St. Lawrence, Deacon & Martyr

St. Lawrence, Deacon & Martyr
2 Corinthians 9:6-10  +  John 12:24-26
August 10, 2022

… whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

The First Reading and Gospel Reading for today’s feast of Saint Lawrence both lay before us images of agriculture:  sowing seed, a grain falling to the ground and dying, and reaping bountifully.  These images relate to a holy martyr apropos Tertullian’s dictum that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” [Apologeticus, Chapter 50].

In another sense, the martyr himself or herself is the seed that Jesus speaks of in this passage.  In this regard, Jesus’ words reveal the martyr to be an icon of Christ Himself.  “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”  We might choose simply three words from this sentence, and see how many points of meditation the Holy Spirit surfaces for us; those three words being “where I am”.

These three words call to mind the Divine Name revealed to Moses.  While God in His divinity is in all things, above all things, and is everywhere that is, Jesus Christ in His humanity dwelt among us sinners.  He dwelt first within Mary at the site of the Annunciation, then dwelt in the manger at Bethlehem, and then dwelt for many years in the home at Nazareth before beginning His public ministry.

Yet His ministry culminated in His self-offering at Calvary, and above anywhere else that He dwelt in this fallen world, Mount Calvary is the location that reveals the meaning of this phrase that Jesus speaks today:  “where I am”.  Jesus calls us to join Him in His self-offering, standing fast at the foot of His Cross.  There is where Jesus speaks of when He declares, “where I am, there also will my servant be.”

St. Lawrence - Fra Angelico

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

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The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Jeremiah 38:4-6,8-10  +  Hebrews 12:1-4  +  Luke 12:49-53
Catechism Link: CCC 2471
August 14, 2022

“No, I tell you, but rather division.”

The family is the chief earthly example of the “cloud of witnesses” described in today’s Second Reading.  Another term for this “cloud of witnesses” is the “communion of saints”.  One of the great truths about human families is that we tend over time to resemble those we are close to, for good or ill.  It’s in the domestic church—the family—that we first see and then learn to practice the Faith.

Each person has her own portrait of God in her mind.  Each Christian paints such a “portrait of God” from her spiritual experiences growing up, from personal devotions, and from her relationships within the Communion of Saints.

Parents, in the eyes of a child, are the first images of God.  Often, it’s from a mother that a child has his first glimpse of God’s tenderness and gentleness.  Likewise, it’s often from a father that a child has his first glimpse of God’s steadfastness through adversity.

What parents teach by word and example is echoed in Christian devotions.  For example, some devout Catholics pray the Stations not just on Fridays of Lent, but 52 Fridays a year.  They do this to express their thanks to God the Father for giving up His Son.  They also give thanks to Christ for handing over His life for us poor sinners.  For the Christian with a deep devotion like this, she sees clearly how much mercy the Father has for her:  as if the Father sacrificed His Son for her alone.

But Jesus talks in this Sunday’s Gospel passage about what happens when a family is divided.  For example, when parents fight with each other, and a child sees his father running away from adversity instead of standing steadfast, or when a child sees his mother acting viciously towards his father, it’s not surprising that a child’s belief in God is shattered.  The percentage of children from broken homes who grow up and choose not to practice any sort of faith shows how important the roles of mother and father are, and how big an influence parents have on their children’s practice of the Faith.

Today’s Second Reading and Gospel passage can seem to be talking about two opposite things.  The Letter to the Hebrews encourages us that, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, [we should] rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us, and persevere in running the race that lies before us ….”  This “great cloud of witnesses” doesn’t just mean the saints who are already in heaven.  It includes also those who share our Faith here on earth.  After our participation in the Mass, the example of our parents, and private devotions, it is through other fellow Christians within this “great cloud of witnesses” that we are either strengthened in our Faith or grow weaker.

This presents a responsibility that each of us has as a baptized Christian; that is, as one member of the communion of saints.  Each of us has a responsibility to be there for others and to be an example for others.  This is where our Gospel passage comes in.  Although our Second Reading talks about the importance of the communion of saints, Jesus in our Gospel passage says that He came into this world to bring division.  He did not come to establish peace on earth.

Now maybe this isn’t a picture of God that we like.  Maybe we want to think about God as a teddy bear.  But either Jesus is lying in today’s Gospel passage or we must accept that following Jesus sometimes means causing division.  If we are not willing to stand for our Catholic Faith and recognize it as a treasure from God to be shared with others because it has the power to give eternal life, then there’s not much reason to be Catholic.

What is our Faith worth?  Jesus answered this question in a very clear way.  To see His answer, all we have to do is look at the Crucifix.  But consider the example that we see in the crucifix.  This example, through the mystery of the Eucharist, becomes the true presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood, soul and divinity.  Jesus offers us His sacrificial Self so that we might have the strength to live for others within and for the sake of that “great cloud of witnesses” that is His Church.

Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 2:8—3:4  +  Matthew 18:1-5,10,12-14
August 9, 2022

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones ….”

For you to be a saint means to live your life in Christ, and at the same time to allow Christ to live His life in you.  This simply means having the relationship between Jesus and His Father live in your own heart and mind.  This is something mystical, and so difficult to describe in language.  Nonetheless, it’s part and parcel of being a Christian.  It’s not just for cloistered monks and nuns.

By contrast, it’s not as if an ordinary Christian first reads from the Bible about Jesus and the Father, and then says, “Gee, I’d like to have that kind of relationship with God the Father.  I think I’ll try to imitate Jesus.”  You cannot enter a relationship by means of imitation.  To think that one can is to put the cart before the horse.

To think that one can is to ignore the truth that at your baptism, the two events of being adopted by God the Father and becoming a member of the Mystical Body of Christ are part and parcel of each other.  Both are accomplished at the same time by God the Father’s love.  In other words, it’s not so much that Jesus is our “older brother” spiritually, whose relationship with the Father we admire and then try to imitate.  Rather, it’s as members of Christ’s own Mystical Body that you and I share in the sonship of Jesus.

To ignore all this—to put that cart before the horse—is to forget that any relationship between a father and child is based on the primacy of the father’s love.  We don’t focus upon this enough in our time of meditation.  Especially in a culture like ours, children are at risk of believing that it’s their accomplishments that earn them their earthly fathers’ and God’s love.  But the Beloved Disciple in his first epistle reminds us of that key truth of the spiritual life, that “in this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and offered His Son as an expiation for our sins” [1 John 4:10].

OT 19-2

St. Dominic, Priest

St. Dominic, Priest
Ezekiel 1:2-5,24-28  +  Matthew 17:22-27
August 8, 2022

“Give that to them for me and for you.”

When Jesus walked this earth—Jesus, the one whose life and ministry fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament—there were three ways in which He spoke and acted as a prophet.  Through these three, He teaches us not only how to be His disciples, but also how to teach in His name.

The sort of grand spectacle that we hear in Ezekiel today was fulfilled by Jesus through the miracles He worked, and also by His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, when He shone in glory before three of His disciples.  But as impressive as that was, spectacle was not the norm for Jesus.

Though many like to pretend otherwise, Jesus also preached “fire and brimstone” when the occasion called for it.  This second way of being a prophet, of course, is one of the reasons that Jesus was led to the Cross.

The third way in which Jesus acted as a prophet is a kind which is very rare in the Old Testament.  But it is uncommonly common in the life of Jesus.  In the life of one of His saints—St. Thérèse the Little Flower—it was called the “Little Way”.  It is a way of simplicity and humbleness that goes overlooked by those looking for spectacles.  It is a way that is ignored by those who are looking out for themselves, instead of others:  by those who justify their actions by claiming that they’re just doing what everyone else is doing, walking down the broad path, instead of trying to walk the narrow way that following Jesus demands.

The simplicity and humbleness of Jesus in today’s Gospel is a very good meditation for those setting out again to begin a new school year.  Jesus is not obligated to pay the tax that is demanded of Peter, but Jesus explains—“that we may not offend them”—that He will pay the tax anyhow.

The miracle by which Jesus accomplishes this almost goes unnoticed, because it’s not the point.  Jesus’ point is to teach by humility, to teach by doing that which is not necessary, but which can lead others to see the Little Way.  This is the way that, after a long journey through a life of service in this world, leads to the vision of eternal life with God and His saints.

The Transfiguration of the Lord [C]

The Transfiguration of the Lord [C]
Daniel 7:9-10,13-14  +  +  2 Peter 1:16-19  +  Luke 9:28-36
August 6, 2022

And behold, two men were conversing with Him… [speaking] of His exodus ….

Suffering is part and parcel of following Jesus.  He teaches us this lesson through His Transfiguration.

There’s a simple contrast in today’s Gospel passage.  Peter stands in contrast to Jesus.  Peter says, “Master, it is good that we are here”, while Jesus does not reply.  In fact, the evangelist does not quote Jesus at all in this passage.  Not that Jesus doesn’t speak in this passage:  we’re told that Jesus was conversing with Moses and Elijah, but we are not allowed to overhear their conversation.

Did Peter hear the conversation among Jesus, Moses and Elijah?  It doesn’t seem so.  Had Peter heard them, it’s not likely that he would have said what he did:  “Master, it is good that we are here”.  Peter certainly perceived the glory of Jesus, His changed face, and the brilliance of His white clothing.  But had Peter heard the conversation of Jesus and His prophets, it’s unlikely that Peter would have said what he did.

Jesus, Moses and Elijah “spoke of Jesus’ exodus that He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.”  This exodus is not from the power of a pharaoh, or from the persecution of pagan prophets, but from the power of sin and death.  You and I know the rest of the story:  that Jesus accomplished this exodus on Calvary.  We know that through His sin and death, you and I might have life to the full.  Had Peter understood all this, he may have turned away from following Jesus.

Suffering is part and parcel of following Jesus.  If we shy away from suffering for the good, we remove ourselves from Jesus’ presence.  Only by remaining in the presence of Jesus can He lead us to the glory of the Father.

Transfiguration - Titian

Transfiguration by Titian [c. 1488 – 1576]

Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Nahum 2:1,3;3:1-3,6-7  +  Matthew 16:24-28
August 5, 2022

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Our souls need nourishment and healing before we spend our selves trying to solve the problems of our own lives and those of the world.  We must be willing to admit, first of all, that we are sinners, and that our sins seriously wound our souls.  Our souls need not only the nourishment of prayer, but the healing that comes from the forgiveness of our sins.  After all, it is in this regard that Jesus is our Messiah, our Savior.  God the Son became human not to save us from the Caesar, or from the IRS, or from our neighbors:  Jesus died to save us from the snares of the Devil.  God the Son became human not to take away our worries, or our financial debts, or our arguments with others:  Jesus died to take away our sins.

Once we regain this perspective in our lives, we realize how truly we need Christ’s help.  Yet at the same time, we hear Christ’s words to his disciples in today’s Gospel passage:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  Christ has died for us on the Cross, but we must join in His saving work.  We must do penance.  We must organize the time and energies of our lives so that they draw others closer to God.  In our speech, in the patience with which we do things and deal with others, through our charitable deeds, we can deny our sinful selves and become more like Christ.  And in doing all this, we should never underestimate or believe that we can imagine what graces God will bestow upon us through acting by means of His grace.

Tintoretto, La crocifissione, Sala dell'albergo, Scuola di San R

St. John Vianney, Priest

St. John Vianney, Priest
Jeremiah 31:31-34  +  Matthew 16:13-23
August 4, 2022

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Today’s Gospel passage is well-known for revealing Jesus’ intention of founding His Church on the rock of faith, personified both in the individual Simon Peter, and in the office of the papacy.  What sometimes is overlooked is what immediately follows.  These latter verses also reveal something important about the Church, the office of the papacy, and the men who hold that office.

When Jesus “began to show His disciples that He must” suffer and be killed, the newly appointed Peter begins to “rebuke” Jesus!  The word “rebuke” is not a soft one.  But Jesus immediately and forcefully corrects Peter, revealing to us that Peter’s office is not subject to the personal concerns, insights or doubts of him who holds the office.  Nor is the officeholder of the papacy unable to err.

Peter’s error here reverses the profession of faith after which Jesus named him “Peter”.  Jesus praised Peter’s confession of faith, pointing out to him that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father”.  Contrast these words with what Jesus says following Peter’s scandalous rebuke:  “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do”.

This contrast between the divine and the human is juxtaposed by Peter’s confession of Jesus and his rebuke of Jesus.  Peter’s confession is of Jesus’ divinity, but his rebuke is based on refusing to accept Jesus’ humanity as the means of His mission.  Each of us needs to accept Jesus’ mission of offering His Body and Blood on the Cross.  Through this mission, Jesus will fully share divine life with those of us who place their faith in Him.

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Jeremiah 31:1-7  +  Matthew 15:21-28
August 3, 2022

“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

We are not God’s children by right.  There is an infinite distance, naturally speaking, between us and God, between Heaven and Earth.  That is why the woman in the gospel represents each one of us:  she is a Gentile.  Up to Jesus’ day, God had promised salvation only to the Jews.  Gentiles were by definition outsiders.

Everything in our lives is a gift.  This is the opposite side of the coin:  on the one hand, we know that we do not deserve what we have in life.  So then, we are called to give thanks to God constantly, and all of our acts of thankfulness are rooted in faith.

Faith itself is the greatest gift we have in life.  Without faith, these acts of thanksgiving—culminating in the Holy Eucharist—make no sense.  The worst cynic or atheist would be justified in being rude and hard-edged about life, if God did not exist.  But we have to recognize that faith is a gift, which some people do not have during their earthly lives.

The faith that God wants from us is not passive; it’s active.  God does not want from us the sort of faith that just says, “God is going to take care of everything, so I can sit back and coast.”  This is not our Catholic understanding of faith.  Faith is something active on our part.  It demands constant prayer.  It demands the sort of dialogue, the sort of banter, that we hear between Jesus and the Gentile woman.  We might even say, God wants us to challenge Him in our prayer.  In this, we have no better example than Saint Teresa of Jesus.

OT 18-3

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

Click HERE to learn more about the new feature in the Sunday reflections.

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Wisdom 18:6-9  +  Hebrews 11:1-2,8-19  +  Luke 12:32-48
Catechism Link: CCC 359
August 7, 2022

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much ….”

When Jesus says these words about us, two questions immediately arise.  First, what has Jesus entrusted us with?  Second, what therefore will be required of us?

Each of us, naturally, has been given the gift of life.  You’ve probably seen the bumper sticker that says, “Smile:  your mom chose life!”  In our day and age, this is not a gift that we ought to take for granted.  Still, when we thank God each day for the gift of life, what exactly are we giving thanks for?

Human nature has two parts to it:  body and soul.  Like the simpler types of animals, we have bodies that are subject on the one hand to hunger and physical pain, and on the other hand to the pleasures of good meals and the process of physical healing.

However, unlike the lower animals, we humans can find meaning even in bodily suffering and pain.  Yet we can discover this meaning only through our souls.  The human soul is the means through which we can, if we choose, rise above being merely an animal.  “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much ….”  God has entrusted each of us with a human soul, and that’s not a gift to be underestimated.

“In the beginning”, “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ….’”  In those words, we hear how much God has entrusted us with in giving each of us a human soul.  The human soul is given to a person at the moment of his or her conception:  that moment when the human body starts to exist from the gifts given by the father and the mother.  But while the human body comes from a child’s parents, the human soul comes directly from God at that moment of conception.  So what about that soul:  what kind of gift is it that God gave each of us at the moment of conception?

If there’s a single word that sums up the power, the meaning, and the aim of the human soul, it’s the word “transcendence”.  The human soul allows man to transcend himself.  There’s nothing more boring, numbing, and deadly than to live for oneself.  Unfortunately, the message of the world around us is to do just that:  to live for oneself.  But Christ calls us to live for others.  The powers of the human soul, when animated by God’s grace, allow us to live for others and to rejoice in doing so.  In doing so, we imitate the self-sacrificial love of the three Persons of the Trinity for each other.

Here, then, is what God requires of us:  to transcend ourselves by living for others, both the others who are our neighbors, and the Other who is God.  Living for others means loving those others.  This is a high bar, of course, that God has set for us.  Everything that’s sinful in us inclines us to live for ourselves, because living for ourselves is so much more comfortable.  But God did not make us for comfort.  If you doubt that, look at the crucifix.  As a saint once said, “The crucifix is the true answer to every heresy.”

The fathers of the Church at the Second Vatican Council declared that “it is only in the mystery of the Word made flesh that the mystery of man truly becomes clear” [Gaudium et Spes 22].  This divine Word became flesh and blood so that He might offer His self—His divinity and humanity—upon the Cross.

You see this when you gaze upon the crucifix.  If you want to know what it means to be human; if you want to know what man is meant for; if you want to know the antidote to human misery, selfishness, and frustration with the meaningless of living the good life of comfort:  look at the crucifix.

The soul is a vessel of grace.  Grace is the power of God’s life that makes us strong enough to clear that very high bar that God has set for us:  the bar of living for others instead of for ourselves.  “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much ….”  God has entrusted each of us with soul and body in order to offer them up each day for others.  The crucifix shows us how.  The Eucharist gives us the strength to do so.