Wednesday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Galatians 2:1-2,7-14  +   Luke 11:1-4
October 5, 2022

“Father, hallowed be your Name, your Kingdom come.”

Every Christian knows by heart the ‘Our Father’:  the only recited prayer that Jesus taught to His followers.  But the ‘Our Father’ that we know in our hearts—which we pray at every Mass before receiving Holy Communion, and which we pray several times throughout the course of a rosary—is not exactly the ‘Our Father’ that we have just heard Jesus teach in today’s Gospel passage.

The version of the ‘Our Father’ that Luke records for us is shorter than the version that we know by heart. Maybe this shorter version is the first version that Jesus taught to his followers, much the same way that a teacher introduces just the key points first, and then later fleshes it out some more.

In this shorter version of the ‘Our Father’, there are three petitions that Jesus teaches us to pray.  In the silence following Holy Communion, of after Mass, or in your home, read and pray this shorter version, and see what the three petitions are.  What are the three things that Jesus teaches us to ask of our Heavenly Father?

The 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
II Kings 5:14-17  +  2 Timothy 2:8-13  +  Luke 17:11-19
Catechism Link: CCC 1272
October 9, 2022

… if we persevere we shall also reign with him.

“This saying is trustworthy:  If we have died with Him we shall also live with Him….”  Saint Paul, in saying this, is not subscribing to the belief that some Christians hold:  namely, that Jesus suffered and died so that you don’t have to.  In fact, Jesus suffered and died so that your suffering and death would not be meaningless:  so that your suffering and death would not be a brick wall, but a doorway.

Living with Jesus is our goal.  Dying with Jesus is our means.  Dying with Jesus is the way by which we enter into Jesus’ life.  But the choice is ours.

The first way that we can die with Jesus is baptism.  Now, you might say to yourself, “I was baptized as an infant, so I don’t remember anything about my baptism, and besides, that was a long time ago.  A lot of sins have passed under the bridge since then.”  Nonetheless, it’s important to look back at what happened at your baptism.

In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul asks:  “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” [Romans 6:3-4].

One of the important truths that St. Paul is setting down is that the effects of Baptism don’t completely vanish once you commit your first mortal sin.  On the contrary, dying and being buried with Jesus in baptism changes a person’s life forever.  The Sacrament of Baptism marks one’s soul with an indelible mark or seal that cannot erased later in life even by the worst of sins.

But what exactly is this mark or seal that Baptism imprints upon your soul?  You’ve probably seen individuals who have towels in their bathrooms with their initials on them.  It’s something like that with your soul, except it’s not your name, but God’s divine Name that’s imprinted on your soul.  This mark or seal is God’s way of saying, “This person belongs to me.  This person is my child and is destined for Heaven.”

Clearly we need never to presume upon this great gift, but there is a flip side to this coin.  The other side reminds us that with every gift comes a responsibility.

The first responsibility that comes with every gift is gratitude.  The great English journalist G. K. Chesterton once wrote:  “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder” [A Short History of England].  The responsibility of gratitude is illustrated by Our Lord in today’s Gospel Reading.

“Where are the other nine?”, Jesus asks.  “Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”  This “foreigner” was a Samaritan, a group of Jewish people not only looked down upon by most other Jews.  The Samaritans, in fact, were people who refused to worship as God had asked in the Old Testament.  Nevertheless, in spite of this fact, Jesus praises this Samaritan because he knows the first responsibility of being given a gift:  that is, to give thanks in return.

The second way to die with Jesus is through our moral life.  When we decide whom to vote for in November, and when we decide whether or not to participate in gossip that someone else in the room initiated, and when we decide whether to spend money for luxuries, or for necessities, or for others, we are making moral choices.

Some moral choices are easy to make, but others demand a difficult dying-to-oneself.  It’s not difficult for a mother to love her infant and take care of him, although it might be more difficult at 2:00 a.m.  Nonetheless, the bond of love between mother and infant moves her to care for the child even when that requires self-sacrifice.

But other forms of dying-to-oneself are far more difficult, such as choosing to love someone who is not lovable, as an infant so naturally is.  This is akin to Christ’s love for you on the Cross.  His crucified love, in turn, has the power to lead you into the heavenly love who is the Most Holy Trinity, and even to let you dwell within this love during your earthly days.

St. Francis of Assisi, Religious

St. Francis of Assisi, Religious
Galatians 1:13-24  +  Luke 10:38-42
October 4, 2022

“Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

In discussing, or learning about, the Catholic Faith, there’s often talk about how the Faith’s saving mysteries have a “both/and” dynamic at work.  The Church does not believe in reaching Heaven by “faith alone”; nor does she believe that one can earn Heaven by means of good works.  The Church’s perennial approach to the dynamic between faith and good works is “both/and”.  Likewise, Jesus is not a God who appears to be human, nor a human being that appears divine.  Jesus Christ is “both/and”:  fully divine and fully human.

Today’s Gospel passage raises another central duality among the Church’s saving mysteries.  The Church preaches that in the life of each Christian, both prayer and good works are vital to the Christian life.  Yet the point that Jesus makes in this passage is one of primacy.

Prayerful abiding at the feet of Jesus is primary in the Christian life.  Good works—even those done for Christ Himself—are secondary.  In turn, taking Jesus’ lesson here to heart helps us see that within every duality among the saving mysteries, one of the two is always prime.  Faith is primary to good works.  Jesus’ essential divinity is primary to His assumed humanity.  The Old Testament prepares for and is fulfilled by the New Testament.  The Liturgy of the Word prepares for and is consummated by the Liturgy of the Word made Flesh.

Our Christian faith challenges us to give ourselves over fully to all of the Church’s saving mysteries, yet to root our self-sacrifice in what is primary.  Striving to serve and striving to good works demands that we live like the sister of Martha:  beginning all we do with giving all we are in listening to Jesus.

Monday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the 27th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Galatians 1:6-12  +  Luke 10:25-37
October 3, 2022

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Today we hear one of the more famous parables of Jesus.  The Parable of the Good Samaritan ought profoundly to shape our spiritual and moral lives.  That order of things is important, however:  spiritual and then moral.

Although in a deeper sense there ought not be a distinction between our spiritual and moral lives, on the practical level, differences do mark the two.  We might say that the two are most sharply distinguished by sin.  The “scholar of the law” who “wished to justify himself” wants to be moral, but not spiritual.  Jesus demands that he be both, and that he be moral by being spiritual.

Mercy is the means by which the moral life is wedded to the spiritual life.  Or rather, mercy is the means by which the spiritual life begets authentic moral choices.  Were we not all children of Adam and Eve, fallen creatures, our moral choices would not demand mercy.  But in this world of sin and corruption, mercy is divine charity’s common currency.

In our spiritual lives, we look on each of our fellow human creatures through the eyes of God the Father.  We love each sinner, beaten and wounded by the sins of himself and others, with the mercy through which the Father sent His innocent Son to be slain for us.  Through this love, we can choose to serve the broken, bind the wounded, and know that in this service we serve God as well.

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin & Doctor of the Church

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin & Doctor of the Church
Job 42:1-3,5-6,12-17  +  Luke 10:17-24
October 1, 2022

“… you have revealed them to the childlike.”

It’s rare for Jesus, in any of the four Gospel accounts, to speak directly to God the Father.  Because of this rarity, we ought to privilege those verses where we get to “overhear” Jesus address His divine Father.  We might even consider these verses as models for our own prayers, inasmuch as through Baptism we are adopted children of God the Father.

First, we ought to note the context of Jesus’ words to God the Father.  The 72 disciples have returned to Jesus rejoicing that demons are subject to them because of Jesus’ name.  However, Jesus tells them not to rejoice because of such power over demons, but to rejoice instead because their names are written in Heaven.  Jesus is subordinating the disciples’ ministry—as important as it is—to the relationship that each has with the One Jesus teaches them to address as “Our Father, who art in heaven”.

Also, it’s important to note that St. Luke the Evangelist immediately prefaces the words of Jesus to God the Father with the observation that Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit”.  This is significant because St. Luke, more than the other three evangelists, stresses the role of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Here, the words by which Jesus praises the Father are spoken “in the Holy Spirit”.  As the Holy Spirit is the love of God the Father and God the Son for each other, so by the Holy Spirit each adopted child of God finds the inspiration to pray to God more fervently and authentically.

St. Jerome, Priest & Doctor of the Church

St. Jerome, Priest & Doctor of the Church
Job 38:1,12-21;40:3-5   +  Luke 10:13-16
September 30, 2022

“Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!”

Jesus never says, “Woe is me!”  Not once in the four accounts of the Gospel does Jesus ever say such a thing.  However, more than a few times Jesus expresses woe.  He expresses these woes regarding those who do not listen, and do not follow, the Word of God.

We might wonder what emotions Jesus experienced as He pronounced the woes in today’s Gospel passage.  He had just reasons to be angry, as well as frustrated.  Nonetheless, regardless of which emotions might have been running through His mind and heart, we know that Jesus had compassion for those He was preaching against.

In fact, to say that Jesus in pronouncing these woes was preaching against the people of these cities would call for a qualification.  In preaching woes against the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida, Jesus was preaching for them.  Does that sound like a contradiction?  It’s no more of a contradiction than is a father who disciplines his child.  Everything that Jesus did during His earthly life, including the overturning of the money changers’ tables, and the preaching of woes against the unfaithful, was for the sake of those in spiritual danger, to bring them back from a precipice into the arms of a loving Father.

Sts. Michael, Gabriel & Raphael, Archangels

Sts. Michael, Gabriel & Raphael, Archangels
Daniel 7:9-10,13-14 [or Revelation 12:7-12]  +  John 1:47-51
September 29, 2022

“… you will see Heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

About a month from now, the Church will celebrate All Saints’ Day, when we spend time thinking about the “lives of the saints”.  But it’s difficult to read and learn about the lives of today’s saints since they haven’t led “lives” in our normal sense of the word.  Furthermore, their lives are still going on as always.  Still, these three saints—the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael—are a very important part of our Catholic prayer and belief.

These archangels—among the most important of all the angels—are messengers who carry the most important messages from God to human beings like us.

St. Michael, in the beginning, was the one who had to fight against the devil, and force him out of Heaven as punishment for turning against God.  At the end of time, it will be St. Michael who will lead all the good angels in battle against the fallen angels in league with the devil.  But in between the beginning and end of time, Michael protects all those who call upon him, to defend them in the day of battle, which is any day when we face temptation, and are tempted not to love God completely, or tempted not to love our neighbor as our self.

St. Gabriel, by contrast , goes to the heart and center of history, with the most important message that God ever wanted delivered.  It was Gabriel whom God chose to deliver the message to Mary that she should be our Blessed Mother, because God’s own Son should be born from her, that Son destined to be the Savior of all mankind.

In these archangels, we honor three models for the vocation to which God has called all of us through the Sacrament of Baptism.  In word and action, we—like the angels—serve God, and bear His messages to others, all of which are about the sort of love with which God loves us.

Even when we have sinned, God continues to love us, and wants us to draw closer to Him through Jesus.  But when we pray and realize how great God’s mercy towards us is, we are called to take that same message to others, and let others know of God’s love for them.  Even more, we are called to offer forgiveness to others:  to be God’s messenger of love and mercy by forgiving others in the same way that God has forgiven us.

Wednesday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Job 9:1-12,14-16  +  Luke 9:57-62
September 28, 2022

“I will follow you wherever you go.”

Teachers need to teach their students—and parents, their children—that the two most important moments of one’s life are now and the hour of one’s death.  Likely we’ve known persons who live as if death will never arrive, living only for “now”.  The spiritual goal is constantly to relate these two:  now, and the hour of one’s death.

The world around us, including secular schools that want to produce “achievers”, seeks by contrast to relate every now to goals that one plans for:  goals to be realized next week, next month, next year, or upon retirement.  Yet those are short-sighted if they’re not set within the larger context of one’s death.

In fact, everything we do now, or don’t do now, bears on that hour of our death.  By everything we do or don’t do, we choose whether to follow Jesus.

If our young people are firmly resolved to prepare themselves for the hour of death, they will be firmly resolved in the “now” of every moment to follow whatever God asks.  Yet here we have to be mindful of the way in which God dwells in the present moment.  The need of a human person in the here and now often upsets our well-laid plans.  But Jesus often presents Himself to us in the present moment in the guise of those most in need.

The 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Habakkuk 1:2-3;2:2-4  +  2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14  +  Luke 17:5-10
Catechism Link: CCC 144
October 2, 2022

“… bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

Today’s Gospel reading consists of two connected passages.  The first, briefer passage is Jesus’ response to a petition from His apostles:  “Increase our faith.”  To the apostles’ asking for faith, Jesus answers by discussing works.

In this first passage Jesus shows how the works of an authentic Christian are rooted in the divine virtue of faith.  The passage also reveals the power of faith:  this power is shown by the disproportion between “faith the size of a mustard seed” and the great work of a mulberry tree being uprooted and planted in the sea.

Often Catholics can find themselves in debates with separated Christian brethren over the relationship between faith and good works.  Perhaps one problem in understanding the connection between these two is that our faith is so meager that we’re content to carry out merely “good works”.

In fact, Christ calls His disciples not only to carry out good works that can be accomplished by natural human abilities alone, such as the corporal works of mercy, which in fact can be carried out by persons who do not believe in God.  In addition to good works, Christ calls His disciples to strive to carry out great works.  If we Christians carried out great works, we’d have less reason to ascribe such works solely to our own human efforts, since we’d be forced by common sense to realize that such great works are only possible by means of a power greater than ourselves.

However, the Gospel Reading’s second passage offers another way to reflect upon the connection between faith and works.  It’s not quite a parable.  We might instead call it a guided reflection.  Through it, Jesus illustrates one of the necessary motives of those whose works are animated by faith.  This motive is certainly not the only one that a Christian needs in order to produce authentic works.  But its absence in a Christian’s soul inevitably leads to the chief vice of the Christian spiritual life.

Servanthood is the focus of Jesus’ guided reflection.  Servanthood, or servantship, is similar to stewardship.  Servanthood and stewardship are both demanded by those who follow Jesus.  They have much in common, but each has its own unique characteristics.

The image of servanthood sharply focuses our attention upon the relationship between the master and the servant.  It focuses upon the radical dependence of the servant upon the master, and in particular, upon the master’s will.

By contrast, the concept of stewardship implies a distance between the steward and his lord.  The steward is independent, at least for whatever period of time the lord chooses to be away.  The steward acts in the name of the lord during his absence, whether that lasts for days or years.  In J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings, the stewards of Gondor reigned for centuries while the heirs to the king’s throne lived in exile.  In the case of the steward Denethor, such lengthy independence resulted in consuming, self-destructive pride.

Pride is the target of Jesus’ preaching in today’s Gospel Reading.  The humility that Jesus calls for is reflected in His final words:  “So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”  Of course, humility is a virtue that both stewards and servants are called to exhibit.  What particular quality, then, does Jesus’ image of a servant demand, and how does that quality work against pride?

Given that servanthood focuses on the radical dependence of the servant upon the master’s will, servanthood demands the virtue of obedience.  Obedience motivates and directs one’s works in accord with God’s providential will.

Many Christians might be surprised to learn that the word “obedience” is derived from the Latin infinitive “obedire”, which can be translated as “to listen”.  Naturally, a servant can’t obey his master unless he first listens to his master’s command.  This demands being ready for the master to issue his command, which in turn demands attentive listening:  not to stand at attention, but to listen at attention, humbly waiting not for the master’s return, but for his word; not at the end of time or even at the hour of my death, but here and now and at every moment that I live.