Monday, June 1, 2015

Memorial of Saint Justin, martyr

(Tobit 1:3.2:1a-8; Mark 12:1-12)

St. Justin was martyred not so much for what he believed as for failing to pay homage to the Roman gods.  The Romans of the second century were not fanatical.  They did not insist that Christians not worship their God only that they bow to the national deities as well.  It is roughly similar to the situation that many experience today in the United States.  If one wants to go to church, fine.  But the reigning culture insists that the person acknowledges the cultural idol of sexual libertarianism.  Justin believed that there is but one God and even lip-service to others was a lie which he would not stomach.  Today’s first reading begins the story of Tobit, another man whose religious principles put him at odds with the authorities.

Tobit takes to heart the biblical injunction to bury the dead.  Evidently it is a crime to be so diligent in ancient Nineveh as Tobit’s neighbors say that he was hunted down before for doing.  But Tobit, a righteous man, follows his conscience.

Intelligent people have prophesized that the Church will be persecuted for its opposition to gay marriage.  We should prepare ourselves for this eventuality first by understanding the issue, especially the Catholic moral perspective.  Then we should pray that sexual licentiousness does not undermine the moral fiber of Western civilization and that we remain faithful to the truth and forgiving of our persecutors.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 44:1.9-13; Mark 11:11-26)

Poets use objective correlatives as ways of describing with images of nature the mind’s inner-working.  For example, when Robert Frost describes watching the woods fill up with snow, he means to tell the reader about his contemplating the eeriness of death.  The evangelist Mark presents an objective correlative in the passage today about the fig tree that does not bear fruit. 

Jesus disappointment with the fig tree anticipates the disgust he will feel when he enters the Temple.  Because the Temple has not fostered a holy people, it is doomed.  The money changers are only the tip of the iceberg. More reproachable are the priests who control the business and profit handsomely from it.  As Jesus curses the fig tree, he will throw out the money changers.  And as he cleans up the Temple, he will perfect the Temple sacrifices with his own death on the cross.

As Jesus expresses revulsion for those who misuse the Temple, he will not tolerate those who exploit Christianity.  Over-zealous crusaders and inquisitors may come to mind, but we should examine our own lives for this evil.  We may go to church just to put ourselves in someone’s favorable light.  We may find in our piety a cause for pride when the righteousness God seeks is humility and compassion. There is need for all of us to orient ourselves properly so that we never incite the Lord’s wrath.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Thursday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 42;15-25; Mark 10:46-52)

In considering his blindness John Milton wrote a sonnet.  He complained that he might be judged as unworthy if he did not produce something worthwhile for God.  Then he had the insight that God would not exact from a person more than He enabled the person to do.  Milton concluded his poem by writing, “They also serve who only stand and wait”; that is, waiting patiently for the Lord is also an act of faith worthy of salvation.  Today’s gospel recounts a similar tale of a blind man’s faith.

As he sits begging, Bartimaeus wants sight more than alms.  A few coins might see him through the day, but sight could liberate him from his miserable occupation.  He feels hope rising when he hears that Jesus, the healer, is drawing near.  He calls out, “’Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.’” Recognizing Jesus as “Son of David” indicates a preliminary faith in him.  This faith is rewarded with physical sight.  At this point Bartimaeus has an insight into the fullness of faith.  Rather than going his own way, he decides to follow Jesus.  It is known that Jesus is bound for martyrdom in Jerusalem.  Bartimaeus is risking his own life to accompany him.

All of us face difficulties in life.  We should pray to Jesus to see us through them to safety.  We should also, like Bartimaeus, not shirk from following Jesus when the situation turns even more difficult.  He is our true prize. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 36:1.4-5a.10-17; Mark 10:32-45)

In the last days of 1776 the cause of American independence was thrown into doubt.  George Washington’s army had been routed in New York, and confidence in the general was waning.  The army literally walked in tatters through one of the worse winters in years.  Added to all this trouble, many of the soldiers’ inscriptions would expire on January 1.  Then seemingly out of the dark a blessing came.  On Christmas night the American army took almost nine hundred prisoners with few casualties in a surprise attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton.  Most of Washington’s soldiers reenlisted wanting to follow their commander to victory.  Such a turnabout is what Ben Sirach seeks in the reading today.

In the second century before Christ, the people of Israel are almost completely suppressed.  Having been long a conquered nation, they now see their holy places desecrated by the Greek lords and the compromised Jewish elite.  Living in Jerusalem, Ben Sirach wants to remind the people of their rich heritage.  In the prayer that comprises today’s passage, he pleads God to demonstrate His power so the morale of the people may be restored.  He is coy about this reason, however.  He tries to cajole the Lord with pretensions of praise from the entire world if He demonstrates His power.

God, of course, does not look for public support.  He seems to eschew it, in fact.  In the gospel Jesus predicts that he will be defiled, whipped, and executed.  He will rise from the dead as well but will appear only to a select few.  He wants his disciples to understand that the greatest grandeur lies in self-sacrificing love not acts of "shock and aw."

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, priest

(Sirach 35:1-12; Mark 10:28-31)

According to a folk-saying, life is God’s gift to us; what we make of our lives is our gift to God.  We can make a fitting gift to God by practicing works of mercy.  It is said that St. Philip Neri was not bothered by calls from prayer to hear someone’s confession.  Rather he thought of it as going “from Christ to Christ.”  The first reading today from the Book of Sirach advises us to make use of our lives as sacrifices to God.

The book known as Sirach takes its name from the author, a man named Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach.  It was written in Hebrew around the turn of the second century before Christ, and then translated into Greek by the author’s grandson.  Its contents of moral instruction place the work in the Bible’s wisdom tradition.

Not too long ago many Catholics began their day with the “Morning Offering.”  This was a prayer dedicating their “prayers, works, joys, and sufferings” to God.  It remains a fitting expression of our appreciation to God for all the benefits bestowed on us.