Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 1:9-14; Luke 5:1-11)

Frank Leahy, the legendary football coach at Notre Dame, once told how he recruited the Heisman Trophy winner Paul Hornung. Hornung was a high school star in Louisville when Leahy talked with him. “God has blessed you with a magnificent body,” the coach said and then asked, “Wouldn’t you like to use it for the glory of His mother?” This may seem incredible but those who knew Leahy say that he had a sincere, almost naive charm.

Perhaps Jesus in the gospel today speaking to Peter sounds as simple as Leahy. “Put out into the deep,” he says but more in the imperative than interrogative mode, “and lower your nets for a catch.” Jesus comes from the family of a carpenter, but Peter has just witnessed his casting out Peter’s mother’s demon. He cannot not comply with Jesus’ wish. The resulting catch of fish becomes a parable of how Peter will convert masses of people to the Lord with his preaching once Jesus rises from the dead and sends his Spirit upon his disciples.

We may hear the Lord make a similar, seemingly naive call to us. Perhaps it will be to give up our career to become a priest or religious. Or maybe he will want us to dedicate a portion of time to serve the needy. We need to discern carefully to make sure that the urge is not our own desire to appear as saints or even martyrs. But like Paul Hornung it may very well be that the Lord is really asking us to give ourselves more thoroughly for his glory.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Colossians 1:1-8; Luke 4:38-44)

When a President is leaving office, political commentators reflect on his legacy. They speculate on how the President will be remembered in history. They said, for example, that Bill Clinton wanted to be remembered for bringing peace between Israelis and Palestinians, which he almost achieved. They might have said that George W. Bush wanted to be known as the education President for the “No Child Left Behind” initiative, but that endeavor was eclipsed by the enormity and the cost of the war against terror. Individuals today also are often taken up with legacy. Some want to be remembered for their philanthropy; others, for their stylish fashions; and others for their independent nature.

By contrast to the contemporary preoccupation with legacy, the first reading today notes how the Christians of Colossae are concerned about destiny. The writer, who is probably a disciple of Paul, remarks that the love this community has for Christians from other places springs from their hope of heaven. Typical of Pauline epistles, the reading actually focuses on the three so-called theological virtues. It indicates that faith in Jesus as Lord moves Christians to imitate his love for others and to hope for the eternal glory that he experienced.

Faith, hope, and love then lead us to God, which is why they are called theological. They form a solid basis which, like R. Buckminster Fuller’s amazing geodesic dome made from triangles, becomes stronger the more times these basic elements are multiplied.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Thessalonians 5:1-6.9-11; Luke 4:31-37)

Every once in a while the work of Nostradamus, a sixteenth century French writer, is dusted off to make a prediction of the end of the world. The supposed seer wrote a thousand verses of poetry that are interpreted, most always after the fact, to have prophesized the future. But little from his work can be taken with prior precision to say when or even what events will occur. In the first reading of today’s mass St. Paul tells his readers to dismiss such foretelling of the imminent end of the world.

Paul echoes Jesus in saying that the end will come like a “thief at night.” His readers are thus to stand ready at all times to greet the Lord when he arrives to claim his own. Paul evidently believes that the end will come sooner rather than later, but his point is that the Thessalonians should not make special preparation for that end. Rather, he advises that they stand semper fidelis by living as “children of the light.” That is, he wants the Thessalonians to be a showcase of charity and peace.

We do not know when the world will end. Scientists predict that in hundreds of millions of years the sun will run out of fuel, expand, and engulf the earth in flames before it burns out. But that is only one scientific scenario. It is also possible that the end will come about by a colossal meteor colliding with the earth. What is more likely is that humans will end life on earth through nuclear weapons. We are wise to stay prepared as Paul tells us. There is no need to live in perpetual fear, but there is real reason to practice charity and peace.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist

(I Thessalonians 4:13-18; Mark 6:17-29)

Lord of the Flies tells the story of a group of schoolboys shipwrecked on a deserted island who are forced to struggle for survival. At first they work together and establish a rescue plan. Not long afterwards, however, two factions develop with the members of one hunting down those of the other. The drama conveys the idea that people are quite capable of treating others cruelly, at least when no one is looking. Many reject this base opinion of human nature, but often enough human atrocities occur - like the attempted genocide of Jews by the Nazis - that defy its complete dismissal. Although an isolated incident, the story of John the Baptist's beheading also gives an air of plausibility to the gloomy opinion of humanity.

Herod recognizes John as "righteous and holy." The gospel today sounds almost as if he wants to keep John close-by to provide spiritual guidance. But as attuned as Herod might be to John's goodness, he cannot rise above his own pride. Because he promises Herodias' daughter anything that she asks, he executes the eminently honorable man in order to appear true to his word. A decent person would have apologized for his foolhardy promise and disciplined his step-daughter for her outrageous request.

We are wise not to deny our capacity to sin grievously and to thank God every day that we have avoided offending Him. It is His grace, given through Christ, which turns us from brutal nature into people who love and desire the good.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Thessalonians 4:1-8; Matthew 25:1-13)

As much as the Internet has improved business possibilities today, it has brought a special windfall to purveyors of sex. Arranging sexual liaisons and dealing in pornography are leading Internet activities. The young as well as the old, stay-at-homes as well as gallivants, are all within the Internet’s reach. This fact makes Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians in the first reading as poignant as ever.

Paul is warning the Thessalonians about the pitfall of sex. He contrasts holiness with lust because the first is given to imitating God’s care for all while the second is taken up with egotistical pleasure. Interestingly, he criticizes taking a spouse primarily to satisfy one’s carnal craving as lacking proper motivation. He is advising his readers to purify their love of animal desire so that they may contribute to the good of all, even in their own bedrooms.

Many in our society, and even in our Church, are wont to say that what a married couple does in its bedroom is nobody else’s business. Although it is hard to imagine laws that would restrict a couple’s actions there, we must not say that anything goes. No, the Church are right to admonish married couples, as Paul does here, that marital sex needs regulation to produce truly free and loving people just as sure as the unmarried need to refrain from sexual fulfillment.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Thessalonians 3:7-13; Matthew 24:42-51)

The Greek New Testament word diakonia means service. It has been translated into Latin as ministerium from which is derived the English word ministry. Of course, ministry is recognized as a form of service, but for a long time the Catholic Church considered it exclusively the service rendered by the ordained. Only recently, and still not completely, has the term been acknowledged as legitimate for the services lay people render in the Church.

Today’s gospel may be interpreted as supporting this point of view. Although the Greek does not use diakonia for the servant’s work, Jesus indicates that his disciples should await his return by caring for household needs. Since he is referring to the Church, he is saying that every member should contribute to her welfare.

All Catholics will not build up the Church in the same way. Many laypersons, doing their jobs efficiently, honestly, and benevolently, are reordering world affairs according to the norms of justice. This is not strictly secular work. Done with the right motivation, it fulfills in part the Church’s mission and has been termed the “ministry of the laity.” Others will expend their creative effort back in the parish teaching religion or working with the evangelization program. They perform a more recognized but not necessarily more important ministry.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, apostle

(Revelation 21:9b-14; John 1:45-51)

How can it be that on the Feast of St. Bartholomew, apostle, we hear a gospel story about Nathanael? But it is not an oversight. On the lists of apostles in the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the name Bartholomew always appears paired with Philip. In John’s gospel, which makes no mention of Bartholomew, there is a story about Nathanael who is a friend of Philip. It is likely, therefore, that Nathanael and Bartholomew are the same person. Also, Bartholomew appears to be a surname since bar in Hebrew means son of. This fact makes some conclude that the celebration today is more properly the “Feast of St. Nathanael Bartholomew”!

As interesting as the apostle’s name may be, we commemorate him today for something more. He proclaims Jesus “the Son of God and King of Israel.” At the end of John’s gospel Thomas calls Jesus “my Lord and my God.” But he will have the advantage of seeing him after the resurrection. Nathanael’s insight into Jesus’ identity comes from his being, as Jesus says, “a true child of Israel.” This means that he has faithfully waited for the Lord to send his servant for the redemption of His people.

As St. Nathaniel Bartholomew and all true Israelites waited for the coming of the Messiah, so we and all true Christians wait for him to return. After two millennia we would feel frustrated if there were no evidence that he is close at hand. But such testimony is available. Jesus is present to us in the Eucharist from which we draw spiritual nourishment and moral guidance. Nevertheless, we yearn for him to reappear in human form so that he might tell us secrets about ourselves as he does about Nathanael in the gospel today.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Memorial of Saint Rose of Lima, virgin

(I Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 23:23-26)

A priest ministering to the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s congregation, rightly feels humbled. The sisters sit at his feet seemingly attending to every word that he utters. The priest knows that they, much more than he, exemplify the work of Jesus in their service among the poorest of the poor. In her daily life St. Rose of Lima demonstrated an even greater self-effacement and dedication than the Missionaries of Charity. Her care for the poor was overshadowed only by her acts of piety as she demonstrated for an entire city love for God.

St. Paul in the reading today sees himself as the same kind of servant. “…we were gentle among you,” he writes, “as a nursing mother cares for her infants.” Paul likely means that he was patient in his work among the Thessalonians taking pains to explain the gospel in simple terms that these simple people could understand. Evidently he also labored at his own trade of tent-making while among the people so that he would not burden them with requests for his upkeep.

The piety and service of saints move us from self-concern to devotion to others. Certainly our times provide no ready outlet in the race for vainglory. However, we can see saints among us today as certainly as in the seventeenth century when St. Rose of Lima lived and in the first century when St. Paul worked shining like stars in the sky. They remind us that there is one greater and better than we who commands our constant effort to purify our love for others.

Monday, ugust 22, 2011

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(I Thessalonians 1:1-5.8b-10; Matthew 23:13-22)

Robert Browning writes a lovely verse that reflects the significance of today’s feast:
THE year 's at the spring,
And day 's at the morn;
Morning 's at seven;
The hill-side 's dew-pearl'd;
The lark 's on the wing; 5
The snail 's on the thorn;
God 's in His heaven—
All 's right with the world!

Mary’s crowning as queen of heaven and earth anticipates the same fullness of creation. It is the glory of the end of time that we all await. In the reading from I Thessalonians Paul relates a sense of the same unmitigated joy. The community of Thessalonica has perfectly assimilated the salvation Christ has won for the world. Paul is exuberant and cannot help saying, “We give thanks to God always for all of you…”

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ruth 1:1.3-6.14b-16.22; Matthew 22:34-40)

It is interesting to read how St. Thomas Aquinas makes distinctions between what is primary in importance and what is primary in nature. He would say that love of God may be more important than fear of the Lord, but most people go through a period of fearing God’s justice before recognizing his irresistible goodness. We find Ruth in the first reading today giving priority to love for family but in time, hopefully, she will be moved more by love for the Lord.

In the gospel Jesus is quite clear about the primacy of love for God. He calls love for neighbor “like it” which hints at why we often come to love God after we love our neighbors. In loving our neighbors we see how God created and redeemed them to reflect His goodness. He is the source, end, and sustainer of what makes them loveable. Therefore, he is even more deserving of our love.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Judges 11:29-39a; Matthew 2:1-14)

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Judges 11:29-39a; Matthew 2:1-14)

Sometimes religious traditions cause inner turmoil. For example, non-Catholics will ask about the necessity of confessing sins to a priest, and Catholics want to know about the need for confession before receiving Holy Communion when one has been distant from the sacraments. The readings today address issues far more perplexing than these, but our answers to these questions should help resolve those issues.

Confessing to a priest as representative of both God and the community assures the humility necessary for contrition and accesses the sinner to spiritual guidance. The Church would say that it is the normal path to forgiveness; however, she realizes, of course, that God is to forgive by other means. What is important here is that we note the necessity of looking deeply into traditions before criticizing their value.

In the first reading a prominent Israelite sacrifices his daughter because of a vow he has made. We must be horrified by the act. Perhaps the man was imprudent to make the vow. Still, it should never have been carried out when the life of a human being was at stake. The passage comments on the dismal state of religious understanding during the period of the Judges. Reform was definitely called for.

The gospel tells of a situation that distresses us today, especially the young. “How could God punish people for coming casually to a banquet?” we ask. But everyone at the time knew the established custom of wearing proper attire at a wedding feast as today we know the need not to wear beach clothing in the company of the Pope or the President. What is more, it is said that at ancient wedding feasts the proper clothing was available at the door for anyone who needed it. All this, however, misses Jesus’ point. The wedding garment is but a symbol for good works which make us welcome in the kingdom of heaven. As Jesus indicates in his first public address and specifies in his last, we are to feed the hungry and visit the sick if we are to enter the heavenly kingdom. This kind of service is the wedding garment in Jesus’ parable.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Judges 9:6-15; Matthew 19:1-16)

“In the land where there are no eagles a grasshopper jumps and says, ‘I am an eagle.’” So runs an old Malay fable. Fables are stories which dramatize animals or other non-human entities in order to deliver a moral message. The reading from the Book of Judges today comprises a fable which approximates the one just mentioned. The issue is the appointment of a king over Israel. Useful trees like the olive and the fig refuse the honor of kingship so a buckthorn, which is no more than a bush, assumes the office. The buckthorn represents Abimelech, the cutthroat son of Gideon, who slaughtered seventy half-brothers to secure his throne. He proves consistent in maliciousness by burning alive the people of Migdal-shechem as the reading anticipates.

The moral offered by the story is that Israel should not seek a king but accept the kingship of God. Anything less will only bring heartache as the sequel of today’s passage shows. Jesus in the Gospel passage is preaching the kingship of God as well. He begins by the familiar statement, “The Kingdom of heaven is like ...,” and proceeds to tell the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Some of the workers, he says, grumble at the end of the story because the landowner -- the God-figure -- chooses to pay all his workers the same salary. Although it may seem unfair, Jesus only relates the supreme justice of God which enables every worker to provide for his family. The grumblers, on the other hand, insist on a more exacting although, in the end, less beneficent form of justice.

We have every reason to be wary of theocracies – that is, governments supposedly ruled by divine law. We need civil government to regulate the material goods of a society. But we should not be deluded into thinking that governments can make everyone good. For that to happen the grace of God is essential.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Judges 6:11-24a; Matthew 19:23-30)

The casual talk between Gideon and the angel sounds something like “Saturday Night Live.” When the angel assures Gideon that the Lord stands with His people, Gideon retorts cynically. “If the Lord is with us,” he asks, “then why has all this (humiliation) happened to us?” The answer to the query, however, should be obvious to Gideon. The reason for the lack of Israelite success against the Midianites is their infidelity to their Covenant with God. Compromising their integrity as a people, they become easy prey to enemies.

Gideon may be talking flippantly because he is not sure whether the stranger before him is really the Lord. He asks for a sign which is soon given when fire consumes Gideon’s sacrificial offering. Knowing that he is in the Lord’s presence, Gideon begins to wonder if he will suffer for his impertinence However, God assures him not to worry.

We should not hesitate to open our hearts to God in prayer like Gideon. But humility is called for in such awesome company. God is, after all, our Creator and not our buddy. He befriends us out of love but does not share our tendencies to complain and gossip. We should speak with Him as with a revered professor who has deigned to give us his time. That is, we are wise to be attentive to His correction and appreciative of His encouragement.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Revelation 19a.12:1-6a.10ab; I Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56)

Biblical scholar Fr. Raymond E. Brown, being concerned about ecumenical relations, tried to reassure his Protestant colleagues that Catholic traditions are not as unbiblical as detractors claim. Regarding Catholic teachings about Mary, he pointed out that what the Church professes of Mary, she generally envisions for all Christians. With this perspective we can say that although extraordinary, the dogma of Mary’s Assumption - body and soul - into heaven is essentially the destiny of all the faithful at the end of time. The reading from First Corinthians hints at a progression. It states that Christ was raised as the first fruits of redemption. The “proper order” to which St. Paul alludes then may be interpreted as Mary, the mother of Christ, being raised after him and before all others.

The doctrine of the immortal soul has clouded appreciation of the resurrection of the body which we believe awaits us. Although the soul or life’s breath somehow has existence outside the body, it originates with the body and depends on the body for development. The body is not just a container for the soul as a pitcher for water so that any body might contain my soul. No, my soul needs my body to be who it is. When I die, my body will yearn until the end of time for reunification with my body. The doctrine of the Assumption reassures us that this is bound to happen.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Joshua 24:1-13; Matthew 19:3-12)

A story was told of Andrew Carnegie, one’s of America’s richest men and leading philanthropists. One day a beggar asked Carnegie to share his wealth with him. Carnegie reached in his pocket, pulled out a few coins worth perhaps seven cents, and handed them to the man. The beggar was taken aback, but Carnegie explained that it was the beggar’s portion of all Carnegie’s wealth divided by the number of people in the world.

As Carnegie tried to impress on the beggar that his wealth was for everyone, Joshua reminds the Israelites that their fortune was not their own doing. Indeed, God has been their benefactor at every point in their illustrious saga. But Joshua indicates that it has not only been the Lord who provided for their needs, countless humans – Amorites, Perrezites, Canaanites, et al. -- were God’s immediate instruments leaving their prosperity to the people of Israel. His point is that the people should be grateful to God and to heed His commands which are in good part directed to social solidarity.

We must beware that selfishness and greed does not allow us to forget God and neighbor. All of us, as Joshua says, are beneficiaries of land that we did not till and cities that we did not build. Richly endowed by our forebears, we are not so much to pay back as to pay forward. That is, we are to thank God by generosity contributing to efforts which shape a society where everyone can live, grow, and prosper.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Memorial of Saint Clare, virgin

(Joshua 3:7-10a.11.13-17; Matthew 18:21-19.1)

In a story a hoodlum kills a man presumably in a squabble over a parking space. But something more sinister is involved. At the end of the story, after several years have transpired, the son of the original victim murders the hoodlum. Retaliation was brooding all the while. Jesus tells his followers in the gospel today that they should not let it have sway in their lives.

Peter must think himself radical when he asks Jesus if one has to forgive another as many as seven times. But seven – the number of fulfillment – does not satisfy the Lord. Since forgiveness is at the core of the good news, “seven times seventy-seven times” would be closer to what he has in mind. In other words, Jesus wants his followers to always forgive.

Without forgiveness, as Blessed John Paul II noted, justice is impossible. One side eventually has to say, “Enough,” and forego retaliation. If not, hatred will grow like a foreign weed eventually taking over the social landscape. Whether in the Middle East or within our families, someone must forgive wrongdoing or no one will live in peace.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A scam email was sent in my name yesterday. I pray that no one was fooled by it. I am fine and in Fort Worth. I am sorry for any trouble the scam may have caused. Please be very wary about giving out your email password. cm

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Feast of St. Lawrence, deacon and martyr

(II Corinthians 9:6-10; John 12:2-26)

Of all the martyrs of the early Church, St. Lawrence is one of the most celebrated. As much as his bravery in the face of death, his sense of humor has captured the popular imagination.

Lawrence was a deacon in the Church of Rome with charge over the communal treasury. When he was brought before the authorities during the Valerian persecution of the mid third century, he was told to hand over the Church’s treasures. Lawrence then gathered the poor of the city and brought them to the Roman prefect announcing, “These are the Church’s treasures.” The quip gained for Lawrence a martyr’s death by burning. The story goes that during the gruesome ordeal, Lawrence maintained his sense of humor. After being skewered and fixed over a flame for a while, he reportedly told his executioners that they could turn him over because he was done on one side.

It is a virtue to emulate Lawrence’s humor. It is not that we should strive to become practical jokesters but, like him, we want to value everything – wealth and even health – as paltry compared with the eternal life won for us by the Savior.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Memorial of St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), virgin and martyr

(Deuteronomy 31:1-8; Matthew 18:1-5.10.12-14)

As a student, Edith Stein distinguished herself. Her search for truth did not lead her to the halls of academia, however, but to the chapel of a Carmelite monastery. Growing up a Jew, she converted to Catholicism and eventually became a nun given to prayer and contemplation.

Living in the turbulent nineteen thirties, Sr. Teresa moved from a monastery in Germany to one in Holland to avoid trouble for her companions. Still she could not escape the voracious intolerance of the German Gestapo. In 1942 she was sent to Auschwitz where she perished in a gas chamber.

The situation of Moses in the reading today reminds us of that of St. Teresa. Like Moses she was a Jew and like him she desired to enter the Promised Land. But where he was too feeble to cross over the Jordan, Sr. Teresa dauntlessly went forward. She was heard telling her sister Rosa who was with her when the Gestapo came: “Come, we are going for our people.” She was going not only because she was a Jew but for the sake of the Jews. She gave a martyr’s witness that Christ suffers and dies for Jews as well as for all others.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Memorial of Saint Dominic, priest

(Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Matthew 17:22-27)

St. Dominic is often pictured with a dog. A legend says that his mother dreamed of giving birth to a dog with a torch in his mouth that would set the world on fire. The dog is taken as Dominic himself who with his band of friars helped spread the gospel to the corners of Europe and beyond. C.J. Jung thought the dog indicates the saint’s well-integrated emotional life. Dominic was noted as a person of equanimity able to accept advances or setbacks with the same reliance on the Lord. A more recent explanation of the dog would be that Dominic had a personal affection of the Lord akin to a dog’s for his master. This may be pushing the envelope too far, however, as dogs may in ways imitate people but certainly mature human love reaches far beyond canine devotion. Nevertheless, throughout their history Dominicans have taken pride in being thought of as “dogs of the Lord,” what their popular name sounds like in Latin.

Dominic would readily accept Moses’ plea to the Israelites in today’s reading from Deuteronomy. The primitive constitution of his Order speaks of its purpose as bringing men (and in their own convents women) together to be perfected with the same love of God and of neighbor. But the Order has always been more outward than inward looking. The same constitution speaks of its mission as “preaching and the salvation of souls.”

Friday, August 5, 2011

Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Deuteronomy 4: 32-40; Matthew 16:24-28)

Aboard the ship Arbella just before landing in Boston harbor, Governor John Winthrop told the Puritan colonists of the Massachusetts Bay Colony that they must be like a ¨city on a hill¨ for the world to see and imitate. In time these words will give rise to the idea of “American exceptionalism,” by which the nation is considered enlightened and trustworthy beyond other peoples. Of course, Governor Winthrop was making a reference to Jesus´ Sermon on the Mount, but his words also echo Moses´ in the reading from Deuteronomy today.

Moses reminds the Israelites of God´s special interest in them. God has led them from captivity in Egypt to freedom. He has carefully weeded them of their vices and made them into His holy people. Now, Moses says, the people must respond to the Lord´s particular kindness to them by keeping His laws and statutes. In this way they will give testimony to the world of God´s own righteousness.

We members of the Church should consider ourselves every bit as chosen as the Puritans and the Israelites. God has called us by name in Baptism and fed us with the body and blood of His Son in the Eucharist. Our exemplary lives demonstrate the privileges of intimacy with Him and summon others to our side.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Memorial of Saint John Vianney, priest

(Numbers 20:1-13; Matthew 16:13-23)

St. John Vianney is universally admired for his dedication to ministry. Feeling called to the priesthood, he pursued his goal doggedly although he was handicapped by never having mastered Latin as a child. Once ordained, however, he became widely respected as a confessor and listened to confessions throughout the day. Like Peter in the gospel today, John Vianney was inspired by God to reach beyond personal limitations to new heights.

Most significant about Matthew’s presentation of the famous happening in Caesarea Philippi is Jesus’ declaration that God the Father reveals to Peter the truth of Jesus’ identity. It is not Peter’s own perspicacity or anyone else’s that allows him to know who Jesus is. For this reason Jesus sees him the one chosen from above to lead the incipient church after his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension to heaven.

We followers of Christ are not necessarily the brightest or the strongest people. Certainly there are many exceptions but most of us are rather ordinary in makeup. Yet like John Vianney and the apostle Peter God has graced us with a special calling. We are to make Jesus known in the world by our love for one another and our efforts to create a just society.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Numbers 13:1-2.25-14.1.26a-29a.34-35; Matthew 15:21-28)

The movie “Chariots of Fire” features the men of great heart who composed the 1920 English Olympic track team. In one scene their principal rivals from America demonstrate technical excellence in training. They do warm-up calisthenics as if they were jet engines tuning up for take-off. In the end, however, the Americans are bettered by the determined Brits. Such heart seems in short supply among the Israelites as they hear the reports of the inhabitants of the Promised Land in the first reading.

The Israelites fail to see that they have God on their side. He has saved them from Pharaoh’s mighty army and provided for their needs in the desert. Still the people cower after hearing of formidable enemies. They should know by now that it is not any physical advantage that would provide the margin of victory but God’s presence on their behalf.

We are aware that sometimes both sides in an armed conflict appeal to the same God for assistance. He will ultimately bring victory to only one opponent. We must realize, however, that winning is neither the only thing nor the most important thing. What looms over triumph is the combination of fighting justly and trusting that God loves us whether we win or not.
Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Numbers 12:1-13; Matthew 15:1-2.10-14)

Catholic author Mary Eberstadt has written an article showing how contemporary youth have replaced their parents’ aversion to sexual activity outside marriage with distaste to eating unwholesome food. She argues that for many young adults today a date ending with fornication is not as odious as eating a whopper with bacon and cheese. This new mode of thinking turns on end what Jesus preaches in the gospel.

The Pharisees come to Jesus scandalized that his disciples would eat without washing their hands. Not knowing anything about microbiology, the Pharisees do have a sense of ritual purification before taking part in a meal which, after all, is sharing in God’s bounty. Jesus, however, knows the human heart. He recognizes that it provides fertile ground to concoct sin. He speaks of the mouth as the heart’s conduit so that sin passes from the heart through it to wrack mischief in the world.

We should not assume the Pharisees’ zeal with propriety about ritual cleanliness. But is all concern about food consumption misplaced? It is easy to see why drugs and excessive alcohol have always been forbidden. Some contemporary misgiving with fats and calories also seems like prudent attention to health. But there is usually room for tolerance in these matters. What Jesus duly emphasizes and what we must be intent on following is care for God and neighbor. The former deserves our daily praise. The latter, as God’s image, merits our constant respect.