Wednesday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Isaiah 10:5-7,13-16  +  Matthew 11:25-27
July 18, 2018

“…no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

The Gospel passage today speaks to the power of divine revelation.  Jesus speaks directly to His Father, something rare in the four Gospel accounts.  Along with this exclamation, Jesus says, “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

But that’s not the only reference to divine revelation.  In praising the Father, God the Son exclaims that the reason for His praise is that “although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”

God the Son rejoices because His Father has revealed hidden things to the “childlike”.  Here we have a complement to Jesus’ admonition that unless one becomes like a little child, he will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  This entrance must be connected to those hidden things that escape the vision of the wise and the learned.  The child has a capacity to see things as God wants them to be seen.  Reflect today on why that is.

Tuesday of the 15th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Isaiah 7:1-9  +  Matthew 11:20-24
July 17, 2018

“‘Will you be exalted to heaven?  You will go down to the nether world.’”

“Teddy Bear Jesus” remains one of the more persistent myths within lands that are culturally Catholic (as distinguished from those that are Catholic by personal conviction, sweat, and blood).  This mythic figure became flesh and dwelt among us to tell us how wonderful we are, and that we just need to have more self-esteem.  As popular as this myth is within so much of the modern Western world, it has no basis in the New Testament.  Today’s Gospel passage offers a helpful antidote.

In your hand missal, the two sentences that Jesus addresses to Capernaum may be printed in italics, drawing attention to the fact that they are a quotation from the Old Testament.  Specifically, Jesus here is quoting a very “un-teddy-bear-like” passage from the fourteenth chapter of the Prophet Isaiah.

What has prompted Jesus in today’s Gospel passage to thunder tides of woe against the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum?  Here is the more specific point for our reflection today:  failure to repent.

Jesus has been preaching repentance because it’s a prerequisite for accepting the good news of the Gospel.  No Christian should think that he doesn’t need to repent because he’s already been baptized, accepted the Gospel, and been saved.  The gift of salvation first given in the Sacrament of Baptism certainly can be lost.  But most importantly, we should remember that the motive for Jesus’ reproaches is the same as the motive for His carrying the Cross:  love for each of us.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Isaiah 1:10-17  +  Matthew 10:34—11:1
July 16, 2018

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

There is a big difference between a bribe and a gift.  A bribe is something we give to another while demanding something in return.  A gift is an expression of love with no strings attached.  A gift-giver expects nothing in return, but merely gives the gift as a sign of love that already exists between the two.

This week the First Reading comes from the book of the prophet Isaiah.  A prophet at roughly the same time as Hosea, whose prophecies we heard last week, Isaiah preached to the people of Judah, the southern half of the Kingdom.  Isaiah was concerned with the sort of sacrifices that the people were offering to God.  They viewed God as someone with a lot of power whom they could bribe.

The people of Judah had been influenced in this regard by their pagan neighbors.  Jesus in the Gospel Reading, however, warns us that no one else should stand between ourselves and God.  This seems very self-evident, but can in fact demand a lot of us as Catholics.  Not even members of our family may be chosen above God.

This is a hard saying.  It would seem that Jesus expects us to pit ourselves against our family in order to choose Him.  But Jesus didn’t come to earth wanting to divide people, any more than He wanted to die on the cross for the sake of dying.  He knew, though, that there are some who refuse to choose God in their lives, and that these people can only find peace in their own hearts when they come to God.  Rather than look at Jesus’ words as pitting us against others, we realize that Jesus is telling us that if we want to draw others closer to God, we first of all have to firmly establish our own relationship with God.  Out of that relationship with God, we can work at drawing others closer to God again.

 

The 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Am 7:12-15  +  Eph 1:3-14  +  Mk 6:7-13
July 15, 2018

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two.

Jesus’ two-fold action of summoning and sending in today’s Gospel passage is based on the literal meaning of the word “apostle”, which means “one who is sent”.  But today’s summoning and sending in chapter 6 of St. Mark’s Gospel account is different from a second apostolic mission on which these men will be sent in the final chapter of Mark, where only eleven apostles remain.

The key distinction is what the Twelve here are sent to do.  This is a preparatory mission:  to preach repentance, drive out demons, and anoint and cure the sick.  Here the Twelve turn people around from the negative, to prepare them to receive the positive.  Their mission is akin to that of St. John the Baptist:  to prepare for someone greater yet to come.

In the final chapter of Mark, the apostles are sent to accomplish something radically different.  They are sent not just to the sick, and not just within the Holy Land, but “to the whole world”.  They are sent not to preach repentance, but to “proclaim the Gospel” [16:15].

For each of us, in the on-going conforming of our lives to Christ, we need to listen and be receptive to both of these missions:  turning away from sins, in order to live the Gospel.  However, since today’s Gospel passage focuses on the first mission, dwell on its meaning.  It’s highlighted in today’s First Reading from the Book of the Prophet Amos.

Each Christian must participate in this first mission from two perspectives.  Each is on the receiving end of this mission, as well as on the giving end.  In other words, each Christian has repentance preached to him, and each must preach repentance to others.  The latter is perhaps the more difficult.

It’s because of his or her baptism that each Christian shares in the three roles that Jesus exercised during His public ministry, and which He exercises now from Heaven.  These are the roles of priest, prophet, and king/shepherd.  The role of prophet is preparatory:  that is, each Christian shares in Jesus’ prophetic mission so as to prepare for Jesus’ priestly and kingly missions.

As a prophet, each Christian is called to speak out against things that are evil.  This is the role of the prophet.  This is what we hear Amos doing in the First Reading, even though he is not sure he wants to.  Yet in the First Reading we hear something else characteristic of our discipleship.  Not only do we often not want to speak the truth.  Often, others don’t want us to speak the truth.  Not only was the prophet Amos not accepted.  He was officially chased out of the country.

As he was being rejected, he made statements that we ourselves sometimes offer for not speaking up against evil.  He proclaimed that he had never received any formal training as a prophet.  He didn’t know for sure how to speak to others.  He didn’t know what exactly God might have to say to them.  Amos’ call is like that of the apostles to whom Jesus is speaking in today’s Gospel passage.  Neither these apostles nor Amos wished for or chose such an assignment.  They, as we, are simply placed on the path and told:  “Go, prophesy to my people”.

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin
Isaiah 6:1-8  +  Matthew 10:24-33
July 14, 2018

“[N]ot one [sparrow] falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.”

Jesus preaches today about Our Father’s providential knowledge and will.  “[N]ot one [sparrow] falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.”  God knows all things.  We know this abstractly, but perhaps we fail to consider all that this truth of our Faith means.

When we say that God knows all “things”, what sorts of things are we talking about?  Facts that would win God a championship on trivia shows?  Certainly God knows all objective facts about science, history, etc.  But God’s knowledge is not trivial.

God’s infinite knowledge extends to what is most personal.  God knows every action you have ever done or failed to do.  God also knows every thought you’ve ever had, and every word you’ve ever said.  He knows the hopes and desires of every human heart.  He knows of every emotion you’ve ever felt, and of the circumstances that led to those emotions.

But in human earthly providence, knowledge leads to the will.  God’s knowledge of you, as complete as it is—more complete, in fact, than even your own self-knowledge!—leads God only to love you more.  At times, we hide ourselves from God, not understanding the depth of His providential knowledge and will.  When we submit ourselves completely to God, we are more flexible in serving as an instrument of His peace.

Friday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Hosea 14:2-10  +  Matthew 10:16-23
July 13, 2018

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Today’s psalm especially draws out the spiritual themes of today’s Mass.  Psalm 51 is unique among the 150 psalms:  every Friday, it is the first psalm the Church prays at Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.

The psalm’s importance is understood better when we realize that the very first words the Church utters each morning in the Liturgy of the Hours come from this psalm:  “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”  These words, the last sentence of today’s responsorial psalm, draw out a verse from today’s First Reading.  All week long we have heard the prophet Hosea bringing the wayward Israelites back to their covenant with the Lord God.  Today Hosea encourages them to make his words their own:  “We shall say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands; for in you the orphan finds compassion.”

The temptation to make idols out of the work of our hands is always before us.  Yet the Church calls us to humility.  When we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, our first prayer each day comes from God even before it comes from our lips:  “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare thy praise.”  Everything comes from the Lord, and everything is meant to return to the Lord.

Jesus Himself, only Son of the Father, is the embodiment of the wisdom expressed by the Psalmist and Hosea.  He is the embodiment of self-sacrifice.  His is the life that every disciple asks the Father for the grace to enter into.  Even in the midst of the wolves and snakes of the world, when we lay our sins at the foot of the Cross, Christ can act within us.

Thursday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Hosea 11:1-4,8-9  +  Matthew 10:7-15
July 12, 2018

“Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.”

The Scriptures and Tradition of the Church use many images to describe God.  The reason for this wealth of images, of course, is the fact that God is infinite:  no one image does justice to the depth and richness of God’s mercy and love.  Likewise, there are many images used to describe the peoples whom, throughout salvation history, God has desired to draw to Himself:  whether the families descended from Adam and Eve, or the tribes or Israel, or the members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

At the same time, we have also to confess that it takes many images to describe God’s People because there are so many ways in which His People sin, and fail to live up to the relationship to which He constantly calls us.  So it is in Hosea, as the prophet describes Israel with the image of a spouse, as well as the image of a child, which expresses the ingratitude of one who fails to give thanks for the sacrifices that the father has made.

One of the metaphors that Hosea uses speaks to us especially as followers of Jesus Christ.  Offering the Lord’s prophecy to Israel, Hosea says, “Yet, though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer.”  “The child”—in the singular—is the nation gathered together and nourished through the Law and the Prophets, yet the Lord recognizes that “they”—all of them—were unfaithful to Him.

Even more so did our Heavenly Father offer His own divine Son for the sake of His people, only to be met with rejection.  The sacrifice of Christ Jesus is both healing and nourishment for the People of God.  This is an important reason to prepare for Holy Mass with great devotion:  spending time in private prayer and devotion, considering how many joys and sorrows we have to offer to God, that we might be both strengthened and healed.

St. Benedict, Abbot

St. Benedict, Abbot
Hosea 10:1-3,7-8,12  +  Matthew 10:1-7
July 11, 2018

“Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Today’s Gospel passage speaks about reaching out to those who are hurt and sick.  We hear Jesus sending his twelve apostles to go out and heal “every disease and every illness.”  More than just a prophet, Jesus has authority not only to call back the repentant to Himself, but also to heal them.

When Jesus sends the apostles, His instructions are for them to go to “the lost sheep of the House of Israel”.  In our own day, there are many fallen-away Catholics, and of course we pray for them.  But we can do more for them than just pray.  With the sort of love that Jesus held in His Sacred Heart when He looked at the crowds and said, “the harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few”, we can reach out to those who have fallen away from the Church.

We can offer gentle instructions to those who don’t know how to start again to live the Faith:  to begin again to receive the sacraments, the gifts of grace which come to us through the apostles and their successors.  It’s the bishops’ responsibility—and the responsibility of those priests who work under their bishops—to bring lost sheep back into the fold through the sacraments.  But often, it will be ordinary Christians who point those lost sheep in the right direction.

Tuesday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Hosea 8:4-7,11-13  +  Matthew 9:32-38
July 10, 2018

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few….”

The cry that we hear Jesus utter in today’s Gospel passage—“the harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few”—is one that we usually associate with the need for vocations in the Church.  But Jesus also speaks through these words about the harvest of one’s heart and the fruits of one’s soul.  In each person is a soul created by God, and each soul is capable of being completely filled, as much as it is able:  that is, to be “perfected” by God’s grace.

Unfortunately, this “harvest of the soul” is neglected by so many of us by our actions and our inaction.  We are not willing to believe what the Church teaches about God calling every human person to be a saint.  The Church at the Second Vatican Council spoke strongly about the “universal call to holiness”.

God gives each one of us many gifts, but only when we talk with God and are strengthened by Him do we learn how to use those gifts correctly, in accord with His plan.  Through our prayer, and God’s grace, our minds and wills can be formed, so that we can be more perfectly the saints God wants us to be.

Monday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Hosea 2:16,17-18,21-22  +  Matthew 9:18-26
July 9, 2018

“Courage, daughter!  Your faith has saved you.”

In today’s Gospel passage are two people who see how God wants to be in their lives in time of need.  In our day and age, so many people turn to Christ in need.  When we are honest with ourselves, we know that we would like to ask Christ’s help for many things in our lives.  It’s true that petitionary prayer—in which we ask for something from God—is not as selfless a form of prayer as adoration.  But God wants us to present our petitions to Him.

Consider the woman in this Gospel passage.  She had suffered for many years.  She interrupts Christ right in the middle of His trying to help someone else.  We should make that woman’s faith our own:  not simply her faith in Christ’s power, but also her faith in His patience and compassion.  There is no true need in our lives that we should not offer to God.

Is every petition answered as we wish, as are the petitions of this woman and the official?  Some Christians stop offering their petitions to God—or even stop believing in God—when He doesn’t provide the responses they want.  But growth in prayer requires the acceptance of God’s “No”’s, and learning through them to trust more deeply His providential Will.