Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

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

A Jewish hospice nurse once told a priest that she was interested in becoming Catholic.  The priest told her to get in touch with the RCIA director.  Then he told the director to expect her call.  The director, who had many years of experience, responded doubtfully.   The director said that he had spoken with many people who expressed interest in Catholicism.  But, he added, relatively few come for instructions.   A similar “interested but” group appears in today’s gospel.

The passage tells of the shepherds sharing what they have heard and seen of Jesus with others.  The people to whom they speak are said to be “amazed.” But that is all.  Evidently they do not investigate themselves much less give praise to God.  Like the seed that fell on rocky ground in Jesus’ parable, they fall away when effort is demanded of them.  If the word of God is to bear fruit, it must be reflected upon in the heart.  This is exactly what Mary does in the gospel. 

Today we celebrate the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.  The title really says more about Jesus than it does bout Mary.  It is meant to express our belief that Jesus, the human son of Mary, has a divine nature as well.  Because the divine nature is present along with the human, Mary is said to be the “Mother of God.”

Although we want to honor Mary as Jesus’ mother, we should honor her more for reflecting on all that happens to her son.  She shows herself to be his disciple.  Of course, she will have to follow Jesus carrying her own cross which apparently she does.  Let us do the same: meditate upon the gospel in our hearts and take up our cross after him.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Seventh Day within the Octave of Christmas

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

It is our last chance to take to take account of the passing year before we launch into the new one.  What was good about this past year, and what do we wish never would have happened?  On first recall it seems like things mostly went wrong during 2019.  President Trump made so many blunders that no one is surprised that he has been impeached.  Much more tragically, guns are taking a record number of lives on many cities’ streets.  If that were not enough misery, suicide rates are reaching new heights.  On the bright side, unemployment is so low that most people can find a job.  Today’s gospel gives news of something even more hopeful.

The passage tells of the word of God bringing "life" to the world.  The original Greek makes a distinction here that should be kept in mind.  The evangelist is not writing of bios, natural life, which has its wonder for sure but is always subject to corruption.  No, the life highlighted here is nous or a life so vibrant that it transcends death.  It is a life of exaltation in which participants feel such an intimate connection with God that they can avoid sin.  It is a sense of "grace in place of grace" pouring into one's heart.

We are recipients of grace’s vibrant life in Baptism.  Those who remember the occasion know it as a moment of being overwhelmed by a higher power.  But all should be aware that the grace enables us to resist personal aggrandizement that destroys our unity with others.  Moved by this grace, we look forward to the New Year.  It gives us resolve to maintain close relations with other people as well as with God.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Sixth Day within the Octave of the Nativity of the Lord

(I John 2:12-17; Luke 2:36-40)

Luke, the gospel writer, never tires of including women in his narrative.  After a shepherd looks for a lost sheep, a housewife searches for a lost coin.  Today’s passage manifests this trend.  After Simeon holds the baby Jesus in his arms, Anna sees him and gives praise to God.

There is more than inclusiveness here.  By presenting the two elderly Jews, Luke emphasizes that Jesus fulfills Old Testament expectations.  He reminds us that Jesus is part of the Jewish nation which God called as a people especially His own.  Luke also has a universal purpose in mind.  Because of Jesus, God’s people will not be limited to a single nation.  Jesus’ disciples will go to all the nations on earth to expand that people.

The Christian impulse is not just to believe in Jesus but to tell others about him.  The African-American spiritual Christmas carol “Go Tell It on the Mountain” displays this urge.  Being Christian means that we are saved.  We should want everyone we care about to experience his salvation as well.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Feast of St. John, apostle and evangelist


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


Once a disillusioned pilgrim returned from the Holy Land lamenting the conditions he encountered.  Not only was there strife between Jews and Arabs, but hawkers constantly besieged him with souvenir trinkets.  Even in Bethlehem, where Jesus was born on a serene night, he found conflict.  The man marveled at how times have changed, but he only had to read the Scriptures closely to realize that trouble is nothing new to the area.


Although the Gospel of Luke depicts a tranquil setting for Jesus’ birth, there is much evidence of conflict during New Testament times.  King Herod as a tyrant who worried little if at all in ordering his people killed.  Roman occupation caused increasing civic unrest until an open rebellion erupted a generation after Jesus’ death.  Of course, there is the acrimonious debate between Jesus and the Pharisees which is believed to reflect trouble between the first Christians and their Jewish counterparts.


In spite of all this conflict, the writer of the First Letter of John offers a testimony of hope.  Much more than a dream or vision, the testimony involves a real human being – one he looked upon with his eyes, heard with his ears, and touched with his hands.  He is saying that in the midst of turmoil, Jesus offers eternal life to faithful followers. 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Feast of St. Stephen, Proto-martyr


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

Some may think that the Feast of the Martyrdom of St. Stephen is celebrated today because Stephen was killed on December 26.  However, there is no record of the date of his martyrdom.  No, the Church celebrates Stephen’s martyrdom on the day after Christmas to temper Christian joy.  The martyrdom of Stephen reminds the faithful that Jesus was born to die on the cross to atone for their sins.  Not only that, but Christians are called to carry their crosses after him.

Of course, most Christians will die in bed like everyone else.  But they should not think that bloody martyrdom does not exist today.  It occurs thousands of times every year.  Perhaps this horrible truth was never better exhibited than almost five years ago.  The Islamic State aired a video then of its recent slaughter of twenty-one Christians in Libya.  Some people hate Christ and his followers because of his devotion to God, the Father.  They resent anyone who calls them to love and not lord it over others.

It is remarkable the way business slows down for a week or so during the Christmas season.  We are wise to use the leisure time, at least in part, for contemplation.  We need to ask ourselves, “How is it that God became human?”  There is a follow-up question almost as important, “What does the God-human now expect of me?”

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

The Nativity of the Lord (Mass during the night)

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

Latinos have a pre-Christmas tradition called “Las Posadas.”  In it half of a group takes the roles of Joseph and Mary in tonight’s gospel.  They stand as if they were outside an inn asking for a place to stay.  The other half of the group stands as if they were the innkeepers inside.  The inn being full and the innkeepers tired, they tell Mary and Joseph to go away.  Then Joseph happens to mention that his wife is “Mary, the queen of heaven.”  The innkeepers recognize that name and happily open the door to welcome the Holy Family.

Of course, this beautiful tradition does not correspond completely to the gospel proclaimed tonight.  Evidently Joseph and Mary did seek lodging at an inn, but they were turned down.  Also, the gospel’s emphasis is on the “manger,” not the inn.  This feeding trough for animals is mentioned three times in course of a rather short narration.  It needs to be asked, “Why?”

In the very first chapter of the Book of the Isaiah the prophet castigates the people of Israel with reference to a manger.  He says, “An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger, but Israel does not know (its God).”  The gospel tonight shows the new-born Jesus being laid in a manger.  There finally Israel will recognize its God.  But there may be more here than that.  Presenting the God-man as being born outside a building, the gospel suggests that Jesus is the God not just of human beings but of all creation.  When the angels sing, “’…and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests,’” they may have in mind more than men and women but animals, plants, and lifeless beings as well.

Today we give thanks to God for coming to show us how to live in peace with all.  First and foremost, we follow his way of reconciliation with fellow human beings.  We want to love others as God has been so kind and merciful to us that He sent us His Son as our savior.  We also care for our environment.  We want to nurture it so that it may provide sustenance and wonder for many generations to come.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Advent (Christmas Eve)

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

Today’s gospel is commonly called the Benedictus among Church professionals.  The name comes from the Latin form of it first word, “Blessed.” In reading the Benedictus one should have a sense of anachronism; that is, the words are out of synch with the occasion.  Zechariah, the speaker of the Benedictus, is expressing joy over the birth his first-born son, John. Yet he is claiming that God has visited his people and delivered them from their enemies.

God will come to deliver the people with Jesus.  He, and not John the Baptist, is the proper subject of the Benedictus, which is a prayer meant to be sung.  Very probably, Jewish Christians sung this prayer after Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead.  They believed Jesus to be the Son of God who saved their people from their greatest enemies – not Rome but sin and death.  There is a sentence in the Benedictus that does refer to John.  Zechariah is speaking directly to him when he says, “’…you will go before the Lord to prepare his way…’”  Indeed, John preached the coming of the Messiah many years later.

The evangelist Luke pictures Zechariah looking at his newborn son John and uttering these words of praise to God.  We should see Jesus in the manger, if not now then tomorrow, and likewise praise God for sending him to us.  Jesus has come as the prayer reads.  Like “the dawn” he has delivered us from the darkness of sin.  Like a “way of peace” he has reconciled us to God and one another.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Monday of the Fourth Week of Advent

(Malachi 3:1-4.23-24; Luke 1:57-66)

Unlike Jesus’ name, the gospel writers place no significance in the name “John.”  But there are two significant details in today’s gospel story of Jesus’ forerunner’s name.  First, John’s father Zechariah shows obeisance to the Lord here.  Before, he doubted the angel’s word that he and Isabel would conceive.  Now he names the child “John” as Gabriel instructed.  Second, Zechariah and Isabel independently agree that their child be called “John.” Since no one in their family has that name, the prompt agreement is extraordinary.

The prophecy from Malachi, today’s first reading, tells the role John is to play within the gospel.  He will go before the Lord Jesus, preparing the people for his message.  Malachi calls the forerunner “Elijah,” who called down fire from heaven.  John preached fire and brimstone.  Although he, like Jesus, spoke of the coming of the kingdom, his message was colored with threats.  Jesus largely preached the kingdom of God’s mercy.

Some fret over names.  They don’t want to be called ugly or stupid.  They want to be known as intelligent, sexy, and cool.  Let us strive to be named, like John, “forerunners of the Lord.”  Let us prepare the world for his coming withacts of mercy and kindness.   

Friday, December 20, 2019

Friday of the Third Week of Advent

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

The infancy accounts in the gospels of Matthew and Luke differ significantly.  In Matthew, Joseph receives the announcement of the angel that the savior is to be born.  In Luke, as seen in today’s gospel, it is Mary who is so addressed.  In Matthew, Joseph and Mary live in Bethlehem and go to Nazareth only after Herod’s attempted genocide.  In Luke, they live in Nazareth and go to Bethlehem to register in a census.  There are quite a few other differences, but the two accounts converge at significant points as well.

Both Matthew and Luke describe Mary as a virgin who conceives by the Holy Spirit.  This article is not something that they made up or that one gave to the other.  No, they both received it from an older tradition. It is of great importance to Christian faith as it underscores that Jesus is the Son of God.  Mary gives him a human nature, but he retains his divine nature given from his eternal generation as Son.

“So what?” Some might ask out of ignorance.  The Son of God becoming human – the Incarnation -- gives history a new beginning.  Human beings are no longer destined to return to the earth forever.  Like Jesus, their forbear, they have an eternal destiny beyond the grave.  The result may be compared to the recreation of aviation with the jet engine. Flights on jets are so fast and go so far that few would consider taking a propeller airplane.   Similarly Jesus promises that those who connect with him will conquer sin and death.  “So what?” So we have the fullness of life!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Thursday of the Third Week of Advent

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

We feel for couples who want to have children but remain barren.  Often they seem to be the best of people – she, gentle and caring, and he, responsible and understanding.  Raising offspring like themselves would not only fulfill their dreams but would likely provide good neighbors for a nobler society.  Why then does the Church condemn the use of in vitro fertilization as a way of helping barren couples to conceive?  Before trying to answer this question, it will be helpful to examine today’s readings.  They relate how the Lord responds to two barren couples who have desired children for years.

In both readings God grants the barren couples a son to further His special purpose.  Manoah and his wife will give birth to Samson who will defeat the enemies of God’s chosen people.  Zechariah and Elizabeth will give birth to John who will announce that the coming of God’s Son, the savior. 

God’s providence has a similar plan for each of us and for every couple.  The coming days of Christmas are a ripe time to discern that plan.  Providence also wants every human person to know that she or he is not a laboratory product but a creation by God through the natural love of parents.  Compassion, by definition, means to suffer with others.  Showing compassion to barren couples, we recognize their sense of loss with assurance of their goodness.  We also support their efforts to turn their barrenness into opportunities as God has planned.

Wednesday, January 18, 2019

Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

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

Everyone dreams.  Not only that, but people have different kinds of dreams.  At night a person’s dreams contain the overflow of emotions experienced during the day.  If one was threatened during the day, the person may dream of being pursued by a ruffian.  Dreams during the day envision the culmination of one’s hopes efforts.  Martin Luther King dreamt of a nation which judges persons by their character, not skin color.  Today’s gospel tells of another type of dream, rare but not unheard of in salvation history.

Joseph, the husband of Mary, is not the first dreamer with that name in the Bible.  Joseph, the son of Judah, had dreams of his family submitting to his authority.  These dreams revealed the future of Israel.  The dream of Joseph in today’s gospel reaches even farther into the unknown.  It tells of how Joseph’s wife will conceive a child through the Holy Spirit.  The child will save people from their sins so that they may live holy lives. For this reason God will never leave His people.  Thus the child, named Jesus, may also be called “God with us.”  This dream is neither the overflow of emotion nor the high hopes of a people.  It is God revealing His audacious plan to give humans everlasting life.

We should never separate Christmas from the Easter event.  Jesus was born to suffer and die that sin and death might be overcome.  There is plenty of reason for joy in Christmas.  But there is also motivation to contemplate the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ birth.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Tuesday of the Third Week in Advent

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

Most people find genealogies “interesting.”  They look for characteristics of earlier generations in later ones.  But this is not Matthew’s purpose in beginning his gospel with Jesus’ genealogy.  Rather he wants to how show God fulfills his promise to Abraham.  Abraham was to be the “father of many nations.”  That plan is realized when Jesus sends apostles to all nations making them one family.

The plan meets high hurdles at various points.  These are marked in the genealogy by the mention of women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah.  These women were either foreigners or the wife of a foreigner.  But God has little difficulty integrating them into Jesus’ lineage.  Mary’s name is also given as the mother of Jesus.  Joseph, her husband, is not Jesus’ father although he provides his Davidic lineage.  It is learned a bit later that Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

We should see in the genealogy a model for how God works.  He has prepared for His Son’s coming into the world through Old Testament figures.  There are anomalies but nothing stops the continuity.  When Jesus is about to be born, something as wonderful as it is new happens.  Jesus is conceived of a virgin.  He is not only human but divine as well.  He is worth our full attention.  In the end we will see that he is worth everything we have.  He is worth our very lives.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Monday of the Third Week of Advent

(Numbers 24:2-17.15-17a; Matthew 21:23-27)

Christians have adopted Balaam’s prophecy in today’s first reading as referring to Jesus.  The king rising “higher” is Christ.  The one who is to come but “but not now” is the same.  Jews interpret the vision differently.  They understand the one who will have an “exalted” royalty as King David.  He is “not near” since he was born several hundred years after the prophecy. 

So why do Christians insist that they have the correct interpretation?  It is because Jesus has shown that he is the great king who has finally arrived.  By all he says and does in his ministry and most of all by his resurrection from the dead, they know that Jesus reigns forever.  As their sovereign, he will protect them from ultimate harm.

Today’s gospel shows the Jewish leaders trying to trap Jesus in his words.  They refuse to accept his kingly authority and try to prevent others from following him.  We also can withhold belief in Jesus by quibbling over the proper referent of Balaam’s prophecy or some such discrepancy in Scripture.  But surely the better alternative is to be like Matthew, the gospel writer, and the Christian community.  Accepting Jesus as Lord, we will put ourselves on a firm foundation of love and justice.  We will know the joy of being saved and of having eternal life as our destiny. 

Friday, December 13, 2019

Memorial of St. Lucy, virgin and martyr

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

In Matthew’s gospel John the Baptist and Jesus preach using the very same words.  They both tell the people, “’Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Nevertheless, they are different kinds of people.  As today’s gospel states, John has a very ascetic life.  He lives in the desert and eats locusts.  Meanwhile, Jesus stays around people.  He enjoys a full meal and a cup of wine in the company of others.

Rather than heed their common message, the people reject it outright.  They say that they do so because John is possessed (i.e., crazy) and Jesus is a drunkard.  But these are just excuses.  The people do not want to repent.  They are comfortable enough living as they do.  Unfortunately, they do not realize what they will be are missing with the loss of the kingdom.

We must not make the same mistake.  Even if we go to church every day, there are still plenty reforms to make.  We may have a temper that can go out of control or a tendency to understate the truth.  We may be given to gossip or even to pornography.  We need to take to heart that something wonderful is coming our way.  Let’s make the reforms necessary to take full advantage of it.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

(Zechariah 1:14-17; Luke 1:39-47)

What were Juan Diego’s hopes as he set out the morning of December 9, 1531, for the Franciscan mission?  Perhaps he only hoped to learn more about Christ.  But probably deep down he harbored other, greater hopes.  He might have hoped for the Europeans to leave his land.  They were foreigners telling the native people where they could go and what they could do.  It may be that Juan Diego harbored another hope that morning.  He was a devout man and already a Christian.  Perhaps he hoped to see all the native peoples embrace Jesus.  As the Spaniards occupied more of the land, fewer natives were accepting the faith.  Juan Diego may have regretted that his people were missing the one who could have improved their lives immeasurably.

Hope is more than wishful thinking.  It pervades one’s consciousness causing the person to search for opportunities to realize what is hoped for. Hope overcomes the fear of taking risks.  People today cross seas in small boats and deserts at night in hope of a better future.  Juan Diego’s hope moved him to enter the city as the lovely lady, the Virgin of Guadalupe, told him.  It made him insist that the bishop there hear what the lady wanted.  Hope finally caused Juan Diego to work for the conversion of his people to Christianity.

During Advent Christians become aware of a great hope in our hearts.  We long to see the good prosper and the evil reform.  We try to reform ourselves and pray for others to do so.  Because we know that the mother of God is an especially powerful advocate, we ask her to pray for us.  Today we especially pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe.  We ask her to intercede for us that our hope that our children keep the faith, our elders receive all deserved gratitude, and we may become more just people.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent

(Isaiah 4025-31; Matthew 11:28-30)

Spiritual theologian Fr. Ronald Rolheiser recently offered a short reflection on the “hiddenness of God.”  He wrote that the more a person enters into a relationship with God, the greater God’s mystery seems to him or her.  In other words, an intimate relationship with God envelops the believer in a “cloud of unknowing.’” This is “a knowing so deep that it can no longer be conceptualized.”  In today’s first reading, the prophet comments on God’s hiddenness to a similarly positive effect.

The reading comes from the second part of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  God is in the process of delivering His (the Jewish) people from exile.  The people, however, are saying that God does not recognize their plight.  They believe that God has forgotten them.  God responds to their fear by stating that He has strengthened them.  Renewed in heart, the people will see their way back to their homes in Israel.

Sometimes we are tempted to give up pursuing a relationship with God.  Some might resign themselves to whatever benefits they might squeeze from the earth.  With such a strategy, however, they will miss the glory God has in store for them.  It is far better to enter a closer relationship with the Lord by submitting ourselves to Him in prayer and in action.  This is the “yoke” that Jesus exhorts us to shoulder in today’s gospel.  We will find it not only bearable but a joy because Jesus shares it with us.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent

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

People who go to college are generally smart.  They use big words when they talk.  They read books which fill their heads with grand ideas.  But other people have difficulty with studies.  Their reading is limited to the sports page or the comics in the newspaper.  They struggle to find work that they can do.  This second group may not seem like people most would enjoy knowing.  However, in both the first reading and the gospel today God shows particular care for them.

In the first reading God makes it known that the exiles in Babylonia have suffered enough.  Although some Jews prospered there, most of the deportees suffered.  They are tired and depressed.  They want to return to their native land but lack the resources.   In the reading God promises His help.  The gospel pictures a simple man who was led astray.  Perhaps he started drinking heavily or believing in money and not the Lord as his savior.  Jesus tells of the need for someone to fetch the simple man and return him to a life of faith.

It can be said that Advent is the time when we concern ourselves with others.  In contrast, during Lent we are concerned about reforming ourselves.  In the current season we multiply our works and prayers on behalf of others as a way to prepare for Christ.  Like a light in the window, our works are seen by Jesus who will come to call us home.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Genesis 3:9-15.20; Ephesians 1:3-6.11-12; Luke 1:26-38)

Many think that priests find hearing confessions interesting.  They don’t. They consider time in
the confessional tedious work however necessary it may be.  Very often people confess the same says.  Viewing pornography seems to be the sin most confessed today at least by men.  Today’s fest testifies to one person’s escaping the scourge of sin completely.  As a special favor of God, Mary was conceived without original sin.  In turn she is to play a critical role in God’s plan of overcoming the scourge of sin I the world.

Sin begins, of course, at the beginning, just after creation.  Adam eats the forbidden fruit.  His sin readily gives way to others.  No sooner does God confront the man with his disobedience than Adam denies responsibility for it.  He says that because she gave the fruit to him, he ate it.  The woman, who will be called “Eve,” likewise refuses to accept responsibility for the sinful act.  She blames the serpent.  Fast forward to the gospel for a unique take on humanity. “Full of grace,” Mary obeys God’s word by assenting to His request to bear Jesus, God’s “Son.”  She accepts this responsibility despite the fact that she cannot understand exactly how it will happen. 

We are somewhat like Adam and Eve and somewhat like Mary.  We sin, often enough looking for excuses to justify ourselves.  But we also take advantage of the grace that Mary’s son, Jesus, has won for us.  In the end we confess our sins, accept God’s grace, and resume our moral responsibilities. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Friday of the First Week of Advent

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

No book of the Old Testament anticipates the coming of the Lord as much as that of the prophet Isaiah.  The first half of the work is attributed to the original eighth century seer.  He gives startling images to raise the people’s hopes.  When the Assyrian army seems headed toward Jerusalem like a category five hurricane, Isaiah could tell the people not to lose faith.  He says that God will care for them if they trust in Him.

In today’s reading Isaiah tells of the great works that God’s faithful will see.  He says that on the day of the Lord marvelous things will take place.  A whole country will become like a fruitful orchard.  The deaf will begin to hear and the blind, to see.  In the gospel Matthew tells of how Jesus fulfills the prophecy.  He gives sight to two blind men who put their faith in him.

We limit ourselves unnecessarily if our expectations of Advent are only end–of-the-year parties.  It is time to anticipate receiving from Christ a new vision.  During this season we can expect to see the earth not as a warehouse to be plundered but as an orchard to be cultivated.  We hope to see every person as well not as a rival but as a sister or a brother.

Thursday, January 5, 2019

Thursday of the First Week in Advent

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

The Protestant hymn “Rock of Ages” is said to find its inspiration in the reading from Isaiah today.  God is “an eternal Rock” who humbles the haughty and protects the poor.  There is a captivating story surrounding the origin of the hymn.   A humble clergyman returning home found himself caught in a violent thunderstorm.  Not being able to travel on, he took shelter in a cave.  Secure inside, the curate compared the cave’s wall to the pierced side of Jesus.  As his life was spared that day, so his soul was being saved by the blood flowing from the side of Jesus.

In today’s gospel Jesus is similarly metaphorical.  He compares the words of the Sermon which he is now ending to a building’s rock foundation.  Jesus assures that by living the “Golden Rule” and the other counsels presented, his listeners will withstand life’s greatest assaults.  Death itself will not carry them away.

During Advent we ask the Lord to demonstrate his strength.  We pray for an end to war in Afghanistan and on many city streets.  We dare to plead that we might become more patient, more peaceful, and more compassionate.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time

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

Many of us have fond memories of Sunday dinner with our grandparents.  The family took their places happily around the table.  The food was already there - not gourmet but deliciously prepared.  We said grace dutifully, and those who enjoyed it poured themselves a little wine.  Our hearts long to relive those experiences.  Today’s first reading indicates why.

The passage from Isaiah describes peoples from the disparate corners of the earth eating together.  The rich food makes everyone forget past injuries.   The choice wines relax one’s sensibilities enough to overlook petty differences.  All present are at peace.

Isaiah’s vision gives rise to the hope of Advent.  We look forward to living in harmony with all peoples -- both individuals and nations.  The gospel indicates how this vision will be realized.  Jesus will provide the occasion when he comes at the end of time.  He does not have to bring any food.  Just seeing him in glory will fill us with happiness.  After all, he is the “beatific vision.” 

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, priest

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

Of the four great killers of humankind – war, disease, famine, and natural disaster – war is the hardest to bear.  Disease and natural disaster have an inevitable quality.  They may take the greatest number of victims, but there is no one to blame except, for some, God.  Today famine is mostly a by-product of war.  Armies burn up fields to starve their enemy.  Human malice brings about war and intensifies in its duration.  Once engaged in battle soldiers often perpetuate grave crimes for the sake of victory.  For this reason the prophet in today’s first reading envisions the bitterest of enemies reconciled.

The peace does not just happen.  A leader endowed with the divine Spirit comes to rule the world with justice.  He does not take advantage of the poor but gives all people their due.  He makes the arrogant cower while he comforts the weak.  Christians have seen this hope fulfilled in Jesus.  He lifted up the lowly without ignoring the better off.  His compassion acted on behalf of the poor, the sick, and the crazed.  As he tells his disciples in the gospel reading, “’Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.’”

Today the Church celebrates St. Francis Xavier.  As much as anyone, St. Francis worked for reconciliation among peoples.  He traveled to faraway places to embed himself among the poorest of the earth.  He sought Jesus in others and found Jesus to no small extent in himself.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Monday of the First Week of Advent

(Isaiah 4:2-6; Matthew 8:5-11)

Advent periscopes the coming of the Lord.  We stand in expectation throughout the year.  But in Advent we keep our eyes wide open so that we might glimpse him moving toward us.  These days become joyful because we know that the long wait is almost over. Today’s gospel relates how one man did not need the Lord to come to his house.  He trusted Jesus’ word that things will turn out all right.

The man who trusted is not a Jew with reason to believe in the prophet Jesus.  He is a Roman army officer with a good heart.  He cares enough about his servant, who is probably Jewish, that he comes looking for Jesus. He recognizes Jesus’ authority which must radiate as prominently as the beauty of a professional model. No doubt, as well, he has been informed of Jesus’ reputation as a healer.   In any case the officer does not tie up the Lord.  He only states that just as his subordinates submit to his authority so will spiritual forces submit to Jesus’.

It is time for us to renew our hope in Jesus’ authority.  He is the Lord of heaven and earth.  We only have to seek his assistance.  We can trust that he will take note of our good will and help us.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Friday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 7: 2-14; Luke21:29-33)

Apocalyptic literature shows God coming to the rescue when things seem most dire.  For many today such writing seems more cartoonish than the stuff of good drama. Yet it engages people’s consciousness when they are threatened by a calamity.  Apocalyptic writers offer hope to those who have experienced a long, hard struggle. 

The only example of a completely apocalyptic work in the New Testament is the Book of Revelation.  There faithful Christians are assured victory over their Roman persecutors.  In the Old Testament the Book of the Prophet Daniel is the prime example of the apocalyptic.  It was written in the second century before Christ the wicked Antiochus IV Epiphanes was oppressing Israel. The book foresees an eventual reversal of lots.  Today’s grotesque passage is apparently an alternative account of the reading from Daniel heard at mass on Tuesday.  The four beasts represent the succession of empires leading to the everlasting reign of God.  The passage foresees God eventually triumphing over the successive reigns of terror. 

Some understand apocalyptic literature as a literal description of the future.  It is better for us to spiritualize its meaning. We will not face fiercely shaped beasts in the future.  But we will struggle against evil everyday of our lives.  Evil takes the form of illegitimate desire for pleasure, possessions, or power.  As God comes to the rescue in apocalyptic literature, we beg His help in our struggles. 

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving Day

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

A mother was saying how her daughter was celebrating Thanksgiving in Japan.  Away from home for the first time, the daughter had received recipes and other ideas for a Thanksgiving feast.  Most Americans abroad try to come together for the holiday.  It seems that they are drawn by something more than the custom of eating turkey with cranberries and sweet potatoes.  They appear to instinctively feel the need to give thanks.

Humans are built to depend on one another.  We will be able to get along without a particular person, but we always need others to grow, even to survive.  Someone has to provide food for a child.  Everyone needs teachers and doctors.   There cannot be industry without workers.  Although people are paid for their services, we still are grateful to them for work done well.  We also give thanks for the source of all the benefits we enjoy.  We recognize that the same Creator of the earth also moves human hearts to assist others.

Today’s first reading expresses the spirit of Thanksgiving Day.  It calls on everyone to give thanks to God, the source of all goodness.  It further recognizes that our dependence upon God never ceases.  We must pray to God not only for the basic needs of life but also for the peace that makes life worth living.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 5:1-6.13-14.16-17.23-28; Luke 21:12-19)

 “Can’t you read the ‘writing on the wall’?”  People ask this question when the meaning of a situation appears clear to them but not so to the other.  The term originated in the passage from the Book of the Prophet Daniel read today.

The words “Mene,” “Tekel,” and “Peres” may sound esoteric, but they are not incomprehensible.  Scholars say that mene means to count.  Tekel is the root word for the ancient weight and then coin, “shekel.”  It means to weigh.  And peres is related to the root for “Pharisee” – the people separated out from commoners for their strict observance.  The “writing on the wall” then is a message to the people who are committing sacrilege by using the vessels from Jerusalem’s temple.  Their deeds are being counted and weighed. They will be separated out for punishment.

The same is true for all of us.  Our deeds, observed and judged, will merit us salvation or damnation.  As today’s gospel relates, we want to give testimony to Christ.  It’s easy to say what we are to do but at times difficult to carry out the tasks.  We are to love one another as Jesus loves us – earnestly, patiently, self-sacrificingly.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 2:31-45; Luke 21:5-11)

In “Ozymandias” Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley tells a tale like Jesus’ in today’s gospel.  “Ozymandias” is the Greek name for the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II.  The discovery of a statue of the king in the desert occasions the poem.  Shelley writes that the inscription on the statue’s base commands the resignation of viewers.  “’Look on my works…’” it reads, ‘”and despair!'”  The sad truth is, however, that the statue itself lies shattered in the sand.

Jesus gives the people marveling at the grandeur of the temple a similar lesson. He foresees the temple’s destruction which indeed took place forty years hence.  He is saying that even this grand tribute to God lacks ultimate importance.  In fact, he would say, everything material will be come to ruin.  Only discipleship of himself remains with lasting value.  But even at that, he continues, people have to take care that they do not follow false messiahs.

Lay person or consecrated religious, we must not become distracted by material objects.  Cars, houses, and large expense accounts must not turn us away from following Jesus.  Neither should ideologies lead us from the truth that Jesus teaches.    If we want eternal life, we must follow his way of self-giving love.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Monday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Daniel 1:1-6.8-20, Luke 21:1-4)

Your doctor would not be surprised at all with the outcome of Daniel’s vegetarian diet.  She will tell you to consume less red meat, more vegetables, no alcohol and lots of water.  But the author’s intention in the Book of Daniel can hardly be dietary advice.  Quite certainly he means to give moral counsel.  He is telling his fellow Jews not to disregard the Law.  Rather they are to follow its every precept.  As in the case here, their adhesion to the Law will bring about the good.

The Book of Daniel was written in the second century before Christ.  As the first reading for the last week has testified, Jews were then being terribly persecuted.  Foreign kings wanted to impose their beliefs and customs on the people.  The Jews resisted and ultimately prevailed to establish home rule. Unfortunately that too proved to be seriously defective.

Religious persecution is threatening citizens in western societies today.  People are not being forced to eat forbidden foods but to violate their consciences in other ways.  Should a Catholic doctor refer a patient to a surgeon who will perform a desired abortion?  Should a priest “marry” a homosexual couple?  Should a Catholic school treat as a girl a “transgendered” male child?  These kinds of questions may soon cause faith-filled people to be prosecuted.  They will hopefully take courage from these mass readings.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Memorial of Saint Cecilia, martyr

(I Maccabees 4:36-37.52-59; Luke 19:45-48)

Today’s first reading relates the story of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah.   The passage tells how Jews 165 year before Christ celebrated the re-consecration of the Temple altar.  They burnt offerings and sang hymns of praise for eight days.  According to one tradition, there was a glitch in the preparations for the celebration.  After the plans were announced, only enough consecrated oil for one day of burning was found.  Undeterred, the people went ahead with their plans.  To their amazement the oil lasted the full eight days.  For this reason Hanukkah is sometimes called the “Feast of Lights.”  As testimony to the miracle, Jews traditionally eat fried foods throughout the celebration.

Jesus celebrated the Feast of the Dedication of the Temple as Hanukkah is sometimes called.  He also revered the Temple as God’ meeting place with humans.  For this reason he chases the money changers from its confines as today’s gospel relates.  Jesus himself has become the prime place of encounter with God.  In this sense he has replaced the Temple. 

This year Hanukkah corresponds with Christmas.  The eight days begins on December 22 and concludes on December 30.  It should be a time of peace and joy for everyone in these two great religions.  We should be praying for our Jewish friends and might ask them to pray for us as well.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(I Maccabees 2:15-29; Luke 19:41-44)

Every city has its landmark.  In New York it is the Statue of Liberty.  In Rome St. Peter’s Basilica stands out.  In Jerusalem of antiquity the Temple loomed in importance.  The Temple monumentalized the Jewish faith.  There the people worshiped and offered sacrifice.  Because money was exchanged in making sacrifices, the Temple had economic significance.  Today’s gospel and feast have the Temple as a common reference.

In the gospel Jesus weeps over the city of Jerusalem. His saying that “they will not leave one stone upon another applies particularly to the Temple.  In 70 A.D. the Romans dismantled its magnificent structure.  Jesus’ weeps for good reason.  Many of his countrymen will be killed.  Terrible as well, this symbol and facilitator of Israel’s faith will be lost.

Ancient and often exaggerated stories of Jesus are told in the so-called apocryphal gospels.  Although they cannot be considered the inspired word of God, they often support Christian faith.  At least two of these “gospels” give background information by telling of the infancy of Mary.  They testify that Mary’s parents brought her to the Temple when she was three.  They left her there as their offering to the Lord.  Mary, according to the story, was neither unaware nor afraid of what was going on.  Rather she ran up the Temple stairs without looking back.  Here Mary serves as a model for all of us.  May we be as eager to serve the Lord as this child!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Wednesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(II Maccabees 7:1.20-31; Luke 19:11-28)

During persecutions in the early Church some Christians balked at martyrdom.  They rationalized their refusal to die by saying Christ sacrificed himself so that they might live.  In today’s first reading seven youths reject such sophistry.  They give themselves to martyrdom not for Christ but to uphold Israel’s law. 

Coaxed by their mother, the young Jews refuse to let fear of death deter them from doing what is right. The passage focuses on the youngest of the sons and the last to die.  It is expected that the mother would plea for mercy from the king.  Rather her plea for mercy is directed to her son.  She asks him to have pity on her by not doing anything vile.  The child responds heroically.  He defies his executioners and is summarily executed.

Bishops in many nations today foresee persecution of the Church.  They realize that ultra-secular governments will not allow people to practice their faith fully.  Catholic doctors will be charged to perform abortions.  Priests will face criminal penalties if they refuse to witness “homosexual marriages.”  Employers today are forced to pay insurance for immoral treatments. These may not be capital crimes. Still the individuals involved will suffer in support of their beliefs.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(II Maccabees 6:18-31; Luke 19:1-10)

We look to the aged for prudence.  Experience has taught them not to delay something which must be done and to work diligently.  We also expect faithfulness in our elders.  They have learned the value of keeping commitments over the long haul.  Generosity is another virtue associated with the silver years.  Seniors have come to realize that giving has never made anyone poor.  Today’s first reading celebrates old age with the story of Eleazar, a virtuous Jew.

Eleazar refuses to eat pork to save his life.  He does not care that he will be tortured, much less that his das are ended.  What matters to him is keeping faith in God who created him.  Even when he is offered a ploy to avoid execution, he refuses.  Eleazar understands that being part of a people makes one responsible for others.  In this case he does not want to create scandal by giving bad example.  He is particularly conscious of the young who might be led astray.  They need to learn the nobility of the nation’s traditions.

We live in an age of individualism.  People care mostly about themselves and the circle immediately around them.  Too often the elderly lack a sense of intergenerational responsibility.  We need them to act like heroes as Eleazar does.  We need them to show us how not to live only for ourselves but for others.  We need them to assure us that God’s ways will lead to glory.

Monday, October 18, 2019

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Maccabees 1:10-15.41-43.54-57.62-63; Luke 18:35-43)

The alienation of Jewish culture begins harmlessly enough.  The First Book of Maccabees relates how the Greek king begins his program of cultural hegemony.  He builds a gymnasium so that Jewish and Greek men could know one another as they exercise together.  At the gym they also expose their flesh to one another.  As the Jews for some reason feel embarrassed, they begin to hide the mark of their distinction.  Increasing socialization among the peoples leads Jews to break Covenantal laws.  Propaganda then is pitched to malleable children who begin to rebel against traditional ways.  Many Jews, perhaps unwittingly, begin to make sacrifices to pagan gods.  Then the king does the unthinkable.  He erects an idol in the middle of the Temple.  If the Jewish people accept this abomination, they are lost.

But they don’t.  The Maccabee family together with other faithful Jews rebel against the Greeks.  The tale is bloody, but the Greeks are eventually defeated.  Regrettably, the Maccabees and their successors prove to be inept rulers themselves.  By the time Jesus is born, the more capable Romans control the land.  Jesus will begin a peaceful revolution.  He will show the people how to worship the God of Israel in the most worthy of ways. 

Resisting the alienation of religion requires intensive effort.  Many parents today homeschool their children rather than send them to secularistic schools.  Wearing religious symbols like a cross helps secure religious identity.  Praying together in the home and worshipping weekly in church are foundational.  Experiencing the benefits of religion may require even greater sacrifices in the future.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Optional Memorial of Saint Albert the Great, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Wisdom 13:1-9; Luke 17:26-37)

The first reading suits today’s patron Saint Albert the Great.  The passage from Wisdom recounts how creation reflects God, its maker.  Because of this, scientists should come to know God. However, it says, some are so distracted by the beauty of creation that they misrepresent God.  Albert was able to come to the right conclusions.  Excelling as a natural scientist and philosopher, he ordered all knowledge.  Besides being called “the Great,” he is also known as the “universal doctor.”

Perhaps Albert’s greatest claim to fame is his pupil Thomas Aquinas.  He recognized Thomas’ enormous intellectual capacity when fellow students named him the “dumb ox.”  Albert also defended Thomas after his death.  Thomas’ works pilloried as heretical, Albert illuminated their profound exposition of divine truth.

Albert the Great has left scientists a challenging legacy.  Following him, they do not have to suspend religious belief to pursue scientific truth.  As he showed, they can come to deeper appreciation for nature by clinging to nature’s God.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Thursday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(Wisdom 7:22b-8:1; Luke 17:20-25)

The first reading today remarkably resembles St. Paul’s “Hymn to Love.”  The passage begins with a personification of wisdom as a spirit with many virtues: “In Wisdom is a spirit intelligent, holy, unique…”  So too Paul will write of love as a person with excellent qualities: “Love is patient; love is kind;…”

The author of Wisdom goes on to describe wisdom in action.  He writes: “…she penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity…(she) renews everything while herself perduring; and passing into holy souls from age to age, she produces friends of God and prophets.”  Paul also describes acts of love: “(Love) rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

People have observed how the name “Christ” may be substituted for “love” with perfect sense in Paul’s letter: “(Christ) does not seek (his) own interests; (Christ) is not quick-tempered; (Christ) does not brood over injuries.”  “Christ” may also replace the word “wisdom” in today’s passage: For there is nought God loves, be it not one who dwells with (Christ).  For (Christ) is fairer than the sun and surpasses every constellation of the stars.”

We should not be surprised that Christ epitomizes every virtue.  He is, after all, the perfect image of God, the Father.

Tuesday, November 20, 2019

Tuesday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(II Maccabees 6:18-31; Luke 19:1-10)

We look to the aged for prudence.  Experience has taught them not to delay something which must be done and to work diligently.  We also expect faithfulness in our elders.  They have learned the value of keeping commitments over the long haul.  Generosity is another virtue associated with the silver years.  Seniors have come to realize that giving has never made anyone poor.  Today’s first reading celebrates old age with the story of Eleazar, a virtuous Jew.

Eleazar refuses to eat pork to save his life.  He does not care that he will be tortured, much less that his das are ended.  What matters to him is keeping faith in God who created him.  Even when he is offered a ploy to avoid execution, he refuses.  Eleazar understands that being part of a people makes one responsible for others.  In this case he does not want to create scandal by giving bad example.  He is particularly conscious of the young who might be led astray.  They need to learn the nobility of the nation’s traditions.

We live in an age of individualism.  People care mostly about themselves and the circle immediately around them.  Too often the elderly lack a sense of intergenerational responsibility.  We need them to act like heroes as Eleazar does.  We need them to show us how not to live only for ourselves but for others.  We need them to assure us that God’s ways will lead to glory.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Memorial of Saint Frances Cabrini, virgin

(Wisdom 6:1-11; Luke 17:11-19)

We should not be dismayed by the mindlessness of the nine in today’s gospel who do not return to give thanks.  Many of us act in the same way.  We are often blessed but quickly forget the Lord, the source of all goodness.  We may even attribute our blessing to luck or to some personal quality.  We should emulate the man who seeks to pay homage Jesus in gratitude.

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini returned to the Lord after receiving his blessing.  She was at one point so frail that the sisters who educated her refused her petition to join them.  Yet she persisted in serving the Lord.  Gathering a group of women around her, she fulfilled her childhood hope of becoming a missionary.  Mother Cabrini, as she was called, established sixty-seven orphanages, schools, and hospitals.  She worked largely as an Italian immigrant with other immigrants in the United States.  Yet her dynamism did not stop at U.S. shores.  She extended her reach to South America and back to Europe. 

Gratitude becomes a person.  It bespeaks humility that enables him or her to keep self-deceiving pride at bay.  Recognizing the connectedness of society, gratitude further impels one to assist others.  It is not surprising then to see the Lord blessing the grateful cured leper with salvation.