging forgiveness from God for their mindlessness.  Instead each carries out an unconscionable act.

Of course, today’s celebration of the passion of John the Baptist should be for us more than a lesson on oath-taking.  John dies like an Old Testament prophet giving witness to the truth.  His manner of death prefigures Jesus’.  A civil system that arrests a man for speaking out against immorality will hardly tolerate one who seeks to inaugurate an even higher righteousness throughout the land.  A more perfect man than John the Baptist, Jesus will suffer a more brutal death.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Memorial of St. Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church

(I Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:27-32)

It may pain a pastor to insist that their people diverge from cultural norms to live in conformity with the gospel.  The issue of artificial contraception quickly comes to mind in contemporary times.  Priests have a hard time preaching about it.  In previous generations there were others like the requirement to forgive one’s enemies or the evil of slavery.  St. Augustine echoed St. Paul in today’s first reading about the need to preach hard truths.  Paul says he did not waiver to insist that Christians “walk in a manner worthy of God.”

Augustine gave a famous sermon to priests about the ways of a true pastor.  He told them that they are not to court the favor of the people by preaching only what the people like to hear.  Rather they are to set their sights on Christ who suffered to live without sin.  In another sermon Augustine said how terrified he was as a bishop and how comforted he was as a Christian.  His reasoning was that as a Christian, he experienced God’s grace; but as a pastor, he was accountable for people’s souls. 

On this feast day of St. Augustine we might say a word to God on behalf of our pastors.  We should want God to inspire them to know His will and to provide them the strength to preach it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Memorial of Saint Monica

(I Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 23:23-26)

The man said he was an atheist.  He added his reason.  He said that religion has been at the center of so many wars that he could no longer believe in God.  Of course, he was overlooking the overwhelming amount of physical assistance that faith-filled people have provided.  He also might have thought for a moment about the destruction wrought by godless Communists and Nazis.  Yet Jesus in today’s gospel makes a similar criticism of religious opportunists.

Jesus is disturbed by people who use religion to benefit themselves.  Evidently a considerable number of Pharisees and scribes (i.e., teachers of the Law) distort Judaism in this way.  Rather than emphasize the prophets’ call to compassion, they exploit the Law’s rules for their own benefit.  Their exploitation especially targets the poor. 

We have a double duty in regard to those who profit by religion.  We should resist them by standing firm with Jesus, the poor man and the pacifist.  He shows little patience with those who would burden others for their own benefit.   We also have to avoid an excessively harsh criticism of religion.  People have used it over the centuries to cause trouble.  But even events like the Crusades have to be analyzed in their historical contexts.  Much more characteristic of religious belief have been institutions dispensing charity to those in need. 

Monday, August 26, 2019

Monday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Thessalonians 1:1-5.8b-10; Matthew 23:13-22)

Humanists have lamented how letter-writing is slipping into oblivion.  With the advent of email people no longer take time to gather thoughts, feelings and desires in a single discourse.  If this form of writing had not existed two thousand years ago, the Church would be deprived of much of the New Testament as we know it.  Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians, from which today’s first reading is taken has this literary form.  It also is the oldest document of the New Testament.

In the passage Paul encourages the Thessalonians by congratulating them for their faith.  He supports their belief by saying that he has spoken of it to others.  Finally, he emphasizes the election of the Thessalonians as followers of Christ.  He tells them that they no longer worship powerless idols but the living God.

Whether or not we write letters, we should tell others of our experience of faith.  It is not a private matter but the means of salvation for the whole world.  We want to say how faith gives us both support in trial and a rule of life.  Our messages may not reach millions like the apostle Paul’s.  But they may provide critical help top those whom we especially love.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Memorial of Saint Rose of Lima, virgin

(Ruth 1:1.3-6.14b-66.22; Matthew 22:34-40)

The significance of today’s readings may be found in the life of St. Rose of Lima.  She completely dedicated herself to God and neighbor.  Like Ruth she would never abandon the Lord who created her.  Rose demonstrated her love for God by fasting and other penitential acts.  She also took care of the needy by making of her small quarters an infirmary for the sick.

There are many women like Rose of Lima.  One lived in a resort city of Cuba.  She organized a charity service that brought dozens of infirm people a breakfast of coffee, cereal and milk every day.  She also took care of her mother who was in a persistent vegetative state.  She kept the aged woman clean and maintained the feeding tube which gave her mother sustenance. 

It is often a trying task to love both God and neighbor.  Even today with all the conveniences at our disposal such love challenges us.  Sometimes, unfortunately, the conveniences divert us from giving ourselves to others in love.  We stand in the need of God’s assistance to fulfill the commands He imposes.  We must never forget that the commands are given in love.  By them God prepares us for eternal life.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Judges 11:29-39a; Matthew 21:1-14)

Human misunderstanding of God’s will is at least as old as the Bible.  In today’s first reading the Israeli judge Jephthah thinks that the sacrifice of a human person will somehow please God.  He defies both revealed and natural law in order to make one. Jephthah does not desist even when he discovers that the victim will be his only daughter. 

To many the wedding guest in today’s gospel parable is a victim of poverty.  They say that he should not have been punished because he was too poor to own a wedding garment.  However, wedding garments at the time were not a luxury but available to everyone.  The man is rightly seen as an ingrate who defies the graciousness of his host.  The parable may be seen as an allegory.  As one is obliged to wear proper dress to a wedding banquet, people must confess their sins to be admitted to heaven. 

Understanding God’s will is a matter of reflection and action.  We read the Scriptures to learn what God has ordained in writing.  Very important as well are the commentaries by bishops, especially the popes, and theologians.  We also must act on our conclusions.  If our interpretation of God’s will is on the mark, our action will bring about true good. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Memorial of Saint Pius X, pope

(Judges 9:6-15; Matthew 19:1-16)

“In the land where there are no eagles a grasshopper jumps and says, ‘I am an eagle.’” So runs an old Malay fable.  Fables are stories which dramatize animals or other non-human entities in order to deliver a moral message.  The reading from the Book of Judges today comprises a fable which approximates the one just mentioned.  The issue is the appointment of a king over Israel.  Useful trees like the olive and the fig refuse the honor of kingship so a buckthorn, which is no more than a large shrub, assumes the office.  The buckthorn represents Abimelech, the cutthroat son of Gideon.  He slaughtered seventy half-brothers to secure his throne and afterward burned alive the people of Migdal-shechem.  The reading anticipates the latter atrocity when it mentions fire coming from the buckhorn. 

The moral offered by the story is that Israel should not seek a king but accept the kingship of God.  Anything less will result in suffering for the poor as today’s gospel indicates.  Jesus begins the passage with the familiar statement, “The Kingdom of heaven is like...” He then proceeds to tell the parable of the workers in the vineyard.  Some of the workers, he says, grumble at the end of the story because the landowner -- the God-figure -- chooses to pay all his workers the same salary.  Although it may seem unfair, Jesus only relates the justice of God which allows every worker to provide for his family.  The grumblers, on the other hand, insist on a more exacting although less beneficial scale of compensation.

We have every reason to be wary of theocracies – that is, governments supposedly ruled by divine law.  We need civil government to regulate the material goods of a society.  But we should realize that civil governments must base policies on the common good.  This may sound simple but becomes technically complicated.  It assures the meeting of every person’s basic needs.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

 Memorial of Saint Bernard, abbot and doctor of the Church

(Judges 6:11-24a; Matthew 19:23-30)

Religious life, much like secular life, is prone to excess.  Monastic orders have taken the vow of poverty very seriously since antiquity.  Yet, over time, members have grown accustomed to different comforts.  Benedictines, whose motto is “to pray and to work,” began to abandon at least manual work in the early Middle Ages.  A reform movement sprung up at the monastery of Citeaux in France.  Its most famous representative is St. Bernard whose feast is celebrated today.

Bernard believed deeply in living poverty as a means to follow Christ.  He understood implicitly Jesus’ comment in today’s gospel about the improbability of the rich entering the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom, he would say, belongs to those who trust in God and not in their material resources.  He undoubtedly would lament today’s facility for checking one’s wealth as well as its meager concern for an evangelical lifestyle.

Wealth is not bad in itself, of course.  But we should use it for the good of all, not selfishly spent on ourselves.  Cruises, expensive sports events, costly entertainment all seem superfluous.  But perhaps even these luxuries might be justified when occasional and purchased after we give due attention to the needy.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Judges 2:11-19; Matthew 19:16-22)

The rich young man approaches Jesus with arrogant self-confidence.  He calls him, “Teacher,” despite the fact that Jesus has told his disciples not to use that title.  He also talks about “gain(ing) eternal life” as if it were a stocks acquisition.  He will learn that eternal life is not a business dealing.

Jesus quickly dispels the man’s pretentiousness.  He tells him that only God is good; that is, only God is without sin.  He also quotes from the “second tablet” of the Decalogue treating of relations with other people.  He concludes the list of commandments with his summary -- a variation of the “golden rule.”  Then he surprisingly equates gaining eternal life with “be(ing) perfect.” By this term he does not mean an obsessive perfectionism.  Rather he indicates that one can learn perfection in his company.  One finds eternal life in reorienting one’s life to follow himslef.

The rich young man is unwilling to make the sacrifice.  He insists like the “Great Gatsby” and other egotistical literary heroes, to do things his way.  Let us not make their mistake.  Rather we should want to submit to Jesus’ way.  Like him we are to bend to become humble, generous, and most of all loving.  In short, we are to give of ourselves for the good of others.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Joshua 24:1-13; Matthew 19:3-12)

If we ask a Jew what is the first commandment, we are likely to receive a surprising answer.  She probably will not say, “I am the Lord, your God; you shall not have strange gods before me.” Nor will she say, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all you heart and soul.”  No, Jews regularly look to Genesis One for the answer to this question: “Be fruitful and multiply.”  For Jews God’s primary command is to marry and to have a family.  For this reason Jesus comments that his statement about celibacy in today’s gospel will be difficult to accept.

Jesus also goes back to Genesis in defending the indissolubility of marriage.  He extrapolates from Genesis Two which says that in marriage a man and a woman become one flesh.  His point is that this union is not to be fractured.  The Pharisees have inquired of Jesus exceptions to the rule about the indissolubility of marriage.  So far Jesus has indicated that there are none.  But now he makes an allowance.  One can be exempted from the obligation to marry and have children for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Does this mean that people who do not marry or become a religious are somehow defying God’s will?  We ask this question from concern of those who have never met “Mr. or Ms. Right.”  Jesus would not condemn them.  He would only urge them to live for the Kingdom of God by praying and assisting the needy.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Revelation 19a.12:1-6a.10ab; I Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56)

Fr. Raymond E. Brown was one of the preeminent biblical exegetes of the latter twentieth century.  Protestants scholars recognized his expertise.  The pope named him to the Pontifical Biblical Commission.  Fr. Brown strove for Christian unity.  He told Protestants that they should not worry too much about Marian claims made by Catholic popes.  He said that they may be traced to different references in Scripture.

Today’s feast points to such claims and references.  There is no direct statement about Mary in Scripture after her being in the company of the Apostles at the Pentecost event.  No report is given of her passing, much less of her assumption into heaven.  But there is indirect testimony.  The first reading refers to her being prepared a place by God.  The second reading speaks of the resurrection of all the dead of whom - it is not inconceivable - Mary takes precedence. The gospel reading shows why.  Mary is the first to proclaim the Good News of God doing great new things in the world. 

Protestants are still wary of speaking much about Mary.  We should be aware of that but, nevertheless, not reluctant to invite them to our devotion.  Mary is, after all, a model disciple as well as a preacher of the Gospel.  As his mother, she is also close to Jesus.  Finally, she has a distinctively woman’s sensitivity to others’ needs.  Much like people ask us to pray for their needs, we can solicit Mary’s intercession.  In this way, may she serve as a source of unity and never again of division.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Memorial of Saint Maxilimilian Kolbe, priest and martyr

(Deuteronomy 34:1-12; Matthew 18:15-20)

Like the great Moses, St. Maximilian Kolbe stands as person of great accomplishments.  He was an intellectual, a foreign missionary, and a martyr.  Over time he has been criticized for his zeal.  However, his defenders have adequately shown that his critique of Freemasonry as being inspired by anti-Semitism is exaggerated.  Maximilian harbored 2,000 Jews in the monastery he founded during the Nazi persecution.  Furthermore, his polemic was not against the Jewish faith or the Jewish people but the leaders of the Zionist movement. 

Kolbe died offering his life as a sacrifice to God for others.  Imprisoned at Auschwitz, he volunteered himself in place of another inmate.  The Nazis were seeking retribution for a prisoner’s escape and then arbitrarily chose ten men to be starved.   Kolbe replaced one of the men who had a family to care for.

In today’s gospel Jesus exhorts his disciples to forgive one another.  He seems to imply that the one who gave offense should ask for forgiveness.  If he or she does not, Jesus would have disciples pray for the offender out of love.  In this way they will be disposed to forgive as is their duty.   Maximilian Kolbe’s self-sacrifice in love indicates a supreme desire to reconcile with those he criticized.  We do not have to doubt his sanctity.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Deuteronomy 31:1-8; Matthew 18:1-5.10.12-14)

University students become especially frenzied when their athletic teams are considered the best.  This standing is usually measured by polls rating a school "number one.” Anticipating the polls, students will chant incessantly as their teams keep winning, “We’re number one!”  Their desire may be called sophomoric in light of today’s gospel.

The disciples come to Jesus with the question, “Who is first in the Kingdom of God?”  Pointedly Jesus ignores the concern to give a lesson on service.  He tells them that they must humble themselves like a child so that they may respond to the needs of others.

It is sometimes a challenge to get right the idea of self-importance.  We want to be appreciated as special for who we are or, at least, for the company we keep.  This longing is not bad or mistaken but it is only part of the story.  God loves us and so do our parents from conception.  But Jesus is reminding us here that being loved does not fulfill our destiny.  We are to make use of that love with service to others.  Jesus uses the example of a child who responds with eagerness to please their parents.  We are to do the same for God and neighbor.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Matthew 17:22-27)

Once I traveled from Calcutta in eastern India to the Punjab in the west.  Having purchased my train ticket beforehand, I went to the train station with confidence.  All I had to do was to board the train.  But that was easier said than done.  Fifteen minutes before the scheduled departure, the station went wild.  People rushed in every direction.  I could not find my coach but foolishly refused the request of porters to help me.  A young man noticed my vulnerability and came to my aid.  He took my bag and found my coach and seat.  He did not ask for anything in return.  He probably did not realize that he was carrying out the precept in today’s first reading.  He befriended an alien. 

Scripture has a universal vision.  People are not to so clannishly or nationalistically that they turn their backs to others.  They are to help one another as they share a common origin in God.  Obligations to family and to nation exist, but these should not curtail friendship with others.

We live in a time of people on the move.  There are certainly more tourists and probably pilgrims than ever before.  The numbers of immigrants and refugees also keep growing.  Material benefits are regularly derived from this vast movement of humankind.  Spiritual benefits are to be reaped as well when we make an effort to assist strangers.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Memorial of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, virgin and martyr

 (Deuteronomy 31:1-8; Matthew 18:1-5.10.12-14)

Few people have given witness to Christ like a German Jew named Edith Stein.  She was an accomplished philosopher who converted to Catholicism before World War II.  She eventually entered a Carmelite monastery to pray and to study.  After moving to Holland to avoid persecution, her identity was discovered.  The Gestapo came for her and her sister hiding with her.  “Come, Rosa,” she told her sister, “we are going for our people.”  She meant that they would die, as Christ did, giving testimony to God’s love first for the Jews and then for all peoples.

Edith Stein, who became Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, exemplifies today’s gospel message.  Jesus tells his disciples that they must take up their cross to follow him.  For Teresa Benedicta that cross meant her birth identity as a Jew.  She died not only because of that but also because she wanted to follow her Savior Jesus.

If we think that we are safe from religious persecution, we are deluded.  Christians around the world are being harassed for their faith.  Even in western countries Christian medical personnel are being threatened with censure if they do not participate in abortion.  It is not unlikely that Christian teachers will face losing their jobs for refusing to extol so-called homosexual marriage.  As likely as these things will come to pass, we are not to worry excessively.  The gospel also promises that Jesus will come with glory for those who uphold his ways. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Memorial of Saint Dominic, priest

(Numbers 20:1-13; Matthew 16:13-23)

St. Dominic is most often portrayed in art receiving the rosary from the Blessed Mother.  There is no reliable historical evidence of this event having taken place.  Still there is reason to associate Dominic with the rosary. Dominican priests, the spiritual sons of Dominic, have been among the principal promoters of praying the rosary in history.  There are statues of Dominic holding a church on one of his arms.  It’s a symbolic gesture, of course, but it has definite historical roots.

Dominic founded the Order of Preachers when the Church was being severely challenged.  Especially in France and Italy people were reacting against the corruption that often contaminates living the faith.  These people were called Cathars, a term meaning pure ones, or Albigensians for the city in what is now southern France where they were popular.  These idealistic people lived in austere ways accepting Jesus’ radicalness in the New Testament but rejecting the goodness of creation from the Old Testament.  Dominic believed that they might be converted back to a truly evangelical life.  He formed his spiritual brothers, who became known as Dominicans, to live in simplicity and community.  They would study Scripture and preach dynamically to win back those alienated from the Church.

We should see St. Dominic as standing in direct line with Jesus and St. Peter.  In today’s gospel Jesus calls his lead disciple “the rock (upon which) I will build my church.”  Twelve hundred years later Dominic worked to maintain that Church’s integrity.  The newly elected successor of St. Dominic, Fr. Gerard Timoner, Master of the Order of Preachers, has indicated his intention that the Order continue that enterprise. After accepting his election, he said, “The mission of the order is to help build the communion of the Church, the Body of Christ…”

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Numbers 13:1-2.25-14.1.26a-29a.34-35; Matthew 15:21-28)

In today’s world of political correctness Jesus’ remark to the Canaanite woman would be duly noted.  Comparing another’s child to a house dog does sound coarse.  But let us hope that no one dismisses Jesus because of that comment.  After all, he was on retreat and does take pity on the child.

The faith of the Canaanite is more worth noting.  She first believes that Jesus, the Jewish healer, could help her daughter.  Then she withstands the slight to persist in her request.  She shows a mother’s love and a saint’s faith. Like the woman who comes to anoint Jesus before his death (Matthew 26:13), she will be remembered forever.

We should strive to be as compassionate as Jesus and as faith-filled as the Canaanite woman.  Even when tired, we cannot neglect to care for those in need around us.  Perhaps more importantly, we must look to Jesus as the one who heals both us and others.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Transfiguration of the Lord

(Daniel 7:9-10.13-14; II Peter 1:16-19; Luke 9:28b-36)

Pope Benedict XVI notes that in Luke’s Gospel the transfiguration occurs while when Jesus is praying.  He calls the interpenetration of Father and Son the sensation of pure light.  Jesus becomes, as John’s gospel declares, “light from light.”

In prayer Jesus recognizes that God is calling him to suffer.   He can glimpse the cross awaiting him in Jerusalem.  This is the “Exodus” which Moses and Elijah mention in the passage.  The vision does not deter him but compels Jesus forward.  He knows that it is the Father’s will, which he will always do come what may.  Meanwhile, the glory of the light prepares the disciples for the shock of the crucifixion.

We should not deny a similar eventuality for ourselves.  Whether we suffer through old age or face death in an instant, the experience will not be easy.  Like Jesus we should be determined to do God’s will.  We will be giving positive example to our associates.  More importantly, we too will come to know God’s glory.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Numbers 11:4b-15; Matthew 14:13-21)

When a commodity becomes plentiful and cheap, people are likely to look for alternatives.  At one time chicken was most families’ favorite food.  They reserved it for Sunday dinner after church to crown their day of leisure.  Today, with mass (and inhumane) poultry farming, chicken has become relatively inexpensive.  Many families prefer steak or salmon for special occasions.  In the first reading something similar is brewing.

The Israelites have grown tired of the manna which they have had to eat it every day.  They return to Moses with the absurd complaint that they would have been better off in Egypt.  Moses then goes up to the Lord perplexed about what to do.  He knows that the people should be grateful.  At the same time he realizes that they are still not holy, still not truly the Lord’s.   Moses himself betrays a rebellious spirit as he attempts to weasel out of God’s service.

Holiness is a matter of being different.  But the difference is not being individualistic.  Rather holiness is going against the grain of human pride to give oneself completely to God.  It is overcoming the tendency to see ourselves as entitled and recognizing everything as a blessing from God.   Then it is becoming a blessing to others.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Friday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Leviticus 23:1.4-11.15-16.27.34b-37; Matthew 13:54-58)

Jews celebrate two feast days in September or early October that often escape our attention.  On the first day of the seventh month of the Jewish calendar they celebrate Rosh Hashanah, their New Year.  On this day the shofar or ram’s horn is blown, literally as a wake up call to the people.  The wild sound reminds everyone that the Day of Judgment is coming when all have to give account for the good and evil we have done.  It is as festive a day as Christmas with different kinds of special foods – fruits, honey, and the round loaf of bread symbolizing the beginning of another year. 

Ten days afterward is the holiest day of the Jewish year Yom Kippur, which the reading from Leviticus refers to as the Day of Atonement.  Traditionally it is thought of as the day Moses finished his forty day conference with God and brought the second set of the Commandments to the people.  Seeing the golden calf, he destroyed the idol and had the people repent.  Granted forgiveness, Jews to this day remember the event with this day of repentance for sins.  It is also a day of heightened fasting and prayer. Most every Jew attends a synagogue service on Yom Kippur.

Christians will please Jewish acquaintances by wishing them a happy New Year on Rosh Hashanah and a blessed Yom Kippur.  But these days should have more meaning for us than improving our relationships with modern Jews.  We should recall how Jesus was a Jew as the gospel today makes evident.  Jews are also God’s chosen people whom we have to thank for bringing us a Savior.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Memorial of Saint Alphonsus Ligouri, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Exodus 40:16-21.34-38; Matthew 13:47-53)

Moral theologians are something like a fisherman who throws a net into the sea as in today’s gospel.  They treat of many things, most of which need to be sorted out and evaluated.  Their job is to judge acts first as either good or bad and then the bad ones as gravely or venially sinful.  To do this well they examine how the passions of the agent affected her actions.  Very importantly, they propose virtues which will support the will to do what is right and resist the desire to do evil.

Today we celebrate the patron of moral theologians, St. Alphonsus Ligouri.  He was an accomplished man in many respects.  He founded a prominent religious congregation and was made a bishop.  But Alphonsus is best known for infusing the academic discipline of moral theology with common sense.  When laxists were looking for grounds to dismiss every act as non-sinful and rigorists were ready to condemn, Alphonsus promoted a middle ground.  He wrote that an act may be dismissed if it has as many arguments for dismissal as for condemnation.  For example, some theologians say that getting a tattoo is almost always wrong. Others are not so sure.  If, after weighing the reasons that either group of theologians makes, there are equally good arguments for body tattoos as there are against, then they should not be condemned. 

We should be ready to promote good actions and be cautious to condemn bad ones.  If we have to condemn, let our object be the action and not the person.  Let God judge the person without forgetting that the parents in the home and the state in society take the role of God.  In this way we will give all their due – the essence of justice.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Memorial of Saint Ignatius, priest

(Exodus 34:29-35; Matthew 13:44-46)

Today the Church honors not just St. Ignatius but also the legacy he left.  Ignatius gave up a military career after he was injured and experienced conversion.  He prayed intensely and studied theology.  At the university he joined a group of scholars to form the Company of Jesus, the Jesuits.  They were ordained and soon spearheaded the Catholic Counter-Reformation.  The Jesuits have become the Church’s most prominent religious congregation.  Seven years ago, for the first time, a Jesuit was elected pope.

Ignatius’ conversion could be compared to the merchant’s finding a pearl in today’s gospel.  In reading and praying, Ignatius found Christ in a much deeper way than in his Catholic upbringing.  He gave up his sword and everything else to be like his Lord.  As the first leader of the Jesuits, he awoke the attention of the world to Jesus’ love. 

Today’s collect remembers Ignatius as a soldier-saint by recognizing the need of discipline in the quest for holiness.  We must take to heart the lesson.  We train ourselves to put aside earthly vanities by keeping our eyes on the Lord.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 33:7-11.34:5b-9.28; Matthew 13:36-43)

At a funeral a woman gives a testimony about her mother.  She says that as children her mother picked up her and her siblings from school every day.  On most days, she continues, her mother stopped at church before going home.  She wanted to visit the Blessed Sacrament.  The woman says that her mother was hardly a woman who would only pray for good things.  Rather she made them happen.  But she also found wisdom and strength in her conversations with the Lord.  Moses evidently draws the same energy in today’s first reading.

Does Moses see God face to face?  The reading says that he does, even that he was accustomed to doing it.  But it also says that when God passed by, Moses “at once bowed down in worship.”  Elsewhere in this same section of Exodus God indicates the impossibility of a direct encounter.  He tells Moses, “…you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live."   But the question is moot since the only human face that God has belongs to Jesus. 

We have not been blessed to have seen Jesus in the flesh.  Or perhaps we are blessed not to have seen him so because we might have rejected him.  Nevertheless, we can find him today if we but look.  He is in the marginalized person whom we might not want to meet.  We will find his face reflected in quality art which moves us to speak to him.  And, of course, he is there in the Eucharist in a most wholly and helpful way.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Memorial of Saint Martha

(Exodus 32:15-24.30-34; John 11:19-27)

In today’s gospel Martha exhibits the same initiative that she shows in Luke’s account of the two sisters.  She goes out to Jesus with a complaint.  This time, however, her criticism is directed toward Jesus, not toward Mary.  She tells him that if he had come when they called him, Lazarus would not have died.  Jesus is kinder to her than the last time around perhaps because she is in mourning.  He asks her whether she believes in him as the resurrection and the life.

Martha does not hesitate to express her faith.  She is, after all, a saint.  She acknowledges Jesus as the Messiah, the one coming to liberate the world from death.  She also shows patience to see his mighty works.  Rather than fret any longer, she graciously goes to tell her sister about Jesus’ arrival.

It is hard to wait on the Lord, especially when we are suffering.  We want him to act now to relieve our pain.  Saints realize that God’s time is not our time.  His apparent slowness may make us stronger in faith or more persistent in hope.  Whatever the reason, we know that if we love Him, all will turn out well.