Thursday, September 28, 2023

Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Haggai 1:1-8; Luke 9:7-9)

From all that Herod has heard of Jesus, he wants to see him.  When he finally does, during Jesus’ hearing before Pilate, Herod’s purpose is revealed.  He wants to see Jesus perform some sign.  Unfortunately, such a desire is not counted as a sufficient reason to inherit salvation.

Many today, like Herod, want to see some sign or miracle that warrants their following Jesus.  They are not satisfied with hearing of Jesus’ resurrection from first-hand witnesses.  They want to see the sick healed with the Sacrament of anointing or cranky people turned friendly with the reception of Holy Communion.  This, however, is not how faith works.  People first must believe in Christ.  That will open their eyes to plenty of instances of his saving help.

We should recognize Christ’s daily help.  He has put good people around us.  He constantly blesses us, for many with health for others with medical care or friends’ support.  We have every reason to expect that at the end when we are called Jesus will direct us to his Father’s house.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Memorial of Saint Vincent de Paul, priest

(Ezra 9:5-9; Luke 9:1-6)

In today’s gospel Jesus sends his apostles out to do as he has done.  They are to preach the good news and heal the sick.  St. Vincent de Paul followed this program as well.  A gifted orator, he preached especially to and for the poor.  He also founded hospitals.

Vincent’s life seemed to be going in another direction in the years following his ordination.  As a young priest, he sought ministry among the aristocracy who could provide him relative comfort.  He then came under the tutelage of the spiritual masters Pierre de BĂ©rulle and St. Francis de Sales.  They influenced him to pursue God, not pleasure or prestige. 

If nothing else, the gospel calls us to leave behind worldly desires to pursue the Lord.  It teaches us, as Vincent de Paul’s spiritual directors showed him, that eternal life is not the accumulation of goods and experiences but of staying close to Jesus.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezra 6:7-8.12b.14-20; Luke 819-21)

The long first reading from the Book of Ezra today invites commentary.  It relates part of the story of the building of the so-called “Second Temple.”  The first temple “of Solomon” was destroyed by the Babylonians.  The current temple will not match it, but near the time of Christ King Herod will give a significant upgrading.  The issue here is not who builds a more magnificent temple.  Rather, it is construction of a monument worthy of the Lord that will call people together in praise.

Once a minister asked a parishioner why he did not attend religious services the previous Sunday.  The man replied that he went fishing.  He said that he felt closer to God in nature than in church. The preacher replied that it is good he feels close to God in nature, but churches are God’s preferred place of prayer.  There men and women come together as a people in peace and love to give God, their common Father, fitting thanks and praise.

Covid took a toll on Mass attendance.  Many people have lost the custom of coming to church on Sunday.  Some say they watch mass via the Internet, but that is not attending it.  One shortcoming is that they cannot receive Holy Communion, which puts us literally in touch with the Lord.  Our sharing the Eucharist in a humble church without organ accompaniment is hardly the experience of solemn Mass in a grand cathedral.  But it does give adequate praise to the Lord.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezra 1:1-6; Luke 8:16-18)

The Book of Ezra, from which the first reading is taken, narrates a new beginning for Israel.  The people of Jerusalem have been living in their Babylonian exile for fifty years.  Now Cyrus, Babylonia’s Persian conqueror, decrees their release.  The people will return to their homeland helped by their Babylonian neighbors.  Once there, Ezra will call the people to faithfulness to the Lord through keeping the Law which he copied.

The story echoes Israel’s release from slavery in Egypt.  Pharoh, under duress, issued a similar proclamation sending the people home.  As the Babylonians give the Israelites gold to rebuild the temple, the Egyptians gave their ancestors gold which was used for the Ark of the Covenant.  On their Moses will exhort the people to obey the Law God gives them.

Christ’s resurrection from the dead will become the definitive new beginning of Israel.  He will send us, the new Israel, to our true home of heaven.  He will also bestow on us a gift better than gold, the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit will build up the Church on the outside, also fill our hearts with Christ’s New Law of love. 

Sunday, September 24, 2023


(Isaiah 55:6-9; Philippians 1:20-24,27; Matthew 20:1-16)

The readings today are fairly well-known. The first is part of the fascinating chapter of the prophet Isaiah in which God describes his word as rain bringing life to the earth. It is said that the gospel parable has had the popularity of that of the Prodigal Son at certain times in history. And the second reading of the Letter to the Philippians gives one of the most intimate confessions of the apostle Paul. Let's leave it for another time to reflect on the gospel through the optic of the prophet.

In one sense it is nothing new that the Lord's ways are different from ours. After all, God is of a different order than us. In fact, it is absurd to try to compare ourselves with God. He is not a being among other beings like any other man or woman. He is the basis of all being. Therefore, when we talk about God, we always speak in an analogical way, which is to say, “something similar,” realizing that He is a mystery beyond our understanding. It is like how we talk about our dog “loving us” when it lies at our feet. Its display of affection in no way comes close to the love between a man and a woman who have given themselves to one another in a faithful marriage. Although we cannot come close to matching God’s goodness, Jesus still calls us to be like Him. In the Sermon on the Mount, he tells his disciples: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

With both the distinction between God and us and the command to imitate God in mind, we can examine the gospel. The story Jesus tells here meets the classic definition of a parable as a tale taken from ordinary living whose conclusion surprises in a way that causes the listener to reconsider his life. Certainly upon hearing the parable of the “Good Samaritan,” the Jews had to reconsider their attitude toward the Samaritans. The parable of “The Laborers in the Vineyard” works in the same way. As much as the workers employed in the early hours of the morning, we are surprised when they receive the same pay as those who worked only one hour. But that's how God is - more generous than can be imagined. He is not unfair to anyone. He pays those hired in the morning the promised wage. But he has no qualms about treating others with great generosity.

This parable has been used to understand how the Greeks could inherit the Kingdom of God as much as the Jews who practiced the demands of the Law for centuries. It can also be used to explain how some born in solid families whose parents raised them with faith as well as love can have the same fate as some who, due to deficiencies in their upbringing, struggled to live just lives. However, the parable is open to another interpretation. It asks us to treat everyone with God's generosity whether they deserve it or not.

In our house sometimes someone leaves their dirty dishes in the sink. When I see them, I feel outraged because the person who left them should realize that everyone has the responsibility to clean their own dishes. This attitude is not necessarily unjust, but neither does it imitate God's ways. Certainly the saints would clean other people's dishes. Saint Martin de Porres, in fact, helped everyone, rich and poor, giving whatever he had without measure. All of us are called to do likewise by our acceptance into God’s family.

Being generous like God will demand a lot from us. But it's not impossible. With Jesus Christ as our model and companion we can fulfill the mandate. Present to us in the community of faith, Jesus supports us in the struggle. And in the Eucharist, he strengthens us to do hard things.