Friday, June 30, 2017

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 17:1-9-10.15-22; Matthew 8:1-4)

Sometimes when I make a donation to charitable organization, I put cash in an envelope and mail it anonymously.  I would like to report that I do this to conform to Jesus’ lesson on almsgiving.  He says in the Sermon on the Mount, “’When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites* do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others.’” But, truth be told, the reason I don’t toot my horn when I donate is that I don’t want to receive a dozen more requests.  Jesus, as we should expect, is much more consistent in doing what he is right.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is approached by a leper for healing immediately after he delivered his famous discourse on the mountain.  He performs the cures and orders the man not to tell anyone about his doing the healing.  Most preachers say that Jesus desires secrecy because he does not want to be confused with a political messiah.  This is probably true, but it is also the case that Jesus is acting in perfect conformity with what he just said on the mount about doing righteous deeds in secret.

We find in Jesus our model for life.  We should always endeavor to do what Jesus did.  This does not mean, of course, that we have to wear sandals and drink wine.  But it does call us to love our neighbor not for any advantage to ourselves but because he or she is a child of God. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, apostles

Acts 12:1-11; II Timothy 4:6-8.17-18; Matthew 16:13-19)

Saints Peter and Paul testify to the inclusiveness of the Church.  Peter was a fisherman from Galilee, well within the territory of Israel.  Paul, a member of the Jewish diaspora, hailed from Tarsus in Asia Minor.  Peter worked as a fisherman before he encountered the Lord.  Paul, a scholar, served as a Jewish inquisitor when Jesus abruptly called him.  Although both had missions to non-Jews, Peter, it seems, worked primarily among his own people while Paul preached far and wide to Greek-speakers.  Their lives converged for at least a third time in Rome where they were martyred.

More importantly than dying during the same wave of persecution, they both preached Jesus Christ.  In today’s gospel, Peter identifies Jesus as “’the Christ, the Son of the living God.’”  Paul will give full meaning to those words when he writes of reconciliation through Christ, the Son.  As the Pauline letter to the Ephesians states, humans are reconciled not only to God but to one another through Christ.

Today we honor Peter and Paul together as patrons of the whole Church.  More than any other saint, the two represent the Church’s apostolicity and universality.  They left the security of their homes and indeed their homelands to tell others about God’s work in Jesus.  They reached the symbolic crossroad of the earth in Rome where they testified with their blood to God’s love for all in Jesus.

Memorial of Saint Irenaeus, bishop and martyr

(Genesis 15:1-12.17-18; Matthew 7:15-20)

A couple is married over twenty-five years.  They never have had children of their own.  Although they are Godparents to many and serve the church in many ways, they feel a great loss in their lives.  Once they considered the possibility of producing a child in vitro, but did not pursue it because that procedure violates the sanctity of human life.  The couple’s childlessness and, even more, their trust in God resemble the circumstances of Abram in today’s first reading.

Abram not only deeply desires to have a child with his wife Sarah, but also God has promised the couple heirs as numerous as the grains of dust on the earth. Now they are advanced in years and almost have given up hope.  Abram pleads with God, perhaps for a last time, only to hear God’s promise reasserted in a more glorious way: “Look up at the sky and count the stars….Just so…shall you descendants be.’”  Abram does not abandon God, who has blessed him in different ways, to worship another.  Rather he continues to do all that God asks of him.

God’s ways are inscrutable.  Couples who would seem to be wonderful parents suffer by not having children while many children suffer in broken homes.  Yet God has cared enough for those who suffer, which include every one of us, by coming to share our suffering.  He has actually moved us beyond it with the promise of eternal life as well as many spiritual blessings. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 13:2.5-18; Matthew 7:6.12-14)

In the Sermon on the Mount Matthew portrays Jesus as a great sage.  He shows him first proposing the “kingdom of heaven” as the happiness which all discerning people seek.  Then Jesus is described a revealing the new morality which will enable his disciples to reach their goal.  It is composed not so much of actions as of a disposition of the heart.  They are not to despise or will to harm anyone but to love even their enemies.  Of course, this tall order requires assistance so Matthews shows Jesus teaching his disciples how to ask God’s help.  In today’s passage from the sermon Jesus adds to the wisdom he has imparted proverbs that illustrate what he has been saying.

With the first proverb Jesus warns his disciples not to be naïve about what they believe.  People who have not been prepared to receive it will revile it.  Tell a man of the world that he should keep quiet about the good that he has done, and he will wonder why you thought he did it if not to achieve the approval of others.  Then Jesus epitomizes his message as he sums up the Old Testament: his disciples are to consider what they wish for themselves as the measure of what they will do to others.  The passage ends with another warning.  Disciples should not think the road to heaven is a lazy highway.  It is more like – Jesus tells them – a winding path which requires focus and care to navigate.

As a truly wise man, Jesus could not please everyone.  For different reasons some opposed his teachings just as Socrates found detractors in ancient Athens.  Following the ways he teaches will not always win for us either the approval of others.  However, we know from experience that doing so brings repose in the form of a friendly conscience as well as the promises of eternal life. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 12:1-9; Matthew 7:1-5)

In order to appreciate God’s call of Abram from Genesis today, one has to note the context.  Babel has just fallen and with the illusion that humans left to their own devices can do much good. Although God has scattered the peoples all over the earth, He intends to bring them together in peace.  His plan is to establish a new nation with Abram as its founder to be an exemplar of loving obedience.  This nation’s virtue will draw all peoples to it.

Abram is an unlikely candidate to engender a new nation.  Although his name means exalted father, he is, in fact, childless at seventy-five years of age!  He is also homeless and nation-less.  He does have a wife, the beautiful Sarai, whom he loves – a fact that does offer him some recommendation.  He also has ambition as he responds to the unlikely call to greatness.

God directs Abram to leave his father’s house for a new land.  There God will give him the first lessons in nation-building.  Abram will thus become the greatest of the biblical patriarchs, but not the kind which feminists love to hate.  God will teach Abram to be conscious and fair, not arbitrary and self-promoting.  He will lead Abram to a consistent respect and tender care for women, not to hardness and domination.  He will cherish his children, and not neglect them.  These are lessons for all men to note as we listen to the story of Abram unfold.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

(Deuteronomy 7:6-11; I John 4:7-16; Matthew 11:25-30)

With all the attention given to on-line learning, one might think that classroom teaching will soon be obsolete.  But this is not likely.  As much as computers abet instruction, students often need physical contact with a person.  They have questions that computers cannot understand and difficulties that only human intuition can ascertain.

In the gospel today Matthew presents Jesus as the “teacher of the ages.”  His meekness will not reject anyone.  His integrity assures that he never says one thing then does another.  The yoke that he lays on apprentices is the lessons they are to follow.  It is not unduly burdensome because he helps students bear it.  Put simply, the yoke is that his students love another. 

The heart of Jesus, pierced and aflame, symbolizes all the richness of this gospel nugget.  Its ardor reaches all people without exception.  Its vulnerability knows the trials of the weak who in different ways include everyone.  It invites each of us to enter its chambers where we might be renewed for the journey to truth, goodness, and love.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Memorial of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, martyrs

(II Corinthians 11:1-11; Matthew 6: 7-15)

As the Fourth of July approaches, Americans think about patriotism.  What might they do for their country?  They may want to display a flag or to explode firecrackers.  But these acts are superficial.  Love of one’s country entails sacrifices for the good for which the country stands.  We have examples of this deep kind of patriotism in today’s saints.

Saints John Fisher and Thomas More lived in Tudor England.  John was a churchman and Thomas, a lawyer.  They were loyal subjects of Henry VIII until the king placed himself above justice.  They then ceased to serve although they did not protest publicly.  Still Henry demanded their allegiance and eventually beheaded them for not giving it.  Among Thomas’ last words was the proclamation of patriotism's right order: “I am the King’s good servant, but the Lord’s first.”

Americans will soon have to struggle with the questions of illegal immigration.  Millions of immigrants have either entered the United States illegally or stayed, again illegally, beyond the time permitted by their visas.  Most of these people have established a home in the country.  They have worked, gave birth to children, and built strong social ties.  Patriotism calls citizens to discern a just way of resolving their status.  It seems cruel to send the undocumented packing.  Yet law-breaking should not be ignored.  Somehow the undocumented must be penalized without jeopardizing their future.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, religious

(II Corinthians 9:6-11; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

St. Aloysius Gonzaga died rich in the eyes of God although perhaps poor in the sight of many in the world.  He gave up a claim to his family’s fortune to become a Jesuit.  Once a religious, he dedicated himself to caring for the victims of the plague which was racking Italy.  Eventually he contracted the disease and died from it.  His willingness to give himself completely out of love for Christ amply illustrates today’s first reading.

St. Paul is urging the Corinthians to be generous in his collection of alms for the Christians in Jerusalem.  He tells them that they will reap what they sow.  In other words, if they make significant sacrifices, they will merit marvelous reward.  Because God ultimately produces eternal life as well as crops, they will not be disappointed for their efforts.

We may tire of being pestered by charities.  As we hear of names being passed from one charitable organization to another, we may not want to help anyone new.  Let us not make such a decision out of frustration, however.  Rather let us pray for the grace to make prudent use of our resources for the good of the needy. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary time

(II Corinthians 8:1-9; Matthew 5:43-48)

A long time ago a protégé of Reinhold Niebuhr commented on the difference between him and the great twentieth-century American theologian.  He said that where Niebuhr strove for perfection, he just wanted “to be a little bit better.”  The statement indicates the faulty human condition at the heart of today’s gospel passage.  It also helps clarify what Jesus means by “perfection.”

Jesus reverses the wisdom of the ages when he tells his followers that they must love their enemies.  They may not hate them, but pride makes them want to appear as better than all rivals.   Jesus demands that such competition cease.  He deems perfection not in achieving “all A’s” or in besting all opponents but in loving those who would do one harm.  This kind of love, he says, makes one truly like God, the Father.

We should not underestimate the great challenge in loving one who would do us wrong.  Achieving perfect grades or a perfect score might be a neurotic pursuit, but loving an enemy is no easy task.  It takes prayer as much as effort.  We pray for the spirit to makes us so meek that our predominant goal is always to please our heavenly Father.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 6:1-10; Matthew 5:38-42)

Rodney King became an unlikely prophet twenty-five years ago.  The former convict and then alleged victim of police abuse called for reconciliation among peoples during the Los Angeles race riots of 1992.  The people were reacting to the acquittal of the police officers who apparently brutalized King while arresting him.  Nevertheless, King pleaded for peace: “I just want to say - you know - can we all get along? Can we, can we get along?” Rodney King’s words echo St. Paul’s in today’s first reading.

Paul appeals to his beloved Corinthians to end all strife among themselves.  “’Behold now is the acceptable time’” Paul says, “’now is the day of salvation.’” Paul proceeds to use himself as an example for reconciliation.  As he has suffered hardship and distress for the sake of the Lord, so should the Corinthians put behind them disagreements and resentments.  Mutual love must become the mark of Christians as a testimony to the grace bestowed on them by God through Jesus.

We too must rise above personal preferences and petty differences to embrace one another in solidarity.  It becomes difficult when we believe that we are in the right but suffering a loss of esteem or property.  Nevertheless, civility should always mark our approach and understanding, our attitude.  As long as no one is seriously jeopardized, we probably can afford some loss of resources for the sake of Christ’s peace.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 5:27-32)

Pope Francis has been accused of creating confusion over today’s gospel message.  Noting the possibility of divorced and remarried persons receiving Communion in Orthodox churches, Francis floated the idea to the synod of bishops meeting two years ago in Rome.  It cannot be said with complete candor that just because Jesus in the gospel forbids marriage of divorced people, that it is absolutely impossible.  After all, in the very next section of the Sermon on the Mount he forbids the taking of oaths.  Yet presidents and peons have sworn in the name of God.

But divorce affects life at its deepest levels.  It ends a relationship where two people by word and deed have promised lifelong fidelity.  It often leaves children in desperation.  Moreover, as Christian marriage is a sacrament expressing Christ’s love for the Church, divorce becomes a countersign of that love.  Furthermore, the proscription of divorce has been the perpetual practice of the Church since antiquity.

Of course, Francis only wanted to exhibit God’s mercy.  Many innocent people have been adversely affected by divorce, and many divorced persons have undergone significant conversions.  Life’s contingencies do not always neat solutions to these situations.  Yet Francis eventually yielded to the majority opinion of the synod.  In his apostolic exhortation The Joy of Love he restates the traditional teaching of the Church with some pastoral recommendations. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 3:15-4:1.3-6; Matthew 5:20-26)

A scholar once wrote a book criticizing the idea that Shakespeare transcends the times in which he wrote.  He demonstrated that although Shakespeare’s thoughts have a universal scope, to understand them well one has to know about his world.  Paul is saying something similar in today’s first reading. 

Paul writes that Jews read Moses’ Law (the first five books of the Bible) with their faces veiled (I.e., superficially) unless they read him through lens of Christ.  An example might be taken from today’s gospel.  It is not sufficient to follow literally the Law’s command not to kill.  Jesus insists that people care for one another.  Paul adds that when people read Moses through Christ, they actually become like Christ.

We often give up the quest to be like Christ because we may fail early and often to love.  We should not become discouraged but look for little ways to care for others.  A smile, kind words, perhaps an offer to share an apple at lunch – all make us more like Christ.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary time

(II Corinthians 3:4-11; Matthew 5:17-19)

Schools today often encourage teachers and students to make contract agreements.  The agreements serve as a law so that all have a clear sense of their rights and responsibilities.  It is this literal sense of law that both the first reading and the gospel transcend.

St. Paul writes of a new covenant not written in stone but on the heart.  Christian recipients of this new covenant or law don’t sense it as an imposition of their freedom.  Rather they readily carry it out because it is natural to them.  In the gospel Jesus says that he comes to fulfill the law because he will dispense the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit will move its possessor beyond the give and take of contracts to sacrifice of self for the other.

The new law has been written on our hearts.  We have received the Holy Spirit.  Aware of this grace we should not hesitate to perform acts of love.  Doing so, we will share the company of the saints.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, priest

(II Corinthians 2:18-22; Matthew 5:13-16)

St. Anthony of Padua achieved fame in his day as a preacher.  Evidently for this reason early images of him were depicted with a Scripture in hand.  Curiously over time that Scripture has been replaced with an image of the child Jesus.  Like St. Paul in today’s first reading Anthony’s familiarity with the word of God has been rightly associated with a close relationship with the Lord himself.

Paul wants to assure the Corinthians of Christ’s love.  He is afraid of a misunderstanding because he has changed his plan to visit them.  So that they do not think that Christ is a fickle Lord because of his messenger’s change of plan, he asserts here that he did it with good reason.  He did not visit them so that God’s design could be fulfilled. 

Sometimes we too have to break a promise.  It may cause disappointment, but if done with good reason and sincere apology it is neither sinful nor ultimately hurtful. Those to whom the promise is made should be able to see that we still care for them. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Monday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Corinthians 1:1-7; Matthew 5:1-12)

“We’re number one! We’re number one!” college students love to brag when their team wins a game that thrusts it to the top of a sportswriters’ poll.  Losers are never so cheerful.  They take consolation in that they played well, abided by all the rules, and emerge as better people in the sojourn of life.  Once a student praised his losing team for having won a “moral victory.”  In today’s first reading Paul describes such a consolation for the church at Corinth.

Because Christians in Corinth are a minority, they no doubt suffer the disdain of the powerful.  They also face interior division over beliefs and loyalties.  The letter does not spell out exactly the nature of these problems.  It could be that Jewish-Christian preachers from Palestine were preaching adherence to the Law.  Another possibility is that Greek charismatic preachers were giving divisive interpretations to the gifts of the Spirit.  In any case, Paul reminds his readers that in Christ’s sufferings they like him can find comfort.  After all, Christ’ humiliating death on the cross led to the glory of his resurrection.

No one likes to suffer.  But we can bear with almost any suffering if it has positive meaning.  We will find that meaning when we unite ourselves to Christ.  With him the pain of disease or accident serves for the building up of the Church.  In him even the suffering brought about by our own faults endured patiently redounds for our eternal benefit.  

Friday, June 9, 2017

Friday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit 11:5-17; Mark 12:35-37)

The Rite of Marriage used to mention the difficulties of married life.  It advised the couple standing before the priest that love alone could make the marriage work and perfect love could make the marriage a joy.  Those difficulties surely include being thrown into a living situation with a person from another household with its own customs.  Then, of course, there is the instant sharing of a bed, a room, and just about everything else.  Love supplies the balm that allows the couple to value each other’s differences.  Parents of the couple have a part to play in the adjustment process.  The first reading today provides a model for parents of the bridal couple.

Tobit goes out of his way to welcome his new daughter-in-law Sarah.  He not only blesses her but also relates how she is a blessing to his son.  He shows no reservation in calling her “daughter” so that she may feel completely at home.

We, friends of the bridal couple, also have a role in the process.  We should pray that the couple’s relationship be loving and faithful.  We should not let old relationships with either the bride or groom remain old relationships but should become friends to both.  Finally, we want to encourage both to live up to their marriage vows especially when the road turns uphill and becomes rocky.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Thursday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit, 6:10-11.7:1bcde.9-17.8:4-9a; Mark 12:28-34)

The gospels of yesterday and Tuesday told of Jesus’ rivals trying to discredit him.  First, the Pharisees and then the Sadducees ask Jesus questions whose answers should compromise his authority.  Jesus, however, smells foul play and deftly frustrates his opponents.  Today a scribe asks Jesus a question in an honest search for wisdom.  He is rewarded with the roadmap to eternal life.

When Jesus says that the first commandment is to love God with all one’s power, he means that we are to love him more than anyone or anything.  We are to desire His presence, to think about Him day and night, and to sacrifice ourselves for His benefit.  It is considerable quest in a world with many side attractions.  But it promises us the greatest prize there is – the Kingdom of God.

Jesus tells the scribe, “’You are not far from the kingdom.’”  He means that the scribe now knows the way to true happiness.  When he follows that way by loving God above all and his neighbor as well, he will have entered the Kingdom. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Wednesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit 3:1-11a.16-17a; Mark 12:18-27)

Today’s first reading gives glimpses of two people who feel despised.  The pious, old Tobit has insulted his wife who turns around and calls him a fraud.  The young beauty Sarah senses that people ridicule her because multiple husbands have dropped dead on their marriage bed.  Both petition God to let them die.

Many today contemplate suicide out of similar feelings of depression.  Those who feel ashamed about their sexual inclinations often fall into this category.  They need to be assured that they are good and loved. 

In the Scripture story God responds to both petitioners’ pleas -- not with an angel of death but one of life.  He sends Rafael to match Tobit’s son Tobias with Sarah and to guard their marriage bed.  In the process Rafael will find a solution to Tobit’s problem.  We should try to act in such helpful ways when we meet people in need.  Kind words will lift their hearts.  A touch on the hand or arm may reassure their self-worth.  We can see ourselves also as God’s agents assisting in His response to the distressed. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Tobit 2:9-14; Mark 12:13-17)

Joe Louis was one of the greatest boxing champions because of his readiness to take on all challengers.  He defended his heavyweight champion title a record twenty-five times.  If you don’t mind the comparison, Jesus in the gospel these days is confronted by different opponents who resent his popularity among the people.  He has no more trouble putting down their arguments than the “Brown Bomber” in conquering all foes.

In today’s passage an unlikely alliance of Pharisees and Herodians questions Jesus on the controversial issue of the census tax.  The people thought the tax unjust, but few wanted to invite reprisal by speaking against it openly.  So the band asks Jesus openly of his opinion of the tax.  Jesus sniffs out the conspiracy and responds quite deftly by avoiding the issue.  In the process he wins even more fame among the people.

In this case Jesus appears both clever and wise.  But more instructive is his profound trust in God.  He stands composed because he knows – not through intuition but by constant prayer -- that his Father is with him.  We should follow his example.  It is better not to strategize to outwit those who take opposite positions from us.  Rather, we should pray for God’s enlightenment with due effort to comprehend the issue at hand.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Memorial of Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr

(Tobit 1:3.2:1a-8; Mark 12:1-12)

St. Boniface was born in England and raised there in a Benedictine monastery.  He was a successful teacher but desired to be a missionary among the pagans in what is now Germany.  When he arrived, he achieved notoriety by chopping down an old oak tree worshipped by the people without incurring harm.  He labored successfully throughout the land.  After a distinguished career in which he was named “Primate of Germany,” Boniface retired to where he began his mission.  There he and a group of followers were martyred by a band of pagans.

Missionaries leave their native place for many reasons.  But they need to have love of both Christ and the people to whom they preach if they are to succeed.  Their purpose is not to change the culture which they find in the land of their destination but to deepen it.  They will demonstrate how the best part of any culture resonates with the teachings of Christ.  Sometimes people will resent the connections that are being made.  This is what happened to St. Boniface and cost him his life.  The gospel today relates how Christ was a missionary whose life was taken out of resentment for what he said.

Christian missionaries serve humanity as well as the Church.  At their best, they bring the message of God’s love for the world and His mandate that we love one another.  They also crossbreed cultures leaving behind the best of their culture and often taking the new culture home before they die.  Today we sing their praises. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 25:13b-21; John 21:15-19)

Fishermen seem to love their pastime more than others. When they arrive at the water, they take off their watches with little urge to know the time.  For fishermen a successful day fishing is not one in which they catch a quantity of fish but just one in which they are on the water.  Because of the unique absorption of fishermen with their occupation, Jesus gauges Peter’s capacity for leadership with a question regarding his preference for him over fishing.

Peter is not only a fisherman by trade but has been portrayed by the evangelist as a fisher of men and women.  Now Jesus wants him to undertake a new profession.  He is to be the shepherd of his flock; that is, he will oversee the care of the community of believers.  Before he confers on him the ministry, he tests Peter with a trifold question concerning Peter’s love.  First of all, he asks Peter if he loves him “more than these.”  Some people think that “these” refers to the other disciples in the sense that Peter loves Jesus more than the other disciples do.  But it is more likely that “these” refers to the accoutrements of fishing.  When Peter assures Jesus of his predilection of him to nets, boats, lines and hooks, Jesus puts him in charge of the Christian community.

Pope Francis seems to be a worthy successor of Peter.  His love for the Lord and his flock is palpable.  Although this generation has been blessed with other gracious popes, Francis has shown a unique capacity to care for all people.  As much as the Church is mother of all peoples populating the planet, Francis has exhibited the desire to touch them with God’s mercy.