Friday, November 1, 2013

Solemnity of All Saints

(Revelation 7:2-4.9-14; I John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a)

A distinguished attorney is asked, “Who is the most important person in the courtroom (to assure justice).”  Perhaps it is the judge who sees that that due process is followed.  Or maybe it is the collective members of the jury who make the final decision regarding innocence or guilt.  Or possibly it is the defense lawyer himself who must investigate his client’s case and persuade the jury with convincing evidence.  The man responds that after many decades practicing law as prosecutor, judge, and defense attorney, he believes that the most important person in a courtroom is a reliable witness.   Such a witness’s truthfulness and conviction become the determining factors in bringing about justice.

We can define saints as reliable witnesses to Jesus.  By relying on God, by striving after righteousness, by reconciling opponents, and by practicing all the beatitudes, saints witness to the primacy of Jesus’ message and the efficacy of his grace.  Their words and, more so, their actions provide testimony that Jesus has risen from the dead to actively support his followers.

The Church has officially declared only seven thousand or so saints.  But this number hardly indicates all the people throughout twenty centuries of Christianity who have lived the beatitudes.  Today we celebrate the millions of un-proclaimed saints who have given reliable witness to Jesus.  Their number includes an African-American slave who lived so graciously that the slave-owning family buried her in the family plot proudly claiming her as kin.  All of us have known people much better than ourselves who, we are sure, belong to the legion of reliable witnesses to Jesus. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:312b-39; Luke 13:31-35)

In Vergil’s classical poem The Aeneid the protagonist learns of his destiny to found the city of Rome.  Although the end is preordained, he does not understand it as inevitable.  Rather, he continually applies himself to achieve it.  The project requires strength and self-sacrifice, which Aeneas never fails to exert.  Today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke shows Jesus making similar effort to fulfill his destiny.

Jesus knows that Herod Antipas is not one to trifle with.  He beheaded John the Baptist on the whim of his step-daughter as well as married his brother’s wife (and also his niece) Herodias.  Because he surely could kill Jesus also, Jesus takes the Pharisees’ (his unlikely informers) advice to leave Galilee and proceed to Jerusalem according to plan.  There, of course, he will meet his destiny which is to be crucified and to rise from the dead on behalf of both the Jewish nation and the whole world. 

Perhaps Paul in today’s first reading expresses best the accomplishment of Jesus. By his cross and resurrection -- both divinely instituted before the beginning of time and executed through his intentional actions – Jesus assures us of God’s love.  We no longer are to live in fear or doubt but can live in righteousness knowing that our destiny of eternal life is secure.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:26-30; Luke 13:22-30)

Fr. Richard Rohr speaks convincingly of the two halves of human life.  In the first half people learn to control their egos from running wild.  Then need to have laws imposed so that at least they may live with others without mortal conflict.  During the second half of life, Rohr sees a different challenge.  By this time people have learned some self-control, but there is still need to be transformed into gentle, caring subjects.  They may be driven by their culture or perhaps their instincts to work against this need.  For this reason believers at least are endowed with the Holy Spirit of which St. Paul writes to the Romans as seen in today’s first reading.

Paul says that the Spirit intercedes on behalf of believers asking for what the heart does not know it needs.  The heart wants solutions to what it sees as problems confronting the human person.  But the Spirit knows that what is essential is not outer domination but inner peace that comes from knowing God as Father.  We may pray for insight and strength, but the Spirit prays in us for docility and humility.

The human project which each of us faces is an enormous task.  Simply put, it is to become a saint.  Unfortunately, we have only one opportunity to work it out.  Fortunately, we have the Spirit within moving us to sanctity and praying for us to succeed.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:18-25; Luke 13:18-21)

The window of the car on the highway opened and out went an object – perhaps a plastic cup – littering the road.  It was a small act of defiance of both law and public decency indicative of a careless people.  But little things add up.  An estimated fifty-one billion articles of litter are deposited on the roads of the United States alone every year. 

Nevertheless, would it be that litter were today’s biggest environmental problem!  In truth there are many greater worries.  The burning of fossil fuels creates pollution and likely contributes to global warming.  The depletion of forests ruins the habitats of most of earth’s animals and causes the land to dry up.  What St. Paul writes to the Romans in the first reading today about the creation groaning makes perfect sense to environmentalists.

Yet Paul also extends a signal of hope.  He says that creation will be set free by a redeemed humanity fully in the grasp of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit will change our hearts to value the environment as a common patrimony.  All good people will cooperate to protect natural resources so that future generations may know the wonder of otters, ocelots,  and owls. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Feast of Saints Simon and Jude

(Ephesians 2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16)

Today’s Feast of Saints Simon and Jude is celebrated in many places with all the vigor of a local patron.  Little is known about either apostle.  The reason for the popularity is that St. Jude has been labeled the patron of hopeless causes with which many identify.

The devotion stems from the lively faith of many Catholic people.  They know God loves them and will assist them in their need.  Jude, the last mentioned of the twelve in Luke’s gospel, matches their sense of being overlooked in the normal course of events.  Yet he sits at the Savior’s table and has proven willing to intercede on behalf of those who call on his name.

The feast should remind us to never give up praying for just needs.  God will turn bad situations into good ones even though the outcome may not be what we had in mind.  It is not just a matter of our changing perspectives to accept the inevitable.  Rather it is the work of an all-caring God who has the powers of creation at His disposal to meet our needs.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 7:18-25a; Luke 12:54-59)

“How can something that feels so right, be so wrong?” country crooners ask.  St. Paul has a similar thought in mind when he tells the Romans in the first reading today, “For I take delight in the law of God, in my inner self, but I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind…”

Paul is expressing the deceptive nature of sin.  It appeals to our inner senses as something good or satisfying, but our minds tell us it is hurtful.  We might be willing to buy a stolen car to get to work, but we know that such a vehicle belongs to its rightful owner.  We would become accomplices in the crime by purchasing it knowingly.

Paul finds in Jesus Christ the resolution to the dilemma of feeling right about something but knowing it to be wrong.  He provides a greater desire which transcends any will to comfort or convenience residing in our strictly natural being.  He loves us as his brothers and sisters so that we might return his graciousness by always doing his virtuous will.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 6:19-23; Luke 12:49-53)

The man was involved in the numbers racket; that is, in collecting small bets on the final numbers of the daily stock market trading.  As Al Capone is supposed to have said, “That’s where the money is.”  And the man made much of it and spent it on liquor, dope, and other vices.  Now he was dying alone in a rundown rental room.  As today’s reading from St. Paul’s Romans poignantly says, “…the wages of sin is death.”

St. Paul has especially in mind the fact that sinful humanity will always die.  Reflecting on Genesis, Paul concludes that the curse of Adam is a tendency to sin that ensnarls every human being and leads to his or her downfall.  That is everyone except Jesus (and by special dispensation his Immaculate Mother).  He not only transcended enslavement to sin but boosted his followers out of their entrapment.  Trusting in Jesus as Lord, humans can now overcome the tendency to love creatures more than the Creator – what sin is all about.

We need to hold ourselves close to Jesus – desperately. Heeding his warnings and following his example, we actually become freer, happier people.  We become, in other words, beneficiaries of the gift of eternal life.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 6:12-18; Luke 12:39-47)

Msgr. Charles King was a priest’s priest.  He gave himself completely to the shepherding of souls.  He learned Spanish to assist the growing numbers in his parish who could not speak English.  He also sought Church unity by participating in ecumenical and interreligious movements.  On Sundays after parish masses were celebrated, Msgr. King didn’t crash in front of the television but would call shut-ins of the parish to offer his support.  This pastor illustrates what Jesus has in mind when he answers Peter’s question in the gospel today.

“Lord, is this parable (of a thief breaking into a house) meant for us or for everyone?” Peter asks Jesus on behalf of his companions.  In his answer Jesus implies that it is meant for his apostles not so much as missionaries but as pastors.  They are to provide pastoral care so that the faithful are not stolen away by the empty promises of evil.  They must also avoid taking advantage of their people by accruing for themselves the favors that the people would give to the Lord.

Pastors need the Spirit’s support and, therefore, the prayers of the faithful to fulfill their responsibilities.  When we think about it, we realize that prayers for faithful leadership redound to everyone’s benefit.  Not only are the people in the pews assisted by their parish priests, but those same people also have shepherding roles.  Parents, of course, are to guide their children to holiness and all Christians should give one another edifying example.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 5:12.15b.17-19.20b-21; Luke 12:35-38)

Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the United States has more than sinful and scandalous; it has been horrendous.  About three thousand priests over a period of fifty years have been accused of such crime, according to the Church’s Promoter of Justice at the Vatican.  Could any good come out of such a cesspool?  Now it is safe to answer, “Yes.”  The Church’s response has been thorough and effective.  If at one time the Church was lax in supervision, now it is exemplary.  The checks that it has set up seem to have made it a model for curtailing the evil.  It can be sighted as an example of what St. Paul means in today’s reading from his Letter to the Romans that “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.”

Paul is writing of human sinful nature the history of which dates back to the first man and woman.  Even with the aid of the Hebrew Law, humans were caught in a vortex of evil.  Then Jesus came to stem the downward thrust.  He not only lived righteously but died to make manifest the egotism at the root of sin.  His death, however, left no trace of personal disgrace as he rose in glory, the first instance of a blessing that encompasses all his followers.

The Holy Spirit has given the Church a resiliency to overcome scandals like sexual abuse a decade ago.  The Spirit works through each of us.  It urges us to abide by the norms that have been set up and to always examine our consciences so that we might act with prudence.  With the Spirit’s guidance the Church has become the template for sexual temperance.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 4:20-25; Luke 12:13-21)

The Church of the early late fifteenth and early sixteenth century suffered from having too much wealth.  The popes acted more like princes than prophets.  Monks and religious hardly witnessed the poverty of Jesus.  Sometimes, indeed, they had personal servants in their convents.  Saints like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross understood the incongruity of such comfort with religious profession and set out to reform their Carmelite Order.  Of course, Teresa and John took their cues from Jesus in the gospel.

In today’s passage Jesus refuses to get involved in a family dispute over inheritance.  It is not that he wants to ignore real-life tensions.  Rather, he wants to testify to the need of trusting in God for salvation and not in material resources at human disposal.  He calls the farmer in the parable who wants to build silos to provide for his future a “fool” because he does not recognize the obvious: his future is more in the hands of God than in his own.

Certainly we are challenged to live our faith in Jesus.  We have material needs that must be cared for.  But we cannot allow ourselves to accrue things that will take our attention from God as our final hope.  It may take the majority of our lifetime, but we must learn to see material needs best cared from a perspective that emphasizes dependence on God.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

(II Timothy 4:10-17b; Luke 10:1-9)

The Hebrew song “Dayenu” has been sung at Jewish Passover suppers for over a thousand years.  The words mean it would have been enough and refer to the many marvelous deeds that God had performed for the children of Israel. “Dayenu,” the people sing, “that He had brought us out of Egypt”; “dayenu…that He “had fed us manna”; “dayenu…that he “had given us the Torah”; and so on.  In considering the Gospel of St. Luke we may also want to sing “Dayenu.”

Luke’s gospel by far tells us more of the Virgin Mary than the other three – dayenu, that alone would have been enough for us to read it.  It also contains Jesus’ most beautiful parables – “The Prodigal Son,” “The Good Samaritan,” and “Lazarus and the Rich Man” – dayenu, that fact alone would have been enough to satisfy us.  And only Luke relates Jesus in a manger as he is born and begging forgiveness for his persecutors as he dies on a cross – dayenu, how could anyone ask for more.

We know nothing for certain about St. Luke.  The report that he was a physician and a disciple of Paul does not have great historical credibility.  But there is a sense in which we know him intimately.  Like us he loved Jesus for showing God’s mercy.  Like us he had a special regard for Jesus’ Virgin Mother.  And like us he longed to see the Church grow so that the entire world might live together in peace.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

(Romans 3:21-30; Luke 11:47-54)

St. Ignatius of Antioch contributed significantly to the historical knowledge of early Christianity.  His seven letters while traveling to Rome for martyrdom give an unparalleled picture of Church order at the turn of the second century.  Yet the zealousness, for which he is also famous, may make him more repulsive than interesting.  In one letter he asks his readers not to interfere on his behalf when he is called to enter the lion’s den.  Was he crazy?

Not likely.  He was holy, that is given to God in an untypical way that made him desire to be with God more than linger with other human beings.  Widows sometimes express a similar death wish as they long to be reunited with their husbands in eternal life.  Ignatius evidently believed what St. Paul teaches in the passage from his letter to the Romans (one of Ignatius’ letters is also entitled so) read today.  Because God has deemed him righteous on account of his faith, upon death he will experience eternal life.

We need not question our faith if we find ourselves wanting to live a long life.  After all, we can enjoy a fruitful relationship with God among family and friends.  Nevertheless, when God calls us, we will hopefully not rage against death but accept it as an invitation to see God, as St. Paul touchingly describes it in another letter, “face-to-face.”

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 2:1-11; Luke 11:42-46)

No doubt the media highlights clerical sexual abuse because priests regularly preach the virtue of chastity.  Statistics show that they as a group are not more inclined to abuse than other males, but most men do not tell others to abstain from sexual activity outside marriage.  In today’s first reading Paul points out a similar two-facedness.

Paul has just finished excoriating non-Jews for their sexual licentiousness.  His condemnation included an often cited denunciation of homosexual activity.  Now he turns his critical eyes on Jews who think that they are better than pagans although in fact they are guilty of the same sins.  Shortly he will offer the solution to the iron band of evil that entraps all peoples – faith in Christ.

We live in a society of many fewer sexual inhibitions that found in previous generations.  Masturbation and fornication are considered normal, not corrupt, activities.  Hankering after the pleasure from these undertakings, youth will not be able to form permanent, caring relationships.  Jesus, who modeled implicitly the chastity he preached, still serves as our best guide to sexual integrity.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Memorial of St. Teresa of Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Romans 1:16-25; Luke 11:37-41)

May we call comfort and convenience contemporary gods?  People certainly pay them much tribute.  Drive-through services proliferate:  bank deposits, fast food purchases, even prescription pick-ups may be done without getting out of the car.  The downside of this convenience is that partakers deprive themselves of exercise and fossil fuel is being burnt.  Certainly such partakers should ask themselves if they are doing God’s will.  Paul in the selection from his letter to the Romans today states that some indeed choose to worship created things rather than the Creator.

For Paul the universe gives ample testimony to a Creator and to the Creator’s will.  For millennia the latter was called natural law and well accepted in civilized societies.  Paul also believes that God punishes those who do not abide by that law.  Venereal disease is a typical example.  Paul’s purpose is not to give a philosophical treatise on law, of course, but to introduce God’s plan of universal salvation through Jesus Christ.  Humans, he will show, would not be able to break away from their tendency to infringe natural law except for the grace of Jesus.

St. Theresa of Jesus probably wondered if religious in her day were not ignoring God the Creator in favor of creaturely comforts.  She reformed the Carmelite Order so that a purer worship might be given to God.  So we might adjust our lifestyles to improve our worship of God.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 1:1-7; Luke 11:29-32)

There is an account of an African slave who served a Catholic household in antebellum Georgia.  The woman was so dedicated to the family that she did not leave it after emancipation.  The people considered her a family member and buried her in the family gravesite.  We will note a similar evolution in Paul's salutation to the Romans which comprises the first reading today.

Paul introduces himself as a "slave of Christ Jesus."  He does what the Lord commands.  But this term by no means exhausts Paul's identity.  Paul also recognizes himself as Christ's apostle and  will surely include himself among those whom he later describes as having been made children of God by adoption.  This means that he carries out Christ’s commands not really out of submission but out of freedom.  He need not  see God as a prisoner views the warden watching his every move.  Rather God has become more like a mother observing her baby begin to walk and ready to assist the baby with each step.

We, of course, have been equally adopted into God's family.  We rejoice under His care and give thanks for the fine people now given to us as sisters and brothers.  We also perform our family services -- helping one another and calling others to join our household.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Joel 1:13-15.2:1-2; Luke 11:15-26)

A local parish just had its first “Christ Renews His Church” retreat.  The men responded well.  Most who signed up came, and most who came on Friday night stayed until Sunday.  But, of course, the end of the retreat was not the end of the process.  The first priority as the retreat was closing was to schedule a follow-up meeting where the men would share how they felt going back into the world.  Such follow-ups are prevalent the popular movements that invigorate the Church today.  Jesus hints at their necessity in today’s gospel.

Jesus has just driven out a demon.  The people wonder where he got such power.  He tries to convince them that it comes from God because the devil would not work against himself.  Then Jesus teaches the people that once cleaned of their impurities they must stay close to the Lord.  He would say that thinking one can remain in virtue without prayer and penitence is only fooling oneself.  As he puts it, the devil can return with evil spirits more pernicious than what possessed the person before causing great havoc.

We do not use the terminology of spirits, devils, and demons today.  But this does not mean that they do not exist.  More sophisticated, we typically call the moral problems people face vices, deviant behaviors, or the like.  In any case, when the evil is removed, we are wise to remain, as Jesus tells us, close to him so that greater problems do not overwhelm us. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Malachi 3:13-20b; Luke 11:5-13)

Why do some people have difficulty asking God for help? Perhaps they do not want to feel foolish should God not grant what they ask. Or maybe they like to consider themselves as not owing God any favors. Or perhaps they just don’t think God cares enough to help.  In the gospel today Jesus provides two images to free people from these errant ideas about God.

First, Jesus suggests that God may be considered a friend to whom we may go with little as well as big problems. That is, we might ask God for a loaf of bread just as well to heal mother’s cancer.  But, Jesus indicates, God is better than a friend because He will assist us not just to avoid the embarrassment of denying someone He knows. No, God is like a father – the second image – who grants what we need because He loves us deeply. That is, God seeks only what is good for us. The difference between God’s friendship and every other friendship -- or, for that matter, God’s Fatherhood and any other fatherhood -- is that God can bestow the perfect gift, the Holy Spirit, who fills us with joy, love, and peace.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 4:1-11; Luke 11:1-4)

At the beginning of his narrative, Luke tells his patron that he has decided to write his gospel different from others.  He says that his will be “an orderly sequence” presumably meaning that he will relate the events of Jesus’ life in a straightforward and concise way.  Certainly the “Lord’s Prayer” in the third gospel exemplifies more directness than Matthew’s version.  As is seen in today’s reading, Luke has two blessings in place of Matthew’s three and three petitions instead of four in the first gospel.

It seems that Luke emphasizes God’s intimacy with us.  For him there is no need of circumlocution.  We don’t have to acknowledge that God is “in heaven.”  Much less do we have to qualify our relationship with God by saying “Our Father.”  No, Luke when speaking of God, Luke has in mind the prodigal father of Jesus’ most famous parable who loves each of us as someone very special. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 10:38-42)

Since no historical records exist of the mass conversion of Nineveh and since the story of Jonah drips with exaggeration, the book is taken as an instruction to later Jews rather than a chronicle of an actual event.  It certainly indicates God’s will that other peoples be saved.  It also warns against prejudice.

Nineveh’s complete repentance is seen in the way both king and people change their hearts.  This sense is punctuated by dressing the animals in sackcloth.  Given that every society has some backsliders, Jews would have marveled to hear how thorough the conversion of their feared neighbors to the northeast was.  These were the same barbarians who had ravaged their ancestors.  Perhaps, the Jews could conclude, they are not as bad as they seemed.

The Book of Jonah is instructive to us as well.  It tells us not to write any people or any person off as beyond salvation.  God can work wonders. Those whom we may regard as despicable may surpass us in rendering true worship to God.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

(Jonah 1-2:1-2.11; Luke 10:25-37)

What makes the rosary the Church’s most popular way of praying?  Perhaps it is its simplicity.  The rosary does not require any reading at all but only the recitation of prayers learned in childhood.  Perhaps, also, it is its relation to the gospel.  While repeatedly saying the “Our Father” and “Hail Mary,” we reflect on well-known episodes – called “mysteries” since in one way or another they attest to God’s presence among humans -- from the lives of Jesus and Mary.  Maybe its popularity has to do with its use of a sacramental, a physical substance that rotate with our hand as it guides us through prayer.  Finally, its popularity may stem from its capacity for being recited by individuals or in groups.  Many pray the rosary as the heart of their personal prayer but do not feel any reluctance to pray it again at a vigil service or in front of an abortion clinic.

It is said that the Blessed Mother gave the rosary to St. Dominic, the founder of the Order of Preachers (usually just called “Dominicans”).  However, no historical record of this exchange exists.  Nevertheless, for centuries the Dominicans have been its leading promoters, and St. Pope Pius V, who proclaimed today’s feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, was a Dominican.  More importantly, the rosary is a Marian devotion.  That is, in saying the rosary we ask Mary’s intercession so that we might experience the hope that the mysteries convey.

In recent times Blessed Pope John Paul II gave the rosary a fresh perspective by introducing the “luminous mysteries.”   These five events from the ministry of Christ bring a sense of completion to the rosary as a brief history of the incarnation experience.  It is Christ’s birth, ministry, death, and resurrection that have brought us salvation.  Since this is by no means a trivial accomplishment, praying the rosary frequently enables us to appreciate both its cost to Christ and its benefit for us.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi, religious

(Baruch 1:15-22; Luke 10:13-16)

One of the reasons that St. Francis of Assisi has been so popular through the centuries is that he is seen as a romantic.  It is said that Francis separated himself from his money-driven father by taking off his fine clothes and giving them back to his appalled father in the public square.  Even more charming is the story of his taming a vicious wolf by appealing to the wolf’s reason: if the wolf would stop ravaging the town, the townspeople would feed it every day.  The difficulty with such stories is that they are not always accurate.

A recent biography by a hard-nosed but still admiring historian dismisses a large amount of the legend surrounding Francis.  What he finds is a man like the rest of us groping to God through a troubled situation.  But Francis, of course, reached his object without the pains of purgatory.  Perhaps it was devotion to Christ that gave him the critical edge.  Francis loved the Lord because Jesus truly impoverishes himself not just in the incarnation and on the cross but in the Eucharist where he makes himself food for human edification.

We do well to emulate Francis of Assisi.  We need not go barefoot or eschew swatting flies.  But we should carefully contemplate the mystery that confronts us at Mass.  It is Jesus under the guise of bread and wine who calls us to humble ourselves so that we might strengthen others.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Thursday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Nehemiah 8:1-4a.5-6.7b-12; Luke 10:1-12)

Almost a year ago the United States was enthralled by a freshly told story of Abraham Lincoln.  Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln astounded the nation by the portrayal of the sixteenth president’s righteousness and integrity, his political acumen and his patriotism.  The movie no doubt invoked many tears as it showed the depth of sacrifice made by the country’s greatest statesman.  A very similar dynamic is at work in the first reading today.

The scribe-priest Ezra stands up before the people to read Israel’s Law.  He is not reciting a code of rules but the history of the people’s salvation.  He reads of Abraham and Jacob, of Moses and Pharaoh.  But most of all, Ezra tells of God’s care for Israel.  He recounts how God gave Abraham and Sarah a child when the couple had lost hope of descendants.  And how He rescued the Israelites from servitude in Egypt and formed them into a community worthy of His name.  No wonder that the people want to cry!

Christians can claim the story of the Patriarchs and the Exodus as their own, but we have an even greater love story to contemplate.  We speak of Jesus, God’s own son, who took on human form so that we might know God’s definitive will and be strengthened to do it.  We too weep at the boldness of God’s compassion on us and can never give Him enough thanks.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels

(Nehemiah 2:1-8; Matthew 18:1-5.10)

We should not understand the gospel today to mean that only children have guardian angels.  Jesus’ vision is more inclusive than that.  Each of us is protected by angels, the distributors of God’s mercy.  This truth is evidenced in the whole passage of which today’s reading forms the beginning and middle.  

Jesus warns his disciples that they are to look after weak Christians who stray from the faith.  In a recent novel a young pastor gets wind that a new member of his congregation is having an adulterous affair.  He goes to investigate one evening and sees a woman leaving the man’s apartment.  Not waiting to investigate further, the pastor confronts his parishioner.  He tells the adulterer to stay away from Sunday worship until he has chosen definitively for the Lord.  The man knows what he must do and ends the affair. 

When errant Christians stop praying or when they choose sinful pleasure over doing God’s will, we are to assist their return to righteousness.  It may be counter-productive to confront sinners head on, but we can always pray for them.  Jesus makes clear that if his disciples fail to intervene in some way, they will face dire consequences since weak Christians also have angels in direct communication with God.