February 13, 2018

Tuesday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 1:12-18  +  Mark 8:14-21
February 13, 2018

“Do you still not understand?”

Frustration in and of itself must not be a sin, or Jesus—according to the portraits painted by the evangelists—would not be divine.  Today’s Gospel passage ends with a question from Jesus.  While we can be sure that Jesus’ next action involved compassion, we might instead back up and reflect on this passage in terms of our selves, inasmuch as we often imitate the disciples in this passage.

There are two things lacking in these disciples.  First, they “had forgotten to bring bread”.  This is a practical omission on their part, and surely each of us can relate to it.  But this is not Jesus’ real concern.

Instead, when Jesus enjoins the disciples to “guard against the leaven” of the Pharisees and Herod, the disciples take Jesus’ words literalistically rather than in the analogical manner in which He meant them.  In other words, the disciples were so concerned with physical hunger that they couldn’t see past it.  They couldn’t see that Jesus was speaking about something far more important:  the spiritual means by which the Pharisees and Herod, on the one hand, and Jesus on the other, considered spiritual growth to take place.  Pray today that your very real practical concerns about life might never obscure the even more important spiritual needs that require your tending today.

February 12, 2018

Monday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 1:1-11  +  Mark 8:11-13
February 12, 2018

“Why does this generation seek a sign?”

Do we search for heavenly signs as assurance that we are on the right path in life?  Today’s Gospel passage, brief and to the point, ought to make us realize how pointless such a search is.  Jesus’ sigh—“from the depth of His Spirit”—speaks volumes.  His departure from the midst of the Pharisees does in fact serve as a sober sign of His recognition that even His divine words do nothing for one unwilling to listen to Him in faith.  Christ asks us to dedicate each day to him in faith.

A life which is not dedicated to God ends up being a selfish life, a life that excludes both God and one’s brothers and sisters.  This sort of life is opposed to the very practical counsel that Saint James offer throughout the course of the epistle that we begin today to hear at daily Mass.  This sort of life leads to one being a “man of two minds, unstable in all his ways.”

That fate will be ours unless we are willing to cooperate with God’s grace to conquer the power of sin.  Sin is conquered first through faith, and perfectly through charity.  We are invited to share in this perfect love of God through the Mass.  When we are dismissed from Mass, we take and offer this same love to our brothers and sisters within our daily lives.

The 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Lev 13:1-2,44-46  +  1 Cor 10:31—11:1  +  Mk 1:40-45
February 11, 2018

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

St. Paul’s words in our Second Reading take on a very practical meaning for Christians.  Saint Paul exhorts the Corinthians:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”.  Reflect on how these words apply to Christian fatherhood in both the Sacrament of Marriage and the Sacrament of Holy Orders.

Start with the vocation of priesthood.  If you’ve ever gotten into a debate with non-Catholics about Jesus’ command, “Call no man on earth your father, for you have but one Father in heaven” [Mt 23:9], there are many Scripture verses from St. Paul that you might have quoted in reply.

For example, earlier in the same letter that today’s Second Reading comes from, Saint Paul explains how the Corinthians have one father.  He squarely preaches to them, “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father… it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus” [1 Cor 4:15].  It’s hard to imagine—if you were to interpret Holy Scripture in a literalistic sense—any words that more directly contradict Jesus’ command to “call no man on earth your father” than what St. Paul says about himself:  “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father… it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus”.

Yet St. Paul’s words at the end of today’s Second Reading only seem to raise further questions.  He commands those listening to him:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”  Why doesn’t St. Paul just say instead, “Be imitators of Christ, as I imitate Christ”?

But these words of St. Paul don’t contradict Jesus’ command to call no man on earth one’s father.  They deepen the revelation of Jesus.  Christian fathers, whether in the home or in the sanctuary, are called to say by their examples and their words:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

Christian fathers can lead their children into the life of Christ more or less effectively.  You might describe the difference between less effective and more effective Christian fatherhood by calling one “mere imitation”, and the other “living imitation”.  We know that the English word “imitation” is itself ambiguous.  We sometimes use the word “imitation” negatively, to imply that something is phony, a counterfeit or a knock-off (for example, “imitation leather”).  On the other hand, we believe the proverb that “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.  This ambiguity sheds light on the difference between two ways that fathers can imitate Christ, and lead their children to do the same.

On the one hand is “mere imitation”.  “Mere imitation” is not necessarily bad, but it is limited, and it’s much less than what Jesus asks for from Christian fathers.  An example of “mere imitation” would be an imitation of a great historical figure.  For example, you see a book titled The Leadership Secrets of George Washington.  This title implies that perhaps you too could be a great leader if you were to copy Washington’s actions.  We might also take this tack with Jesus, but Jesus wants human fathers not merely to copy Him from the outside looking in.

On the other hand is a “living imitation”.  This is what St. Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to.  This is what Jesus prays to God the Father for at the Last Supper:  “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

The “living imitation” that Christian fathers offer their children begins with those fathers abiding in Christ.  Jesus speaks about this at length at the Last Supper [see John 14-17].  This is an imitation of Christ from the inside, looking out with love upon one’s children.  God Himself calls fathers—and of course, mothers also—to live as examples for their children to imitate.  They first do so by teaching their children how to abide in God’s Presence, and how to allow Christ to abide within them.

St. Scholastica

St. Scholastica, Virgin
I Kings 12:26-32;13:33-34  +  Mark 8:1-10
February 10, 2018

Then, taking the seven loaves He gave thanks….

That the miracle described in today’s Gospel account foreshadows the Sacrament of the Eucharist is clear.  What could get overlooked, however, is an action of Jesus only briefly described in the midst of this miracle.  The evangelist explains that “taking the seven loaves [Jesus] gave thanks, broke them, and gave them”.

Jesus’ act of giving thanks here is described by the evangelist with the Greek verb “eucharisteo”.  It’s from this word that the English word “Eucharist” derives.  Likely we think of the act of thanksgiving as being part of what the Eucharist is about, but it’s another thing to recognize that this most blessed of the seven sacraments is named after the very act of giving thanks.

In contrasting the four basic types of vocal prayer—petition, thanksgiving, contrition and adoration—thanksgiving is not the most selfless.  Adoration focuses more solely on God in His own goodness.  Thanksgiving regards what God has done for me, not purely for His own glory.  Nonetheless, without thanksgiving, we cannot advance to prayer of adoration.  Giving thanks for what God has done for one allows one to grow in the humility needed to adore God authentically.

February 9, 2018

Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Kings 11:29-32;12:19  +  Mark 7:31-37
February 9, 2018

He ordered them not to tell anyone.

Perhaps the difficulty that many of us modern persons have with prayer is nothing more than the fact that we’ve forgotten how to have a conversation with anyone, much less with the Almighty.  In the Gospel today, we see Jesus take aside a man who is both deaf and mute.  Jesus heals him of his ailments.  Jesus tells those around them not to speak of the miracle.  But immediately, they proceed to do just that, and the more He orders them not to, the more they do it.  These people, maybe, are examples of what happens during our own prayer:  there is praise of God, words spoken about God, and even words spoken to God.  But all these words drown out Jesus’ demand to be silent.

The English word “obedience” comes from the Latin word which means “to listen”.  These people in the Gospel refuse to listen to what Jesus is telling them, and so, even in praising Jesus, they are disobeying Him.

In our prayer, in our conversation with God, we should listen at least twice as much as we speak.  More importantly, we should listen first, before beginning to speak to Him.  Silence, though, can be deafening.  Were we to stop saying what we want to say, we might lose control of the conversation, and there would be no telling what we might hear in that silence.  Perhaps what God has to say to us would be difficult for us to hear, and would demand self-sacrifice from us.

February 8, 2018

Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Kings 11:4-13  +  Mark 7:24-30
February 8, 2018

“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

St. Mark the Evangelist tells us that a Greek woman—that is, an outsider—came to Jesus and “begged” Him to help her daughter.  This woman, despite not being a Jew—despite not being among that people of the Covenant, who had been waiting for the Messiah to come—nonetheless cried out to Jesus for help.  But what happened when she cried out to Jesus for help?

Jesus essentially calls the woman and her daughter dogs!  He says to this outsider, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”  The “children” Jesus is referring to are the children of Israel, the ones the Father sent Him to teach, while this woman is an outsider, a “dog”.  But why is Jesus talking this way?

Scripture scholars tells us that our English translation “dogs” doesn’t fully capture what Jesus says.  The actual word is more gentle, and specific, meaning “puppies”:  something adorable, if pesky.  The woman’s response to Jesus shows that she knows what Jesus is up to, and is willing to play along.

God knows you better than you know yourself.  God demands faith from us, even when we believe we have none.  He is willing to “pull” our faith out of us—we might even say that He is willing to test us—in order to purify our faith.  Jesus knows what sort of faith this woman has.  He is willing to draw it out, because without faith on this woman’s part, He will not work a miracle.  Pray for the sort of confident faith that this woman has to banter with God and to recognize that your being an outsider is not an impediment to the grace God wishes to give you.

February 7, 2018

Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Kings 10:1-10  +  Mark 7:14-23
February 7, 2018

The mouth of the just murmurs wisdom.

Today’s Responsorial comes from Psalm 37.  The refrain—“The mouth of the just murmurs wisdom”—is the beginning of one of the Entrance Antiphons for the first Mass from the Common of Doctors of the Church.  Such luminaries as St. Augustine of Hippo and St. Thomas Aquinas inspire us with their dedication to wisdom.  They sacrificed of themselves in order to be instruments by which God could communicate His wisdom to others.  How can we understand this refrain in regard to ourselves on this weekday in Ordinary Time?

One of the notable features of this passage from Psalm 37 is that it actually speaks more directly about the Lord than about “the just”.  Why is this?  The psalm makes it clear that the Lord is the source of all that is good in man.  The refrain demonstrates this:  the just man “murmurs wisdom” and “utters what is right” because the “law of his God is in his heart”.

This message from Psalm 37 stands in a certain contrast to Jesus’ words in the Gospel.  Jesus speaks at length, and quite unflatteringly, about what comes from “within the man, from his heart”.  He mentions 13 evils, though one gets the impression that He could just as easily have continued.  Here Jesus is describing the fallen human heart that does not have the law of God within.  Jesus wants us to realize our utter need for the law of grace if we are to transcend our fallen selves, and serve as instruments of God’s Wisdom.

Litany to the Bishop Martyrs for the Bishops of the Church Militant

This Litany to the Bishop Martyrs for the Bishops of the Church Militant is for PRIVATE USE only.  It has not been authorized by the Church for use in the Sacred Liturgy.  If you believe there is a value to praying this Litany, please share it with others.  You can download a PDF version HERE.  You can download a Word version HERE.

Litany to the Bishop Martyrs
for the Bishops of the Church Militant

Lord, have mercy.     Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.     Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.     Lord, have mercy.
Christ, hear us.     Christ, graciously hear us.

God the Father of heaven,     have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world,     have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit,     have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God,     have mercy on us.

Our Lady, Queen of Martyrs,     pray for them.
Our Lady, Queen of Popes,     pray for them.
Our Lady, Queen of Bishops,     pray for them.
Pope Saint Fabian,     pray for them.
Pope Saint Martin I,     pray for them.
Pope Saint John I,     pray for them.
Pope Saint Sixtus II,     pray for them.
Pope Saint Pontian,     pray for them.
Pope Saint Cornelius,     pray for them.
Pope Saint Callistus I,     pray for them.
Pope Saint Clement I,     pray for them.
Saint Blaise,     pray for them.
Saint Polycarp,     pray for them.
Saint Stanislaus,     pray for them.
Saint Adalbert,     pray for them.
Saint Boniface,     pray for them.
Saint John Fisher,     pray for them.
Saint Irenaeus,     pray for them.
Saint Apollinaris,     pray for them.
Saint Cyprian,     pray for them.
Saint Januarius,     pray for them.
Saint Ignatius of Antioch,     pray for them.
Saint Josaphat,     pray for them.
Saint Thomas Becket,     pray for them.

Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world,
spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world,
graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world,
 have mercy on us.

Pray for us, all you Shepherds who have laid down your lives for the sheep,
that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.
O God our Providential Father, look upon the Bishops of your Church on earth in union with the Supreme Pontiff, and increase in them the virtue of fortitude.  Through the intercession of those Holy Shepherds who have already spilt their blood in witness of the Gospel, grant, if your shepherds be struck or struck down, that the sheep may not scatter, but that they may be one, in faith and in the Truth, Who is Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.  Amen.


St. Paul Miki and Companions

St. Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs
I Kings 8:22-23,27-30  +  Mark 7:1-13
February 6, 2018

“You disregard God’s commandment and cling to human tradition.”

In today’s Gospel passage, the Pharisees are a thorn in the side of Jesus.  They are constantly quoting the Law to Him, and telling Him why He is not a good Jew.  In fact, however, these Pharisees are willing to sacrifice small things in order to say that they have a relationship with God.  Jesus, on the other hand, showed at the end of His life that He was truly faithful to the relationship—the covenant—between God and man, by dying on the Cross.  Through the offering of His life, Christ restored that relationship between God and man.

It is in our relationship with God that He lives in our lives.  Relationships are what the spiritual life is about.  This is what the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross teaches us, and this is what Christ’s words in today’s Gospel passage are trying to teach us.  In today’s Gospel passage Jesus sums up His protest against the Pharisees by saying, “You disregard God’s commandment and cling to human tradition.”  Jesus does not speak of “God’s commandments,” in the plural, as in the Ten Commandments of Moses.  Jesus speaks of “God’s commandment” in the singular.  There is only one commandment, which Jesus tells us elsewhere in the Gospel is “to love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, whole mind, whole, soul, and all your strength.”  If we truly love God in this way, that love will overflow back into our lives—since God keeps nothing for Himself—and we will naturally love our neighbor as ourselves.

Sermon 2 of 3: The Gospel and the Old Testament

Sermon Series—The Word of God, the Gospel, and St. Mark
Sermon Two of Three:  The Gospel and the Old Testament
Sexagesima Sunday—February 4, 2018

If you’re a cradle Catholic, you’re probably not aware of praying this way.  If you’re an adult convert to the Catholic Faith, you’re probably very aware of it.  Cradle Catholics become used to this way of praying from their first days, as they’re brought to Sunday Mass faithfully by their parents.  Even as infants, cradle Catholics learn to consider it as the most ordinary way in which to worship God on Sunday morning.  But it can be puzzling to non-Catholics.

What is this way of praying?  Most often, it’s called “Catholic Calisthenics”:  that is, the fact that Catholics during Holy Mass stand, and sit, and stand, and sit, and kneel, and stand, and kneel… and so on and so forth.  Even money says that if you bring with you to Sunday Mass a non-Catholic who’s never been to a Mass before, he or she will mention to you afterwards what good shape Catholics must be in to do that much calisthenics at every Mass.

By design, our bodies participate in our Catholic worship.  As you know, the word “catholic” literally means “universal”, and there are many senses in which our Faith is “catholic”.  One way in which our Faith is catholic is how we worship at Holy Mass.  That is to say, as Catholics we worship God not only within our minds, and not only in our hearts, but also through our bodies.  Our bodies express our prayers to God by our standing, sitting, kneeling, and bowing, as well as gestures such as the Sign of the Cross or striking our breast in contrition during the Confiteor, and so on.

Consider one particular example from Holy Mass.  During most of the first main part of Mass—that is, the Liturgy of the Word—the members of the congregation are seated.  But during the apex, the summit, the highpoint of the Liturgy of the Word—namely, the proclamation of the Gospel—we stand.  We stand at that point, not to make a bold profession, as we do during the Creed and the Gloria.  We stand during the proclamation of the Gospel passage at attention.  We stand at attention:  all ears, all heart, all mind, soul and strength, in order to receive the Word of God in the holy Gospel.

The Word of God, of course, is a divine Person.  The Word of God is the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity.  It’s about this divine Person that St. John the Evangelist, in the first verses of his Gospel account, proclaims that:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him”.[1]

The point is that this divine Person—this Second Person of the Trinity, who as we say in the Glory Be “was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be”—this divine Person is the One who speaks to us when the Holy Gospel is proclaimed at Mass.  It’s not as if, when the priest reads the Gospel passage about, say, Jesus curing a blind man, that the priest is just telling us a story about this amazing person from ages past, like grandpa reading to us from a storybook.  At Holy Mass when the Gospel is proclaimed, it is Jesus Christ Himself who speaks.  The Word of God speaks to us.  The Word of God is the Person who proclaims the Word of God in the form of that Sunday’s Gospel passage.

But, someone might ask, isn’t the Word of God proclaimed in every book of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation?  Why do we stand only for the proclamation of four of the books of Sacred Scripture:  namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?  Why give greater attention to those four books?  Conversely, if those four books are so important, why do we listen to passages from the other books of the Bible at all?

Consider the latter question first.  Before we stand and hear a Gospel passage, we hear a First Reading from the Old Testament, a Psalm from the Old Testament, and a Second Reading from a non-Gospel New Testament book.[2]  In fact, with the exception of Palm Sunday, we spend more time at Sunday Mass listening to non-Gospel readings from Sacred Scripture than we do listening to the Gospel passage.  Instead, why don’t we listen at Sunday Mass to four passages from the Gospel, perhaps one from each Gospel account?  If the four Gospel accounts are more important books of Sacred Scripture than any others, why not listen exclusively to these four?

In the early Church, her leaders had to guard against a heresy called Marcionism.  The chief tenet of this heresy was that the Old Testament was no longer to be considered Sacred Scripture.  The Old Testament had been superseded by The New Testament.  Even today you find “Christians” who espouse such a belief in practice if not in words.  Often, such a belief goes hand-in-hand with the belief that the God of the Old Testament is someone altogether different than the God of the New Testament.  The Church Fathers were zealous not only in condemning such beliefs, but also in preaching in a manner that reveals the “utility” of the Old Testament.

The Old Testament prepares God’s People for the New Testament, as Advent prepares God’s People for the Nativity.  The preaching of the Church Fathers reveals that God prepared mankind gradually for the fullness of His Word made Flesh.  The Church Fathers’ preaching, of course, continues to nourish the members of the Church Militant today.  It does so by showing each of us modern pilgrims, wayfaring and often wandering off the Way, that no matter how weak we may be in mind or spirit, God wills to nourish us to full strength—to full sharing in the life of the Word made Flesh—by offering us the milk of the Old Testament.

Put another way, what ancient Israel needed to prepare themselves to accept the Word made Flesh is what we as struggling disciples need to accept the Word made Flesh.  Likewise, we members of the Mystical Body of Christ are blessed with the Word of God in those books that follow the four Gospel accounts.  They also help us, in their own way, to allow the Gospel to resound in our moral and spiritual lives.  All this, however, should not distract us from the central truth that the Culmen et Fons—“source and summit”—of our Christian life is the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Holy Mass.

[1] John 1:1-3.

[2] On Sundays of the Easter Season, the First Reading comes from the Acts of the Apostles.