Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Amos 3:1-8.4:11-12; Matthew 8:23-27)

General George Marshall, the Army Chief of Staff during World War II and subsequent Secretary of State, was renowned for his self-control.  Upon sending a squadron of bombers into combat, Marshall could take a nap without losing sleep over whether he made the right decision.  In today’s gospel Jesus proves himself to be a person of even greater composure.

Jesus’ disciples are amazed that the sun and moon snap at his command.  It is almost as remarkable that he could sleep in a small boat being rocked by a storm.  But the story is meant to say more than Jesus had extraordinary powers over nature.  The ship in the storm symbolizes the Church in its infancy being challenged in every direction – persecutions on one side, heresies on the other.  The sleeping Jesus represents the temptation that Jesus is indifferent about what happens to his followers.  But all they have to do is beseech his help with prayer.  He readily arises to save them.

We too at times feel overwhelmed by the circumstances in which we find ourselves.  Perhaps we have promised to do more than it now seems possible for us to accomplish.  Then we have to find recourse in the Lord Jesus.  As he calmed the storm for his disciples, he will assist us in our need.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Amos 2:6-10.13-16; Matthew 8:18-22)

Pope Francis has raised eyebrows around the world by speaking against the idolatry of money.  He finds the contemporary situation of a privileged few growing richer “exponentially” while leaving ever farther behind the poor as intolerable.  He sounds much like the prophet Amos in the first reading today.

Amos is preaching in the wealthy Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Although money abounds, so do the poor and injustice.  God gave the people the law to promote both prosperity and community.  But some ignore it in the pursuit of riches.  Their greed results in squalor amidst luxury and widespread scandal.

We must ask ourselves about our disposition toward wealth.  Is becoming rich our ambition?  Following Jesus, we will be moving in another direction.  The one “with nowhere to rest his head” will show us that the joy of his company outpaces the possession of gold.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

(Deuteronomy &:6-11; I John4:7-16; Matthew 11:25-30)

Certainly we all need to be loved.  We need to feel important to someone. We need to be cared for.  Increasingly people, not feeling this need met with those around them, stretch out through the Internet to find others who care.  Of course, the assurance such virtual relationship give is tenuous.  When the reality of a personal encounter approaches, the old insecurities can take over.

We Christians claim that our need for love is satisfied by God.  He loves us despite our faults or, better, with our faults because, as a cynic once said, His business is to love.  But we do not mean to say that the love of God avoids the moment of truth from interpersonal relationship.  No, God’s love grounds us for personal encounters in the community of which we are members.

Today we celebrate the love of God for us.  The Sacred Heart of Jesus represents this love which encompasses at one time each and all of us.  It offers us the Church, the Body of Christ celebrated this past Sunday, as its physical embodiment to both manifest its care for us and to elicit from us a fitting response.  If we do not love in return, the love that God has given us would be fruitless.  It would not have made us into the productive, life-giving subjects that we are meant to be.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 24:8-17; Matthew 7:21-29)

A few years ago a man owning a two hundred year-old house in New England visited Rome.  He was bragging a bit about his historic home in the States when it occurred to him that the building in which he was standing went back five hundred years!  

In the gospel today Jesus names the condition for a house to remain standing in perpetuity.  He says that it must be built upon rock and not upon sand.  Of course, he is not concerned about buildings but about people.  He means to say that if people seek fulfillment in life then they should base their lives upon his words.  Doing all that he commands in the Sermon on the Mount, which he completes in today’s reading, will assure his assistance in weathering any storm.
The first reading offers a demonstration of what Jesus is getting at.  The dynasty to which Jehoiachin belongs falls because of lack of attention to the word of God.  As the reading says, Jehoiachin and his forbears “did evil in the sight of the Lord.”  Interestingly, dynasties are frequently called “houses” probably because the personal traits are passed along from ancestor to descendant as if it were a house.  Anyway, if dynasties are to survive, just as if individuals are to find fulfillment, their inheritors must practice justice.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 22:8-13.23:1-3; Matthew 7:15-20)

At the time recalled in the first reading today there was, apparently, much idolatry in Judah.  The people were not living the solidarity that the Law envisions with the poor protected from severe suffering.  They had only paid lip-service to God having lost the “book of the law” explicating God’s commands.  The situation was so far from the ancient covenant that once the “book of the law” was found, the king called a national congress to reveal its stipulations.

The signs of the present times are somewhat similar.  People may not worship idols of clay but they certainly make fetishes of electronic products.  There is only vague notion of national cohesion perhaps symbolized by the fervor for the world cup competition.  Most people do not go to Church, in the West at least, and evoke God more as sentiment than as a rock on which to base one’s life.  For laws they often make arrangements that accommodate their desires for pleasure and comfort.

We will have to wait to see how the obvious strains of such a social arrangement become too much to bear.  Then perhaps there will be a return to a system that finds its source and end in a transcendent God who has indicated his will for all in human nature, not in human desire.  For us now He commands us to be faithful to the Judeo-Christian principle of seeking the common good and finding our solace in Him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

(Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66.80)

As great a dramatist as William Shakespeare was, he could not have achieved such masterpieces as Prince Hamlet or King Lear without writers of comparable skill working at the same time.  Shakespeare’s plots were deepened, his vocabulary was polished, and his characterization was developed by the likes of Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Kidd producing dramas in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century England.  To give a feel for his times, many teachers of Shakespeare require students to read a play by one of his lesser known but still quite talented contemporaries.  Something similar may be said of John the Baptist in relation to Jesus.

As a preacher, John seems to have shaken ancient Israel.  Although most of what is known about John comes from the four canonical gospels, he seems to have had an impact like few others.  In fact, there is a religious sect today which claims John as its founder and leader in a way very similar to the way Christians view Jesus.   Still the gospels see John as a foil to Jesus.  That is, they relate his story as a way to highlight Jesus’ own.  Luke tells us in today’s passage, for instance, that John is remarkably conceived by parents in old age.  A bit later in his narrative he will show how Jesus is conceived even more miraculously by a virgin.  In the fourth gospel, Jesus stands out more artfully.  John’s disciples gravitate to Jesus, and John himself utters the humble yet lofty line, “He must increase; I must decrease.”

In a sense all Christians are foils of Jesus.  Like him we can extend a hand to the downcast and provide bread for the hungry.  But we recognize that we only imitate his goodness and that if there is anything about our actions that is truly unselfish, it is produced by his grace working in our hearts.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 17:5-8.13-15a.18; Matthew 7:1-5)

In his Second Inaugural Address Abraham Lincoln named slavery as the sin which brought about the great Civil War.  Knowing that the blame was not limited to the South, he proclaimed God’s wrath on both parties to the conflict. “He gives to both North and South this terrible war,” Lincoln said, “as the woe due to those by whom the offense came…”  It is not likely that another president will soon accuse the nation of sin, but today’s reading from II Kings does not hesitate to do so for Israel. 

The Northern Kingdom of Israel has been demolished.  Its people are in exile.  How could this have happened? everyone wanted to know.  For the historian who composed I and II Kings the answer is evident.  Israel fell so profoundly because it did not follow the covenant it had made with the Lord.  In other words, God would not defend a people that betrayed their promise.

We have good reason to question the future of the United States.  Its economy is strong and its military still the most powerful on earth.  But its commitment to human rights has been compromised significantly by the de-penalization of abortion.  We Catholics perform a great service to the nation by protesting the ongoing slaughter of the most vulnerable of human beings.  Perhaps people will recognize the crime, change their lives, and renew the country.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 11:1-4.9-18.20; Matthew 6:19-23)

The medical profession has sounded the alarm on obesity.  It tells us that people in the United States are digging their grave with forks and knives.  When will it make a similar cry about “sexual obesity,” the pandemic of porn that has enveloped the country?  The facts are that young people who have looked at pornography are more likely to have multiple lifetime sexual partners, to have used alcohol and tobacco at their last sexual encounter, to engage in forced sex and to become sexual offenders.  This alarming report readily verifies what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel.

Jesus says that the eye is the lamp of the body.  He means that what the eye takes in will either bring light or darkness to the person.  Viewing pornography will darken the both body and spirit.  It will lead to corporal excess and deteriorate the possibility of positive relationships.

As neither government nor even the medical establishment seem much concerned about pornography, it is incumbent bring about us to curtail it.  We must be vigilant about it entering our own computers and mobile devices.  We also want to assist friends and those to whom we minister who have already been ensnarled in pornography’s web to climb out.  We should refer them to twelve step groups programs if not professional help when necessary.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 48:1-14; Matthew 6:7-15)

It is said that the "Our Father" lies at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount.  It may be added that at the heart of the "Our Father" lies Jesus' mandate to forgive.  Because it is not easy to fulfill, Jesus emphasizes it time and again in this gospel according to Matthew.

For lack of forgiveness Sunni and Shiite Muslims are at war in Iraq tearing apart that already shattered country.  For lack of forgiveness some brothers do not talk to each other.  Once, two priests ministered at the same hospital.  One was the hospital chaplain and the other, the vicar of the local parish.  Evidently something happened between the two which caused them not to speak to the one another.  They would pass each other on the floors of the hospital without saying a word.  Certainly their ministry to patients was compromised by the lack of communication.  They probably were causing as well scandal to everyone who knew them, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

Perhaps we have difficulty in forgiving because we think highly of ourselves and our sense of justice is violated by an act done against us.  Then we must remember that our highest dignity is being children of God who pleads with us to come down from our perch to make friends with everyone.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 2:1.6-14; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

“Is there a Santa Claus?” children ask.  If they are old enough, one might answer them saying, “It depends what you mean by Santa.”  Santa Claus is not a man who lives at the North Pole and making toys all year to take every boy and girl on Christmas Eve.  But Santa Claus may be thought of as God Himself who loves every child so much that He moves hundreds of millions of parents to express His affection for them.  The story of Elijah’s assumption into heaven told in the first reading may be seen in a similar way.

It is a fantastic tale.  The old Elijah is walking along with his young companion when a flaming chariot sweeps him into heaven.  Although biblical literalists consider it historical, more probably Elijah’s assumption is a figurative way of saying that he dies in God’s favor, perhaps with horses pulling his casket to its burial place.  The Old Testament is filled with such wondrous testimony – Methuselah living almost a thousand years and Ezekiel bringing dry bones to life. 

We should not be either defensive of or disillusioned by the story of Elijah’s assumption. Demythologizing it will not backslide into forsaking belief in Christ’s resurrection.  Much of the Old Testament serves as a type for the New.  What is presented there suggests what is to come in Christ.  Elijah, living more than eight hundred years before Christ, confirms the righteousness of God.  His leaving a double portion of his spirit on Elisha foreshadows Jesus’ sending the Holy Spirit with marvelous powers on his disciples.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 21:17-29; Matthew 5:43-48)

A couple’s only son was brutally murdered.  When the assassins were apprehended, the couple felt hatred towards them.  Throughout the trial, they wanted to see the men executed.  Afterwards, the father of the victim experienced a change of heart.  Concern replaced the rage he had felt.  He began to pray for his son’s murderers.  His feelings about the state execution, to which one of the culprits was sentenced, varied.  On one hand he desired strict justice -- a “life for a life.”  On the other he wanted to love the murderer.  The first reading today indicates what people are to do in such a tragic situation.

King Ahab is about as despicable a character as any in literature.  He is unfaithful, covetous, murderous, petulant, hen pecked, etc.  He not only has conspired in the murder of the poor, innocent Naboth, but he has also led God’s whole people astray.  Yet God does not do him in.  Rather the Lord forgives Ahab when the king shows remorse for his crimes.  God will display the same compassion on the world by sending His Son to relieve it of the burden of sin.

We are wise not to underestimate the difficulty or the need of forgiveness.  It is one thing to forgive an offender who has caused us a night’s sleep and another to let go of the anger against one responsible for the death of a loved one.  But as Saint Pope John Paul II taught, only through such forgiveness can peoples come to live in peace.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 21:1-16; Matthew 5:38-42)

Two women come to the rectory door asking five dollars for gas.  The older one explains that she needs to take the other, her daughter, to the hospital but has no gas.  What should the priest do?  It is a small sum, but perhaps enough for a snort of cocaine.  The priest sends the women to the parish office where the secretary will call a courtesy service that provides rides for people with emergency needs.  Yet he wonders if he is resisting Jesus’ directive in the gospel today.

When Jesus commands his disciples to “’give to the one who asks of you…,’” he certainly is making a radical demand. Anyone these days who gives to all with requests of him will soon find his/her resources exhausted.  (Think of all the junk mail you receive.)  Yet this is the new way of living that Jesus is proclaiming.  Disciples will heed his words as best they can and share their material assets for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Following Jesus means denying ourselves in ways that some will consider self-destructive.  But there is no need for us to fear.  Reaching the fullness of generosity is a gradual process that avoids harm to self.  Practicing care for the poor as a way of living, as we grow older we will more find ourselves freer of material things.  Still we should not be mindless in our generosity but always seek the true good of our beneficiaries.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, priest

(1 Kings 19:9a.11-16; Matthew 5:27-32)

This year Billy Graham will turn ninety-six years old.  When he eventually dies, he will be duly remembered as the greatest preacher of his time.  His world-wide “Crusades” helped thousands of people come to a personal relationship with Jesus.  He became known as a social reformer and a friend of presidents.  What Billy Graham was to the twentieth century, St. Anthony of Padua was to the thirteenth.

Anthony of Padua was actually Anthony of Lisbon, the place of his birth, and is evidently called so in his native Portugal.  As an adolescent, he joined a religious society and studied theology.  Later he was ordained and transferred to the Franciscan Order.  Then he was sent to Italy to become one of the most illustrious preachers of his time.  He died at only thirty-six years of age but by then had earned the reputation not only of a master preacher but also of a champion of the poor and a tireless worker among heretics.

Most people think of St. Anthony as the patron of finding lost objects.  We would be better to think of him as a searcher of the Word of God.  Although legends vary, it is said that he is often pictured with the Christ Child in his arms as a substitute for the Scriptures which he studied fervently.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 18:41-46; Matthew 5:20-26)

The seven sacraments use the most ordinary of objects to relate God’s presence.  Water, bread, wine, oil, the human body: one does not have to go far to find the stuff that conveys eternal life.  Similarly in the first reading God’s work is manifested in the simplest of forms on the horizon.

Elijah’s servant spies a wisp of a cloud in the distance.  It is hardly probably that such a fluff will grow into the storm that the dry earth craves.  But just as the Lord speaks later in the saga through a gentle breeze, the cloud grows into a thunderhead to revive the parched land.

We should not expect God to approach with trumpets blaring.  Indeed, it is much more characteristic of Him to come to us subtly, perhaps in our meditation on Scripture or in the depths of our consciousness when we pray with consistency.   He will indicate His desire for us, and it will lead to our benefit.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Memorial of St. Barnabas, apostle

(Acts 11:21b-26.13:1-3; Matthew 5:17-19)

St. Barnabas may not be on any short list of patron saints for religion teachers, but he consummately fills the role.  We might call him the prototypical catechist given that, besides Jesus, he seems to be the first teacher mentioned in the New Testament. 

In the Acts of the Apostles Barnabas teaches by example as well as by words.  In fact, his giving the total proceeds of the sale of his property to the community of disciples in Jerusalem has eloquently taught Christians generosity and commitment throughout the centuries.  Today’s reading from Acts testifies how the Holy Spirit calls Barnabas from teaching to preaching as an apostle.

All of us can imitate Barnabas.  We need to be generous with our belongings, caring of others in order to teach, and bold enough to proclaim Jesus in public. It is a tall order, but having been endowed with the Holy Spirit, we can do it.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 17:7-16; Matthew 5:13-16)

The recent movie Philomena opens with a devout woman at prayer.  Later it is learned that she asks God constantly to enable her to know the whereabouts of her son who was separated from her many years before as a child.  Eventually the woman decides to pursue an offer that a journalist makes to find her son.  Could it not be said that the Lord answered the woman’s prayer by telling her to trust the journalist?  God seems to be speaking to Elijah in this way in today’s first reading.

The Scripture is quite explicit. “So the Lord said to Elijah:” it says, “’Move on…’”  It may be that Elijah hears a voice ordering him, but it is more likely that Elijah intuits the Lord’s command.  The difference between Elijah and most other people who say that the Lord spoke to them is that Elijah constantly waits on the Lord attending to every word from Scripture.

God speaks to us as well.  Principally He communicates through the Scriptures, especially the gospels in which we hear the words of Jesus.  We must discipline ourselves to intuit what He intends for us personally by constantly carrying out His will and praying for guidance.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 17:1-6; Matthew 5:1-12)

Today we return to Ordinary Time after almost a quarter of a year contemplating the Easter mystery.  We say ordinary as if we expect nothing unusual to happen except, of course, perhaps a change of venue for a while during the summer and perhaps the celebration of our birthday.  But that is not what “Ordinary Time” in the liturgical sense is all about.  Now is the time to encounter the Lord Jesus; it is the time to work out our salvation.  Ordinary is meant to signal the order of weeks – one following another – on one day of which we will find our salvation.

Today’s gospel indicates how the experience will affect us.  When we come to know the Lord, we will act like him.  We will live “poor in spirit,” that is completely at God’s disposition not calculating on securing dividends for ourselves.  We will mourn our sins and meekly confess them so to breathe freely again.  But we will show understanding, even mercy for fellow sinners.  The drive for power and pleasure will not sully our hearts.  Quite the contrary, we will pursue justice in all our dealings with others.  Our motive like St. Francis’ will be to reconcile differences so that the world may have peace.  Even if it means suffering persecution, we will not shirk from doing what God wants of us.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 25:13b-21; John 25:15-19)

In his classic book Childhood and Society Erik Erikson outlines eight stages of psycho-social development. He begins with basic trust that infants are to develop and proceeds to ego integrity, the goal of a successful life.  In today’s gospel Jesus calls Peter to the penultimate stage of generativity where he is to assist others in the quest for happiness.

In their conversation, Jesus commissions Peter to pastor his church.  He wants his vicar to keep the people united on the road to the fullness of life.   Since it is not an easy task, Jesus requires that Peter give full allegiance.  He calls Peter to be ready to sacrifice his life in carrying out the duties of his office.

Just as we are to be generative in our social development, we are to give life in our development as Christians.  This means that we call others to Christian discipleship and model for them its meaning.  It will demand sacrifice, but the integrity to which it leads us will be crowned with eternal life.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Memorial of Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr

(Acts 22:30.23:6-11; John 17:20-26)

St. Boniface, the patron of Germany, was martyred while at work as a missionary.  Born in late seventh century England, Boniface was commissioned by the pope to convert pagan tribes.  Doing so, he endeavored to realize the vision that Jesus proclaims in today’s gospel.

Jesus is praying for unity.  The words he uses – “’so that they may all be one’” – are often quoted in ecumenical circles.  But Jesus has more in mind than the unification of disparate Christian communities.  He wants to draw all people– believers and non-believers alike – into communion.  In the end he is praying for the reconciliation of the whole world!

As always, we need to adopt Jesus’ position as our own.  We not only pray but also endeavor to bring the world together in peace.  Simple efforts are needed: conversing with people of different backgrounds, greeting friends of different religions on their holy days, and taking interest in the traditions of different nations.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 20:28-38; John 17:11-19)

The world for the Gospel of John, as for most of us, is a fashion show of iniquity.  Violence, stupidity, and greed show themselves in progression.  Although Jesus can say, “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son...,” it remains a place of temptation seeking to destroy the soul.  For this reason, Jesus says in today’s reading, “I do not belong to the world.”  The ambivalence goes back to the Genesis where God created the world as good only to see it compromised when the woman and her husband consider themselves as so good that they are equal to God.

Now Jesus is reversing the trend.  He does not want the world’s mire to pollute his disciples.  He gives them the truth of God’s love.  By self-sacrifice for the good of one another they will overcome the world’s tendencies to self-promotion.  Jesus has shown them the way.  Soon they will follow.  Their love for him will take them to far away places to preach his name.  They will not be ensnared by the world’s seamier side because Jesus prays for them in the gospel today.

His prayer protects us as well.  There is no point in trying to flee the world.  As long as we have bodies, the world will be part of us.  In fact, we have a mission in the world as surely as the apostles in Acts.  We too have to give witness to God’s love for the world by selfless love.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and companions, martyrs

(Acts 20:17-27; John 17:1-11a)

In today’s gospel Jesus has entered his final hour.  As if it were the preface at Mass, he begins his prayer to the Father which will lead to his passion, death, and resurrection.  He asks God for the grace to endure the ordeal that will end in his glory.  He has already won glory for the Father by preaching His love for the world.  Now he seeks to model that love by dying so that his followers may have eternal life.

St. Charles Lwanga also won glory for God and himself.  He lived in Uganda during the latter part of the nineteenth century.  By that time missionaries had arrived and converted many of the natives.  The country’s sovereign was apparently cruel and tyrannical.  When he tried to force the young men of his court into sexual relations, Charles openly protested.  His actions, however, brought the wrath of the king down on him and about one hundred other Christians, both Catholic and Anglican, who were martyred. 

We also can also win glory for God by raising our voices in defense of the vulnerable.  People will criticize the mentally disturbed for being disruptive and illogical.  Facing such people with the truth that mental sufferers need more prayer than criticism, we exhibit a concern that resembles, in a slight sense at least, the love of Jesus on the cross.