Thursday, January 28, 2021

 

Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest and doctor of the Church

(Hebrews 10;19-25, Mark 4:21-25)

Of all the theologians in history few have left a mark quite as indelible as St. Thomas Aquinas.  He is like the lampstand that Jesus speaks of in today’s gospel.  Set on him, Jesus, the light of the world, is made visible to guide the people.

Thomas was born into a noble Italian family.  There was little doubt that he would become a priest.  But he left behind family influence which would have him become a Benedictine abbot.  He followed the Lord’s calling into the Dominican Order.  There he was tutored by St. Albert the Great. Surpassing the brilliance of his mentor, Thomas became a master teacher in Paris.  His opus magnus, the Summa Theologiae, synthesizes Aristotle and Augustine and other prominent thinkers.  But its first and foremost sourcebook is the Scriptures.  Thomas interprets the Scriptures thoroughly, consistently, and perceptively.

Unfortunately, reading Thomas presents a challenge.  Although his Latin is not intricate, the words in his time often have different meanings than in the classical period or today.  Also, the scholastic format seems redundant and abstract.  But taking pains to read Thomas gives the reader an exalted appreciation of both faith and whom faith reveals, the Lord God.

 Wednesday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(Hebrews 10:11-18; Mark 4:1-20)

Artists in New Mexico for many years have featured the story-teller.  This motif shows a woman sitting down with children not just around her but hanging from her.  She is the popular story-teller who can lift listeners’ hopes to new heights.  In today’s gospel Jesus is presented as a popular story teller.

The people crowd about him.  Evidently he has already achieved fame not just as a healer but also a preacher.  He can make the people cry with joy and shake with fear.  In today’s passage they wonder about what kind of ground they have become. They ask themselves, “Am I hard, weedy, or rocky soil? How am I impeding the word of God from growing in me?” Some of them, however, are properly tilled.  They take time for prayer so that they remember God’s goodness and other persons’ difficulties.  They weed out excessive desire by avoiding provocative stimulation.  They form good habits that crush the clods of pride and sloth. 

Jesus still speaks to us with his challenging stories.  But the most meaningful story of them all is not the one he told but the one he lived.  He allowed himself to be tortured and killed so that our sins may not ruin us.  As the reading from Hebrews intimates, he died on the cross so that we might live glorious lives in him.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

 Memorial of Saint Timothy and Saint Titus, bishops

(II Timothy 1:1-8; Mark 3:22-30)

St. Paul worked incessantly for the gospel.  But he also counted on assistance of collaborators.  The saints whom the Church commemorates today helped Paul as both companions and ambassadors.  St. Timothy accompanied Paul the second time the apostle set forth from Antioch to evangelize.  Paul sent him to Thessalonica where Christian converts were being persecuted.  Paul wrote Timothy two letters intimating a father-son relationship although their authenticity is questioned.  It is said that Timothy was martyred in Ephesus.

Titus too traveled with and for Paul.  He was sent to Corinth to find out how Paul’s letter to the community there was received.  Later Paul ordained Titus as bishop of Crete.  Titus serves as an example of Paul’s regard for Judaism.  Because he was not born a Jew, Paul did not want him circumcised since that would imply need of the law for salvation.   It is said that Titus died of natural causes at an old age.

These two saints mostly magnify the greatness of Paul.  No doubt for that reason they are celebrated the day after the feast of Paul’s conversion.  They also show us that humble service of a great cause is itself worthy of praise. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

 Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul the Apostle

(Acts 22:3-16; Mark 16:15-18)

Ending the Week of Christian Unity on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul may give the impression that Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic Christians hope to convert one another.  But this, of course, is not at issue in the ecumenical project.  The occasion is nevertheless appropriate because all people must undergo continual conversion if they are to become holy.  The Shaker song “Tis a Gift to Be Simple” expresses this necessity well: “… by turning, turning we come round right.”

Paul’s life underwent various conversions.  The most dramatic turning is recorded in today’s first reading where Paul is changed from a zealous Jew to a follower of Christ.  Another turning point comes with the attempt to preach logically to the Athenians at the Areopagus.  Rebuffed, he decides that from then on, he will preach only Christ crucified.  Perhaps another conversion takes place as Paul stops preaching to Jews in synagogues and starts talking to pagan clients as he plies his tent-making trade.

Most of us would do well to attempt the following simple conversion.  Rather than refrain from talking about religion with others because of the differences it arouses, we should declare what God has done in our lives.  We might also ask our associates to tell about their faith experiences.  Also, sharing prayer as we break bread and perhaps again at the end of an evening will weave webs of mutual respect.  In these ways and, of course, with God’s grace, eventual unity will take place.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

 

THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

(Jonah 3: 1-5.10; I Corinthians 7: 29-31; Mark 1: 14-20)

One day towards the end of this year we will turn to our neighbors at Mass to shake their hands. We will take the Blood of Christ from the cup. And we will see the smiles on the faces of the children in church. The Corona-19 virus will be arrested. We will be able to rejoice in the Lord. In the gospel we hear of the arrest of John launching another chain of good news.

John is treated in this Gospel of Mark as the last prophet of Israel. Like Isaiah and Amos, John has preached justice to great and humble alike. He even he faced King Herod with inconvenient truth. His arrest means the end of ancient times. Jesus says in truth: "'The time has been fulfilled.'" The new age introduces the Kingdom of God. In other words, the love of God the Father will no longer remain as a memory. It won't just be the story of the victory over Pharaoh or the exploits of David. Rather, it will be as palpable as the warmth of a fireplace when temperatures drop to zero. God will caress all men and women because we are created in his image. Like the one-time popular song said: "He has you and me, brother, in his hands ... he has the whole world in his hands."

We can rest safe now because God has come. But before we rest we have to fulfill Jesus' command: "'Repent and believe the gospel.' In other words, we have to leave selfishness and greed behind to take care of others. We have to protect the dignity of each person, particularly the most vulnerable. A nun tells of her father who was a gynecologist. One day the daughter asked her father if he had ever performed an abortion. He replied, "Yes." "How many?" she asked again. “At least a dozen when I was in my residency - he said - then something happened that made me stop. After doing an abortion one day, I went to tell the patient's sister that the surgery was over. Before I could leave, she asked me if it was alive. I knew that if I answered "no," it would have been a lie and if I answered "yes," I just killed someone. It was the last abortion I ever did”.

Eventually the physician became a Catholic and discerned the call to treat his patients according to the teachings of the Church. He went to train in a city far from his place of origin. The change meant a drastic reduction in income, but it seemed like God's will. He was like the fisherman brothers in the gospel. Simón and Andrés and Santiago and Juan receive a call from Jesus that means great sacrifices. Simón and Andrés leave their nets behind -- their livelihood. Santiago and Juan leave their own father in the boat.

Jesus tells the fishermen that they will be "’ fishers of men. " He is going to teach them how to call others to the kingdom of God. He does not stop calling with the apostles but calls us today. Could it be that we are called to tell others about God's love? Why not? The world needs to hear that God's love reaches every human person. The scope includes aborted fetuses and also their mothers. Somehow we have to convey to women who have had abortions that God still loves them. We have to inform them that if they recognize abortion as a mistake, God will forgive them so that they have peace.

Abortion divides political parties and increasingly religions. It's not leaving anytime soon. As disciples of Jesus, we have to defend human life from conception to natural death. But we don't want to alienate anyone. Rather, we want to be fishermen and women of others by extending the spirit of reconciliation. Yes, it is difficult, but we have Jesus as our teacher.