Saint Cecilia

Saint Cecilia, Virgin Martyr
II Maccabees 7:1,20-31  +  Luke 19:11-28
November 22, 2017

“…from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Those who think of Jesus as a “teddy bear” are challenged by the last sentence of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage.  These words conclude a lengthy parable, which St. Luke the Evangelist prefaces with a clear explanation of the motive for the parable:  Jesus “proceeded to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem and they thought that the Kingdom of God would appear there immediately.”

The “king” speaks and acts harshly.  He refers to himself as “a demanding man”, but his greatest demand comes at the end of the parable.  Of his enemies he declares, “bring them here and slay them before me.”  The question is to whom this character in the parable refers in real life?  Can he possibly symbolize Jesus or God the Father?  The king’s demand is reminiscent of practices found in the Old Testament.  God Himself seems in the Old Testament to demand the murder of innocents.  Surely such ideas have no place in the teaching of Jesus?

However, the parable’s own inner logic suggests that the servants did have a choice.  This points to the choice that each servant of God has to follow Him or not.  At the end of each person’s life is a fork.  One branch leads to eternal life and the other to eternal death.  This is where the Kingdom of God comes to its fulfillment.

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
II Maccabees 6:18-31  +  Luke 19:1-10
November 21, 2017

“…today I must stay at your house.”

Zacchaeus is a rich collector of taxes.  Each of us, like him, is attached to worldly things, no matter how simple.  St. John of the Cross says that just as it does not matter if a bird is tied down by a thick rope or a thin string, so it does not matter if a Christian is tied down by wealthy goods or simple desires.  An attachment is an attachment, and any attachment—no matter how slight—keeps us from union with God.

On the other hand, Zacchaeus, like you, wants to see who Jesus is.  But Zacchaeus has two strikes against him.

The first strike against Zacchaeus is the crowd, because everyone wants to see Jesus.  It’s easy to get lost and not to be loved in a crowd.  One might ask himself, “How can Jesus love everyone?”

The second strike against Zacchaeus is his small size, which may represent the size of one’s own soul.  One might feel unworthy of God’s love, and ask himself, “How could Jesus love little old me?”

So Zacchaeus climbs up into a sycamore tree to see Jesus.  This is all Zacchaeus wants:  to see Jesus.  But that’s not enough for Jesus, so large is Jesus’ Sacred Heart.

Here’s the turning point in this Gospel passage.  When Jesus reached the tree that Zacchaeus had climbed, Jesus looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly; for today I must stay at your house.”  Jesus takes the initiative to reach out to the individual sinner.  Just as He reached out to this little sinner, so He asks entry into the fullness of your heart, mind and soul.

November 20, 2017

Monday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [I]
I Maccabees 1:10-15,41-43,54-57,62-63  +  Luke 18:35-43

Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, each abandoning his particular customs.

At most of this week’s Masses, the First Reading is taken from the Old Testament books of Maccabees.  These books describe the persecution and perseverance of the Jewish people.  While the particular persecution that they faced may not seem relatable, we need very much in our day to relate to the perseverance that they demonstrated.

In today’s First Reading, the king of Greece “wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, each abandoning his particular customs.  All the Gentiles conformed to the command of the king, and many children of Israel were in favor of his religion”.  The parallel of this situation to the plight of Christians in the United States today is clear.

Today’s passage ends focusing on those Jews “who preferred to die rather than to be defiled… and they did die.  Terrible affliction was upon Israel.”  But we ought to be clear on what leads to this affliction:  the demand for a people to be falsely united.

To what extent may a government demand that a religious body of persons conform their teachings, practices and rituals to a norm established by and in support of that government?  The conflicts in this week’s readings from the Books of Maccabees will help us reflect on this important question.

The 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Prov 31:10-13,19-20,30-31  +  1 Thes 5:1-6  +  Mt 25:14-30
November 19, 2017

“‘And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’”

The old saying tells us that there are two things we can’t escape:  death and taxes.  In fact, there is actually a way to escape taxes, but it’s death:  by leaving this world and all its burdens behind.

This time each year, as the days get shorter, and the Church’s year comes to a close, the Church compels us to think about our own lives growing darker and darker, and finally coming to a close.  What will we face, after we face death?

The Church points our attention towards what our Faith calls the Last Things.  There are four “Last Things”:  death, judgment, Heaven and Hell.  Three out of those four are things that most people would probably rather not think about.  Unfortunately, because of the effects of Original Sin, most of us aren’t going to reach the goal of Heaven without some sober consideration of the other three.

So the Church begins this last month of her year on a high note, by celebrating the Solemnity of All Saints.  The Church proclaims:  “It’s actually possible!  Ordinary men and women like you have made it to Heaven, so have hope as you strive for this goal!”

But from there, throughout the rest of the month, the Church challenges us.  The very day after All Saints’, the Church commemorates All the Souls in Purgatory, who need our prayers because they themselves didn’t fix their attention fully on God during their lives in this world.  Yes, they’re on their way to Heaven, but their souls need to be purified.  Although they didn’t reject God outright, He wasn’t first and foremost in their lives.  At the same time that we pray for the Poor Souls in Purgatory, the Church is implicitly asking us whether we’re likely to spend time there also, after we face death.  If so, then we have the chance to do something about it now, while we are still here on earth.

But as the last Sundays of Ordinary Time are celebrated, the Church challenges us even further.  The Scripture passages are demanding.  Today our Scripture readings help us consider how important our good works are when it comes to the day of our death.

Today’s First Reading reminds us that so much of what we think is important passes away with time.  The reading uses the example of a woman, but it just as easily applies to men:  “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

And yet, our good works, if they are rooted in the Lord—if they are directed towards His will—are not fleeting:  or at least, their effects continue to ripple through time.  Speaking again of the soul who follows God faithfully, Scripture says:  “Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.”  We can imagine this referring to the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem, where St. Peter stands with those keys that Jesus gave him.

There are some rich people who establish foundations to continue good works after their deaths, but these foundations are often subverted.  Some universities, where such foundations were established, have been sued by descendants of the founders, because the descendants allege that the foundations are not being faithful to the intentions of the founders.

The fact is that we only have one life on this earth, and we can only control our own actions during the days that are given to us here below.  Our actions will only be godly, and lead us closer to Him, if they are nurtured by God’s own grace:  the grace we’re offered most especially through the Holy Eucharist.

Jerome Nadal Last Judgment.jpg

November 18, 2017

Saturday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Wisdom 18:14-16;19:6-9  +  Luke 18:1-8

Jesus told His disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.

In the first verse of today’s Gospel passage, St. Luke the Evangelist is unusually direct in explaining the exact meaning of Jesus’ parable.  “Jesus told His disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.”  It is important to note that this parable is about one specific type of prayer to God:  prayer of petition.

Sometimes prayer is defined as “a conversation with God”.  That’s unfair to God for two reasons.  First, conversations normally take place between two persons of more or less equal standing.  While it’s true that prayer involves a dialogue with God, we have to keep in mind that what He has to say to each of us is far more important than what any of us might wish to say to Him.  In prayer, it’s far more important to listen to God than to speak to Him.

Second, prayer at its summit transcends what could be termed a conversation.  The form of prayer in which the believer and God dialogue is meant to be surpassed.  Dialogue is meant to lead to a loving silence, a form of prayer in which God and the believer rest in the goodness of His presence.  Dialogue or conversation is a means to getting there.

Nonetheless, in today’s Gospel passage Jesus teaches us about prayers of petition.  Petition is one specific form that prayer takes during the “conversational” stages of prayer.  In this stage, however, we pray not only with God’s almighty Power in mind (because He can get us what we want), but also with His providential Love in mind.  That is to say, God answers our prayers of petition not only for our own good, but for His goodness as well, so as to lead us into that goodness.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary

St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Religious
Wisdom 13:1-9  +  Luke 17:26-37
November 17, 2017

“As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man”.

To His disciples, Jesus speaks of “the Son of Man”.  Regarding the Son of Man, Jesus explains that His presence is elusive, like lightning that “flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other”.  Jesus downplays the desire somehow to “pin down” the Son of Man.

At the end of yesterday’s Gospel passage, Jesus spoke about this Son of Man suffering greatly and being rejected by this generation.  Here Jesus is making clear how much His hearers’ expectations will be shattered.  What we hope for is often not what God has in store for us.  In today’s Gospel passage, we hear some of the context of “the days of the Son of Man”.  The context is dire, which shouldn’t surprise us given what the Son of Man Himself suffers.

Jesus’ final words today do not seem hopeful:  “‘Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather.’”  Yet Jesus is hopeful, of course.  He is simply not hopeful for the fate of this world.  Everything in this world must finally decay, so we must not be attached to such things.  Our hope must be for God alone, who draws us through this world, not to it.

November 16, 2017

Thursday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Wisdom 7:22—8:1  +  Luke 17:20-25

“For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus describes the phrases “the Kingdom of God” and “the Son of Man”.  The meanings of both are elusive, and that’s Jesus’ point.

In the Pharisees, who ask “when the Kingdom of God would come”, we can see many in our own day who exert great effort in predicting and spreading news of the time of this coming.  Jesus splashes cold water on them all:  this coming “‘cannot be observed, and no one will announce, “Look, here it is”’”.  Along the same line, Jesus soberly explains to the Pharisees that while they “‘will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man,’” they “‘will not see it.’”

However, in the midst of this sobering up, Jesus declares something provocative, if not confusing.  “‘For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.’”  So while the coming of the Kingdom “‘cannot be observed,’” it already “‘is among you.’”  How are we to understand what seems on the surface like a contradiction?  Perhaps such understanding ought only be sought by the Pharisees of old.  Perhaps our part is simply to live within the Kingdom of God, under the shepherding of the Son of Man.

November 15, 2017

Wednesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Wisdom 6:1-11  +  Luke 17:11-19

“Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

We may not feel inclined to think of ourselves as lepers.  It’s not an appealing image.  But that’s the plain meaning of these ten persons in today’s Gospel passage.  The ten lepers represent us.  In fact, we’re much worse off than lepers.  Leprosy ends with earthly death.  But the effects of sin—alienation and estrangement from God and neighbor—are unending, ever-lasting, without end if we die in mortal sin.  Without a Redeemer to save us from sin, our suffering will not end with earthly death, but only begin in earnest.

Jesus saves the ten from leprosy with little more than a few words, such is His divine power.  But Jesus saves all of mankind from the far greater penalty of eternal death.  Jesus offers salvation to you not by speaking a few words, but by sacrificing up His complete self—Body, Blood, soul and divinity—to a Passion and Death on the Cross that He suffered out of love:  not out of compulsion, or to get something back in return, or to impress anyone, but simply and completely out of love for us.  If this doesn’t inspire gratitude in each of us, it’s hard to imagine what might.

November 14, 2017

Tuesday of the Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Wisdom 2:23—3:9  +  Luke 17:7-10

God formed man to be imperishable; the image of His own nature He made him.

Today’s First Reading from the Book of Wisdom explicitly proclaims a belief central to Judaeo-Christian thought.  The first sentence of this passage instructs us that “God formed man to be imperishable; the image of His own nature He made him.”

Today’s First Reading is eleven verses long.  The last nine make up a passage often proclaimed at funerals, meditating as it does on human suffering.  But the first two verses offer a frame in which to situate those last nine.

The theme of suffering is a continual theme throughout the seven books of the Old Testament’s “Wisdom Literature”.  Suffering is, for many, what makes or breaks them spiritually.  Many turn away from God because of their experiences of suffering.  Others profoundly deepen their living in God through their experiences of human suffering.  None of the Bible’s “Wisdom Literature” gives an “answer” to human suffering.  Wisdom is not found in answers.  Wisdom is found in resting in the Image of God.