Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 2:10b-16; Luke 4: 31-37)

When St. Paul writes of “the spirit of the world,” he may have something in mind beyond dissoluteness.  That is, he is thinking of other sins besides lust and drunkenness.  He likely is commenting upon what many today would call a “successful life.”  For Paul “the spirit of the world” can well mean working hard, making a lot of money, enjoying good food and interesting travel. 

The problem Paul has with such a spirit is that it does not see God at the heart of things.  It does not recognize God’s love as giving us dignity.  It does not thank God for all the good enjoyed.  It does not acknowledge that the cross of Christ has availed humans an eternal destiny.

We can understand the demon that Jesus casts out in today’s gospel as “the spirit of the world.”  The demon absorbs the man to make him do things opposed to his own well-being.  Just so, the worldly successful can act like gods.  Paying attention to Jesus, we should be free of such vanity.  He will give us the “Spirit of God.” This Spirit knows that God loves us and is bringing about our salvation.  It moves us to honor him by taking selfless care of others.

Monday, August 31, 2020

 Monday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 2:1-5; Luke 4:16-30)

Today we begin treating the Gospel according to Luke in our daily readings.  We shall see a passage from this gospel most weekdays until Advent.  Luke is famous for, among other themes, care for the poor and his emphasis on the Holy Spirit.  Although he recognizes Jesus as Son of God, Luke often portrays Jesus in the role of a prophet.  This is seen in today’s passage.

Jesus has returned to his hometown.  Like a candidate for president, he wants to state the platform from which he will conduct his ministry.  He chooses a reading from the prophet Isaiah to give his message weight.  Jesus will preach good news to the poor and sight to the spiritually blind.

The people like what they hear.  But they seem to change their mind about him quickly. Or, perhaps better, Jesus perceives their opposition to him.  The reason for this abrupt change is likely that Luke is recording the result of a separate visit to Nazareth.  We must understand that the gospels are not biographies relating the events of Jesus’ life in the order they were lived.  Rather they are faith testimonies meant to encourage belief in Jesus' victory over sin and death.  The more we study the stories, the more we appreciate what our faith in Jesus brings us.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Memorial of Saint Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church

(I Corinthians 1:17-25; Matthew 25:1-13)

It is said that after Jesus the most important persons in Christianity are St. Paul and St. Augustine.  Paul evangelized western Asia and the Greek peninsula (Europe).  As much as he was an apostle, however, he was equally a theologian.  His presentation of Christianity was the earliest and one of the most insightful ever made.  Augustine is the preeminent theologian of the western church, at least until Aquinas.  Yet his story has evangelized many.  Who is not impressed by the way Augustine asked for chastity “but not now”? 

In today’s first reading Paul expresses the centrality of the cross to Christian faith.  To the wise -- that is, the successful -- the cross scandalizes.  It reveals Jesus as a criminal, not as a saint.  But to believers, Paul intimates, the cross signifies the power of love to conquer death.  After all, Paul encountered the risen Christ. 

Augustine appears at a critical time in western history.  Christianity had emerged from persecution to enjoy a favored-religion status.   But free thinkers were propagating new ideas which corrupted the faith. Augustine successfully refuted a number of these ideas.  Also, the Roman empire in the West was crumbling.  Augustine endeavored to explain this momentous change by contrasting Rome with the City of God. The former, constructed by fallible humans, was bound to fall.  The latter, epitomized by the Church and animated by grace, can only thrive.

Thursday, August 27, 2020


Memorial of Saint Monica

(I Corinthians 1:1-9; Matthew 24:42-51)

For a long time St. Monica lived with the hope of her son Augustine converting to the Catholic faith.  She prayed and encouraged him to do so.  Perhaps she found some reason to believe that he would in his deference for her.  But he also had a mistress and a son.  Furthermore, gifted intellectually, Augustine was aware of philosophical trends which seldom move in the direction of faith. Eventually, of course, Monica’s hope was realized.  Augustine not only became a Christian but also one of the Church’s greatest theologians. Monica’s hope should inspire our own for the coming of Christ.  Gospel hope lies behind today’s gospel.

The gospel is taken from Matthew’s gospel’s final discourse.  The long passage treats the hoped-for events to take place at the end time.  Today’s section admonishes Jesus’ disciples to practice justice and temperance in the interim.  They are to distribute food and beverage fairly, never overindulging in them personally.

We are still in the interim -- after almost 2000 years!  It is frustrating at times, and some wonder if Jesus will return as he promised.  Yet there are signs, not of an imminent return but of Jesus’ abiding presence.  Jesus clearly promised this presence as well in Matthew’s gospel.  We hope that the wait will give opportunity for all to convert to his ways.  As we hope, we also pray that our faith never wanes but grow into greater love for others.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

 Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(II Thessalonians 3:6-10.16-18; Matthew 23:27-32)

Both readings today convey invectives.  In the passage from II Thessalonians St. Paul bewails idlers.  He says that they always come to eat but never to work. As a remedy to their laziness, Paul would deny them food.  He offers himself as a counterexample.  If anyone could be dispensed from physical work, it is Paul, the preacher and teacher.  But he always does his share of the physical work in order to set good example.

Jesus’ criticism in the gospel is more severe.  He accuses the Pharisees not only of duplicity but of murder!  He knows that they are conspiring to kill him and takes them to task for it in advance.  At the beginning of his public ministry Jesus named the “blessed” for their trust in God.  Now at the end he pronounces “woe” to those who exploit God’s name.

We cannot say, “Never criticize,” after hearing St. Paul and Jesus doing just that.  Nevertheless, we should judge carefully before doing so.  Even then, let our words be measured and never be cruel.  Our intention should always be to correct wrong-doing, not to destroy the wrong-doer.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

(II Thessalonians 2:1-3a.14-17; Matthew 23:23-26)

Perhaps the most challenging reality for students of the Bible is the scholarly consensus that a few of St. Paul’s letters were forgeries.   The very notion sounds absurd.  “How can Scripture, which is by definition inerrant, contain works that give false information?” people ask.  However, St. Augustine among others was aware that all the information contained in the Bible was not completely accurate.  Vatican II declared that inerrancy has to do with the truths of the faith that God wished to pass on.  It must be remembered as well that the forgeries were not made for profit.  Rather, they were intended to assure readers of God’s continued care.  In any case, today’s first reading has something to say about Scriptural forgery.

 The writer warns readers of a letter being circulated that was written by another using his (presumably Paul’s) name.  This note testifies to the fact that there indeed were known forgeries of Paul’s letters.  But even more intriguing is the possibility, as many biblical scholars today believe, that II Thessalonians itself is a forgery.  The reasons for saying this include differences in emphasis between it and I Thessalonians.  For example, where I Thessalonians credits the people with good sense about the time of Christ’s return, II Thessalonians disapproves of the people’s obsession with the exact time of the event.

 We must remember that the Bible is a compendium of books inspired by God but written by fallible human authors over a stretch of a thousand years.  We should not expect complete internal coherence, much less conformity to contemporary literary standards.  Still we hold that the Bible contains God’s blueprint for life.  We must prudently follow its teachings as the Church guides us if we are to attain the eternal life it promises 

Monday, August 24, 2020

 Feast of Saint Bartholomew, apostle

(Revelations 21: 9b-14; John 1:45-51)

We are accustomed to focusing on the apostles as individuals.  Who has not heard of Peter’s foibles?  What is one to make of the brashness of James and John?  However, the apostles are better considered as a group.  As today’s first reading makes clear, they make up the foundation of the Church.

The passage partly culminates the Book of Revelations.  Evil has been vanquished.  Now the inhabitants of the New Jerusalem, meet their champion and bridegroom, the Lamb of God.  They are members of the Church formed by the teaching and self-offering of the apostles.  They will flourish forever. 

We are indebted to the apostles.  The Lord sent them to our ancestors to preach and teach the faith.  Jesus chose twelve of them to symbolize the new Israel, which was originally constituted of that many tribes.  There are more apostles than twelve.  The life and works of St. Paul make that clear.  For the unsung apostles, then, as well as to the celebrated ones like Bartholomew we give God thanks today.

Friday, August 21, 2020

 Memorial of Saint Pius X, pope

(Ezekiel 37:1-14; Matthew 22: 32-40)

On a sitcom a long time ago, a man talked about going to see a famous cowboy entertainer.  He says that the organizers of the event set up a pistol drawing contest between and all challengers.  The man boasted because he beat the cowboy star to the draw.  He said that he was able to do it because he was last in line.  By the time he faced off with the cowboy, the entertainer was so tired that he could barely lift the pistol from his holster. 

In today’s gospel Jesus faces a series of challengers.  After cleaning out the temple area in Jerusalem, the different groups come to discredit him.  First, the chief priests and the elders question Jesus about his authority.  He answers them by asking about the authority of John – a controversial issue which the Jewish leaders refuse to touch.  Then the Pharisees try to trap Jesus with the question of paying taxes to Caesar.  Jesus shrewdly tells them that one should give to Caesar’s what belongs to Caesar.  Then the Sadducees propose to Jesus the ridiculous story of seven brothers marrying the same woman in succession to prove that there can be no resurrection from the dead.  Jesus refutes their claim by saying that in the resurrection there is no marriage.  In today’s gospel another pharisee tries to trip Jesus with the question of the greatest commandment.  Jesus deftly answers by saying that the greatest is to love God and the second is to love other humans. Unlike the cowboy entertainer, Jesus never wearies of giving the right answers.

Today the Church honors Pope St. Pius X.  His pontificate was famous for allowing children to receive Holy Communion and for resolving the Modernist crisis.  Modernism was a movement within the Church challenging the authenticity of the gospels.  Historians agree that Pius was heavy-handed in resolving the crisis.  But he did defend the unique greatness of Jesus as today’s gospel shows.  For the superiority of Jesus’ teaching as well as the proclamations made about his life, especially his resurrection from the dead, Jesus is rightly called the uncreated, only begotten Son of God.

Thursday, August 20, 2020


Memorial of Saint Bernard, abbot and doctor of the Church

(Ezekiel 36:23-28; Matthew 22: 1-14)

Ezekiel describes a hopeful outcome for Jews in exile.  They will be gathered together and returned to their native land.  There, in Judah, they will be regenerated.  They will be given a heart made for loving, not for fighting, and a Spirit of virtue, not mischief.  Christians do not see this prophecy fulfilled with Jesus’ resurrection and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples.  The gospel peeks at the outcome of the Christian blessing.

Jesus is speaking in guarded language to the leaders of Israel.  No doubt, some bystanders heard his parable as a typical melodrama with the wicked being punished and the poor being rewarded.  However, Jesus’ intention is beyond that.  He is signaling to the corrupt aristocrats of Jerusalem that their vice has been discovered and their rule is ending.  Christians from various nations, classes, and degrees of virtue will enjoy the celestial banquet.  But they cannot enter without assuming the ways of their Lord.  Hence the rebel without the wedding garment is shown the door.

Today the Church celebrates St. Bernard of Clairvaux, one of the greatest men of the Middle Ages. His life followed the pattern of the readings.  As a youth, he was frivolous.  With the death of his mother, however, he accepted the grace of the Holy Spirit.  He entered a monastery, became an abbot, and then an advisor to the courts of Europe. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

 Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 34:1-11; Matthew 20:1-16)

Every fall, priests in their daily office or prayer read a long commentary on today’s first reading.  St. Augustine wrote the commentary and intended it for parish priests.  His concern is priests’ preoccupation for their own welfare and disregard for their people’s.  He says, for example, that pastors too often fear to give offense by refusing to admonish the people to live holy lives. Ezekiel, however, has political not religious leaders in mind in his writing.

In ancient Israel the prophets served as correctives of the kings.  They were the country’s moral conscience who defined for rulers the will of God.  The prophets kept faith in the public square and considered the temple a primary work of the state. 

Today we do not see such a religious-political arrangement as helpful for western societies. There are just too many faith traditions as well as a strong secular force in most countries to call for an established religion.  Nevertheless, we should not accept too great a wall between Church and state.  Religious values have profound moral content that should inform governmental policies.  To name one, it is wrong to give permission to take away human life as is done in abortion and assisted suicide.  Sooner or later, these wrongful policies will take their toll on the people’s well-being. We can be grateful that Catholic bishops have taken their stand on these and other social issues.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020


Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 28:1-10; Matthew 19: 23-30)

What do you give to the person who has everything?  A gilded telephone? a silk facemask?  There will always be a new luxury to acquire.  The prophets chastised conspicuous consumption.  It not only ignored the needs of the poor; it also gave a priority of things to God.  In today’s Scriptures both Ezekiel and Jesus criticize the accumulation of wealth.

Ezekiel sets his sight on the prince of Tyre.  The man has accumulated countless riches but has not heeded the Lord of Israel.  The prophet predicts he will have a hard fall at the hands of the Assyrian invaders.  Jesus, likewise, foresees a bitter outcome for those who make money their treasure.  He says that they cannot enter the kingdom of God.

 Money itself is not evil.  Indeed, it enables us to live and work without back-breaking effort.  Pursuit of money while forgetting to honor God and assist our neighbor, however, can cause our undoing.  We may think that we are increasing our stature, but in truth we are preparing our ruin.  The proper stance toward money is always gratitude to God for having received it and generosity toward the needy for having witnessed their suffering.

Monday, August 17, 2020


Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

 (Ezekiel 24:15-23; Matthew 19:16-22)

 The rich man in today’s gospel leaves Jesus.  He probably despairs of ever attaining eternal life.  Thoughtful commentators have observed that the command to sell everything is made to him as an individual.  Everyone does not have to do as much to be saved.  Yet Jesus’ teaching on the need to be poor to enter the kingdom has universal application. 

 People make themselves poor by making God, not their money, the highest priority in their lives.  They are to recognize that all good comes from Him and to love Him above all.  Such a disposition requires using one’s resources to care for others.  It also presumes humility in one’s relations.  Jesus does not want his community of disciples to lord over one another as the rich sometimes do. 

 Too often we want to use our money or accomplishments to carve out standing in society.  We don’t want to give God thanks, much less recognition, for whatever good we have accomplished.  But only by doing so can we be children of God with a place in eternal life.

Friday, August 14, 2020


Memorial of Saint Maximilian Kolbe, priest and martyr

 (Ezekiel 60:1-15.60.63; Matthew 19:3-12)

 Both readings today esteem the marriage covenant.  In the first, Ezekiel describes how God married an undesirable Israel.  The marriage gave the bride prominence, but she traded it for pleasure and intrigue.  Israel forsook the Lord’s loving care by worshipping the gods of her neighbors.

 In the gospel Jesus confirms the teaching implied in Genesis that marriage binds a man and a woman for life.  The Pharisees are divided on the issue, not on divorce but on the grounds for it.  Some think that Moses’ permission of divorce requires a crime like adultery.  Others argued a man could divorce his wife (never vice versa) for almost any offense.  Jesus denies all grounds.  He shows his superior authority to Moses’ as he reinstates the permanency of the marriage covenant. 

Today’s celebrated saint, Maximillian Kolbe, died honoring the marriage covenant.  He was imprisoned at Auschwitz when a prisoner escaped.  The Nazis wanted to execute a married man with a family to deter more attempted escapes.  St. Maximillian offered himself for execution in the husband’s place.  Pope St. John Paul II called the act a true martyrdom because Maximillian sacrificed his life for his religious convictions – love of neighbor and, we might add, the goodness of marriage. 

Thursday, August 13, 2020

 Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

 (Ezekiel 12:1-12, Matthew 18:21-19:1)

 A spiritual virus has plagued the world in recent years.  With the advent of the Internet, pornography attacks mass numbers of men and, to a lesser extent, women.  Pornography corrupts the soul by making one ever more desirous of illicit sexual union.  Many men come to confession regularly with the guilt of having watched pornography weighing on their conscience.  They are wise to seek forgiveness and help in the Sacrament of Penance.

The gospel today sounds a bit simplistic.  Who commits the same sin seventy-seven times?  People who are addicted to pornography do as well as most of us with our picadilloes, be they flattery or over-eating.  Jesus assures these sinners that they are neither hopelessly damned nor needlessly worried.  They are God’s beloved sons and daughters ripe for forgiveness and growth in holiness.  He expects his Church to forgive and to assist them.

Sin has a subjective element.  It may be that those who are addicted to pornography or alcohol do not commit a mortal sin with every failure to forego the pleasure.  But this should not be used as an excuse to go on sinning.  People inclined to excess of pleasurable goods should seek consolation and reinforcement through frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance.  They will not only save their souls but probably find their human relations vastly improved.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

 (Ezekiel 9:1-7.10:18-22; Matthew 18:15-20)

Today’s first reading tells of God proposing a slaughter of idolaters in Jerusalem.  The idol worshippers are likely the Jewish remnant left behind during the exile.  They would have followed the religious directives of their Babylonian overlords.  The obliteration dictated is disgusting to modern ears.  It seems unfair that people will be obliterated for worshipping pagan gods, albeit in the Temple constructed for the God of Israel. 

 Of course, society conceived itself differently then.  The gods, whether the Lord of Jews and eventually Christians or a system of deities, were considered essential not only for identity but for defense.  People worshipping other gods were seen as traitors who needed to be executed to preserve the nation.  In the emerging Christian tradition of today’s gospel tolerance of sinners is recommended.  Jesus tells his disciples to treat unrepentant sinners only as outsiders.  That is, they are to ignore them, not kill them.  Still at times when Christians came to dominate societies, defectors were persecuted.

Many are leaving the Catholic Church and the Christian faith tradition today.  Some of these follow strange practices that we may see as idol worship.  Perhaps those who have drifted away are members of our own family.  We do no good by ostracizing them.  We may help them by becoming more devout Catholics and more Christ-like Christians.  If they ridicule us for living what we believe, let us converse with them as the gospel recommends.  Our faith is logically coherent and has been productively lived for centuries.  It is not a system of belief that can be seriously dismissed.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Memorial of St. Clare of Assisi, virgin

(Ezekiel 2:8-3:4; Matthew 18:1-5.10.12-14)

Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel was institutionalized by St. Clare of Assisi.  Asked who is the greatest in God’s kingdom, Jesus answers, in effect, the least of all.  He means that those who serve humbly most conform to God’s blessed.  Those who use their positions to take advantage of others, on the other hand, have lost their way.  Jesus gives as a model a child who seen and not heard is also subservient to her parents.  He is exhorting his disciples to work as earnestly as this little one for their heavenly father.

With the help of St. Francis, Clare started a monastery to pray for Franciscan friars.  She intended that the monastery break from the custom of the day.  It embraced women from all societal levels, allowed every member to participate in its governance, altered the tradition of monastic enclosure, and described the role of abbess as that of sister and servant.  Like St. Francis and like Jesus, she did not intend that her followers dominate one another.

It is sometimes said that in the Catholic Church, the laity are only to “pray, pay, and obey.”  To the extent that this is true, it is anti-evangelical.  Of course, everyone is to pray and to obey the will of God.  Likewise, we all should pay -- whether with money, time, or services.  But we are also to support one another in the discipleship of Jesus.  This applies to laity helping clerics as well as other laity.  We encourage one another to live the gospel as Clare and Francis exhorted their followers.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Memorial of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr

(II Corinthians 9:6-10; John 12:24-26)

Like many of the early martyrs St. Lawrence is more of a personage than a person.  There is not much factual history about him, yet he is famous for different reasons.  First, there are several charming stories told about him.  Then, a church dedicated to him became one of seven important churches in Rome. Finally, his intercession is credited for a victory of armies representing Christians in later ages.

Lawrence’s martyrdom, nevertheless, was real and costly.  As Jesus reminds us in today’s gospel, Christian martyrdom becomes the seed of growth for the Church.  Today Christians may undergo a kind of martyrdom by adhering to Church teachings.  It is difficult not to join neighbors seeking pleasure in a contraceptive culture.  Giving to the needy not just from one’s superabundance but from one’s basic allowance also is challenging. 

Saints are not only to be imitated; they are also to be petitioned.  So we pray to St. Lawrence that we give testimony to our faith as true martyrs and that we assist the needy poor as God asks.

Friday, August, 7, 2020

Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Nahum 2:1.3.3:1-3.6-7; Matthew 16:24-28)

In today’ first reading the prophet Nahum describes the ravage of Assyria’s war against Israel.  He mentions “plunder” and “looting.”  He speaks of “the flame of the sword” and “the flash of the spear.”  He does not hesitate to include the many slain, the heaping corpses, the endless bodies to stumble upon.”  Seventy-five years ago the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.  In this time of mournful remembering, Nahum’s imagery conjures up those horrible events.

In a sense the atomic bombs were no worse – one might even say “not as bad” – as the penetration bombing of Tokyo and Dresden.  If not exactly targeted, civilians were not avoided in those devastating air raids.  Of course, the injustices perpetrated by German and Japanese military needs recalling in any account of war’s atrocities.  Nevertheless, the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki catapulted war into a new stratosphere.  These bombs not only killed and maimed; they also left their mark on future generations.  Children will continue to be born with transmuted genes. 

It is absolutely necessary that humanity strives for the elimination of nuclear weapons.  Christians can lead the way.  By denying ourselves, as Jesus exhorts in today’s gospel, we can show the world a better way.  What if Christians held ecumenical prayer vigils and peaceful demonstrations exhibiting humankind’s desire for nuclear disarmament?  Is it not possible that in time, with God’s help, these efforts have positive effect?

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.