January 15, 2018

Monday of the Second Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Samuel 15:16-23  +  Mark 2:18-22          
January 15, 2018

“…the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them….”

Today’s Gospel passage might seem confusing to those who wish to be devout Christians.  Along with the contrast between Jesus and John, there is a contrast between feasting and fasting.  Jesus’ disciples in this passage do not fast because He is with them.  Should Christians today, then, take part in the discipline of fasting?  Or would fasting imply a denial of Jesus’ presence in our lives?

Jesus gives us the key to applying this contrast to our own lives as 21st century disciples.  He explains, “the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day.”  But what exactly is “that day”?  In one sense, we could consider “that day” to be Good Friday, when Jesus offered His life to death.

But in a broader sense, you and I need to understand “that day” as referring to the lives of all members of the Body of Christ here below in this vale of tears:  all of us who are members of the Church Militant here on earth.  It’s true that through Baptism and the other sacraments which we worthily receive, Christ dwells in our souls.  Through these sacraments He conforms us as members of His Mystical Body.  Yet as wayfaring pilgrims on earth, we are called to fast.  We fast because our share in Christ’s life is not full.  Only in Heaven may we feast fully on the life of God as members of the Church Triumphant.

The 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
I Sam 3:3-10,19  +  1 Cor 6:13-15,17-20  +  Jn 1:35-42
January 14, 2018

“You are Simon the son of John; you will be called Cephas….”

In my family growing up—as in most families, I would imagine—when our parents called one of us children, the more of our names that they used, the greater the trouble we were in.  In ordinary conversation, our parents used our nicknames to call our attention.  If they used the proper form of our first names, they were saying to us, “Stop that.”  If they used our first and middle names, they meant it as a reprimand for something that was going to have consequences.  If they used our first, middle, and last names, it was time to call Greyhound and check for the next bus to Mexico.

Our names identify us.  They reflect who we are.  In the Gospel we see our Lord calling Simon to follow Him, and He does so by giving him a new name, saying in effect, “You are Simon, but your name shall be Cephas, which means Peter, which means, ‘Rock’.”  On the Rock of Peter Jesus built His Church, a structure that has remained in place for 2000 years.  In a similar way we see the Lord calling Samuel by name, so that Samuel would speak on behalf of the Lord and help establish the monarchy for the nation of Israel.

Like Peter and Samuel, we are called by name when God speaks to us.  God knows us better than we know ourselves, much like our parents who know us and call us by name (or names).  Children often try to deceive themselves and others about what they’ve done, and who they are.  But parents, who give life itself to their children, know their children.  Parents understand their children’s faults, as well as their strengths.  Children often don’t want to work to develop the skills and talents they have, and, trying to convince themselves and others, will say, “I’m just not good at that.  I can’t do it.”

Of course, it’s not only children who think this.  We adults are just as good at running away from something that we don’t want to do, using the handy excuse that we’re “just not able to do it.”  St. Peter did this all the time.  But God, the Father of each one of us, knows us better than we know ourselves.  When He calls us by name, He’s calling us to be honest to the truth about who we now are, and who He wants us to be.

The truth of the matter is that each one of us is called to share in the life of Jesus Christ.  This call, for each one of us, begins with the Baptism of the Lord, which the Church celebrated this past Monday.  Of course, each Christian lives out the promises of his or her own baptism in a unique way.  Some are called to die to themselves and give to others through married life, some through the consecrated life, and some through ordained ministry.  Yet no matter what one’s particular vocation may be, it is rooted in the mystery of Baptism.  All of the particular vocations of Christians flow from the waters of Baptism.

But even given the graces of our particular vocations, we cannot live the calling God has given us alone.  We live our vocations well only inasmuch as we accept the help of others, and in turn serve others.  As St. Paul tells us in the Second Reading, our bodies are members of Christ:  of His Mystical Body, the Church.  We cannot live out our vocations as isolated individuals.

We can see this in the examples of the Gospel.  How is it that Andrew heard his call from the Lord?  Through John the Baptist.  Then, after spending one day with the Lord, what is it that Andrew does?  He cries out to his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah!”  The Rock—Peter—upon whom Jesus would build His Church, came to the Lord through His brother.  These are two simple examples of one of the most important principles of the Catholic spiritual life:  the power of intercession for others, not only through prayer, but also through deeds.  The vocations of all of us are bound together, drawing us and others towards the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

January 13, 2018

Saturday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Samuel 9:1-4,17-19; 10:1  +  Mark 2:13-17
January 13, 2018

All the crowd came to Him and He taught them.

In today’s Gospel passage from the second chapter of Mark, Jesus lays part of the foundation for his public ministry.  The events of today’s Gospel passage took place not long after Jesus’ Baptism, which inaugurated His public ministry.  The last sentence of the passage holds several clues for us about Jesus’ earthly mission.

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”   If we took these words at face value, we might consider “the righteous” to be the Pharisaic scribes who provoked these words from Jesus.  Obviously the scribes considered themselves righteous.  But like Jesus’ parables and so much else in His preaching, there is a paradox at work.  Jesus turns the popular notions of who is righteous and who is a sinner on their heads.

We could certainly not say that the tax collectors and other “sinners” were made righteous simply by the act of physically dining with Jesus.  But the physical proximity, and the closeness it suggests, symbolize that neither Jesus nor the “sinner” shuns the other’s company.  We cannot receive spiritual and moral righteousness from Jesus if we don’t spend time with Him, especially in the banquet of the Eucharist.  To shun him there would be to stand like the scribes, aloof and self-righteous.

January 12, 2018

Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Samuel 8:4-7,10-22  +  Mark 2:1-12
January 12, 2018

Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them….

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus has many followers.  “Many gathered together so that there was no longer room for them”.  This might seem to make Jesus a popular person, successful in ministry.  But within today’s Gospel passage there is a confusion of aims.  The aim of the friends of the paralytic was his physical healing.  Jesus does not dismiss their effort, but he sub-ordinates it to a higher aim:  the forgiveness of sins.

Jesus could have spent His three years of public ministry only working physical cures and raising people from the dead.  Had he stuck to these aims alone, He would have remained popular.  There’s no telling how successful He might have become in the eyes of the world!  But it was not for fifteen minutes of fame that Jesus came into our world of sin and death.  It was to die that He dwelt among us.  Give thanks that Jesus shows us how to put our mission above popularity, and how to put the aim of death before that of earthly life.

January 11, 2018

Thursday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Samuel 4:1-11  +  Mark 1:40-45
January 11, 2018

[Jesus] remained outside in deserted places….

In today’s Gospel passage, we hear that Jesus “remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere.”  Jesus’ “retreat” is not that of a hermit.  Jesus’ frequent journeys to deserted places was a prudential distancing himself from those He came into this world to serve.  Jesus wanted at times simply to be in prayerful communion with His Father.

At the same time, perhaps Jesus knew that the people He was sent to serve needed a “breather”.  It’s hard for us to imagine what it was like to hear the Word of God preach the Good News, or work stupendous miracles.  We may imagine that because we’ve seen movies portraying such events, that we have an idea what it was like for those first-century folk.  If so, we underestimate the power of the Word of God made Flesh, and overestimate the power of cinema.

Often implicitly, and sometimes directly, Jesus says that the crowds are misunderstanding Him, even praising Him for the wrong reasons.  Some distance between Him and them, then, was prudent so that the crowds might reflect in their minds and hearts on the mysteries of Christ.  Of course, in the end, the crowds called for His death:  “Crucify him!  crucify him!”  So also have we ourselves cried by our sins.  But within the desert of Calvary Christ offered His life, so that throughout all ages to come, people might keep coming to Him from everywhere.

January 10, 2018

Wednesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Samuel 3:1-10,19-20  +  Mark 1:29-39
January 10, 2018

Rising very early before dawn, He left and went off to a deserted place, where He prayed.

In the light of Simon’s pursuit of Jesus and his informing Jesus that “everyone” is looking for Him, two actions of Jesus stand out.  Both actions show the falsity of Simon’s claim.

The fact that this passage begins with the cure of Simon’s mother-in-law gives us a glimpse into his way of thinking.  As more persons are cured, and as word spreads, Simon is convinced that “everyone” is looking for Jesus.

But “rising very early before dawn,” Jesus prayed in a deserted place.  In that “desert” He entered into communion with His Father.  His Father is primary to Jesus in an ultimate manner.  His Father is also primary to the crowds that Simon calls “everyone”.

When Simon makes his claim to Jesus, He responds by explaining the need to “go on to the nearby villages”.  Simon is parochial in his thinking, while Jesus wants no one excluded.  At this point in His public ministry, Jesus is preaching and healing “throughout the whole of Galilee.”  As those three years continue, the effects of His ministry spread out in waves.  Ultimately, His ministry culminates in His self-sacrifice on Calvary, which He makes for all mankind throughout all of human history.  This is the “everyone” whom Jesus was sent by His Father to serve.

January 9, 2018

Tuesday of the First Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Samuel 1:9-20  +  Mark 1:21-28
January 9, 2018

“What is this?  A new teaching with authority.”

Twice in today’s Gospel passage we hear the word “authority”, both times applied to Jesus.  In both cases, astonishment or surprise is evoked by the fact that Jesus teaches with authority.  Why is there this astonishment, and what does it mean for Jesus to teach with authority?

In the culture that surrounds us, every person believes himself to be his own authority.  In effect, this wide-spread belief means that no real authority exists.  In our society there is a great need for clarity about the meaning and purpose of authority.

At its most literal level, the word “authority” comes from the word “author”.  The author of a novel can create worlds of his own design from his imagination.  Laws of physics need not apply.  Strange creatures can exist, and fantastic events are commonplace.  Tolkien, Baum and Rodenberry are all authors in this sense.  They have the authority to create worlds and races of creatures, and to confer life upon individuals and to take it from them.  However, this is merely a fictional form of authority.  In reality, there is only one Author of creation.

Jesus, as God from God and Light from Light, is this divine Author.  Through His divinity He has authority.  He exercises this authority throughout the three years of His public ministry for various persons, and for all mankind on Calvary.  However, in the face of His exercise of divine authority, astonishment arises for varied reasons.

Most cannot believe that a mere man could exercise divine authority.  Jesus, of course, was not merely a man, even though He was fully so.  In our own lives, we should not be astonished by the authority of Jesus.  We should root our daily lives in His desire to grant us His grace.

The Baptism of the Lord [B]

The Baptism of the Lord [B]
Isaiah 42:1-4,6-7  +  Mark 1:7-11
January 8, 2018

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

The great British layman G. K. Chesterton once wrote a poem of only 28 words on the topic of gratitude for the gift of life.  It’s titled simply “Evening”, and runs like this:  “Here dies another day / During which I have had eyes, ears, hands / And the great world round me; / And with tomorrow begins another. / Why am I allowed two?”

At the heart of this poem is the virtue of gratitude.  We need to cultivate this virtue in our lives, both on the natural and supernatural levels.  The feast of the Baptism of the Lord is a good day for cultivating gratitude for the graces that flow from the One who descended into the waters of the Jordan so that our sins might be washed away.

In fact, there are four gifts that were given, or four changes that happened to you at the moment that you were baptized.  For each of these, each Christian needs to express gratitude to God.  The first change was a washing away of something negative:  all of your sins, both Original Sin and any personal sins.  But this cleansing was simply preparatory for the other three changes:  that is, the gifts that positively strengthened you.  These three are inter-twined.

At the moment of your baptism, God made you His own child by infusing you with the divine virtues of faith, hope, and love.  At the same time, you were incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church.  Any time that a person becomes God’s child, it’s as one member of the Body of Christ.  So in this sense, Baptism united you not only to God, but also to all the other members of the Church.  This new life of Baptism is about gaining not just a spiritual Father, but an entire spiritual family!

Yet at the same time that God made you His child, and also a brother or sister to all His children, God marked your soul with an indelible seal.  This seal makes clear to us that God’s choice is irrevocable.  He will never divorce us, so to speak.  Any of us can choose to wander as far away from God as we wish, but God—like the father of the Prodigal Son—never ceases to wait patiently and lovingly.  The seal of Baptism reminds you that you are just as much God’s child after you sin as you were at the moment of your baptism.  Whenever we go to Confession, then, we need to express to God our gratitude for Him being willing to welcome us with open arms, like our Savior on the Cross.

The Epiphany of the Lord

The Epiphany of the Lord
Isa 60:1-6  +  Eph 3:2-3,5-6  +  Mt 2:1-12
January 7, 2018

Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.

When you were little, maybe you had an Aunt Wilhemina.  That may not have been her name:  she may have been Aunt Josephine, or Aunt Gertrude or Aunt Mary Catherine.  If her name was different, her Christmas gifts to you were very much the same each year.  Out of sincere love, Aunt Wilhemina offers to every niece and nephew a Christmas present of green and purple crocheted mittens.  Upon opening this present, the average youngster doesn’t find the words “thank you” coming immediately to mind.  But hopefully in addition to a loving aunt, the child also has parents who instill in her or him the need to say “thank you.”

There’s hardly a better way to spend the days of Christmas than to offer thank you’s.  Of course, when we as Christians speak about the “days of Christmas”, we’re not talking about the days that stretch between Thanksgiving and December 25th.  The days of Christmas only begin on December 25, and continue through the celebration of five mysteries of our Catholic Faith.  All five mysteries help us to offer thank you’s more readily and sacrificially, truly from the heart.  We offer up thank you’s not just for gifts in boxes and bows, but more importantly, for the gifts of human life and the opportunity to share in divine life.

As we celebrate the Epiphany, we see three wise men arriving at the manger scene.  They were men willing to sacrifice of themselves in order to find a newborn King.  This is a sign of their wisdom:  their willingness to sacrifice.

Their sacrifices reflect not only their own wisdom.  Their sacrifices also reflect the wisdom of the One they were seeking.  In other words, they were willing to sacrifice so greatly because they believed in the greatness of the One they were seeking.

Each of the wise men was willing to leave the realm where he was king—where everyone bowed down before him—in order to find the King of Kings before whom he could kneel in homage.  Each of the wise men was willing to give up his riches in order to find an even greater treasure.

There are many people who believe they’re rich, but who actually have become satisfied with riches that—in the end—are not going to do them any real good.  This usually happens because people don’t recognize that inside the human soul, the desire for sacrifice is greater than the desire for the riches of the world.

Look at these three wise kings.  Look at their sacrifices.  There are at least two sacrifices that each king makes.

The first sacrifice is the journey that each makes.  He leaves behind the land where he rules and where he is in control, in order to bow down before the Ruler of Heaven and Earth.

The second sacrifice is what each sacrifices from his treasury, to place before the new-born King.  But these gifts are given as a response to a greater Gift.

Jesus is the greater Gift.  The wise man knows that the whole world, and every land, and every person in every land, will receive from Jesus an infinite blessing, if accepted.  The gifts of the wise men are only responses to God’s goodness.  God’s goodness—that is, His love—is primary.  Always.  Our response is only and always secondary, both in sequence and in the measure of its goodness.

In God the Father giving us the Gift of His Son, the Father calls us to give a gift in response.  But we might understandably worry, asking, “What can measure up to God’s gift?  God’s gift is infinite.  I cannot give an infinite gift.”

This is true.  We can only give our “all” to God.  In this way, at least, we can give as God gives:  as the old saying goes, not equal gifts, but equal sacrifice.  If we give as God gives—by giving Him our “all”—we tap into what is best in us:  the desire to give, not to get; to take joy in showering others with good things, not to accumulate them for oneself; to take interest in the growth of one’s soul, not to watch the growth of one’s accounts with interest; to sacrifice our time and pride by saying “thank you” rather than looking for the applause of the world.