Thursday, October 1, 2015

Memorial of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus

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

Lalia Ilivia Jones, a ninety-seven year-old African-American woman, died on August 24 at the Dominican Monastery in Marbury, Alabama.  She had entered the monastery seventy years ago, only a year after being accepted into the Church.  However, her biographer points out, Lalia Jones had converted to the Catholic faith at age six after witnessing a Catholic Mass.   Sr. Mary of the Rosary, as she was called, desired to serve God “like the Little Flower.” It is the Little Flower, St. Therese of Lisieux, whose feast we celebrate today.

St. Therese is one of the most popular saints in history.  Yet she hardly left the little town in which she was raised and where her convent was located.  Although she had some aspiration to be a missionary, she realized that her vocation was as a contemplative.  But she never abandoned the missionary ideal.  She prayed fervently for missionaries and has been declared their co-patron. 

In today’s gospel Jesus sends seventy-two disciples on an apostolic mission.  He also directs them to pray that God will send multiple workers into the fields of souls.  This is the same prayer that Sr. Mary of the Rosary and St. Therese of Lisieux took up.  Now it is felt sure that their prayer is being continued face to face with the master of the harvest.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Memorial of St. Jerome, priest

(Nehemiah 2:1-8; Luke 9:57-62)

Howsoever modern times may have diluted the Catholic faith, they have made the choice to follow Christ as a religious or priest more radical.  It is said that when families were large and incomes were small, Catholic parents would almost designate one or two children as nuns and/or priests.  Now in contrast, when the average family has only one, two, or possibly three children, parents want to assure themselves of grandchildren.  They no longer promote vocations as much as they indicate to their children that they are hoping to have grandchildren.  In some cases a young person has to almost turn her or his back on the family to enter a seminary or convent.

This gospel passage today provokes this kind of radicalness as it deals with the difficulty of discipleship.  Jesus’ followers are called to sleep under the stars, to be absent from their homes when parents die, and indeed to leave aside totally family concerns.  However, a problem emerges.  Christian discipleship extends far beyond religious life and the priesthood.  Both married and single persons are called to follow Christ with the same kind of radicalness that we find in the gospel. 

Married couples who adhere to Church teaching on artificial contraception certainly swim against the tide of convention and ease.  Single persons who dedicate their lives to caring for others – be they young students or aged parents – while adhering to Catholic moral norms certainly will find struggle part of the package.  The key to Christian discipleship is letting go of personal desires to live as Jesus want us to.  This takes radical commitment in any time or place.  We can accomplish it with joy only by accepting God’s infinitely more radical love.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels

(Revelation 12:7-12ab; John 1:47-51)

In Shakespeare’s famous play, Hamlet is alone when his father’s ghost reveals how he was murdered.  Then Hamlet’s friends arrive asking what just happened.  Before he tells them, Hamlet demands an oath of secrecy.  At this point the voice of the ghost chimes in to underscore the need of secrecy.   Hearing the voice but seeing nothing, Hamlet’s companion exclaims, “...this is wondrous strange,” to which Hamlet counters, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Like Horatio says of the ghost’s voice, many people find the doctrine of angels “wondrous strange.”  Believing that only what they can see and hear actually exists, they doubt the reality of angels.  To paraphrase Hamlet, angels are not parts of their philosophy.  But we Catholics, who accept a spiritual order of reality, forthrightly admit the reality of angels.  As Scripture attests in numerous places, angels exist as God’s attendants carrying out His commands.

The stories of the three archangels further reveal how angels extend God’s mercy.  Michael wages war against Satan to free humans from tyranny; Gabriel announces the coming of mercy incarnate, Jesus Christ; and Raphael leads Tobias from peril to peace.  We should happily admit that God sends angels as means for reaching our eternal destiny. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Monday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary time

 (Zechariah 8:1-4; Luke 9:46-50)

Once Pope Francis scandalized some Catholics.  When he was archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Bergoglio, the future pope, prayed with evangelical Protestants.  He even knelt down for their blessing.  “How could he do that?” the people asked.  “Does he not know that past popes have condemned any kind of collaboration with Protestants?”  These people sound like John in today’s gospel.

When John saw a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name, he and the other disciples tried to stop him.  Perhaps he was only concerned that the man did not have Jesus’ permission to use his name.  It has been suggested, however, that John may have been envious because the disciple’s sometimes have trouble casting out demons themselves.  In any case Jesus corrects him.  It does not matter to Jesus that someone uses his name to do something good.  What is important is that everyone helps the poor and troubled live with dignity.

We might want to ask Jesus if it is necessary tan to be his disciple.  In other words, why are we Catholics?  Is it just because we have been brought up in the Catholic Church or that now most of our friends are Catholic?  These are insufficient motives.  No, we are Catholic because we hear Jesus’ words at mass at least every Sunday.  More importantly, we are Catholic because we are offered his body and blood at mass.  This is no mean gift, of course.  It might be compared to the love and the truth that the Church community has demonstrated for two thousand years!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(Haggai 2:1-9; Luke 9:18-22)

“Nine-eleven” was such an outrageous assault on the United States not only because it claimed so many lives but also because it attempted to destroy the nation’s dominant symbols.  Its perpetrators were able to bring down the World Trade Center, the symbol of economic power, and to damage the Pentagon, the symbol of military power.  The terrorists who hijacked the fourth airliner may well have targeted the White House or the Capitol – centers of political power before they were thwarted  The first reading today similarly focuses on a potent national symbol.

The Temple became the center of Jewish worship and of Jerusalem’s economic life.  Its original construction by King Solomon was laden with riches.  Its reconstruction after the Exile – the focus of the reading today – was necessarily humbler given the hardship of the people during these times.  Its final version, engineered by King Herod, contained the largest area dedicated to sacred worship in ancient times.  Jerusalemites lived off the revenue received from pilgrims visiting its confines.

The Roman army destroyed Herod’s Temple in 70 A.D., an event which ended the Jewish legacy of Temple worship.  The Gospels of Mark and Matthew, however, see the Temple functionally destroyed with the crucifixion of Jesus and then rebuilt in three days with his resurrection.  The new Temple, which is not a physical structure but a spiritual one, fulfills Haggai’s prophecy.  God has brought peace to earth because in the Body of Christ -- that is, the Church -- people of every nation give glory to God by living justly and lovingly.