Monday, January 3, 2011

Monday after Epiphany

(I John 3:22-4:6; Matthew 4:12-17.23-25)

The gospel says that Jesus “withdrew to Galilee.” But we should not think of Jesus as retreating. He is actually heading toward the battlefront. Herod Antipas has just arrested John the Baptist for criticizing his unlawful marriage. Jesus leaves the solitude of the Jordan desert to take up John’s banner in Galilee. His message is the same as John’s, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” Herod Antipas can hardly ignore it. We wonder if he will manhandle Jesus as he did John.

Like Jesus we are sometimes called to the battle line. A shouting match turns into a fist fight where someone is going to get hurt. We should intervene. A minority person is accused of wrongdoing, but we know that another – one like us -- did the dirty deed. We must speak up.
Courage enables us to act in such situations. As a natural virtue, courage moves us to defend ourselves and our loved ones. Magnified by the love of God, courage overcomes our fear in the face of danger so that we might act on behalf of what is right.

Certainly St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) showed this elevated courage when the Gestapo came to take her, as a Jewish convert, from her Carmelite monastery. Her sister, who had come to stay with her, was deeply shaken. St. Theresa, however, did not resist or seek to hide. She took her sister by the hand saying, “Come, Rosa, we are going for our people.” She meant that she would die, as Christ did, giving testimony to God’s love first for Jews and then for all people.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Seventh Day in the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:18-21; John 1:1-18)

To many Catholics the ponderous words of today’s gospel are not obscure but quite familiar. These people were raised before the Second Vatican Council when the first fourteen verses of the passage were recited at the end of every mass. For this reason we may have heard them referred to as “The Last Gospel.”

The passage deserves meditation by old as well as young. Its opening verses enlighten the ancient controversy of whether Christ was really God. Some have questioned whether the belief in Christ’s divinity contradicts God’s unity. The verses tell us not only that Christ, the Word, is God but also show how he can come from the Father yet not after the Father: the Son and the Father with the Spirit existed before time began when there was no before and after. The passage further relates that the Word actually took on human flesh to ground faith not in hypothesis but in the deeds of an historical human, Jesus of Nazareth.

Used as the gospel we read at the final mass of the year, the passage allows us to peak beyond the end of time while it reinforces the purpose of the Word becoming flesh. As Christ existed with the Father before time began, his work as human makes us God’s children so that we might exist with him, the Father, and the Spirit when time ends.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Sixth Day in the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:12-17; Luke 2:36-40)

Reading the First Letter of John today corrects tendencies to exaggerate the goodness of worldly pleasures. Especially during the Christmas season, food abounds and drink flows. It is a time for movies, party games, and -- for the more vigorous -- skiing or ice-skating. But, of course, the world poses as many challenges to Christian life as it presents benefits. John’s letter warns Christians of its pitfalls. The “children” to whom it refers are the members of his church community. The “fathers” are the men and women who, having long accepted the faith, know well the love of God which comes through Jesus Christ. The “young men” are newcomers to Christianity. They have overcome the allurements to sin which hold others from commitment to Christ. But still both groups have to stand guard against the world’s temptations which remain the triple threats of lust, envy, and pride.

As we approach the beginning of a new year, we should prepare ourselves to contend with these three great nemeses. We want to seek God’s assistance when lustful desires enter our thoughts. We need to thank God for what we have and to take care that we do not constantly look to our neighbors’ bounty for what we lack. Finally, we should remind ourselves daily that we live to serve God, not to be served by others.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas

(I John 2:3-11; Luke 2:22-35)

Fifty years ago Dutch theologian Fr. Edward Schillebeeckx wrote a seminal book entitled Christ: The Sacrament of the Encounter with God. In this work the author showed how Jesus in the flesh signifies God’s love for the world like the Eucharist which he left behind. The idea sounded revolutionary at the time but is now accepted as a legitimate way of reflection on Christ’s redemptive work.

In the gospel the visionary Simeon sees the infant Jesus as “a sign that will be contradicted.” He recognizes that Jesus will manifest God’s redemptive love for all, but that many will counter or contradict him. Indeed, Jesus will become the test for the planet. Anyone who accepts him or, at least, his commandments of love of God and love of neighbor will find salvation. Anyone who rejects him or his message will be lost. Simeon’s reference to the sword piercing Mary seems to include her in this test.

Often we dwell on Simeon’s words to Mary as prophesizing Jesus’ death on the cross which she survives. However accurate that line of thinking is, we do well to open ourselves to the prophecy as a matter of acceptance or rejection of Jesus as sign of God’s love. We will note that during Jesus’ ministry Mary proves herself as the first to follow Jesus by meditating on the events of his life and acting on them. Thus, she becomes as the model of discipleship for all of us to follow.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

(I John 1:5-2:2; Matthew 2:13-18)

Gospel analysts easily show that the Gospels of Matthew and Luke have different sources for their accounts of Jesus’ birth. Where Matthew situates Joseph and Mary Bethlehem well before Jesus’ birth, Luke has them journeying from Nazareth. Where Matthew tells of the magi coming to adore the Lord, Luke pictures shepherds. Where Matthew writes of the Holy Family in flight to Egypt after the birth, Luke has them going up to the Temple in Jerusalem. However, these divergent details should not provoke doubt. In essential matters the two evangelists coincide.

First and very important, Jesus is born to Mary, who remains a virgin, and to Joseph, who gives him a name and a lineage. Secondly, Jesus is born in Bethlehem but comes to live in Nazareth. Finally and significantly, both narratives of his birth include a reference to the passion that Jesus will eventually endure. In today’s gospel the reference is more direct and ominous. Herod searches for the infant Jesus in order to kill him. The oblique reference to the passion in Luke comes in the midst of Simeon’s prophecy that Jesus will be the source of the rise and fall of many in Israel and because of this a sword shall pierce his mother’s heart.

The Church takes up this connection between the birth and death of Jesus by celebrating the Feast of the first martyr, St. Stephen, on the day following Christmas. In conformity to this revelation we should temper our jubilation with the realization that the mystery of the Incarnation is but the first step in Jesus’ complete sacrifice of himself to deliver us from sin and death. Also, the suffering of the innocent martyrs remembered today should remind us of the need to suffer with Jesus so that we might rise with him to glory.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist

(I John 1:1-4; John 20:1a.2-8)

In the first couple centuries after Christ, Christians had to contend with the heresy of Docetism. Evidently finding incredible the apostles’ testimony that the Son of God actually became human, Docetists believed that he only had the semblance of a man but remained a spirit. In the section from the Letter to John which we read today, the writer offers a striking rebuttal. “What we…touched with our hands,” the author says, “concerns the Word of life.”

Today we are challenged by the contrary heresy that Jesus was not God at all but only human. Proponents of this way of thinking acknowledge Jesus’ wisdom and goodness but do not think him worth of implicit following. According to these detractors, Jesus is just one in a series of many holy men and women including Buddha, Gandhi, and maybe Mary Baker Eddy.

Some of us may be attracted to the contemporary rejection of the Christian claim of Jesus’ divinity as freeing faith from mythical elements. It also dismisses, in effect, our fellowship with the Father and the Son and the promise of eternal life found in the Letter of John. We do not concur with the idea that Christian belief is mythical. It is not so much because such a stance takes away our hope but, more to the point, because it conflicts directly with what those who, like John, actually knew Jesus have told us about him.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(II Samuel 7:1-5.8b-12.14a.16; Luke 1:67-79)

The Church aids our reflection on the mystery of the Incarnation by presenting different titles for Jesus on the seven days before Christmas Eve. The titles comprise the kernel of what are commonly called the “O Antiphons” sung at Evening Prayer and echoed in the “alleluia” acclamation before the gospel reading at Mass. Someone has cleverly noticed that the first letters of the Latin titles given backwards, beginning with E for Emmanuel on December 23, form the acrostic ERO CRAS, which means “I will be tomorrow.” Tomorrow we will celebrate Christ’s being with us as a human being, a gift which might take our breath away.

The titles of the “O antiphons” in the order of the acrostic run as follows. E is for Emmanuel: Jesus is literally “God-with-us.” R is for Rex: he is the king who will care for our needs. O is for Oriens: Jesus comes as the dawn bringing the light of truth. C is for Clavis: he holds the key of David to heaven’s door. R is for Radix: Jesus comes from the root of Jesse, a royal pedigree assuring capability. A is for Adonai: he is the Lord God of Israel who loves the poor and oppressed. And S is for Sapientia: Jesus dispenses wisdom to assist us on the earthly sojourn.

We are encouraged to attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve. The reason for mass at midnight goes deeper than waiting for the clock to officially toll the beginning of a new day. Jesus promises to return “like a thief in the night” and asks his disciples to stay awake in vigilance waiting for him. Beyond dining and exchanging Christmas presents, we should pray and perhaps reflect again on the titles of the “O antiphons” as we await his presence at mass in the middle of the night.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(Malachi 3:1-4.23-24; Luke 1:57-66)

In Luke’s gospel John the Baptist clearly takes the place of Elijah, the prophet of fire. John warns the people that unless they reform, they will be cut down like trees and burned. In this way John goes before the Lord, as his father Zechariah proclaims in his song of jubilation at his naming, “to prepare his ways.”

Jesus will not take up John’s message of the primacy of divine wrath. Rather, his preaching will center on God as the human’s benefactor. Although Jesus will not shrink from mentioning God’s power to cast sinners into hell, he will stress God’s love. God, he will say, has counted the number of hairs on each faithful person’s head to insure her or his total salvation.

Since love can be looked upon as a kind of fire, we might contrast John’s theme with Jesus’ using the same image. Fire can destroy dispassionately as well as purify with all compassion. John, following Elijah, will use the threat if not the force of a blazing fire to warn us of the danger that dissolute living incurs. In contrast God’s love, incarnate in Jesus, burns like a surgeon’s laser beam not harming but healing us and making us whole.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(I Samuel 1:24-28; Luke 1:46-56)

Looking for a relationship between the reading from Samuel and the gospel today, we may be hard-pressed. “What does the account of Hannah’s delivering her son into the Lord’s service have in common with Mary’s praise of the Lord?” we might ask. The answer is hidden. If we refer to the first chapter of the First Book of Samuel we will find that Hannah next statement after dedicating her son to the Lord resembles Mary’s praise of God in the gospel. Like Mary, Hannah tells of the mighty being humbled, the well-fed searching for bread, and the poor being lifted up.

Nevertheless, Mary does more in her prayer of praise then paraphrase the Old Testament. More significantly, she interprets the preaching of her son which we have heard throughout this past year. In Luke’s gospel Jesus reiterates continually the message of the wealthy being humbled and the poor being elevated, oppressors being silenced while the suffering are relieved. Mary says something similar but pertinent to her situation. God has shown favor to her, His lowly servant, by making her the bearer of His son. Furthermore, he has rescued Israel by sending His Son as the nation’s savior.

Mary is doing the work of a preacher who brings to life God’s word in present circumstances. It is not enough for a homilist to retell the gospel; he or she must apply it to contemporary times if listeners are to find hope in meeting present challenges. Similarly we should share with others how we have found Christ’s message resonating in our lives. For example, Jesus’ warning of the cost of discipleship rings true when we realize that we must abandon certain acquaintances who tempt us to be accomplices in their sins.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(Song of Songs 2:8-14; Luke 1:39-45)

“Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?” Shakespeare begins a famous love poem (Sonnet 18) and continues, “Thou art more lovely and more temperate.” Although saints have experienced the love of God, they seldom express themselves more eloquently than human lovers. For this reason the Song of Songs was adopted from Hebrew love poetry to describe God’s love for Israel. Today’s first reading provides a sample of the exquisite love poem reframed to express divine passion.

The Church juxtaposes the passage from the Song of Songs with the gospel of Mary visiting Elizabeth to indicate the joy God brings to His people. Mary bears Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, into the presence of the not-yet-born John representing the expectant Israel. Unable to express his glee in words, the fetus leaps in his mother’s womb. Likewise, Israel can rejoice for at long last her lover has come to save her from disgrace.

We really should wait until the evening of the 24th to celebrate Christmas; however, like John in the gospel we cannot but anticipate Jesus’ actual birth. Still we should hold jubilation in tension with the watchfulness which Jesus called us to at the beginning of Advent. We need to attend to those who are losing their grip on hope before sitting too comfortably at our table of plenty.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(Isaiah 7:10-14; Luke 1:26-38)

Natural law forbids a military commander to send troops on a suicide mission without their consent. The reasoning for this counterintuitive principle is that soldiers agree to lend their service to a military cause, not their lives. If there is overwhelming probability of death, a commander should obtain the soldiers’ permission before directing them into action.

In the gospel of Mary’s annunciation, God offers the young maiden a similar prerogative to withdraw from His plan of salvation. Although the passage uses the declarative mode “you will...,” the angel waits for Mary’s consent. She is free to refuse to cooperate with the heretofore unheard of plan of conceiving by the Holy Spirit in order that Israel may receive its long-awaited Messiah. In a famous homily, St. Bernard of Clairveaux pictures the world hanging on Mary’s word. “Look how the desired one of all the nations is at your door and calls,” the great medieval preacher pleads to the Virgin in the gospel scene. Of course, Mary does not disappoint but pronounces her “yes.”

As God does not force Mary to participate in His plan, He does not force salvation upon us. We are free to accept or reject it. Although salvation is an entirely gratuitous gift, it can be refused. We have to follow the adult Jesus who will demand of us actions that may not seem easy or pleasant in advance. But once we walk with him, we will experience his commands as not so much burdensome as they are liberating. We may think of them now as directions from a GPS -- the surest way of getting us to where we want to go.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

(Genesis 49:2.8-10; Matthew 1:1-17)

The recurrent symmetry of Jesus’ genealogy will make some readers jump to the more conventional narrative of the gospel. But dutifully considered, the list conveys a story rich in meaning.

Matthew’s genealogy highlights Jesus’ descent both from Abraham, whose descendants God promised to make a blessing to all nations, and from David, who consolidated Israel into a respected kingdom. Thus, it relates a sense of Jesus as the royal Messiah whom God sends to lead the human race into glory.

The list also indicates the world’s readiness for salvation as it divides Jesus’ ancestors in three groups of fourteen generations. Matthew uses the convention of fourteen (two times seven) articles to indicate double fulfillment. As Jesus completes three sets of fourteen generations, we should see him as the apex of history. He has delivered the world from the dark age of sin into a new age of grace.

Finally, the series refers to five valiant women – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, “the wife of Uriah”, and Mary. These heroines corroborate the reality that God often works through the virtue of humans to accomplish His ends.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

(Isaiah 54:1-10; Luke 7:24-30)

One of the most troubling occurrences to people on both sides of the abortion debate is the way politicians use the issue. Both pro-choice and pro-life candidates for public office have waffled on the issue depending on political winds. Certainly we must leave room for the possibility of a change of heart on any issue, but abortion politics defies parameters of true conversion. One could never accuse John the Baptist of courting political favor. Jesus does not see him as a reed bending in the wind because he did not seek any group’s endorsement but as a true prophet stands always with God’s law.

Nor is the Baptist a court dandy. Because he does not play up to kings and princes, he will not be wearing their political gifts of fine robes. He is content with the crudest of garments because he trusts in the Lord who is truer than any monarch. Jesus also underlines this fact in today’s gospel. The irony of Jesus’ statement is that despite all of John’s virtue as a prophet, he does not compare favorably with those who have experienced the Kingdom of God. The latter know of God’s tender mercy where John only views God’s righteous judgment. It has been said that Thomas Aquinas held that God’s justice never sank lower than His mercy in order to retrieve sinners. Jesus assures us of this truth in the gospel today.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

(Isaiah 54:1-10; Luke 7:24-30)

John the Baptist sounds confused in regards to Jesus. He preached that the Messiah would come shovel in hand to burn evil-doers. But Jesus sits down with sinners to talk with them about the love of God. “What’s going on?” John seems to ask, “Are you the one who is to come?” The question is similar to what many today ask: “Is Jesus really our savior? Or perhaps we should put our faith in science to lead us to our heart’s desire?” Trusting in science would mean that we put personal welfare first. If they call us to lend a hand at the night shelter, we should refuse because of our need of a full night’s sleep. We would also support embryonic stem cell research for cures to threatening ailments even though it means the destruction of human life.

Jesus tells John’s emissaries to observe the works he has been performing. His healing of infirmities and casting of demons attest to his being sent from God. We followers of Christ note the best way of giving testimony to his Lordship is by caring for one another. It is not so important that we live fifty years or hundred as long as we pass our time in mutual affection. A young family demonstrated this truth in an adult education class. The father asked if he might bring into the class his daughter with cerebral palsy. The two younger sons stayed just outside the door and played by themselves. The mother explained during the course of the day that the girl becomes agitated only if she or her husband is not holding her. It’s a burden born in love. The family seems to have peace of heart because the younger siblings did not cause the slightest disruption although they were present for the full six hours of classes.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Saint John of the Cross, pastor and doctor of the Church

(Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13; Matthew 21:28-32)

The readings today speak of reform, a theme more appropriate to Lent than Advent. There is still time, the Church seems to be warning us, to turn our lives around before the Lord comes in judgment. Zephaniah, the prophet, describes how corrupt the people became with the image of pollution, which strikes a deep chord with our concern over the environment. Zephaniah continues with an account of a reformed people so innocent that even what we call a white lie makes them reel in reproach.

The gospel shows reform in motion. Jesus tells of two sons of whom the first son changes heart after rejecting his father’s command. The truly fortunate among us resemble this sibling when after spending youth in pursuit of pleasure, power, and prestige, wake up to the call to a life of gratitude and reciprocal service.

St. John of the Cross lived in the midst of reform. The sixteenth century, when John was born and died, was Spain’s glory moment on the world stage. It is easy to imagine corruption in religious orders once dedicated to poverty but re-conformed with the wealth of the age. By word and example John called his Carmelite brothers back to evangelical simplicity and as a result suffered the reaction of his detractors. Nevertheless, he continued preaching his message. Because of this resolve and also because of his peerless spiritual insights, John is recognized as one of the most illustrious Carmelites in history.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Memorial of Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr

(Numbers 24:2-7.15-17a; Matthew 21:23-27)

A paradox of Christmas is that its joy of Jesus’ birth cannot be celebrated without consideration of his brutal death. Not only does awareness of the crucifixion keep us from overdoing merry-making, more importantly it points us to the purpose of Christ’s coming. Matthew will shadow his Christmas narrative with the story of Herod’s merciless slaughter of babes. Luke will have Simeon tell Mary that her child will be the source of the fall of many and that she will be pierced by a sword. Jesus is born so that he might offer himself as a perfect sacrifice making up for all evil.

In today’s readings we receive a foretaste of the bittersweet Christmas celebration. The passage from Numbers reminds us of Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth. The star which the holy man Balaam sees in the heaven anticipates the star which brings the magi from their homeland to Bethlehem. For us that star refers to Jesus whose passion is hinted at in the gospel. His adversaries in the discussion over the authority of his preaching, “the chief priests and elders of the people,” will pronounce together a little while later that Jesus deserves to die. In fact Jesus’ outwitting them in today’s passage provides part of the motive of the Jewish leaders’ condemnation.

The Church keeps Jesus’ birth in proper perspective by celebrating the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr, on the day after Christmas. In that vein we should consider today’s memorial of St. Lucy, virgin and martyr. Before the change of calendars in the eighteenth century, Lucy’s feast coincided with the winter solstice. She was a light in darkness reminding us that God’s grace overcomes the most trying circumstances. With it people can even give their lives in testimony to Jesus being our Savior.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday of the Second Week of Advent

(Isaiah 48:17-19; Matthew 11:16-19)

An age-old fable depicts a man who comes in from the cold and blows on his hands to warm them up. When the man is served a bowl of scalding soup, he blows on it to cool it down. The man is then shown the door because he is inconsistent. In a similar way the gospel today expresses the sad fact that the message of God’s kingdom is rejected because the first of its preachers, John the Baptist, is austere while the second, Jesus himself, is festive.

Both preachers call for repentance and proclaim the nearness of the kingdom. But there is a difference to what they are testifying. John’s sees God coming in wrath to punish those who do not act with justice. Jesus, on the other hand, envisions God coming with blessings for those take compassion and pursue reconciliation.

Although there is a similarity at the core, which of the two messages is truer? Jesus provides the clue to the answer when he says, “…wisdom is vindicated by her works.” His healings show that we are on target when we strive to love and forgive.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

(Isaiah 41:13-20; Matthew 11:11-15)

The venerable teacher had the peculiarity of calling his students “pinheads.” The adolescents under his tutelage, however, did not take offense. Indeed, they perked up at the appellation. In this way the people of Israel probably respond to Isaiah when he calls them “worm” and “maggot” in the first reading. The prophet’s message certainly should capture their attention. Not only does it promise rescue from captivity but also a first-class ticket home.

Early in the Gospel of Matthew, John the Baptist hurls similar insults as the prophet Isaiah. “Brood of vipers,” he calls the Pharisees and Sadducees who visit him in another desert. The people cling to his word, but for all its power his message still falls short of the full revelation of the Kingdom. Jesus will show how God’s rule is much more a Father who loves than a judge who punishes. This is why Jesus can make the extraordinary claim that the least in the Kingdom – the tiniest one who comes to know the love of God -- is greater than the mighty Baptist.

Wednesday, December 8, 010

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Genesis 3:9-15.20; Ephesians 1:3-6.11-12; Luke 1:26-38)

The United States has the same Immaculate Virgin Mary for its patron as does Nicaragua in Central America. However, the mighty nation does not approach the much smaller country in the magnitude of celebration for her feast day. The night of December 7 in Nicaragua can be compared only to Christmas Eve. People gather with their families in their homes eating and rejoicing. Inevitably the cry rings out, “Why such jubilation? The reason is Mary’s Immaculate Conception.”

Especially the poor, who are legion in Nicaragua, revel because they easily identify with the humble virgin. They sense that God cares about them because He has exalted this possibly lower class, in any case underappreciated person with an honor unparalleled except in the case of His only-begotten Son. But every human should feel the excitement because each of us carried flesh bound for oblivion but now with hope of everlasting life since Mary’s Immaculate Conception anticipates Jesus’ rising from the dead with new life for his followers.

The Immaculate Conception means that Mary was never stained by original sin. This great dispensation did not make life easy for her, only virtuous. The same grace that impelled her to goodness works within us who have been washed in the waters of Baptism. As we celebrate her feast, we should resolve to imitate her virtue.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

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

(Isaiah 40:1-11; Matthew 18:12-14)

Although a remarkable scholar and diplomat as bishop, St. Ambrose is equally remembered for his role in the conversion of St. Augustine. One biographer of Augustine tells the illustrative story of Ambrose going out of his way to assuage the worries of his convert.

Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, was visiting him in Milan where she noticed the people there not fasting on Saturdays in preparation for Sunday. She was so troubled by the practice that Augustine inquired of Ambrose the reason for not fasting. Ambrose told Augustine that he should do what he did himself: if he had a better reason for fasting than not, he would fast. Augustine went away thinking that Ambrose meant that he should dumbly follow authority. But that was incorrect. Ambrose followed Augustine to add that when he went to Rome, he fasted on Saturdays because that is what the people there do. Augustine remarked later that he took Ambrose’s advice “as an oracle from heaven.” Ambrose evidently meant that we should not follow prescriptions blindly but use both our heads to figure out their purpose and our discretion, when allowed, in applying them to ourselves.

Just as in Jesus’ parable the shepherd goes out of his way to find the lost sheep, the bishop Ambrose took pains to see that his people were well educated in the faith.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday of the Second Week in Advent

(Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 5:17-26)

Not too long ago Lake Erie was declared “dead.” It was not that there was no life within it but that its living specimens had become odious and toxic to the people on its shores. Human-produced pollutants caused the dismal condition. It turned into a national emergency when the pollutants caused the Cuyahoga River emptying into the lake to catch fire. Since that time with bi-national cooperation the pollutants have been reduced, and Lake Erie has recovered some of its vitality. The reading from Isaiah today describes a similar regeneration taking place in nature.

Isaiah imagines the Messianic age with streams bursting through the desert sands and wastelands becoming veritable recreation parks. He presents a fitting metaphor for Jesus whom the gospel shows bestowing salvation by healing the people both spiritually and physically. It may seem peculiar to compare Jesus with an eco-system, but such an image conveys the healthy relationships that his presence engenders. He saves us today precisely by making his grace available through the sacraments. They too are like eco-systems into which we should seek immersion with all our hearts.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, priest

(Isaiah 29:17-24, Matthew 9:27-31)

In explaining why random evolution cannot account for the complexity of life, intelligent design advocates often reflect on the eye. They say that such an intricate organ is not likely to come about by chance, no matter if it had a zillion years to develop. Of course, seeing is not only wonderful, it is imminently useful. For this reason the blind men in today’s gospel seek Jesus’ mercy.

The two men lack physical sight, but they possess another, even more critical, way of seeing. They believe that Jesus is the son of David who will establish God’s definitive rule throughout the world. As Isaiah foretold, he is the one who will open the ears of the deaf, give sight to the blind, and bring release to prisoners. Jesus rewards their faith with a new kind of twenty-twenty vision: they can now see as well with their eyes as they have all along with their souls.

Today the Church remembers St. Francis Xavier, the tireless Jesuit missionary who preached faith in Jesus to thousands of people in Asia. Francis realized that God’s rule would not come about by wielding swords but by sacrificing self in charity.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thursday of the First Week in Advent

(Isaiah 26:1-6; Matthew 7: 21.24-27)

The Protestant hymn “Rock of Ages” is said to find its inspiration in the reading from Isaiah today. God is “an eternal Rock” who humbles the haughty and protects the poor. A popular story surrounding the origin of the hymn pictures a humble clergyman returning home during a violent thunderstorm and finding shelter in a cave. The curate compares the cave to the pierced side of Jesus from which flowed his saving blood.

In his commentary on rock, Jesus is not so metaphorical. He compares the words that he has just uttered – the “Sermon on the Mount” – to a solid foundation for a building. Living the “Golden Rule” and the other counsels Jesus presents, we will withstand life’s greatest assaults. Death itself will not take us down.

During Advent we ask the Lord to demonstrate his strength. We long to see an end to heartbreak in Haiti and bloodbaths in Baghdad. We even dare to plead that we might become more patient, peaceful, and compassionate.