Monday, February 1, 2016

Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Samuel 15:13-14.30.16:5-13; Mark 5:1-20)

“The Son of Saul” recently premiered in the United States.  It retells the story of the holocaust on the big-screen perhaps for the several hundredth time.  Of course, it has a new perspective -- showing the ordeal of giving a ritual burial in Auschwitz. Yet it raises the question whether another movie exposing the genocide of Jews is necessary.  Today’s first reading hints at an answer to the question.

King David is being betrayed by his son Absalom.  He has racked much ruthlessness in solidifying the Jewish people.  Now he has to pay the price of his sins.  He finds the people drifting to Absalom a man of David’s prowess but not his cunning.  David does not hide his faults.  He even refuses to stop a crazed man from proclaiming them in public. 

Egregious sins like David’s in his time and the twentieth century holocaust must be recollected.   They indicate the evil which humans are capable of perpetrating.  They also glimpse at what forgiveness after contrition brings.  David will die in bed.  Germans are the most reluctant people in Europe to experiment with physician-assisted suicide.  These stories tell more than good coming out of evil.  They show the need for repentance and reliance on God’s mercy.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Friday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

(II Samuel 11:1-4a.5-10a.13-17; Mark 4:26-34)

The words, “I am pregnant,” can bring joy or misery depending on their context.  When a young husband hears them, his heart leaps with hope.  But if they are spoken to a lecher like King David, they are wrought with desperation.  In order to hide his guilt, David has his paramour’s husband killed.  Today it is easier to go after the defenseless child.

Behind the emotions lies the truth about sexual intercourse.  As the Church has consistently taught, intercourse can contribute to human welfare.  Done within marriage, it may produce offspring assuring the perpetuation of family.  It also brings a greater sense of wholeness to the couple.  Carried out licentiously, on the other hand, intercourse may be initially gratifying but ultimately disturbs the natural order.  It will scar its perpetrators and jeopardize the welfare of their progeny.

Surmounting the challenge posed by illicit sexual desire requires fortitude.  As we know from the tragedies of kings as majestic as David, such strength of purpose is not readily achieved.  But our source of fortitude comes from the gospel.  Planted deep within our souls, the word of God spreads to all parts of our being.  It makes us as gracious as the mustard tree giving refuge to the birds.  It strengthens us like wheat growing tall in the field to resist pestilent desires.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Memorial of Saint Thomas Aquinas, priest

(2 Samuel 7:18-19.24-29; Mark 4:21-25)

The philosopher said that Thomas Aquinas did not have a sufficient appreciation of Scripture.  His words sounded odd to students of Aquinas.  Was the philosopher not aware that the academic position that Thomas held was “Master of the Sacred Page”?

There are still lively debates about whether Thomas was more a philosopher or a theologian.  With the new interest in cosmology, Thomas’ writings are cited as a kind of benchmark.  But he is no less looked to as the definitive voice up to his time on matters such as grace.  A distinguished contemporary theologian remembers the place where Thomas corrects St. Augustine, the preeminent doctor of grace. The question Thomas was disputing was whether charity exists within humans as simply the presence of the Holy Spirit or whether it becomes a specifically human capacity.  Augustine held the former view, but Thomas reasoned the contrary.  He held that if God extends true friendship to humans, humans must be able to love Him with their own mind and heart.  Therefore, charity exists within them not just as the presence of God but as their own transformed capacity to love Him as friends.

We should ask how we get this ability to love God as a friend.  The answer, of course, is through Jesus, who became one of us so that we might become divine like him.  We can find this happening right now in this Eucharist.  As Thomas wrote, in this sacred banquet Christ becomes our food and grace fills our hearts.  This same grace transforms our limited human nature so that we might turn to the awesome God as our best friend.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

 (II Samuel 7:4-11; Mark 4:1-20)

The La Salette Fathers of Attleboro, Massachusetts, called a building on their premises “Mark IV.”    The peculiar name did not refer to a man but to the Gospel of Mark.  The “IV” had to do with the gospel’s fourth chapter where Jesus preaches in parables.  It is from this page that today’s passage is taken.

Jesus uses parables to reveal God’s kingdom or, perhaps better, His goodness.  In today’s parable he says that the sower casts the seeds with great prodigality – a sign of generosity.  He compares the different places where the seed falls to people of different character.  But his point is that despite the loss of some seed, it still produces an abundant harvest.  He is telling his listeners that if they open themselves to God, He will produce in them wonderful results.

We are tempted to see this parable as exclusively analyzing people’s faults – weakness, shallowness, and worldliness.  We are wise to be wary of such traits in ourselves.  But to overcome their effect on us we should concentrate on God’s unrelenting love.  It is so wonderful that we cannot help but respond in kind to others.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Memorial of St. Timothy and St. Titus, bishops

(II Timothy 1:1-8; Mark 3:22-30)

The Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus follows on the heel of the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul because the two men assisted Paul in his missionary efforts.  Timothy accompanied Paul on part of his so-called second missionary journey and stayed with him in Corinth.  Later Paul places Timothy’s name with his own as the authors of the Second Letter to the Corinthians.  This same letter speaks of Titus as Paul’s emissary who brought a lost letter to the Corinthians after they evidently reacted to Paul’s scolding in First Corinthians.  In Second Corinthians Paul calls Titus, “my partner and co-worker with you.”

A few facts about Timothy and Titus can be gleaned from the New Testament.  Timothy was the son of a Greek father and Jewish mother.  Paul permitted him to be circumcised because of his Jewish heritage.  On the other hand, Paul insisted that Titus not be circumcised because he was of completely Gentile origins.  More significant than their personal stories is what the references to the two men in the New Testament reveal about Paul.  They indicate that he was hardly a one-person show.  Indeed, it seems that in part his ability to collaborate made his evangelizing efforts successful.  He also felt great affection for his associates and was magnanimous enough to mention them as contributors to his writing.

With the Church being hierarchical, some see it as non-collaborative.  But the Church needs the benefits of the gifts of all its members.  Collaboration promotes the development of these gifts by recognizing their existence and facilitating their use. Only with such collaboration can the Church fulfill its mission.