Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 25:5.8-20a; Matthew 8:28-34)

One should be taken aback when God affirms Sarah’s desire to get rid of Hagar and Ismael.  What, after all, has the slave woman done to deserve banishment?  But Sarah is right to think that if she and Abraham are to parent a great nation, there cannot be competition about religion and bloodline in their home.  Importantly, God promises to care for Abraham’s illegitimate family.  He will not allow the innocent to suffer without mercy.

Building a nation is not the same as building a modern nation state.  All nation states today are conglomerates of peoples and religions.  Racial, ethnic, and religious tolerance must be even surpassed by a spirit of communal cooperation if a modern state is to become a truly wholesome place to live.  Singapore, where a large variety of peoples live together in harmony, models the modern ideal.

In the home, however, a strong sense of religious identity enables children to grow in love of God, neighbor, and self.  We should not be reluctant to insist that adolescents attend mass with us.  When a couple is from different religious traditions, the Church asks the Catholic partner to do what is possible to raise the children as Catholic.  This does not mean that she or he must make an uncompromising demand but that there be a serious discussion of the issue with an attempt to persuade the other about the merits of the Catholic tradition.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 19:15-29; Matthew 8:23-27)

It may seem like the lesson of Sodom is merely one of disgust with homosexual behavior.  Remembering the context of the story, we realize that the angels warn Lot to flee the city before God annihilates it out of outrage from the townsmen’s attempt to violate Lot’s guests.  But as often happens in Genesis, the wisdom is more profound than what first meets the eye.

When the three strangers visited Abraham in the country, he welcomed them like kings.  He gave them water to refresh their skin and a feast to restore their energy.  Now in the city of Sodom, Lot similarly treats two of the same travelers, but his neighbors threaten them.  Indeed, the men of Sodom move to rape the travelers as apparently is their custom.  Their sin is not sexual crime but also violation against the virtue of hospitality.

The men of Sodom, like those of Babel earlier in Genesis, demonstrate the corruption of city-life.  City dwellers collaborate to advance their knowledge, but their progress sometimes sets aside righteous living.  Not feeling accountable to anyone, they try to take advantage of the defenseless.  Their quest for ever more adventure leads the men of Sodom to abuse their guests.  With no antidote for such barbarity God must destroy them completely.  Even in our age the sophisticated are prone to rationalize contempt for life.  Abortion and now so-called homosexual marriage are outrages that similarly call to heaven for remedy.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

(Acts 12:1-11; II Timothy 4:6-8.17-18; Matthew 16:13-19)

We prefer to think of the Church as a community of believers and a sign of God’s presence in the world more than as an institution.  But because it is an institution with laws, customs, and properties, the Church has been able to serve its members and the world.  The institution, of course, is headquartered in Rome where Saints Peter and Paul came to facilitate the evangelization of the world.

Rome, especially in the first century, is unlike any other city.  Romans are practical people and ancient Romans were consummate administrators.  Their aptitude for organization, which they lent to the Church, and their excellent roads enabled Christianity to flourish.  Part of the genius of both Peter and Paul was to take advantage of all the benefits that the “Eternal City” offered. 

Today, the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, the people of Rome have a holiday while Catholics around the world have opportunity to contemplate the authority of the pope, the bishop of Rome.  Like Peter he is the symbol of unity of the Church.  Like Paul he is commissioned to proclaim the gospel to the world.  With men of notable holiness and wisdom serving as popes over the past century, we can celebrate today with Romans.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 17:1.9-10.15-22; Matthew 8:1-4)

As a newly ordained priest, the biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown told his pastor on January 1 that he intended to preach on the circumcision.  “Ah, you’re not going to do that, are you?” the pastor replied as if even the circumcision of Jesus was a sordid subject.  “I most certainly am,” Fr. Brown asserted.  What he said that day would no doubt be helpful in interpreting today’s first reading.

Circumcision is a custom older than Abraham.  Pagan societies circumcised young men as a sign of sexual potency and the coming of age.   But when Abraham and his descendants circumcise their infants, a very different meaning is conveyed.  The principal characters are the father and mother of the circumcised, not the boy himself.  They demonstrate how carrying out a rite mandated by God does not flaunt sexual prowess but restricts it.  The act indicates their intention of raising the child in every way that the Lord commands.  Indeed, circumcision implies that the parents do not own their son but that he is a gift from God entrusted to their care. 

It may not seem fair that this sacred rite is reserved for males.  However, we need to take note that the Bible is not concerned about equality in the same way as western humanity.  The sad fact is that men need this reminder of duty and chastity much more than woman since nature allows them to distance themselves from the actual birthing of children.  Perhaps it is significant that Baptism, which functions socially in ways similar to circumcision, is obligatory for female as well as male Christians.  We recognize the tendency to sin in everyone and the way out of sin’s morass is not primarily by reminding a person of his or her duty.  Rather it comes through the work of the Spirit given through the water and the profession of faith.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 16:1-12.15-16; Matthew 7:21-29)

At the end of today’s gospel passage the crowds are described as “astonished.”  It is not what Jesus says that amazes them but how he speaks.  He teaches with authority; that is with both truth and conviction.  He boldly condemns those who call him Lord but do not do his will.  He artfully compares them to a fool who builds a house on sand that will be swept away in a flood.

The passage ends the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ initial discourse in the Gospel of Matthew.  The evangelist has presented him as no less than a divine figure who may be called for now the Son of God.  Of course, this identity was already revealed in the infancy narrative at the beginning of the gospel.  But now its meaning is more defined.  Jesus comes to teach true righteousness that comes to pass only with the grace of God on one who turns her mind to perfection.

The end of the section gives us a pause to take stock.  Are we willing to follow the blueprint to holiness that Jesus has just drawn in the Sermon?  In many ways it runs counter to both our culture and our desires.  But it leads to the happiness that Jesus proclaimed at the beginning of the discourse – the Kingdom of heaven.