Monday, September 21, 2020

 Feast of Saint Matthew, apostle and evangelist

(Ephesians 4:1-7.11-13; Matthew 9:9-13)

John’s gospel can be said to be more sublime.  Luke’s gospel, all in all, is probably more beautiful and Mark’s more passionate. But Matthew’s gospel seems to be the preferred gospel among people who take their faith seriously.  More than the others, Matthew’s gospel teaches Christians how to follow Christ.  After the narratives of Jesus’ infancy and baptism at the beginning and before the account of his passion, death, and resurrection at the end, the Gospel of Matthew gives five expertly formed lessons in discipleship.  Each of these lessons has a narrative and a discourse.  They inform readers how to live, how to evangelize, what the kingdom of God is like, how to be a church, and what to expect at the end of time.

Today’s passage from Matthew tells how Jesus called a tax-collector named Matthew to follow him.  This man has been thought to be the writer of the gospel because a second century scholar mentions a certain Matthew as the collector of sayings of Jesus in Hebrew.  Scholars today, however, see the author as having written in Greek during the eighth or ninth decade of the first century.  He probably never met Jesus although he knew a lot about him, especially his Jewish background.

Matthew’s gospel emphasizes the importance of faith.  If we are to experience the wonder of Jesus’ works, we must believe in him as Lord.  As Jesus promises at the end of the gospel, he will accompany us until the end of time.  Believing in his presence, we may turn to him in our need and experience his gracious care.

Friday, September 18, 2020

 

Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 8:1-3)

We should hear St. Paul’s discourse on the resurrection as Britain heard Winton Churchill’s speech at the beginning of World War II. The country was in a desperate situation.  German armies were taking over France and most of the rest of Europe.  The English were not completely sure whether brokering a peace treaty with Hitler was not the most prudent course.  But the prime minister spoke surely and determinedly.  The Nazis could not be trusted; they needed to be resisted.  So, Churchill said, the English would never surrender.

Paul had heard that some Corinthians were saying that there was no resurrection of the dead.  Perhaps, they opined, Christ rose from the dead, but for them that did not mean that his followers rise as well.  In that case, the advantage of being Christian was the comradery it brandishes.  Paul takes this way of thinking as a challenge to be met head on.  If there is no resurrection of the dead, he writes, Christ did not rise from the dead.  And if Christ did not rise from the dead, then he is a fool for preaching it and the people are fools for listening to him.

Whether people today say or not that the dead in Christ will rise, many live as if they will not.  They do not restrain their desires as he taught, and they ignore the teachings of the Church, his body.  However, we who read the Scriptures for instruction as well as inspiration look forward to a life with Christ in eternity.  As surely as Britain resisted Hitler’s Germany, we will follow the way of Jesus.  He is our hope and our destiny.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

 Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

 (I Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 7:36-50)

 The main attraction at the year 2000 World Youth Day in Toronto was, of course, Pope John Paul II.  Even at eighty, the saint was able to move people deeply.  During the event a young prostitute accompanied a youth group at a local parish to the pope’s mass.  There she heard the pope say to all the youth that he loved them.  The words changed the prostitute’s life.  Many men, she said, had told her before that they loved her but that this one meant it.  The story mirrors today’s gospel.

 In part the issue of the passage is the claim that Jesus is a prophet. Simon, the Pharisee, denies it because Jesus allows the woman to wash his feet with her tears and wipe them with her hair. But Jesus shows himself to be a prophet by reading the Pharisee’s mind.  Not only that, his being a prophet is confirmed by pronouncement of forgiveness.  Jesus says that her demonstration of love is a response to being forgiven of many sins.

 Jesus showed God’s great love for the world.  He did not seek pleasure or consolation.  He died on the cross as the supreme sacrifice that wins for us the forgiveness of sin.  We are both humbled and edified to consider -- like the Toronto prostitute – that he meant it when he showed his love for us. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

 Memorial of Saint Cornelius, pope, and Saint Cyprian, bishop, martyrs

(I Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 7:31-35)

Both St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian were caught up in the intense persecution of mid-third century.  Both died martyrs for the faith.  Both also were involved in the debate within the Church regarding how to treat the lapsi.  These were Christians who apostatized or left the Church rather than be martyred.  The issue was whether they could be readmitted. 

Cornelius was besieged from two sides.  He thought the lapsi could be forgiven but should do penance.  Some of his critics, however, thought all apostates should be forsaken.  Evidently, critics on the left did not find a rigorous penance necessary.  Cyprian likewise thought the lapsi could be forgiven. 

The wisdom of both Cornelius and Cyprian in forgiving the lapsi is reflected in today’s first reading.  Paul’s famous elegy on love testifies that love bears all things, even apostasy.  Paul also claimed that love “does not brood over injury.”  Rather it gives hope by charting a course of repentance.  Sinners then can make amends for their wrongdoing and be strengthened to sin no more.  This is essentially what the Church prescribes for us in the Sacrament of Penance.  We are never forsaken in our sins.  We always, because of God’s intense love, have recourse to forgiveness.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

 Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

(I Corinthians 12:12-14.27-31a; John 19:25-27)

A German writer went to Egypt to find out more about the twenty-one Coptic martyrs a few years ago.  The men were slain by Muslim extremists for their adherence to belief in Christ.  The writer discovered that the mothers of the young men were not grief stricken, at least at the time of his visit.  They were mostly joyful and proud that their sons gave their lives for Christ.  Mary in today’s gospel has this air as well.

Mary, like everyone else in John’s gospel, accompanies Jesus to the cross.  There Jesus pronounces her mother of his beloved disciple.  It is not necessarily a singular responsibility.  In becoming the mother of the unnamed disciple, Mary becomes the mother of all Jesus’ beloved disciples.  Like the mothers of the Coptic martyrs, Mary would feel proud and joyful.  She now has an intimate relationship with the multitude of Christians through the ages.

We do not mean to say that Mary is not at the same time sorrowful.  No doubt her heart is heavy to see her son executed.  But from the beginning of the gospel she is a woman of faith.  She knows that Jesus’ horrific death will turn into unimaginable glory. We likewise believe that, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, our dying to self leads to eternal life.