Friday, September 1, 2017

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Thessalonians 4:1-8; Matthew 25:1-13)

As much as the Internet has improved business possibilities today, it has brought a special windfall to purveyors of sex.  Arranging sexual liaisons and dealing in pornography are leading Internet activities.  The young as well as the old, stay-at-homes as well as gallivants, are all within the Internet’s reach.  This fact makes Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians in the first reading as poignant as ever.

Paul warns the Thessalonians about the pitfall of sex.  It is his chief concern.  He contrasts holiness with lust because the first is given to imitating God’s love for all while the second is taken up with selfish desire.  He criticizes exploiting a spouse for pleasure as lacking proper motivation.  He is advising his readers to purify their private lives so that they may contribute to the good of all even in their own bedrooms.

Many in the Church as well as society believe that what a married couple does in their bedroom is nobody else’s business.  Although it is hard to imagine laws that restricting a couple’s actions there, we should not say that anything goes.  The Church is right to admonish married couples, as Paul does here, that married life has its distinctive chastity.  If the partners are to become truly free and loving people, they should practice the necessary discipline just as sure as the unmarried need to refrain from sexual intimacy.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Thessalonians 3:7-13; Matthew 24:42-51)

We think of the “good thief” as the bandit who was crucified with Christ and asked his help.  But the gospels present another “good thief” who more authentically deserves the name.  He is the thief Jesus mentions in today’s passage.  Actually, he is Jesus himself.

Jesus’ extravagant use of parables allows him to call himself a “thief” to make a point.  Like a thief he will return to his people at an unexpected time.  They, therefore, have to prepare themselves for his coming by being constantly alert.  This does not mean that they stand around or even that they polish the candlesticks.  No, being alert or “staying awake” means that that they look for Jesus in the needy.

Who are the needy and how might we help them?  Many live in the parts of town where we seldom find ourselves.  But they are really everywhere.  They are the lonely whom we might engage for a few minutes in conversation.  They are friends deluged with work to whom we might offer a hand for half an hour.  They are the sick, the uneducated, and the aged whom we might spend a few hours a week visiting in hospital, schools, or nursing homes.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(I Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:27-32)

When I was a boy, my mother took my sister and myself to the cemetery to visit the graves of our dead father and brother.  She would tell us not to walk on the graves of anyone out of respect for the dead.  When Jesus speaks of “whitewashed tombs” in today’s gospel, he is referring to the Jewish practice of painting the tombs of the dead white.  The purpose of such coloring was to warn the people not to go near those tombs.  The Jewish concern was not respect for the dead, however, but dread of contamination by being in their proximity.

Jesus’ association of the scribes and Pharisees with “whitewashed tombs” constitutes an especially severe criticism.  He is saying that they exhibit an apparent fairness, but the show only masks their spiritual rot.  In other words, Jesus claims, the scribes and Pharisees are hypocrites of a major order.  Their crimes have been detailed throughout the gospel.  They tie excessive burdens on the poor by a narrow interpretation of the law.  They seek the adulation of the masses but lack an inner righteousness.  They persecute him for curing the sick by saying that he is in league with the devil.

We should remember that not all the scribes and Pharisees were evil.  Indeed, the Pharisaical movement saved the Jewish faith after the destruction of the Temple.  Nevertheless, they badgered Jesus and were especially severe in persecuting his followers later in the first century.  More importantly, however, we must take care that we do not become hypocritical like the Pharisees are portrayed in the gospels.  We should strive to be understanding of others’ faults and ready to help them live virtuous lives.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Memorial of the Passion of Saint John the Baptist

(I Thessalonians 2:1-8; Mark 6:17-29)

Lord of the Flies tells the story of a group of schoolboys shipwrecked on a deserted island.  They have to rely on their wits for survival.  At first they work together and establish a rescue plan.  Not long afterwards, however, two factions develop with the members of one hunting down those of the other. The drama conveys the idea that people by nature treat others cruelly, at least when no one is looking.  Many reject this base opinion of human nature, but often enough human atrocities occur - like the attempted genocide of Jews by the Nazis - that defy its dismissal.  The story of John the Baptist's beheading also gives an air of plausibility to the gloomy opinion of humanity.

Herod recognizes John as "righteous and holy." The gospel today sounds almost as if he wants to keep John close-by to provide spiritual guidance.  But as aware as Herod is to John's goodness, he cannot rise above his own pride.  Because he promises Herodias' daughter anything that she asks, he executes the eminently honorable man in order to appear true to his word.  A decent person would have apologized for his foolhardy promise and disciplined the youngster for her outrageous request.

We are wise not to deny our capacity to sin grievously and to thank God every day that we have avoided offending Him.  It is His grace, given through Christ, which turns us from our wounded nature into people who love and desire the good.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Memorial of St. Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church

(I Thessalonians 1:1-5.8b-10; Matthew 23:13-22)

The word August comes from the Latin verb ­augere which means to increase.  As an adjective, august means great or magnificent.  The month of August is not necessarily greater than any other.  It derives its name from Caesar Augustus, the “great Caesar” if you will, who rivaled in fame his stepfather Julius.  Augustine is a diminutive meaning little August.  Notwithstanding, St. Augustine was an intellectual and religious giant.

Augustine’s story is well known from his book The Confessions which is said to be the first autobiography ever written.  He was born and educated in North Africa where he followed for a time the teachings of Mani, an Iranian prophet who taught the inherent evil of anything material. Augustine nevertheless had a concubine who gave birth to his son.  Eventually Augustine saw the flaw of Manichaeism and converted to Christianity, the religion of his mother.  He became a monk, a priest, a bishop and the greatest theologian of the Church in the West during the first millennium, at least.  His writings on the Trinity, the Church and sacraments, and especially on grace provide a basic catechesis to this day.

In today’s first reading Paul tells the Thessalonians that the gospel did not come to them in word alone but “in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.”  Augustine’s life reflects that phrase.  He was impressed by the Christian message, but it was the Holy Spirit who led him through a number of personal experiences to embrace both the cross and the resurrection of Jesus.  The same Spirit works within us to give up the quest for pleasure and comfort and seek a fuller love for others.  

Friday, August 25, 2017

Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ruth 1:1.3-6.14b-66.22; Matthew 22:34-40)

In the Book of Ruth there are two heroines.  Ruth is valiant for standing with her mother-in-law who loses both husband and children.  As a foreigner without children, her chances of having a family are probably better if she seeks a husband among her own people.  When Naomi suggests this option, she shows herself to be selfless and wise.  Perhaps because she is this kind of person, Ruth wants to stay with her and make Naomi’s God her God.

What makes Naomi this way?  The question invites speculation.  It may very possibly be that Naomi embodies God’s covenant with Israel.  She has learned hesed, i.e., steadfast love, from the God of Abraham.  She seeks first not her own welfare but that of others and is happy when the needs of those around her are met.

For us Christians the story of Ruth and Naomi is the beginning of the immediate preparation for Christ.  He will show us God’s love in greater ways than seen in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Hopefully by taking his love to heart we are becoming the kind of persons that Naomi is.  We too, after all, want to care for others well and by such care to attract others to God.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, apostle

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

One of our parish priests used to visit our classrooms shortly before the end of the school year.  He wanted us students to become a “Friend of Christ" by attending the 8:30 mass on Thursday mornings.  It was a small way to initiate a more personal relationship with Jesus. The effort is hardly one-sided.  The Gospel of John shows Jesus initiating personal relationships in almost every chapter.

In today’s reading Jesus recognizes Nathanael, whom we believe to be the same Bartholomew because of his association with Philip.  Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him “under the fig tree.”  It is not known what Nathanael was doing “under the fig tree,” but the remark does touch Nathanael’s heart.  He immediately responds with the Messianic claim that Jesus is “the Son of God…the King of Israel.”  How could Nathanael not follow Jesus now?

We might imagine Jesus saying to us, “Mary, I saw you shopping at Kohl’s,” or “Richard, I noticed you in the office today.”  He is not spying on us, but calling us to join his band of disciples.  It is a community of love which should give all participants never ending joy.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Judges 9:6-15; Matthew 20:1-16)

“Some people have all the luck,” we say when we wonder why others have better looks, bigger muscles, or more brains than we.  We are like the workers in today’s gospel who come to complain about the supposedly unfair pay they have received.  They want to do something about the matter.  People today think that they can do something as well.  They want to manipulate their genetic makeup so that at least their children may look better, feel stronger, and think more swiftly.

But even scientists warn that it’s a bad idea to try to determine future outcomes by genetic manipulation.  Human makeup is so complex that trying to improve one part of it may well result in injury to another.  Also, success in life is more than the sum of one’s looks, strength, and intelligence.  It is best to accept one’s genes for what they are and then strive to become the best person that one can be.

Jesus indicates as much in the parable.  Those who complain about the salary they receive are sent packing by the owner of the vineyard.  Meanwhile those who work hard and receive gratefully what they are given appear doubly blessed.  We are wise to take our cues from them.  Let us not worry about our shortcomings but make most of the talent given to us.  We are wise to thank God daily and ask His help to be His true daughters and sons.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Judges 2:11-19; Matthew 19:23-30)

“Bear” Bryant, the football coach, won the reputation of being a harsh and successful taskmaster.  His players were notoriously slim, not because they didn’t eat but because he trained them so hard.  Coach Bryant’s teams won six national titles in his twenty-five years as the head coach at the University of Alabama.  In today’s gospel Jesus presents himself similarly as the one who leads his disciples to their goal.

The passage challenges its readers.  It seems to indicate that the sure way to eternal life is to renounce wealth and follow Jesus.  It may be asked then, “Are only vowed religious guaranteed a place in heaven?”  An affirmative answer here is faulty on two levels.  First, it misses Jesus’ point that eternal life is not so much a matter of being destitute but of following him.  True, the young man in question is ostensibly called to poverty, but more generally the sine qua non of eternal life is adherence to Jesus, not forfeiting possessions.  Also, taking a vow of poverty or even living in radical poverty does not necessarily mean having a virtuous life.  Again, eternal life is a matter of taking one’s cues from Jesus.

But we should not be overly consoled by the understanding that renunciation of wealth is not absolutely necessary for eternal life.  The rich very often find their greatest satisfaction in what they can do for themselves and not in what God does for them.  Such a stance is incongruent with following Jesus.

Monday, August 23, 2017

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Judges 2:11-19; Matthew 19:16-22)

We think of judges as magistrates who interpret laws and rules in public settings.  The judges of a dance competition, for example, determine which dancers best reflect the principles of agility, creativity, and clarity of expression.  But interpretation is not the principal function of the judges of the Old Testament.  Rather than sit back and decide, these men and women led the people forward by reestablishing righteousness when the ways of God were forsaken. 

Today’s reading from the Book of Judges indicates the difficulty that Israel’s judges faced.  The people were not given to keeping the Covenant which their ancestors made with the Lord.  Rather, they followed the heathen practices of their non-Israelite neighbors.  Their waywardness led to internal weakness and hence subjugation by foreign powers.  God raised up judges to stir ardor within the tribes of Israel to follow His ways.  Regretfully, however, the new righteousness was always short-lived.

The failure of judges to produce lasting goodness eventually gave way to the period of kings who consolidated the tribes and, at least initially, had some success in transforming the people’s errant ways.  Although this arrangement ultimately failed as well, it did bring the hope of a messiah who would bring about lasting righteousness throughout the world.  Jesus fulfilled this expectation by establishing not a political state but a holy people living in every land.  We make up part of this people today and try with all our soul to live up to Jesus’ righteousness. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Joshua 24:1-13; Matthew 19:3-12)

Once crossing the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, I came to the toll booth and was waved on.  When I stopped to inquire why I didn’t have to pay, the toll collector said that the woman in the car ahead of me paid my toll.   I do not know the reason for the woman’s generosity. She did not know me.  Indeed, she could hardly have even seen me.  I presume that she felt grateful about something in her life and just wanted to help another person. 

As the woman was probably the recipient of a favor that she had received, Joshua reminds the Israelites in today’s first reading that their fortune is not their own doing.  Indeed, God has been their benefactor at every stage of their illustrious saga.  The point is that the people should be grateful to God by heeding His commands which are in good part directed to social solidarity.

We must beware that selfishness and greed does not allow us to forget God and neighbor.  All of us, as Joshua says, are beneficiaries of land that we did not till and cities that we did not build.  Richly endowed by our forebears, we are not so much to pay them back as to pay others forward.  That is, we are to give thanks by helping others.  We are to contribute to efforts which shape a society where everyone can live, grow, and prosper.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Joshua 3:7-10a.11.13-17; Matthew 18:21-19:1)

Thanks to Cecil B. De Mille most people know that the Bible depicts the Red Sea splitting in two so that the Israelites might escape the Egyptian charioteers.  Few, however, are aware of the Jordan River parting so the God’s Chosen Ones might enter the Promised Land.  The first reading today from the Book of Joshua tells this second story.  The responsorial psalm also refers to it.  This same psalm is part of the Liturgy of the Hours for Easter Sunday evening which helps us understand the meaning of the event in Christian eyes.

The Church reads the Old Testament as foretelling the person and mission of Jesus Christ.  Theologians call such a reading typology.  The story of the Ark of the Covenant leading the Israelites through the Jordan is a type for Christ’s bringing his followers into the fullness of God’s kingdom.  Jesus is for us the Holy of Holies whose death and resurrection make it possible for us to transverse the otherwise impassible gulf between earth and heaven.

If Jesus facilitates the crossing, then what must we do?  Our role in our salvation is both nothing and everything.  All that is required of us is to believe in Jesus by following his commands.  The gospel demonstrates the paradox of this challenge.  You would think it would be nothing for the servant whose master has just written off his large debt to forgive the small debt of a fellow servant.  But no, the servant – probably thinking “this is a different case” – punishes his counterpart.  We must not do likewise; rather, we are to open our hearts to those who genuinely ask forgiveness just as Christ has opened the way to our salvation.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 9:1-7.10:18-22; Matthew 18:15-20)

Internet applications like Skype and Facetime give contemporary women and men the experience of talking to others face-to-face without actually being in their presence. However, marvelous such conversations may be, they are hardly as intimate as being in one another’s presence.  In fact one of the current issues in prison reform is assuring that prisoners have direct, not electronic, access to visitors. In the first reading today, Moses is exulted for having known the Lord “face to face.” But what do these words mean and how do they compare with Christian belief that Christ saw the Father?

Various interpretations of the words are given.  Some say they do not indicate a direct encounter with the Lord because in the Book of Exodus God tells Moses that “’no one shall see me and live’” (33:20).  Of course, there is also the very real question of God, a purely spiritual being, having a material face.  It is best to conclude that Moses enjoyed a spiritual intimacy with God like no one else before the writing of the Book of Deuteronomy. 

At one point in Deuteronomy Moses himself mentions another prophet who will come after him.  This prophet will have God’s own words in his mouth and bring a definitive revelation of God’s will.  We find fulfillment of this prophecy in Jesus Christ.  The Gospel of John quotes him as saying, at least indirectly, that he has seen the Father: “’Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father’” (6:46).  His seeing of the Father constitutes a knowing that goes beyond Moses’ spiritual intimacy.  It is a divine indwelling whereby as Jesus again says in John: “(He) and the Father are one’” (10:30).  An approximation of this indwelling with its accompanying knowledge of God is what is promised to followers of Jesus in the beatitudes: “’Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God’” (Matthew 5:8).

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Revelation 19a.12:1-6a.10ab; I Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56)

In its first few centuries the Church had to distinguish itself from Gnosticism.  This is the belief that the human self is primarily his or her mind that lives in a body much like an idea can be said to be contained in a book.  Adherents of Gnosticism, called Gnostics, have a love-hate relationship with their bodies. Some consider their bodies as all material reality; i.e., doomed to extinction.  They loathe their bodies as the font of sin.  Others hold that since their bodies do not matter in the long run, they may take advantage of them in any way they like.  They can enjoy the pleasures of wanton eating and sex without worrying how these actions might affect them.  What is more, they think that until the mind develops and when it deteriorates beyond awareness, no person is present so that the body may be destroyed.

Christian faith, of course, takes a very different view.  Since we believe that God took on human flesh, for us the body is more than the soul’s container.  It interacts with the soul to form a dynamic entity.  We could not be who we are without our bodies.  More than that, since we believe that Christ rose bodily from the dead and that his followers are destined to experience the same resurrection, our bodies have eternal importance.  For this reason we take care of our bodies, we know that abortion and euthanasia are wrong, and we realize that it is important to keep marriage as a monogamous relationship between a man and a woman.

Today’s celebration recognizes the importance of the human body.  We see in Mary’s being assumed body and soul into glory God’s validation of the human body as good and permanent.  Of course, this was first done with Jesus’ resurrection, but now we are even more assured that it is the destiny of all Jesus’ followers.  Mary herself recognized the importance of the body as she sings God’s praises when Elizabeth mentions that she bears the Lord in her womb.  Likewise – and this is something that all of us should imitate – Mary demonstrates the importance of the body as she goes to personally visit Elizabeth when she hears of her pregnancy.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, martyr

(Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Matthew 17:22-27)

St. Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan friar working in Poland until he was arrested by the Gestapo.  Committed to Auschwitz, Kolbe saw an opportunity to show his love for God when another prisoner was being sent to death for a crime that he did not commit.  Because the man had a family, Kolbe offered himself as a substitute.  Pope St. John Paul II considered this act a genuine witness to the faith and canonized Maximillian Kolbe as a martyr.  In today’s first reading Moses exhorts the people to likewise give witness to their love of God.  But he does not ask them to die for God but to live for him.

The Israelites are about to enter the Promised Land.  They have every reason to hope that they and their children will have all the resources they will need to live in prosperity.  But Moses, conveying the will of God, wants more than that for them.  He wants them to fulfill their destiny of being a model of God’s justice.  So he exhorts them to remember God’s graciousness to them and to their ancestors.  He is especially concerned that they treat other peoples fairly for, he says, “…you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.”

As mass immigration has become a reality in all parts of the world, we should highlight these words of Moses.  It is difficult to sojourn in different lands with different customs and a different language.  Immigrants need understanding, fairness and even compassion.  Such treatment would show our solidarity not just across national boundaries but among generations.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Memorial of Saint Clare of Assisi, virgin

(Deuteronomy 4: 32-40; Matthew 16:24-28)

The Book of Deuteronomy reads like a reflective summary of the first four books of the Pentateuch.  It literally means second law: that is, the review of the law that God gave Moses for Israel.  In today’s reading Moses exhorts the people to remember all the good things that the Lord has done for them and to respond to His love by being faithful to His commands.

God’s goodness began with His choosing Israel from all the peoples of the earth to be especially His own.  Certainly Abraham trusted God, but there were other faithful men and women people whom God did not choose to parent His people.  God also rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt in quite astounding ways.  Finally, God taught His people justice so that they might prosper not just for a generation or a century but forever.

However God’s plan was not to limit Himself to the Semitic nation on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.  Rather, he meant to include all nations into His people.  This has been accomplished through His Son, Jesus.  If Deuteronomy is a second law in the sense that it reviews the law already given, Jesus gives a fresh second law that touches deeper dimensions of the human spirit.  Today’s gospel expresses part of what Jesus’ law entails: anyone and everyone might join God’s people by choosing to walk with him.  Like Jesus we are not to evade our responsibilities – our crosses.  Rather we are to carry them out to completion.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr

(II Corinthians 9:6-10; John 12:24-26)

In Italy today’s feast of St. Lawrence may be celebrated by looking up at the night sky.  It is the time of year when shooting stars instill a sense of awe in the observer.  Stories about St. Lawrence provide hearers with a similar awe.

Lawrence was the deacon of the Church of Rome in charge of its treasury at the time of the persecution of the emperor Valerian.  When government officials demanded that he produce for them the church’s treasures, Lawrence led them to the city’s poor.  For this act of defiance, he was sentenced to death by burning.  It is said that during his execution he quipped to his executioners that he was well done on one side and they might turn him to be roasted on the other.

Most everyone wants to be recognized as unique in some way.  Currently it is fashionable to have one’s body tattooed in a singular way.  That seems like a dubious way to stand out.  We might encourage our young people to aspire to be different like St. Lawrence.  Rather than being known for doing something odd, they should want to excel in caring for others and enduring trials patiently.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Numbers 13:1-2.25-14.1.26a-29a.34-35; Matthew 15:21-28)

Today’s gospel not only shows the value of persistent prayer but also the valor of a woman who seeks the welfare of her child.  We must take care not to be scandalized by the remark of Jesus comparing non-Jews to dogs.  He only means that his mighty works are not done to impress people.  Rather, they are meant to foster a living faith in God’s care for His people.  As the woman shows that faith, Jesus readily grants her request.

Rather than contrast the urgency of the woman’s plea with the hesitation of Jesus to help her, it is more instructive to note the difference between the disciple’s desire to dismiss the woman and Jesus’ willingness to listen to her.  Like the disciples we may not want to attend to people who come begging for assistance.  It is true that granting them what they ask often is not prudent and sometimes not possible.  But we do not have to dismiss them and much less ignore them. We could listen to their needs, respond in truth and courtesy, and pray for their welfare.  Such actions are expected of us if we are truly the Lord’s servants.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Memorial of Saint Dominic Guzman, priest

(Numbers 12:1-13; Matthew 14:22-36)

The Chicago archdiocese used to be the largest in the United States.  Churches were found in almost every neighborhood, and the faithful packed them on Sundays.  It is a different story today.  Many parishes lack a resident pastor, and whole pews go empty during Sunday mass.  The Church there, as in many dioceses in North America and Europe, is experiencing crisis.  The situation is anticipated in today’s gospel.

The boatful of disciples being tossed about by the waves represents the Church after Jesus’ resurrection.  It is suffering persecution and rejection by the Jews in Israel.  Mission activity is more successful but not necessarily easier.  Preachers like St. Paul undergo supreme hardship in preaching the gospel in faraway places.  The reading shows Jesus coming to the aid of his Church.  He saves his head disciple from drowning and brings peace to the threatening elements.

St. Dominic lived in another time of pastoral challenge.  Catholics of southern France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were abandoning the church because of the bad example of some of the clergy.  At the same time they were accepting an old heresy called Manicheanism which held that all material things are bad and all spiritual things are good.  Dominic took up the challenge.  He put his faith in the Lord of the gospels, preached the goodness of all creation, and lived simply and joyfully.  His efforts, assisted by the same Lord, gradually won back many of those who had fallen-away.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Numbers 11:4b-15; Matthew 14:13-21)

People’s complaining about government services has a long history.  Today citizens expect a host of benefits – education of children, protection from mercantile fraud as well as the building of roads and the defense from foreign powers.  The first reading today shows what people in Moses’ day demanded.

The Israelites have become tired of eating manna.  Although it provides them calories, they evidently find it bland to the taste.  In any case because it is all they have to eat, they have begun to abhor it.  They take their case against God to Moses, his representative.  “Give us something else;” they demand, “it was better for us in Egypt.”

We might call the people ungrateful for forgetting the drudgery of life in the old country.  But God is more understanding.  He will provide meat to enhance their diet.  Much more significantly, in time he will send his Son Jesus to feed them the Bread of Life.  In today’s gospel Jesus gives his listeners a foretaste of the banquet to come.  The people receive sustenance for the journey home.  One day they will remember this ersatz meal as like the Eucharist.  In that meal they will be nourished spiritually so that they may experience eternal life.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Memorial of Saint John Vianney, priest

(Leviticus 23:1.4-11.15-16.27.34b-37; Matthew 13:54-58)

In one of his novels Larry McMurtry tells the story of an antique collector who buys a precious item from the owners of a second-hand store.  The owners ask a price many times below the object’s value because they do not know its real worth.  In the gospel today the townspeople where Jesus grew up similarly do not recognize Jesus for who he really is. 

The people of Nazareth think that they know Jesus because they know his family.  They cannot comprehend that he is the long awaited Messiah who comes to save Israel.  Even his miraculous cures and his wonderful teaching do not convince them but just confound them more.

Some of us may likewise be scandalized by the ways that Jesus makes himself present today.  We do not meet him at a grand banquet which we have to pay thousands of dollars to attend.  No, he is present in the simple hosts and the inexpensive wine that we bring to the altar.  His teachings promising eternal life are also neither complex nor enigmatic.  Rather, they contain the straightforward message that we are to love God above all and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We must be careful not to reject Jesus as his townspeople do in the gospel.  Quite the contrary, we must be ever grateful that he makes himself available to us and to all.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 40:16-21.34-38; Matthew 13:47-53)

We might call the significance of the two parables in today’s gospel “a matter of emphasis.”  Jesus emphasizes the bad fish and the new teaching.  He summarily says the good fish will be put into buckets but explains that corrupt people are like bad fish and will be thrown in fiery furnaces.  Jesus more subtly emphasizes his new teaching in the storeroom of wisdom by inverting the expected order of words.  Rather than speaking of old before new, he gives priority to his new teaching before the ancient wisdom of the Scriptures.

The new teaching is the kingdom of heaven which now has definitively come through Jesus’ presence.  It brings joy, peace, and happiness to those who repent of their sins.  The old teaching – the Law and its commandments – has not been suspended but human concern goes beyond keeping its statues.  The bad fish are those who never repent, that is, never look at their faults, ask forgiveness, or endeavor to live Jesus’ new righteousness.

Here again Jesus challenges the sensibilities of the modern world.  We like to think that we can get away with doing evil.  Many have no problem with telling a lie or absenting themselves from Mass on Sundays as long as they help the poor.  Jesus is indicating that there is a problem.  He would agree with the ancient Greek moralists who said, “First, do no evil.”  Likewise, many today have trouble saying, “I’m sorry.”  Jesus would want us to do so every time we err.  It is part of what he intends when he tells us to repent.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Exodus 34:29-35; Matthew 13:44-46)

One of Michelangelo’s most famous sculptures shows Moses with horns coming out of his head!  It was not that Michelangelo thought Moses some kind of devil.  Rather he was faithfully depicting the figure described in the Latin Bible that was used at the time.  In it the Hebrew word for radiance was incorrectly translated as horn.  Hence the great sculptor and religious devotee shapes horns protruding from Moses’ head.  Moses is radiant, of course, from having spent time with God who imparts his wisdom to him in the Ten Commandments. 

The gospels speak of Jesus as having a similar radiance when he is transformed on the mountaintop.  He also has seen God face-to-face.  We learn from him even more clearly God’s will for us.  Today’s gospel expresses that will as seeking the kingdom of God.  It tells us not to allow anything or anyone to take priority to living the joy and peace of that life.