St. Justin, Martyr

St. Justin, Martyr
1 Peter 4:7-13  +  Mark 11:11-26
June 1, 2018

“…forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance….”

Saint Mark, in composing the Gospel passage that we hear today, uses a literary technique to show the meaning of faith.  He takes what would seem like two different scenes—Jesus cursing the fig tree, and Jesus confronting those who profane the Temple—and combines them in order to form a single passage, in which one illuminates the other.

The purpose of the Gospel as a whole is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  In this particular passage, the good news is that placing faith in Christ produces miraculous fruit in our lives.

The Good News of Jesus stands in sharp contrast to the messages of self-fulfillment that the world tries to preach in so many forms.  Therefore, the four evangelists use images of contrast in order to convey the Gospel.  The withered fig tree is an image of those who have no faith, such as those who profane the Temple.  Such are those who live by the standards of the world.

We are called, however, to make an act of faith in Christ Jesus.  Today we recognize especially the first step involved in such an act, declared by Our Lord in the last sentence of today’s Gospel passage:  “When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your faults.”

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Zephaniah 3:14-18  +  Luke 1:39-56
May 31, 2018

…Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice….

Catholic art is beautiful because it focuses on persons:  the three Divine Persons, and human persons as well.  In Catholic art that portrays today’s feast—the Visitation of Our Blessed Mother—there are four persons shown to the eye of the viewer.  Of course, two of them have to be shown indirectly because they are unborn children:  St. John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth, and Our Lord in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.  Sometimes these two unborn children are portrayed by something akin to halos shining, indicating the grace that dwells within these women through their openness to human and divine life.

If we were to order these four persons in order of holiness, we would first place the Lord Jesus, who is not merely a holy human being, but the source of all holiness:  the eternal Son of God.  We would certainly place second the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God:  she who merited to bear our Redeemer.  We would likely place third St. John the Baptist, whom some theologians have taught was without Original Sin.

But reflect today on Saint Elizabeth:  fourth in this line, yet like you and me.  She is a human creature, not a divine Person.  She receives assistance from the Blessed Virgin, as you and I do each day.  She was chosen not for drama, as was her son, but for simplicity of life.  In light of St. Elizabeth’s vocation, what do you and I take today from her example?  “…Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice….”  Ask Jesus in your prayers to open your heart to the Holy Spirit, that you might each day speak of His power, His glory, and His love for all people.

Wednesday of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
1 Peter 1:18-25  +  Mark 10:32-45
May 30, 2018

“You do not know what you are asking.”

Throughout the course of the four accounts of the Gospel, most of the apostles take turns appearing quite clueless.  Today the cluelessness of James and John (the Beloved Disciple!) is on display.

Today’s Gospel passage begins with Jesus foretelling His passion, death, and resurrection.  This momentous proclamation is met with complete self-interest on the part of the sons of Zebedee.  When they express to Jesus their request, He replies with words that you and I need to commit to memory because of how often, likely, each of us deserves to hear them:  “You do not know what you are asking.”

Although there are commonly four types of prayer through which a Christian speaks to God—petition, adoration, contrition, and thanksgiving—the early stages of our spiritual life tend to be dominated by our speaking to God, rather than listening to God.  In our speaking to Him, we tend to focus more on petition than the other three types of spoken prayer.  To too many of our petitions, the words of Jesus to James and John are the only fitting reply:  “‘You do not know what you are asking.’”

Here’s a very good petition to offer to God in your prayers today:  “Help me, Lord, to focus on Your providential Will rather than my own self-focused will, and help me to listen for your Word rather than to voice my own.”

Tuesday of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
1 Peter 1:10-16  +  Mark 10:28-31
May 29, 2018

“Many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

St. Mark the Evangelist doesn’t offer details about Peter stating that Jesus’ disciples have given up everything to follow Him.  But Jesus surely reads Peter’s heart before replying.  Jesus is speaking to us disciples in the 21st century, as well.  He offers a direct explanation of the logic of discipleship, and then sums up His teaching with a brief saying that we can meditate upon at length.

Is there some regret in Peter’s heart as he lays bare the sacrifice he’s made to follow Jesus?  Jesus explains that both in this world and the next, a disciple’s sacrifice bears fruit.  In “this present age”, material sacrifices are compensated by the superabundance shared in by the church.  All the more, “in the age to come”, eternal life with Jesus is the consequence of following Him.  Jesus’ logic lays bare what St. Francis of Assisi expressed in his canticle:  “It is in giving that we receive, and in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Jesus gives us a brief saying to sum up the logic of discipleship.  “Many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  This seems to respond to Peter by saying:  love your God and neighbor first, and your neighbors will care for your earthly needs, and God will care for you eternally in His love in Heaven.

Monday of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
1 Peter 1:3-9  +  Mark 10:17-27
May 28, 2018

“How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God!”

Why is it hard “for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God”?  The Church does not teach that human wealth is evil in and of itself.  While some mistakenly think that Scripture says that money is the root of all evil, the correct quote from Saint Paul is that “the love of money is the root of all evils” [1 Timothy 6:10].  Nonetheless, that begs the question:  what is it about the love of money that turns the wealthy away from the Kingdom of God?

The Church teaches that pride is chief among the seven “capital sins”.  The “love of money” must directly relate to pride.  Human wealth tempts the wealthy person to sin against both God and neighbor:  against the former because the wealthy person is tempted to feel no need for God; against the latter because the wealthy person is tempted to feel superior to the neighbor with less human wealth.  Money is enticing because so many different things can be possessed and accomplished by it.  But as with every material thing, money is meant to offer the Christian opportunities to serve both God and man.

The Most Holy Trinity [B]

The Most Holy Trinity [B]
Deut 4:32-34,39-40  +  Rom 8:14-17  +  Mt 28:16-20
May 27, 2018

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God….

The end and the beginning of human life are found in the Most Holy Trinity.  We could reflect on this truth from the perspective of one’s own individual life, or that of all mankind, or that of all creation, or that of God Himself.  The dogma of the Most Holy Trinity is the most profound and all-encompassing of all Christian beliefs.  For that reason, this dogma can overwhelm disciples and preachers alike.  But since a journey has to begin somewhere, one might as well begin reflecting on the Trinity in the light of one’s own self.

In the beginning, human life is radically marked by dependence.  Not only is the human person dependent on others for the conception and nurturing of his life.  Many of the facts of his life—such as physical traits, temperament, potential for intelligence—are inherited from others.  As the old saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

By contrast, some would equate human maturity with the advance of one’s independence, as if the apple could pick itself up from the ground and move into the shade of an orange tree.  Many define human maturity by one’s self-determination and personal autonomy.  “No one’s going to tell ME what to do!” seems the creed of modern man.  In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court illustrated this creed, supporting the notion of legal abortion by making the following claim:  “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Where can such logic end?  Where can this creed possibly lead individuals?  Where can this creed lead mankind as a whole, as well as the world in which we live?  What hope can this creed afford?

If human maturity is defined by personal autonomy, then man’s only hope is man himself.  For many unbelievers, this hope seems to bring joy.  Unfortunately, the joy of such autonomy is incapable of ending in anything other than self-worship.  Self-worship can only end in isolation.  As a witness to the logic of this creed, the atheist Sartre professed that “Hell is other persons”.

Jesus Christ, however, reveals to us that Heaven is found amidst other persons.  Indeed, God Himself is other Persons:  three divine Persons, to be exact.  This is the saving truth that the Church celebrates on this Sunday following Pentecost.  The end and the beginning of the human person is the life of the Trinity:  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, who always are together, act together, and love together, these three being one in Him.

The Church’s life here below consists in inviting more persons into this saving Mystery.  Her mission is to extend the love of the Father and the Son through this world, so as to draw those who live in this world into the life of Heaven.  The love of the Father and the Son for each other is, in fact, the Person of the Holy Spirit.  We pray for His coming not only on Pentecost, but throughout all our days here below, so that the rule of His Love would end for each of us in the joy that is eternal.

St. Philip Neri, Priest

St. Philip Neri, Priest
James 5:13-20  +  Mark 10:13-16
May 26, 2018

“Let the children come to Me; do not prevent them….”

Today’s Gospel passage immediately follows yesterday’s in Mark.  In yesterday’s passage Jesus spoke the truth that marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power, because through God’s power, husband and wife “are no longer two but one flesh” [Mk 10:8].  In today’s passage Jesus becomes indignant and declares:  “Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

Is it a coincidence that this passage immediately follows Jesus’ teaching about the sacred integrity of Marriage?  The Church has taught for some two thousand years that openness to the begetting and rearing of children is integral to the growth of every marriage:  the intentional exclusion of this goal dissolves the integrity of the particular marriage.

Some might say that these two Scripture passages should not be linked.  Some might say that the point of today’s passage is that each Christian is called to be “child-like”.  In any case, marriage between two persons truly in love with each other and with God will bear the innocence and love for life seen in the child-like.

Friday of the 7th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 5:9-12  +  Mark 10:1-12
May 25, 2018

“So they are no longer two but one flesh.”

Today’s Gospel passage (corresponding to Matthew 19:1-9) is the springboard from which Saint John Paul II began his series of reflections titled “Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body”.  This revolutionary series is often commented upon, but rarely read itself.  Even less often read are the words of Jesus at the end of today’s Gospel passage.

Divorce is commonplace in our society.  Many see it as a “necessary evil”, while others see it as a positively good choice or option.  However, Jesus is very clear.  Divorce from a valid marriage and subsequent remarriage is morally equivalent to adultery, with the difference that while adultery is a mortally sinful act, remarriage after divorce results in a mortally sinful state of life.

Nonetheless, Jesus puts this condemnation within a positive context.  He explains why marriage cannot be dissolved by any human person.  To claim the power to dissolve a marriage is to claim power over God.  To claim this power is to deny the essence of marriage:  that two have become “one flesh.”

Thursday of the 7th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 5:1-6  +  Mark 9:41-50
May 24, 2018

You have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.

Today’s First Reading from the Letter of James makes the apostle sound like an Old Testament prophet.  While St. James is eminently practical throughout his letter, today’s passage focuses squarely on a condemnation of wealth.  More specifically, the apostle condemns those who “have stored up treasure”.  He makes clear that this wealth belonged to those who labored on behalf of the rich one.

St. James uses an ironic metaphor in taking aim at the wealthy.  He warns them:  “You have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.”  He is comparing them here to the fattened calf, which in the Parable of the Prodigal Son is sacrificed for the penitent sinner, the son who turns back to his merciful father.  They do not realize that their indulgence is preparing them for the slaughter of eternal punishment.  St. James’ warning is a call to repentance:  to convert from being the fattened calf to being the penitent son.

By contrast, “the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.”  He will be their defense on the Day of Judgment.  This is the Father of the repentant because He is the Father of “the righteous one” who on His Cross has won the victory for the repentant.

Wednesday of the 7th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 4:13-17  +  Mark 9:38-40
May 23, 2018

If the Lord wills it….

Today’s First Reading from the Letter of James focuses our attention on a single phrase that we could profitably reflect on throughout this entire week.  St. James encourages his listeners to preface any announcement of their future plans with the phrase, “If the Lord wills it….”

This is a simple phrase.  But we tend today not to prefer what is simple.  We think that complexity is somehow part of everything that’s successful.  Perhaps such thinking is a variation on the false idea that “more is better”.  The more plans we have, surely the more we will accomplish in life.  Don’t we tend to believe that accomplishments are the goal of our life on this earth?

“If the Lord wills it…” we need to do it.  If the Lord wills a course of action for us, then He is with us in its accomplishment.  Indeed, it is He who accomplishes it, with us as His “accomplices”, or perhaps better, the instruments in His Hand.  If the Lord does not will a course of action, we ought to ask if we are wasting our time.

The middle temptation is to think that the Lord does not really care how we lead our lives, or what courses of action we take.  But when we realize the depth of our Lord’s love for us, we cannot fail to recognize the extent of His direction for our lives.  When we realize this, discernment becomes more important to our earthly lives.