All Saints

All Saints
Revelation 7:2-4,9-14  +  1 John 3:1-3  +  Matthew 5:1-12
November 1, 2017

See what love the Father has bestowed on us, in letting us be called children of God!

“Children of God.”  That is what it means to be a saint:  to be a child of God.

We all know that a child resembles his or her parent, for good and for ill.  So in telling us that we can be called “children of God”, St. John the Beloved Disciple is telling us that there’s something in us that resembles God, that is inherently good, since of course there is nothing bad in God.  From Adam we inherit Original Sin and its consequences.

As we celebrate the feast of All Saints with the Church throughout the world, we ask:  “What does it mean to be a saint?”  “What is that something in us that resembles God?”

At the moment that each of us was conceived, as our parents shared in the power of God the Creator, that very God called each one of us into existence, and gave us life.

But it’s not the fact that we are alive that makes us children of God, for God could have given us any form of life He wanted.  He could have made us a plant, or a lower form of animal on the ladder of created things.  All these things have life, but they are not children of God.

We tend to think that it’s our gifts of personality, intelligence, social status, our salaries, or the size of our homes that makes us who we are.  And sad to say, in the eyes of other people that may be true.  Other people may rate us as persons according to these things.  But God’s ways are not our ways.

In the eyes of God, what makes you human is your capacity to be transformed:  your capacity to be transformed into something other than what you began life as.  This doesn’t simply mean the ability to change form:  all animals change shape and size from being an embryo, to an infant, to a youngster, to an adult.  We are a human being throughout, and are the same person throughout.

But to put this in a single word, human life is marked by the possibility of “transcendence”.  As humans, God has given us the power to change our position on that ladder:  we can climb that ladder, and reach for Heaven.  We can approach God and become like Him.  As children of God, we resemble God to the extent that we are holy.

October 31, 2017

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Romans 8:18-25  +  Luke 13:18-21

“To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God?”

Today’s Gospel passage presents two brief parables in which Jesus specifically focuses our attention on “the Kingdom of God”.  It might seem a simple question, but what exactly is this Kingdom?

Is the Church the Kingdom of God?  If so, and if the mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of God, then the mission of the Church would seem to consist in nothing other than the Church proclaiming itself.

Certainly there is an intimate relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God.  In fact, it is a relationship of service, articulated by the Second Vatican Council in this manner:  “While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the church has a single intention:  That God’s Kingdom may come, and that salvation of the whole human race may come to pass.”

The sacrifice that Christ makes of His Body for the sake of the Church is the paradigm for understanding the sacrifice that the Church makes for the sake of the Kingdom.  This mission of the Church is inherently future-oriented, calling forth from Christians the virtue of hope, as they look forward to the Church’s fulfillment through the Lord’s Second Coming.

October 30, 2017

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Romans 8:12-17  +  Luke 13:10-17

As He said this, all His adversaries were put to shame….

Why is Jesus so insensitive?  Being a divine person, Jesus knew that His words against the ruler of the synagogue would cause His adversaries shame.  But still He spoke as He did.

Is it a sin to make another person ashamed?  The ruler of a politically correct culture would respond, “Always and everywhere.”  Jesus must believe differently.

It’s interesting that this Gospel narrative has no parallel in any of the other three Gospel accounts.  Only St. Luke presents this narrative.  Yet St. Luke’s Gospel account is known especially for highlighting the theme of mercy in the Good News of Jesus Christ.  That might, were we to think like the politically correct, for whom praise and popularity are life’s chief virtues, seem an odd contradiction.  But perhaps instead this narrative reveals to us a certain integrity.

It is precisely for the sake of mercy that Jesus speaks here as He does.  Shame has a place, Jesus reveals here, in lowering the one who has falsely raised himself or herself.  But this very act of shaming enables mercy to be shown:  here, to the woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years.  May Jesus help us in our modern culture to rid ourselves of two-dimensional views of mercy and shame, and accept with gratitude all that comes forth from God’s Word.

The 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Ex 22:20-26  +  1 Thes 1:5-10  +  Mt 22:34-40
October 29, 2017

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

We all know from catechism class that God gave Moses ten commandments.  But in the centuries after Moses, Israel became dissatisfied with just these ten.  Like children who argue against their parents, the people of Israel nit-picked the Ten Commandments, in order to justify themselves and their actions.  So the leaders of Israel added smaller and more particular commandments, to prop up the Ten.  By the time of Jesus, the common teaching of the Law of Israel involved 613 commandments.

From the Commandments that deal with “loving our neighbor”, the Jewish scholars of the law produced 14 particular commandments about business practices, 19 about employees, servants and slaves, 36 about courts and judicial procedure, eleven about property rights, seven about criminal law, and 24 about punishment and restitution.  And that doesn’t exhaust the commands to “love our neighbor”!  When you turn to “loving God”, the lists of commandments are even longer, including 33 about the Temple and sacred objects, 46 about idolatry, and 102 about sacrifices and offerings!

With 613 commandments, it was easy for the average Jew to lose focus.  Jesus wanted to bring focus back, just as He wants for you and your family today.  He wants to bring focus to the rhythm of your daily life, as it unfolds week after week.  This focus will strengthen your life, in proportion to the time you give to living Jesus’ answer:  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and the first commandment.”

But it’s interesting what happens next.  The scholar of the law didn’t ask Jesus which commandment in the law is the second greatest.  But Jesus tells Him anyway.  Maybe you know people who answer your questions like this:  you ask them one question, but their answer is the answer to a different question.  God is like this in our prayer, at times.  God always answers our prayers, but He doesn’t always answer in the way we hope.  Sometimes His answer doesn’t seem to correspond at all to what we were talking to Him (or maybe at Him) about.  However, when God changes the subject of the conversation, maybe it’s better to turn the conversation over to Him, and spend more time listening.

In today’s Gospel passage, when Jesus gives the answer to a question that the scholar didn’t ask, He makes clear that the second-greatest commandment is very important.  Reflect for a moment on the Ten Commandments:  out of the ten, the first three are about “loving your God”, and the latter seven are about “loving your neighbor”.  Why are there more than twice as many commands about “loving your neighbor” than there are about “loving your God”?  It’s not because loving your neighbor is twice as important as loving your God.  More likely, it because loving your neighbor is twice as difficult as loving your God.  The English writer, G. K. Chesterton, once observed that “The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people!”

Why is Chesterton right?  Why, so often, are our neighbors also our enemies?  In this second-greatest commandment, when Jesus commands you to love your neighbor as yourself, He’s not using the word “neighbor” as we might be tempted to do.  We, in our fallen human nature, want to shrink the meaning of “neighbor” to as few people as possible.  That’s why Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, so that His followers would see every human being as their neighbor.

So then, the second-greatest command is to love every human being as yourself.  That’s very daunting.  That’s impossible to carry out without divine grace.  Vices in our fallen human nature make this command very hard to carry out.

To love is to follow the Spirit of the law.  To love is to fulfill the letter of the law, instead of circumventing its intent.  To love is even to go beyond the law, because the law is only a guide pointing in the direction that love will take us.  The law isn’t meant to tell us where to stop.

Sts. Simon and Jude

Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles
Ephesians 2:19-22  +  Luke 6:12-16
October 28, 2017

…with Christ Jesus Himself as the capstone.

St. Paul, at the beginning of today’s First Reading, declares to the Ephesians:  “You are no longer strangers and sojourners”.  But St. Peter, in his first epistle, admonishes his disciples:  “conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning” [1 Peter 1:17-21].  How should we understand this discrepancy?  Were St. Paul and St. Peter speaking to different groups of disciples?  Were their words about sojourning in reference to differing circumstances?

Another name for the Church Militant—which is to say, the Church on earth—is the Pilgrim Church.  It’s important that we teach every disciple on earth to have this focus:  namely, that we do not live for this world, even as we take our faith into the world.  So on this feast of two holy apostles, what are we to make of St. Paul declaring, “You are no longer strangers and sojourners”?

In the second phrase of the first sentence, St. Paul makes his intent more clear.  The first half of today’s First Reading is a single sentence:  “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the capstone.”

St. Paul is setting down before the Ephesians his vision of the Church’s nature:  what we would call his “ecclesiology”.  He’s preaching about the Church’s essence.  Although we, like the Ephesians, are sojourning in faith each day, we also share now—by grace—in the eternal life that the Church Triumphant enjoys fully in Heaven.  The role of the apostles—and in turn their successors, including the bishop of one’s own diocese—is to foster our faith, to fix our hearts and minds, and all our apostolates and ministries here on earth, upon the eternal life of Heaven.

October 27, 2017

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Romans 7:18-25  +  Luke 12:54-59

The willing is ready at hand, but doing the good is not.

Saint Paul’s epistle to the Romans is considered the most profound of all his epistles.  The breadth of themes and the depth to which he explores them is profound.  Today’s First Reading from the seventh chapter of Romans explores how the human person experiences division within himself.  St. Paul describes this as “the principle that when I want to do right, evil is at hand.”

Perhaps the most intriguing phrase in today’s First Reading is St. Paul’s admission that “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.”  His words call out the division in fallen man between what the “I” wants, and what it wills.  This is not a mere putting of one’s wants and desires to the side, and acting in spite of them.  St. Paul speaks of what modern thought might term a “compulsion” that drives the ego.  However, he ascribes this acting out of evil to the work of “sin that dwells in me.”

St. Paul is not seeking to cast blame away from himself.  He’s not trying to say, “The devil made me do it.”  He does indeed admit that this struggle is within his very self:  “I see in my members another principle at war with the law of my mind, taking me captive to the law of sin”.  Regardless of how fierce this struggle is, or how deep the division it causes, the remedy is clear and at hand.  St. Paul’s entire epistle to the Romans is full of thanksgiving to God for the grace of Christ our Savior.

October 26, 2017

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Romans 6:19-23  +  Luke 12:49-53

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

Both the rhetoric and substance of Jesus’ proclamation in today’s Gospel passage are challenging.  It’s challenging to know how rightly to interpret His words.  The fire of His baptism is the source of the division that He has come to establish.  How can we understand these words and images in our own daily lives as disciples?

The most obvious interpretation of the fire that Jesus mentions is in light of God the Holy Spirit.  Through the graces that first were given at Pentecost in the Upper Room, the Holy Spirit inflames the hearts and minds of those called to be members of Jesus’ Mystical Body on earth.  Formed by the Holy Spirit into one Body, these members live out the baptism of Jesus.  Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan was a foreshadowing of His baptism on Calvary.  This latter baptism is the one which the Body of Christ today lives out.  As His members, you and I have to bear our share in this baptism if the Holy Spirit might use us as the Father’s instruments.

If we are faithful to the Father—allowing the baptism of Jesus’ suffering to be the vessel for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit through us—division will result, as Jesus describes in today’s Gospel passage.  This is not division for the sake of division, but for the sake of unity.  We pray in the midst of all division, that every person may recognize and accept his share in the life of the Trinity.

October 25, 2017

Wednesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Romans 6:12-18  +  Luke 12:39-48

Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

St. Luke the Evangelist presents many “stewardship parables”.  Today’s Gospel passage offers two, one much longer than the other.  The upshot of both is an explicit moral that lets no Christian off easily:  “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”  How do these words apply to an ordinary Christian?

No Christian is ordinary.  At the moment of a person’s baptism, God infuses grace into that adopted child’s soul.  The graces given include the divine virtues of faith, hope and charity.  God entrusts this grace to His adopted child.  Consider this fact in light of Jesus’ words at the end of today’s Gospel passage.  God entrusts His own divine life to His adopted children.  And of course, the graces received at Baptism are but the “first installment” of our inheritance.  As we continue to grow as His children, God continues to bestow grace upon us through the sacraments and prayer.

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much”.  What will be required of us, then, as sharers in the divine life?  Are you a “faithful and prudent steward”?  Both of these virtues—fidelity and prudence—are required to be stewards of the graces that God gives us.  Both help keep our attention on our Master:  the beginning and end of all the graces of our lives.

October 24, 2017

Tuesday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Romans 5:12,15,17-19,20-21  +  Luke 12:35-38

“Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”

In the Lord’s parable today He proclaims that “blessed are those servants”.  He’s wanting us to identify ourselves with them, and imitate them so that we might share in their blessedness.  How can we connect our lives to the lives of those servants? Continue reading