Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Solemnity of All Saints

(Revelation 7:2-4.9-14; I John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a)

Funerals of African-Americans in New Orleans lift participants to the hope promised in today’s readings.  Arriving at the cemetery, mourners step out of their cars and their sorrow.  They follow the casket in a dance of life.  It is not a moment of sadness but an occasion of God’s victory over death.  It is the time when the saints go marching in.

Today the Church joins the great procession of saints who have never been canonized to the ten thousand holy women and men officially recognized.  In doing so, she confirms our sense that people whom we have known share the glory of heaven.  These saints may include our gracious grandmother who always had a few pennies for us to buy a treat on the way to school.  They also may number our favorite teacher who not only taught us his or her particular expertise but also the virtues of adulthood.

We must be careful not to indiscriminately say that all the dead are now saints.  Evil is a factor in the world with some buying plainly into it.  But no one lies beyond the reach of God’s mercy.  For those who led compromised lives we will pray tomorrow.  For now we want to ask all the saints, especially those to whom we have been close, to pray for us.  We too hope to surmount the evil which tempts us so that we may be counted in their number.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(Philippians 2:1-4; Luke 14:12-14)

In the gospels Jesus frequently speaks with hyperbolic language.  That is, he exaggerates to convey his message.  For example, he says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”  This should not be taken literally.  It is wrong to do physical harm to a body member unless there is a commensurate reason like saving one’s life.  In another place Jesus says that no one can be his disciple unless he or she hates his father and mother.  Here again he is not to be taken literally.  What about today’s gospel?  Are we not to invite friends to the parties that we host?

Of course, it is all right to have parties with friends.  The poor and the lame may also be invited, but their presence may cause awkwardness for everyone involved.  One might have special dinners for the poor as some churches do weekly or monthly.  Alternatively, one may donate time or money to services that feed the poor daily.

Overall, Jesus insists that we live in solidarity with the poor.  Solidarity is not a vague feeling of concern for the poor but a firm commitment of support.  Nor is it sufficient to define poverty loosely so that the poor are, for example, those who lack meaning in their lives.  No, we must give preferential consideration to those who lack the basic necessities of life – food, medical care, housing, etc.  At the very least solidarity compels us to respect the poor by shaking their hand and talking with them.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, apostles

(Ephesians2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16)

The title “Jude, the Obscure,” belongs to a novel written by Thomas Hardy, but it might describe one of the two apostles whom we celebrate today.  Besides his appearance on the lists of apostles given by Luke, Jude’s (or, more accurately, not the traitorous Judas’) name is mentioned in the Gospel according to John as the apostle who asks Jesus why he will reveal himself to the apostles and not to the world (John 14:22).  It is very unlikely that this apostle wrote the New Testament letter that bears the same name.

Simon’s story is a bit thicker than that of Jude although all that we know of him comes from the distinction the evangelists make between him and Simon Peter.  Luke says that he is known as “a Zealot,” meaning that he is passionate about fulfilling the Jewish law.  Nevertheless, we should not think of him as a member of the revolutionary band that is known as Zealots a generation after Jesus. 

The first three evangelists are clear that Jesus intentionally chooses only twelve men to form his inner group of disciples.  They also show that the men come from different backgrounds -- fishermen and a tax collector, for example.  The fact that Simon is a zealot about the law and Matthew (or Levi) is of a profession that downplays the Law’s authority further indicates that Jesus intends that his followers bridge their differences for the project he is establishing.  What we should find here is that Jesus’ presentation of the Kingdom of God is neither ersatz nor haphazard.  He has a plan which encompasses fulfilling the prophetic hope of the reunification of the twelve tribes of Israel.  The reunification will blossom after Pentecost.  It will become a movement to include people moved by the Holy Spirit to form God’s family.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 6:10-20; Luke 13:31-35)

A recent article in a leading magazine has undermined the prospect of finding simple explanations for human behavior.  Since scientists developed genetic theory, they have held out the promise of discovering genes that govern all human traits.  Some have looked for genes that trigger virtue as there are genes that control hair color.  The article concludes that genes do not work so neatly.  It says that genes almost always “overlap and interleave” with others to produce different effects.  Of course, genetic determinism has always been questioned by behaviorists who attribute human conduct to upbringing.  With all this complexity it might be asked if the Letter to the Ephesians’ assertion that evil spirits cause one’s difficulty to be good is really far-fetched.

The letter stresses that the quest to live morally is not a simple struggle with natural elements.  Rather it proposes that spiritual principalities derail moral progress.  It also encourages readers to use the armaments of the Church to overcome evil powers.  Some of these arms are meditation on Scripture, receiving the sacraments, prayer, and fasting.

We should not underestimate the attraction of evil.  Pleasure, power, and false pride tempt the best of us to put our own wills ahead of God’s.  It is not childish much less foolish to think of these instincts as being manipulated by evil spirits.  But we should also be aware that the Holy Spirit is available to us.  The Spirit will more than enable us to repel evil inclinations.  It will help us live as true children of our loving Father.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 6:1-9; Luke 13:22-30)

Church-goers should resonate with the question posed in today’s gospel about universal salvation.  We make an effort to keep the Lord’s commands and want to know if all our effort is really necessary.  Jesus’ response is both reassuring and provocative.

He says that indeed we must be disciplined if we are going to be saved.  This is what the “narrow gate” signifies—the hard road of reining in passions so that we do not act in selfish or in spiteful ways.  Discipline also means cultivating habits of civility and kindness to everyone, even to the driver who abruptly moves into our lane.

What may come as a shock is that the virtue, which the Holy Spirit inculcates, is not limited to people who look like us.  Central American mothers who send their children north to avoid their getting involved with drug cartels have the same love of family that we have.  Just so Muslims who never fail to take pity on the poor possess the same love of neighbor as we.  These people too will find a place reserved for them in the kingdom of the just.