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.