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

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Kings 11:1-4,9-18,20  +  Matthew 6:19-23
June 22, 2018

“… where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

Today’s Gospel passage from the Sermon on the Mount seems to have two distinct sections.  Nevertheless, a connection suggests itself.  The first section concerns wealth of different types.  The second concerns the human eye and light.  What does human vision have to do with human wealth?

In the first part of today’s Gospel passage we hear one of the more famous of Jesus’ sayings:  “where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”  The truth of this saying is so plain that it would surely be recognized by persons of all types of religious faith (or even by those with little or no faith).  It’s not necessarily a religious saying.  It’s a saying about human nature.  Of course, as the medieval principle puts it, “grace builds upon nature.”  God wishes for our sake that He be our treasure, but we are free to choose something merely human to serve as our treasure (or rather, as it turns out, for us to serve).

Whatever we choose as the treasure of our life, there will our heart gravitate.  There will we spend the energies of our heart, mind and soul.  But how does one go about choosing one’s treasure?  This is where the second half of today’s Gospel passage comes into play.

How does someone choose his treasure?  Is this process of choosing purely random and spontaneous?  Or does it come about by virtue of where we train the gaze of our soul?  Part of Christian realism is believing that knowledge comes through the human senses.  What we choose to look at has a profound influence on whether we choose something earthly as the treasure we will serve, or whether we choose God’s self-sacrifice of Jesus in the Eucharist as our treasure.  Spend at least five minutes today, then, looking at a crucifix and reflecting upon Jesus’ self-gift as given specifically for you.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious
Sirach 48:1-14  +  Matthew 6:7-15
June 21, 2018

“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”

Putting the Gospel passages from recent weekday Masses in context, we see the person of God the Father emerge.  These passages come from the Sermon on the Mount.  Two days ago the Church proclaimed the last section of Matthew 5, the last phrase of which is Jesus’ command to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Yesterday’s Gospel passage concerned the performance of “righteous deeds”, for which God the “Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

In today’s Gospel passage this theme comes to a head with Jesus teaching His Church to pray the “Our Father”.  This is the only “recited prayer” (or as this type is sometimes called, “vocal prayer”) that Jesus gave to the Church.  Many saints have commented on the “Our Father” by pointing out that Jesus had no need to teach any other prayer, because this prayer contains all that one might need or want to say to the Father, at least in seminal form.  Other prayers are commended to us by the Church because they draw out further the phrases of the “Our Father”.  We who are slow and weak to believe benefit from other vocal prayers, but they must finally lead us back to the embrace of God the Father.

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

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Kings 2:1,6-14  +  Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
June 20, 2018

“And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Today’s Gospel passage is—to the verse—the same passage that we hear every year on Ash Wednesday.  The Church proclaims it today, in the middle of a week in Ordinary Time, because the cycle of Gospel passages for weekday Mass tends to go sequentially through a Gospel account.  This is different than the cycle for Sunday Mass, in which the Gospel jumps occasionally throughout the Gospel account.

We are currently hearing from St. Matthew’s Gospel account at weekday Mass.  A week ago Monday we began hearing from the fifth chapter of Matthew, where the evangelist begins recording the Sermon on the Mount.  Today we begin hearing from Chapter 6.  The Sermon on the Mount continues through the end of Chapter 7.  We will hear this sermon at weekday Mass through a week from tomorrow.

Because today’s Gospel passage contains a wealth of spiritual teaching, you might more easily benefit from reflecting on just one third.  In each of these three sections Jesus teaches us the right way of carrying out spiritual works.  But notice that each third ends the same way, with Jesus noting that when the act is performed from the heart—that is, with divine charity—“your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you”.  These acts ultimately are about our relationship with God our Father.

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.