Monday, September 3, 2012

Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

(I Corinthians 2:1-5; Luke 4:16-30)

If all "Labor Day¨ means is the last of the summer holidays, then there has been a pitiable loss of significance. More than a day off work, Labor Day celebrates work. It is a time to contemplate the meaning of work and its inherent dignity. Jesus at least intimates as much in today's gospel.

Jesus proclaims "glad tidings to the poor." He does not mean the destitute or the unemployed but the majority of workers at the time who have difficulty meeting family needs. They no longer have to worry for their salvation is at hand. God loves them and will provide for their welfare.

Work, of course, produces much more than money to put food on the table. As importantly, it gives humans an opportunity to participate in divine creation. This may be readily seen in the efforts of builders, scientists, and artists, but it is true of all people who labor. By cooking, selling, or cleaning we make the world a better place by assisting others live full and gracious lives.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 1:17-25; Matthew 25:1-13)

The current Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" resembles perhaps half the motion pictures made today. The hero overcomes the villainous foe in a series of combats with narrow escapes. St. Paul writes in the first reading that this is definitely not Christ's way.

Paul says that Jews see the savior as giving marvelous demonstrations of power. These acts may be controlling the forces of nature like Elijah’s calling down fire, but they as likely are conquering the enemy against all odds like David. Christ's way, however, encompasses non-resistant love. He cares for everyone he encounters by enlightening troubled minds and healing diseased bodies. Quite uniquely he gives himself over to his enemies as a sacrifice of obedience to the Father’s will. In the ordeal that ensues, he is mauled and killed, but the Father raises him from death to reign as our Lord and eternal hope.

We must take care not to see the heroes of epics like Batman or even historic warriors like George Washington as other Christs. Their greatness does not stand up to scrutiny. Although we may cheer their apparent victory over evil, we will find flaws in their character to say nothing of the implausibility of their feats. On the other hand, Christ points to the eternal God in both life and death. He wants us to follow him both by caring for one another and by resisting the will to conquer.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 1:1-9; Matthew 24:42-51)

All Christians enjoy the story of the so-called good thief. He is the one of the two men crucified along with Jesus. In the twelfth century this man acquired a name, Dismas, which means death or sunset. The Gospel According to Luke is the only one of the four which mentions the conversation of Dismas with Jesus. Interestingly, Luke never calls him a thief. Rather Luke calls him a “criminal” by which he means revolutionary. It has been speculated that the only valid reason that he may be called a thief is that he stole heaven. Without following Jesus, he is awarded a place at Jesus’ side in Paradise.

Jesus himself may be more properly labeled the “good thief.” In the gospel parable today Jesus compares himself to a thief coming in the night. He means that he will come at the moment when we least expect him to reward his faithful followers with everlasting life.

We can also think of Jesus as a thief in the sense that he steals our souls from the clutches of sin and death. Each of us is inclined to excess in relation to created goods. Whether it be food, drink, or sex we usually want more than is good for us. Jesus’ example and, more importantly, the grace from his death and resurrection enable us to overcome these tendencies. If we move with his divine grace, we too will find a place at his side in Paradise.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Memorial of the Passion of John the Baptist

(II Thessalonians 3:6-10.16-18; Mark 6:17-29)

Ugo Betti, an Italian jurist and playwright, once wrote, “…there is nothing sadder than a human being who feels worthless for we all aspire to be just the opposite, to be important.” It is a true sentiment because humans are created in the image of God. However, in striving for importance, one should not transgress the goodness of another as today’s gospel demonstrates.

King Herod has John the Baptist executed to avoid being seen as or a liar or a coward. As he promised his stepdaughter anything that she asks, he feels compelled to deliver the head of John as she requests. Ironically he shows himself as more of a coward than he would have appeared if he told the girl that he could not take John’s life. Courage would have fortified Herod to do what is right even in the face of reproach.

John the Baptist shows true courage by speaking the truth of a public scandal. He put his life on the line because he believed that people look up to public officials. When the latter act outrageously, their actions should be repudiated.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Memorial of Saint Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church

(II Thessalonians 2:1-3a.14-17; Matthew 23:23-26)

Perhaps the most challenging reality for students of the Bible is the assertion of scholars that a few Biblical books were forgeries. The very notion sounds bombastic. “How can Scripture, which is by definition inerrant, contain works that give false information?” good people ask. However, St. Augustine among others was aware that all the information contained in the Bible was not completely accurate. Vatican II declared that inerrancy has to do with the truths of the faith that God wished to pass on. It must be remembered as well that the forgeries were not made to gain but to insure readership. In any case today’s first reading has something to say about Scriptural forgery.

The writer warns readers of a letter being circulated that was written by another using his (presumably Paul’s) name. This note testifies to the fact that there indeed were known forgeries of Paul’s letters. But more intriguing is the possibility, as many biblical scholars today believe, that II Thessalonians itself is a forgery. The reasons for saying this include differences in emphasis between it and I Thessalonians. For example, where I Thessalonians credits the people with good sense about the time of Christ’s return, II Thessalonians disapproves of the people’s obsession with the exact time of the event.

We must remember that the Bible is a compendium of books that took over a thousand years to produce. We should not expect conformity to current values and standards. Still we hold that it contains God’s blueprint for life and that we must prudently follow its teachings, albeit not necessarily literally in every instance.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Memorial of Saint Monica

(II Thessalonians 1:1-5.11-12; Matthew 23:13-22)

We meet Jesus today in Jerusalem. He has just thrown the money changers out of the Temple and is waiting to encounter the wrath of the religious leaders. In the meantime, he criticizes the Pharisees for their erroneous teaching.

It may be that Jesus was not as irate with the Pharisees as this reading indicates. After all, the Gospel of Matthew was written fifty years after Jesus died. By then Judaism was reforming itself after the Romans demolished the Temple. Its religious leaders, predominantly Pharisees, had to make distinctions between Jews fully-committed to Torah and synagogue attendees who put their faith in Jesus. They would persecute the latter in a way similar to the Inquisition when the Church punished false Catholics. Matthew shows how Jesus would have defended his followers if he were present in the late first century. But we should listen to Jesus’ diatribe against the Pharisees as a critique of religious zealotry in general.

Jesus’ first charge is that Pharisees deprive people of access to the Kingdom. In other words he implies that the Jewish leaders actually prevent people from knowing God! Priests who have abused children sexually and thereby have created grave doubts not only in their victims but also in society fall under this weighty condemnation. Then Jesus criticizes the Pharisees’ proselytism which makes fanatics of religious converts. We might find a contemporary parallel in a convert from Islam or Buddhism who denies that the possibility of the Holy Spirit working within the hearts of their former religious associates. We know that the Holy Spirit definitely works through the Church and its sacraments, but we cannot deny the possibility of His accomplishing salvation through other means. Finally, Jesus condemns the way Pharisees manipulate the law by drawing meaningless distinctions between gold and Temple or between gift and altar. Teachers who say that the unmarried may have sex as long as it is done “responsibly” or that one can “make up” for missing mass on Sunday by attending mass on a weekday make the same kinds of wrongful distinction as the Pharisees here.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Feast of St. Bartholomew, apostle

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

As with most of the twelve disciples whom we recognize as apostles, we know little about Bartholomew. Since in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he is paired with Philip, some Biblical experts hold that he is the same as Nathanael whom the Gospel of John also associates with Philip. Nathanael, as the gospel today relates, proclaims the identity of Jesus much like Simeon at the presentation of Jesus in the Temple: the long-awaited Messiah who will accomplish the redemption of Israel.

Even though Bartholomew’s biography remains largely obscure, any one of us would trade places with him. After all, he saw and even touched salvation in person! That is, he followed Jesus first-hand, heard his voice, felt the warmth of his hand. It is taken for granted that the apostles suffered martyrdom. They could do so gladly, however, because they knew well that the one to whom they testified was worth their lives.

We cannot know Jesus as the twelve apostles did, but nevertheless he allows us access to himself. His words remain in the gospel, his flesh and blood are ingested in the Eucharist, and his Spirit is felt in the love Christians demonstrate. In faith we know that Jesus is present to us, and drawing strength from him, we like the apostles may give witness to him by dying to ourselves in service to others.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Memorial of St. Rose of Lima, virgin

(Ezekiel 36:23-28; Matthew 22:1-14)

St. Rose of Lima wanted to enter a convent, but the privilege was denied her. Undaunted she took the habit of sisters of St. Dominic as a member of the Third Order. Then she virtually established her own convent by taking care of the city’s destitute and the sick and giving herself to prayer and penance. She prayed, “Lord, increase love in my heart.” That the human heart is made for love is attested in today’s first reading.

Ezekiel promises that Israel will have a heart transplant. In place of its stony heart that refused to love God and neighbor, it will receive a tender heart to love as humans ought. The prophet adds that this will be done through the gathering of the people in a new land and with the sprinkling of cleansing water.

It is confounding to think how Ezekiel’s prophecy might have been fulfilled when contempt and carelessness still persist today. Yet we know that Jesus has renewed our hearts in Baptism (the sprinkling) which brings us into his Church (the new land). Regrettably, however, some choose self-gratification rather than his way of love.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Ezekiel 34:1-11; Matthew 20:1-16)

Although it sounds trendy, we might think of the Kingdom of God as a complex of niche markets. Where most enterprises appeal to a basic clientele, who must take or leave the product depending on their benefit or loss, the Kingdom has an assortment of attractions to accommodate almost everyone. We get a glimpse of how the system works in the gospel today.

Jesus tells the parable of the landowner who offers jobs to different workers at different hours of the day. Rather than pay each according to the work done, he gives all the same wage, which is just enough to support his family for one day. In this way no one is left in need, and no one should gripe since all received what was agreed upon in the landowner’s respective offer.

The system seems unfair since it does not compensate according to the rule: equal pay for equal work. But if we think of airline pricing, a good example of niche marketing, it may make more sense. Latecomers are charged more for the same ride because their need is more urgent. Similarly those who like lots of leg room have to pay a premium for their comfort. It is important to remember, however, that we are given the parable not to justify God’s ways but to marvel at God’s mercy. Jesus is telling us that God’s Providence takes care of everyone.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Memorial of St. Pius X, pope

(Ezekiel 28:1-10; Matthew 19:23-30)

Warren Buffet, a very rich man, holds a seminar every year for businesspersons in Omaha, his hometown. People from all over the world flock to the city to hear his pearls of financial expertise. While there, they go to Gorat’s Steakhouse, Buffet’s favorite restaurant, and eat his supposedly favorite meal, T-bone steak and hash browns. They will do most anything -- rational or irrational -- to become rich like Mr. Buffet. Both readings today testify that these devotees are taking a perilous course.

Both Ezekiel and Jesus relate the wisdom from ancient times. Wealth may glitter, but it is not the gold that humans should seek. More likely than bringing one peace, it makes the person haughty and contentious, far from, not close to, the Lord. It is better to seek the Kingdom of God by living honest, humble lives of service.

But perhaps the current generation is better characterized by consumption than by wealth. Young people want to make a lot of money so that they may spend it on all sorts of comforts and conveniences. It leads to the same downfall as the quest for accumulation of wealth. Choosing another option, we should use our resources to become wiser and to assist others in the development of spirit.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Memorial of Saint Bernard, abbot and doctor of the Church

(Ezekiel 24:15-23; Matthew 19:16-22)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux might have gained fame as a layperson. He was very intelligent and came from a well-connected family. But unlike the young man in today’s gospel, Bernard chose to follow a path of radical discipleship. Wise and eloquent, he became the conscience of Europe advising kings, bishops, and at least one pope. His reward has not just been a significant standing in history but every true Christian’s goal of eternal life.

This gospel will trouble many. It calls everyone out of complacency. Jesus seems to challenge the young man with a call to radical discipleship because he so easily fulfilled the commandments. He indicates that if we are to enter into God’s realm, we must transcend our own expectations. Perhaps the anticipation of making the effort is more difficult than actually doing it. Once we give ourselves over to Jesus, he will support us through any trouble we encounter.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 16:1-15.60.63; Matthew 19:3-12)

“As for Marilyn, who can match her?” said one Hollywood star many years ago about Marilyn Monroe. Perhaps no other person, with possible exception of Elvis Presley, has attracted so much attention in American popular culture than Ms. Monroe. She certainly was beautiful, but nevertheless she was a tragic figure leaving in her wake multiple husbands and lovers. Reading the passage from the prophet Ezekiel in today’s mass, one may think of Marilyn Monroe as an image for Israel.

The passage says of Israel, “You were captivated by your own beauty, you used your renown to make yourself a harlot, and you lavished your harlotry on every passer-by …” But the Lord does not abandon Israel. Rather despite her sins, He pledges forgiveness and rehabilitation. Later on in the story, God promises to cleanse Israel of its impurities and to replace her stony heart with one of flesh (Ez 36:25-26).

The prophecy is fulfilled with Jesus. He calls his Church from the remnant of Israel and teaches her his ways. He sets her in motion with his death and resurrection. Sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the New Israel will lead the world in the quest for justice. As members of this redeemed reality, we strive to carry out the mission by our care for all.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 12:1-12; Matthew 18:21-19:1)

Peace activists sometimes paint shadows of human forms on cement. The figures represent images that will be left after the searing heat of a nuclear blast lightens everything except the spot shielded by the person. This phenomenon actually took place in the bombing of Hiroshima. The painted figures are prophetic gestures similar to Ezekiel’s activities in the first reading today.

Ezekiel takes his baggage outside his home to indicate that someone will be taking a trip. Then he makes a hole in the wall of his home and slips through it to represent the person’s stealthily leaving home. Finally, he covers his face so as not to be recognized. Taken together, the three symbols foretell the puppet king Zedekiah’s attempt to flee Jerusalem when the Babylonians come to conquer the city. Like most of his predecessors, Zedekiah has not led the people in a reform that would please the Lord. Rather he has tried to use political wit to escape the punishment that will be meted out by Babylonia.

God constantly calls us to reform. We must do so to avoid nuclear catastrophe. Such reform on a remote, personal level includes developing the capacity to bear with others’ mistakes and to forgive others’ wrong-doing. If we refuse and become belligerent with every human offense, we are likely to desire that international crises be settled with arms and not by reason. When this happens, the world may once again experience the use of nuclear weapons.

Wednesday, AUGUST 15, 2012

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Revelation 11:19a.12:1-6a.10ab; I Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56)

Fr. Raymond E. Brown, a biblical scholar, was very concerned about ecumenical relations. He often reassured Protestants worrying that the Catholic Church was making outlandish claims about Mary. He proposed that the Church, at least in the cases of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, declared about Mary what it claims for all Christians albeit in a privileged way. For example, the Church’s doctrine that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven is essentially no different from what all faithful Christians will experience at the end of time. The reading from First Corinthians hints at this. Christ was raised as the first fruits of God’s redemption. The “proper order” that St. Paul mentions would have Mary, the mother of Christ, being raised after him but before other women and men.

Our bodies’ destiny of glory gives added reason for us to treat them well. St. Paul in the same letter to the Corinthians presents the primary reason. They are temples of the Holy Spirit that must not be profaned by lewd conduct. We should supplement his concern for proper regard for the body with avoidance of excessive food and drink. While we are at it, we should also say that our bodies require exercise, rest, and a balanced diet.

A few years ago a report was made telling of how people use their overweight friends as permission for them to pile on the pounds. Of course, the resolution of this problem is not to cut ties with fat people but to model for others healthy eating habits. One more thing, if we want to emulate our friends, we might make friends with the saints, especially Mary. In today’s gospel she visits her relative Elizabeth with all dispatch when she hears of her unexpected pregnancy. She also praises God for all the good that happens to her. Finally, she announces the good news of salvation. Could anyone imagine a better person to have as a friend?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, priest and martyr

(Ezekiel 2:8-3:4; Matthew 18:1-5.10.12-14)

Today the Church recalls a martyrdom whose valor parallels those of ancient times. Arrested by the Gestapo during World War II, Franciscan friar Maximilian Kolbe was sent to Auschwitz. Three months later, a fellow prisoner escaped and, according to the prison’s outrageous rule, ten innocent men were selected to be executed for the crime. Knowing one of the selected to be a young father, Fr. Kolbe offered himself as a replacement. The death sentence was executed with an injection of carbolic acid.

In today’s gospel Jesus speaks of the necessity of becoming like a child if one is to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Certainly liberality regarding personal sacrifice characterizes children. Much more than adults, children at least speak of their willingness to give all they have for the well-being of others. Maximilian Kolbe’s demonstration of this willingness well into middle age assures him of a place among the saints.

Today’s society presents interesting opportunities to demonstrate such heroism as Maximilian Kolbe’s. We may ask ourselves whether we should donate a kidney to a person whose life is in danger for lack of a functioning one. Although there is no obligation to do so, such a sacrifice certainly qualifies as another example of fulfilling Jesus’ call to become like little children.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 1:2-5.24-28c; Matthew 17:22-27)

Every other summer the Church presents a healthy selection of readings from the prophets of Israel in weekday masses. Some may ask why bother with these ancient authors? For centuries the answer was because the prophets foretell the coming of Christ. But since the Vatican renewal, the prophets and, indeed, the entire Old Testament are read with a much greater scope.

In today’s reading from the Ezekiel the prophet begins the telling of his call. He finds himself in Babylonia as an exile. The heavens roar with a thunderhead, and the lightning gives way to a vision of the glory of God in human form. The scene is reminiscent of a modern description of God as mysterium tremendum et fascinans (“fearful and fascinating mystery”).

God calls us out of ourselves and our petty concerns to serve Him. The experience can be frightening as it means letting go of what provides us a modicum of peace. But following the Lord’s directive, we will find greater happiness than we could have ever dreamed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Memorial of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr

(II Corinthians 9:6-10; John 12:24-26)

In Italy today’s feast of St. Lawrence may be celebrated by looking up at the night sky. It is the time of year when bountiful shooting stars instill a sense of awe with creation. The legends of St. Lawrence lend themselves to think of him as a kind of meteorite.

St. Lawrence as a deacon in Rome was in charge of the Church’s treasury. One story portrays him leading anti-Christian officials to the city’s poor when asked to produce the riches of the Church. Another story describes him as quipping to his executioners who were roasting him alive that it was time for him to be turned.

Most everyone wants to be recognized as unique in some way. Currently it is fashionable to have one’s body tattooed in a singular way. We should encourage our young people to aspire to be different like St. Lawrence. Rather than standing out for something odd or destructive, they should want to excel in having good judgment and being long-suffering.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Thursday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 3:31-34; Matthew 16:13-23)

It has been sixty-seven years today since the city of Nagasaki was devastated by the atomic bomb. The ruin was calamitous – estimates indicate that a quarter of the population perished and a good portion of the city destroyed. It completed demoralized the Japanese resistance which almost immediately surrendered to the Allied forces. One might think of Nagasaki in picturing Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah’s prophecy in the first reading.

Hope in the holy city is scant as the Babylonians have completely desecrated the Temple, killed thousands of people, and taken into captivity many other thousands as booty. “What good could possibly come of all this?” the prophet, a survivor, surely asks himself. But he does not remain in disillusion very long. He feels the Holy Spirit speaking inside him. Like a musical round that refuses to leave one’s consciousness repeating itself with words of consolation, the Spirit speaks. “I will write my law upon their hearts,” it says. The people will never stray forget God’s law again because it is indelibly engraved in them. Rather it will bring righteousness in individual lives and justice in society.

The law of which the prophet foretells and Jesus proclaims is none other than God’s Holy Spirit. Inscribed upon our hearts with Baptism, the Spirit prompts us to always do good, to avoid evil, and to love sincerely. It has a written counterpart in the Sermon on the Mount, but it is first and foremost spiritual, intractable, and comforting even more than it is demanding.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Memorial of Saint Dominic, priest

(Jeremiah 31:1-7; Matthew 15:21-28)

Dominicans call their founder, “Holy Father Dominic.” He certainly distinguished himself in prayer by often spending the night before the Blessed Sacrament. But Dominic was by no means sanctimonious. His successor and biographer, Jordan of Saxony, wrote of him, “During the day, none was more affable, none more pleasant to his brethren or associates. At night none was more constant in prayer or watching.” Dominic transmitted joy to the Order of Preachers and indeed to the whole world much like Jeremiah in the first reading today.

The people of Judah are war booty in Babylonia. Their homeland has been laid waste, and their lives are tottering in exile. Now God sends Jeremiah with a message of comfort. He tells that their trials will end and once again they will live freely in their own land.

We live in a time with no shortage of worries. The economy slumbers. The war in Afghanistan slogs on. Many suffer overweight, and the word “cancer” still rings of death. Nevertheless, there is cause for joy. God has both shared with us His will in Jesus Christ and empowered us with the Holy Spirit. We can face our troubles without fear as we fulfill the Lord’s commands.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 30:1-2.12-15.18-22; Matthew 14:22-36)

With the war in Syria spreading the Christian minority lives in fear. Not long along the Chaldean Catholic bishop of Aleppo told how Christians fear anarchy if government troops are defeated. It is a terrible situation as the rebels, who have gained international support, see Christians as government allies. Like Peter in today’s gospel Syrian Christians’ faith in Jesus is being tested to the limit.

The scene is said to be symbolic. The boat of disciples is the Church; the night, evil; the storm, a particular crisis. Jesus is behind the scenes ready to assist his followers in need. The disciples question their faith, “It is a ghost,” they fear. But Jesus reassures them, “It is I”; literally, the great “I AM.” Peter, always the first to speak up, seeks to go toward Jesus amidst the chaos. But then he succumbs to fear and desperately calls out for help. Jesus does not deny assistance, but when things calm down, he reprimands Peter along with the others, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

We too are not full of faith. When times grow rough, we are likely to question whether God is there to help us. Perhaps it will be in pain on our death beds. At such moments it is critical that we do not abandon our faith by taking a desperate measure like euthanasia. Rather, like Peter, we need to continue calling on the Lord. Like him, we will feel his saving help.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

(Daniel 7:9-10.13-14; II Peter 1:16-19; Mark 9:2-10)

Some people may feel confused about Christopher Columbus. As little children, they were taught that he was a hero bravely sailing into the unknown for the purpose of discovery. But as the 500th anniversary of his historic voyage approached, they were told that their history lessons were a whitewash and that in truth he was a marauder and even a fool thinking he reached China. Recently an historian from Stanford University studied the pertinent documents of the times and Columbus’ personal papers. She gives objective testimony that he was indeed a great man with sensitivity toward the people he encountered in his journeys. The Transfiguration provides similar testimony for, at least, Peter, James, and John who were somewhat puzzled about Jesus.

Although Peter has already acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, neither he nor the others had a proper concept of what the term means in reference to Jesus. Peter in fact is unwilling to accept that being God’s anointed entails suffering brutally on behalf of the people. The Transfiguration on the mountain gives them a glimpse into Jesus’ divine nature. To be sure, it is a brief revelation as the disciples descend the mountain wondering what Jesus means by saying that he will rise from the dead. Still they no longer refute him when he speaks of dying.

Living in a secular age we sometimes feel the ground of our faith swerving beneath us. Yet there are moments in all of our lives when we just know that our beliefs are true. These are Transfiguration experiences, and we must hold on to them and indeed tell others about them. They will assist us in being faithful to the Lord who gave himself entirely for our salvation.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 26:1-9; Matthew 13:54-58)

In one of his novels Larry McMurtry tells the story of an antique collector who buys a precious item from the owners of a second-hand store. The owners ask a price many times below the actual value of the object because they do not know what it is really worth. The story reminds us of how the people of Nazareth consider Jesus in today’s gospel

The townspeople where Jesus grew up do not recognize Jesus for who he really is. They think that they know him because they are acquainted with his family. But they do not realize that he is actually the long awaited Messiah whom God has anointed with the Spirit to save Israel. Even his miraculous cures and his authoritative teaching fail to penetrate their obtuseness.

Some of us may be scandalized by the ways that Jesus makes himself present to us. He does not present himself at a grand banquet which costs thousands of dollars to attend. No, he comes at our gathering in his name and makes himself palpable in the Eucharistic hosts and simple wine that we bring to the altar. His teachings promising eternal life are likewise not complicated doctrines that require a Ph.D. to understand. Rather, they contain the straightforward message that we are to love God above all and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We must be careful not to find some other excuse to reject Jesus. No, despite the challenges with which he confronts us, we want to embrace him with all our hearts.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 18:1-6; Matthew 13:47-53)

Author Graham Greene once wrote of his preference for the Gospel according to John. He liked the fourth gospel because it does not warn against hellfire. The Gospel according to Matthew, on the other hand, seems to relish talk of “wailing and the grinding of teeth.”

Today’s passage provides an example. Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of heaven being like a dragnet which hauls in both good and bad fish. Although Jesus says that the good fish will be set aside in buckets, emphasis is placed on the bad which will be thrown away just as the angels send the wicked to a “fiery furnace” at the end of time.

It has become fashionable to claim that no one may be in hell. But shouldn’t that thesis make us wonder whether justice is rendered to those who deliberately choose evil? Purgatory -- an intensive purifying experience – may provide a solution to the dilemma. Or perhaps the wicked are just left for oblivion without either the burning or beatitude? In any case we should keep in mind that Jesus’ purpose in speaking hell is to spur us to do what is right.