The 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24  +  2 Cor 8:7,9,13-15  +  Mk 5:21-43
July 1, 2018

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

Both the little girl who was healed, as well as her loved ones, likely had a question on their minds after Jesus worked the miracle in today’s Gospel passage:  “Who is this man?”

This is the question that our lives revolve around if Christ is at the center of our lives.  “Who is this man?”  Every Gospel passage during the Sundays of Ordinary Time looks at this Jesus from a different perspective.  It’s like turning a diamond in your hand as you hold it up to the light and gaze upon one facet after another.  Each is beautiful.  Each is brilliant.  Each shines.  Each Gospel passage shows us one more reason to give thanks for being able to know and love this divine person named Jesus.

But St. Paul in today’s Second Reading insists that this Jesus is not to be known and loved as if He were on a pedestal that we small, tiny human beings cannot reach.  Jesus is not to be worshipped from afar.  If that were what God wanted, this Second Person of the Trinity—God the Son—would have remained always in Heaven, far above us poor sinners.

We do worship Jesus Christ because He is the only-begotten Son of God, Light from Light, True God from True God.  But we worship Him also as our personal Redeemer, who for us men and our salvation came down from Heaven so that we could worship God up close.  “Who is this man?”  He is true man, but also True God.  He reigns eternally as God in Heaven, but He also enters into human misery, suffering, and death through His human nature.  That tension between Jesus’ divine nature and His human nature is what makes this such a mysterious question:  “Who is Jesus?”

This is what St. Paul is trying to get across to us, proclaiming:  “…you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ:  that though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.”  Saint Paul is not talking about material wealth, of course.  He’s talking about spiritual wealth:  in other words, the grace that is a share in divine life.

But Jesus only offers us the wealth of divine life through the Cross:  through His poverty, by abandoning His life completely to the Will of God the Father.  However, although this paints a beautiful picture of Jesus, at this point we as Catholics have an important step to take.

Jesus is not just someone for us to admire.  We are asked to share directly in the sacred mysteries of His life.  Yet we are not just to imitate Jesus, as we imitate our childhood heroes.  There’s no way that any of us can imitate Jesus’ selflessness through our own efforts alone.  We can only be as selfless as Jesus if we truly and directly share His life:  if we live our lives in His life, by means of His abiding within us.

How does Jesus abide within the faithful disciple?  Today’s First Reading reminds us that “God formed man to be imperishable; the image of His own nature He made him.”  What exactly is this divine image in which man is created, and through which he abides in God and God in him?  One answer given by Doctors of the Church is that the creation of man in the divine Image involves three aspects:  two faculties and one end.

Man’s intellect and will reflect the divine image.  By these two faculties, man can transcend his animal instincts and drives and his environment.  Man can transcend his very self.  Yet men like Hitler and Nietzsche show that great intellect and great will power can end in murder, suicide and insanity.  The faculties of intellect and will must be oriented towards love, and must be oriented by love.  This orientation takes shape through self-sacrifice:  the poverty that God the Son embraced out of love for each of us.

Saturday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Lamentations 2:2,10-14,18-19  +  Matthew 8:5-17
June 30, 2018

Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”

Many blessings have come from the new English translation of the Roman Missal that the Church began to use in 2011.  One such blessing that comes from greater fidelity to the Latin original is the transparency with which Scripture quotations appear.

For example, in the old translation of the Missal, shortly before Holy Communion those assembled would say, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”  Now they say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  Which of these more accurately reflects the words of the centurion in today’s Gospel passage:  “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed”?

The fidelity to the words of today’s Gospel passage highlights the centurion’s point:  authority.  The centurion understands the authority that Jesus bears because the centurion himself bears authority.  Because he bears it, he is willing to submit to a higher authority.  The centurion’s humility in the face of Jesus prepares for his faith, and in this he is a model for each of us to follow.

Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Acts 12:1-11  +  2 Tim 4:6-8,17-18  +  Mt 16:13-19
June 29, 2018

“I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.”

Peter, whom Jesus in today’s Gospel passage entrusts with the care of His Church, was very different than Paul.  Peter’s personality was rough and impatient.  He was poor and uneducated.  Now if Jesus had thought as worldly people do, He never would have chosen Peter as the first pope.  Instead, he would have chosen someone like Paul, refined and educated.

Regardless of their differences, Peter and Paul came to the same end:  martyrdom for the Holy Name of Jesus.  In the year 67, Saint Peter was crucified upside-down in the circus of Nero, and buried nearby in an out-of-the-way cemetery on a hill called the Vatican.  Saint Paul, after being held a prisoner in Rome for many years, was beheaded just outside the walls of the city.

As with their Lord, these two men came to what seemed to be shameful deaths.  Unfortunately, unlike their Lord, there was no report of Peter or Paul rising from the dead.  They were simply failures.  That’s surely how they were sized up by many around them, both in the Roman Empire and perhaps even among some members of the Church.  What kind of foundation had they laid for the Church?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Roman Church, the church that spread from that city throughout the world.  Twenty centuries later, the Church certainly is universal, with more than one billion members across the globe.  But are we really any holier than those first members of the Church?  Are we willing to put our lives or even our names on the line for Christ?

Our spiritual lives are never a “done deal.”  They are always under construction.  The Mass we share in is a continual source of strength for us, as each week we struggle to be faithful disciples of Jesus.  Each day is a building block of faith, in which, by our daily sacrifices, we build up others as well as our own spiritual lives.

St. Irenaeus

St. Irenaeus, Bishop & Martyr
II Kings 24:8-17  +  Matthew 7:21-29
June 28, 2018

“…only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven…”

Today the Church proclaims the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus, Our Lord and Savior, has at the beginning of His public ministry proclaimed this great sermon in order to move those listening to follow Him all the Way to Calvary, where He will accomplish our salvation.  Jesus did not come into this world primarily to teach, but to save.  Nonetheless, His teaching serves His saving mission.  How can we be saved if we don’t know that we need saving?  How can we be saved if we don’t accept Christ as Our Savior, and follow Him as the way that leads to salvation?

His Sermon on the Mount is often considered the masterpiece of Jesus’ teaching.  As such, this sermon could serve as a template for any teacher.  One example of its brilliance is the way in which Jesus, in the sermon’s last section, brings to a head what He’s been focusing upon throughout.  As any good teacher does, His last words sum up and reiterate a major point of His lesson.  What point do we hear in today’s final words from this sermon?

Twice in this passage Jesus firmly declares the disciple’s need to unite his will with God the Father and God the Son.  Jesus says first that “only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” “will enter the Kingdom of heaven”.  A few moments later Jesus says that “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”  “The will of [Jesus’] Father” and “these words of [Jesus] are, therefore, where each of us needs to concentrate our prayer and moral efforts.

Wednesday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Kings 22:8-13;23:1-3  +  Matthew 7:15-20
June 27, 2018

“So by their fruits you will know them.”

Twice in today’s Gospel passage Jesus uses this phrase:  “By their fruits you will know them.”  Jesus is speaking here about “bad fruit”, by which one can know false prophets.  In our own day, part of the scandal that members of the Church—laity and clergy alike—face is that considerable “bad fruit” has been borne by bishops and priests of the Church that Jesus founded.  How can one reconcile that such men who are validly ordained seem by their fruits to be false prophets?

Without taking away from any of the harsh reality that Jesus is describing in today’s Gospel passage, we’re mindful to read each passage in the context of the entire Gospel.  We’re mindful of Jesus’ Parable of the Barren Fig Tree [Luke 13:6-9], where the gardener (a symbol of our Savior) makes this plea:  “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.”  These words give hope for reformation in the lives of those who have been truly called by God to service in His Church, but who have just as truly failed to bear fruit.  The Truth who is Christ can bring redemption to all, just as He will bring just judgment to all.

Tuesday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Kings 19:9-11,14-21,31-35,36  +  Matthew 7:6,12-14
June 26, 2018

“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.”

Coming to the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, today we hear Him offer several brief proverbs.  It would be difficult to find a common theme among all of them.  Yet we could take any one of them and, brief as it is, commit it to memory and recite it throughout this day for reflection.

Of these proverbs, the second is best known.  The “Golden Rule” is taught to children early in life.  Of course it demands an ability to step back from a situation and reflect upon it from outside.  This is difficult if someone is used to acting impulsively, without reflection.

Perhaps today, though, we could reflect on the Golden Rule in a different light.  Reflect on the Golden Rule as Jesus lived it; or rather, as He died by it.  Reflect on the Golden Rule in the light of the crucifix.  What Jesus did for you on the Cross is what Jesus would have you do for His sake.  This is what He calls you to, in fact, as a member of His Church:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” [Matthew 16:24].

Monday of the 12th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Kings 17:5-8,13-15,18  +  Matthew 7:1-5
June 25, 2018

“The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you.”

Pondering the mystery of Christ, we find that God calls us to act morally along the same lines that we accept Christ:  first, in humble faith; then, with a burning desire to extend God’s love to those beyond our immediate reach.  Thus in the Ten Commandments we are called to serve both God and neighbor.  The first three command us to love God completely, above all others.  Then the last seven command us to serve our neighbor from our love for God.

In today’s Gospel passage we hear Jesus commanding us to love our neighbor in a specific way:  that is, by forgiving our neighbor.  Regarding to what extent—or even whether—we forgive any individual neighbor of ours, Jesus declares:  “The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you.”

We should be mindful that our sins, as infinite offenses against Almighty God, will not permit us finally to enter into His Presence unless we are shown infinite mercy by Almighty God.  So it is that we ourselves, strengthened by God’s own infinite forgiveness, must forgive others if we hope to live in God’s sight.

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Isa 49:1-6  +  Acts 13:22-26  +  Lk 1:57-66,80
June 24, 2018

For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is so important a feast that there are two full sets of Scripture readings for Holy Mass.  One set is proclaimed at Vigil Masses on the evening before the feast day, while the other set is proclaimed on the day itself.  Yet regardless of whether you attend Mass this weekend on Saturday evening or Sunday, the Gospel passage you hear will be taken from the first chapter of St. Luke’s account of the Gospel.

The Vigil’s Gospel passage comes from the beginning of Luke 1.  The Gospel passage for the feast day itself comes from the end of the chapter.  These two passages bookend the story of St. John’s birth.  As with the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ birth, the child to be born is the focus, but not the central actor.  In the Gospel passages for today’s feast, the central actor is John’s father, Zechariah.  St. Luke the Evangelist here contrasts Zechariah with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Zechariah was an elderly husband, yet without children.  Mary was a young betrothed virgin.  Saint Gabriel appears to each of them separately, and tells each not to be afraid.  The archangel announces to each that a son is to be born.  Yet their responses differ profoundly.

The man persists in unbelief, while the woman believes.  Mary’s final word in response to St. Gabriel’s announcement is “Fiat”“Let it be done unto me according to your word” [Luke 1:38].  In response to Zechariah’s unbelief, St. Gabriel declares in a verse not long after the end of the Gospel passage for the Vigil Mass:  “behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass” [Lk 1:20].  That “day” is narrated in the Gospel passage for Sunday.

Saint Augustine in Sunday’s Office of Readings explains that “the silence of Zechariah is nothing but the age of prophecy lying hidden, obscured, as it were, and concealed before the preaching of Christ.”  Later in the same sermon, St. Augustine expounds the distinction between Jesus and His cousin:  “The voice is John, but the Lord ‘in the beginning was the Word.’  John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.”

But if the voice must decrease, so that the Word may increase, what can be said of Zechariah?  He is not even a voice, but silence:  the silence in which the Voice is conceived, and a silence which you as a sinner must enter.

The silence illustrated by Zechariah is born of unbelief.  Every sinner is called into this silence.  Most of our fallen world is a modern Babel.  We are unfaithful to God’s Word, because we cannot hear it for the cacophony of the modern world.  We are among those of whom the Beloved Disciple writes in the prologue to his Gospel account:  “the Word came to His own, and His own people received Him not” [John 1:11].

Because it’s always so in this valley of tears, God calls fallen man into silence so that there we might recognize our sins, and hear and heed God’s Word.  The silence of Zechariah is what St. John of the Cross writes about:  “What we need most in order to make [spiritual] progress is to be silent before this great God, with our appetites and our tongue.”

This silence is a means to man’s true end.  This is the end for which God created man “in the beginning”:  to share in the divine life of the Trinity in a holy and eternal silence.  About this final silence, the end of all we are and do as disciples of the Word made Flesh, St. John of the Cross also speaks:  “the Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul.”

St. John the Baptist was born so that the Old Testament might die.  Yet such a death was meant all along in God’s Providence to be fulfilled by a new life, like the grain of wheat that dies in order to bear much fruit.  St. John the Baptist was born to preach the message of repentance:  the need to accept ourselves as sinner, and the need to accept Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins and those of the whole world.

Saturday of the 11th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Chronicles 24:17-25  +  Matthew 6:24-34
June 23, 2018

“You cannot serve God and mammon.”

These famous words from Jesus mark a clear divide between Heaven and earth, and between the spiritual and the material.  But to consider these words of Jesus seriously, we need first to address an underlying assumption.

The culture that surrounds modern persons in the West presumes that each person is his or her own boss.  Modern Western culture teaches children from an early age that they are not meant to serve anyone or anything.  In fact, both God and mammon serve me and my needs!

However, while the modern person may believe such ideas, so strongly reinforced as they are by modern culture, Jesus is offering a caution.  In fact, most of today’s Gospel passage is about the dangers of believing that mammon can serve oneself.

What begins in one’s mind as the idea of mammon serving oneself eventually ends in the servitude of the self to mammon.  The slave that mammon is thought to be becomes the master of the self.  This is the crippling servitude that Jesus is diagnosing, so to speak, through the examples He offers in this passage.

That we might live authentically, Jesus invites us to enter into a relationship with God as our Lord and Master.  This relationship of serving God is radically different than that in which one ends up serving mammon.  In the relationship that Jesus invites us to, through serving God, we become His “friends” [see John 15:15] and His “beloved children” [Ephesians 5:1].