Thursday, September 1, 2016

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 3:18-23; Luke 5:1-11)

When people win at a slot machine in a casino, almost invariably they play again.  Whether they think they may be on a winning streak or feel a pang to give back some of what they have taken, they feed the slot at least one more coin.  Fishing may be compared to gaming inasmuch as some luck is involved.  Therefore, one might expect Simon, James, and John to go into the deep at least one more time after the miraculous catch they make in today’s gospel.

But the account indicates that the three do not even bother to sell the fish that they have hauled in.  Rather, they leave at once everything to follow Jesus.  Their reason is obvious.  Despite the fact that Jesus is “Lord” in whose presence they cannot help but feel unworthy, he has called them to follow him.  At this point returning to fisherman’s life would be like a janitor going back to mopping floors after hitting the lottery.

Jesus also calls us to follow him.  This does not mean that we have to leave our careers and homes.  But it demands that we consider our lives in a new way.  We will no longer live to please ourselves but to serve him.  Whether we are builders or beauticians, teachers or truck drivers, we will work with his righteousness.  We will also share our faith in Jesus with those who are around us.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 3:1-9; Luke 4:38-44)

In today’s first reading St. Paul addresses a division in the Christian community at Corinth.  He urges those who see themselves as disciples of Apollo and those who claim to be followers of Paul himself to end their rivalry.  In today’s Church there is evidence of a similar disunity.  Many Catholics consider themselves as conservative while others describe themselves as liberal or progressive.  The two sides also have their heroes.  St. John Paul II represents the conservative contingent, and Pope Francis is taken as the standard-bearer of the liberals.

Paul recognizes the foolishness of such division.  He accuses those who participate in the rivalry as “fleshy people,” no more than “infants” in the faith.  He desires that the community reimage itself as a whole that has been assisted be both himself and Apollo.  Finally, he exhorts all members to understand themselves as God’s children.

As much as we allow the conservative-liberal dichotomy to thrive, our gospel message will be weakened.  Certainly there are different mindsets among Church members.  However, on close inspection there are ways in which some conservatives share values more with liberals, and vice versa, than with their own cohorts.  More importantly, the common ground of both sectors is vast and differs significantly from secular territory.  For the sake of the gospel then and for the needed support we provide one another, we must strive to overcome division.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 2:10b-16; Luke 4:31-37)

An American recently wrote an article about her experience living in a community of L’Arche in Italy.  L’Arche pairs people with severe disabilities with more regularly healthy people.  The writer described being alone with Fabio, a deaf mute with a broken face and below average mental capacity.  She said that she and Fabio were in the community chapel gazing at the crucifix when Fabio opened his arms as if he meant to embrace Jesus or, perhaps, in imitation of Jesus sacrificing himself for the world.  After remaining in this pose a while, Fabio turned to embrace the writer – a gesture which invited her into the brokenness of the cross and Fabio’s own brokenness.  The writer too opened her arms and smiled back at Fabio.  She said that she never felt more whole than she did at that moment when Fabio enabled her to experience a touch of Christ’s love for the world.  St. Paul writes of this experience in today’s first reading.

The passage does not mean to criticize true wisdom.  When it speaks of the “spirit of the world,” it is referring to the competition for fame, fortune, and pleasure that drives humans everywhere.  It recognizes the futility of such pursuit and recommends a more authentic spiritual quest.  It advocates putting on “the mind of Christ” which inclines people not to worry about their own needs so much as to assist others with theirs.

Of course, we normally reel at the prospect of such sacrifice.  We want to enjoy as many of the comforts of life as we can afford.  But on deeper reflection we realize that as Christ died on the cross and rose to glory out of love for us so we will share his resurrected life the more we die to self. 

Monday, August 29, 2016

Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

(I Corinthians 2:15; Mark 6:17-29)

This summer the archdiocesan schools of Chicago have publicized a prayer for a peaceful summer.  They are not making a conventional plea of goodwill among all people.  Rather the city’s ghettos have become battlegrounds that threaten the lives of children.   Such wanton violence claims Jesus’ forerunner in today’s gospel.

John has preached the coming of one greater than he to impart the Spirit of holiness.  He was arrested by King Herod for condemning the king’s unlawful marriage.  Now he is killed out of the spite felt by the king’s wife.  John has shown himself to be a true prophet by announcing God’s will to the world and suffering dire consequences for it.

We honor John today for pointing the way to Jesus.  We give both Jesus and John honor by working to end violence.  We can strive to eliminate violence from our thoughts and our tongues.  We can also teach children to do likewise.   

Friday, August 26, 2016

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 1:17-25; M
atthew 25:1-13)

Light is the first product of God’s creation.  Besides Jesus himself light becomes God’s finest gift to humankind.  Light enables people to see and, by analogy, to discern and understand.  For this reason, Jesus is referred to as the “light for revelation to the Gentiles” in the gospel of Luke and the “light of the world” in John. 

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew’s gospel, he tells his disciples, “...your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”  In today’s reading, which comes from his last public discourse, Jesus refers to light again.  The five virgins with enough oil to keep their lamps burning brightly have stocked their lives with good deeds and are now prepared to greet the bridegroom who is Christ.  Meanwhile, the five who whose oil runs out are those whose supply of good deeds is scant.  They will miss their heart’s desire when he arrives.

Many of us would help others if asked yet are hesitant to seek out opportunities.  As a result, many real needs go unmet.  Prisoners needing visitors, hospitals needing volunteers, and night shelters needing helpers only begin to name possibilities for those who desire to fulfill Jesus’ command to his disciples.  Such services take time, but the deeper question is commitment.  How much of ourselves are we willing to give to the Lord now so that we might be his forever?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 1:1-9; Matthew 24:42-51)

 “The Ballad of Father Gilligan” by poet Y.B. Yeats tells the story of a faithful country curate.  The priest has grown weary from anointing many parishioners before they die.  When he is called late at night to anoint yet another, he prays a moment before leaving and falls into a slumber.  Awakening in the morning, he rushes to the dying man’s house to discover that he is too late.  The man’s widow then tells the priest that her husband died happy to have been visited by the priest.  Evidently, God had taken pity on the curate by sending an angel in his place to anoint the dying man.  The priest can be compared to the faithful and prudent servant that Jesus mentions in today’s gospel. 

The passage applies especially to Church leaders.  Put in charge of God’s household, they are expected to serve faithfully and well.  If they carry out their duties, they will receive a blessing.  If they are negligent or abusive, however, they will be punished very severely.

The parable also applies to parents who head families and, indeed, to all of us with responsibility for others.  Christ demands that we faithfully discharge our duties.  Failing to do so will result in disaster.  Caring for those in our charge, on the other hand, will find us in God’s favor.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, apostle

(Revelation 21:9b-14; John 1:45-51)

How is it that on the Feast of St. Bartholomew, apostle, we hear a gospel story about Nathanael?  It is not an oversight.  On the lists of apostles in the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the name Bartholomew always appears paired with Philip.  In John’s gospel, which makes no mention of a Bartholomew, Nathanael appears as a friend of Philip.  The Church, therefore, has assumed that Nathanael and Bartholomew are the same person.  Also, Bartholomew may be a surname since bar in Hebrew means son of.  Perhaps then the celebration today is more properly the Feast of St. Nathanael Bartholomew!

As interesting as the apostle’s name may be, we commemorate him today for something more.  In today’s gospel he proclaims Jesus “the Son of God (and) King of Israel.”  At the end of John’s gospel Thomas calls Jesus “my Lord and my God.”  But he will have the advantage of seeing him after the resurrection.  Nathanael’s insight into Jesus’ identity comes from his being, as Jesus says, “a true child of Israel.” This means that he has faithfully waited for the Lord to send his servant for the redemption of His people.  Now the Messiah is here, as Nathanael says, the Son and King.

As St. Nathaniel Bartholomew and all true Israelites waited for the Messiah’s coming, we and all true Christians wait for his return.  We yearn for him to tell us secrets about ourselves as he does about Nathanael in the gospel today.  After two millennia we would feel frustrated if there were no evidence that he is close at hand.  But such testimony is available. Jesus is present to us in word and sacrament.  Attentive to these, we discover who we are and where we are destined. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Memorial of Saint Rose of Lima, virgin

(II Thessalonians 2:1-3a.14-17; Matthew 23:23-26)

A priest ministering to the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s congregation, rightly feels humbled.  The sisters sit at his feet attentive to every word that he utters. The priest knows that they, more faithfully than he, carry out the work of Jesus in their meticulous service to the poorest of the poor.  In her daily life St. Rose of Lima demonstrated as great self-effacement and dedication as the Missionaries of Charity.  Her care for the poor was overshadowed only by other acts of piety as she demonstrated love for God to the edification of an entire city.

Today’s first reading offers a blessing to the community of Christians at Thessalonica.  It expresses the desire that the people remain committed to the teachings of Christ.  Evidently, they were rankled by new ideas at odds with what St. Paul taught.  No, the letter implies, they are to keep the faith, assist, the poor, and support one another.

The practice of the saints should move us from self-concern to devotion to others.  Certainly there is no shortage of self-love in our times deafening us to the teachings of Christ.  Thankfully, we have saints today as much as in times past to show us that God commands us to purify our love for others. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(II Thessalonians 1:1-5.11-12; Matthew 23:13-21)

Sometimes people cross their fingers when telling a lie.  The gesture is supposed to ward off the guilt of the lie.  The crossed fingers supposedly represent the cross of Jesus which saved humanity from their sins.  But crossed fingers will no more protect people from the guilt of lying than the phrases used by the Pharisees in today’s gospel will excuse them from responsibility of what they say.

Jesus does not stomach hypocrisy.  He expects people’s actions to conform to their words.  He does not accept the Pharisees’ reasoning that the lesser authorities they invoke as witnesses somehow frees them from the oaths they take.  He wants all people to do what they say, to say what they think, and to think in righteous ways.  He would count anything less than this standard as malicious.

Jesus continually challenges us to be better than the standards set by ourselves and by society.  We should strive to meet his demands but also realize that he died on the cross to make up for our failures.  We should use the sign of the cross then not as an excuse to lie but as our way to implore Jesus’ mercy.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 37:1-14; Matthew 22:34-40)

Soon Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are going to be tested.  They will answer reporters’ questions meant to trip them up.  Both presidential candidates will try to appear unflappable.  If they fail to appear in control, they will lose the confidence of voters.  Jesus finds himself in a similar situation in today’s gospel.

The passage begins with the declaration that Jesus has successfully countered the challenges of the Sadducees or priestly tribe.  Now the Pharisees take a last shot at him.  A scholar among them asks Jesus to name the greatest commandment.  Will he give the first commandment directing humans not to worships idols?  Or might he dare to talk about love of enemy as being all important?  Jesus keeps his priorities in line.  First, humans are to love God.  Then their love of God is to overflow in love for neighbor as much as one loves oneself.  There is no more to be said.  Jesus has successfully fended off the attack of wits.

We should never deceive ourselves into thinking that one can love one’s neighbor without loving God.  Sooner or later such a love will disintegrate because it lacks the font of love which is God Himself.  It would be like trying to watering a garden without a connection to the water supply.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 36:23-28; Matthew 22:1-14)

When the Puritans arrived in Boston Harbor, John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Company gave a famous sermon.  Invoking Jesus’ call to his disciples, he told the immigrants that they were going to be like a “city on the hill.”  That is, they were to exemplify Christian unity and charity to the world.  The words may also be traced to Ezekiel in today’s first reading.

Israel has been devastated.  Its peoples have been scattered throughout the Middle East.  Their future appears hopeless.  Into this dark abyss, the prophet announces a new beginning.  Speaking with God’s voice, he says the people will be reunited in holiness.  They will be cleansed of impurities, and their hearts of stone will be replaced by ones of flesh.  They will then live as a model for all to see.

Christ fulfills this promise with the Church.  He sprinkles us with the waters of Baptism to cleanse us of our sins.  He nourishes us with the Eucharistic food so that we might work for a better world.  We falter at times, but the world still takes note.  Everyone recognizes that being Christian means, above all, caring for others

Wednesday, August 17, 2017

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 34:1-11; Matthew 20:1-16)

To turn green with envy is to show a very sick complexion.  It is used to indicate the sickness of soul that imbues people who resent the good fortune of others.  They cannot understand that they have no right to what others possess.  They would rather sulk in their lack of some desired good than be grateful for they have.  Envy colors some of the laborers in Jesus’ parable today.

Reading this parable, one must remember that Jesus is not giving a framework for worker relations.  Trying to justify paying workers the same wage for different amounts of work would be trying to square a circle.  Jesus’ intention lies elsewhere.  He wants to explain how God’s mercy extends to all people and will ultimately meet everyone’s needs.  Those who worked the whole day receive a just wage.  They may be content that the owner of the vineyard paid what was agreed upon.  Those who work only the last hour but receive the same wage should be grateful that they have enough to feed their families.  God dispenses graces freely, but He does not deny anyone his Holy Spirit.

We ought to be careful that envy does not overtake us.  It happens when we think too highly of ourselves or too little of others.  A much healthier tack in life is to cultivate gratitude.  We should daily recall God’s goodness and strive to use our talents for the benefit of all.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 28:1-10; Matthew 19:23-30)

The sports car wove in and out of three lanes as it moved up the highway.  It easily exceeded the sixty mile per hour speed limit, perhaps reaching eighty or more.  Its driver, succumbing to the same temptation as Eve in the garden, was acting as if he were a god.  Defying both traffic laws and death, the driver evidently thought that the limitations which felt by most humans did not apply to him.  We hear of the same kind of arrogance in the reading from Ezekiel today.

The prophet notes that the prince of Tyre calls himself a god.  The prince has accumulated a hefty treasure by his commercial acumen.  His fault is that, like other rich people, he thinks that his money insulates him from loss.  Ezekiel predicts that he will come to a violent end because he does not recognize his vulnerability.  He is not a god but a man doomed to an ignoble death.

Centuries later Jesus shows what real godly behavior looks like.  He turns on end every social expectation of a god.  He lords over no one.  He does not even own anything.  Rather he serves all, choosing to be last so that his Father, if it is his will, can make him first.