Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 26:1-6; Matthew 7:21.24-27)

Although we think of Advent as a time of waiting, it is an active period.  We should be more like parents waiting for their first child to be born than like commuters queuing for a bus.  We want to be busy preparing ourselves for Christ’s coming at the end of time.  We should avoid complaining about what is taking him so long to arrive.

The readings today give a sense of what we are to do.  Isaiah speaks of a nation that is just.  We are to make laws and build up communities to assure that the rights of all are fulfilled.  In the gospel Jesus admonishes his followers to base their lives on the Sermon on the Mount which concludes with this passage.  We are to carry out his righteousness by conforming our hearts to his selfless will.

One obstacle to the Advent project is Christmas itself.  Rather than concerning ourselves with improving society, we too often get caught up in vain pursuits.  Shopping that overindulges, partying that is done to excess, fantasizing about superfluous “needs” may all prevent us from being ready for Christ when he arrives as savior and judge. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Feast of St. Andrew, apostle

(Romans 10:9-18; Matthew 4:18-22)

According to the Gospel of John, Andrew was Jesus’ first disciple.  Today’s passage from the Gospel of Matthew does not give a hint of that.  Witness the world’s fascination with being “number one.”  College football, for one example, has a system of double-postseason games to definitively say who the best team is.  The gospel has concerns that are completely otherwise.

Preaching the word of God, as Paul indicates in the reading from Romans, is a chief hallmark of the gospel.  People are to do so not out of an ideology to convince others to see things as they do.  Rather they should preach to give hearers the joy of knowing Jesus.  Even at the cost of their own lives, they are to proclaim how God’s love has radically come to the world in Jesus.

Although there is no historical record of his execution, it is presumed that Andrew died a martyr.  He followed Jesus who told his disciples that they had to take up their crosses after him.  Plenty of Christians suffer martyrdom today, but after all we are likely to die in bed.  Let us do so, however, after giving testimony to Jesus by lives of patient understanding and consistent care.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 11:1-10; Luke 10:21-24)

A woman writes of her faith as the glue that holds her life together.  She says that when her seven-year-old was hit by a car, she stormed heaven that his life might be spared. Her son’s life was spared, and she remains imminently grateful.  Jesus almost sings with similar gratitude in the gospel today.
The setting is Jesus’ welcoming back the seventy-two disciples he sent on a missionary expedition.  He is delighted that they witnessed wonders like demons being repulsed in his name. He breaks into praise of God who provided such powerful testimony that they, like the woman who stormed heaven, may trust completely.

During Advent we raise our expectations to see the wonders of God.  We must look beyond the goodwill of Christmas which is short-lived and really meager.  We dare to find in the vision of the first reading from Isaiah our hope.  We believe that the time is coming when enemies will live in peace together.  The adversaries we have in mind are not bears and cows but Palestinians and Jews, Muslims and Christians.  We redouble our efforts and prayers in this special season for a world of lasting peace. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 4:2-6; Matthew 8:5-11)

The centurion in today’s gospel expresses Advent faith.  Because he has evidently heard of Jesus’ power over disease, he does not require his presence to heal his servant.  As a man of authority, he is confident that Jesus only has to command the healing for it to happen. 

Some of us wait impatiently for Jesus to return.  We wonder if we have misinterpreted his promise or, more darkly, if the gospels have misinformed us.  We need to appropriate the centurion’s advent faith.  We have seen evidence of Jesus’ power over evil – how things go right when we pray to him, how his words echo profound truth to the present day, and how his followers have shaped civilization in benign ways. We can accept Jesus at his word.

During Advent we renew our commitment to stay the course.  Jesus may not arrive in flesh and bone this year, but he will continue to send signs of his coming.  In the meantime we wait not so much patiently as actively.  We want to prepare his way by promoting goodwill so that all will receive him.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 20:1-4.11-21.2; Luke 21:29-33)

Apocalypse is the Greek word for revelation.  For this reason the last book of the Bible, from which we take today’s first reading, is alternatively called the Apocalypse or the Book of Revelation.  Apocalyptic literature, however, of which the Book of Revelation is the Bible’s only full example, has a meaning beyond revelatory.  It further refers to the cosmic struggle between God and the powers of darkness.  This metaphoric war will lead to the transformation of the world into the heavenly Kingdom.  Today’s first reading gives an account of the struggle and the coming Kingdom characterized by “a new heaven” and “a new earth.”

Since the destiny of the present world is transformation and renewal, some have questioned the value of working for a better world.  They see the aim of every human to be avoiding evil to save her soul.  The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World of the Second Vatican Council, however, declares: “…the expectation of a new earth must not weaken but rather stimulate our concern for cultivating this one.”  In working for a better world, humans show themselves as true disciples of Jesus.  He came as the inaugurator of God’s Kingdom and will come again ushering its fullness. 

As we close the liturgical year with references to the coming Kingdom in both readings, we should renew our efforts to see it happen.  This means not retreating in self-defense but moving forward to the margins of society.  There we are to offer a hand of support to the poor.  The Kingdom is God’s doing and will be realized when Christ comes in glory.  But our efforts spur the hope that it will not be long in arriving. 

November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Day

(Sirach 50:22-24; I Corinthians 1:3-9; Luke 17:11-19)

Europeans are said to become indignant with Americans for their politeness.  They cannot understand why their neighbors across the western sea always say, “Thank you.”  Even when the person offering them a service for which she is well paid or which is of no value to them, Americans are likely to express appreciation.  But gratitude becomes a person even when its expression is not sincere.  It is also true that when thanks are given to God, they can never be over-exaggerated.

All three readings today exhibit a grateful heart.  In the first Jesus ben Sira credits God for assuring the growth of every human.  He recognizes that the magnificence of the mind and body are the handiwork of a benevolent designer.  In the second St. Paul thanks God for allowing the Corinthians to experience the grace of Jesus Christ.  God has blessed them with every kind of spiritual gift.  The gospel shows the Samaritan going out of his way to thank Jesus.  The man would naturally want to share his joy with his family, but he shows the due priority.  God, the author of life and of grace and of virtue, is always to be thanked first.

Perhaps the importance of giving thanks has been etched in American minds because we celebrate Thanksgiving.  The celebration started with early American immigrants giving thanks to God for survival.  It was given national prominence by President Lincoln as an expression of gratefulness to God for sustenance.  It continued through the years of the prosperity during the twentieth century.   And we do not stop today because we know that the gift of creation and the grace of salvation are much more than our doing. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 15:1-4; Luke 21:12-19)

Preachers used to talk a lot about the wrath of God.  The topic easily captured people’s attention.  Also, there is enough reference to it in Scripture to make it seem very important. Today's first reading refers to it quite directly.  Seven angels hold the last seven plagues of God's fury.

However, we must be careful in using human qualities to describe God.  He (forgive this gender reference, but it is the language used to reveal God in Scripture) is beyond human emotion since he is pure Spirit.  Indeed, God is beyond our ability to describe Him.  Yet a few qualities stand out because they were used by Jesus in speaking of his Father.  God is just, for example.  Indeed, justice is what Revelation is trying to get at when it refers to God’s wrath.  For all human indifference to God's goodness, justice would seem to require the imposition of severe punishments.  But God’s justice is not a tit for tat.  Its aim is to make humans just, and its primary tool is mercy.  Both the Old and the New Testaments constantly show God acting mercifully toward His people so that they might finally learn His ways.

We cannot imitate God by becoming angry.  Although anger is not necessarily sinful, it is neither an attribute of God.  We do imitate God when we show mercy, but not mercy as permissiveness.  No, when we show care for others, are willing to pardon their transgressions, and firmly hold them accountable to improvement, we give testimony to God’s love.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, martyr

(Revelation 14:14-19; Luke 21:5-11)

Today, the feast of St. Cecilia, we remember church musicians.  They continually edify us by lifting our
spirits to God.  When an organ thunders a sonorous hymn, how can we not think of God’s the glory?  We feel much like the people in today’s gospel admiring the beauty of the Temple.

Yet Jesus warns the people not to get carried away by the Temple’s splendor.  It too will pass away -- he indicates -- sooner than they think.  “Will anything remain?” we may ask.  The answer to our question depends on what we mean by remain?  Nothing will remain as it was, but creation will not be destroyed.  It will be transformed in the manner of Jesus’ resurrection.  Human beings, possessing God’s very Spirit, will have a body like the glorified Lord’s.  That is, we will enjoy robustness without knowing decay.

Our task now is to live in the Holy Spirit as we await the transformation that is to come.  Indeed, we are to witness the transformation of reality by our prayer and effort.  We pray for peace and exemplify the peace of Christ.  We lift up Jesus’ self-sacrificing love as the model for interpersonal relations and strive to practice it in what we say and do.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Revelation 14:1-3.4b-5; Luke 21:1-4)

Much is said of the early Christian martyrs.  Traditionally they have been seen as the spur that moved many pagans to become Christians.  The theologian Tertullian claimed, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”  However, there is little evidence to support the assertion.  But the early martyrs performed two important services.  They encouraged Christians who were willing to apostatize rather than be killed to change their minds.  “We want to join our brothers and sisters in the arena,” they said in seeing brave Christians go to their deaths.  The martyrs also became the heroes of the Church whose members named their children after them.  Today’s first reading celebrates these early saints.

The number 144,000 is the square of a perfect number, twelve, with three zeroes added for good measure.  It represents all the early martyrs whose actual number probably was not that high.  They maintained their faith under trial and are rewarded special recognition in eternal life.

Interestingly, the number 144,000 is not much larger than the estimated figure for Christians being martyred every year in recent times.  It seems incredible to someone living in the United States, but men and women professing faith in Christ are being slaughtered every day in countries near and far.  Some of them are hunted down simply because they are Christians.  Others are murdered because faith impels them to defend human rights.  In every case martyrs still provide us a model for us to live by.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 10:8-11; Luke 19:45-48)

Franz Jӓgerstӓtter died a martyr of the faith at toward the end of World War II.  He was an ordinary farmer with a wife and three daughters until he was called to fight in the German army.  He knew that the Nazis were thugs and took his stand as a conscientious objector.  For a while the Nazis tolerated his resistance.  But as the tide of the war turned, they tried Jӓgerstӓtter for sedition.  Jӓgerstӓtter was told by friends and churchmen to think of his family and repent.  But he defended his position writing, “I cannot believe that, just because one has a wife and children, a man is free to offend God."

In the first reading, Presbyter John conveys how Jӓgerstӓtter must have felt before the guillotine ended his life.  John says that when a prophet first proclaims God’s word, it is like honey on the tongue.  But words have meaning, and actions have consequences.  People will reject a prophet’s criticism and then the prophet.  If the message is strong enough, they will seek to kill the messenger.

Having made the ultimate sacrifice for his faith , Jӓgerstӓtter’s story has a sweet ending.  In 2007 he was beatified by the Church.  There was no need for a miracle to show Blessed Franz Jӓgerstӓtter’s sanctity.  Pope Benedict XVI declared that his execution was in fact a martyrdom obviating any other proof of holiness. 

Thursday, November 16, 2016

Memorial of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, religious

(Revelation 5:1-10; Luke 19:41-44)

Political cartoonist Bill Maudlin captured the people’s imagination. His characterization of foot-soldiers Willie and Joe during World War II etched a trail of admiration in the American mind for the G.I.  However, a single cartoon drawn twenty years after the war ended had even greater impact.  After President Kennedy was assassinated, Mauldin drew a cartoon of the Lincoln Memorial.  Instead of a straight back Lincoln stolidly looking forward, Mauldin drew the sixteenth president bent over crying in his hands.  It was the way the whole nation felt.  Lincoln’s tears are reminiscent of Jesus’ in today’s gospel.

Jesus cries over Jerusalem for not heeding his call to repentance.  Jerusalem, David’s capital city, is symbolic of the whole world.  Most people follow their egotistic designs rather than Jesus’ example of humility and commandment of love.  Wars never seem to end because egotism turns violent when a national ego does not get its way.

We must learn to curb our egos – both individual and corporate.  It is certain that with nuclear weapons the world cannot sustain another total war.  If World War II was not the last total war, then World War III definitely will be.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 4:1-11; Luke 19:11-28)

There is drama behind today’s gospel.  What seems at first sight the telling of a rather simple parable turns into the last chance for the players to commit themselves.  It is like the last call to place bets at the racetrack.  One must either play or be left behind.

The drama opens as Jesus is approaching Jerusalem.  Shortly he will deliver himself to be crucified for the salvation of the world.  In his entourage are two kinds of people – those who have been following Jesus but have not committed themselves to him and those who have become his disciples.  Both have roles in Jesus’ parable.  The first group must decide for or against Jesus.  If they do not commit themselves to him for all the good that he has done, they have decided against him.  The latter are the dissenters in the parable who do not want Jesus as their king.  They will come to regret their choice.  Even Jesus’ disciples have a decision to make.  They can either risk their comfort in proclaiming Jesus to the world after his death and resurrection or play it safe and do nothing to promote his triumph.  The more they risk – the more they give of themselves for the sake of Jesus’ kingship, the more they will gain in the end.  But if they choose not to expend any effort – if they sit back rather than make sacrifices for him -- they will lose whatever value their original choice for him had.   

We find ourselves in the second group.  We have decided to follow Jesus but have not, perhaps, wanted to make sacrifices to proclaim him to others.  Maybe we have a bad habit like telling racist jokes that gives a counter-testimony to Jesus.  Or perhaps we refuse to do something we know we should like joining a small faith community. Jesus’ parable tells us that there is little time left.  We must move to proclaim him now.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Memorial of Saint Albert the Great, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Revelation 3:1-6.14-22; Luke 19:1-10)

St. Albert the Great established a reputation as one of the greatest philosophers of his time.  A true lover of knowledge, he studied everything from tiny plants to the mysteries of creation.  He was the first European to comment extensively on the works of Aristotle.  In his pursuit of knowledge Albert the Great imitates Zacchaeus in today’s gospel.  The publican, said to be “short in stature,” was long on desire to know the Lord.

Zacchaeus climbs a tree just to see Jesus.  When Jesus visits his house, Zacchaeus proves himself his true disciple.  He promises to give half his wealth to the poor and pay back fourfold any extortion he might have perpetrated.  Jesus responds to the demonstration of good will by awarding Zacchaeus “salvation.”  Zacchaeus and his household become sons and daughters of God with eternal life as their destiny.

We too long to see the Lord.  We often miss him in the sacraments, in Scripture, and in the poor because we become distracted with everyday concerns.  Let us take time to meditate on his presence this moment.  We need to leave behind our doubts to welcome him into our souls like Zacchaeus received him into his house. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 1:1-4.2:1-5; Luke 18:35-43)

Contrast the lethargy felt in the first reading today to the vibrancy seen in the gospel.  The Book of Revelation tells of the church at Ephesus waning in love for Christ.  After accepting him a generation before, its people have evidently grown tired of waiting for his return.  Their apostolic origin enables them to eschew false doctrine, but they have stopped doing much good.

On the other hand, the blind man in the gospel hesitates not a moment to follow Jesus.  The Lord has restored his sight.  He now sees Jesus with his eyes.  More importantly, he recognizes him as the Messiah with faith.  He willingly follows Jesus to Jerusalem where he may be called to testify to him in face of danger.

As we come to the end of the liturgical year and -- soon enough -- the calendar year, we might check ourselves. We want to hold fast to the faith in an increasingly secular time.  Let us not doubt Christ’s presence to us in Spirit and his eventual return before all in glory.  Nor let us desist doing what his presence urges – to be kind and helpful to those in need.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Memorial of Saint Martin of Tours, bishop

(II John 4-9; Luke 17:26-37)

It used to be said that when someone wanted to have everything, she wanted “to eat her cake and have it too.”  One can either eat the cake now or later, but cannot do both.  The rule applies to the spiritual life as well.  One can follow Christ by letting go of undue concern for self or can seek her own comfort.  The readings today admonish us to choose Christ.

The first reading is taken from the short Second Letter of John.  The writer, a presbyter or “elder brother” (certainly a spiritual guide if nothing else) tells his patron not to follow a new teaching.  It is likely that the teaching concerns whether Jesus’ having flesh has importance to human salvation.  If not, one might do whatever he wishes with his body.  Such an idea contradicts Christian understanding of Jesus Christ as well as Christian morality.  In the gospel Jesus urges his disciples not to be overly concerned with bodily needs.  He says that the Son of Man is coming to give them the fullness of life.

St. Martin of Tours, whom we celebrate today, had a proper appreciation of the body.  The story of his sharing his cloak with a beggar indicates a readiness to deny luxuriant comfort so that the poor person might have some protection.  Thus, he acknowledged needs of the body but realized that the spiritual need to care for the other has at least equal priority.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, pope

(Philemon 7-20; Luke 17:20-25)

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.  It was their first championship in more than one hundred years.  One Cub fan said when they won the final game, “Now I can die in peace.” He probably did not realize that he was paraphrasing Simeon in the Gospel of Luke.  When Simenon sees the infant Jesus in the Temple, he says: “’Now you may dismiss your servant in peace, O Lord…For my eyes have seen your salvation.’”  Unknowingly the Cub fan was confusing a baseball championship with Jesus, the world’s salvation.

In today’s gospel Jesus predicts that there will be false saviors.  People will think that the Chicago Cubs or the Republican Party or winning the lottery is somehow going to save them from all that is evil in the world.  But only Jesus can do that because he is the Son of God whose obedience unto an unseemly death has reconciled humanity with the Father.  We now await his return to give the fullness of life to his followers.

Today we celebrate St. Leo the Great.  He was probably as much aware of the centrality of Jesus to human salvation as anyone.  Leo lived in the fifth century when the relationship of Jesus’ divinity to his humanity was debated.  He derived an understanding that was accepted by the bishops at the Council of Chalcedon.  Jesus is a divine person with both a divine and human nature.  Because he is divine, his sacrifice on the cross is salvific.  Because he is human, it redeems the whole human race. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Feast of the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

(Ezekiel 47:1-2.8-9.12; I Corinthians 3:9c-11.16-17; John 2:13-22)

It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of the Jewish Temple in Jesus’ day.  For Jews it served as the one place where due reverence may be given to God.  Economically it provided most Jerusalemites with livelihood.  If it could be compared with any structure today, it would be the great mosque in Mecca which millions of pilgrims visit every year to give homage to God.  It should cause little wonder then why Jesus’ action in today’s gospel creates such consternation.

Jesus disrupts the usual business at the Temple.  He starts a virtual riot as he drives away the merchants along with their livestock and the money changers.  The Jews misconstrue his motives as much as they misunderstand his words.  They think that he is an upstart looking to make a name for himself.  When Jesus tells them that if they try to destroy him, he will rise again, they believe he is referring to the Temple.

In celebrating the Lateran Basilica today, we celebrate all Catholic churches.  The giant structure serves as a sign for all places where Christians come together to offer bread and wine to God and receive in return the body and blood of Jesus.  The feast indicates that we don’t have to go to Rome to give true worship to God.  Our parish church serves quite well in providing space for the common sacrifice of our salvation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Titus 2:1-8.11-14; Luke 17:7-10)

The beloved Latin teacher had a brusque way of addressing his students.  He called them “pinheads.”  He did not intend to be mean or insulting.  He probably only wanted his charges to retain some humility as they grew into adulthood.  In any case, his students did not resent the teacher’s rudeness.  They appreciated his dedication to his profession.  Both readings today call for a similar curtailing of how people think of themselves.

The first reading admonishes young men “to control themselves.”  This counsel applies to different aspects of life including the way people estimate their abilities. Most tend to exaggerate their them to the extent that they fail to see the virtues of everyone else.  In the gospel Jesus tells his disciples to think of themselves as “unprofitable servants” – a sure way to avoid pride in our utilitarian society.

Humility recognizes that all our goodness has God as its source.  It moves us to thank God for His beneficence toward us.  Humility also recognizes that others have abilities that we don’t have.  It then prompts us to acknowledge them as God’s handiwork worthy of esteem.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Monday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Titus 1:1-9; Luke 17:1-6)

The fruit of the mulberry tree is hard to enjoy.  It has a taste both sweet and tart, but more objectionably a mulberry lacks substance.  Eat one or a hundred and you still feel hungry.  What is worse, it stains the hand that picks it and blotches the sidewalk if found on a city street.  The mulberry tree gives little shade but sits like a mole on one’s face defying the beauty around it.  It is no wonder that Jesus suggests that it be rooted out and sent to the sea.

We might compare eating mulberries to forgiving others of their quirks and bad habits.  Both set our teeth on edge.  It seems that people should have more control of their actions, yet they can repeatedly make the same offensive remark or commit the same foolish mistake.  We want to scream at the perpetrators, but Jesus tells us to be ready to forgive them.

The disciples ask Jesus for an increase of faith to follow his directive.  They reason the more they trust God, the more conviction they will have to love others.  Jesus assures them, however, that they have enough faith. They have only to get over the self’s feeling abused by others’ mindless actions.