Monday, March 2, 2020

Monday of the First Week of Lent

(Leviticus 19:1-2.11-18; Matthew 25:31-46)

We call him “Lawrence of Arabia.”  We don’t mean to ridicule him.  His name is Larry so associating him with the legendary desert wanderer serves as mnemonic device.  Larry is a street person.  He also seems to have lost his mind.  At least, it is difficult to hold a conversation with him.  Larry will pop into chapel when we are having mass or Morning Prayer.  Sometimes his entry is announced by the smell of dried urine.  He usually does not stay long as he suddenly stands up and walks out.  We, or at least I, never give him any money, but we are ready to feed him if he should ask.  On Sundays he is escorted to the hall where coffee and donuts are waiting. 

What surprises us about Larry is that Jesus identifies himself with him in today’s gospel.  The people being judged in that passage have the same reaction.  Whatever we do to or for Larry, whatever they did for the hungry, the sick, etc., is done to or for the Lord.  At the very least, we should treat people like Larry with respect.  It will not do to yell at him.  Rather we should call him by name and talk to him as with more conventional visitors.  If he does something intolerable, we should point it out and ask that he doesn’t do it again. 

Larry, as far as I know, has always responded sensibly.  Perhaps someday he will become belligerent.  Then we may have to call the police, but even then we should explain to him our reason.  The Lord will understand that we are not having himself taken away.  He knows that we care about him when we treat Larry as a neighbor.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Friday after Ash Wednesday

(Isaiah 58:1-9a; Matthew 9:14-15)

When we were children, my sister, brother, and I would ask our mother what she wanted for her birthday or Christmas.  She invariably answered, “Good kids.”  Her response is not much different from God’s in today’s first reading.

The Jews want to court God’s favor.  They think that by prayer and fasting he might be won over to their side.  They see God as a politician sees a rich person whose money she needs.   They do not understand that God is more like a Father who wants his children to love one another.  He announces what he expects of them -- mercy and justice.  God is especially concerned that the needs of the weakest among them be looked after.

We should consider Lent a time of inventory and reconciliation.  We want to ask ourselves how have we treated others and make amends where we are lacking.  By “others” we should not think only of those whose paths we cross daily.  The indeterminate category should include people of other nations.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Luke 9:22-25

In a “Faustian bargain” one sells his or her eternal soul to the devil in exchange for temporal goods.  The term originates from a legendary man who bargained with the devil for unlimited knowledge and possessions.  Unfortunately, many people forfeit their souls at a much lesser price.  The readings today exhort us to avoid all such arrangements.

Moses is speaking to the people just before they enter the Promised Land.  He says that God will give them “life,” i.e., prosperity for them and their descendants.  They only have to keep to His ways.  In the gospel Jesus offers an even greater life.  His followers can secure an eternal reward by focusing on him rather than their own needs.  They are to live without complaints doing only good for others. 

The whole purpose of Lent is to reinforce the habits of self-denying love in order to have fullness of life.  Like any exercise worth our while, it takes effort.  But we share the experience with one another in the Church and also with Christ.  The burden becomes, paradoxically, a joy in such good company.

Wednesday, Februrary 26, 2020

Ash Wednesday

(Joel 2:12-18; II Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)

Is it not ironic that we put ashes on our foreheads today when the gospel tells us to wash our face?  But ashes are just a way for us to encourage one another to start the Lenten journey.  It would be deceitful if we only practiced Lenten penitence for one day.  It would be wrong as well to broadcast our self-imposed deprivations every day of Lent. 

Ashes are not to be worn proudly but with humility.  They remind us and tell others that we have sinned.  That is, they indicate that we have followed our own will rather than obey God’s.  The fact that they are spread in the shape of a cross is also significant.  We will hear in Lenten gospels Jesus telling his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him.  He means that we are to stop fleeing our responsibilities and complaining about them.  Rather, we are to shoulder them dutifully as Jesus shouldered his.  Wearing the cross of ashes indicates our intention to do so.

Forty days may seem like a long time to fast regularly, pray assiduously, and serve others significantly.  However, the time seems to accelerate as days grow longer for us living in the Northern Hemisphere.  Even more helpful, these burdens become light because we share them with Jesus, the Lord.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(James 4:1-10; Mark 9:30-37)

The inelegant name “Fat Tuesday” (Mardi Gras) is derived from the ancient custom of households consuming all remaining fatty foods before Lent begins. During the Middle Ages Lent was a time of penance and discipline when Christians did not eat meat or desserts made with animal fat.  Over the ages Mardi Gras has undergone corruption. Today it often has the spirit of orgy rather than of dutiful, albeit cheery, preparation for a devout fast.

The gospel today indicates a similar distortion of values. Jesus has confided in his disciples that the Son of Man will suffer horribly before he experiences glory. They, however, refuse to probe what this might mean.  Rather they prefer to dwell on fatuous concerns of the self. James and John beg the seats of honor in the kingdom.  Their obtuseness would be as comical as a Three Stooges routine were Jesus not speaking of himself as the one to undergo the ordeal.

If we wish, we might eat a second sausage or drink a glass of wine today. But let us do so with an eye on tomorrow. During Lent we want to take stock of our sins and check our sinful actions. We should strive to understand the cost of our continual concern with self.  It has impeded both our appreciation for and our cooperation in Jesus’ work of redemption.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(James 3:13-18; Mark 9:14-29)

In one of his books Biblical scholar Fr. Raymond Brown expressed exasperation with some of his counterparts. He said that where a particular passage was difficult to interpret, these commentators often became strident about their positions.  Fr. Brown had a finger on an example of the point James makes in today’s first reading.

James emphasizes how humility is part of the search for understanding.  A wise person does not pretend to know her subject with precision, but studies it prodigiously.  In coming to understand, she does not jealously guard her progress or seek to exploit it for ungainly profit.  In contrast, James says, a foolish person is driven by the need for gratification.  He is likely to may make dubitable claims in order to attract attention if not dollars.  In the end the wise person promotes a culture of integrity while the fool creates an atmosphere of suspicion.

Humility becomes any person.  We are probably not as good, intelligent or wise as we think.  We should recognize how others possess qualities or information that we lack.  This humble stance will move us to learn from and cooperate with them.  Hopefully in the end, we will find ourselves growing in appreciation of others and in peace with ourselves. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

Friday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(James 2:14-24.26; Mark 8:34-9:1)

There is a story about the person who considered his cross too heavy to bear.  He complained to the Lord, and the Lord showed him an array of crosses.  The Lord said that the man could take up any cross he wished.  However, he had to carry a cross if he was to follow him to eternal life.  The man chose one of the crosses that looked like a good fit.  Shortly afterwards, the man came back to the Lord saying that he preferred his original cross.   The cross that he thought was lighter turned out more troublesome than anticipated!

In today’s gospel Peter has just proclaimed Jesus Messiah or savior of the people.  Jesus in turn declared that his Messiah-ship will be manifested by his death on the cross and resurrection.  Now he is saying that to be his disciple one has to carry his or her personal cross after him.

One’s cross is the dimensions of our life that we find difficult to bear.  It may be an illness or a particularly annoying relative.  Carrying the cross after Jesus is not just living with the personal difficulty but allowing it to transform our life.  It becomes the source and object of both prayer and effort.  Dealing with our cross in this way in time we will come to see God as our savior.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Thursday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(James 2:1-9; Mark 8:27-33)

In a disturbing book published a few years ago sociologist Charles Murray wrote that the rich are more likely to have Christian values than the poor.  That is, they are more likely to go to church, to get married, and to work than their poor counterparts.  The report raises the question about how to respond to James’ assertion in today’s first reading that the poor, not the rich, deserve praise.

James is making a sweeping but not inherently unfair generalization.  Indeed, the poor are often ignored while the rich receive most people’s admiration.  As everyone knows, the rich usually have plenty of money that might be employed for any purpose.  The poor on the other are likely to have problems that are hard to deal with.  Still the poor are not only created in the image of God, but they also represent Christ, the poor one.  James urges that Christians concern themselves with poor people’s needs at least as much as they court the rich for possible favors.

For decades faith based community organizing linked church-goers from well-to-do areas with the inner-city faithful in alliances working for the common good.  The results were both tangible and spiritual.  Laws were passed that improved community life, and people of all stripes knew one another as colleagues.  Sadly many of these coalitions fell apart from the lack of a coherent political vision.  Somehow the spirit of the community organizations must be revived to allow the poor to thrive along with the rich in the sight of God.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Wednesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(James 1:19-27; Mark 8:22-26)

Our mothers used to chide us that what they said to us “goes in one ear and out the other.”  In other words, we did not pay attention to what they were saying.  We did what we wanted and ignored what they were telling us.  This is the gist of what James’ warning in today’s first reading.

James uses a parable to explain what he means.  He says that hearers and not doers of the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror and then go off.  Because they do not keep the mirror before their faces, they forget what they look like.  In the same way those who only listen to the word of God promptly forget it.  But those who practice it will not only remember it but live and profit by it.

The Letter of James contains practical advice. Sometimes it is considered more a Jewish than a Christian Scripture.  However, the advice obviously reflects Christ’s teaching.  We do well to hold it regularly “before our faces.”

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(James 1:12-18; Mark 8:14-21)

A short story tells of a couple who church hopped.  They began as members of a Methodist church.  As their social status increased, they joined the Episcopal Church.  By the end of the story they weren’t going to church at all.  In one sense the couple is like the disciples in the Gospel of Mark.  They do not understand the meaning of knowing Jesus.

Although the disciples eagerly answered Jesus’ call, they cannot grasp what he teaches them.  Jesus has shown that God provides for those who trust is in Him.  Yet they worry about bread when Jesus, God’s anointed son, accompanies them.  The couple of the story find Christ aiding their upward social mobility.  Although their motive is not apparent here, the disciples see him as their ticket to fame and fortune.  For this reason Jesus warns them about become inflated like leaven in dough.

We too must take care that we go to church for the right reason.  We believe that there we encounter Jesus, our creator and redeemer.  He is the only one worthy of our full attention.  Furthermore, following his way of humility and love leads us to eternal life.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(James 1:1-11; Mark 8:11-13)

The person was distraught.  She said that she prayed for a long time for something that she never received.  She also prayed with faith which today’s first reading finds requisite for obtaining favors.  What could be the problem?

Perhaps it is her perspective.  She called on God not unlike the Pharisees call on Jesus in today’s gospel.  They request a sign as a test of his divine commission.  But did they not hear of the massive feeding he has just made?  Is not the person in our case aware that the universe and especially humans are testimony to God’s goodness? 

God wants us to trust in Him.  This may seem naïve or perhaps irrational.  It is difficult for those who have been bitten by human deception.    Yet God is unlike humans even though He became one of us.  Trust goes beyond faith or at least includes within it the sense that God will not fail to bring us happiness.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Memorial of Saints Cyril, monk, and Methodius, bishop

(I Kings 11:29-32.12:19; Mark 7:31-37)

Although today, Valentine’s Day, is commonly associated with erotic love, the feast has saintly origins.  There are several versions of the story of the ancient martyr, St. Valentine, and probably for this reason the Church has dropped the feast from its calendar and has reassigned the day to the less primitive Saints Cyril and Methodius.  In Latin countries the day is frequently called Día de Amistad, or Day of Friendship, celebrating the love between friends as much as the love between paramours.  Here we may see a link between the legendary martyr(s) of old and the two official saints of the day.

Cyril and Methodius were brothers who ventured from their native Greece to the Slavic nations of the Ukraine and Moravia in the ninth century.  They had positions in teaching and government before becoming missionaries.  Why did they leave their careers to preach the gospel in foreign lands?  Could it have been anything other than love of Christ?  Sure, missionaries have a sense of adventure, but there is much more to their stories.  They make a new home in a new place among new people because they sense Jesus urging them on.  As any good friend, Jesus inspires, invigorates, and cares for those who leave home and kin for him.

Jesus is our friend as well.  He might be whispering in our ear to become foreign missionaries, but more likely he wants us to preach to those who surround us today.  Of course, he does not want us to harangue anyone, quite the contrary.  He asks us to share his joy, his peace, and his love.

Thursday,February 13, 2020

Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 11:4-13; Mark 7:24-30)

In the ancient churches of Europe natural images are often found in the detail work on ceilings and cornices.  Critics of Christianity are wont to characterize these images as pagan resistance to Christian dominance.  A historian of medieval times recently published an essay debunking this theory.  He writes that the inspiration for these images is varied and not likely a pagan revolt.  In any case the readings today provide an ambivalent assessment of pagan culture.

I Kings reports how Solomon was corrupted by his pagan wives.  The fact that he had more than one wife is itself a sign of decadence.  But that he built shrines to pagan gods and even worshipped those gods is truly outrageous.  The pagan woman who comes to Jesus for help, however, testifies to pagan openness to Christian worship God.  She recognizes Jesus as God’s emissary by calling him “Lord.”  She also expresses humility as she acknowledges Jews as God’s chosen people.  In face of such incipient Jesus cures her sick child.

We note a resurgence of paganism in our time.  It seems to stem from people being restless and disenchanted with established Christianity.  Their beliefs and rituals may seem weird, but we should judge them by their works.  Many Christians struggle to accept all the beliefs the Church holds. Rather than condemn those who veer from Christ, let us strive to give sterling example.  Let us show tolerance and, indeed, love so that they may return to Christ. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 1:1-10; Mark 7:14-23)

We think of wisdom as knowledge of the nature of things.  But in ancient times wisdom was more practical.  It was closely associated with the ability to successfully accomplish undertakings.  The architect of a useful bridge was said to be wise and an accomplished painter as well.  The first reading today speaks of two wise people. 

Solomon is always associated with wisdom.  He is credited with having authored the Bible’s Book of Wisdom as well as the Book of Proverbs.  His wisdom enabled him to oversee a large kingdom with a complex court life.  The Queen of Sheba should be seen as wise as well.  She traded in spices so that her land, the legendary Sheba, supplied culinary enhancers the world over.

We want to develop a wisdom that pleases the Lord.  It is more than just “helping others” or “avoiding sin.”  We have to sustain these activities through the ups and downs of life.  Knowing our talents and limits and recognizing others’ virtues and vices give us balance for the long haul.  Such knowledge is more a skill than a science.  We develop it by following the wise and practicing their ways daily.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Kings 8:22-23.27-30; Mark 7:1-13)

A priest sometimes greeted parishioners coming to mass with a coffee cup in his hand.  When the people asked him about fasting for one hour before Communion, the priest became defensive.  He said that the fast was man’s law, not God’s, and that humans may suspend it.  Is this what Jesus is telling the Pharisees in today’s gospel?

The Pharisees followed the tradition of the elders which served a legitimate purpose.  Dietary customs were followed so that the sacred law would never be violated.  Jesus is not directing himself to the customs but to the cynicism of the Pharisees.  They criticize a divergence from custom on part of Jesus’ disciples (not Jesus himself) while failing to keep a commandment.  It is like someone forgetting to say “thank you” being condemned by another who embezzles thousands.

So what should we conclude about that priest?  The Church imposes the fast before Holy Communion to promote conscientious reception of the sacrament.  It may be dispensed in an urgent situation.  However, the Church’s authority to instruct what is proper should be regularly heeded.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Memorial of Saint Scholastica, virgin

(I Kings 8:1-7.9-13; Mark 6:53-56)

Today the Church remembers St. Scholastica.  She was the sister of the great St. Benedict, credited with founding western monasticism.  Scholastica herself founded a community of women dedicated to prayer.  Evidently little more is known about her except for a humorous story told by pope St. Gregory the Great.  During a fraternal visit when Benedict wanted to leave his sister, heavy rains delayed his departure.  Scholastica attributed the inclemency to the Lord’s wish that he visit with her longer.

Perhaps something could be said here about nuns.  Many confuse nuns with religious sisters.  Nuns are the feminine counterparts of monks.  They dedicate their lives to prayer where religious sisters are known for their apostolic activity.  Residences of nuns are usually called monasteries although smaller communities may be said to live in convents.  Some male religious orders have an auxiliary arm of nuns praying for their apostolic activities.  Franciscan, Dominican, and, especially, Carmelite nuns have been formed according to the rule of the founder(s) of their male associates.

Today’s first reading treats the celebration that accompanied the dedication of Solomon’s temple.  Israel is exuberant over the establishment of a fitting place to worship God.  The Lord will abide in its confines to assist the people who come to pray there.  Nuns and monks give perpetual witness to these activities that all Christian should perform.  We all need to adore the Lord and seek His help.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Friday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(Sirach 47:2-11; Mark 6:14-29)

The Gospel of Luke pictures John the Baptist and Jesus related by blood.  At least, their mothers are said to be kinswomen.  Today’s gospel passage from Mark has the two related in another way.  It describes John’ capricious execution as anticipating Jesus’ death on a cross.

John like Jesus after him is not afraid of speaking truth to power.  He tells Herod that it was wrong for him to marry his brother’s wife.  The judgment does not rile Herod as much as his wife Herodias.  She manipulates a situation to have John beheaded.  Being questioned by the high priest at his trial, Jesus will tell him that he is the Son of God.  His statement incurs the judgment that he must die.

It can be costly to speak truth.  But it is not as costly as telling lies.  Although lies may save us some trouble, they come back to haunt us.  More importantly, they also betray our Lord and Savior.  Jesus’ telling and living the truth about God, his father, ended in the cross.  It brought about his glory and our salvation.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Memorial of Saint Paul Miki and companions, martyrs

(I Kings 2:1-4.10-12; Mark 6:7-13)

An old Christian hymn reminds us that it is a gift to be simple and free.  Today’s gospel points to the efficacy of such a lifestyle.

Jesus sends his apostles to preach the good news.  They are not to carry anything “just in case…”  Rather they are to cast themselves on God’s Providence.  Nothing is said either about teaching the truths of the faith or morality.  The apostles are simply to proclaim God’s love by word and deed.  Regarding deeds, they will anoint the people to strengthen their faith which facilitates healing.  There will be a return to physical wholeness in many cases.  More importantly, the people will experience a right relationship with the Lord.  That is, they will recognize how God provides for them as they look out for God’s creation.

St. Paul Miki and companions were apostles to the people of Japan.  They announced God’s love by word and deed.  They did not flinch with the threat of suffering for God.  Rather they knew that death for God would strengthen their testimony.  It would also bring them complete intimacy with him in eternal life.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Memorial of Saint Agatha, virgin and martyr

(II Samuel 24:2.9-17; Mark 6:1-6)

It is said that in during the first few centuries the churches of Rome and Sicily bragged about their saints.  The Romans would claim St. Agnes as the worthiest virgin-martyr.  The Sicilians would counter that the distinction belongs to Agatha, today’s celebrated saint.  The friendly rivalry indicates how faith penetrated the everyday life of the people.  Today, in contrast, people brag about their city’s professional basketball team.  Both readings that we just heard concern the lack of faith.

David’s census indicates his belief that numbers of soldiers and not trust in God are his priority.  In the gospel the people refuse to believe in Jesus as God’s emissary despite his cures and his wisdom. 

With science making life so comfortable we have a hard time trusting in God.  We rationalize that God works through human ingenuity, but we forget to pray.  God seems hard to fit in our everyday lives.  But we abandon God to our peril.  Faith in God provides a blueprint for stability in life.  We will go far if we keep God’s commandments.  It also assures us of bliss beyond the travail of death.  Also important, faith promises fulfilment.  We know that the world does not center around us.  Still, by faith in God we are drawn into its true center where we find purpose, meaning, and peace.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Tuesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(II Samuel 18:9-10.14b.24-25a.30-19:3; Mark 5:21-43)

The old man was pleased with himself.  He had caught the doctor billing him for untendered services.  The man saved thousands of dollars by just examining his bills.  Today’s gospel tells the story of a woman who was not so fortunate.  Her doctors had taken all the money she had without helping her.  She now turns to Jesus in desperation.

Faith in Jesus moves the woman with hemorrhages to touch his garment.  She knows it is wrong to exploit his services without telling him.  Because she is unclean according to Jewish law, touching Jesus sullies him as well.  Jesus demonstrates his divine power in two ways.  First, he feels healing grace being emitted from his body.  Then, he heals the woman of her distressing condition.  He asks who has received his healing grace. The trembling woman bravely steps forward.  Her courage wins for her a second, deeper blessing.  Jesus grants her salvation.  “’Daughter,’” he says, “’your faith has saved you.’”

We should not be afraid to come to Jesus with our needs.  Whether we are sick or have done something wrong, we should pray to him for healing. His words to us will not be different, “Daughter (or son), your faith has saved you.”