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

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Kings 21:17-29  +  Matthew 5:43-48
June 19, 2018

“…pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father….”

Today’s Gospel passage is from the first third of the “Sermon on the Mount”.  This “inaugural address” is recorded in full only in Matthew, in Chapters 5-7.  Today’s Gospel passage forms part of a series in Chapter 5 of five contrasts between the commands of the Law and Jesus’ commands to love.  Each contrast uses a variation of the form, “You have heard it said… but I say to you.”

The contrast presented in today’s Gospel passage is the last of these five contrasts.  You could argue that Jesus saved the hardest for last!  How are we to love our enemies?  The simple answer is:  “As Jesus did on Calvary.”

We might begin by asking how our enemies got to be our enemies in the first place.  We ought to be mindful that we sinners gain enemies because of our sins.  So one way to shorten the list of our enemies is to sin less.

Jesus, of course, was sinless, but still had plenty of enemies.  In fact, Jesus had enemies for just the opposite reason that sinners do:  because of His unwillingness to compromise with evil.  To whatever extent we may, through God’s grace, bear holiness in our own lives, we will win enemies for this reason also.  Yet we must love all of our enemies unto the Cross.

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

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Kings 21:1-16  +  Matthew 5:38-42
June 18, 2018

“Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back….”

As we continue to hear Our Lord preach the Sermon on the Mount, it is striking how practical and down to earth His words are.  He does not speak fluff:  the sort of words that we hear from so many teachers of the spiritual life.  He gives very practical advice about how to treat others.  In doing so, Our Lord is drawing us into a deeper relationship with the Father.

Our Lord slowly tries to teach us how intimately related are the commands to love God and neighbor.  It is in Christ Jesus that the divine Word of God is made flesh.  It is in Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross—the sacrifice of the altar—that we share sacramentally in Christ’s life, in order that we might share morally in His life by loving both God and neighbor fully.

However, we must be honest with ourselves, and be mindful that we are hardly advancing in the spiritual life if repentance is the largest part of our prayer.  Our penance merely disposes us to be God’s servants rather than His rivals.  When we consider the words of Christ in today’s Gospel passage, we see how completely we are to give of ourselves to others.

If our own spiritual houses are in order, how devoted are we to helping others build theirs?  How willing are we to be patient with others, with those who cannot be patient in their own prayer?  How will others learn the need for patience if not by seeing our example?  How willing are we to accept insults in silence and pray for the one who insults?  How will others learn the need for forbearance if not by seeing our example?  As we share in the sacrifice of the altar, may Almighty God help us see in our daily lives who it is in most need of a Christian witness.  Then, may Almighty God strengthen us through the Body and Blood of Christ to be the one to offer that witness.

The 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Ez 17:22-24  +  2 Cor 5:6-10  +  Mk 4:26-34
June 17, 2018

Without parables He did not speak to them, but to His own disciples He explained everything in private.

These reflections mean to prepare you to hear the Scriptures at Sunday Mass.  Usually this preparation involves looking at the words of Scripture themselves.  But today, step back and consider a general way for preparing on your own to hear the Scriptures at Sunday Mass.  This way can be utilized every week of the Church year.

Lectio Divina is a form of praying Sacred Scripture:  not just reading Scripture, but praying it.  At first glance, we might not think there’s any difference between “reading Scripture” and “praying Scripture”.  However, there can be a radical difference.

Picture a dedicated atheist.  This atheist sees himself as doing battle against religion.  So he puts into practice one of the most basic principles of combat:  “Know your enemy”.

Wanting to understand how believers think so that he can debunk their beliefs, he takes a course at a noted Christian university in order to learn all about the Bible.  In his zeal, he might even earn a Ph.D. in biblical studies, and be able to quote at length from the Bible, name all the books of the Bible, and even teach others about the history and geography of the peoples and places of the Bible.  But all of that knowledge would not make him a believer.

By contrast, the aim of your praying Scripture is not merely knowing about Scripture, but believing in the God who wrote these Scriptures for your good, listening to Him speaking to you, and speaking to Him in response by your words and actions.

There are several easy ways to prepare for Lectio Divina.  One is to purchase a hand missal, which contains the complete set of the three-year cycle of prayers and readings that a missalette covers only for part of a year.  Another way, if you’re tech-savvy, is to go to the website of the United States bishops, where you can print out the Scriptures for any day in the coming months.  Another way is to go to your parish church for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, and during your visit use the missalette in the pew for prayerful reading of Scripture.

The first step of “praying Scripture” is an act of choosing:  choosing a text from Scripture.  Some saints in explaining Lectio Divina recommend choosing a single chapter of a book of Scripture.  Others recommend a single verse, while others recommend only a single phrase or even only a single word.  A single verse is a good ideal.  You’ll notice in many hand missals or missalettes that, at the head of each Scripture passage, often in red, is a verse from that reading.  That is given to help you focus your attention, and this verse can be used for the practice of Lectio Divina.

Wherever and whatever resource of Scripture you use, find the Gospel passage for the coming Sunday.  The other steps of Lectio Divina help one to draw spiritual fruit from one’s chosen passage or verse.  As a simplified form of Lectio Divina, reflect on the coming Sunday’s Gospel passage for at least ten minutes a day during the weekdays leading up to Sunday.  Each of these days, ask the Lord to draw your attention to one verse in particular.  Not only will you grow in your love for the Word of God, but He—the divine Person who is the Word—will open your heart and mind to accepting more faithfully the Word made Flesh in the Holy Eucharist.

Saturday of the 10th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Kings 19:19-21  +  Matthew 5:33-37
June 16, 2018

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’”

Saturday is the day of the week dedicated to Our Blessed Mother Mary.  We ought, each Saturday morning or afternoon, spend time in devotion to her.  One way to foster such devotion is to reflect on the Scriptures from that morning’s Mass in light of Mary’s life and vocation.

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus continues His Sermon on the Mount.  We could listen to the entire sermon picturing Our Lady, reflecting upon how she fulfills in her life and vocation everything Jesus is saying.

By way of example, consider Jesus’ fulfillment of this command of the Law:  “Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.”  Immediately there comes to mind the scene of the Annunciation, and the words that Our Blessed Mother spoke:  “I am the maidservant of the Lord.  Let it be done unto me according to your Word.”

As Jesus offers His teaching in today’s Gospel passage about how disciples need to be faithful to their word, we can see in Our Lady the fulfillment of the Law.  We see in Mary that being faithful to one’s word means being faithful to the Word who became Flesh for us, and who offers us that Gift in the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Friday of the 10th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Kings 19:9,11-16  +  Matthew 5:27-32
June 15, 2018

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.’”

Jesus continues in today’s Gospel passage to give examples of the Law being fulfilled.  Today’s two examples are about adultery and divorce.  While both examples concern human sexuality, Jesus’ teachings about these two grave sins take different approaches.

Regarding adultery, in order to show the fulfillment of God’s Law Jesus takes us within the human person.  Jesus teaches us that not only outward actions can condemn.  So also can inner actions of the mind and heart.

Regarding divorce, Jesus reverses Moses’ allowance of this practice.  Not only does Jesus not permit divorce.  He also clarifies that when a divorced person enters another relationship, adultery is the result.

Undoubtedly, both of Jesus’ examples in today’s Gospel passage seem to make following Jesus more difficult than following the letter of the Law.  In our own day, there are some who find the Church’s consistent teaching that the divorced and remarried may not receive Holy Communion too difficult.  Yet in the midst of all such perceived difficulties, Jesus sets us on the right road to healing from our sins and the many negative effects of our sins.  For our part, we need to turn around and begin travelling in the right direction.

Thursday of the 10th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Kings 18:41-46  +  Matthew 5:20-26
June 14, 2018

“But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment….”

In yesterday’s Gospel passage, Our Lord stated that He had come not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.  Beginning today, in the Gospel at weekday Mass we hear examples of Jesus fulfilling the Law.

Jesus uses a phrase today that He repeats several times throughout the fifth chapter of Matthew.  The phrase “You have heard that it was said…” signals that Jesus wants to present a contrast to us.  First, Jesus presents a basic teaching that comes from the Jewish Law:  for example, in today’s Gospel passage, “You have heard that it was said… ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’”

Then, Jesus explains how such a teaching of the Law is to be fulfilled.  He declares today:  “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment….”  The rest of today’s Gospel passage is Jesus’ unpacking of His new teaching, which again, is the fulfillment of an ancient teaching from the Law.

Today, then, we strive to reflect on Jesus’ specific example of anger.  What is the means by which Jesus teaches His disciples to enter into the fulfillment of this teaching?  The means is reconciliation.  Jesus, in the examples He cites, gives two commands:  “go first and be reconciled with your brother”, and “Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.”  Meditate, then, on reconciliation with your neighbor as a form of love of neighbor, and thus as a means to the love of God.

St. Anthony of Padua, Priest & Doctor of the Church

St. Anthony of Padua, Priest & Doctor of the Church
I Kings 18:20-39  +  Matthew 5:17-19
June 13, 2018

“I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

This week we’ve begun to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, from the fifth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel account.  After the Beatitudes (in Monday’s Gospel) and the similes of the disciples as salt and light (in yesterday’s Gospel), Jesus today sets the framework for the teachings He’s about to offer the disciples.  We could sum up this framework with these words:  “I have come not to abolish [the Law] but to fulfill.” 

Having said that, in the rest of today’s Gospel passage He strictly directs His disciples to integrity in their lives.  There must be integrity between, as we would put it today, what they practice and what they preach.  With this demand Jesus issues a warning and promise:  “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven”, while “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

Every Christian is, by virtue of baptism, called to be a teacher.  We remember St. Francis’ admonition to “preach always, and if necessary, use words.”  As each of us makes our nightly examination of conscience, we look for the integrity Jesus has asked of us, in what we’ve taught others by our actions and words.

Tuesday of the 10th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Kings 17:7-16  +  Matthew 5:13-16
June 12, 2018

“But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?”

Yesterday at weekday Mass we began hearing from the Sermon on the Mount, which is found in the fifth through seventh chapters of the Gospel account of Saint Matthew (5:3—7:27).  In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls His disciples “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”.  Either of these could serve you as the basis for a long period of meditation.  But consider just one aspect of what Jesus sets before you today.

Salt has long been used as a preservative of food.  So one might be tempted to consider Jesus’ image of “the salt of the earth” as meaning that Christians are called to preserve life.  In other words, Christians are called to preserve what we already have.  But the following words of Jesus suggest something further.

Jesus speaks of salt in terms of its taste, as a seasoning.  As most of us know, salt isn’t meant to be tasted by itself.  Most of us would be repulsed by even the idea of putting a spoonful of salt in our mouths.  But it’s common to sprinkle salt liberally on one’s food in order to bring out the taste within the food.

Here we can reflect on Jesus’ image in terms of our own discipleship.  If Jesus’ disciples are “the salt of the earth”, Jesus is paying a compliment to “the earth”.  There is value—taste—in the world because it was created by God.  Even though the world that we live in is full of sin, our role as disciples involves bringing out what is good in God’s creation—cultivating that good—so that it might be elevated by God’s supernatural grace.

St. Barnabas, Apostle

St. Barnabas, Apostle
Acts 11:21-26;13:1-3  +  Matthew 5:1-12
June 11, 2018

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Beginning today and for many days to come, we hear at weekday Mass from the Sermon on the Mount.  This sermon is one of the chief features of St. Matthew the Evangelist’s Gospel account.  As such, the sermon illustrates Matthew’s portrait of Jesus:  Jesus as the living fulfillment of Moses.

Moses was the prophet who led God’s People to an earthly salvation in the Old Testament:  from physical slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  But Jesus effects salvation in an infinitely more profound way.  So while many features of Jesus’ life and ministry echo the role of Moses, at the same time there are discrepancies between the two of them which point out how Jesus fulfills what Moses could only foreshadow.

Note in today’s Gospel passage two points of the evangelist’s “setting the stage” for the Sermon on the Mount.  First, Jesus “went up the mountain”.  This act is reminiscent of Moses ascending Mount Sinai to receive the Law from God.  However, where Moses must receive the Word of God before teaching it to the people, Jesus is the Word of God!  Jesus teaches “from the heart” of His divinity.

Second, note that “after He had sat down, His disciples came to Him.”  The fact that Jesus sits down points out that Jesus is a teacher.  In ancient cultures—contrary to our American experience—a teacher would sit while the students would stand.

More significant, though, is that “His disciples came to Him.”  Moses had to descend the mountain in order to share with the people the Word he had received from God.  Later, God declared that if anyone should even touch the mountain that he must die.  Then when Moses descended to teach the people, he found that they were worshipping an idol!

But Jesus invites His disciples to join Him up on the mountain.  This contrast to Moses suggests that Jesus will teach in His great sermon something profoundly interior.  He wants His disciples to join Him on the mountain, symbolizing that He is inviting them to climb:  that is, to transcend everything that is of the earth.  So Jesus invites us today to ascend to the Word of God, and through His words, closer to the heart of the Father’s divine life.

The Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Gen 3:9-15  +  2 Cor 4:13—5:1  +  Mk 3:20-35
June 10, 2018

For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

Jesus explains today that each of us needs to carry out the will of God in order to be His brother or sister.  But how can someone learn what that will of God is?  Granted that your average Christian does want to carry out God’s will, how can he learn what this will is?  Consider three possibilities that the average Christian might weigh.

First, the Christian might follow the simple instruction:  “Do good and avoid evil.”  Such counsel is straightforward, but there are two potholes to be avoided.  On the one hand, how does one know what’s good in a complex moral situation?  The Ten Commandments are good guides, as are the teachings in the third quarter of the Catechism, but we don’t always know how to apply these to difficult situations.

On the other hand, the simple instruction of “Do good and avoid evil” can devolve into the whole of one’s approach to morality.  In a word, we might describe this pothole as “minimalism”.  Often, a moral minimalist considers that he’s doing God’s will as long as he avoids evil.  After all, if something’s not evil, it must be good, the minimalist reasons.  Morality in this case is nothing more than avoiding whatever God shakes His finger at.

A second way of learning God’s will considers the wealth of truly good choices that the Christian has before him.  The key to this way of learning God’s will is the cardinal virtue of prudence.  In this case, there’s not a simple choice between good and evil.  That’s presumed.  But once all evil choices are rejected, the Christian still has many morally good options remaining.  Amidst these many good choices, the Christian wants to exercise the virtue of prudence.  Prudence helps the Christian advance in his moral life, and by that means, also in his spiritual life.  Morality in this case moves us from choosing any old good action to choosing what is best, for as the best possible good, it shares most in the perfection of God’s goodness, and thereby draws us closest to God.

The third way of learning God’s will is the most demanding.  This way could be summed up by the word “discernment”.  In the process of discernment, the Christian listens for and to the Lord’s voice because there is more one needs to know.

Perhaps the Christian is uncertain which of several good choices is the best.  Perhaps he is uncertain if he has all the underlying facts upon which to base a determination of the best choice.  Perhaps he’s wondering if there are further good options not yet visible to him.  Amidst all the different reasons for discernment, the virtue of obedience is key:  obedience to the voice of Jesus, and to the word He speaks.  Morality in this case is founded upon a relationship with the living God, who sacrificed His own Son so that we might become, through Jesus’ self-sacrifice, His brothers and sisters.