Monday, August 1, 2016

Memorial of Saint Alfonso Ligouri, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Jeremiah 28:1-17; Matthew 14:13-21)

Philosopher Robert Solomon understands grief as a continuation of love.  He sees people in grief coming to terms with the fact that they will see their loved ones no more.  Seeking seclusion, the grieving try to understand what the dead meant to them and resolve how they will carry on without them.  Thus, grieving is a process leading to action.  In today’s gospel Jesus is seen retreating so that he might come to terms with the assassination of his mentor, John the Baptist.

Jesus became a disciple of John in the desert.  After his baptism, Jesus went his own way, but the two kept in touch.  Now Jesus has to consider his destiny in light of how John, an equally popular prophet, was mistreated.  He is not allowed much time.  The crowd searches him out.  He resolves to throw himself on the mercy of the Father.  He will continue his mission of reuniting the twelve tribes of Israel.  To show his care for them, he petitions his Father to supply enough for all to eat.  Then he witnesses the Father’s immediate and gratifying response.

The food that Jesus’ intercession produces is rightly seen as Eucharistic.  We partake of it when we break bread in Jesus’ name at mass.  It first draws us together in him and then sends us out to others.  We continue Jesus’ labor of reconciling the peoples of the world.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Memorial of Saint Martha

(Jeremiah 29:1-9; John 11:19-27)

Perhaps no actor in America has been as cherished as Lucille Ball.  She became famous in the television series “I Love Lucy” of the early 1950s.  Her performances in different episodes are still regularly cited.  Lucy was so very human with most of the virtues and some of the shortcomings that describe the best of us.  She can be compared with the character of Martha in the gospels. 

Martha is well described as a friend of Jesus.  She does not hesitate to ask his assistance in the famous passage from the Gospel of Luke.  She also seems intimate enough with Jesus to question his behavior without worrying about loss of affection.  In today’s gospel she implies a criticism of Jesus for delaying his trip to Bethany.  But above all Martha shows extraordinary regard for Jesus as she recognizes him as “the Christ, the Son of God.” 

Martha’s relationship with the Lord should encourage all of us.  Like her we often find ourselves hitting our heads for talking too much. We may even wonder like her why it takes so long for Jesus to respond to our needs.  But once again like her we believe that he is the Christ who has come into the world to lead us to eternal life.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 18:1-6; Matthew 13:47-53)

Author Graham Greene once wrote of his preference for the Gospel according to John.  He liked the fourth gospel because it does not say anything about damnation and hell fire.  It only talks of eternal life.  The Gospel according to Matthew, on the other hand, seems to relish images of punishment like in today’s passage, “wailing and the grinding of teeth.”

Jesus is speaking of the Kingdom of heaven being like a dragnet which captures both good and bad fish.  Although he says that the good fish will be set aside in buckets, he seems to emphasize the bad which will be thrown away.  He adds that it will be this way with wicked people who will be cast into “the fiery furnace” at the end of time.

It has become fashionable to claim that no one may be in hell.  But shouldn’t that thesis make us wonder whether justice is rendered in the world?  It seems obvious that some people deliberately choose to do evil.  Purgatory -- an intensive purifying experience – may provide a solution to the dilemma.  Or perhaps the wicked are just left for oblivion without either the burning or beatitude?  In any case we should keep in mind that Jesus’ purpose in speaking about hell is always to spur us to do what is right.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 15:10.16-21; Matthew 13:44-46)

Webster defines jeremiad as a “lamentation or tale of woe.”  The word is derived from the prophet Jeremiah’s frequent complaints.  Jeremiads may be found in both the book which bears the prophet's name and the Book of Lamentations.  The latter work, however, was probably not the work of the prophet.  Today’s first reading presents a good example of a jeremiad.

Jeremiah has tried to tell the people that they have incurred God’s wrath.  He has warned them that their infidelity and idolatry have resulted in Babylon’s army coming to invade Jerusalem.  But the people do not want to hear his message of woe.  They reject him and leave him like a coyote howling in the hills. 

Jeremiah’s only recourse is to God.  He complains that he has been faithful, but God has not reciprocated.  Then he hears the Lord’s judgment.  If Jeremiah repents of his feeling sorry for himself, God will make him victorious over those who revile him.

We should feel free like Jeremiah to take our complaints to the Lord in prayer.  Perhaps it is a problem with an abusive son or daughter that troubles us.  God will hear us but will also want us to be just and firm in our response to the difficulty.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Memorial of Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Jeremiah 14:17-22; Matthew 13:36-43)

According to a non-canonical gospel Joachim and Anne are the parents of Mary.  Nothing is known about them with certainty, not even their names.   Of course, Mary had to have parents.  Because she is so saintly, it is likely that her parents were good people.  They may serve as a model for the good seed in today’s gospel.

The passage explains the parable of the wheat and the weeds.  The good seed produces a brilliant harvest.  After the weeds have been picked and discarded, the harvest appears as glorious as gold.  Such are the lives of the good.  They may be as humble as dirt, but whatever they do bears the fragrance of love for others.

This feast of Joachim and Anne, the grandparents of Jesus, provide us an opportunity to reflect on the role of our grandparents in our faith development.  Some of us have had the blessing of pious grandparents caring and praying for us.  Often enough our grandparents, chastened by experience, have demonstrated a sure and steady faith.  Their peace has challenged the presumption that the world is necessarily becoming wiser and happier.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Feast of Saint James, apostle

(II Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 20:20-28)

People were gathering in a bar in New York City to have a drink after work seven months after nine-eleven.  A young marine in full dress was standing at the bar with two older men, possibly his dad and uncle.  At one table sat a group of outdoor workmen; at another a group of office women.  Into the room walked two men wearing NYFD tee shirts.  Perhaps because they were wearing boots as well, no one seemed to doubt that they were really firemen.  Everything stopped as all the customers rose to their feet.  The marine turned around and gave the fireman a full salute.  Everyone else followed suit.  The bartender poured the firemen drinks, and all went back to what it had been.  Today the Church honors St. James with the same instinct that captured the attention of that crowd in the bar after nine-eleven. 

St. James was the first of the apostles on record to have been martyred for the sake of Christ.  The Acts of the Apostles mentions that he was executed by order of King Herod.  In time all of the others except St. John are believed to have similarly given their lives as a witness to Christ.  For this reason they are venerated as James today with a proper feast day.

After so many centuries we have lost some of the fervor in honoring the apostle-martyrs.  But we should never neglect to observe their feast days but less forget their stories.  In the first reading Paul, also an apostle-martyr, explains why.  They suffered travails as well as death so that we might know Jesus Christ who gives us eternal life.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene
(Song of Songs 3:1-4b; John 20:1-2.11-18)

The Dominicans, the Order of Preachers, for centuries have honored St. Mary Magdalene as one of their patrons.  Their motive has been the same that recently moved Pope Francis to raise her memorial day to a full-fledged feast.  As the Dominicans see themselves sent to proclaim the gospel, they take after Mary Magdalene whom Jesus dispatches to his apostles with the news of his resurrection.  

Dominicans should strive to imitate Mary Magdalene’s love for the Lord as well.  Luke will name her first among the women who accompany Jesus and his disciples in their mission of preaching the Kingdom.  In John’s gospel, Mary stands at the foot of the cross and goes alone to his grave.  She not only esteems Jesus’ goodness but also possesses the valor to be identified with him.

Mary really serves as a model for all Christians.  All of us, as again Luke describes her, have been exorcised of the demons of rebelliousness and self-righteousness.  All of us are called to follow Jesus which will only move us to love him more.  All of us are urged to proclaim Jesus’ new life, which is ours, by acts of selfless love.  

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 2:1-3.7-8.12-13; Matthew 13:10-17)

Flannery O’Connor has been called the greatest American Catholic novelist.  Yet her novels are seldom about Catholics.  Rather they concern the working of grace in very peculiar Bible-belt Protestants.  Once she was asked why she wrote about such strange characters.  She answered that when people are near deaf, you have to shout. 

Jesus responds similarly to the question, “Why do you speak to the crowd in parables?”  People need such on-the-money stories to wake them up to God’s goodness.  The parables proclaim that God is so generous he will pay laborers who work but an hour a full day’s wage.  They say that God’s kingdom is such a treasure that it is worth making any sacrifice to attain.  Unfortunately, in a world of diversions from home entertainment systems and iPhones Jesus’ message does not always get through.

Some people see parables as make believe.  They say that since the Kingdom does not bring immediate gratification, it is not worth pondering, much less pursuing.  But the parables have been validated by Jesus’ own experience. His eating with sinners became the search of the shepherd for the lost sheep.   His crucifixion became the seed that dies in order to produce abundant life.  Because of Jesus’ life witness the parables not only entertain us, they also move us to follow him.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 1:1.4-10; Matthew 13:1-9)

It is said that Joseph Kennedy, Sr., raised his son Joseph, Jr., to be president.  When the younger Joseph Kennedy was killed in World War II, the elder turned his attention to his second son, John.  In today’s first reading the Lord God has a similar design for Jeremiah, the prophet.

Jeremiah hears a call from God.  He understands that God wants him to speak on His behalf.   But, he argues, he is too young for such a responsibility.  He is told not to fear.  He has been prepared for the mission since before his birth and will be accompanied by the Lord Himself every step of the way.

God knows each of us in such an intimate way – all seven billion of the earth’s present inhabitants and the countless numbers who preceded us.  He has a mission for us as well.  He wants us to root up the walls of fear that separate us from others.  In their place He wants us to build bridges of mutual love. As daunting as it seems at times, the challenge is not too great since God has promised to be our strength.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Micah 7:14-15.10; Matthew 12:46-50)

Robert Kennedy was President’s John Kennedy’s closest advisor.  He had a Harvard education and considerable experience.  But the president confided in him because they shared the same family and background.  Robert couldn’t betray John without betraying himself.  More importantly, Robert understood John’s way of thinking and could confidently tell him when he believed that he was mistaken.  In today’s gospel Jesus recognizes his disciples as having a similar relationship with him.

When Jesus is informed that his parents wish to speak to him, he surprisingly does not stop his presentation to see them.  Rather he acknowledges that he is establishing a new family precisely with his preaching.  Those who heed his words by doing the will of God, his Father, he considers true family.  To the extent that his own blood relatives love others, they too become his “brother and sister and mother.”

We should see in Jesus’ statement here an offer to know him intimately.  He has come to share with us his intimate thoughts and desires.  We won’t have to correct any of his ideas.  We only can profit by feeling his love for us and following his wisdom.