Monday, May 1, 2017

Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker

(Acts 6:8-15; John 6:22-29)

The man said that he loved his work.  He even claimed that he would do it even if he didn’t get paid.  But is it really work if one does not receive compensation?  Or is not the satisfaction of earning a livelihood for oneself and one’s family a necessary part of work?

There is a painting by Georges de La Tour of St. Joseph working.  He is bent over and painstakingly drilling a hole in wood.  Next to him stands the boy Jesus holding a candle so that his foster father might complete his task.  The painting first reminds us of Joseph’s role as the provider of Jesus and Mary.  It also indicates how Jesus enlightens the effort.  He teaches us that work brings the human person closer to God as it benefits others.

Today’s gospel likewise gives this lesson.  Jesus tells the people that they need spiritual more than physical sustenance.  He wants them to see that no matter how much they enjoyed the bread that he provided, his example of service is more valuable.  He will die on the cross so that they might live for one another and not exclusively for themselves.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Friday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:34-42; John 6:1-15)

It goes without saying that Pharisees are not gospel favorites.  Many picked on Jesus because they could not recognize that his healing on the Sabbath marked the dawning of a new age.  But the New Testament does recall some Pharisees who helped Christ.  Nicodemus in the Gospel of John comes first by night to learn from him and then in daylight to bury him.  Paul calls himself a Pharisee.  In today’s reading form the Acts of the Apostles a leading Pharisee defends the apostles in front of the Jewish Sanhedrin.

Of course, Gamaliel does not accept Jesus.  He only states that as a matter of policy religious tolerance is more judicious than persecution.  His reasoning is memorialized in the saying: “…if (Christianity) comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”  Such religious tolerance was mandated by Vatican II but with a different logic.  The Council taught that the human conscience is inviolable.  No state or person has a right to interfere with how an individual worships God.

During Easter time the first reading at mass from Acts guides our recall of the early Church.  Every day we learn more of Christianity’s spread from Jerusalem throughout the world.  From the readings we should realize that the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit.  She has no reason to fear other faith traditions.  Indeed, there is need to dialogue with them concerning the experience of God.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Thursday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:27-33; John 3:31-36)

A couple of years ago a florist in Seattle was sued by a patron when she wouldn’t provide flowers for his “marriage” to another man.  The florist, a woman, did not harbor personal dislike for the client.  Rather she believes that homosexual marriage violates God’s law and that her providing flowers would comprise sinful complexity in evil.  In a letter to the Seattle Times the florist wrote: “Rob (the patron) was asking me to choose between my affection for him and my commitment to Christ.  As deeply fond as I am of Rob, my relationship with Jesus is everything to me.”  The florist expresses the same sentiment as the apostles in today’s first reading.

The Jewish authorities have told the apostles that they are not to preach the name of Jesus.  But they cannot not do it.  They have been commissioned by Jesus and charged by the Holy Spirit to witness to him as the world’s salvation.  Obeying the authorities would be defying God’s will.

We need to ask ourselves whether our relationship with Jesus is the most important element of our lives.  Do we love him above all because of what he has done for us?  He created us, shared our struggles, and then died to free us from sin’s claws.  More than anyone or anything, he is worth our allegiance.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Wednesday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 5:17-21; John 3:16-21)

Today’s gospel contains the most famous verse of the Bible.  People have only to see the reference to know its content.  Indeed, “John 3:16” has become a kind of code reminding Christians of God’s love and calling skeptics to trust.

Curiously, the words are not put in quotation marks.  Evidently, modern editors think they belong to a narrator, not to Jesus.  It would be at least a little odd that Jesus would speak of himself in the third person.  More likely, the words are those of teachers like the apostles in today’s first reading.  Certainly, calling those who do not believe in Jesus “condemned” will raise the ire of Jewish priests.

We may be repulsed when seeing “John 3:16” on poster board at football games.  But that is because of the modern tendency to privatize religion.  Those who brandish such signs hardly wish to condemn anyone.  They likely want only to tell the world of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps we can enhance their efforts by Christian service.  When we feed the hungry and visit the sick in the name of Christ, our deeds will speak more eloquently than words.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Feast of Saint Mark, evangelist

(II Peter 5:5b-14; Mark 16:15-20)

There is irony in the use of this gospel passage on this feast of St. Mark.  In all probability the author of the “second gospel” did not write it.  More likely a scribe appended it to the original gospel years later.  But this twist should be no reason for disillusionment.  All four gospels belong to the Church more than they belong to specific authors.  As such, today’s passage bespeaks the role of the Church in the world.

The passage confirms how an appearance of the resurrected Jesus is associated with a commission to the Church to tell others about him.  In this case, the disciples are not just to preach “to all nations,” as Matthew’s gospel has it, but to “every creature.”  The reason for this universal destination is salvation.  The passage’s proposes an “either-or” response to the message indicating that individuals will be either saved or condemned according to their reception of the message.  This alternative is simplistic in a sense.  For one reason, the signs that are to accompany the preaching are not manifest.  Exorcisms, spontaneous new languages, handling of vipers, swallowing poisons, and curing the sick are rarely seen.  Indeed, non-Christians have often found the gospel overbearing because of the counter-testimony to it which Christians give.

Yet Jesus Christ is still necessary for the world’s salvation.  Only by practicing his message of forgiveness and love will the world move beyond enmity.  This is increasingly necessary as the force of arms and the rapidity of actions increase.  As Martin Luther King once said, "We must live together as brothers or perish together as fools."

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday of the Second Week of Easter

(Acts 4:23-31; John 3:1-8)

A Jewish man had, as a boy, been taken from his parents and imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp. He survived only because a German soldier reached out to him in kindness.  He now says that he made a decision not to be bitter about the experience but would always return to them the kindness he had received.  Well into old age the man’s countenance reflects his decisions.  He beams with peace.  Whether or not the man was ever baptized, he has been born of the Spirit of which Jesus speaks in today’s gospel.

Jesus is explaining to Nicodemus that people must not follow the ways of the world.  Those ways dictate that people are to “look out for number one”; “get even with those who wrong you”; and a hundred other maxims of the ever dominant ego.  In contrast Jesus teaches that people have to love one another and to forgive those who persecute them.  His message may be difficult for those who have undergone significant hardship.  But it leads to a life of everlasting peace for all.

The season of Lent should have chastened us, and now Easter graces have been poured out on us.  We can commit ourselves to Jesus Christ.  Models like the Holocaust survivor exist.  More than ever it is time for us to live in the Spirit.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Friday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 4:1-12; John 21:1-14)

Ken Untener was bishop of Saginaw, Michigan, for twenty-four years.  He organized the diocese so well that he found time to give workshops on preaching nation-wide.  Two years ago a book of his homilies was published posthumously.  It was entitled My Name Is Ken and I Will Be Your Waiter a Long, Long Time.  The name of Jesus might be substituted for Ken to understand today’s gospel.

Like a waiter, Jesus has food prepared for his guests.  He will be serving his disciples until the end of time.  His food will nourish them so that they might go forth and tell others about God’s love.  In the gospel his food is bread and fish.  These are symbols for his very self – his body and spirit – that sustain his disciples in hardship and bring them true happiness.

We come forward to receive Jesus’ body and spirit in the Eucharist.  Doing so, we identify with Christ’s disciples.  We then have to go out to others telling them of God’s ever-gracious care. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 3:11-26; Luke 24:35-48)

There is an old “good news-bad news” joke about a messenger reporting to the apostles of Jesus’ resurrection.  The messenger first announces the good news -- the Lord indeed rose from the dead.  Then he gives the bad news -- he wants to speak to them about what happened in the garden on Thursday night.  Luke's gospel does not mention the disciples fleeing Jesus when he is arrested. Nevertheless, there is a sense in which their meeting Jesus after the resurrection is not pure pleasure.

The resurrection account we hear today establishes that Jesus rose from the dead in body as well as soul.  He offers his flesh and bones, to be touched if desired, as proof that his disciples are not imagining his presence.  Then he bites into a piece of fish as further evidence.  The disciples can rejoice that their leader has returned.  Now comes the hard part.  The Scriptures, which foretold Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, also predicted that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name.  As the chief witnesses to the wonders of the resurrection, the disciples inherit the responsibility of preaching it to the world.

It is a formidable task for at least two reasons.  First, the disciples must reform their lives in perfect conformity with the gospel.  Dom Helder Camara once warned confirmed Christians, “Your lives may be the only gospel your sisters and brothers will ever read.”  Second, they will be resisted as many will hear the call to change their ways as a threat to their well-being.   We, likewise, can be sure that just in living the gospel we will incur hostility at times.

Wednesday within the Octave of Easter

Wednesday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 3:1-10; Luke 24:13-35)

The name Christian registers negatively in the minds of many today.  At Christmas people refuse to use the word.  The Crusades are seen as unforgiveable sins even as current Muslim atrocities beg Christian forbearance.  Standing Christian morality respecting life from conception and preserving sexual intimacy for marriage is viewed as quaint.  It should be noted, therefore, how St. Peter employs the name of Jesus in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

Peter, John, and all Christians of the day go to temple for prayer.  They do not see themselves as separate from their countrypersons although they recognize they have an advantage.  A crippled man begs them for alms as is his custom.  Peter does not turn away but acknowledges the beggar’s need by looking at him intently.  He tells the man that as a human being, he is powerless to help him.  Then he invokes the name of Jesus which has the power to save.  Pulling the man up from the ground, Peter watches him walk. 

Invoking Jesus’ name allows us to overcome natural limitations.  We should hardly be ashamed of using it name except, of course, in vain.  We need to recognize publicly that it is Jesus who gives us the grace to visit the sick and speak up for immigrants.  We have to keep in mind as well that his name represents love and peace, never oppression and violence.  If the world is to be saved, it will be through his name.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Tuesday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2:36-41; John 20:11-18)

In listening to the gospel today, two questions come to mind.  First, why does Mary Magdalene have difficulty recognizing the risen Lord?  Second, why does Jesus tell Mary not to cling to him?  Answering these questions gives a better understanding of the resurrection.

Mary does not recognize Jesus because the resurrection has transformed him. He does not have the same kind of body as before he died.  It has been eternalized.  It is more than cleansed and more even than restored with blood.  It is recreated so that it beams life.  As a meager comparison, we might think of the difficulty of recognizing a formerly shiftless youth who just undergone basic Marine training.  His body now vibrates energy.

The resurrected body is not to be clung to because it does not belong to this world.  Its eternal nature belongs with the Father in heaven.  When Jesus has ascended, he will send his Spirit which has a place among us.  That Spirit guiding, inspiring, and informing us will be Jesus’ abiding presence to us. It will lead us to eventual full union with Jesus.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday within the Octave of Easter

(Acts 2:24.22-23; Matthew 28:8-15)

Of all the evangelists Matthew is most cynical toward the Jews.  He alone pictures Jewish leaders scheming with Judas to arrest Jesus.  Likewise, he alone records the Jewish people saying that Jesus’ blood should fall on them and their children.  The cynicism toward the Jews concludes in today’s gospel.  Matthew alone explains the natural skepticism that arises with the report of a dead person’s coming to life by describing the Jewish authorities bribing the Roman soldiers and promulgating a lie.

Scholars attribute such negativity in Matthew (and John) to the persecution that Christians were experiencing at the hand of Jewish leaders at the time of his writing.  Jewish-Christians were being purged from synagogues as Jewish leaders were reforming the practice of their faith with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.  Saying that an evangelist read back into the account of Jesus’ life events which reflect his own times does not undercut the authority of Scripture.  Rather it should help Christians to understand and live their faith.

We should not doubt the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  That Jesus appeared to his disciples and to Paul in a glorified body after he died is firmly attested to in Scripture.  His resurrection and visitations have precipitated the coming of the Holy Spirit upon us.  The Spirit enables us to accept the quite implausible occurrence of the resurrection so that we too hope to experience it at the end of time.   The same Spirit moves us to search for the truth of all matters so that our testimony to the resurrection of Jesus has credibility. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion

(Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; John 18:1-19:42)

The Gospel according to John portrays Jesus as fond of personal encounters.  At the beginning of his ministry Jesus engages Nicodemus and then the Samaritan woman in one-on-ones.  These encounters lead to the salvation of both although it is not apparent in Nicodemus’ case until today’s gospel reading.  Jesus also encounters the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda, the man born blind in Jerusalem, and Martha and Mary individually in Bethany -- all with positive outcomes.  However, in today’s account of Jesus’ passion his face-off with Pontius Pilate ends regrettably.

Pilate meets Jesus with objectivity.  He seems interested in determining the veracity of the Jews’ claim that Jesus makes himself out to be a rival to the Roman emperor.  He asks him, “’Are you the King of the Jews?’”  Jesus answers him obliquely which precipitates a conversation on the nature of kingly power.  As the conversation continues, Pilate becomes satisfied that Jesus does not threaten Roman sovereignty.  Pilate quickly maneuvers to release Jesus by first claiming him as the beneficiary of the annual Passover pardon and then by having him scourged so that the normal person would say that he has suffered enough.  But the Jews are portrayed as implacable as they bully Pilate into betraying his judgment of the case.

Each of us should see Jesus as personally confronting her or him today.  He is asking, “Carmen, do you believe that I died on the cross to win your salvation?  Or is this service only a ritual to mark time, no more significant than Halloween?”  Hopefully, we can answer honestly, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Savior of the world.”  That said, we will want to give him homage.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Thursday – Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

(Exodus 12:1-8.11-14; I Corinthians 11:23-26; John 13:1-15)

The word remember literally means to put the pieces (or members) back together. When we remember something, our minds restore the image that has been dispersed through time.  We remember a story by calling to mind its basic elements; for example, a man had two sons: one left to spend his inheritance foolishly while the other begrudged his brother a welcome upon returning.  Today’s readings are all about remembering and assigning new meaning to what is recalled.

The first reading gives the mandate to all the children of Israel to remember God’s liberation of their ancestors from slavery.  They are to recall the gracious act by reenacting the meal eaten on the eve of its occurrence.  The second reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians itself remembers how Jesus gave new meaning to the mandate when faithfully fulfilling it.  For his followers the meal to be shared will no longer remember God’s deliverance of the Israelites from political oppression.  From that moment it will remember Jesus’ offering of himself as the means of their liberation from sin.

The reading from the Gospel according to John presents a new dimension of Jesus’ anticipated paschal supper with his disciples.  The meal is replaced by the symbolic washing of his followers’ feet.  Typical of John’s gospel Jesus interprets the meaning of his action.  As he serves his disciples by both washing their feet and dying for them the following day, they must serve one another.  In other words, Christians are to love one another to the point of dying on her or his behalf.

We are entering into the mysteries of our salvation.  More than mandates of self-sacrifice they include the graces of the Holy Spirit.  We go forward to celebrate them with solemn joy.  We will be challenged unto death but at the same time renewed for eternal life.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wednesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 50:4-9a; Matthew 26:14-25)

A decade ago the biblical world was in commotion over the discovery of a manuscript attributed to the apostle Judas Iscariot.  The manuscript, entitled the “Gospel of Judas,” featured a dialogue between Jesus and Judas in which Jesus hails him as the bearer of his truth.  Some scholars made the case that the text provides a whole new interpretation of Christianity.  More judicious ones, however, saw that there is little new in such writing.  Indeed, the late second-century orthodox theologian Irenaeus of Lyons even wrote of the document.  He described it as one of many such writings of the time which sought to undermine established truth and order.

Why are people then and now so fascinated with preposterous ideas like the one contained in the spurious “Gospel of Judas”?  Are they so restless on account of their own shortcomings that they will believe every new word in the wind?  Or perhaps they have become so disillusioned by the hypocrisy of Christians that they seek a new meaning for Christian truth? One way or another, they should find in today’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel enough reason to hold firm to the tradition.

Human beings very often act as Judas does in the reading.  They are willing to betray not only ideals but also friends for money.  They may even defy their friends in the face to hide their deceit as Judas does when he calls Jesus by the prohibited title, “Rabbi.”  Jesus has not come to reveal all such evil but to offer its perpetrators forgiveness.  He will die so that we might repent of our sins and recover our innocence with his gracious help.  Even when we fail in our efforts at reform, he remains ready to help us try again.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Tuesday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 49:1-6; John 13:21-33.36-38)

At the end of the Civil War movie “Glory” a troop of African-American soldiers go into battle.  They will bring glory to their country and to themselves by dying on its behalf.  The show suggests the kind of glory of which Jesus speaks in today’s gospel.

The hour is at hand for the Son of God to give his life for the salvation of the world.  He will duel with evil in its most pernicious forms.  The world already has begun to fall apart.  A disciple leaves in order to betray him.  Another foolishly boasts of how he will defend him.  Jesus is to fulfill the role of the Suffering Servant which Isaiah speaks of in the first reading.  His death and resurrection will give rise to a new Israel which will be faithful to God’s commands.  The new creation will transcend the old one by including all nations on earth in its company.

It is time for us to set back and reflect.  We can ask, “What kind of glory do we seek?” Are we here to gain attention for ourselves? Or are we, like Christ, to give ourselves for the glory of God?  If it is the latter which we seek, then we are to humble ourselves in service to God’s many children.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Monday of Holy Week

(Isaiah 42:1-7; John 12:1-11)

The philosopher Blaise Pascal, a fervent Catholic, wanted to receive the Eucharist on his death bed.  Because he could no longer keep any food down, he proposed a workable substitute.  He asked that some poor people be brought into his presence.  Since he could not communicate with Christ, the Head, he reasoned, then he would “communicate at least with the body.” In the gospel Jesus points to the poor as being perennially on hand to assist.

Curiously, the passage has been understood as an excuse not to address poverty.  “Why bother?” some would ask if even Jesus testifies that the poor will always be around.  Then, we might ask, why bandage a wound if someday something will kill us or, for that matter, why eat lunch?  In another gospel Jesus identifies himself with the miserable by saying that what is done for them is actually done for him.  John’s gospel is more subtle here.  Jesus feeds the hungry masses and washes the feet of his disciples saying that they are to wash “one another’s feet.”  We should interpret this remark as meaning that he wants us to look on all people as “one another.”

During Holy Week we sense a special call to holiness.  This certainly means added time in prayer but also more consideration of the needy.  Perhaps we can visit to a nursing home or make a check to charity.  Such deeds will enhance our worship.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Jeremiah 20:10-13; John 10:31-42)

Today’s gospel looks forward to next Friday when the Passion of the Lord will be celebrated.  The action takes place on the Feast of the Dedication, known as Hanukkah today.  The Jews are celebrating the rededication of the temple altar that was defiled during the despotic reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.  In the vision of John the Evangelist the Jews do not realize that they are committing a more serious crime in trying to kill Jesus.

The Jews pursue Jesus because he has called himself the “’Son of God.’”  They rightly conclude that making such a claim Jesus is equating himself to God.  Jesus defends himself by observing that Scripture itself calls some people “’gods.’”  He says that he has even more right to the title because God has consecrated him and sent him into the world.  Being consecrated or dedicated like the temple altar, Jesus’ body becomes the place of true sacrifice when he dies on the cross.

Although we anxiously await now the annual commemoration of Jesus’ paschal sacrifice, we celebrate the same sacrifice today.  In every Eucharist Jesus’ body becomes the locus of the perfect sacrifice where our sins are forgiven and we receive the blessing of eternal life.  We do not need any church structure, much less the Jewish temple, to realize these benefits.  All that is necessary are bread and wine, the words and actions of a priest, and our faith.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Genesis 17:3-9; John 8:51-59)

The fourth century heretic Arius had the same problem which vexes the Jews in today’s gospel.  If God is infinite, he argued, then he could not become incarnate in a singular subject.  He claimed that this would be like putting a mountain into a box.  Therefore, Arius concluded, Jesus must have been created like all other beings and then raised to a divine status.  In the gospel the Jews reason similarly.  Because they think that Jesus came to be in time like everything else, he is wrong to claim equality with God by calling himself “I AM.”    

A few years ago theologian Robert Barron, now a bishop, published an essay which can be used to explain how Arius and the Jews are mistaken.  Like the great thinkers of the Catholic tradition, Bishop Barron understands God not as just the highest being but qualitatively different from all other beings.  Therefore, He cannot be compared to any other.  God gives glimpses of who He is throughout Scripture and especially in Jesus, but His nature is beyond human understanding. Only because of God’s revelation can it be said that He became human.  How this came about is also beyond human reckoning although it remains a truth of faith.

We can say, however, that God became human so that we can become like God.  Knowing ourselves as sinners, this may seem incredible although the saints provide us a glimmer of hope.  Jesus’ death and resurrection has given them the grace to become holy.  The same Easter mystery will sanctify us if we allow it.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Daniel 3:14-20.91-92.95; John 8:31-42)

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet the young prince is looking for evidence to convict his uncle of murdering his father.  He gets an idea when a troupe of actors comes to town.  He will devise a play that shows how the murder took place.  When his uncle watches the action, his visible reaction should betray his guilt.  Something similar is taking place in today’s gospel passage.

John’s Gospel not only tells the story of Jesus but contains hidden in the action the fate of the Christian community he left behind.  The controversy in today’s passage shows how part of that community -- “those Jews who believed in him” – lack a firm faith.  They accept Jesus as a prophet but do not see him as the only source of freedom which is equivalent to salvation.  They think that they are free by virtue of being children of Abraham.  Their opposition to Christians who find Jesus as the only way to salvation is dramatically portrayed when Jesus says that “are trying to kill” him.  The Judaizers who incurred St. Paul’s wrath by insisting that the Galatians be circumcised are equivalent to these half-hearted Christians.

We live in a time when many see other ways to salvation besides Jesus.  Some believe that freedom comes from not being bonded to other people.  Others think that freedom is the right to do whatever one wants short of physically hurting others.  We believe that Jesus’ way of selfless love for others brings the freedom of the children of God.  Next week we will celebrate the bestowal of that freedom in the paschal mysteries.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Numbers 21:4-9; John 8:21-30)

In 1939 Albert Einstein signed an important letter to Franklin Roosevelt.  He told the president of the certain possibility of creating an atomic bomb by means of nuclear fission.  He also said that Germany was likely already testing uranium for this purpose.  The letter received due attention.  Roosevelt set up an advisory committee which led to the Manhattan Project.  In today’s gospel Jesus has a message for the Jews with the same urgency as Einstein’s letter to Roosevelt.

Jesus realizes that there is little time left.  He will be going back to the Father soon.  He tells the people that they must make a decision for him or they will die.  But the people hesitate because they do not know Jesus.  So he gives them a sign to look for.  When he is raised up on the cross, they will realize who he is.  Evidently the prediction of a sign has effect.  Many Jews come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah worthy of their allegiance.

We must hold onto that belief.  Next week we commemorate Jesus’ being lifted up, his crucifixion.  It is a scandalous sight in one way – a man being executed in the cruelest of ways.  Some may wonder if it was not all over then.  We, however, accept the testimony of his disciples that he rose from the dead.  And because of his resurrection we believe that we have the freedom to live righteous lives that last for eternity.