Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Solemnity of All Saints

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

Mr. Blue is the story of a saint.  The main character was never canonized and, in truth, existed in the author’s, Myles Connolly’s, mind.  But there probably was a model on which the story was based.  In any case, Mr. Blue reminds readers of people in their lives who practiced all the virtues, especially faith and love.  These men and women may never have been recognized universally as saints in part because one of the virtues they cherished was humility.  In today’s Feast of All Saints the Church honors all such people.

They are indeed many.  The first reading from the Book of Revelation describes them as “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”  It is said that since the beginning of humanity there have lived one hundred billion human beings.  The really good ones make up that “great multitude.”  The criteria for counting them as saints come from today’s gospel. Saints are “poor in spirit,” “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and strive to be “peacemakers.”  In short, they are always ready to sacrifice themselves for God’s sake.

We praise holy women and men not just by recalling them today but by imitating their virtue every day.  We pray for the realization of grace that assists the poor with their needs, speaks humbly and truthfully at all times, and fulfills all responsibilities to society.  Doing so will include us among the number who are praised today.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:18-25; Luke 13:18-21)

The car window opened, and an object flew out – perhaps a plastic cup – littering the road.  It was a small act of defiance of both law and public decency indicative of a careless person.  But little things add up.  An estimated fifty-one billion articles of litter are deposited on the roads of the United States alone every year! 

Yet litter is hardly the biggest environmental problem.  Other worries far outsize trash on roads.  The way humans consume fossil fuels causes pollution that likely contributes to global warming.  Their cutting down rain forests results in the destruction of animal habitats which, in turn, causes land to dry up.  St. Paul describes the situation well in today’s first reading.  Creation groans in anticipation of a redeemed humanity so that the environment may be saved.

Paul is far from being desperate about the situation.  He perceives creation already being liberated by the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is changing our hearts to value the environment as a common patrimony.  Good people have begun to cooperate in protecting natural resources.  We want future generations to know the wonder of otters, octopuses, and owls.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 8:12-17; Luke 13:10-17)

An article in the October edition of First Things offers a perspective for reading today’s gospel.  Entitled “Empathy is not Charity,” the article criticizes the contemporary urgency to feel the pain of the suffering.  Such empathy often enough leads to actions that undermine truth and justice.  It may cause, for example, one to counsel a woman with a problem pregnancy to have an abortion.  Charity will move us to help the woman bear the child with all necessary support.

Jesus shows like concern for the woman who has been crippled for eighteen years.  He does not feel her pain but removes it.  Of course, the synagogue leader accuses him of working on the Sabbath which in Deuteronomy celebrates God’s gift of liberation from slavery.  But Jesus knows that he has not infringed any Sabbath rule.  Rather he has liberated the woman from oppression – an action quite in synch with the Sabbath.

We should not say that it is wrong to empathize with others.  Often trying to feel the pain of another gives us a true understanding of the situation that we face.  But we must realize that charity – the purest form of love – is not primarily taking away the other’s pain.  It is a matter of doing what is best for the one suffering as well as for everyone else.

Thursday, October 26, and Friday, October 27, 2017

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 6:19-23; Luke 12:49-53)

An unforgettable scene in the movie “Malcom X” shows a man dying in a rundown rental room.  He once made a small fortune in the numbers racket; that is, in collecting small bets on the final numbers of the daily stock market trading.  As bank robber Willie Sutton reputedly said: “That’s where the money is.”  He had spent most of it on liquor, drugs, and other vices.  Now he was paying the price.  As today’s reading from St. Paul’s Romans says, “…the wages of sin is death.”

Paul recognizes that sinful humans will always die.  Reflecting on Genesis, he concludes that the curse of Adam is a tendency to sin that ensnarls all humans on a steady downward trajectory.  That is everyone except Jesus (and by special dispensation his Immaculate Mother).  Jesus not only transcended enslavement to sin but boosted his followers out of their entrapment.  Trusting in Jesus as Lord, women and men can now overcome the tendency to love creatures more than the Creator – the essence of sin.

We need to hold ourselves close to Jesus – desperately. Heeding his warnings and following his example, we actually become freer, happier people.  We become, in other words, beneficiaries of the gift of eternal life.

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 7:18-25a; Luke 12:54-59)

At the end of Luke’s gospel Jesus is pictured accompanying two of his disciples leaving Jerusalem on the day of his resurrection.  He explains to them the gospel and shares with them a meal.  In today’s passage from the same gospel Jesus tells the crowds that they are on the way to see their judge with someone they have offended.  That offended one accompanying them is the same Jesus.

He has come from God to make humans aware of their sins and to deliver them from them.  As St. Paul says in the reading from Romans, “Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Humans must make peace with Jesus by confessing their sins and petitioning his mercy.  Otherwise, at death they will face the Supreme Judge with his blood on their hands.

Although Jesus in the gospel here is portrayed as our “opponent,” he is more kindly than adversarial. He is ready to forgive the most grievous, the most embarrassing, and the most conventional of our sins.  We do not have to be afraid of telling them to him.  Actually he is always our friend more than our opponent.

Tuesday, October 24, and Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 5:12.15b.17-19.20b-21; Luke 12:35-38)

Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests in the United States has more than sinful and scandalous; it has been outrageous.  About three thousand priests over a period of fifty years have been accused of such crime, according to the Church’s Promoter of Justice at the Vatican.  Could any good come out of such a cesspool?  Now it is safe to answer, “Yes.”  The Church’s response, at least in the United States, has been thorough and effective.  At one time the Church was lax in supervision: now it is exemplary.  The checks to abuse that it has positioned have made it a model for curtailing the evil.  The process can be sighted as an example of what St. Paul means in today’s reading from his Letter to the Romans that “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.”

Paul is writing of the fallen state of human nature which goes back to the first man and woman.  Even with the aid of the Covenants, humans were unable to curtail sinful activity.  Then Jesus came to stem the downward thrust.  He not only lived righteously but died to make manifest the egotism at the root of sin.  His death, however, left no trace of personal disgrace as he rose in glory, the first instance of the blessing that is promised to all his followers.

The Holy Spirit has given the Church a resiliency to overcome scandals like sexual abuse fifteen years ago.  The Spirit works through each of us.  It urges us to abide by the norms that have been set up and to always examine our consciences so that we always act with prudence.  With the Spirit’s guidance the Church has become the template for sexual temperance in the U.S. and beyond.

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 6:12-18; Luke 12:39-48)

St. Augustine famously told his people, “With you I am a Christian, for you I am a bishop. The second fills me with terror, the first, with great consolation.” The fear flowed from the responsibility he had to guide his diocese.  He knew that God would judge him harshly if he failed to discharge his duties or if he used the episcopacy for his own gain.  It goes without saying that Augustine took note of the gospel passage we read today.

In the passage Jesus warns his apostles that they are susceptible to a stricter judgment than others.  Because he has taught them himself, they can have no excuse for abusing their authority.  The bishops today are the successors of those apostles with the same responsibility of guiding the Church.  Priests do not share the fullness of the apostolic mandate, but they are likewise well tutored in the gospels.  Both bishops and priests can expect stiff punishment if they fail to give judicious pastoral care.

Sometimes in hearing the Eucharistic Prayer we may wonder why the clergy are given special mention.  Some priests, you may have noticed, change the wording to include all ministers or all people.  This is a forgivable sin.  But surely it is charity that moves us to pray especially for bishops, priests, and deacons.  They bear grave responsibility which they may fail to handle well leaving everyone in jeopardy. 

Friday, October 20, and Monday, October 23, 2017

Friday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 4:1-8; Luke 12:1-7)

The French philosopher Albert Camus made a hero out of the rogue mythological king Sisyphus.  In Camus’ story Sisyphus temporarily redeems humanity by putting Death itself in chains.  As a punishment for his deception, the gods assign Sisyphus the task of pushing a boulder up a mountain.  It is an arduous task, but the worst part is that when Sisyphus near the summit, the gods arrange that the boulder falls to the bottom.  Then Sisyphus must repeat the travail. 

Sisyphus’ fate is not unlike the dilemma of humans without Christ.  Try as they might, humans on their own could never be justified before God.  The Law pointed them in the right direction, but proved to be more than any person on his or her own could fulfill.  St. Paul tells us today that justification comes by faith as it did in the case of Abraham.  In the coming days we will hear Paul proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection as the definitive content of faith.  To be justified, Paul will say, we must believe that God raised Jesus from the dead.

The news of justification through faith is too grand for a grim realist like Albert Camus to bear.  Camus thought that the best humans could do is to achieve integrity and, perhaps, an esprit de corps in carrying on the daily struggle of life until death.  But we Christians dare to hope for more because of the testimony of those like Paul.  He encountered the risen Jesus who changed his life and sent him to proclaim the message of eternal life.

Monday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 4:20-25; Luke 12:13-21)

The Church of the early late fifteenth and early sixteenth century suffered from having too much wealth.  The popes acted more like princes than prophets.  Monks and religious hardly gave witness to the poverty of Jesus.  Sometimes, indeed, they had personal servants.  Understanding the incongruity of such comfort with religious profession, saints like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross began the reform the Carmelite Order.  They might have taken their cues from today’s gospel.

In the passage Jesus refuses to get involved in a family dispute over inheritance.  It is not that he wants to ignore real-life tensions.  Rather, he wants to testify that God, not material resources, brings salvation.  He calls the farmer in the parable a “fool” for not recognizing that the future is more in God’s hands than in his own.

Certainly we are challenged to live our faith in this time of abundance.  Everyday there are more “necessities” to obtain and “upgrades” to purchase.  We must not allow ourselves to be led astray by these ruses.  Rather, let us learn that the best we can do with material superfluity is to share it with the needy.  

Wednesday, October 18, and Thursday, October 19, 2017

Feast of Saint Luke, evangelist

(II Timothy 4:10-17b; Luke 10:1-9)

If the Church were to use only one gospel, many people would want it to be the Gospel According to Luke.  Although not the most profound theologically, Luke’s Gospel shines in ways that touch the human heart deeply.  It gives the most detailed account of Jesus’ birth as well as of Mary, the mother of God.  It also relates the most memorable of Jesus’ parables and shows Jesus constantly in prayer.  This list could go on almost indefinitely.

We call the author of the third gospel “Luke” but cannot be sure who he was or even if “Luke” was really his name.   Several sources from the second century identify him with the Luke who is occasionally mentioned in the Pauline letters as we heard today.  Because at one point in these letters he is described as a “beloved physician,” he is honored by medical professionals as their patron.  He is also said to have painted a portrait of the Virgin Mother which is kept in the Basilica of St. Mary Major Thus, he enjoys the patronage of artists as well.  But it seems more accurate to name his profession as how he describes himself: an historical researcher who puts in good order the events of the life of Christ (see Luke 1:1-3). 

Yet Luke is more than a historian because his narrative, as we see in today’s gospel, announces the “kingdom of God.” Luke found that kingdom personified in Jesus himself who comes to show mercy on all.  Luke is especially careful to show the inclusiveness of this “all” as he is especially solicitous of the poor, women, and almost hopeless sinners. 

Memorial of Saints Jean Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, priest and martyrs, and companions, martyrs

(Romans 3:21-30; Luke 11:47-54)

A lovely story indicates the sanctity of the North American Martyrs whom we celebrate today.  St. Isaac Jogues was captured by the Iroquois and tortured terribly.  His fingers were cut off, but he was able to escape his captors and eventually returned to France for healing.  While there, he wrote the pope for permission to celebrate the Eucharist since Church law at the time specified that the priest’s hands must be intact to celebrate Mass.  The pope wrote back saying that anyone who sheds his blood for Christ should not be denied the privilege of drinking the blood of Christ. (Another note: at the time only priests at the altar drank from the chalice.)  Isaac then returned to North America where he was captured again and martyred.

In today first reading Paul tells how Christ died to save all – Jew and Gentile.  But to be saved one must believe in his death and resurrection.  Jean Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, and companions not only believed but also demonstrated their faith by risking their lives as missionaries.  Their eloquent testimony with blood has brought many Native Americans to embrace the faith and edifies the character of others.

Today we accept the doctrine of Vatican II that one does not have to explicitly profess faith in Christ for to be saved.  We hold that following one’s conscience can result in salvation.  But we should not fool ourselves into thinking that following one’s conscience is simply a matter of acting consistently with whatever values one claims.  No, one must discern that the God who made us also loves us and that we must follow His lead.  It is a tall order indeed to believe this without first-hand witness to Jesus Christ.

Monday, October 16, and Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

(Romans 1:1-7; Luke 11:29-32)

In today’s first reading Paul from the Letter to the Romans calls himself “a slave of Christ.”  He does not mean that Christ forces him to do things against his will, quite the contrary.  Christ has freed him to act according to what his will most deeply desires. He writes further along in the letter of his former sinful condition, “For I do not the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (7:15).  Then he reports of being freed through faith in Christ.

The evil that Paul refers to is largely covetousness.  Humans want what does not belong to them.  It may be riches but as often as not it is illicit sexual pleasure.  Certainly one of the most confessed sins today is viewing pornography.  Viewing lascivious images depersonalizes sex and turns eros into individual gratification.

We are wise to turn to Christ when we are tempted by covetousness.  He enlightens the darkness of our hearts so that we can see clearly what is good for us.  He will give us the temperance to control our animal desires.  He will not treat us as slaves, but as younger sisters and brothers whom he wants to flourish in goodness and happiness.

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr

(Romans 1:16-25; Luke 11:37-41)

In the early 1990s an American Dominican priest working among the poor in El Salvador began to receive death threats.  Determining them to be credible, the priest’s superior called him back to the United States.  No doubt, the priest returned with a divided heart.  He would have preferred to stay with his people, but such persistence might have cost his life.  St. Ignatius of Antioch evidently had a different perspective on a similar situation.

From the letters he wrote as he traveled from Antioch to his execution in Rome, we know that Ignatius looked forward to being martyred.  When it seemed that Christians might find a way to have the penalty commuted, Ignatius pleaded with them not to do so.  He evidently wanted to be eaten alive by lions.  It is not sacrilegious to ask whether his outlook may be in part pathological.

But Ignatius also knew the corruption in many pagan hearts.  To this Paul testifies in today’s first reading.  Pagans, Paul writes, abandon their consciences differentiating right from wrong to follow the whims of their hearts represented by idols.  By dying as a martyr, Ignatius witnesses to the truth that God has created us to be just and holy as He is.  He does not tarry in professing his faith because he knows that God will reward him soon.

Thursday, October 12, and Friday, October 13

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Malachi 3:13-20b; Luke 11:5-13)

Today’s first reading is reminiscent of the so-called “New Atheists.”  These writers not only expressed their disbelief in God but also showed contempt for Him.  One wrote a book entitled, “God Is Not Great.”  Another blamed religion – often defined as “the love of God” -- for most of the wars in history. 

The reading from the prophet Malachi looks at the world from God’s perspective.  It expresses His outrage that people would deny that they have defied God after commending evil-doers and doubting the need to repent of one’s sins.  God then promises justice.  He says that those who fear Him will be duly rewarded while those who flouted His authority will perish.

We must take care not to become too impressed with the arguments of the “New Atheists.”  Generally they can be reduced to the questions people have asked for centuries.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why do bad people seem to prosper?  It is good to keep in mind that Jesus, the Son of God, suffered terribly before being raised to glory.  Walking in his way is to often skirt trouble, but completing the journey is to find true happiness.

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Joel 1:13-15.2:1-2; Luke 11:15-26)

A local parish just had its first “Christ Renews His Church” retreat.  The men responded well.  Most who signed up for the event attended, and most who came on Friday night stayed until Sunday.  But the end of the retreat was not the end of the process.  As the retreat was closing, the leaders scheduled a follow-up meeting where the men would share how they felt returning to “the world.”  Such follow-ups are prevalent in popular movements from Cursillos to Marriage Encounters.  Jesus hints at their necessity in today’s gospel.

Jesus has just driven out a demon.  The people wonder how he obtained such power.  He tries to convince them that it comes from God not the devil because the devil would not work against himself.  Then Jesus teaches the people that once cleaned of their impurities they must stay close to the Lord.  He might say that trying to remain in virtue without prayer and penitence is trying to stay clean without soap and water.  As he puts it, the devil can return with evil spirits more pernicious than what possessed the person before.

We do not use the terminology of spirits and demons even of evil today.  But this does not mean that they do not exist.  More sophisticated, we typically call the moral problems people face vices, deviant behaviors, and the like.  In any case, once we emerge from a bout with evil, we are wise to remain close to the Lord so that greater problems do not overwhelm us. 

Tuesday, October 10, and Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 10:38-42)

Since no historical records exist of the mass conversion of Nineveh and since the story of Jonah drips with exaggeration, the book is taken as an instruction to later Jews rather than a chronicle of an actual event.  It certainly indicates God’s will that other peoples be saved.  It also warns against prejudice.

Nineveh’s complete repentance is seen in the way both king and people change their hearts.  This sense is punctuated by dressing the animals in sackcloth.  Given that every society has some backsliders, Jews would have marveled to hear how thorough the conversion of their feared neighbors to the northeast was.  These were the same barbarians who had ravaged their ancestors.  Perhaps, the Jews could conclude, they are not as bad as they seemed.

The Book of Jonah is instructive to us as well.  It tells us not to consider any people or any person as beyond saving.  God works wonders. Those whom we may regard as despicable may come to surpass us in rendering true worship to God.

Wednesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 4:1-11; Luke 11:1-4)

With Halloween approaching, let’s reflect on what the word means.  We find a form of it in the first petition in the Lord’s Prayer read in today’s liturgy.  The prayer asks God to make “hallowed” His name.  It is a request that God’s name be reverenced or made holy.  The word Halloween is short for all hallows even, the eve of all the holy ones.  We have a sense of this meaning since the next day we celebrate the Feast of All Saints.

When we pray “hallowed be your name,” we express our desire that God’s name be reverenced throughout the world.  We want God to be honored and obeyed that He might have His due glory and we might live in peace with all.  It is then a giant petition even though it sounds simple.

The movement toward a universal recognition of God’s name should begin with us.  We should do more than not take His name in vain.  We should give it honor by testifying to others our gratefulness and continuous need for God.

Friday, October 6, and Monday, October 9, 2017

Friday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time 
(Baruch 1:15-22; Luke 10:13-16) 
In 1863 Abraham Lincoln signed a bill declaring a “day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer.” America was experiencing the blight of civil war and rightly held itself responsible. “We have forgotten God,” the bill declared, and also “we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace.”  Such a public call to repentance would never be made today.  But it is exactly what Jesus expects in today’s gospel. 
Chorazain, Bethsaida, and Capernaum – these are not notoriously bad cities.  There sin is likely a malaise that prevents them from noticing that the Messiah stands in their midst.  Rather than repent, they carry on business as usual.  Jesus declares that they have missed their opportunity, that their train left the station, that they will be left in oblivion. 
Just because our nation may never repent does not mean that individuals or groups should not.  We do offend God and should ask pardon and do penance.  While we are at it, let us go beyond the superficial.  We get angry ourselves and make others angry, but these are hardly the worse of our sins.  More grievously, we lie, lust, and ridicule.  We ignore the needs of others while we forever grasp at what our hearts desire.   

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary time 
(Jonah 1:1-2:2.11; Luke 10:25-37) 
A few years ago a leading Catholic university removed the crucifixes from its classrooms.  Having a multi-ethnic student body, the university administration reasoned that the crucifixes might offend students of other religious traditions.  One Muslim student, however, was bothered by the removal.  After all, he asked, what kind of guest would he be if he could not respect the symbols and artifacts of his hosts’ religion?  Eventually, the crucifixes were returned to the classrooms, and their removal, no doubt, was attributed to political correctness. 
The Book of the Prophet Jonah similarly testifies to people from other religions showing greater sensibility to true religion than they of the dominant tradition.  Jonah, the Jew, is disgusted with the Lord for his parallel love of other peoples.  He flees when God commands him to preach in the city of Nineveh, Israel’s captors.  In his flight the sailors on the ship that transports Jonah show more regard for the Lord than he.  They pray to God for help and shudder to think that their act of appeasement may not please God. 
We find Jesus making a similar point in the gospel.  He describes the Samaritan who comes to the aid of the dying stranger as giving God greater praise than the priest and Levite who, most likely for liturgical reason, would not touch him.  Everyone is wise to recognize the Holy Spirit working among different peoples and religions just as surely as it lavishes graces upon her or him. 

Wednesday and Thursday, October 4-5, 2017

Memorial of Saint Francis of Assisi, religious 
One of the reasons that St. Francis of Assisi has been so popular through the centuries is that he is seen as a romantic.  It is said that Francis separated himself from his money-driven father by taking off his fine clothes and giving them back to his appalled father in the public square.  Even more charming is the story of his taming a vicious wolf by appealing to the wolf’s reason: if the wolf would stop ravaging the town, the townspeople would feed it every day.  The difficulty with such stories is that they are not always accurate. 
A recent biography by a hard-nosed but still admiring historian dismisses a large amount of the legend surrounding Francis.  What he finds is a man like the rest of us groping to God through a troubled situation.  But Francis, of course, reached his object without the pains of purgatory.  Perhaps it was devotion to Christ that gave him the critical edge.  Francis loved the Lord because Jesus truly impoverishes himself not just in the incarnation and on the cross but in the Eucharist where he makes himself food for human edification. 
We do well to emulate Francis of Assisi.  We need not go barefoot or eschew swatting flies.  But we should carefully contemplate the mystery that confronts us at Mass.  It is Jesus under the guise of bread and wine who calls us to humble ourselves so that we might strengthen others. 

Thursday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

 (Nehemiah 8:1-4a.5-6.7b-12; Luke 10:1-12)  
A few years ago the United States was enthralled by a freshly told story of Abraham Lincoln.  Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln astounded the nation by the portrayal of the sixteenth president’s righteousness and integrity, his political acumen and his patriotism.  The movie no doubt invoked many tears as it showed the depth of sacrifice made by the country’s greatest statesman.  A very similar dynamic is at work in the first reading today. 
The scribe-priest Ezra stands up before the people to read Israel’s Law.  He is not reciting a code of rules but the history of the people’s salvation.  He reads of Abraham and Jacob, of Moses and Pharaoh.  But most of all, Ezra tells of God’s care for Israel.  He recounts how God gave Abraham and Sarah a child when the couple had lost hope of descendants.  And how He rescued the Israelites from servitude in Egypt and formed them into a community worthy of His name.  No wonder that the people want to cry! 
Christians can claim the story of the Patriarchs and the Exodus as their own, but we have an even greater love story to contemplate.  We speak of Jesus, God’s own son, who took on human form so that we might know God’s definitive will and be strengthened to do it.  We too weep at the boldness of God’s compassion on us and can never give Him enough thanks.