Monday, July 1, 2019

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 18:16-33; Matthew 8:18-22)

Americans are fond of telling their children that George Washington never lied.  Historians will verify the first president’s exceptionally virtuous character.  The story not only speaks well of the country; it also provides a model for children to follow.  The first reading gives a similar testimony to Abraham’s character. 

The passage begins with God contemplating whether to share with Abraham his plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  It suggests that Abraham should know God’s ways so that he might instruct his people wisely.  Hearing of God’s plan, Abraham shows what kind of person he is.  He plaintively asks God to reconsider destruction if there could be found a significant number of honest people.  Like God, Abraham has a compassionate heart that does not want to see people suffer unnecessarily.

God calls all of us to compassion.  Like Abraham we should pray for those who seem destined to suffer.  People diagnosed with cancer, for example, should be remembered in our prayers.  Like God we should try to minimize suffering as much as possible.  Since people who are sick often seek consolation, we should be ready to give them our support.

Friday, June 28, 2019

The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

(Ezekiel 34:11-16; Romans 5:5b-11; Luke 15:3-7)

St. John Vianney, the “Cure of Ars,” lived in France in the early part of the nineteenth century.  Conditions then and there seem to have been much like today in the United States.  Enlightenment thinking made headway among the people.  Many no longer attended Mass.  John Vianney joined a band of faithful priests in trying to reconcile the people with the Church.  He did not preach because his theology was considered weak.  But he became known as an attentive and compassionate confessor.  In time people came to Ars from all over Europe to confess their sins.  It is said that he listened to people sins with the “tenderness of Christ.”  Today, the Feast of the Sacred Heart, the Church celebrates that Christ’s tenderness.

In the gospel Jesus describes the love of God with the parable of the shepherd and the loss sheep.  Even though the shepherd has many sheep, he goes through the trouble to search one that is lost.  The rescue attempt is made in the desert where the shepherd may lose his life. But he takes the risk out of love for the lost sheep.  Jesus himself is God’s reaching out to save every man and woman.  He seeks to bring them peace and happiness. 

Having experienced Christ’s love in Penance, we want to reach out to others.  We will tell them about Christ, the Good Shepherd, and how he may be encountered in the sacraments.  We should not try to water down the teachings of the Church which have become an obstacle for many.  But we can explain its teachings follow from the gospel, are logically coherent, and have withstood the test of time.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 16:1-12.15-16; Matthew 7:21-19)

Often enough great people prove themselves foolish in simple aspects of character.  Thomas Jefferson was certainly an accomplished statesman. His erudition enabled him to write the noble words of the Declaration of Independence.  His affability allowed him to negotiate effectively as America’s ambassador to France.  Yet he smudged his record by evidently keeping a slave, Sally Hemings, as his mistress.  The story told of Abram in today’s first reading contains a similar breach of character.

Abram listens to the plan of his calculating wife Sarai.  Whether he has relations with her servant Hagar out of lust or out desperation, he is acting foolishly.  He needs to trust God’s plan in creation that marriage is a faithful covenant.  Instead he attempts to “build a house on sand” as Jesus warns against in the gospel.  The result could have been predicted.  No one is satisfied.  Sarai comes to feel slighted. Hagar is eventually abandoned.  And the offspring Ismael will be raised without his father.

Jesus maps the way to greatness in the Sermon on the Mount.  We hear its last instalment in today’s gospel reading.  The Sermon exhorts self-control but, even more, self-deliverance to God’s Providence.  God will provide us what is necessary for a worthy life.  Even more importantly, He will bring us to our home in Paradise.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

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

In order to stem the tide of divorce, some American couples have entered “covenant marriages.”  This is an agreement that the two parties will seek counseling before marriage and will limit their grounds for divorce once married.  The arrangement takes the name “covenant” from the type of relationship between Abram and the Lord witnessed in the first reading today.

The terms of the covenant require Abram to be faithful to God.  As long as he maintains that faith, he can be assured of the Lord’s fulfilling His promise.  History bears out how God has magnificently done so.  Abram has had innumerable descendants.  Today they include not only the millions of Jews throughout the world, but the billions of Christians and Muslims as well.

We have entered into a new covenant with God through Jesus Christ.  By being baptized in his name we become heirs to a new land.  We will inherit heaven with the resurrection from the dead.  But this legacy can be lost if we stop believing in him.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

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

The movie The Fugitive received much acclaim as an action drama.  It showed a physician who is wrongly convicted of murdering his wife.  The doctor escapes police custody but is pursued by a deft marshal.  He is able to escape arrest until he uncovers the real murderer.  In the last scene the marshal takes the physician, who has not yet been officially exonerated, into custody.  Rather than handcuff him, however, he allows the doctor to freely ride to the courthouse.  The marshal’s graciousness resembles Jesus’ in a scene from Matthew’s gospel.  When he realizes a Canaanite woman has real faith, Jesus alters the warning he makes in today’s passage about giving what is holy to the dogs.

Of course, Jesus is not literally talking about dogs when he admonishes his disciples.  Dogs are heathens who do not believe in God, the all-loving Father.  Jews of the first century regularly saw Gentiles as “dogs.”  Hence, Jesus is telling his disciples to be wary about teaching them religious doctrine.  The Canaanite woman, who is a Gentile, appears later in the gospel.  She asks Jesus to exorcise the demon possessing her daughter.  Jesus responds with an unbecoming statement echoing what he says today about giving what is holy to dogs.  However, when the woman demonstrates that she believes, Jesus changes his assessment and grants her request.

Our Lord always gives good example.  If he is mistaken about someone, he does not have to save face by trying to hide his error.  Perhaps he would be more careful about the image he uses the next time he preaches about teaching Gentiles.  In any case, he would not want us to deride anyone by calling them “dogs.”  And when we misjudge someone publicly, he would want us to apologize for our mistake.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

(Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Lucas 1:56-66.80)

Besides Jesus, who should be named as the three most important figures in the gospels? Many would not hesitate to say Mary, the mother of Jesus.  St. Peter would also be a popular choice.  But the third place would be up for grabs.  Some might nominate St. John, the son of Zebedee and often considered to be the “Beloved Disciple.”  A few might argue that Judas was indispensable in setting the stage for the crucifixion.  However, John the Baptist is the best choice.  His role as forerunner of Jesus makes more influential that even Peter.  For this reason the Church celebrates John’s birthday today.

Today’s gospel focuses on John’s naming.  His mother insists that he will be called John.  Zechariah’s support of his wife’s choice leads to the return of his ability to speak.  The name means The Lord has shown favor.  John will live up to this omen.  Through him the Lord has shown favor to his parents who longed to have a child.  Through his ministry of preaching and baptizing many will come to repent of their sins.  And finally with his humble recognition that he is not the Messiah, the world will turn to Jesus for salvation.

We celebrate John’s birthday today, approximately the summer solstice (in the Northern Hemisphere) and six months before Christmas.  The date fits details of what is reported of the Baptist in the fourth gospel.  There Jesus calls him “a burning and shining lamp’ (John 5:35).  John himself testifies to Jesus by saying, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Friday, June 21, 2019

Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, religious

(II Corinthians 11:18.21-30; Matthew 6:19-23)

Aloysius Gonzaga was an Italian noble who joined the Society of Jesus at a tender age.  As a novice, he may have heard the warning of keeping “custody of the eyes.”  This term means to turn one’s gaze from compromising sights.  Its reference generally regards sexual allurement.  Aloysius would have heeded such advice.  He did not live long enough to be ordained a priest.  However, his short life was exemplary that in time he was named “patron of Catholic youth.”  Today’s gospel may be taken as an admonishment to Christians to similarly keep “custody of the eyes.”

Jesus calls the eyes the “lamp of the body.”  As such they allow images to settle in one’s mind.  Good eyes will screen healthy images from compromising ones.  Healthy images like nature in bloom lift the soul to give God glory.  Corrupt images like pornography create illicit desire.  Bad eyes do not make these distinctions.  They allow unhealthy images to wreak havoc in the mind.

It may sound fastidious to remind another of sexual desire.  Yet many people today – mostly men but, no doubt, women as well – are obsessed by sexual desire.  Counselling may be needed, but a friendly reminder not to fix one’s gaze on another’s sexual organs can resolve the difficulty.  We are sexual beings which is wonderful.  But sexual desire like all others must be tempered by virtue.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

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

The story of Job illustrates an important point in the Our Father.  Job is a rich man who pleases God.  Satan, who in the story is part of the heavenly court, believes that Job is faithful because things go his way.  God then allows Satan to test job.  He loses in a flash his property, his family, and his health.  He is tempted to curse God for his misfortune but doesn’t.

In the standard form of the Our Father, we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”  We are asking God not to have us tempted like Satan tempted Job.  Pope Francis does not like the wording, however, because it can imply something different.  It sounds like God might tempt someone like a drug lord tempts youth to sell drugs for large commissions.  The pope has reportedly approved a translation which says, “Do not let us fall into temptation.” 

It is not likely that the pope’s translation will gain much traction.  The standard prayer is so well established that people will have great difficulty uttering different words.  The real problem is not so much the present wording, which have a legitimate meaning.  Rather the problem is that we do not listen to what we are saying when we pray the Our Father.  We do not tune into the words that Jesus himself has offered us for our salvation.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

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

“Giving has never made anyone poor,” a fund-raising adage touts.  The saying is not meant to be exclusively spiritual as if the only benefit one can expect for being generous is a reward in heaven.  Quite literally, it means that people who give to the poor find themselves the beneficiaries of material blessings.  Of course, this is not an investment strategy, but it may be more than intuition.  Like the proven realities that people who go to church earn more, have children who are more likely to do well in school, and live longer, it may be possible to show that on the average those who support charity find themselves soon recompensed.

It is true that St. Paul has spiritual benefits most in mind when he writes to the Corinthians, “…whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully.”  However, his thought for today concludes by saying to the faithful, “You are being enriched in every way…”

As much as God inspires awe in the view of a mountain peak or an ocean sunrise, He works wonders in everyday experience.  We need not be surprised when it happens and can almost expect it.  Still it may be presumptuous to predict how God will astound us next.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

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

The gifts of the Holy Spirit allow their bearers to see the world as God sees it.   The gift of piety well exemplifies what this means.  Piety may conjure the image of attending church devotions, but its true meaning runs much deeper. With piety a person recognizes every human as a child of God.  Doing this it is perfectly aligned with today’s gospel reading.

Jesus gives his disciples the hefty commandment to love their enemies.  He uses his heavenly Father as an example.  God provides rain for the wicked farmer as well as for the virtuous one because both are His children.  Likewise, disciples should treat both the bad and the good as brothers or sisters.  The commandment does not require one to expose herself to danger, but it does demand of her respect and fairness.

When we regard the unlovable as brothers and sisters, we will go out to greet them.  If there has been animosity between us and them, we will dispose ourselves to forgive them.  These actions will bring us satisfaction as well as the world more peace.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

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

Although the Bible is the “word of God” written for the edification of all humans, each its books has a particular context.  Sometimes the context is apparent as in the Letter to Philemon where St. Paul pleads for the liberation of a slave.  Sometimes, however, it is obscure so that readers today cannot understand all the work’s references.  Scholarly opinion of the Letter to the Hebrews, for example, is divided regarding its original readers and intent as well as its author.  There is an element of uncertainty regarding the context of Paul’s so-called Second Letter to the Corinthians.  (Saying “so-called” just indicates that there is reason to think it is a compendium of letters written after Paul’s more famous First Letter.)

The uncertainty of the Second Letter regards the issue of reconciliation to which Paul refers in today’s reading.  In the previous verses he urged the Corinthians to “be reconciled to God.”  Here he indicates that the difficulty they were having with him caused their alienation from God.  What is the difficulty?  Perhaps some Corinthians took offense at some of Paul’s accusations in the First Letter.  Perhaps they have been influenced by a false interpretation of the gospel.  In correspondence between intimates rarely is the context fully explained.

Nevertheless, the Second Letter to the Corinthians reveals an enormous amount of information about St. Paul.  It tells us of his remarkable suffering on behalf of Christ and of his ongoing dialogue with him.  We stand in awe of this scholar missionary martyr.  We also thank God for his work that is, at least in part, responsible for our coming to know Jesus Christ.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time

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

Lust may be the most problematic of the vices.  Yet it is not the most serious.  Indeed, Thomas Aquinas calls it the least offensive of the capital sins because it is the most natural.  This does not mean it is not harmful nor matter of mortal sin.  Quite puzzlingly in very recent times sociologists have discovered that Americans are less likely to have sexual relations than at other times since the sixties.  Evidently youth are substituting pornography and masturbation for sexual intercourse.  What might we derive from today’s gospel about this disturbing tendency?

Of course, Jesus makes here the provocative statement that anyone who looks at a woman with lust commits adultery.  The reference to sinning with one’s hand also hints of sexual offense.  The description of divorce and remarriage should likewise be considered as sexual deviance. 

With all these sexual matters we might think that Jesus frowns upon sexual intimacy.  But this way of thinking is simply not true.  Jesus and, certainly, the Church value sexual relations greatly.  They both deepen the love of marriage partners as well as facilitate the growth of the human family.  But we must be sure in our understanding of sexual intimacy.  It is for married couples and is not to be done primarily for pleasure but out of mutual love.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Memorial of Saint Anthony of Padua, priest and doctor of the Church

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

Ask any person what she most wants in life.  It’s very possible she will respond “God.”  But for many God seems unattainable.  They may come to the conclusion that God does not exist or that the quest for him is too troublesome.  As a result, they settle for less satisfying goals, more often than not pleasure, power, or luxury.  St. Paul, in contrast, did not weary of the search for God.  He found Him through our Lord Jesus Christ.  In today’s first reading he intimates how he located Him.

Paul says that Jews are at a disadvantage in finding God because they do not recognize Jesus as Lord.  Christians, on the other hand, can see God revealed clearly.  This vision enables them to live truly good lives.  As Jesus himself says in the gospel, their righteousness brings them to the glory of heaven.  Paul sees himself as a servant who makes Jesus known to others.  He does not mind the task, which entails grave hardship, because Jesus wills it. 

We too are called to reveal the Lord Jesus so that others may find God.  We carry out this mission by showing goodness in the name of the Lord.  Amidst a culture of self-promotion and crudeness our acts of love will bring others’ attention to Jesus.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary time

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

A woman was making her case for changes in Church teaching.  She focused on the issue of divorce and remarriage.  Her reasoning for defending the right of Catholics in such a situation to receive Holy Communion was straight forward.  Just as Jesus brought the teaching of the Old Testament to a new level, so the Holy Spirit is advancing the people of God a step beyond.  Divorce, women ordinations, same-sex marriage are parts of the fresh teachings.  But such a logic conflicts with Scripture as well as established Church teaching. 

In today’s first reading St. Paul indicates the grandeur of the gospel.  He sees it as much more glorious than the already wondrous teaching of the Jewish Scriptures.  The gospel helps to clarify what Paul means.  Jesus says that he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets.  In other words, he will bring them to perfection.  In the Gospel according to John he speaks of the Holy Spirit as coming to the Church.  Its role, however, will not be to modify the gospel but to clarify its hidden and debatable meanings.

We may feel confused at times because the Church changes some practices.  Certainly the use of the common languages for the sacraments presented such a change.  But it is inaccurate that the Church has changed its basic teachings.  She can never change her stand on the inviolability of marriage, its reality as a union of a male and a female, and the reservation of the priesthood for men.  However, Church leaders realize that attitudes of male dominance are sinful and must be eradicated.  They know to remain faithful to the gospel they must promote the equal dignity of all.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Memorial of Saint Barnabas, apostle

(Acts 11:21b-26.13:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12)

St. Barnabas is mentioned a number of times in Acts and the letters of St. Paul.  From all that is said, he is an exemplary Christian disciple.  He donates the proceeds from the sale of his land to the community of disciples (Acts 4:36-37).  He is sent to Antioch as a representative of the Church to investigate the new Christian community there.  One may find in him the gifts of patience and mercy in an incident that occurred while preaching with Paul.  Barnabas’ desire to allow John Mark to rejoin the preaching team after previously abandoning the effort contrasts with Paul’s demand that he stay behind (Acts 15:39).

Today’s reading from Acts even testifies to his virtue calling him “a good man full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24).  The same Spirit asks that he and Paul be set aside for missionary work (Acts 13:2). It further indicates his ability by naming Barnabas the first of the prophets and teachers at Antioch.

We might strive to imitate Barnabas.  We certainly can be generous with what we own.  We can also be of faith and ready to forgive others.  We should also be willing to speak up in favor of Jesus and the Church.  Jesus’ teachings of self-sacrificial love may be ridiculed by some.  The Church has no shortage of detractors for its stand in favor of the integrity of marriage between a man and a woman and also the dignity of life.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

(Acts 1:12-14; John 19:25-34)

Today’s gospel is usually understood as an indication of Jesus’ love for his mother.  He does not leave her helpless but entrusts her care to his beloved disciple.  Insightful commentators, however, find an even more significant meaning in the passage.  They compare it to Jesus’ inclusion of his mother in his company of disciples in Luke’s gospel.  When Mary comes to see him, Jesus remarks that his mother and his brothers are “’…those who hear the word of God and do it’” (Luke 8:21).

Mary stands with the beloved disciple at Jesus’ cross.  The two comprise Jesus’ most faithful support group.  They bear with the ignominy of association with a condemned man.  They also endure the pain of seeing their loved one suffer and die.  When Jesus expires, the text reads, “…he handed over his spirit.”  This handing over may be validly interpreted as sending the Holy Spirit to this new community of love that he has just formed.  In other words, by this action Jesus is establishing his church.

We should not underestimate the role of Mary in the Church.  By virtue of her closeness to Jesus she is its greatest intercessor.  By virtue of her presence at significant events in his life, she is one of its leading witnesses.  And by virtue of her reflection and action on the word of God, she is its model disciple.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Friday of the Seventh Week of Easter

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

Many evangelical Protestants openly profess their love of Jesus.  But surely love of the Lord is as much a characteristic of true Catholics.  Mother St. Teresa of Kolkata used to describe herself by saying, “By blood, I am Albanian. By citizenship, an Indian. By faith, I am a Catholic nun. As to my calling, I belong to the world. As to my heart, I belong entirely to the Heart of Jesus.”

In today’s gospel Jesus uses love for him as the sole criterion for the substitute leader of his flock.  Some will scoff that it is silly to say that we love someone who died two thousand years ago.  They will question what kind of love it is if the beloved, like a homerun king or a rock star, has millions of professed lovers.  But these objections really do not faze believers because they know that Jesus is alive and dwells among them spiritually. 

We too can have a personal relationship with Jesus.  By meditating on the gospel and by caring for the poor, we sense that he is close to us.  Because he is God, he can assist all who hold him as their beloved. 

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 22:30.23:6-11; John 17:20-26)

“Suit the action to the word, the word to the action,” Prince Hamlet instructs a troupe of actors in Shakespeare’s famous drama.  The mandate fittingly describes what is taking place in today’s gospel.

The passage concludes Jesus’ “priestly prayer” at the end of his long Last Supper discourse.  He has prayed to the Father for his disciples to whom he has revealed the Father’s love.  Now he will proceed to give the perfect demonstration of that love with his sacrificial death.  It is the Father’s love because, as he says, he and the Father are one.  The prayer includes the petition that his disciples may be one with him and the Father.

We are to consider ourselves among the beneficiaries of Jesus’ prayer.  The word handed down to us has made us one with him.  In giving testimony to him by works of charity, we have his support as well as his instruction.  We need not fear if our intentions are misconstrued or if others hate us for doing good.  He will come to us as he does to Paul in the first reading saying, “Take courage….”

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Memorial of Saint Boniface, bishop and martyr

(Acts 20:28-38; John 17:11b-19)

In today’s first reading St. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem where he senses trouble awaiting.  He has called the presbyters of Ephesus together for a final exhortation.  He warns them about false prophets who will try to lead astray their congregants.  The life of today’s patron exemplifies Paul’s care about true teaching.  Also like Paul, St. Boniface died giving testimony to the faith.

Boniface was a British monk eager to preach in Germany, a missionary land.  Once there within a span of just twenty years he converted different pagan peoples and established the Church.  Rather than retire in one of the monasteries he founded, Boniface returned to the missions.  He was killed while reconverting a tribe of Germans that had lapsed into pagan practices. 

Our times have seen many unorthodox ideas gain followings.  Recently a former priest, discontent with the teaching of the Church on sexual ethics, wrote an article in a leading magazine calling for the abolition of the priesthood.  It is doubtful that the idea will take root, but it does erode people’s faith.  As much as at any time in history, we need men and women like Boniface who will testify to the truth.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

(Acts 20:17-27; John 17:1-11a)

The old priest died the other day.  After being last seen resting, he was found on the floor without life signs.  Some say that he had the best death possible – without suffering or myriad hospital procedures.  But this point is debatable. Both readings today show another way to die.

Paul feels compelled by the Spirit to return to Jerusalem.  He senses that his end is near.  On the journey he stops at the port of Miletus and sends for the church workers in Ephesus to meet him.  Then he begins his farewell address.  In today’s reading he reviews his ministry on behalf of Christ.  In tomorrow’s he will give the ministers advice regarding how to care for the people.  In both readings his care for them is evident.

In the gospel Jesus has been proclaiming his love and instructing for his disciples throughout the long final discourse.  Today he begins the conclusion of his remarks with a prayer to God the Father. He calls the disciples “the ones…given me” as a way of indicating his affection.  He also directly prays for them.

No one can enjoy suffering.  But we should not always run from it.  Through suffering we can draw closer to Jesus on the cross.  It even allows us to share in his work of redemption.  Suffering in the dying process may also afford us opportunity to confirm our love for those who mean the most to us.  Like both Paul and Jesus we want to take full advantage of it.