Monday, September 20, 2021

 Memorial of Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Companions, martyrs

 (Ezra 1:1-6; Luke 8:16-18)

Tension reigns today between Iran (modern Persia) and Israel (the Jewish state that incorporates most of the former Kingdoms of Judah and of Israel).  The Iranian government has threatened to destroy  the State of Israel.  Meanwhile, Israel has led violent forays into Iran to assure that the radical Muslim nation does not develop nuclear weapons

The first reading from the Book of Ezra shows that relations between the two nations have not always strained.  In fact, with a long history of association, Iran and Israel have shared many ups and downs.  A peak, recounted in the reading from the Book of Ezra today, sees King Cyrus of Persia promoting the reestablishment of the Temple in Jerusalem.  Jerusalemites have been living as exiles in Babylonia for seventy years when Cyrus allows them to return to their homeland. 

 Christians may consider this return of the Jews as a type of Jesus’ going up to Jerusalem at the end of his ministry.  His death and resurrection there will establish a new temple constructed not of stones but of his flesh and blood.  In his temple people will give the most fitting praise to God possible.  Nevertheless, the praise would be incomplete if it does not include a prayer for peace among rival nations.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

(Wisdom 2:12.17-20; James 3:16-4: 3; Mark 9:30-37)

Sixty years ago the Broadway musical “Camelot” won great acclaim. The story takes place in England in the Middle Ages. King Arthur’s court had the most daring knights in the world. Then Sir Lancelot comes from France to serve the king. Lancelot is proud, even vain. He says that he is the best at everything. In one song Lancelot uses the French words, “C’est moi” (“It’s I”), to express his greatness. He asks himself: "Where can you find such an extraordinary man?" And he answers his question: “C’est moi” (“It’s I”). We see a shade of this vanity in the gospel today.

The apostles argue on the way who among them is the most important. Obviously more than one of the twelve wants to answer: “C’est moi; it's I". The pity of the scene is not so much that the disciples of Jesus are proud. More heartbreaking is that Jesus has just told them how he will soon suffer terribly. He will be delivered to the Romans who will execute him. Either the apostles don't care or don't understand. But, if they really do not understand it, shouldn't they overcome their fear to ask for an explanation?

It is true that vanity or pride is a primordial sin. According to the Book of Proverbs, "Before the fall, there was pride ..." (16,18). Following this scenario, the serpent tempts the couple in the garden with the expectation that they will become "like gods." To prevent us from becoming proud when we were children, our mothers scolded us: "The world does not revolve around you." But it is a difficult lesson to learn. We like to think of ourselves as the most important, the most beautiful, or the brightest people in the world.

At the source of this dreadful tendency is extreme individualism. We think we can do everything that we want to do. We are confident that we think we don't need anyone else. We even at times think of ourselves as above the community, not responsible to anyone. At the same time we do not think that God cares about what we do. The first reading expresses this fantasy perfectly well. It quotes wicked men saying among themselves while they plot a trap for the righteous: "’If the righteous one is the son of God, he will help him… "

The second reading echoes these warnings against pride and extreme individualism. It points out that evil passions are at the bottom of all conflicts. It sees ambition as one of these passions, which in its extreme form seeks rewards without keeping the rules. Athletes who take drugs to win medals at the Olympics are guilty of ambition. Another evil passion referred to here is greed that desires what belongs to other people.

Jesus does not lack the patience to teach his disciples, including us, what true importance is. He says that the importance is not in being admired by others but in serving others. It is the truth that the famous radio star Garrison Keillor once admitted. Keillor said that while he was seeking for all the “merit badges” of his profession, he didn't do as much for others as any good cleaning woman.

Interestingly, Jesus never condemns self-love. But he commands that we love the other as much as ourselves and that we love God above all. We have to admit that the most important one is not "moi.”. Not even the second most important is "moi.” We are like everyone else - complexes of virtues and vices, strengths and weaknesses, possibilities and limits. We will reach our full potential by following the Lord Jesus in giving ourselves for the good of others. It will seem at first that we are studying and working only for ourselves. However, the time will come when we choose whether we will live mainly for ourselves or for others and for God, above all. Let’s hope that we have chosen to live for God above all.

Friday, September 17, 2021

 Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

 (I Timothy 2c-12; Luke 8:1-3)

 When St. Dominic was founding the Dominican Order, he started by establishing a convent of women converted from the heretical sect in southern France.  They provided spiritual support for Dominic’s soon to be organized band of friars.  Dominic could draw from Jesus’ experience in today’s gospel.

 Luke mentions that a group of women accompanies Jesus and the Twelve proclaiming the Kingdom of God.  The gospel emphasizes that they are more than enthusiastic followers but provide strategic material support for the troupe.   The third gospel generally takes pains to present women alongside men.  The prophetess Anna, for example, follows Simeon in welcoming the infant Jesus in the temple.  Also, the parable of the woman who searches her house for a lost coin accompanies that of the shepherd who does not rest until he finds the lost sheep. 

 Especially in the Catholic Church women are often paid scant attention.  Such practice betrays Jesus’ legacy.  Including women in decision-making positions, as Pope Francis has promised, is in line with Jesus’ own practice.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

 Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

(I Timothy 1:1-2.12-14; John 19:25-27)

Mary appears in all four gospels.  She certainly has more prominent roles in Luke and John than in Matthew and Mark.  But all four emphasize not only that Jesus was her son but also that she had strong feelings about him.  Today’s reading illustrates how Mary suffered with Jesus hanging on the cross.  In naming the Beloved Disciple her son, Jesus assures that Mary does not suffer alone.

The disciple goes nameless.  He is often associated with John, Zebedee’s son, but this is a conjecture widely dismissed by scholars today.  He is both a singular person and representative of all Christians as he forms with Mary Jesus’ new family – the Church.  Mary, however, has greater importance.  Like an anchor holding down a ship, Mary’s presence assures us that God’s Son really became a human being.  He is not a mythological demigod that could die and could rise at will.  Jesus underwent death for human sins and was buried.  He would have stayed in the tomb if the Father had not raised him up. 

Like Jesus, Marty knows our pains.  She is ready to intercede for us before the Father.  We can see her at the cross and trust her with our deepest hurts, anger, and losses.  She will help us because she is also our loving mother.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross

(Numbers 4b-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17)

Stauros is the word for cross in Greek.  In New Testament usage the word means only a stake in the ground.  Where the gospels say that Jesus carries his cross (with the help of Simon in Matthew, Mark, and Luke), readers should imagine the crossbeam that will be attached to the stake.  The stake with crossbeam has the form of an elongated “t” in the popular imagination because Matthew’s gospel mentions that the sign identifying Jesus was placed above his head.

This shape has been given significance.  It marks transcendence.  The life of Jesus and, by reason of today’s gospel passage, those who believe in him are not limited to the horizons of natural life.  Their destinies reach beyond the natural world in the eternities of the heavens.  Of course, this is represented by the vertical line shooting beyond the horizontal line.  Interestingly, this image of transcendence is distorted in the swastika which bends the cross on itself to signify no eternal destiny.

The cross itself merits meditation which might be considered the purpose of today’s feast.  But Catholics generally think of the cross with the corpus of Jesus attached.  His passion and death seals the meaning of the cross.  He is God, the eternal Son of the Father, who twice humbled himself – in the Incarnation and the Crucifixion – so that we might live with him in eternal happiness.