Monday, June 1, 2020

Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

(Genesis 3:9-15.20; John 19:25-34)

Pentecost has been called the “birthday of the Church.”  Perhaps it would be better to say that the Church was founded on that day with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  In any case, Pope Francis has established today, the Monday after the great feast of the Spirit, as the Memorial of Mary, the Mother of the Church.  She stands for the Church as its original member.

Of course, Mary is present at the Pentecost event in the Acts of the Apostles.  But today’s gospel also shows the formation of the Church with Mary there.  Jesus begins his family of disciples by presenting Mary to the beloved disciple.  Then as he dies, he hands over his spirit, especially it may be said, to them.  It is an climatic moment.  By giving himself to death, Jesus has conquered the satanic serpent.  This is the evil power who instigated the downfall of humanity by deceiving Eve in the garden.  Now the human race begins again with the Church imbued with grace so that it will not fail.

The corona virus pandemic has taken a great toll on the Church.  Collections, of course, are down and in some cases this has meant that people are being laid off work.  Probably some regular church-goers will not return, either because of fear of crowds or just because they have lost the routine.  And the future is very uncertain.  There is more reason now than ever to seek our Blessed Mother’s intercession.  We ask her to assist us with prayers for the Church and indeed the world during this pandemic crisis.

Friday, May 29, 2020

(Optional) Memorial of Saint Paul VI, pope

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

Today the Church remembers St. Paul VI.  He was pope during most of the Second Vatican Council and its immediate aftermath. Paul allowed many priests and sisters to be dispensed from their vows with all the soul-searching in the council’s aftermath.  Yet he was not a modernizer.  On the defining issue of the age, artificial contraception, Paul maintained the Church’s censure.  He was a man with a mission much like his namesake St. Paul of Tarsus whom is encountered once again in today’s first reading.

Paul feels a calling to Rome.  He has written the church there to seek assistance.  He intends to launch from Rome a missionary journey to Spain.  The reading from Acts tells of Paul’s request to be tried by the emperor.  Could this have been a ploy to put in motion his grand scheme of a western mission?  In any case, Paul has suffered for Christ much.  He has already been imprisoned for two years.  Shortly he will embark for Rome on a journey that will see him shipwrecked.  In Rome he will undergo martyrdom, the ultimate persecution.  He will be beheaded because of his belief in Christ. 

Neither Paul VI nor Paul of Tarsus would deny that it is hard to follow Christ.  His way of love means not only self-denial but also the resentment and rebuke of others.  Yet their lives had at their base a profound joy.  Evidently Christ stops along the way to let his followers catch up.  They then experience the wonder of his company.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Easter

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

Today’s first reading illustrates the difficulty of a divided organization to achieve its purpose. Paul is brought to the Sanhedrin for trial about false teaching.  Fulfilling the gospel mandate to be “as shrewd as a serpent but as innocent as a dove,” he exploits a division among the Jews.  Part of the Jewish Sanhedrin believes in the resurrection as Paul certainly does.  Part doesn’t.  Paul creates a wedge between the two parts so that they fail to convict him.

In today’s gospel Jesus prays for unity among his disciples. He emphasizes those who live beyond the place and the time where he is.  He asks the Father to make them one in mind and heart.  He sees such common belief and desire necessary if the world is to know the truth.  That is, if the world is to know that God the Father sent His Son Jesus out of love for it, Jesus’ followers must give united testimony.

 Unity challenges us today.  Educated people want to think for themselves, and many derive ideas at odds with official teaching.  For this reason there are thousands of churches with the name “Christian.”  Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has bishops who along with the pope declare what is necessary to believe.  They are generally good men worthy of our trust and obeisance.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Wednesday of the Seventh Week of Easter

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

Bicycle mechanics speak of “truing” wheels.  This means that they adjust the tension on the spokes equally so that the wheel’s rotation does not pull it from side to side.  If the wheel is not “true,” it will wobble to cause an uncomfortable ride.   The “truth” that Jesus expresses in today’s gospel may be understood in this way.

Jesus himself is the word that is truth.  He grounds his disciples in what is good and pleasing to God so that they might attain eternal life.  Without him the way would become so arduous that the disciples would begin to wobble.   They would not be able to not complete their journey.  In this “priestly prayer” on behalf of the people Jesus petitions the Father.  He asks the Father to consecrate his disciples “in truth.” He wants them close to him for guidance and support. 

We are used to think of truth classically.  Truth is what corresponds closely to reality.  John’s gospel stretches our notion of truth to include what is most practical.  Truth – that is, Jesus of Nazareth – will enable us to attain eternal bliss, our heart’s deepest desire.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Memorial of Saint Philip Neri, priest

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

Today’s patron saint, Philip Neri, characterizes the joy of the Holy Spirit.  Philip enjoyed talking with regular people about the Lord.  His natural good humor made him attractive to others.  But he was not just a chatterbox.  It is said that he had the Socratic gift of leading others to a deeper awareness of truth.  When his listeners made new insights about how to improve their ways of living, Philip would pose the question.  “Well, brothers,” he asked, when shall we begin to do good?”

But the Spirit is not only about living together happily.  It also calls people to hard truths and even to suffering.  In today’s first reading St. Paul relates how the Holy Spirit is compelling him to go to Jerusalem.  Paul is aware that imprisonment awaits him there.  He knows how he has stirred up Jewish enmity.  First, he converted to Christianity and then he has disputed Jewish doctrine.  Is the Spirit leading him to execution in likeness to Christ?

We are now preparing for Pentecost, the great feast of the Holy Spirit.   Since the Spirit comes as a rich and varied gift, we should want to witness its arrival.  We pray that it will set fast on us.  We ask the Father that through the Son, the Spirit may lift us up in joy.  We also ask that it confirm us with patience and peace.  Most of all, we beg that it set us on fire with its love.

Monday, May 25, 2020

(Optional) Memorial of St. Gregory VII, pope

(Acts 19:1-8; John 16:29-33)

Today the Church celebrates various saints.  Among them is Pope St. Gregory the Great, an eleventh century Church reformer.  Gregory is famous for excommunicating the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. The emperor refused to allow the Church to invest in office the bishops it chose.  In order to have the sentence lifted, Henry stood in the snow outside Gregory’s quarters as a kind of penance.  But once pardoned, Henry turned on Gregory and forced him into exile where he died.  No doubt Gregory felt some of the abandonment that Jesus speaks of in today’s gospel.

In the Gospel of John Jesus is prescient of all that is taking place.  He knows that he will be crucified and that his disciples will abandon him.  Yet he stands firm in his resolve to complete the mission of his Father.  He also knows that the Father will stand by him.  He further encourages his disciples to trust in him as he does in the Father.  Doing so, they will experience peace when are persecuted for proclaiming Jesus .

Jesus offers the same peace to us.  We may feel especially anxious because of the virus.  It really does threaten our safety and also our livelihood.  Praying for help, we will receive Jesus’ support.  He will enable us to make prudent decisions regarding when to act and when to wait.  He will also assure us that even if our decisions turn out mistaken, we will not perish.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 18:9-18; John 16:20-23)

The passage from Acts today highlights two separate issues of importance.  The first regards the dating of St. Paul’s stay in Corinth.  From another source we know that the proconsul Gallio was in Corinth only in the years 51-52.  Since he adjudicated the complaint by the Jews against Paul and Paul was there for a year and a half, his stay must have been coincided with at least in part with those years.

The other issue is more significant.  Gallio, a government official, refuses to interfere in religious questions.  Nineteen centuries later the Second Vatican Council advocated for a similar stance by governments toward religion.  The council reasoned that religion is a matter of conscience which humans have to be free to follow.  A government must allow people and, indeed, religious organizations to practice what they believe to be God’s will.

Currently freedom of religion is being contested over refusal to provide contraception as an employee insurance benefit.  Some Catholic employers rightfully see providing such a benefit unconscionable.  Can the government, which mandates insurance benefits, force them to do so anyway?  Because the issue involves sexual behavior, logic is often set aside.  However, it is, I believe, fair to say that since contraception is usually not necessary for a woman’s health, it could be dismissed as an insurance benefit in most cases.  The matter in the United States is now waiting a Supreme Court judgment.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 18:1-8; John 16:16-20)

A sixteen year-old girl was taken to the hospital last week.  She was complaining of a headache that would not go away.  The medical personnel tested her for the Corona-19 virus.  She didn’t have it, yet two days later she died.  How great the grief of her family!  Words are not able to express the sudden loss of a young life. Jesus is preparing his disciples for such an experience in today’s gospel.

The disciples display confusion over what Jesus is saying.  They cannot register that Jesus is about to be sacrificed for the salvation of the world.  They see him as a man at the height of his powers.  In their eyes he is ready to claim his position as King of Israel.  Now Jesus tells them that they soon will be mourning his loss.  And then, not much after that, they will rejoice at his return. 

We know that Jesus is referring to his death and resurrection.  We should glimpse that he is also referring to our death and resurrection as well.  Those who commit themselves to the Lord in Baptism – he assures us – will have eternal life with him at death.  The mother of the sixteen year-old who recently died need not think her daughter is lost forever.  She can hope to cherish her again in Jesus’ resurrection.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 7:15.22-18.1; John 16:12-15)

It is said that St. Paul made a strategic move in leaving Athens for Corinth.  In the first century Athens was an old city more like a museum than an incubator of dreams.  Corinth, on the other hand, was a crossroads where new ideas circulated with the world’s merchandise.  Today’s first reading relates Paul’s humbling experience in preaching to Athenians.

Paul tries to be practical not hypothetical as he addresses his audience at the Areopagus.  He refers to the Unknown God whose altar stands in their midst.  Then he relates this god to the Creator of the Jewish Scriptures.  Some of his audience may give Paul their attention. But when he mentions that his God raised Jesus from the dead, the people dismiss him as a lunatic.  In the less sophisticated, more enterprising Corinth the people will respond enthusiastically to the prospect of the resurrection.

We do as well.  We botch up things so much that we long to make amends to people who are no longer among us.  Reconciling with them in the resurrection of the dead is not just wishful thinking.  We have testimony of Jesus’ resurrection and his promise to come back for those who love him.  We yearn to go with him to the dwelling place of our beloved.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 16:22-34; John 16:5-11)

Some wonder why the Church does not use the word ghost in referring to the third person of the Holy Trinity.  A hundred years ago it was used in the standard translation of the Latin Spiritus Sanctus. Now the translation is made almost exclusively by Holy Spirit.  Ghost and spirit have very similar original meanings – vigor, breath, soul, etc.  In recent times, however, ghost has become more associated with the disembodied soul of a dead person or a demonic being.  Spirit, on the other hand, retains the fuller range of meanings that are helpful in understanding today’s readings.

The earthquake freeing St. Paul and Silas should not be thought of as a random act of nature.  It clearly represents the work of the Holy Spirit.  The same Spirit is said to have filled the disciples as they prayed and the earth shook earlier in Acts (4:31).  Jesus promises to send the Spirit in today’s gospel with earth-shaking results.  The Spirit will show the world wrong on three counts.  The world refuses believe in God’s Son.  It fails to see that the Son practiced true righteousness. And it does not notice that the real enemy, the devil, is now cast out, at least for those associated with Jesus.

We all need help to live in the world with a modicum of peace.  The help we need above all is the grace of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit fills us with a sense of gratitude for all God has done for us.  More than that, the Spirit moves us to love others with acts of kindness.  The Spirit shakes our foundations to think less of ourselves and more of God.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Monday of the Sixth Week of Easter

(Acts 16:11-15; John 15:26-16:4a)

Neil Armstrong’s statement upon landing on the moon may be adapted to today’s first reading.  Crossing from Troas to Neapolis, St. Paul hops from Asia to Europe.  It is a short trip for Paul and his companions, but a milestone for the European continent. 

Europe, of course, had inhabitants with their pagan religions eons before the arrival of Christianity.  But certainly no other cult has shaped the continent like the following of Christ.  Its monuments, its art, and its philosophy are all rooted in Christianity.  For this reason St. John Paul II pleaded with the founders of the European Union to acknowledge the Christin heritage of its culture. 

Europe is losing its Christian cultural identity.  Many no longer believe in a spiritual core to the human person.  They give even less credence to the gospel summons to eternal glory.  We must take care not to follow that road.  Jesus shows us a path to peace on earth.  More importantly, he paves the way to the fullness of life in heaven.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Friday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:22-31; John 15:12-17)

Today’s first reading may be troubling for those who have studied the First Letter to the Corinthians.  The reading tells how the apostles in Jerusalem write to the church in Antioch that converts must refrain from eating different kinds of meat.  But Paul writes the Corinthians that it does not matter what a Christian eats (I Cor. 8:8).  Is Paul dictating his own dietary laws for his converts?

The latter would be a hasty assumption.  The decision of the so-called “Council of Jerusalem” was made for the church in Antioch where many if not the majority of Christians were of Jewish origin.  Its principal message, which is very liberating, frees non-Jews from the need of circumcision.  Even Paul says in his letter to the Corinthians that if anyone is scandalized by eating meat sacrificed to idols, that fellow Christians should not do it (I Cor. 8:12).  Their motive should always be love.  This is very important.  As Jesus commands in the gospel, Christians are to love one another.  Love certainly implies that one’s actions do not give scandal.

We live at a time of much disagreement in the Church.  Some people want to retain old customs like taking Communion on the tongue.  Others would prefer taking Communion in the hand and other innovations.  Of course, we look to Church leadership to determine the legitimacy of a new practice.  But what is even more important than that is extending our love to others.  We must look for ways to reconcile or at least tolerate differences in the love of Christ.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Feast of Saint Matthias, apostle

(Acts 1:15-17.20-26; John 15:9-17)

Of St. Matthias very little is known.  His name appears only in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles.  Yet he represents a critical development in the story of salvation.

It was not by accident that Jesus chose twelve disciples to be his apostles.  From the beginning God the Father had given him the project of rebuilding the twelve tribes of Israel.  They were to constitute the leadership of a holy nation dedicated to bringing the world together in love.  When Judas Iscariot proved unworthy of the task, he needed replacement.  Acts indicates that the choice was not made arbitrarily.  The two candidates proposed for the position met definite criteria.  They were part of Jesus’ ministry from the beginning and also were witnesses to his resurrection.  The actual choice was left to the Holy Spirit.

We should note that the development of the Church -- and the world for that matter -- does not take place by chance.  It is not like evolution, as many scientists see it, following a purposeless course of random selection.  Rather, God is guiding it to an end of universal love d peace – His kingdom.  Amid trials like the Covid-19 pandemic, we are challenged to believe in such benign providence.  But this is the message that Jesus came to teach us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

(Optional) Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima

(Act 15:1-6; John 15:1-8)

The Hebrew custom of circumcision identifies Jewish men.  Of course, it is not intended to be a sign readily visible.  It seems more a verifiable trait that all Jewish men share.  The Jewish Christians who preach circumcision in today’s first reading think it essential for Christians as well.  After all, if Christ came to establish a new Israel—they probably reason -- there must be continuity with the old.

But Paul and others see a richer sign of continuity in active love.  Jesus has brought the Mosaic doctrine of caring for others to perfection.  When he speaks of pruning the vine in today’s gospel, he means expelling those who do not love as they ought.  Without them the loving works of faithful Christians will not be obscured.  The world can then easily see the Church bearing much fruit.

Today many Catholics celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Fatima.  In her apparitions to three peasant children she encouraged the praying of the rosary.  For sure, prayer on behalf of others is a work of love.  Let us join such pious acts with deeds of kindness and generosity.  In this way the world will again see the Church bearing much fruit.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 14:19-28; John 14:27-31a)

It is no secret that anxiety is on the rise.  People of all ages worry increasingly about future problems.  Children wonder if global warming will make the world uninhabitable.  Teens worry about being accepted to the college of their choice.  Adults question if their jobs will be exported to other countries.  Certainly Covid-19 is exacerbating this very troubled condition.  Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are meant to relieve these fears. 

He promises his disciples peace but not the variety the world offers.  The world tranquilizes anxiety with drugs, sex, and other forms of excitement.  Jesus, on the other hand, brings peace by accompanying those who fear.  Paul in today’s first reading serves as an example.  He can get up after being nearly murdered because Jesus is with him.

Jesus comes to us especially in the sacraments.  They are his “presence in absence.”  When a priest anoints us, it is Jesus who strengthens us to bear with the illness.  Similarly, when we receive Holy Communion, it is Jesus who nourishes our souls.  With Jesus, who endured the cross and conquered death, at our side nothing can do us lasting harm.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Monday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 14:5-18; John 14:21-26)

What of the world?  Are the people who comprise it evil?  Do they brag, steal, and lie, at least when others are not looking?  Evidently John’s gospel thinks so.  It says today because the world does not keep Jesus’ word, he will not reveal himself to it. 

The first reading illustrates the world’s depravity.  The people begin to fuss over Paul and Barnabas when they see these disciples cure an invalid.  They begin to worship the two -- no doubt seeking more miracles -- but refuse to listen to them. 

John tends to draw too much contrast between the world and Jesus’ disciples.  People are seldom preponderantly bad, and disciples sin often enough.  We have to heed the Spirit Advocate whom Christ has sent to correct our errant ways.  Then we should do what we can to improve the world.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Friday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 13:26-33; John 14:1-6)

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus describes himself with many illustrative metaphors.  He says, “’I am the light of the world’”; “’I am the bread of life; “’I am the good shepherd,’” and so forth.  These images shake our way of thinking to help us realize that Jesus is more than human.  He touches every dimension of our existence.  He is the light that illumines our minds, the bread that increases our strength, and the shepherd who changes our destiny.  In today’s gospel Jesus proclaims, “’I am the way, the truth, and the life.’”  How is he “the way”?  What does he mean by calling himself “the truth” and “the life”?

Jesus is “the way” to God, his Father.  In the Gospel of Matthew he says the way to salvation is narrow and traversed by few.  And so it is difficult to follow Jesus’ path of selfless love.  But he is “the way” as well because he provides all the help that is needed in the sacraments.  He corrects our errant tendencies in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  He fortifies our drooping spirits in the Eucharist. 

Jesus is “the way” because he is “the truth” and “the life.”  He is “the truth” in two senses.  First, he reveals the Father’s love for the world and how the Father expects the world to respond.  Second, as God, Jesus is the foundation of all truth.  When scientists find a remedy for the Corona-19 virus, we will say, “thank God,” because God is the source of all truth.

When Jesus calls himself “the life,” he means something more than biological life.  He has “life in abundance” or “eternal life” in mind.  This is life full of joy, peace, and love.  It is the life of a saint like John XXIII.  The good pope, whom many today still remember, would not allow the worries of his office take away his smile.  We strive to live this life now and look forward to it in the resurrection of the dead.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 13:13-25; John 13:16-20)

Some Catholic biblical professors want to rename the “Old Testament.”  For them, “old” gives the impression that the collection of Scriptures is out of date.  Protestants have used the term “Hebrew Scriptures,” but for most Catholics this name is inadequate.  We recognize writings for the collection that were written in Greek or Aramaic.  The Catholic scholars calling for a change recommend that the collection be called the “First Testament.”  “First” gives an aura of importance while relaying the truth that the “New Testament” builds upon it.  Today’s segment from the Acts of the Apostles demonstrates this truth.

St. Paul demonstrates how the “First Testament” conveys the underpinnings of Christianity.  Paul and Barnabas have begun the “First Missionary Journey” in western Asia Minor.  Rather than trying to reach the people by preaching at crossroads, they go to synagogues.  There they meet not only Jews but also Greeks who have been attracted to Judaism.  They show everyone how Jesus fulfills the Jewish Scriptures.  In today’s gospel passage Jesus also alludes to the “First Testament.”  He shows how it has predicted what is taking place in his great work of salvation.

Sometimes Christians think that there is no need of the “First Testament.”  They find the New Testament ample for information and reflection.  If this idea were to be realized, we would be shortchanged.  The First Scriptures give us a rich understanding of God – His love, mercy, wisdom.  Moving from this basis, we can more fully appreciate who Jesus is.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 12:24-13:5a; John 12:44-50)

The prophets and teachers convene to pray in Antioch in today’s first reading.  They should not be surprised when the Holy Spirit tells them to separate Barnabas and Paul for missionary activity.  From the beginning the Church has had an outward thrust.  It not only promotes holiness among its members but also calls others to God.

Today’s gospel gives a couple of the themes of Christian missionaries.  Jesus is the light of the world.  God has sent him to save humans from condemnation.  Those who follow Jesus will have eternal life.  Those who reject him will be lost forever.

In recent years the Church’s missionary dimension has been called “evangelization.”  With this new name it has an additional focus.  Today the Church’s evangelizing activity addresses those for whom the light of Jesus has been obscured.  It calls back baptized Catholics who no longer practice the faith they were taught.  The evangelizers are people like you and me who act like prospectors entering an abandoned gold mine.  Just as prospectors realize that previous excavations left a lot of gold behind, we know that many alienated Catholics will respond if called back to church.  We have to show them how Jesus, the light, makes all the difference in the world.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:19-26; John 10:22-30)

More is known about Jesus than just about any other person of antiquity. Yet like the Jews of today’s gospel, we want to ask him, “Who are you?”  The Jews have a sense that he is their long-awaited Messiah or Christ.  He works wonders and his words can galvanize people.  Yet he does not seem to be organizing a militia as they might expect.  Jesus responds to their query in an enigmatic way.  He says that he and the Father “are one.”  Is he saying that he is actually God?

The Church teaches that he is.  But this doctrine did not become clear until more than three hundred years after Jesus’ death.  Probably experiences like the conversion of non-Jews in the reading from Acts contributed to it.  Jesus was not just the Jewish Messiah calling Israel together as a nation.  He had an appeal to other peoples as well.  He came to bring the whole world together in peace.

We know the answer to our question.  Jesus is our Lord and God.  He comes to us as a brother to unite us to all humans under his Father’s care.  The gospel passage emphasizes that Jesus’ self-revelation takes place in winter.  That detail aids our sense of his identity.  He is the burning light that overcomes the cold and darkness of hatred among peoples.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter

(Acts 11:1-18; John 10:11-18)

One may be a good shepherd in two senses.  He is good if he always does what he knows to be right.  He is also good if his shepherding is of high quality.  Today’s gospel highlights both these senses of good.

Jesus’ shepherding excels because, first of all, he will stay with his sheep when danger appears.  He will not, as he says of the hired hand, “leave(s) the sheep and run(s) away” in the presence of a wolf.  Reflecting on these words, priest-martyr Blessed Stanley Rother stayed with the persecuted people he served in Guatemala.  Also, Jesus shows his ability to shepherd by knowing his sheep.  Like a teacher knows which of her students need attention and which work better alone, Jesus knows each sheep.  Finally, Jesus is good in the sense that he gives his life for love of his sheep.  Goodness certainly characterizes someone so generous. Again, Stanley Rother serves as an example.  He was murdered by the military when he stood with his people.

We are the sheep that Jesus shepherds.  He loves us collectively and individually.  He provides the sacraments to move us along the road of sanctity.  He also speaks to us personally in our hearts.  We should not hesitate to call on him for help.