Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

(Number 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

In southern Italian city of Matera thousands of people lived in caves until the 1950s.  The people farmed and herded sheep for a subsistence living.  At night they returned to their homes dug out of limestone thousands of years ago.  There they ate and slept along with their most valuable farm animals.  It is quite possible that Jesus was born in a grotto such as one of these caves.

Today’s gospel shows the shepherds coming to worship the newborn Savior.  They recognize him in part by the manger that would have been part of an inhabited cave.  The second century Christian philosopher Justin Martyr, a native of Palestine and familiar with Bethlehem, claims that Jesus was born in a grotto or cave.  Some of the Fathers of the Church thought this testimony credible.  They wrote that in becoming human Jesus descended to the depths of the earth so that he might redeem all people.

The passage also features Mary.  It says that she is reflecting in her heart on all that is taking place.  She realizes that Jesus’ birth in the humblest conditions has significance.  It rebukes the rich and powerful who seek to control others.  She knows that shepherds represent the poor.  They depend upon Christ as their hope in an often callous world.  And she knows that the angels spoke the truth.  They announced the birth of Jesus who saves us from our sins

Monday, December 31, 2018

Seventh Day within the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord

(I John 2:18-21; John 1:1-18)

Remember the movies where the Anti-Christ was pictured as a super-suave, very evil-intentioned man?  He was revealed by the numbers “666” branded somewhere on his person.  That’s Hollywood.  In today’s first reading we find one of the four times “antichrist” is found in the Bible.  The other three are also in the Letters of John.  None describes a person of great evil.  All refer to people who have left the author’s community.  The situation is similar to what has happened throughout the two millennia of Christianity.  There are examples of it taking place today as well.

Many people are deeply offended by the way the bishops have handled sexual abuse of minors.  They are appalled of the cover-ups and the reassigning of molesters to other parishes. They certainly should expect behavior better than average by men who preach the gospel.  The fact that errant priests were reassigned often with professional assurance that they were not likely to commit the same crimes again should contribute to understanding how such a scandal could have arisen.  Fortunately, it must be said now, the abuse and certainly reassignment are phenomena of the past. A system of checks has been put into place to assure the protection of minors.

Some, whose faith is shaky, may have found in clergy abuse an excuse to leave the Church.  Hopefully, they will see the light and come back.  The light here is not some celestial luminary.  It is Christ himself.  He left the ongoing work of redemption in the hands of imperfect men.  Although by and large the men and women working in the name of the Church have sacrificed themselves for others, some have failed.  As we end one year and begin a new one, we pray that their sins may be repented and forgiven.  We also ask God’s help that such crimes will never blemish the Church again.

Friday, December 28, 2018

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs

(I John 1:5-2:2; Matthew 2:13-18)

The joy of Christmas never goes unmitigated.  On December 26, Catholics celebrate the Feast of St. Stephan, the first Christian martyr.  Stephan was stoned to death as he testified to Jesus’ glorification at God’s right hand.  The undercurrent of sorrow is even more pronounced today -- two days later – when the Church remembers the Holy Innocents.  As the gospel relates, these infants were slaughtered in Herod’s maniacal obsession to eliminate rivals.

The two sobering feasts of Christmastide remind people of the purpose of this great feast.  It hardly celebrates the glory of humanity – its capacity for virtue and autonomy.  Rather Christmas brings rejoicing because God has sent His Son to redeem humans from folly.  The Christ child is born not just to teach humans God’s holy will, but more importantly to die in satisfaction for their sins.  It is like the American missionary doctor in Africa who a few years ago contracted the deadly Ebola virus while working to defeat the disease. 

Yet there is no need for us to spend these days in mourning.  As St. Stephan and the Holy Innocents shared in Christ’s redemptive death, they have also participated in his triumph over death.  We believe that they are nearer to Christ in glory than we can be at the present time.  We now join their hymn of praise to God.  We also hope to stand among them sooner or later in eternal happiness.

Thursday, December 27, 2017

Feast of Saint John, apostle and evangelist

(I John 1:1-4; John 20:1a.2-8)

Some may be taken aback by the appearance of a resurrection account so near to Christmas.  But the resurrection is as much part of Christ’s story as his death forecasted yesterday on the Feast of St. Stephen.  It could be said “even more so” for Jesus was not born to die like other humans.  Rather from all eternity he was to rise from the dead as the Son of God.

Of course, it is the Beloved Disciple who takes center stage in today’s passage.  More than likely he did not actually write the Gospel according to John.  But he evidently provided many of the traditions on which it is based.  The reading testifies to how he believes without seeing the risen Christ.  In this he differs from the other disciples.  Later in the gospel Jesus will say to Thomas, “You have believed because you have seen me.  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  The Beloved Disciple is the first person to believe in Christ’s resurrection without seeing him risen.

We follow the Beloved Disciple in due course.  Christmas could not ultimately be joyous with our belief in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  It accomplished the victory over sin for which Christ was born.  Because of it we live in true freedom.  More wonderfully, Jesus’ resurrection has assured us of eternal life when we follow him.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Feast of Saint Stephen, first martyr

(Acts 6:8-10.7:54-59; Matthew 10:17-22)

T.S. Eliot’s play Murder in the Cathedral tells the story of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in 1170.  Half-way through the play, the archbishop delivers his Christmas sermon.  He tells the congregation that at Christmas mass not only the birth of Jesus is remembered but also his passion and death.  He adds that this dual remembrance indicates that the Christian life is neither pure joy nor pure sorrow.  Thomas goes on to ask, “Is it an accident … that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ?” Not at all, the Church deliberately places the martyrdom of Stephen on the day after Christmas to temper our celebration.  We must keep in mind that Jesus became human to sacrifice himself for others.

Unless people think that the dual sentiment is solely the invention of the Medieval Church, we can point to the same juxtaposition of elation and ominous sorrow in both Luke’s and Matthew’s Nativity accounts.  In Luke after Jesus is born his parents take him to the Temple.  There the holy man Simeon makes the foreboding prophecy that Jesus will be a sign to be contradicted.  In other words, Jesus will extend God’s love to people, but his offer will in some cases be brutally rejected.  In Matthew the horror is more evident.  Jesus’ birth occasions the jealousy of King Herod.  To eliminate his rival Herod has all male infants of the area two years or under murdered. 

We must take to heart the cross sentiments of Christian life.  Our happiest celebrations like a dear friend’s birthday should not ignore the fact that fellow humans are suffering often dire circumstances.  Similarly, our most intolerable burdens like the loss of a loved one should not go without faith in Christ’s victory over sin and death.  Christians are neither rosy-eyed optimists nor unrelenting pessimists.  No, we live both the death and the resurrection of the Lord deep in our hearts everyday.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Nativity of the Lord (Mass at Midnight)

(Isaiah 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14)

Historians do more than record the events of the past.  More importantly, they tell the significance of those events.  They put the events in context by relating them to other occurrences of the time.  They also give the meaning of the events to both the people of their time and the historians’ own times.  Of the four evangelists no one is more self-consciously an historian than Luke.  His historical consciousness is readily seen as he narrates the event of Jesus’ birth.

Luke begins his story by contextualizing Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in their time.  Caesar Augustus was ruling what seemed to be the whole world.  He had brought peace to the empire after almost a hundred years of civil strife. The great poet Virgil considered Augustus the epitome of the virtuous ruler.  Luke hints that Jesus will become an ever more glorious ruler.  He relates how the angels are singing in the heavens when Jesus is born.  "’Glory to God in the highest,’” they proclaim, “’and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’"

We live in a world of continued conflict and often enough war.  The great powers – Russia, China, and the United States – show off their military might.  Civil wars in smaller nations like Yemen, Sudan, and Syria ravage populations.  Some ask: if Jesus is the great peace-maker, why does the world still experience such turmoil?  Our response will not satisfy every troubled heart, but it does fit our experience.   Jesus has brought a modicum of peace to the world.  He healed the enmity between Jews and Gentiles in antiquity, and his teachings continue to give pause to warring hearts.  He also moves us interiorly to reconcile with our enemies, our neighbors, and God.  His birth, which we celebrate with joy today, represents the beginning of eternal peace.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(II Samuel 7:1-5.8b-12.14a.16; Luke 1:67-79)

Today’s gospel is comprised entirely of the song or canticle of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.  It is commonly called the Benedictus, the Latin for its first word “’Blessed.’”  Zechariah is singing praise to God on the occasion of His new-born son John’s circumcision.  The song, however, keeps the Messiah, Jesus Christ, front and center.  He is the “mighty Savior” who will have come to free Israel from its oppressors.  John serves as the Messiah’s forerunner, the one who “’go(es) before the Lord to prepare his way.’”

Something akin to Matthew’s genealogy, Zechariah’s canticle underscores a relationship of the Messiah to two essential figures of the Old Testament.  First in the order of the canticle, Jesus comes from the David’s lineage.  As the first reading promises, he will establish an eternal dynasty bearing David’s name.  Just as important, Jesus fulfills the oath God made to Abraham.  The patriarch’s descendants are to be as countless as the stars in the sky.  St. Paul will note how this prophecy is fulfilled with the Gentiles coming to practice the faith of Abraham.

The time is at hand.  Jesus is to be born.  He will both fulfill Old Testament prophecies and provide the New Testament hope of eternal life.  We must open our hearts and minds to him.  Our response begins easily enough tonight.  It continues as we carry our individual crosses in life.  It ends with our taking a place among God’s glorified.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

(Song of Songs 2:8-14; Luke 1:39-45)

Faith may be defined as the jumping to a conclusion under the influence of the Holy Spirit.  The faithful person has inconclusive evidence from the senses of God’s presence.  She may attribute the good that is before her as an illusion summoned by her desire to know the depth of reality.  But the Holy Spirit moves her to an acceptance of the divine love undergirding creation.  We see faith at work two and a half times in today’s gospel.

“Filled with the Holy Spirit” Elizabeth recognizes Mary as “blessed among women” and “mother of my Lord.”  The same Spirit has already prompted the baby in Elizabeth’s womb to leap in recognition of the Messiah in Mary’s womb.  The “half” exhibition of faith comes from Elizabeth’s allusion to Mary’s response to the angel of God.  The latter said in faith, “’…Be it done to me according to your word.’”

Even with the Spirit faith challenges us at times.  God’s will may seem opposed to what we deem as desirable.  Perhaps a loved one has become terminally sick.  Or perhaps we want something we know is wrong for us.  We must hold on to faith.  That is, we must continue believing in divine love undergirding our very existence.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

(Isaiah 7:10-14; Luke 1:26-38)

Jerome Miller, a Catholic theologian, wrote a reflection on the Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli’s depiction of the Annunciation.  According to Miller, the artist, like any exegete, has much to teach us about this critical moment in the history of salvation.   

Miller begins his study by noting how the action of the painting takes places on a floor of perfectly arranged rectangles.  He says these figures represent lives that are dominated by order which brings meaning and gives a platform for action.  Then Miller notes how the angel appears as an eruption of grace into Mary’s well-ordered life.  In the painting the angel’s hand makes a gesture of command: she is to give birth to the Son of God who will bring peace to earth.  The hand is open and not pointing directly to Mary but giving her permission to refuse the mandate.  Mary, however, is pictured as all receptivity.  Her body curves in what can be seen as a bow of compliance.  Her hands are open like Jesus’ on the cross.  Their positioning indicates awareness that her decision will cause her suffering.

All of us are so approached in life with a proposition of divine grace.  We are called out of the ordinariness of making a living to sacrifice ourselves for others.  Of course, our consent to grace will make us vulnerable to suffering.  But we should not shrink from the mission.  We like Mary are nothing greater, but nothing less either, than servants of the Lord.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

(Judges 13:2-7.24-25a; Luke 1:5-25)

The other day the reading from the gospel of Matthew gave the genealogy of Jesus beginning with Abraham.  The starting point is significant.  Abraham represents a break with the past.  Humanity reached a nadir in its attempt to storm heaven with the Tower of Babel.  There is no indication that the situation improved in the stretch between the confusion of languages and mention of Abram.  Then God initiates the human race’s long trek back to virtue.  Abram proved to be a man of faith, and God marvelously rewarded him and his barren wife with a son.  Through one of their descendants humans have both an exemplar of virtue and a redeemer from sin.  Jesus’ death on the cross not only revealed God’s love but also provided humans the grace to imitate it.  In today’s gospel Luke pays a similar tribute as Matthew to Abraham.

The first reading is intended to compare Zachariah and Elizabeth of the gospel to the parents of Samson.  Nevertheless, the gospel also conveys a profound similarity to the story of Abraham and Sarah.  Both Abraham and Zachariah are very old when they receive a divine revelation that they will father a child.  Both respond with the same question, “’How shall I know this?’”  And in both cases the prophecy is fulfilled.  Both fathers will take delight in their sons.

As God works out human salvation in and through Abraham and Zachariah, He is acting in us.  He has sent His Son to assure us of His care.  Boosted by Jesus’ support we befriend the lonely, the needy, and the poor.  In the process we both become virtuous and lead others to virtue.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Tuesday of the Third Week of Advent

(Jeremiah 23:5-8; Matthew 1:18-25)

Jesus wants us to be perfect.  He says so in the Sermon on the Mount: “’Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.’”  If that sounds impossible or unhealthy, consider this: perfection is not perfectionism.  Perfection is not a self-conscious pursuit of never being seen with any fault.  It is the justice that the prophet Jeremiah speaks of in today’s first reading.

Jeremiah tells the people that the Lord will raise up “a righteous shoot to David.”  Israel has experienced numerous unrighteous kings.  Now God is going to change that.  He will place on David’s throne one who rules with justice.  The justice begins with the king’s father who emanates goodness in everything he does.  In a very trying situation Joseph shows control over his passions.  Rather than making a scandal of Mary for supposedly violating their marriage covenant, he decides to separate from her quietly.  He may lose his dowry, but he will save Mary shame.  Joseph is demonstrating the perfection that the Law is designed to produce not a literal following of the rule as far as it goes, but a life of virtue.

Jesus provides us a much fuller demonstration of righteousness.  More than example, however, Jesus sends the Holy Spirit so that we might carry out perfection in the most difficult of situations.  It may be harder than ever to live righteously with all the temptations to self-promotion and hedonism today.  We desperately need Jesus’ witness and the grace of the Holy Spirit to carry out his demand to be perfect.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Monday of the Third Week in Advent

(Genesis 49:2.8-10; Matthew 1:1-17)

Some people would not have this gospel passage read at mass because names like Shealtiel are too hard to pronounce.  Others don’t see the point of all the “begatting” as an older translation had it.  Perhaps a few pious people are scandalized by the reference to cruel characters like King Rehoboam .  This son of Solomon when counseled to relieve the tax burden his father imposed responded by promising to increase taxes tenfold.  Thus, he precipitated the breakup of Israel into two kingdoms.  A few people might also ask, what is the point of mentioning the ancestors of Jesus like Achim and Eliud who are not known in any other part of the Bible?

St. Matthew, however, thought the whole list of names important.  He recognized that it not only shows Jesus’ human and kingly origins, but indicates something else almost as significant.  For Matthew God works through sinful and even incompetent people as well as great ones to produce His just ends.  He patiently and diligently saves humans from their sins by the agency of all kinds of people.

We, who may doubt God’s plan or even question the existence of God, should take note.  Evil is present everywhere, but God constantly turns it over for positive results.  We cannot exclude ourselves from His work.  That is, we cannot use our shortcomings, be they sins or disabilities, as an excuse not to act on God’s behalf.  We have to call others by word and example to join the Church in her work of salvation.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, priest

(Isaiah 48: 17-19; Matthew 11: 16-19)

St. John of the Cross lived in the turbulent sixteenth century.  The Protestant Reformation split the Western Church in half.  The decadence of the Renaissance popes was being corrected by the reforms of the Council of Trent.  Reformers of major religious orders were calling their numbers back to their original ideals.  John of the Cross played such a role in the Carmelites of Spain. 

John believed that the Carmelites had long abandoned the semi-eremitical life of their foundation in the twelfth century.  Along with others he founded a monastery of friars who would live a solitary life of contemplation and praise to God.  In this endeavor he pairs well with John the Baptist whom Jesus extols in today’s gospel.  Of course, John of the Cross also composed theological treatises exploring the mystical life. 

Jesus presents John as the yang to his yin.  John called for reform so that people could escape the wrath of God who was sending his Messiah to judge them.  Jesus, the actual Messiah, urges reform so that the people could experience the tender love of God.  This message does not oppose John’s complimented it.  The people, as today’s reading testifies, found excuses to sidestep both figures. 

Our society finds itself in the position of those people.  We can hear voices urging reform both to avoid the turmoil of civil unrest and to experience the solace of social harmony.  We await the return of Christ who will bring justice to the earth.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Memorial of Saint Lucy, virgin and martyr

(Isaiah 41:13-20; Matthew 11:11-15)

Martyrs are celebrated throughout the year.  They are the heroines and heroes of the Church.  But Advent particularly favors martyrs.  After all, they reflect the hope which characterizes the season.  They hoped for the eternal life Jesus promises as they died in witness to his Lordship. St. Lucy was an early Sicilian martyr.  As with most martyrs of antiquity we know little about her.  She stands out almost exclusively for the fact of her martyrdom.

In today’s gospel Jesus praises John the Baptist who suffered a martyr’s death.  He calls him the greatest of the prophets because John announces the coming of the Messiah.  Yet he did not know Jesus as the Messiah.  For this reason Jesus says that anyone who knows himself, the embodiment of God’s Kingdom, is greater than John. Those who have known him like St. Lucy and all who believe in the gospel should be ready to die for him.

Is this asking too much of us?  To be sure, it is not asking that we seek to be killed by extremist haters of Christianity.  But it is demanding that we give witness to the Gospel by dying to ourselves.  It means that we always do to others what we would want them to do to us. It also means that we desist seeking our own importance, wealth, and pleasure.  But it means as well that we find joy in Jesus’ company – one that will last forever.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

(Revelation 11:19.12:1-6; Luke 1:39-48)

The most astounding statement at the recent assembly of Hispanic leaders was not made by a bold youth.  Nor was it uttered by a veteran Hispanic rabble rouser.  Nor was it proclaimed by a pious bishop devotee of the Blessed Mother.  As a matter of fact the person who pronounced it was neither young, ordained, nor even Hispanic.  The Honorable Carl J. Anderson has been Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus for eighteen years.  He served as a government lawyer in the administration of Ronald Reagan and has authored several books.  At the Quinto Encuentro, the Hispanic assembly, Anderson told the audience that he is looking forward to the day when the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe replaces that of the Immaculate Conception as the patronal feast of the United States.

The reason for the change is straightforward.  Our Lady of Guadalupe has an American origin.  She appeared to a native peasant on a hillside outside Mexico City almost 500 years ago.  There she claimed to be protector of the people of this land.  At first, only the indigenous saw in her motive to believe in her son, Jesus Christ, as their savior.  Not long afterwards the whole of Mexico – white, brown, and mestizo -- adopted her as their patron.  Pope St. John Paul II proclaimed the Virgin of Guadalupe “patroness of the Americas.”  Now as Hispanics are poised to become the majority of Catholic Church in the United States, it is not far-fetched to name her as its favorite model and intercessor.

Of course, substituting the Virgin of Guadalupe for the Immaculate Conception represents no real change at all.  Both names point to the same woman, Mary of Nazareth, who trusted the Lord enough to accept the offer of conceiving His Son.  If her patronage of the United States is ever recognized, she will not be gratified any more than before.  She will always say, as she does to Elizabeth in today’s gospel, that God is the One to whom our attention is due. Or, as she puts it, “’My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.’"

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

(Isaiah 40:1-11; Matthew 18:12-14)

Secularists sometimes have a conception of God; they are not all strict atheists.  They may theorize that God is a supreme force which set in motion the universe.  What they cannot fathom is a God who cares about humans.  “Why,” they might ask, “should the Creator love rational beings who often rather viciously disturb the order of being?”  The readings of today’s mass do not provide an explanation, but they do testify to God’s care for people.

Isaiah speaks of God’s concern for exiled Jews exiled in Babylon. He announces that their punishment for disobedience has ended, that the Lord has heard their pleas for mercy.  In fact, the prophet says God is preparing a highway through the desert for them to return to Jerusalem.  The gospel gives a tender image of God’s loving concern.  As a shepherd might carry a sheep that has gone astray back to the flock, God pardons the sinner and returns him to the community.

We believe that God not only loves us, but also becomes one of us and then dies on our behalf.  It’s like someone donating not only a kidney but also a lung and part of her heart that we might not die.  What are we to do but thank that person continuously after we rejoice profusely for a new lease on life.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Monday of the Second Week in Advent

(Isaiah 35:1-10; Luke 5:17-26)

For most of us it is easier to say to a crippled person, “Your sins are forgiven,” than to say, “Stand up and walk.”  This is so because most of us say things to win the approval of others.  No one will know whether the crippled person’s sins are really forgiven.  But if the person does not stand up, they will think us foolish for telling the person to do so. 

Jesus shows himself to be a prophet because he cares about the truth of his words.  He will not say to a person that her sins are forgiven unless he has the authority from God to forgive.  In today’s gospel he shows that authority by healing the cripple.  He also shows himself to be the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy.  He has come to make firm the knees of the weak and to make the lame leap.  He has come to save us from lies and deceit.  He has come to give us joy and gladness.

As that paralyzed man in the gospel cannot walk, we are paralyzed by our social environment so that speaking with complete honesty is difficult.  Jesus heals us of this paralysis so that we not just tell the truth but do so in love.  In this way those around us will give more than a nod of approval.  They will thank God for our presence to them.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Memorial of Saint Ambrose, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Isaiah 29:17-24; Matthew 9:27-31)

Saint Ambrose was not raised a Catholic.  His father was a Roman patrician who afforded Ambrose a classical education.  Ambrose became a government official and served as governor of the Roman province around Milan. While there, he decided to join the Christian catechumenate.  In this way he completed his intellectual formation from the perspective of faith in Jesus Christ.  It might be said that he was seeking a new way of seeing reality.  No longer would people be objects with only utilitarian value.  As a Christian, he would see them as images of the Creator worthy of respect and love.  Ambrose’s new way of seeing parallels the new sight Jesus gives to the two blind men in today’s gospel.  These cures are significant because they fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy in the first reading.

Isaiah prophesizes that in the fullness of time blind persons would no longer live in darkness.  Jesus again provides this blessing.  But his cures of blindness do not stop there as if seeing sunrays were the epitome of human desire.  More importantly, Jesus confirms the faith of the blind men in him as Lord.  This gift moves them beyond the challenges of life to the road to eternal happiness.

Like Ambrose we believe in order to see.  That is, we accept the truths of faith so that we can have a rightful understanding of the world.  We need not fear that faith conflicts with science as secularists say.  The two -- faith and science -- cover different realms of being and are compatible.  Belief even aids research as it provides scientists with increased motivation.  Faith-filled scientists do their research not just to make a living and to develop knowledge but for a higher purpose.  They fulfill the human task of praising the Creator by discovering the wonder of His work.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

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

The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes good works to such an extent that it is a wonder any Christian can deny their importance.  In today’s passage, from the beginning of the gospel, Jesus stresses the importance of acting on his word.  He is exhorting his disciples to treat others as they want to be treated.  No doubt he has in mind respect, patience and help if one is in need.  At the end of the gospel Jesus tells the same men that the nations will be judged precisely on how they have treated the weak and poor.  If they have fed the hungry and visited the sick, they will be rewarded with eternal life.  If they have ignored the needy, they can expect punishment.

In the first reading Isaiah describes a society that takes care of the needy as “strong.”  Such a people can raise their heads high because they have fulfilled the will of God.  He will guard that society forever.

One way to care for the needy is to do “random acts of kindness.”  That is, for no reason other than it might please others we pay for someone’s coffee or make rice pudding to be eaten after a meeting.  We will find such acts strengthening our communities.  They also will please God and make us feel good about ourselves.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Wednesday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 25:6-10a; Matthew 15:29-37)

Christians the world over feast on Christmas.  In Mexico many families enjoy turkey.  Italians have traditionally given culinary attention to the Christmas Eve meal.  First, an antipasto of cheeses, olives and perhaps shrimp and cuttlefish is served with white wine.  Then pasta in a tomato sauce made with clams is presented.  A red wine will accompany it.  The “second plate” will feature a variety of fish and seafood – always cod and usually lobster.  Salad is served on the side or after the main dish. Fruit is then brought to the table.  The meal concludes with cakes, coffee, and liqueurs.  No meat is given perhaps because abstinence was mandated for many centuries on Christmas Eve.  It also is true that by featuring fish, a symbol of Christ, the banquet anticipates midnight Mass.  In these ways Italians approximate the celestial banquet of which Isaiah tells in today’s first reading.

Isaiah is giving comfort to the people of Israel.  He or probably a later prophet has just predicted the tumultuous “Day of the Lord.” Now God reveals His purpose.  Judgment and punishment had to come so that all peoples could love one another as children of the same Father.  Jesus Christ has fulfilled this end by the paschal event.  He also has mandated that his followers recreate the victory of love over sin by a regular feast.  So we come together for this Eucharist.

Our Christmas celebration should take on the meaning of the celestial banquet feast.  We should give thanks to God for the blessing of so many kinds of sisters and brothers.  Perhaps we can invite people of other cultures and even faith traditions to our Christmas table.  There we may share the hope that the entire world will soon live together in peace.  Of course, we will leave the table charged to bring that peace into our daily lives.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Tuesday of the First Week in Advent

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

A short story entitled “Attitude Adjustment” tells of a priest who gets hit by a train while driving.  Father Jim survived the crash because somehow he failed to clasp his seatbelt and was thrown from the car.  He was left a mess, of course.  His face was racked and his brain discombobulated. During his recuperation Fr. Jim made many mistakes from a loss of perspective.  The bishop had to retire him to doing children’s liturgy. 

At the end of the story the priest reads the parable of the Good Samaritan.  When he finishes, he asks the children why God permitted the Jewish man to get beat up so badly.  One six-year old answers that God wanted to teach the man a lesson for hating Samaritans.  He says that the man needed an “attitude adjustment.”  Then the children start asking Fr. Jim about what had happened to him.  They show him healing concern as if they were all the Balm of Gilead wrapped in children’s clothing.  No doubt, Fr. Jim now realizes why the accident happened and why his life was spared.  God allows such tragedies so that people might look into the eyes of a stranger and find a friend.  Furthermore, God wants His children to act as healing balm to one another.

In today’s gospel Jesus cites children as understanding God’s gracious will.  He indicates that they know more than the wise and learned know how we should show concern for others.  In Advent more than preparing for Christmas, we are waiting for Jesus to come to judge us.  We know that he will give a thumbs up if we work to heal the wounds of those who are hurting.  If we require an attitude adjustment, let it be.  We have to work to heal the wounds of those who are hurting.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, priest

(Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 8:5-11)

Can only a Christian be saved?  Evidently St. Francis Xavier thought so. In a letter from India he wrote that many natives wanted to become Christians but there was no one to baptize them.  He said that he wished to go to the universities of Europe yelling to the students that their keenness on studies has resulted in many people being consigned to hell.  But is Baptism necessary for salvation?

The gospel passage indicates otherwise.  Jesus is amazed at the centurion’s faith in God.  He implies that there will be many like him coming from faraway places to take a seat at the heavenly table.  Although he does not say explicitly that these people are not his followers, he does leave this impression.  The centurion shows himself worthy a member of the Kingdom of God as much by his concern for a servant as by his deference to Jesus.

During Advent we express our hope for Jesus’ return as much by acts of mercy as by praying about the Advent wreath.  Our efforts on behalf of others imply faith in Jesus’ teaching that what we do to the least of humans, we do to him.  At the same time we show a relationship of care to the needy which suggests a common Father in God.  Francis Xavier had a point about the need for missionaries to teach about God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice.  However, the Holy Spirit works in many ways. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Saturday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 22:1-7; Luke 21:34-36)

The words discipline and disciple have the same Latin root discere which means to learn.  But this learning is not so much an intellectual exercise as it is a moral training.  Disciples learn a moral lesson by following a rigorous rule.  Today’s gospel conveys part of the rule while the first reading describes the disciple’s reward.

In the gospel Jesus exhorts his disciples not to become lax in the pursuit of virtue.  They are to watch out that they do not fall into either physical or moral addictions.  Physical addictions would be alcohol, drugs, or sex.  Moral addictions would be power, greed, or pride.  All of these corrupt the spirit so that the person cannot inhabit the city of God described in the reading from Revelation.  There, like a luxurious retirement community, the people live in health and joy.

Today as the last leaves fall from the trees (in northern climes), we have occasion to consider the fleetingness of life.  Most of us ran fast in our youth and exhibited soft skin and vigorous hair.  Hopefully we learned moral discipline then.  But if we didn’t, the Lord calls us today to change our ways.  More precisely perhaps he is calling us to himself in his heavenly city.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Feast of Saint Andrew, apostle

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

Unlike other teachers of his time Jesus called a group of disciples to him.  Other teachers waited for men to come and study Torah with them, but Jesus is pro-active.  As we hear in the first reading and see in the gospel, Jesus searches out followers.  Peter and Andrew are the first of many disciples from whom Jesus will select twelve for a special mission.

Jesus is responding to the call of God to inaugurate the kingdom in the world.  It is to be a rule of justice where goodness is blessed and evil rooted out.  The new order takes effect as Jesus heals the sick, casts out evil demons, and preaches the will of God.  Andrew, Peter, and the other apostles will assume these ministries when Jesus leaves.  They will receive the Holy Spirit to spread God’s kingdom of justice and love throughout the world.

We may not have been called to be apostles, but all of us are Jesus’ disciples.  We study the Christian Torah, actually the whole Bible, with emphasis on Jesus in the gospels.  We are also sent out to the world to give witness to God’s kingdom.  By living righteously, by praying continuously, and by treating others with love, we fortify the kingdom’s foundations.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Revelation 18:1-2.21-23.19:1-3a.9; Luke 21:20-28)

The other day a man entered a religious goods store and committed horrible crimes.  He sexually violated two women and killed one of them.  The barbarism resembles the happenings which Jesus foresees in today’s gospel.  He says that lawlessness and destruction will take place everywhere at the end of time.

In all likelihood the evangelist Luke embellished the prediction of Jesus with accounts of actual events.  Just before he wrote his gospel Roman troops decimated Jerusalem.  They not only destroyed the Temple beyond hope of rebuilding but evidently ravaged the people.  Such marauding is typical of foreign soldiers sent to punish a nation.  It is no wonder then that the first reading describes God’s the downfall of Rome in such graphic terms.  “Babylon” is code word for Rome since both were associated with extravagant hedonism.  According to the reading, Rome is completely devastated.  It is as if an earthquake swallowed up the city.

Both Luke and the author of Revelation mean to encourage Christians to live righteous lives.  They see Jesus as coming to save his people when the situation becomes most desperate.  He will recognize them by their courage to stand erect in hope of being rescued.  The righteousness and courage which the Scriptures bespeak include efforts to build a society of justice.  We will not be able to eliminate all crime and misfortune in the world.  But guided by the gospel and with the help of the Holy Spirit we can approximate the peace of the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

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

Both readings today proclaim the ultimate triumph of Christians who persevere.  The first reading pictures Christian soldiers making music over the ash heap of their impious foes.  The gospel passage ends with Jesus’ assuring those who remain faithful that their lives will be secured.  Such an overwhelming victory is hardly what we experience in everyday life.

A news report today focused on the war in Yemen.  Unknown to many Americans, the war is taking a costly toll on children.  According to the report, 85,000 children under five years of age have died of starvation and related disease in the middle eastern country.  Such evil occurs all too frequently in our world.  Yet we run across goodness as well all the time.  Groups of Catholics and oth4r people of good will are accompanying immigrants to hearings to assure their fair treatment. We seem to endlessly live in that wheat field where the enemy has sown weeds.  We may count on good and bad coexisting until the end of time.

This dualism reflects the struggle going on in our hearts.  We feel the urge to act sinfully.  Perhaps we want to tell an egregious lie to spite someone we don’t like.  Or maybe we dream of abandoning our families for a more adventurous lifestyle.  With God’s reliable grace we will be able to overcome these wicked impulses.  More significantly, with the same we will be able to love God and neighbor continuously.  This love will assure us a place in the symphony making music over our sins.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

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

Death is often personified as a grim reaper.  Sickle in hand the reaper cuts down living plants.  The harvest is then either eaten and enjoyed or burnt as fuel.  Similarly human death ends in a judgment of either worthiness or worthlessness.  One is either destined for glory with God or for desolation.  Today’s first reading illustrates death seizing the entire world.

The first character mentioned seems to be Jesus Christ who refers to himself as “son of man” in the gospel.  In any case he swings the sickle of death over a bountiful and useful grain harvest.  The produce will be stored in barns for human consumption.  This is the people who pleased God and are destined to glory with Him.  The second reaper cuts down the vine yielding grapes which will be pressed into wine.  The stern seer John perceives wine as an intoxicant which turns humans into mindless animals. This produce then constitutes those people who are lost for eternity.

As fall gives way to winter weather, in northern climes at least, we are wise to consider death.  Sooner or later it will reach us.  Although an evil in that it snuffs out physical life, death serves a useful purpose.  It reminds us that we do not have forever to fulfill our destinies as human beings.  For Christians this means that we strive to be truly loving people.  We are to give of ourselves for the good of others.  In this way when death finally comes we will be gathered into God’s house as His beloved family.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

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

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is perhaps America’s best known choral ensemble.  Attending one of its concerts one is moved by the members’ dignified dress, their superbly trained voices, and their expansive numbers.  In analogous ways the celestial choir of today’s passage from the Book of Revelation can be understood.

The heavenly chorus is praising to the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.  All its members have God’s name written on their foreheads.  The writing is a type of uniform that symbolizes their belonging to the Lord.  They sing a song whose intricacies require a dedicated voice.  Here dedication is more than training; it is a commitment to virtue.  The fact that there are 144,000 members of the choir does not mean that there is a strict limit to their number.  The number is symbolic for enormity so that there is room for every virtuous person.

With all the reason in the world we hope to sing with that celestial ensemble.  There is no need to worry about there not being a slot for us.  But we should concern ourselves with acquiring the virtue so that we might sing along.  We do not have to be especially intelligent or educated.  We do have to put aside all selfish pursuits to follow Jesus, the Lamb.  He generously gave of himself for others.  We should do the same.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

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

One day in 1979 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Nobel Laureate, gave a talk at Harvard University.  People were prepared to hear him describe the atrocities of the Soviet Union.  They were not expecting a moral critique of western society.  But by then Solzhenitsyn had lived in the United States a number of years and was not edified by all that he saw.  He did not equate the American system with the dishonesty and corruption of the Soviet Union.  But, he said, America for a long time had lost a core of virtue.  In place of justice and courage the United States has given itself to materialism, consumerism, and radical individualism.  Solzhenitsyn’s message has the sweet-bitter flavor of the scroll eaten by the seer in today’s first reading and the actions of Jesus in the gospel.

Eating a scroll symbolizes a speaker’s assimilating a message so that it becomes part of him.  It is sweet on the tongue as it means learning God’s will.  But it is bitter when it settles in the stomach because it demands reform that people resist.  This is actually what takes place in the gospel passage.  Jesus, acting on God’s word, cleanses the Temple of venal commercialism.  Many people praise him for such courage.  The religious leaders meanwhile want to kill him for it.  Jesus knows this and so prepares himself for suffering.

We are being called to assimilate the word of God and to live it in the world.  It will both thrill and cost us.  We will find satisfaction in knowing that we are doing God’s work.  At the same time we will hear of cynics judging us as we ask others to cooperate in our service.  We must not shrink from the task.  For love of God and other human beings we have to put into practice the values that Christ has taught.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving Day

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

Thanksgiving is a uniquely human response to another’s service.  Only humans can perceive a gratuitous act done on their behalf and acknowledge their indebtedness.  This is the essence of thanksgiving: a verbal recognition that another has graciously and freely rendered one help is some way.  Animals, particularly pets, may express subservience, but their responses are programmed to obtain favor.

Thanksgiving can be justly expected.  One’s service may not only be unrecompensed but really impossible to reciprocate.  It may not be a matter of scant resources but of the nature of the deed which no return offering can satisfy.  For this reason Jesus expresses disappointment that nine of the ten cured of leprosy do not acknowledge God’s goodness. 

We also need to give thanks.  Of course, our American tradition has singled out today – the fourth Thursday of November – as especially appropriate to express gratitude to God.  We call one another together not only for a meal but also for a communal prayer.  We thank God for all the blessings we have enjoyed as Americans – a land rich in resources, friendly neighbors, and the genius to make and follow laws promoting both individual initiative and assistance to the needy. Also as part of the American tradition we should thank one another, especially those whose help has been both indispensable and gratuitous.  We remember how the Pilgrims invited the Native Americans to their feast for helping them save their lives.  Finally, today in the Eucharist we thank God for His Son Jesus Christ.  He quite saves us from our follies and provides for us an eternal banquet of Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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

Liturgy connects us with the mysteries of salvation so that we might participate in their effects.  The Eucharistic liturgy, for example, enables us to experience Jesus’ death and resurrection as if we were there when they took place.  It is more efficacious than a dramatization because we actually receive a share of his eternal glory.  The passage from the Book of Revelation today shows the liturgy of the heavens with all creation giving glory to God.

The Almighty sits on a throne sparkling like jewels.  The twenty-four elders surrounding Him represent the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles.  Their white garments indicate their faithfulness and their golden crowns victory over their oppressors.  The four living creatures are traditionally associated with the four evangelists, but their symbolism goes deeper.  They represent the range of creation – human and beast, bird and farm animal -- harmoniously praising God.

The liturgy here closes the first part of the Book of Revelation.  Seven letters describing the strengths and weaknesses of Christian churches under persecution have been read.  Although the persecution will continue, the liturgy assures a victorious outcome.  The purpose of the service is to encourage the churches to keep the faith despite persecution.  We today find hope in the message for persecution continues.  Whether Christians are menaced by Communists in China or by our personal desires leading them from virtue, we want to continue following Jesus.  The assured end will make our journey worthwhile.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Tuesday of the Thirty-third week in Ordinary Time

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

The old woman listens to the news with a dose of chagrin.  It may be fires in California or hurricanes in Florida that sets her off.  She believes that these catastrophes are a message from God.  She says, “God is trying to tell us something, but no one is listening.”  The Book of Revelation has a similar theme.

The opening chapters of the book contain letters written to the churches of Asia Minor.  The seer John is relaying God’s warning to Christians who are not living the faith they profess.  One letter, which is read today, is addressed to the progressive community at Sardis.  It accepted the Christian message with enthusiasm a generation or two ago.  Now, as it wants to move on to something else, John calls it back to its original commitment.  Similarly the church of Laodicea is not living up to the gospel.  It is no better or worse than other peoples.  That is scandalous for a people who claim to follow Christ.  John will have no more to do with them that he would with rotten a rotten apple.

The Book of Revelation is timely in every generation.  It certainly is so today.  We live in an age where solidarity among people is regularly ignored.  We construct homes in gated communities.  And play games with ourselves on our personal telephones.  These are not ways to prepare for Christ’s return.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

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

Crowds are notoriously fickle.  One moment they can strongly support a person or team.  The next, because of a mistake or misfortune, they may turn against the same.  Theorists have proposed that in crowds individuals lose their sense of responsibility.  They allow the prevailing mood of the group to control their thinking.  This is especially apparent in Luke’s gospel.

In today’s passage the crowd rebukes the blind beggar for asking help from Jesus.  They are certainly insensitive if not mean to the poor man.  When Jesus is being tried by Pilate, the crowds act with similar hostility.  Three times they call for his crucifixion, more than in any other gospel.  But in both cases the crowds change their dispositions.  In today’s passage it is said that they “gave praise to God.”  After the crucifixion, the crowds return from Calvary “beating their breasts.”  In both instances the cause of the change is the experience of Jesus as the compassion of God.  He gives sight to the blind man.  On the cross he not only prays for his persecutors but promises a repentant thief a place in Paradise.

We too have experienced Jesus as the compassion of God.  He forgives our callowness, lustfulness, and viciousness in the sacrament of reconciliation.  He gives himself as food in the Eucharist so that we might conduct lives worthy of an eternal destiny.  He has told each of us of his love for us in prayer.  We too can only give praise to God for our encounter with Jesus.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Friday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

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

In many places throughout the United States and Western Europe Catholic churches are less than half full on Sundays.  People no longer worship God at mass as they did two generations ago.  Certainly some of the fallout comes from clerical abuse of children.  However, before that scandal was publicized, the numbers had begun to drop.  Many people are following “progressive” ideas which today’s first reading rails against.

At the time of the writing of the Second Letter of John the progressive ideas include belief that Jesus was not really human.  At least a few people at the end of the first century believed that he did not have a physical body.  They are likely tired of talk prohibiting sexual relations outside marriage and weary of living up to it.  They figure that it is his teachings and not his death and resurrection that save.  That is, they began to think that one may gain eternal life by getting along with others and rendering helpful service.  Who one goes to bed with does not factor into the equation.  The “presbyter,” who writes the letter, refutes such an idea.  First, he commends those who “walk in the truth” of moral righteousness.  Then he condemns those who teach ideas like Jesus’ not having a body for leading others astray.

It seems like things have not changed so much over twenty centuries.  Sexual morality is still a great impediment to many today.  We do not like to restrain ourselves sexually.  But this is why Jesus’ humanity is so important.  It not only shows us that it is possible to live a sexually upright life; it also enables us to do it.  By dying and rising in the flesh, Christ provides us the grace to live with minds and hearts directed to him.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Thursday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

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

It is often said that the biblical Kingdom of God is better rendered Reign of God.  The reason given is that the concept indicates a dynamism more than a territory.  Something similar may be said about heaven.  Although people may point to the sky when they say the word, heaven is more a condition of love than a physical locale.  In today’s gospel, Jesus stretches the idea of Kingdom of God even more.

Jesus tells the Pharisees that the Kingdom of God is neither a place nor a thing.  He adds that it is “among” them.  He may be referring to a relationship with himself.  The Kingdom of God is friendship with Jesus himself.  He provides all the security and support, the joy and the affection that makes life worth living.  Since he will rise from the dead, the Kingdom of God will likewise never know a sunset.

Jesus extends his hand to form a relationship with us daily.  He is present to us physically in the Eucharist where we actually take him into ourselves.  The experience does not diminish him, but it does expand us.  Having his love and support, we can become as gracious and happy as he.  We become bearers of the Kingdom to others.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Wednesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Titus 1:1-9; Luke 17:11-19)

The readings today indicate two responses to God’s graciousness.  The Letter to Titus recommends that Christians respect everyone by being peaceful and considerate.  Since Baptism has healed them of crude and spiteful behavior, they should try to win over others to Christ.  The gospel’s recommendation for expressing gratitude is more direct.  The tenth leper, healed of disease, returns to Jesus with thankfulness on his lips. 

Jesus is the central figure in both passages.  He is God’s instrument in the first reading.  Sharing in Jesus’ cross through Baptism, the Christian dies to sin.  Experiencing rebirth in the same baptismal waters, she now lives for God and not for self.  In the gospel Jesus pronounces physical healing for each of the ten lepers.  Then he announces salvation for the one who comes back to give thanks.

We are fast approaching the great American holiday of Thanksgiving and the joyful Christian feast of Christmas.  Both occasions invoke great amounts of gratitude.  Americans thank God for their remarkable prosperity.  We Christians raise our voices to God in highest praise for sending Jesus, our Redeemer.