Thursday, October 29, 2020

 Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

 (Ephesians 6:10-20; Luke 13:31-35)

 An article in The Atlantic magazine a few years ago challenged the prospect of finding genetic explanations for human behavior.  Since the development of genetic theory, scientists have hoped to discover genes that govern all human traits.  They have looked for genes that trigger virtue as there are genes that determine hair color.  The article concluded that genes do not work so neatly.  It said that genes almost always “overlap and interleave” with others to produce different effects.  Of course, behaviorists have always questioned genetic determinism.  They believe that upbringing is a more powerful force shaping behavior than genetic composition. With all this complexity it might be asked if the Letter to the Ephesians’ assertion that evil spirits cause one’s difficulty to be good is far-fetched.

The letter stresses that the quest to live morally is not a simple struggle with natural elements.  Rather it proposes that evil angelic principalities derail moral progress.  It also encourages readers to use the armaments of the Church to defeat evil powers.  Some of these arms are meditation on Scripture, receiving the sacraments, prayer, and fasting.

 We should not underestimate the attraction of evil.  Pleasure, power, and false pride tempt the best of us to put our own wills ahead of God’s.  It is not childish, and much less foolish, to think of our instinctual drives as being manipulated by evil spirits.  But we should also be aware that the Holy Spirit is available to us.  The Spirit will more than enable us to repel evil inclinations.  It will help us live as true children of our loving Father.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

 

The Feast of Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

(Ephesians 2:19-22; Luke 6:12-16)

Saints Simon and Jude are among the last apostles named on lists in the new Testament.  But today’s feast may be observed by more people than perhaps any other apostle.  It is not so much an incident of the gospel inversion of the last becoming first.  Rather, the reason for the reversal is that St. Jude is thought of as the go-to in hopeless cases.

St. Jude Research Hospital tells how Danny Thomas as a young entertainer was foundering when he prayed to St. Jude.  Thomas told his patron that if he guided him in life, he would build a shrine to him.  Thomas kept his promise by organizing the funding for a hospital for children with cancer. 

We would be presumptuous to think of our prayer to a saint as having power over evil.  Indeed, we would be superstitious of thinking of a saint with magical power.  When we ask God, however, or ask a saint to intercede on our behalf before God, we should expect evil to be subverted.  God loves us and always is enabling us to become more like him.  When we cooperate with His grace with expressions of faith, our situation will surely improve. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

 Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 5:21-33; Luke 13:18-21)

One man would do anything for his wife.  He said that he owed it to her for raising their children while he was away in the Air Force.  But the bond was greater than a tit for tat.  He loved her quite like today’s first reading asks.  Another man nursed his wife as she was failing with Alzheimer’s.  They had exercised together, but as her conditioned worsened, he just walked her in the wheelchair.  He said that he loved her then more then than on their wedding day.

These couples have experienced the sublime vision of the Letter to the Ephesians. We tend to read its section on marital relations with suspicious hearts.  “Can the writer really mean that a woman has to subordinate herself to her husband?” we ask.  “Of course, husbands should love their wives; their wives do enough for them,” we say cynically. The author of the letter might despair if he heard such comments.  For him marriage is not a give-and-take, but the sacrament expressing Christ’s love for his disciples.  It lifts people from a state of banality into a realm of majesty. 

To reach this level requires sacrifice on our parts.  Couples have to hourly think of and pray for their counterparts.  They have to accept Christ as both the God who empowers them and the human who shows them how to live.  As we become conscious of his love for us, we will want to do everything for him.

Monday, October 26, 2020

 Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 4:32-5:8; Luke 13:10-17)

In Jesus “inaugural speech” in Nazareth, he said that God sent him “’to let the oppressed go free.’”  He does exactly this in today’s gospel.  The woman has been oppressed by an evil spirit for eighteen years when Jesus heals her. And she is not the only one Jesus is liberating here.

The leader of the synagogue criticizes Jesus for working a cure on the Sabbath.  When Jesus hears of the complaint, he takes the official to task.  He calls him a hypocrite for untying his farm animal on the Sabbath but disapproving of the woman being then unbound.  The people approve both Jesus’ work and his wisdom.  They are being liberated from the rigorism of the religious leader.

At times religious leaders act more as overlords than as God’s servants.  They can humiliate people by their remarks.  They can also withhold a desired religious service until the bidder bends to their demands.  Once I saw a priest rush to the back of the church at the end of mass to make sure that no one left until the recessional hymn was finished.  We should, of course, comply with the Church’s traditions as well as right morals.  But we shouldn’t have to bow to authoritarian clerics.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

 Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, October 25, 2020

(Exodus 22:20-26; I Thessalonians 1:5-10; Matthew 22:34-40)

(There is a saying: "All roads lead to Rome." You can change the saying for the four gospels. "All roads lead to Jerusalem." The purpose of the gospels is to show how Jesus dies in Jerusalem to redeem man from sin. For the past four Sundays we have found Jesus in Jerusalem debating with the Jewish leaders. First, he had to explain to the high priests why he had overturned the tables in the temple. So last Sunday he proved more cunning than the Pharisees who wanted to trip him up with the question about the tribute to Caesar. Now Jesus answers another leading question.

A doctor of the law approaches Jesus asking which commandment is the greatest. There are 613 commandments in the Mosaic Law. They are all considered important. Is the greatest the first one written in Genesis, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it"? Or perhaps it is the first in the Decalogue: "You will have no other gods apart from me." Still, Jesus doesn't seem discouraged by being tested with such a knotty question. On the contrary, as a bright young man he seems eager to manifest his understanding.

Jesus answers the question more with wisdom than mere knowledge. There is no elder authority that forms the first commandment in the same way as it. Perhaps Socrates would say, "The greatest commandment is 'Know yourself.' Machiavelli, the famous political philosopher of the Renaissance, perhaps would propose: "Be strong so that everyone respects you." But Jesus, whose human will always conforms to the divine will, does something wonderfully original. Because of his Jewish ancestry, he says that you have to love God above all else. But immediately he adds, as if there were not the first without the second, you have to love your neighbor. Like horse and carriage, it is not possible to love God if we do not love other human persons.

But what is love that Jesus refers to? It's certainly not the taste of tourists wearing T-shirts: "I love New York." Nor is it sexual gratification as contemporary songs would have. No, the love that Jesus has in mind is the sacrifice of the self for the good of the other. It is the love that Saint Paul wrote to the Romans: "God showed us his love in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

You can see this love in the lives of the saints. Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus wanted to go to the missionary lands and die as a martyr. But she was not only a nun in a convent but also sick and weak. Then she realized that she could fulfill her desire to be martyred by deepening in love. She devoted herself more and more to prayer and the good of her companions in the convent. Likewise, it is said of San Martín de Porres that she spent the nights in prayer and penance and the days showing the goodness of God in full force. One day when he returned to his convent, Martín found a bleeding man lying in the street, the victim of a murderer's dagger. Martín bandaged the wound as much as possible and rushed her to her convent to save her life. There he had to put him in his own bed because the superior of the convent forbade him to shelter the sick in the convent. When the superior found out, he demanded an explanation from Martín. The humble brother said he did not think that the precept of obedience exceeded that of charity.

"He who loves a lot, long ago" is a simple saying. It is rooted in the gospel and also in the lives of the saints. This type of love surpasses the dissimulations found in songs and in T-shirts. Those who follow him fulfill the first commandments of Jesus: "Love God first, then your neighbor."

Friday, October 23, 2020

 Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

 (Ephesians 4:1-6; Luke 12:54-59)

 In his poem “The White-Tailed Hornet,” Robert Frost observes that humans do well to compare themselves with higher beings.  If they do not, he predicts that they will suffer one catastrophe after another.  Frost’s lines are worth remembering: “As long on earth/ As our comparisons were stoutly upward/ With gods and angels, we were men at least,/ But little lower than the gods and angels./ But once comparisons were yielded downward,/ Once we began to see our images/ Reflected in the mud and even dust./ ‘Twas disillusion upon disillusion.”  The passage from the Letter to the Ephesians today bears a similar wisdom.

 Ephesians urges its readers “to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.”  It claims that they have been chosen by God to be members of God’s family.  As God’s children then, they are to live peacefully avoiding quarrels.  More than they, they are to strive to have a like mind and heart based on truth.  It is a tall order, but it can be accomplished with God’s grace which is “over all and through all and in all.”

 Anger is a definite roadblock to peace and unity.  We must garner the courage to lay aside outrage with what others say and do.  In place of getting angry, let us try to put ourselves in the place of those who provoke our anger.  We also should pray for them.  These measures will lessen our animus and increase our understanding.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

 (Optional) Memorial of Saint John Paul II, pope

(Ephesians 3:13-21; Luke 12:49-53)

The two Scripture passages today seem at odds with one another.  In the first the author writes of Christ as the root of the love in the believer’s heart.  In the gospel Jesus sounds like the source of rancor and division.  “’I have come to set the world on fire,’” he declares.  But there is no contradiction in Jesus.  He is the face of God’s love for the world.  It is such an extreme love that people will reject it as overbearing.

In Dostoyevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, the monk Fr. Zossima exemplifies the paradox of love in the two readings.  When he was young, Zossima was an arrogant army officer.  He challenged a civilian to a duel knowing that he could easily defeat him.  But before the duel took place, Zossima had a revelation of his cruelty and repented of his many sins.  In the duel he allowed his opponent to shoot first.  When the shot only grazed him, Zossima refused to fire back.  Some of his fellow officers despised him for dishonoring the army.  However, Zossima’s life had been completely changed from preoccupation with self to love of all.

Today we honor a saint whom many of us remember well.  St. John Paul II possessed a great love for the world.  He seemed to have no difficulty embracing victims of the AIDS virus and visiting the man who attempted to take his life.  Yet some people, even within the Church, reject him because of what they perceive as an entrenched conservatism. That is regrettable.  We are wise to emulate his love rooted in Christ.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

 Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

 (Ephesians 3:2-12; Luke 12:39-48)

 Today’s gospel seems to have church officials in mind. Peter asks Jesus if his warning applies to the disciples, that is Jesus’ selected leaders.  His affirmative answer makes many of us think of sexual abuse scandal.  But the warning also applies to every person with authority over others.

Parents, teachers, managers, and others will be held accountable for their treatment of underlings.  They must model right behavior and show charity.  They should consider their positions not as a privilege but as a responsibility.  In the end they will be judged, at least in part, for their effect on those they lead.

The first reading conveys the proper relationship between a person of authority and those who are subject to him.  On behalf of St. Paul, the writer speaks of a stewardship of the word of God.  It is a grave responsibility to talk about God to others as it is to teach mathematics or to instill productive work habits.  But we need not be burdened with worry when we find ourselves in such positions.  We can turn to Christ in prayer for help. Then, like the writer, we may count on God’s grace to fruitfully carry out our responsibilities.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

 Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ephesians 2:12-22; Luke 12:35-38)

 John Kennedy told the story of a colonial legislature hard at work when a towering thunderstorm darkened the skies.  The occasion seemed so ominous that some of the legislators, fearing it was the biblical “day of the Lord,” thought it would be best to adjourn the session.  They wanted to return to their families for the Lord’s arrival.  The Speaker of the chamber, however, thought differently.  He spoke up, “If it is the ‘Day of the Lord,’ then we will want to be found at work when He comes.  If it is not, then we would look foolish for becoming terrified over a thunderstorm.  Therefore, I say, bring in the candles.”

The Speaker of the chamber must have had today’s gospel in mind. He wants the legislators not only to be at their posts but also diligently at work should the Lord come.  What is surprising about the gospel passage, however, is Jesus’ promise.  He will turn around and take care of his good servants. Later in this same Gospel according to Luke, Jesus will say that a servant who only does his duty should not expect a reward (cf. Luke 17:9-10).  But he himself is such a lenient master that he becomes the “servant of servants.”

The Lord wants us to wait for his return but not to “play a waiting game.”  We wait for him by serving in his name.  Our service may be a formal or informal church ministry or, perhaps, meeting an urgent family or social need.  In any case, we want to serve as if the Lord himself were coming to inspect our work.

 

Monday, October 19, 2020

 Memorial of Saints John Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues, and Companions, martyrs

(Ephesians 2:1-10; Luke 12:13-21)

Sts. John de Brebeuf and Isaac Jogues were not martyred together.  Neither were their “companions” killed with them.  They represent the efforts of many Jesuits working with native Americans on the American continent.  Both de Brebeuf and Jogues had two tours in the North American missions.  Brebeuf was sent back to France when the English expelled Jesuits from Quebec.  Jogues returned to France after suffering torture by the Iroquois.  He asked to return to America.  Shortly afterwards on a peace mission to the Iroquois he was captured by a Mohawk war party and beheaded.

Both Brebeuf and Jogues seem to have had a special love for Native Americans, at least the Hurons among both worked.  But in explaining what motivated them to persist in their missionary activity despite hardship and persecution one must go deeper than that.  The Letter to the Ephesians provides a satisfactory reason.  Grace recreated them in Christ so that they might sacrifice themselves for others.  Grace moves martyrs not only to love Christ but many others as well.

Despite their dedication to the people, no doubt the North American Jesuits have detractors criticizing their apostolic zeal.  In their defense something needs to be said.  The missionaries changed peoples’ culture so that the people may know the love of God.  This change does not disrupt culture so much as deepen it.  It keeps what is noble and infuses it with selfless love. To criticize such a change is tantamount to saying that selfless love is unbecoming of greatness.  But what is greater, more admirable that selfless love?

Sunday, October 18, 2020

 THE TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY, October 18, 2020

(Isaiah 45: 1.4-6; I Thessalonians 1: 1-5; Matthew 22: 15-21)

No one will argue that it has been a very strange year. The pandemic has made almost everything different. Many do not go to work but work at home. Those who go to the office, store, or workshop wear masks. This year will be remembered as rare also for the American elections. Two very different men have been named as candidates for the presidency. One attends mass every eight days and carries the rosary in his pocket. However, he does not adhere to one of the highest values ​​of the Catholic faith - the need to protect the human person from conception. The other candidate does not present himself as religious. In fact, some of his actions seem unchristian. But for his appointment of three justices to the Supreme Court he will possibly be known as the president who has done more for the unborn than anyone else. We are fortunate to have this gospel of Caesar's coin to reflect on these unique choices.

The Pharisees and Herodians come together to trip up Jesus. In their time these two parties are as different as Democrats and Republicans today. However, because they see Jesus as a common enemy, they combine their forces to punish him. They approach Jesus, the teacher of the ascending law, with a burning question. They ask for his judgment on whether it is lawful to pay the tax, which is tribute, to Rome. To many Jews the tax seems like supporting a pagan dynasty that suppresses the kingdom of God in the promised land.

Jesus avoids answering their question directly. He realizes the insincerity of his adversaries. They do not want his wisdom but his humiliation before the people. But Jesus is smarter than they are. He asks them for the currency to pay the tax. The fact that they have it shows that they are more willing to pay the deplored tax than he is. Then he gives his judgment: "’ Give… to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's. "

Now some want bishops to come out in favor of candidates and parties in the elections. Their motives are often as selfish as those of the Pharisees. They want political backing for their candidates from respected people. However, bishops like Jesus in the gospel are not directly answering the question. There are a couple of reasons for this approach. In the first place, if the bishops support a candidate or a party, they are putting the Church in financial danger. In the United States, religious entities do not have to pay taxes if they do not get into politics. Second and most important, the bishops do not claim to be experts on political matters. They recognize that their expertise is personal morality and not the management of the common good.

However, as Jesus recommends that we give Caesar what is Caesar's, the bishops have some advice for the faithful in elections. Above all, they ask voters to form their consciences according to the moral tradition of the church. This tradition urges us to consider the character of the candidate. We want public officials who will not deviate from righteousness in an environment full of pride, money, and lust. Tradition also recommends that we look for candidates capable of meeting your goals. Nor do morals overlook the fact that rulers should be people of high principles with: respect for human dignity, conviction to solve most problems at the personal or family level, sense that the common good sometimes requires personal sacrifices, and finally, as Pope Francis has just reminded us, understanding that we are all brothers and sisters to each other.

Elections sometimes discourage us. We feel that the elect are not the most preferable people. In these cases the first reading can help us. Isaiah says that with Cyrus, a pagan king, God achieves his goal. God often takes advantage of unjust people to form a better people. That is why we have to keep praying to God. Let us ask him to form, with his infinite ways, a society where the dignity of all is respected, even the unborn. Let us pray that he enlightens our consciences to make sacrifices for the good of all.

Friday, October 16, 2020

 Friday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Ephesians 1:11-14; Luke 12:1-7)

 The Letter to the Ephesians has been significantly reevaluated over the last two centuries.  Traditionally, it has been considered as written by St. Paul, to the church which he administered, while he was a prisoner in Rome in the years 61-63.  Modern scholarship, however, favors other starting points.  It sees the author as a disciple of Paul who penned a general instruction to many churches around the year 80.  The likelihood that Paul was not the author should not worry us.  In ancient days, like speeches today, disciples wrote letters in the name of their teachers.

The letter proclaims the mission of the universal church. It sees the Church as the announcer of God’s plan of salvation for the world in Christ.  It further claims that in the Church, the body of Christ, all people are brought together in peace. Today’s passage shows how Jews, with whom the author identifies, and Greeks find common ground in Christ.  Later in the letter the author names Christ as both peace and source of unity between the two peoples.

We might enjoy more reading Paul’s undisputed letters like Romans and I Corinthians.  They contain wit and passion not found in Ephesians.  However, we should not dismiss this letter as uncreative or as marginal.  It not only has been authenticated by its inclusion in the Bible but also develops Paul’s theology.  Without the Letter to the Ephesians we would not have as full a sense of our participating in the choir of heaven.  We would have trouble seeing ourselves as giving praise to God in Christ.

Thursday, October15, 2020

 

Memorial of St. There of Jesus, virgin and doctor of the Church

(Ephesians 1:1-10; Luke 11:47-54)

Prophets by profession encounter opposition.  They speak on behalf of God judgments that many do not want to hear.  In St. Teresa’s world a prophetic issue concerned religious lifestyle.  Women would enter convents with their servants in tow.  They often lived more comfortably than ascetically and thus betrayed their evangelical vocation.  Not liking it, Teresa founded monasteries of a strict rule.  Carmelite superiors opposed her, but she was working with the Holy Spirit.  Her reform won acceptance and has been the source of blessing for the order and the Church.

In today’s gospel Jesus prophetically chastises religious leaders.  He finds them betraying the very people they pretend to emulate.  He claims that the Pharisees do not heed the prophets to whose memories they pay tribute. Likewise, Jesus castigates the scribes for both not learning the meaning of the Law and not enabling others to know it.  Like the martyred prophets, Jesus can expect a violent death because of these charges.

Few want to suffer the fate of the prophets.  Yet sometimes we must speak up against flagrant injustices in church and society.  Perhaps there is racial slander among the people with whom we work.  That needs to be addressed.  Perhaps donations for charity are being squandered.  That too must be challenged.  We should not expect praise for speaking out in these matters.  But we might expect the promise of the beatitudes: “’Blessed are they who are persecuted for justice’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.’”

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

 Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week

(Galatians 5:18-25; Luke 11: 42-46)

Throughout Christianity there have been cynics who see the body as evil.  In the first centuries after Christ Docetists claimed that the body was so bad that Christ could not possibly have had one.  In more recent times puritan sects have propounded that the body has had to be kept under tight wraps.  But the New Testament is unanimous, Christ became incarnate.  He had a body which is good.

But the good of the body can be taken over by its own evil inclinations.  St. Paul alludes to these inclinations in today’s reading from Galatians.  He identifies them as the works of “the flesh.”  They are sexual impurity, hatred, selfishness and the like.  The flesh’s relationship to the body may be considered as breath inflating a balloon.  The balloon moves but is sluggish and heavy.  Paul contrasts “the works of the flesh” with “the fruit of the Spirit.”  The “Spirit,” of course, is the Holy Spirit.  It fills the body with buoyancy.  It is like a balloon inflated with helium.  The body becomes alive and life -giving.  It acts with patience, kindness, generosity, etc.

The Holy Spirit has been imparted to us in Baptism and fortified by the Eucharist.  It enables us to be more than loving children and good neighbors.  It prepares us for self-sacrifice like Christ’s for those whom we have never met or seen.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Galatians 5:1-6; Luke 11:37-41)

Most of the Pharisees presented in the gospels are myopic.  They scrutinize a person’s behavior for small items in the Law but fail to see the more important matters.  Jesus levels this criticism against them in today’s gospel.  One Pharisee is ready to criticize him for not performing a purification ritual which the Law does not even mandate.  The Pharisee is oblivious, however, to the fact that such criticism goes against the Law’s requirement to love one’s neighbor.

An incident in the life of St. John XXIII indicates how pharisaic behavior can affect the Church.  When he was a young priest, Angelo Roncalli, the future pope, taught Church history in a local seminary.  At the time, some Roman officials were so supercilious about maintaining orthodoxy that they suppressed faithful scholarship.  Roncalli was reported to Rome for assigning a book that the pharisaic officials thought objectionable.  It turned out that the book became recognized as an important study of the early Church, and Roncalli, of course, recognized as a saint.

We frequent churchgoers must beware of pharisaic tendencies contaminating our spiritual lives.  We can wonder why everyone does not do all that we do.  We think that because we give up alcohol for Lent, everyone should.  We must withhold judgment on these small items if we are to live up to St. Paul’s standard in the first reading: in Christ Jesus the only thing that counts is “faith working through love.” 

Monday, October 12, 2020

 Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time

 (Galatians 4:22-24.26-27.31-5:1; Luke 11:29-32)

 A young drug addict entered a rehabilitation program.  After a time of retreat, he was sent to work in a rectory.  In a month or two the priests were missing things in the rectory.  They confronted their worker.  He said that he might be an addict, but he was not a thief.  Eventually, the young man was let go, and no more things were missing from the rectory.

The young man could not control himself.  He needed restraints.  He was not truly free but under the spell of drugs.  Even if it meant stealing to acquire them, he would do it.  In the first reading, St. Paul is pleading with the Galatians not to have something similar happen to them.  They have been given true freedom with Baptism in Christ.  They should not trade this for subjection to the Jewish Law, no matter how right the Law makes them feel.  They should trust that acceptance of the Holy Spirit will allow them to live justly.  For this freedom Christ had set them free.

Few of us would want to take on the Jewish Law with its many knit-picking practices.  But some of us still do not care to live in the freedom of the Holy Spirit.  They may not be under the influence of drugs but of other interior impulses.  They insist on holding grudges and seeing the dismal side of things.  The Spirit’s freedom gives joy and peace to the soul.  Yes, it calls us to sacrifice our will in certain matters, but it also promises happiness, both short-term and eternal.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

 THE TWENTY-EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY, October 11, 2020

(Isaiah 25: 6-10; Philippians 4: 12-14.19-20; Matthew 22: 1-14)

Six years ago the headlines reported something striking. They said that Pope Francis believes there is room for pets in heaven. It was new news because the Church had never declared on such a thing. However, after an investigation it was determined that the pope said nothing about saving animals. The journalists were obviously confused.

It's not that the Church has a disdain for animals. Rather, she views only human persons, made in the image of God, as worthy of an eternal destiny. Yes, animals, particularly those with feelings, deserve respect. But it would be like finding a donkey flying in the air to see an animal wandering in the sky. A more knotty question than the animals in the sky is whether all human persons will be found there. For the love that the Lord requires of us, we hope so. However, the Gospel today indicates that this is not certain.

The parable of Jesus should be heard as relating the history of Israel. All elements correspond to the people and events of that nation. The king is God. The wedding banquet is the eternal life that He has prepared for His people as the first reading says. The servants who come out to invite the people to the banquet are the prophets. The first guests are the leaders of the people with money in their pockets and arrogance in their hearts. When invited by the king, they look for excuses not to attend the banquet. In fact, the leaders of Israel brutally persecuted the prophets Jeremiah and Amos.

Then the king makes a second invitation. This time the servants are the apostles of Jesus who call the people to repentance. Those who respond are both criminals and prostitutes and ordinary people. They are accepted into the banquet if they have left their former ways to live as sons and daughters of God. But one person has sneaked into the celebration without changing his life. It is identified by not having a party dress. This costume is the baptismal dress that symbolizes that the person has chosen a new way of life. Because man has not conformed to the ways of God, he does not belong in the banquet.

We read this parable at Mass not to learn the history of Israel but to help us please God. As the Philippians in the second reading are generous with Saint Paul, God wants us to help the poor. A parish asks for pledges from families to make sandwiches for the homeless. It is not a difficult task, but it palpably contributes the good of the unfortunate. Unfortunately many of the families that have compromised do not keep their promises. They will no doubt have excuses comparable to those of the first guests in the parable. They are busy and have to take care of their pets. These families are like the man without a party suit; that is, without real reform.

An Internet service gives five excuses for not going to work. One excuse is that a large shipment is expected. Another is that you had to make an appointment with the vet for the pet. The world likes excuses to avoid unpleasant things. But we should be careful. The heavenly feast is not unpleasant but is the most pleasant thing possible. We don't want to overlook the invitation. Rather, we want to do everything possible to enjoy it.


Friday, October 9, 2020

 Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 3:7-14; Luke 11:15-26)

There is a story about a monk named Fr. Moses.  Fr. Moses was having a particularly hard time keeping lustful thoughts at bay.  He went to the wise, old Fr. Isidore for help.  He told the elder that he could stand it no longer, that he should leave the monastery.  Fr. Isidore took him outside to see the night sky.  He told Fr. Moses to look west.  The young monk looked there and saw a great number of devils whooping it up for battle.  Then Fr. Isidore told him to look at the eastern sky.  There Fr. Moses saw a countless host of angels.  Fr. Isidore said that this was the help God sends to his holy ones to defend them from evil spirits.  It is like the strong man who overtakes the guard of the palace in Jesus’ parable today.

Jesus is repudiating the charge of his critics that he casts out a demon by invoking an evil spirit.  He implies that the charge is absurd because one evil spirit will not harm another. Jesus claims that he can cast out demons because he has the power of God which is greater than that of any demon.  But he warns that a demon can return to a person to make matters worse if he or she only makes superficial changes.  The person must undergo a radical change of life if demons are going to be kept away.

We should not doubt the possibility of having our sins forgiven, be they having to do with sex or with justice.  Nor should we doubt the possibility of committing those same sins again if we do not change our ways.  We must avoid the things that lead us into temptation and pray constantly for God’s help.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

 Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 3:1-5; Luke 11:5-13)

An old folk tale tells the story of John Henry, “a steel driving man.”  John Henry dug tunnels through mountains by hammering a rod of steel against the rock.  When his livelihood was threatened with the invention of a power drill, he challenged the makers of the drill to a contest.  Who would make a tunnel through a mountain first?  In the competition John Henry died of a broken heart.  This story relates to both readings today.

St. Paul is upset with the Galatians for adopting the Jewish law.  He tells them that it is not practicing the law which makes them just but believing in Christ.  When they seek his mercy, they become true children of God.  Then, as the gospel relates, they can ask for whatever they wish with assurance that it will be given.  The person striving for salvation with personal works is like John Henry, who, however nobly, relies on his own resources.  The person of faith, on the other hand, has the almighty power of God like the man with a power drill.

Faith in Christ is no mere lip service but a true surrendering to his ways.  It means allowing one’s self to be formed according to his model.  It is loving beyond measure without forsaking the other virtues.  It entails dying to one’s egotistical desires in order to do the Father’s will.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

 

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

(Galatians 2:1-2.7-14; Luke 11:1-4)

What makes a Catholic Christian?  In St. Paul’s day this question involved whether a Greek had to be circumcised like Jesus of Nazareth.  The Church authorities then decided that circumcision was not necessary but care for the poor was.  Could we say the same today about the rosary?  Do we have to say the rosary to be Catholic?

The rosary is identified with the Catholic faith.  Probably Catholics are the only Christians who use it regularly in devotion.  Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden, who is Catholic, is said to carry a rosary in his pocket. Besides the Mass Catholics are more likely to recite the rosary when they gather than use any other prayer form.  Its focus on a sequential part of Christ’s life, its brevity, and its physicality all contribute to its popularity.

Our Blessed Mother is usually associated with the rosary.  The mental reflections prescribed for each decade of the rosary consider her second to Jesus. Indeed, the decade itself is the recitation of a prayer to her repeated ten times.  There are also legends of her exhorting the praying of the rosary.  Although praying the rosary is not essential to being Catholic, honoring Mary is.  And she is especially honored precisely in saying the rosary.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

 Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Galatians 1:13-24; Luke 10:38-42)

As much as some people look for God, often enough it is God who finds them.  Both readings today testify to God making a call on people.  In the first reading St. Paul tells the Galatians how he was persecuting Christians when Christ paid him a visit.  The account of Christ’s appearance is the most authentic available.  It is the personal testimony of someone who saw the risen Lord.    Unfortunately, Paul does not elaborate beyond saying that Jesus was revealed to him so that he might proclaim him to the Gentiles.

In the gospel Jesus stops at Martha and Mary’s house for a visit.  They are evidently his friends as Martha does not mind complaining to him.  Indeed, they seem to be such good friends that Jesus can correct Martha’s attitude without ingratiating himself first.  Meanwhile, Mary knows that when the Lord comes, people should drop everything to listen.  No matter that dinner is on the stove or that the dryer buzzer has just rung.  He deserves complete attention.

Jesus comes to us especially in the Eucharist.  But he also arrives throughout the day at unexpected moments.  He may say something important to us through the friendly mail deliverer.  Or perhaps when we face a setback, he will speak to us if we offer a prayer instead of a curse.  He is always around and will make himself apparent if we open ourselves to him.

Monday, October 5, 2020

 

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

 (Galatians 1:6-12; Luke 10:25-37)

 Most people, when they have something hard to say to another, will try to ingratiate themselves first.  If you have to tell an employee that his work could be better, you might start by complimenting him for showing up on time.  But Paul in his letter to the Galatians wastes no time for niceties.  Right after his salutation, he delivers his first salvo of criticism.  This is where today’s reading begins: “I am amazed that you are so quickly forsaking the one who called you…”

Paul has been informed of a serious aberration in the faith of the Galatians.  He preached salvation through faith in Jesus and imitation of his love.  Since he left them, however, other preachers have convinced the Galatians of the need to observe Jewish law in order to follow Christ.  After all – the preachers would say – Jesus was a Jew.  In his letter Paul assures the Galatians that trying to abide by the Jewish law would only entangle them in a morass of regulations.  He tells them that they must either accept Judaism or accept Jesus.

We may wonder if the Catholic Church has become somewhat like Judaism with its many laws.  We see Protestant communities boasting, “All are welcome,” and question whether the Church is exclusivist by not offering the Eucharist to all who wish to partake of it.  But such questions are simplistic.  The Church would rejoice if people would commit themselves to her through Baptism and Confirmation.  She would gladly give Communion to anyone who repents of their sins to follow Christ.  The regulations it maintains are only to keep repentant sinners -- as all of us are -- centered on Christ’s love.

Friday, October 2, 2020

 Memorial of the Holy Guardian Angels

 (Job 38:1.12-21.12-21.40:3-5; Matthew 18:1-5.10)

 “The Memorial of Holy Guardian Angels” sounds like something for the liturgical calendar of children.  Yet in truth it bespeaks an emphasis of the “good news.” It reminds Jesus’ disciples of God’s particular concern for the weakest members of society.

Perhaps because so many children died in ancient societies, they were not considered very important.  Jesus, however, underlines their value when he says that each child has an angel to look after him or her.  Their angels are not the ordinary kind either but ranking members of the heavenly realm.  They have direct access to the Father.

Contemporary society seems to cherish children more earnestly.  It has made many laws protecting them from abuse.  Yet many children suffer without two parents in the home caring for them.  Today’s memorial does not only say that children have spiritual protectors.  It also reminds us of our responsibility to care for them and other vulnerable people.