Monday, September 21, 2020

 Feast of Saint Matthew, apostle and evangelist

(Ephesians 4:1-7.11-13; Matthew 9:9-13)

John’s gospel can be said to be more sublime.  Luke’s gospel, all in all, is probably more beautiful and Mark’s more passionate. But Matthew’s gospel seems to be the preferred gospel among people who take their faith seriously.  More than the others, Matthew’s gospel teaches Christians how to follow Christ.  After the narratives of Jesus’ infancy and baptism at the beginning and before the account of his passion, death, and resurrection at the end, the Gospel of Matthew gives five expertly formed lessons in discipleship.  Each of these lessons has a narrative and a discourse.  They inform readers how to live, how to evangelize, what the kingdom of God is like, how to be a church, and what to expect at the end of time.

Today’s passage from Matthew tells how Jesus called a tax-collector named Matthew to follow him.  This man has been thought to be the writer of the gospel because a second century scholar mentions a certain Matthew as the collector of sayings of Jesus in Hebrew.  Scholars today, however, see the author as having written in Greek during the eighth or ninth decade of the first century.  He probably never met Jesus although he knew a lot about him, especially his Jewish background.

Matthew’s gospel emphasizes the importance of faith.  If we are to experience the wonder of Jesus’ works, we must believe in him as Lord.  As Jesus promises at the end of the gospel, he will accompany us until the end of time.  Believing in his presence, we may turn to him in our need and experience his gracious care.

Friday, September 18, 2020

 

Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 8:1-3)

We should hear St. Paul’s discourse on the resurrection as Britain heard Winton Churchill’s speech at the beginning of World War II. The country was in a desperate situation.  German armies were taking over France and most of the rest of Europe.  The English were not completely sure whether brokering a peace treaty with Hitler was not the most prudent course.  But the prime minister spoke surely and determinedly.  The Nazis could not be trusted; they needed to be resisted.  So, Churchill said, the English would never surrender.

Paul had heard that some Corinthians were saying that there was no resurrection of the dead.  Perhaps, they opined, Christ rose from the dead, but for them that did not mean that his followers rise as well.  In that case, the advantage of being Christian was the comradery it brandishes.  Paul takes this way of thinking as a challenge to be met head on.  If there is no resurrection of the dead, he writes, Christ did not rise from the dead.  And if Christ did not rise from the dead, then he is a fool for preaching it and the people are fools for listening to him.

Whether people today say or not that the dead in Christ will rise, many live as if they will not.  They do not restrain their desires as he taught, and they ignore the teachings of the Church, his body.  However, we who read the Scriptures for instruction as well as inspiration look forward to a life with Christ in eternity.  As surely as Britain resisted Hitler’s Germany, we will follow the way of Jesus.  He is our hope and our destiny.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

 Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

 (I Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 7:36-50)

 The main attraction at the year 2000 World Youth Day in Toronto was, of course, Pope John Paul II.  Even at eighty, the saint was able to move people deeply.  During the event a young prostitute accompanied a youth group at a local parish to the pope’s mass.  There she heard the pope say to all the youth that he loved them.  The words changed the prostitute’s life.  Many men, she said, had told her before that they loved her but that this one meant it.  The story mirrors today’s gospel.

 In part the issue of the passage is the claim that Jesus is a prophet. Simon, the Pharisee, denies it because Jesus allows the woman to wash his feet with her tears and wipe them with her hair. But Jesus shows himself to be a prophet by reading the Pharisee’s mind.  Not only that, his being a prophet is confirmed by pronouncement of forgiveness.  Jesus says that her demonstration of love is a response to being forgiven of many sins.

 Jesus showed God’s great love for the world.  He did not seek pleasure or consolation.  He died on the cross as the supreme sacrifice that wins for us the forgiveness of sin.  We are both humbled and edified to consider -- like the Toronto prostitute – that he meant it when he showed his love for us. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

 Memorial of Saint Cornelius, pope, and Saint Cyprian, bishop, martyrs

(I Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 7:31-35)

Both St. Cornelius and St. Cyprian were caught up in the intense persecution of mid-third century.  Both died martyrs for the faith.  Both also were involved in the debate within the Church regarding how to treat the lapsi.  These were Christians who apostatized or left the Church rather than be martyred.  The issue was whether they could be readmitted. 

Cornelius was besieged from two sides.  He thought the lapsi could be forgiven but should do penance.  Some of his critics, however, thought all apostates should be forsaken.  Evidently, critics on the left did not find a rigorous penance necessary.  Cyprian likewise thought the lapsi could be forgiven. 

The wisdom of both Cornelius and Cyprian in forgiving the lapsi is reflected in today’s first reading.  Paul’s famous elegy on love testifies that love bears all things, even apostasy.  Paul also claimed that love “does not brood over injury.”  Rather it gives hope by charting a course of repentance.  Sinners then can make amends for their wrongdoing and be strengthened to sin no more.  This is essentially what the Church prescribes for us in the Sacrament of Penance.  We are never forsaken in our sins.  We always, because of God’s intense love, have recourse to forgiveness.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

 Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

(I Corinthians 12:12-14.27-31a; John 19:25-27)

A German writer went to Egypt to find out more about the twenty-one Coptic martyrs a few years ago.  The men were slain by Muslim extremists for their adherence to belief in Christ.  The writer discovered that the mothers of the young men were not grief stricken, at least at the time of his visit.  They were mostly joyful and proud that their sons gave their lives for Christ.  Mary in today’s gospel has this air as well.

Mary, like everyone else in John’s gospel, accompanies Jesus to the cross.  There Jesus pronounces her mother of his beloved disciple.  It is not necessarily a singular responsibility.  In becoming the mother of the unnamed disciple, Mary becomes the mother of all Jesus’ beloved disciples.  Like the mothers of the Coptic martyrs, Mary would feel proud and joyful.  She now has an intimate relationship with the multitude of Christians through the ages.

We do not mean to say that Mary is not at the same time sorrowful.  No doubt her heart is heavy to see her son executed.  But from the beginning of the gospel she is a woman of faith.  She knows that Jesus’ horrific death will turn into unimaginable glory. We likewise believe that, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, our dying to self leads to eternal life.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

(Numbers 21:4b-9; Philippians 2:6-11; John 3:13-17)

Some see in the figure of a cross the hope of transcendence.  A horizontal line signifies a never-changing end of life.  Things may improve from one generation to the next, but everyone is terminal.  The cross, however, has a vertical component breaking through the relentless movement toward death.  This pole promises glory beyond the struggles of the world. Paul expresses this work in the passage from Philippians.  Because Christ accepted death on a cross, God raised him to glory.

Early Christians especially saw the cross as a sign of contradiction.  To them the cross represented Rome’s cruelest form of execution.  It meant torture and death.  Yet Christ, by dying on a cross and then rising from the dead, turned the cross into an instrument of life.  Today’s first reading reveals the cross as a sign of contradiction.  The Israelites having been bitten by serpents were dying from infection.  But  when they looked on the serpents mounted on the pole, they were cured of the snakes’ venom.  

Today’s gospel expresses still another Christian view of the cross.  The cross becomes the sign of God’s love for us.  When Jesus tells of the Son of Man being lifted up, he is speaking of both his crucifixion and his resurrection.  When we look upon him as our savior, we avail ourselves of God’s love that enfolds us into eternal life.

Friday, September 11, 2020

 Friday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 9:16-19; Luke 6:39-42)

 Alexander Pope was an English, Catholic poet of the eighteenth century.  The lines of his poetry usually form rhyming couplets that are easy to remember.  Perhaps his most famous lines relate to today’s gospel.  Pope writes:

A little learning is a dangerous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:

 

Disciples, Jesus says, must learn well or they will be blind guides who lead their followers to ruin.  He is insisting that they must listen carefully to what he teaches.  They can ask questions. But the purpose of their questioning should be to understand and not to refute. 

We must do so as well.  We live in a time of, what philosophers call, “deconstructionism.”  People, finding problems in the way thing are, want to tear down working structures.  Even Christianity is found hopelessly wanting.  That is like putting a log in your eye.  We should critique society with the gospel in hand.  But we must keep in mind that the gospel has been interpreted in various ways at different junctures of history.  We must endeavor to seek its truth and apply it to our times.  The gospel puts us in touch with our friend and Lord.  He is like a compass that keeps us on course in an often-tempestuous world.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

 

Thursday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 8:1b-7.11-13; Luke 6: 27-38)

St. Paul does not use the word scandal in today’s first reading, but he talks about it.  When one says or does something to cause another to sin, that person is giving scandal.  Paul exhorts the Corinthians to avoid scandal by not taking food that has been offered to pagan gods.  Although the gods do not exist, he knows that some believe that food is contaminated when offered to them.  These people will be scandalized by seeing another Christian eat it and may eat it themselves.  They will sin because their scrupulous consciences will tell them that it is wrong to eat offerings to god.

Scandal is a difficult torrent to maneuver around.  People can be scrupulous about the slightest thing.  Some think drinking coffee at Starbucks, whose founder has contributed to Planned Parenthood, is sinful.  Some moralists have tried to rationalize scandal by distinguishing between “scandal given” and “scandal taken.”  The former is doing something truly wrong, for example, attending an “all-girl revue” at a men’s club.  The latter is considered a problem of scrupulosity on the part of the viewer.  But this distinction conflicts with what Paul is saying.

We should heed Paul’s advice and not say or do something that will be taken as sinful among the people present.  If scrupulosity is the problem, we might explain how what we are doing is not sinful.  What is essential is that we follow Jesus’ gospel command to love everyone by doing what is good.  He has loved us by sacrificing everything for us.  We can sacrifice something for the sake of our sisters and brothers in him.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

 Memorial of Saint Peter Claver, priest

(I Corinthians 7:25-31; Luke 6:20-26)

As Jesus says to his disciples in today’s gospel, St. Peter Claver no doubt said to African slaves, “’Blessed are you poor…’”  The slaves may have wondered if he were ridiculing them.  But they would have been convinced when Peter not only preached to the slaves, he helped them.  He gave them food and medicine and defended them from their slave masters.  They were blessed by Peter’s selfless work on their behalf.

The beatitudes in Luke’s gospel are fewer and more focused than those in Matthew’s.  Jesus speaks exclusively to those who are suffering – the poor, the weeping, the hungry, and the persecuted.  They are blessed because he, the Lord, has arrived to assist them.  His companionship is more valuable than gold.  His love will turn their tears into laughter.  And he will feed them with food that gives eternal life.

In these days of racial tension, we need to look to Peter Claver for inspiration and intercession.  As he descended into the holds of ships to care for sick slaves, let us go out to persons of different races, creeds, and backgrounds.  As a Jesuit, Peter Claver belonged to the Company of Jesus.  Surely, he will beseech his companion to help us help others if we ask him.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

 Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

 (Micah 5:1-4a or Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 1:1-16.18-23 or Matthew 1:18-23)

The Byzantine Orthodox Church has a beautiful prayer to the Christ child on Christmas.  The prayer expresses the age-old desire to present Jesus with a special gift.  It proposes as a truly worthy offering on the part of humanity a Virgin Mother.  She is Mary, the fairest of women – one who will prepare Jesus for his mission of revealing God’s love.

Today the Church celebrates Mary in a special way.  Hers is the only birthday recognized in the liturgical calendar besides those of Jesus and John the Baptist.  By calling attention to her birth, the Church recognizes a life completely dedicated to God. 

Mary is also singled out as a model for young and old today.  We should find in her chastity to be happy in our state of life.  She also personifies obedience to God’s will as she accepts the offer to be the Mother of the Savior.  Most of all, of course, Mary exemplifies love.  She cares for Jesus at his birth in Matthew and Luke and at his death in John’s gospel.  She speaks up in Cana for the whole world.  “’They have no wine,’” is a plaintive call for the happiness of the kingdom.  Each of us should strive to live as faithfully as this woman.

Monday, September 7, 2020

 Monday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 5:1-8; Luke 6:6-11)

It is quite appropriate that on Labor Day there is a gospel involving a labor dispute.  Jesus is being accused of violating the law forbidding work on the Sabbath.

Of course, Jesus sees the situation differently. He does not mean to undermine the Sabbath.  Like any good Jew, Jesus recognizes the value of the Sabbath in preparing the people for the kingdom.  The relaxation, the joy of being with friends, the opportunity to visit whether someone’s house or a lovely natural place all anticipate the wonder of heaven.  But one of God’s beloved children stands in dire need.  How can Jesus not but help the paralytic?

God loves each of us as much.  He gives us work both to utilize our intelligence and to provide our needs.  And he also gives us this day of rest to contemplate His goodness and to share with one another.

Friday, September 4, 2020

 Friday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

(I Corinthians 4:1-5; Luke 5:33-39)

In today’s first reading St. Paul calls himself and other apostles “stewards of the mysteries of God.”  The sacraments, especially in Paul’s time Baptism and Eucharist, are considered “mysteries.” The word “mystery” refers to both God’s incomprehensibility and the way God incorporates his people into Himself.  The apostles can be considered stewards in as much as they preach about God and administer the sacraments.

Recently a case of an unfaithful administering of the sacraments was reported.  After watching a video made of his baptism, a young man who had supposedly been ordained to the priesthood concluded that he was never validly baptized.  The deacon, who performed the rite, said, “We baptize you in the name of the Father…”, instead of, “I baptize you …”  The difference of words does matter, not just because the latter goes back to ancient times but because it indicates that Jesus, through the minister, is the one baptizing.  The man had to be baptized, confirmed and given Holy Communion, all for the first time.  Then, after a week’s retreat, he was validly ordained.

Paul talks about the need for a steward of the mystery to be trustworthy.  The steward must faithfully carry out his responsibilities.  We might say something similar for all Catholic Christians.  We should learn the teachings of the Church and faithfully hand them on.  It is not for us to tell others of our opinions of birth control or the Virgin birth, at least as much as our opinions conflict with Church teaching.  God has sent us bishops, the apostles’ successors, to guide us to Himself. They form Church teachings from the tradition that has been handed down to them.  Sometimes, regrettably, they fail to fulfill all their responsibilities.  Nevertheless, they are signs of God’s love for us as are their teachings. 

Thursday, September 3, 2020

 Memorial of Saint Gregory the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

(I Corinthians 3:18-23; Luke 5:1-11)

St. Gregory the Great ranks high on any list of great popes.  After saving Rome from devastation by the Lombards, he was considered the city’s civil as well as spiritual leader.  He took keen interest in providing for the poor with the revenue received from the lands the Church owned.  He also had a hand in modifying the liturgy and in forming “Gregorian chant.”  He preached extremely well and wrote important books on morality and pastoral care.  Most remarkably, with all these accomplishments Gregory maintained a humble demeanor.  His manner is reminiscent of his predecessor in today’s gospel.

Witnessing the great catch of fish catalyzed by Jesus’ holiness, Simon falls before him.  He must admit to Jesus his unworthiness.  “’… I am a sinful man,’” he says openly, hoping that his confession would mitigate the Lord’s judgment.  But Jesus has no intention of punishing Simon.  In fact, he means to convert the sinner’s strengths into resources for evangelization. 

St. Gregory confessed openly that he did not always fulfill his responsibilities with due diligence.  But he still led the Church faithfully.  He saw himself how each of us should see herself or himself, “The servant of the servants of the Lord.”

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

 

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

 (I Corinthians 3:1-9; Luke 4:38-44)

 At a parish in El Paso, Texas, there was an increasingly acrimonious rivalry between the Guadalupanas (the Sodality of Our Lady of Guadalupe) and the Carmelitas (the Sodality of Our Lady of Mount Carmel).  Each contended that they were the best women group in the parish.  The members of either group began to shun members of the other group.  The pastor noting the un-Christ like behavior had the two groups come to an agreement.  On July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, the Guadalupanas would serve breakfast to the Carmelitas after the mass their patronal feast.  Of course, the courtesy was reciprocated on December 12.  The resolution improved the situation considerably.  In today’s first reading St. Paul similarly tries to stem the rivalries brewing in Corinth.

 After spending over a year with the Corinthians, Paul knows that they have been instructed well.  He has preached, modeled, and taught unity in Christ. He naturally becomes upset when they break down into factions like all their pagan neighbors.  He reminds them that they are different from other people because they have been formed by Christ into his body. In him there is no place for rivalry.  As he writes to the Galatians, in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female.

 Life in Christ makes us a new creation.  We are to leave behind thinking of ourselves as better than others.  We should no more form rival groups than consider our arms as more valuable than our feet.  Christ has made us one in love to reflect the love between him and his Father.