Monday, November 2, 2015

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day)

(Wisdom 3:1-9; Romans 5:5-11; John 6:37-40)

The preacher declared, “We all go to purgatory when we die.”  Then he gave his reasoning: since no one on this earth is perfect, everyone dies in need of purification. 

On one level the preacher may be too hopeful.  Evil does exist, and some people submit to it.  We pray that no one is condemned to hell, but we must not forego the possibility.  On another level, the preacher may not be optimistic enough.  There are a few who live spectacularly holy lives and are duly accorded heaven at death.  But generally the preacher has it right.  Most people never fully give up selfishness and will need some work before daring to show their face to God.

Today we pray for the dead hoping that in time other people will pray for us.  Purgatory may not be the dreadful fire that is sometimes depicted.  We could think of it as a kind of program for substance abusers.  As cozy as some programs appear to be, participants invariably want to return to their families.  Just so, the souls in purgatory long to be with God.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 15:14-21; Luke 16:1-8)

Once an ecumenical group of ministers was discussing a gospel passage much like the one we read today.  The ministers were nonplussed at the obvious implication that people should help others out of their own self-interests.  Is love really the motivator, the ministers seemed to ask themselves, if ones benefits from the action?

The ministers were responding from the perspective of the influential Lutheran theologian, Anders Nygren.  Intolerant of self-love, Nygren drove a wedge between real love, which he termed agape or divine love, and acquisitive love, which since the Greek philosophers has been called eros.  According to Nygren, the former has nothing to do with the latter.  He would label any action falling short of pure selflessness as unworthy of Christianity and revelatory of fallen human nature.

But Nygren’s thesis does not adequately account for how humans are created.  We are hard-wired, as they say, to seek happiness.  Christ has revealed that this happiness is found in God alone, which is eternal life.  It is not selfish to seek eternal life.  Most people will admit this when they see that it requires denial of at least some temporal goods.  With this distinction in mind Jesus in the gospel today shows his disciples that they, like the parable’s steward, must show kindness to the poor, who are like the parable’s debtors, so that God will in turn favor them.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:31b-39; Luke 13:31-35)

Fr. Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J., was one of St. Paul’s best commentators during the twentieth century.  He wrote widely-read studies on Paul’s theology, his Letter to the Romans, as well as other New Testament works.  His discussion of today’s passage is interesting for what it does not say.  Rather than exult the passage as one of the greatest inspirational pieces of the Bible, he seems to downplay it as “rhetorical” with “(n)o little emotional language.”

Paul is summing up the theme of Romans 8.  Christians are at war with the flesh pulling in the way of death and opposite way to life.  It would be a hopeless struggle without the Spirit of Christ strengthening our resolve from within.  As difficult as the struggle can become, nothing -- Paul writes in today’s passage -- can separate us from Christ.  Full redemption is on the way.  Christians must not give up the fight. 

The war that Paul describes is as much a reality today as in his time.  Sexual excess, encouraged by libertinism, consumes individuals and destroys families.  We look to Christ as a model and, more importantly, as the source of resistance.  Giving ourselves over to him will bring victory in the struggle and peace in the heart.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Feast of Saint Simon and Saint Jude, apostles

(Ephesians 2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16)

Toward the end of the calendar year, today we honor the least of the twelve apostles.  With the exception of Judas, the betrayer, Simon the Zealot, and Judas, the son of James, are always listed last in the lists of Jesus intimate circle.  Interestingly, in Luke’s gospel, from which we read today, Judas is listed before Simon.  In Matthew and Mark, however, Judas, or actually Thaddeus whom we associate with Judas, has the final position.

We might ask ourselves why.  It could be that these apostles are the most obscure.  That is they left the least historical record.  By the time of the writing of the gospels, at least a generation after Jesus’ death, almost nothing was remember of them.  In any case the two offer us valuable instructions today.

Simon is mentioned as a Zealot, which is one particularly fervent about religion.  In time Zealots will take up arms to free Israel from Roman rule.  But it would be wrong to equate Simon with later revolutionaries.  He does show us that Jesus includes all kinds of people among his disciples.  There are tax collectors willing to cooperate with foreign rulers and zealots who mistrust Romans as much as cats mistrust dogs.

Because Judas’ name is the same as the traitor’s, in English at least we prefer to call him “Jude.”  There are legends of his whereabouts in the first century, but for the most part his fate is unknown.  Yet he has become one of the most popular of apostles.  The reason for this is simple.  Many people identify with St. Jude because they feel lowly like him.  His popularity gives witness to the saying of Jesus that the last shall be first in God’s kingdom.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:18-25; Luke 13:18-21)

Once before the trend against apartheid in South Africa gained momentum, a Christian minister was asked if Nelson Mandela would ever be released from prison.  The minister did not hesitate a second to say of course he would be “even if it is ten years after his death.”  Then he explained that the Blacks of South Africa equated their freedom with Mandela’s release.  And they were absolutely sure that one day they would be liberated.  Such is the hope of which St. Paul writes in today’s first reading.

Paul is certain that his fellow Christians will experience the glory of the resurrected Christ.  But he is not sure when and how this revelation will come about nor even what it will look like.  This is akin to saying that heaven is an unknown quantity still to be revealed.  But Paul is not troubled by the wait in darkness.  He realizes that true hope does not involve things that can be seen, but mysteries of which humans can only imagine.

What will heaven be like?  A city with roads paved in gold?  A telephone that translates our thoughts into words without our having to say or write anything?  These kinds of commodities could hardly approach the glory of Christ.  Let us dream some more.  Heaven is where everyone treats us like we want to be treated, and we treat everyone with equal attention.  It is feeling so secure about being loved that we are kind to everyone.  It is the peace of being surrounded by friends and enjoying a hearty meal.  Heaven is worth waiting for with endurance.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:12-17;Luke 13:10-17)

An old Catholic family was living in the South during the Civil War.  The family had a slave who continued to stay with it after emancipation.  When the woman died, she was buried in the family plot.  The inscription on her grave read that the woman served the family so long and faithfully that she became one of its members.  Such is the kind of adoption to which St. Paul refers in the first reading today.

Paul reminds his readers that Christ has freed them from slavery to the flesh.  They no longer have to appease the desire for every creaturely pleasure.  Rather the Spirit of love has been poured into their hearts.  Now imitating the goodness of God, they can live for others.  Their expectation is nothing less than the glory of Christ resurrected from the dead.

Sometimes we feel that the only consolation in life is precisely some physical pleasure.  Some even try to justify an illicit affair as “only natural.”  Christ offers something more both in at the end of our days and in the current struggle.  The companionship we offer one another in the Church is palpable.  Satisfying as well is the sense that when we suffer, we join ourselves to Christ.  Because of him and for the sake of our sisters and brothers in the Church, we strive to live every day in God’s grace.