Thursday, August 6, 2020

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

(Daniel 7:9-10.13-14; II Peter 1:16-19; Matthew 17:1-9)

Many are struggling today.  Unemployment around the world continues to grow.  People are both restless from five months of restrictions and apprehensive about going out.  A portion of the population feels oppressed while another portion is outraged by the incivility of protests.  To whom may they turn for help?

Unsurprisingly, today’s gospel points to Jesus for rescue.  The light radiating from his face and clothes show him to be like God.  He is not only conversant with the great prophets of antiquity but also receives endorsement from on high.  The message from the luminous cloud is unequivocal.  The disciples are to “listen to him.”

It is thought that the purpose of the Transfiguration is to shore up the faith of Jesus’ disciples as he takes them to Jerusalem.  There, of course, he will be crucified.  Our faith today also needs support.  It will come from focusing on what Jesus says about praying for the coming of the Father’s kingdom and from treating others as we would be treated.  As surely as Jesus’ cross led to his resurrection, our struggles will culminate in unmitigated joy.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 31:1-7; Matthew 15:21-28)

We live in a time of cultural sensitivity.  Many take common characterizations of different peoples as deprecations and affronts.  For example, the National Football League’s Washington team was persuaded to abandon its name “Redskins” because it was offensive to various tribes.  Such heightened sensitivity helps us avoid slander and stereotypes.  Nevertheless, we should not vilify past generations for not observing contemporary etiquette.  If we do, we will find ourselves accusing Jesus of a racial slur in today’s gospel.

Jesus is making a retreat in the borderlands of Tyre and Sidon.  There a Canaanite woman – a non-Jew – approaches him as a man renowned for his mighty deeds.  She asks him to cast out the demon tormenting her daughter.  Jesus, wanting to keep to his agenda of rebuilding Israel, tries to dismiss her.  He excuses himself by referring to non-Jews as “dogs” – something not unusual in his culture.  Importantly, he does not close the door on the woman.  Rather, he allows himself to be moved by her act of faith.

We should hear this story as an indulgence that is available to us.  Often we act like dogs.  We protect our turf with ferocity.  We fight over frivolous things like dogs going after a bone.  Yet God is ready to forgive us when we recognize our aggression and ask His mercy.  Thinking of ourselves as dogs or perhaps rats or thieves at times may help us recognize our sinfulness.  They are analogies that deliver a truth, but are not meant to define us.

Tuesday, August 4, 20230

Memorial of Saint John Vianney, priest

(Jeremiah 30:1-2.12-15.18-22; Matthew 14:22-36)

 St. Matthew shapes the story of Jesus walking on water as a lesson in courage.  First, he locates the disciples in a boat as a way of symbolizing the Church.  Then, he speaks of night falling to indicate the presence of evil lurking around them.  Likewise, he mentions waves tossing about the boat to tell how death threatens the community.  He also pictures Jesus coming to save the Church.  Jesus tells the fearful disciples to “take courage.”  He adds, “’It is I,” in Greek, “I AM” -- the name God gave to Moses when He reveals the plan to rescue Israel.  Finally, Jesus invites Peter to join him walking on the water.  Peter succeeds in this endeavor until he loses courage and begins to sink.

The Church has been challenged throughout its existence.  In the first few centuries persecution threatened the lives of Christians.  Publicly adhering to the faith was like walking on water. Today the trouble is more existential.  Catholics wonder if all they believe and all they are asked to do for the faith is worthwhile.  They ask if science offers more hope for a better life.  As always, the Church needs to take courage from its faith that Jesus remains ready to assist it.  Both undaunted and humble, the Church must everywhere present examples of the fulfillment he brings.

Today the Church remembers St. John Vianney, a simple priest renowned for both holiness and wisdom.  He spent most of his life in a rural French town, where he offered pastoral care to the people.  He exemplified courage in fulfilling the assignment.  His bishop told him that as he would find “’little love of God in that parish.’”  The challenge invited the priest to pray to God, “’…grant me the conversion of my parish.  I am willing to suffer whatever you wish for the rest of my life.’”  John Vianney’s success in the endeavor has made him the patron of parish priests.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 28:1-17; Matthew 14:13-21)

Philosopher Robert Solomon understands grief as a continuation of love.  He sees people in grief coming to terms with the fact that they will see their loved ones no more.  Seeking seclusion, the grieving try to understand what the dead meant to them and resolve how they will carry on without them.  Thus, grieving is a process leading to action.  In today’s gospel Jesus is seen retreating so that he might come to terms with the assassination of his mentor, John the Baptist.

Jesus became a disciple of John in the desert.  After his baptism, Jesus went his own way, but the two kept in touch.  Now Jesus has to consider his destiny in light of how John, also an immensely popular prophet, was mistreated.  He is not allowed much time.  The crowd searches him out.  He resolves to throw himself on the mercy of the Father.  He will continue his mission of reconstituting the twelve tribes of Israel.  To show his care for them, he supplies enough bread for all to eat. 

The food that Jesus produces is rightly seen as Eucharistic.  We partake of it when we break bread in Jesus’ name at mass.  It first draws us together in him and then sends us out to others.  We continue Jesus’ labor of bringing the peoples of the world together in one People of God.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Memorial of Saint Ignatius Loyola, priest

(Jeremiah 26:1-9; Matthew 13:54-58)

Today’s first reading dramatizes a prophetic oracle.  God tells Jeremiah what he must say to the people of Judah.  He must tell them to repent of their sinful ways and live according to the Torah.  If they do not -- God wants it known – Jerusalem, their capital, will be annihilated like Shiloh in the north.  It is too big a toad for the people to swallow.  They respond to Jeremiah by calling for his head.

The spiritual sons of St. Ignatius of Loyola have included many prophets.  God has often called Jesuits to speak out against injustice.   Some of those who answered the call have paid for the privilege with their lives. In 1989 six Jesuit priests of the University of Central America in El Salvador were murdered by the Salvadoran army.  Because they had defended the poor, they were considered subversives.  They were prophets in the line of Jeremiah and the martyred archbishop of El Salvador, St. Oscar Romero. 

Jesuits stand out in the Church for their numbers, their education, and the many institutions they administer.  Their most famous member is Pope Francis.  They deserve our admiration.  They also need our prayers especially today, the feast of their founder.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 18:1-6; Matthew 13:47-53)

 Next week will mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the atomic bomb’s use in war.  It was a shameful event.  Not only did the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki target civilians; they also violated the principle of proportion in war.  Many defend the bombings as hastening the end of the war and hence reducing casualties.  Other want to hold President Truman responsible for mass murder.  Neither approach seems promising of positive resolution.  Perhaps a more valuable lesson can be derived by reflecting on the bombings in light of today’s first reading.

Seeing the potter mold, trash, and remake clay pots until he has it just right, the prophet thinks of God working on Israel.  Because the nation has not lived up to its promise as God’s people, it will be trashed.  God will then start over to build a new nation that is just.  The United States should consider allowing God to do the same with it.  It primal sins of slavery and nuclear bombing call for repentance.  Also in order is coordinated effort to correct the prejudices that led to such outrages.

We can begin the project now.  We need to recall how we have allowed personal prejudices to cause harm.  We also should ask forgiveness for our misuse of power.  Finally, we need to pray for those we have hurt and also for our children.  The former that they may have recovered from mistreatment.  And the latter that they will have learned by our mistakes.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Memorial of Saint Martha

(Jeremiah 10:15.16-21; John 11:19-27)

We are accustomed to thinking of time and space as having different coordinates. Space has its set which marks a person’s locale.  Time gives another dimension that places a person in different locales at different moments.  Einstein showed how time and space can be brought together with one set of coordinates.  These coordinates can expand space to virtually infinite distances or, alternatively, stretch time virtually to forever. In the gospel Jesus invites Martha to think of him in a comparable way.

Jesus asks Martha if she believes that he is “the resurrection and the life.”  He does not refer to himself as destined to rise again but expresses himself as the resurrection itself.  Anyone who knows Jesus, therefore, experiences the resurrection. The person is put on the space-time continuum such that she is catapulted out of the ordinary space and time sets of coordinates into a new kind of existence.  This existence has universal range and lasts for forever.

But what does it mean to “know Jesus”?  It is to be touched by him whose love is oceanic deep and nuclearly powerful so that we are utterly transformed.  Like iron is magnetized after being rubbed by a magnet, we are made into perfectly loving creatures by being touched by Jesus.  We are we so touched by reading intently the Word of God and, most of all, by receiving sincerely the Eucharist.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 14:17-22; Matthew 13:36-43)

Today’s explanation of the parable of the wheat and the weeds can be read as a commentary on Jesus’ command, “’Do not resist evil.’”  At least as much as evil does not cause harm to the innocent, Jesus wants his followers to tolerate it.  He indicates in the parable that the reason for non-resistance is that the innocent will suffer when evil is resisted.  The parable also makes clear that God, at the end of time, will sort the good from the bad.  He will reward the former for their virtue and punish the latter for their vice.

Examples are not hard to find.  The Church now teaches that the death penalty is no longer helpful.  It was tolerated for ages as the state acted in the place of God to protect its people.  But that substitution has always been open to abuse.  Now the Church recognizes the possibility of successfully incarcerating criminals to protect the public.  Another example of an evil that is tolerated for a time is the restrictions imposed in face of the novel corona virus.  Some resent having to stay at home and wearing facemasks in public.  The state imposes this kind of evil to fulfill its responsibility of keeping people safe.  Regarding pandemic restrictions, the imposition, gratefully, should not last very long. 

It is possible that not resisting evil makes us both stronger and more sensitive people.  We learn humility when we submit voluntarily to others’ will.  We also better understand the much greater deprivations people like refugees must endure.  The key to reaping such benefit is closeness to Jesus.  We join in his suffering for the good of all.  We also find strength from the bread he gives us to bear our cross. 

Monday, July 27, 2020

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 13:1-11; Matthew 13:31-35)

Walking through a shopping mall, both men and women are allured by the lingerie shop.  The window display arouses such interest that all wonder what can be inside.  Of course, the apparel is meant to increase the intensity of desire of a husband for his wife.  In today’s first reading the prophet Jeremiah uses such an image to describe the relationship between God and Israel.

The loin cloth described in the passage was to be worn by men to cover their genitals.   In public the loincloth was worn under a tunic, but whether in private or in public it signifies intimacy.  The prophet himself states this meaning: “As close as the loincloth clings to a man’s loins, so had I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, says the Lord.”  The tragedy that Israel abandons intimacy with the Lord for flings with its neighbors’ idols is symbolized by the loincloth being buried and rotting.

God has created humans as sexual beings so that we might relate to one another.  Genital sexuality is reserved for a husband and wife to solidify their union.  That union further becomes the source and environment for children.  Thus, it fulfils God’s plan for creation.  Unfortunately, humans often distort this blueprint by making pleasure the sole purpose of sexual intimacy.  Like Jeremiah‘s rotting loincloth, such a practice cannot last long.  We can look to Jesus, who reinforces the original teaching on sexuality in Genesis, as our advisor in these affairs.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 3:14-17; Matthew 13:18-23)

Jesus’ parable speaks of seed being scattered throughout a field. There is no part of the field that does not receive some. The parable indicates how the gospel carrying the story of the sacrifice of the Son of God for the world is spread throughout the world. All kinds of people hear it and respond to it according to their own disposition. The parable describes four dispositions as conditions of the earth: the roadside, the shallow earth, the thorny earth, and the fertile earth. It is worth reflecting on each of these conditions carefully in what I would like to say today.

Some people are like seed on the roadside.  They do not want to leave the street. They think of life as a great competition to get the most pleasure possible. Other people are like rocky ground. They hear the word of God and are attracted to its promise of eternal life. But they do not have the will to follow Christ in order to attain it.  A third kind of people are like seed sown among thorns. They also respond favorably to the story of Jesus in the beginning. They want to follow him, but they also want to follow things that take them in another direction. The "good land" describes people who love others as well as God. Like Jesus himself they want to sow seeds of peace and love among the people.

Instead of thinking of ourselves as a type of land, it is better to consider ourselves as a field. Our field has all four types of land mentioned in the parable. We are partly road, partly rocky soil, partly land with thorns, and partly good land. Our task in life is to till the field so that all our land yields produce. We have to cover the road with dirt to avoid the crudeness that spoils the soul. We have to also add soil to the rocks by keeping our promises to God and to others. And we have to pluck the thorns of frivolous pursuits from our lives. Doing all this, we will be supporting our companions, giving glory to God, and preserving the hope of eternal life for ourselves.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 2:1-3.7-8.12-13; Matthew 13:10-17)

We think of Jesus’ parables as charming stories that help people understand God’s working in the world.  For this reason Jesus surprises us in today’s gospel by saying he uses parables to confound his listeners.  Furthermore, Jesus’ citing the prophet Isaiah sounds mean-spirited.  Does he really mean to disassociate from his listeners because they have shown hardness of heart?

Examining the context of Jesus’ remarks should enable us to understand what is taking place.  Jesus has taught brilliantly to both the learned and the unschooled.  He has also worked many mighty deeds – cures and even raising the dead.   The people should have realized that he is no ordinary teacher, no regular healer.  They should have recognized him as God’s chosen messenger announcing a new age.  They should have repented of all their pride, greed, and lust.  They should have committed themselves to doing God’s will.  But they haven’t, and Jesus has stopped trying to break through their self-serving souls.

Hopefully, Jesus counts us among his disciples with blessed eyes and ears.  Hopefully, we respond to God’s love for us with gratitude and willingness to serve.  Should we, like Jesus apparently does in today’s gospel, write off those who don’t respond?  No, that would mean not doing God’s will.  The people Jesus encountered actually saw the living God.  Today people get only a poor image.  We must improve that image by better caring for others as best we can in Jesus’ name.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene
(II Corinthians 5:14-17; John 20:1-2.11-18)

Like that of St. Francis of Assisi, the life of St. Mary Magdalene has been greatly romanticized.  Moderns like to picture Francis as a rebellious youth who formed a hippie-like commune.  They see him leading his followers in a non-conformist life of peace and love.  Historians find the real Francis more religious in sentiment and more intent on faithfulness to the institutional Church.

Mary Magdalene has long been considered a sinner – even a prostitute -- and more recently as the wife of Jesus.  Again, scholars find her story less dramatic.  Jesus does cast out seven demons from her, but she is more notable for her faithfulness than for her affection.  She stands by Jesus when he is crucified and is the first to visit his tomb after the Sabbath following his death.  She also is the first person to announce his resurrection.

We can have a similar relationship with Jesus as Mary.  It entails accompanying Jesus by taking to heart the gospel and ingesting him in the Eucharist.  It includes telling others about how his words and his love have transformed us.  We should not minimize the positive effect that this relationship will have.  It will build a happiness without end or limit.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Micah 7:14-15.18-20; Matthew 12:46-50)

Both readings today provide images for the People of God.  The prophet Micah calls the nation of Judah “the flock of (the Lord’s) inheritance.”  The term implies dependency since sheep survive generally with the care of their shepherd.  Unlike sheep, however, the people have rebelled against their Lord.  Nevertheless, God has shown them mercy.

There is no hint of rebellion in the gospel image.  Jesus calls his disciples “brother, sister, and mother...”  Indeed, they have become his family because they obey the will of God his “Father.”  They have accepted his yoke which they can readily bear with his accompaniment.

We too have been called into Jesus’ family.  Perhaps we rebel at times by not doing what God asks of us.  For this we should humbly ask forgiveness and accept God’s mercy.  When we do, the outcome is immeasurably satisfying.  We receive Jesus’ eternal accompaniment.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Micah 6:1-4.6-8; Matthew 12:38-42)

The police chief of a rather large southern city was outspoken.  Murders had been increasing in the city, but people were obsessed with police brutality.  He asked, “Where is the outrage for (the murder victims’) lives?”  Noting the recent meetings and conversations about changing law enforcement policy, he asked, “Where are the meetings, and where are the conversations, and where are the protests for these victims?”  A similar disparity between people’s demands and more critical needs may be found in today’s first reading.

Micah reports of the people of Judah’s attempt to appease God for their sins.  They want to offer God multiple animal sacrifice in atonement.  Someone makes the outrageous suggestion that he sacrifice his own child to make up for his sin.  But the people overlook what is essential.  God speaks through the prophet about what they are to do.  They must, in sum, change their hearts.  His famous command is “to do the right, to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Murder is increasing in many places.  It threatens social cohesion as it destroys young lives and causes great sorrow.  It can be curtailed with deliberate, coordinated action.  Certainly God will want us to discuss it and to establish ways to reduce it.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Isaiah 38:1-6.21-22.7-8; Matthew 12:1-8)

Sixty years ago, all Catholics were to abstain from meat on Fridays and adults were not to eat between meals during Lent.  The practices distinguished Catholics from others and instilled a sense of sacrifice for the Lord.  However, they also fostered criticism of those who did not abide by these penances.  As much as anything else, this third result probably led the bishops to withdraw the obligations.  In today’s gospel Jesus gives his position on imposed dietary regulations.

He does not oppose such restrictions, but he is open to exceptions.  He defends his disciples’ eating grain on the Sabbath as akin to David’s men eating the Temple bread.  He further points out that just as priests do not violate the law by working on the Sabbath, neither do his disciples who are on a kind of mission.  Jesus clinches the argument by citing the prophet Hosea who said that God wants “mercy, not sacrifice.”  That is, God is more pleased when we judge mercifully than when we abstain or fast.  The latter is not to be forsaken, but the former is to be pursued.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Isaiah 26:7-9.12.16-19; Matthew 11:28-30)

A television drama featured the story of a Catholic school teacher.  The woman was fired for having conceived a baby through in vitro fertilization.  The drama portrayed the Church as dominated by rules and regulations with little compassion for barren couples.  Although people do not like to think of Jesus acting in this way, his Sermon on the Mount certainly sounds unrelenting regarding obligations and prohibitions.  In it he demands perfection and prohibits divorce.  One wonders then what Jesus could mean in today’s gospel when he says, “My yoke is easy.”

His yoke seems to be very difficult, indeed.  Perhaps the reason for this perception is that most people think of it as a code of conduct.  But that is not what it is at all.  Jesus’ yoke is his relationship with God, his Father.  He, more than anyone else, knows God to be his Father who always cares for him.  He delivers himself to evil men knowing that things will turn out all right.  He now offers his followers a share in this relationship.  They too can feel the freedom of being children of God. 

We should realize that people do not need a lot of things to be thrive as human beings.  Indeed, having things often is a prescription to misery.  But we do need loving relationships.  When we join the Church, we are adopted into God’s family.  We help one another appreciate how to live as God’s children.  The relationship with the Father, with Jesus, and with one another brings a modicum of happiness.  It is likely that others will take note of our happiness and join us.  It is certain that we will experience fulness of happiness in eternal life.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Memorial of Saint Bonaventure, Doctor of the Church

(Isaiah 10:5-7.13b-16; Matthew 11:25-27)

St. Bonaventure was both a scholar and an administrator.  He held the Franciscan chair at the University of Paris until he served as Minister General of the Franciscan Order.  On a superficial level this background seems to eliminate him from Jesus’ company.  After all, in today gospel Jesus thanks the Father for revealing his mystery “to the wise and the learned.”

But Jesus does not mean to exclude all wise and learned.  What he cannot tolerate are those who use knowledge to lord it over others.  He has the Pharisees especially in mind.  These men advise the poor to make sacrifices while they find excuses to avoid them.  Jesus knows that true wisdom recognizes the need for divine love.  It also discerns how this love has been extended to the faithful poor.

Our task is to imitate Jesus as Bonaventure did.  We first pray to God in thanksgiving.  God is the source of everything including the benefits of life and love.  Then we make known to God our needs.  We want to ask for simplicity that recognizes the goodness of each person but pays tribute mostly to God.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Memorial of Kateri Tekakwitha, virgin

(Exodus 2:1-15a; Matthew 11:20-24)

Kateri Tekakwitha’s life was short and hard.  At the age of four she and her family contracted smallpox which left her both orphaned and physically impaired.  In becoming a Christian she was rejected by the Iroquois tribe among whom she grew up in what is now New York State.  She emigrated to the indigenous Christian community near Montreal.  There she might have chosen resentment for all the setbacks she experienced.  Instead, she devoted herself to prayer to God and concern for others.  She can be seen as a model of the conversion which Jesus desires in today’s gospel.

Jesus laments over the towns of Galilee where he has worked wonders to no avail.  Despite his preaching and cures, the people carry on with life as usual.  Whether they do not accept his message or refuse to respond out of laziness, Jesus cannot but regret their failure.  The prophetic “woes” he utters are condemnations for the refusal to live in accordance with God’s loving mercy.  

The life that Jesus calls for is not that we begin to pray all the time although that would be helpful.  He wants us to change our hearts - to live with compassion for others like Kateri Tekakwitha.  He wants us to imitate the very goodness of God.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Isaiah 1:10-17; Matthew 10:34-11:1)

One wall of the home was covered with crucifixes and crosses.  They were large and small; wood, metal, and stone.  Coming from different parts of the world, they comprised a fascinating testimony of Christian faith. Jesus likely would have taken notice.  How would he have responded?  Two things come to mind.

First, he would have cited Isaiah in today’s first reading.  He does so elsewhere in the gospel of Matthew.  He would have said that it is not a display of crosses that he desires any more than God seeks “new moons and festivals.”  He wants people who pursue righteousness in the way they live and justice for the vulnerable.  In other words, he wants mechanics to charge fair prices and hospitals to provide care to the poor.

Just as important, Jesus would have said, we have to learn something from the crosses on the wall.  As Jesus bore his cross in obedience to the Father, so are we to bear our crosses.  The cross we take up may be to love a difficult person with whom we work or live.  It may be to follow the directives of health care officials or even to accept contagion and isolation during this pandemic.  However challenging it is, each of us must carry her or his particular cross with patience.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Hosea 14:2-10; Matthew 10:16-23)

Oddly, in a way, religious freedom has been threatened as secularism becomes more dominant.  One would think that fewer people would care how religious people worship.  But worship is more than praying in church.  A believer’s whole life should manifest different ways of giving God His due.  Today religious people are being persecuted for refusing to cooperate with evil that has been sanctioned by the state.  Pro-life pharmacists are being harassed by government for not selling abortion inducing pills.  Catholic sisters are being pressured into providing contraceptives for their employees.  Catholic doctors are being told they may have to leave their practice if they do not cooperate with physician-assisted suicide. In today’s gospel Jesus warns his disciples to expect such mistreatment.

Jesus tells his disciples to be as “as shrewd as serpents.”  He wants them to avoid confrontation with their persecutors as much as possible.  But they are also to be “as simple as doves”; that is, he does not want them to obfuscate the truth with rationalizations.  Jesus recognizes that this strategy will lead to persecution but also assures his followers of rewards for their valor.

Most of us will not be persecuted directly for practicing our faith.  Nevertheless, we should support those who are.  We should consider voting for policymakers who respect religious freedom.  We may consider contributing to pay legal fees of those who are being harassed.  Of course, we are to pray that our society will protect religious freedom.

Thursday, July 9,2020

Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Hosea 11:1-4.8e-9; Matthew 10:7-15)

I have six pence, jolly, jolly six pence/ I have six pence to last me all my life.
I have two pence to spend and two pence to lend,
And two pence to send home to my wife, poor wife.

Many of us sang such rhymes in our youth perhaps making the best of the days when our earning power was minimal.  Perhaps the apostles sang something like it as they were sent by Jesus to proclaim the Good News.

Jesus tells them that they are not to “take gold or silver or copper” with them.  The last, a copper coin, is what we call today a penny.  Jesus wants the apostles are to preach the goodness of God by their poverty as well as by their words.  Completely dependent on Divine Providence, without even a penny to their name, they will show how the Lord cares for those who trust in Him.  He not only gives them upkeep but a more valuable inner joy.

Often enough today we forget this instruction from Jesus.  Preachers will set substantial fees for their services.  Lay people also may always look for compensation for any service rendered.  It is not that asking a definite amount for one’s efforts is wrong.  The problem is that we do not see ourselves as God’s children with responsibility for one another.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Hosea 10:1-3.7-8.12; Matthew 10:1-7)

Matthew begins his gospel with a list of names tracing the lineage of Jesus.  He starts with Abraham who received God’s promise to create a people more numerous than the stars of the sky.  He ends with Jesus, who brings that promise to fulfilment.  Matthew mentions a few women like Rahab and Ruth, non-Israelites who exhibit extraordinary faith and courage.  The genealogy indicates God’s hand guiding the process despite the people’s shortcomings. 

In today’s gospel Matthew provides another list of names.  In one sense, these twelve men provide a counterweight to those of the previous list.  As the Old Testament figures lead up to Jesus, the apostles will carry Jesus’ name to the world.  In another sense, however, they are similar to Jesus’ ancestors.  They are a diverse lot.  Many of them, like Matthew, the tax-collector, seem unlikely candidates to carry out Jesus’ mission.  Once again there is a sense of God’s directing the whole affair.

We should see ourselves as part of still another list of people connected to Jesus.  We have similarities to the people already mentioned.  As the first group comprised Jesus’ ancestors, we are his spiritual descendants.  Like the apostles, we are called by Jesus to bring others into his Church.  We can do so by caring for one another and by professing Jesus’ name to those whom we meet.  

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Hosea 8:4-7.11-13; Matthew 9:32-38)

Several years ago two economists surveyed fallen-away Catholics about why they left the Church.  Unsurprisingly, many said that they no longer practice the faith because of the Church’s rules.  For example, they did not understand why divorced and remarried Catholics could not receive Holy Communion.  The survey uncovered other reasons as well, but high moral standards seemed to discourage Catholics as much as anything else.  In today’s first reading the prophet Hosea chastises Israel for abandoning the faith of their ancestors for similar reasons.

Hosea was an eighth century B.C. prophet who preached in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  It was a time of prosperity.  But rather than turning to the Lord in gratitude, the people fancied the gods of their pagan neighbors.  The pagan deities were much more indulgent than the Lord.  Where the Lord insisted that the people control their sensual appetites, paganism extolled licentiousness.

In Jesus the Lord’s commands are brought to fulfillment.  His new commandments may seem to us harder to obey.  We may ask, “How can we never look at a beautiful woman or handsome man with desire?” and “How can we never resist an insult from another?”  But we must remember that Jesus is there to help us do the seemingly impossible.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Hosea 2:16.17c-18.21-22; Matthew 9:18-26)

Jesus successfully begins his ministry in Galilee.  After the Sermon on the Mount, the people believe in him.  Their faith facilitates a host of miracles, two of which are recorded in today’s gospel.  But Jesus’ success will not last very long.  The Pharisees will sow doubt among the people, and his cures will be limited.

The Jewish official’s faith is so great that he asks Jesus’ help even after his daughter has died.  Jesus does not dawdle in response to the request.  But on the way a severely sick woman causes him to tarry.  She too believes in him, but her faith is somewhat magical.  She thinks that by touching Jesus’ cloak, she will be healed.  In truth, she must encounter the Lord before she is relieved of her illness.  Touching Jesus does not bring about a cure, but his touching another will.  When Jesus arrives at the official’s house, he takes the dead girl’s hand.  His touch, like a spark setting fire to dry grass, puts new life in the girl.

These healing stories should impress on us the need of faith in Jesus.  He will help us if we believe in him.  This means that we have to ask his assistance and faithfully follow his teaching.  His love for us will not fail.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Feast of Saint Thomas, apostle

(Ephesians 2:19-22; John 20:24-29)

A debate in the philosophy of science centers on the question of the existence of spiritual being.  Some philosophers hold that matter is all that there is.  They try to reduce the mind to the material functions of the brain.  More classical thinkers respond saying that the elements of matter cannot account for the intricate capacity of thought.  They understand the mind as a spiritual substance dependent upon matter for its formation but having a reality apart from it.  In today’ gospel St. Thomas seems to be a materialist until he meets the risen Lord.

When Thomas is told that the other disciples have seen Christ after he was crucified, he demands to touch Jesus’ body before accepting the fact of his resurrection.  Jesus gives him the opportunity to do it. Does Thomas actually go ahead with the experiment?  The Scripture does not say so.  In fact, it indicates that he does not. Jesus says that Thomas believes only with seeing as the other disciples.

The passage ends with Jesus giving later Christians a blessing for believing in the resurrection without ever seeing the resurrected one.  Because our times challenge such belief, we have to support one another in the faith of the resurrection.  Orthodox Christians do this by a ritual statement and response.  “Christ is risen,” says the priest.  “He is risen indeed,” answer the people.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Amos 7:10-17; Matthew 9:1-8)

It is said that St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) could tell when a person needed confession.  His eyes seemed to look into one’s soul.  A similar capacity was shown in the movie last year about Mr. Rogers.  Seeing a young man with an injured nose, he knew that it was due to more than the excuse he was given.  In today’ gospel Jesus exhibits this ability of looking into the heart of people.

A paralytic is brought to Jesus.  Ostensibly he comes to have his body healed.  But Jesus recognizes that the corporal defect is not what is most ailing the man.  Jesus forgives the paralytic’s sin causing the most distress.  The religious workers comment that Jesus’ action violates God’s sovereignty over sin.  Jesus then shows that he has received authority to forgive sins by curing the paralytic’s physical ailment.  The passage ends with the people glorifying God for giving men the power to forgive.

We should hear the word “men” as referring to priests today.  God has given to the priests of the Church authority to forgive sins.  We are not helpless if we find ourselves guilty of an unjust deed.  We do not have to journey to a faraway place to make a sin offering.  We only have to repent of our wrong-doing, confess our sin to a priest, and sincerely promise to avoid the sin in the future.  We can put aside the worry of having done something that will upend us forever.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

(Optional) Memorial of Saint Junipero Serra, priest

(Amos 5:14-15.21-24; Matthew 8:28-34)

St. Junipero Serra continually pops up in the news.  Every so often images of him are vandalized by protestors who think of him as an ogre.  During a demonstration following the killing of George Floyd, a statue of him in Spain was torn down.  In today’s first reading the prophet Amos calls for “justice (to) surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream.”  Despite protestors’ misgivings, history shows Junipero Serra having fulfilled Amos’ petitions.

Serra left comfort and status behind to evangelize in Mexico.  Eventually, he moved up the western coast to found the California missions.  His purpose was both religious and social.  He and his Franciscan brothers not only instructed the natives in faith; they also taught them farming skills.  There were incidents of natives leaving the communities, being returned and punished.  But Serra was more involved in defending natives from the Spanish lords than in persecuting them.

Justice in Scripture is primarily a personal virtue.  People become just by heeding God’s word.  In doing so, they give others their due and take special care for the vulnerable.  Junipero Serra was eminently just in all this.  He was considered a holy man and a humanitarian long after his death.  Those who malign him today do not make the effort to learn Serra’s story.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Amos 3:1-8.4:11-12; Matthew 8:23-27)

Suffering is a mystery.  It hurts, but it can be good for us.  If this were not true, then our all-loving God would not send it our way.  The better we understand suffering, the less trouble it causes us.  In today’s first reading, the prophet Amos prepares the nation of Israel for suffering. 

The people have offended the Lord by worshipping other gods and neglecting the poor.  Now they will be chastened for their sins.  The prophet uses interesting images to show that God is behind all the ordeals they will undergo.  He says that just as two men agree to walk together, God has consented that evil befall Israel.  Again, just as a lion roars when it has found its prey, God is telling Israel through Amos himself that Israel is about to be devoured.

We have to accept suffering in a similar vein when it comes our way.   Ours sins may not be as grievous as Israel’s, but they do exist.  When we accept suffering as a corrective of our errant behavior, we are not being na├»ve or Pollyannaish.  We are accepting the Lord at His word.  He loves us and wants us to be rendered holy as He is holy.

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, apostles

(Acts 12:1-11; II Timothy 4:6-8.17-18; Matthew 16:13-19)

Today’s solemn feast celebrates the two original pillars of the Church.  Peter was a charismatic preacher. He was entrusted by the Lord to watch over the growing Church community spreading from Jerusalem in all directions.  Paul was an accomplished theologian who articulated the doctrine that defined the Church.  He also founded communities of faith where the doctrine was lived.

The first reading shows how the Lord sends an angel to save Peter from assassination.  Known for having authority, Peter becomes the man for the Jews to stop before Christianity takes root in Palestine.  In the second reading Paul announces his legacy before being martyred.  He has fulfilled the Lord’s mandate that he preach his name to non-Jews.  He has felt the Lord’s hand in his efforts so far and is confident of his help to the end. 

The two men are different in some ways.  Peter is a fisherman by trade and Paul, a scholar although he knows how to work with his hands as well.  Both are Jews but Peter spoke Aramaic and Paul Greek growing up. They are the same in that both have strong personalities.  They deserve our admiration as they are responsible for the establishment of our faith.  More than that, however, they elicit our imitation.  We too should proclaim our love for the Lord as openly and strongly as they.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 25:1-12; Matthew 8:1-4)

We often think of pariah as describing the untouchables of the Indian caste system.  The actual term, however, is dalit.  Some Hindus evidently consider dalits as not having been formed from any of the body parts of their deities.  Dalits include leather workers, street cleaners, landless peasants, and people from a host of other humble professions.  Discrimination against dalits in India has largely disappeared in urban areas.  But it still exists in rural areas where dalits may be prohibited from sitting in eating places and using water sources.

In the gospel Jesus meets a dalit of his time and place.  Lepers were so feared among ancient Jews that they were banished from populated areas. In rural areas lepers had to wear a bell to warn others of their coming.  Yet Jesus shows no fear of the leper whom he encounters descending the mountain of his famous sermon.  Showing what it means to treat others as he would be treated, he touches the untouchable and cures him of leprosy.

We still have dalits in western society.  Twenty years ago people were often afraid to touch AIDS patients.  In some locales today the undocumented may be resented with the animus felt for dalits in rural India.  Alzheimer patients and, often enough, elderly living in nursing homes suffer such neglect that they may feel as if they lacked any relationship to divinity.  Like Jesus we must remember to treat all these groups as we wish to be treated.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 24:8-17; Matthew 7:21-29)

The philosopher David Hume taught the modern era to distrust anything spiritual.  The scientist Charles Darwin showed how life in the natural world has evolved from one form to another.  The writings of these great thinkers among others have led to a rejection of core spiritual beliefs.  Everything seems physical and changeable to the contemporary human.  For this reason many reject Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” which he completes in today’s gospel.

Jesus exhorts his followers not just to hear the sermon but to base their lives on it.  He tells them that only by doing so will they be able to withstand the storms that threaten every life.  Without hope of the kingdom of God they will likely leave the track of personal justice.  Without the Father’s grace they will never be able to live up to the demands that the Sermon makes. 

Jesus has drawn a line in the sand with this great discourse.  He wants us to commit ourselves to him by living what he has just taught.  To do so, we must buck much of modern intellectual thinking.  It may be a scary venture for some.  But we know from the saints that following Jesus leads to true peace.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist

(Isaiah 49:1-6; Acts 13:22-26; Luke 1:57-66.80)

John the Baptist has been called a figure of both the Old and the New Testament.  His parents are pious Jewish people awaiting the redemption of Israel.  John himself preaches the coming of the Messiah.  One is reminded of the Victorian poem saying: “Wandering between two worlds, one dead the other powerless to be born…”  This straddling two worlds may be found in today’s gospel.

John’s parents go through with the old custom of naming their child as he is presented for circumcision.  But contrary to the tradition, they do not choose the name of Zechariah, his father.  Rather they name him “John” as the angel Zechariah saw in a vision mandated.  “John” means “The Lord has shown favor.”  God has shown favor on Zechariah and Elizabeth as he had on Abraham and Sarah by granting them a child in their old age.  But more importantly, John becomes the herald of the greatest favor God has bestowed on anyone.  He announces to the world the coming of God’s only begotten Son.

Jesus brings us fully into a new age.  What we think of as novel – computers and other electronic gadgets – do not compensate for human defects.  Pride, ambition, greed, etc., are old vices that abound as much today as ever.  Jesus lifts us to a new plateau where we experience a renewal of heart.  He enables us to live free of vain desires to experience the joy of divine love.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 19:9b-11.14-21.31-35a.36; Matthew 7:6.12-14)

In this time of pandemic it is instructive to note a similar one in Scripture.  Today’s first reading recounts how the mighty Assyrian army ready to attack Jerusalem was overwhelmed.  It says that tens of thousands of its troops succumbed to the pestilence on the fields of Judah.  Those who did not die fled back to their native land.

The Biblical writer understands the fall of the Assyrians as a divine triumph.  God responds to the prayer of Judah’s king for help.  In fact, Hezekiah has a reputation of piety.  He opposes worship of foreign gods and reforms Judah’s cultic worship. It is right, then, that God acts on his sincere plea for help.

In today’s gospel Jesus warns his disciples to “enter through the narrow gate.”  He means, of course, that they conscientiously do his Father’s will.  Hezekiah’s doing so spared the falling of his kingdom into the hands of Assyria.  Let us not doubt that our doing so will secure similarly favorable treatment.  It will likely spare us much trouble and usher us into God’s kingdom.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 17:5-8.13-15a.18; Matthew 7:1-5)

This week the first reading of the daily mass narrates the fall of Israel.  Today, it recounts the fall of the northern kingdom, called Israel or Samaria, to the Assyrian army.  Toward the end of the week it will tell of a similar fate for the southern kingdom of Judah.  In both cases the Scriptures fault Israel’s own infidelity to God as the reason for its downfall.

It is not that Israel and Judah necessarily became weak with overindulgence that caused their downfall.  Nor is it the case that they fell because their enemies were stronger than they.  No, their undoing was that God “put them out of his sight.”  Because of their infidelity, God did not care for them as he did for their ancestors emerging from Egypt. 

It is sometimes said that the Church more than any nation on earth will continue to exist.  This is true because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.  Still the Church cannot take the Spirit’s presence for granted.  We must pray for its guidance and follow its promptings if we are to live in its glory.

Memorial of Saint John Fisher, bishop and martyr, and Saint Thomas More, martyr

(I Peter 4:12-19; Matthew 10:34-39)

Today’s gospel reminds us of the necessity to love Jesus more than family.  It spurs us to follow his directives rather than our parents’ when the two sets diverge.  The gospel implies as well that we are to love Jesus more than our country.  It may hurt to think of having to choose between God and country, but at times in our lives there may be reason to do so.  Thomas More was forced to choose God as He is interpreted in the Church over his king.  His stand costed him his life.

We wonder if there are laws that we should not obey for love of God.  In some areas doctors are being subject to legal censure if they do not participate in physician-assisted suicide.  Some may have to resign from their practice rather than submit to a law demanding that they do so.  For a long time legislators similarly have faced a moral dilemma akin to disobeying an unjust law.  They have had to choose between voting in favor of abortion-friendly bills and losing popular support. 

One element of Thomas More’s story should give us consolation.  He did not seek martyrdom.  He refused to say anything about the defining question of his day – the Act of Supremacy declaring the English monarch as head of the Church in England.  For people of lesser stature and perhaps with a more tolerant king, his life would have been spared.  In any case, we pray in the Our Father, “deliver us from evil” that we will be spared such ruinous choices.  But let us also pray that when we cannot avoid making a costly decision, we will like Tomas More do so in favor of the Lord.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

(Deuteronomy 7:6-11; I John 4:7-16; Matthew 11:25-30)

Time is too slow for those who wait,
Too swift for those who fear,
Too long for those who grieve,
Too short for those who rejoice,
But for those who love, time is eternity.

The author of these words, Henry Van Dyke, was a Christian preacher.  No doubt, he realized that his statement is true because of Jesus Christ.  Jesus not only showed the world the extent of God’s love by his death on the cross.  He also sent us his Spirit so that we too might love as he did. 

What makes the love of Jesus different from ordinary human love?  Two qualities stand out. First, Jesus, imitating the Father, loves us in our sinfulness.   He sees our beauty despite knowing our defects.  Second, Jesus’ love for us is without any particular gain for himself.  He does not need our love, but we need his if we are to love for all eternity.

The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart especially celebrates the love of God in Jesus Christ.  His heart is often pictured with a crown of thorns and drops of blood.  Both indicate the passion Jesus endured in expressing his love for us.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 48:1-14; Matthew 6:7-15)

Somethings become simpler as we become older.  As children, we thought tying a shoelace was a real accomplishment.  As grow ups, we do not give it a second thought.  Other things, however, become more profound as we age.  The Our Father is one instance of this.  As children, we learned to rattle it off like a nursery rhyme.  As adults thinking about its meaning, the Our Father reaches the depth of our being.

The very first words, “Our Father,” unite us with Christians throughout the world.  We are sisters and brothers to Africans, Asians, and Native Americans to name just a few.  “Thy Kingdom come” is a plea for the end of the world when we will be judged for our deeds.  “Forgive us … as we forgive …” commits us to letting go of all grudges despite the pain others have caused.  Each of the seven petitions made in the Our Father challenges us to change our lives.  This takes effort since we become comfortable even with things that grieve us. 

In teaching the Our Father, Jesus directed our prayer away from childish wants to eternal longings.  There is no petition that our football teams wins or that we ace a test.  No, we ask that God’s name be honored by everyone so that there may be peace.  And we request that our trials be not so burdensome that we fall beneath them into sin.  We learn the Our Father as children so that we never forget how to pray it as adults.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(II Kings 2:1.6-14; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

Shortly after St. John Paul II died and Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI, a picture of both appeared on the streets of Rome.  The photograph showed the wizened pope embracing his chief counsellor and soon to be successor.  Both looked intently at each other.  Love and trust emanated from their faces.  It is the kind of confidence that exists between Elijah and Elisha in today’s first reading.

Elisha realizes that Elijah’s remaining time is short.  He asks Elijah to give him a double share of his spirit.  This is not a grab for power but a rather humble acknowledgement on Elisha’s part.  As Elijah’s successor he will have to confront kings and masses of people with God’s word.  He may not have Elijah’s natural powers so requests more of his spirit of wisdom and faith. 

Such a request becomes us as well.  We may find ourselves lacking the spiritual resources of our parents or mentors. Of course, the times are more hostile to faith than for centuries.  We must pray to God to send the Holy Spirit to us so that we may help others know the peace of Christ.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 21:17-29; Matthew 5:43-48)

Living in democratic societies, people cannot appreciate the authority of an ancient king.  He had a standing army to pursue his interests.  His wealth procured anything or he desired.  His fame and influence made him the envy of the whole nation.  Can it be any wonder that kings are given to excess?  They wanted many wives, increasing amounts of territory, and the populace to treat them as if they were gods.   For these reasons prophets came to the fore during the time of monarchy in Israel.  Prophets are rightly seen as messengers sent by God to channel the king’s power to ways of justice.

Today’s first reading tells of the prophet Elijah’s confrontation with Ahab, king of Israel.  On God’s behalf Elijah denounces Ahab for profiting by the murder of an innocent man.  His punishment is severe.  The king and his treacherous wife will suffer the same brutal ending as the poor man she had killed. Interestingly, God with the mercy that Jesus suggests in today’s gospel commutes Ahab’s sentence.  When the king repents of his wrong-doing, God decides that his son and not he will suffer the ignominious end.

We need prophets today to temper the power of national leaders.  All should listen to the voices of men and women who give their lives to prayer and wisdom.  These people will not be the first to speak nor will they have a comment on everything that takes place.  But they will denounce what civil rulers do that is patently wrong and injurious to the nation.