Friday, July 31, and Monday, August 3, 2015

Memorial of Saint Ignatius, priest

(Leviticus 23:1.4-11.15-16.34b-37; Matthew 13:54-58)

Jesus could have used other sayings to describe the reaction of the people of Nazareth to him in today’s gospel.  He might have said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  Rather than praising God that one of their own has been blessed to speak so well, the people question how he came by the wisdom. 

But, of course, familiarity does not always cause rejection.  St. Ignatius of Loyola immersed himself completely in the story of Jesus and wanted to organize a band of followers for him.  The name they chose is revealing, “The Company of Jesus” (often rendered “Society”).  Knowing him to be the source of goodness and truth, they desired to stay close to the Lord.

We may feel like despairing because we fail to measure up to Jesus.  That would, however, be a mistake.  He takes us where we are every day and assists us to do better.  Remaining in his company by sharing regularly with him the food and drink of the altar will make us more like him.

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Number 11:4b-15; Matthew 14:2-36)

Parish priests notoriously complain like Moses in the first reading today.  They feel oppressed by an unrelenting round of meetings, appointments, responsibilities, and requests.  But certainly pastors are not the only people stressed out in society.  Often parents feel overwhelmed by demands at home, school, work, and church. 

Moses’ appeal to the Lord demonstrates a lively relationship.  He shows little reservation about telling God how overburdened he feels.  On the brink of despair, he even mentions that death would be preferable to being badgered by so many requests.  God will answer Moses’ plea.  Advice is given on how to administer the people more proficiently.  Also, God will intervene more directly to aid his worthy friend.

We should confront stress in our lives on varied fronts.  We need to prioritize our responsibilities so that we give our best time to what is most important.  We need to make sure that we eat intelligently, exercise vigorously, and rest sufficiently.  Most importantly, we, like Moses here, should unabashedly appeal to God for assistance.

Wednesday, July 29, and Thursday, July 30, 2015

Memorial of Saint Martha

(Exodus 35:29-35; Luke 10:38-42)

It seems capricious of the Church to honor Martha with an obligatory feast while not giving at least similar distinction to her sister Mary.  After all, in Luke’s gospel even Jesus recognizes that Mary has acted more wisely than her sister.  However, if part of the Church’s strategy in naming saints is the edification of the faithful, we have to search for what Martha has to teach us.

First and most important, Martha shows us not to be shy about approaching Jesus.  He is our friend who will help us when we are perplexed, especially when our distress is over how the world is run.  Second, Martha provides one of the best examples of the virtue of hospitality in all the gospels.  She sacrifices herself to entertain Jesus just as the Benedictines remind us that we should treat every guest as if she or he were Jesus.  Finally, in the gospel of John Martha makes the same act of faith in Jesus as Peter does in the gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke when she calls him, “the Messiah, the Son of God.”

Martha may not have sat at Jesus’ feet, but she knows his worth.  We are wise to contemplate Jesus’ words like Mary and be ready to serve him like Martha.

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 40:16-21.34-38; Matthew 13:47-53)

 Years ago religious sisters taught their pupils to make room for the Holy Spirit.  They were to reject sin so that the Spirit would find in them a fitting place to reside.  The lesson may sound naive today, but it is not far from what the author of Exodus pictures Moses doing in the first reading.

The reading is quite emphatic about Moses being the builder of the Lord’s Dwelling.  Moses takes great pains to follow the instructions he had received for the Dwelling.  The result is obviously favorable.  The glory of the Lord fills the Dwelling like a cloud of smoke.  It serves as a guide leading the people through foreign terrain to the Promised Land.

Is it really too pious a thought to consider our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit?  The body, we might say, is the tent wherein lies the soul which the Holy Spirit occupies.  Like Moses we need to take care of our bodies with a healthy diet and exercise routine.  Even more important, we should avoid polluting our souls with sexual fantasies.  The Holy Spirit will guide us to our eternal destination when we invite it into such an orderly dwelling place.

Monday, July 27, and Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 32:14-24.30.34; Matthew 13:31-35)

In a famous remark John Lennon once boasted that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.  It was the brash statement of a rebellious youth, but it did indicate the hold that idols have on people’s consciousness.  Just as the Beatles commanded the attention of young people fifty years ago, the golden calf stirs the imagination of the Israelites in the reading from Exodus today.

What could the people have possibly seen in the golden calf made with their own hands?  Is it the magnificence of gold that gleamed in their eyes or the vitality that the image of a calf conjures?  In any case the object is sinful because the first commandment of the Decalogue prohibited such images.  They are to rivet attention on God who can fulfill all their needs.

Like the Israelites people today often turn created things into idols.  Some talk about food as if they lived only to eat.  Others seem preoccupied with electronic devices – the last phone or computer.  We must be wary of such pursuits to keep God in the forefront of our minds.  Only He provides what is necessary for a life truly worth living.

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary time

Exodus 33:7-11.34:5b-9.28; Matthew 13:36-43)
Years ago a movie entitled “The Bad Seed” showed an eight year-old girl twice committing murder.  It turned out that the child was the natural daughter of a serial killer.  The movie along with today’s gospel, which could be given the same title, asks the questions: Is the doing of evil predetermined by factors such as nature or, to take the contrary position, environment?  Or does each human person have a free will to choose right from wrong?
In the gospel Jesus uses a parable to illustrate why God allows evil to exist in the world.  He is not giving a philosophical discourse on its origins.  As the world knows, good and bad populate the earth simultaneously.  Jesus is saying that God allows the coexistence in order that the good may not be harmed in an attempt to eradicate evil.  But, he assures, in the end the good will remain and the wicked will be consumed. 

As research continually shows, both genetics and environment affect how we behave.  Yet there is a core choice that each person makes that supersedes these tendencies.  Those inclined toward aggressiveness can choose reconciliation.  Those raised in households virulent with lies can opt for the truth.  Christ will determine at the end of time the extent of each person’s achievement.  Our task is to pursue goodness as best as we can and to set example for others.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 20:1-17; Matthew 13:18-23)

People often speak of the necessity to set boundaries.  These are limits that allow relationships to develop without friction.  For example, a person may tell friends that he does not want to be called after 10 p.m.  Often boundaries are implied by the nature of a relationship.  Teachers should not date their students even when both are adults. 

In the first reading today God sets boundaries for humans.  Not keeping the Sabbath or stealing injures our relationship with the Lord.  It should be noted, however, that a literal observance of the Ten Commandments hardly fulfills one’s responsibilities as a Christian.  It is not enough that she refrain from worshipping idols; she must also love God with her whole mind and heart.  It is not enough that he not covet his neighbor’s wife; he must love his neighbor as himself.  This is why, when asked, Jesus did not name any of the Ten Commandments as the greatest.

In writing his moral theology Thomas Aquinas did not concentrate on the commandments.  He realized that if we are to come to know God, we have to do much more than follow rules.  We have to practice virtue.  This is a huge task that might exhaust us from the get-go except for the Holy Spirit.  God breathes this life into our bones so that we might not only avoid evil but also do lots of good.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 19:1-2. 9-11.16-20b; Matthew 13:10-17)

The beginning of today’s first reading positions the Jewish Feast of Shavuot (Hebrew for Weeks) and, consequently, the Christian feast of Pentecost.  “In the third month after their departure … from Egypt” can be fifty days or a week of weeks.  It is significant not just for the theophany related in today’s reading but the bestowal of the Ten Commandments in tomorrow’s.

The Feast of Weeks occasioned pilgrims from around the Jewish world to come to Jerusalem.  The Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples with like peals of thunder mentioned in the reading.  He is the New Law which recharges the Commandments so that they might be heeded.

Sometimes we wonder why we don’t have theophanies like Israel’s at Sinai or the Christian in Jerusalem.  We think that such an experience would fortify our faith.  Perhaps we do, however.  Perhaps when we meet a truly good person -- one who has lived for others all her life -- we can be sure that we are in the presence of God.