St. Alphonsus Liguori

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Jeremiah 15:10,16-21  +  Matthew 13:44-46
August 1, 2018

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.”

Jesus offers us two brief parables today, both metaphors describing “the Kingdom of Heaven”.  Either parable and its imagery would suffice for a day’s meditation.  We could also meditate, though, upon common threads between the two.

In the first parable, the treasure is buried.  In the second, the pearl of great price is sought by a merchant.  In both cases, the object of great value and meaning has to be discovered.  But there’s a difference between the two.  While the treasure is out of sight, presumably the pearl is in plain sight, yet like a needle in a haystack as it rests amidst many other items in the market.

In the first parable, we don’t know whether the person who finds the treasure was looking for it, or chanced upon it.  In the second parable, Jesus tells us that the merchant was actively “searching for fine pearls”.  The differences and possible differences between these two parables allows us to apply them to various situations in real life.  After all, sometimes an individual seeks the Faith for many years before receiving it as a gift from God.  Others, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, are struck by what seems a bolt from the blue.  Nonetheless, for every Christian, faith in Christ and life in Christ make for a treasure worth all that we have to give.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest
Jeremiah 14:17-22  +  Matthew 13:36-43
July 31, 2018

“Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus offers a point-by-point explanation of the parable that He had preached about the weeds in the field [Matthew 13:24-30].  The evangelists rarely offer us examples of Jesus explaining a parable, so today’s passage is insightful not only in terms of the parable’s content, but also in terms of understanding how Jesus uses parables.

We might wonder, to start with, what the significance is of the evangelist telling us that it’s after “Jesus dismissed the crowds” that “His disciples approached Him” to ask for an explanation of the parable.  This is an important distinction that the evangelist didn’t have to note for Jesus’ explanation to make sense.  Perhaps the evangelist is highlighting the importance of petitioning God for deeper insight into His revealed Word.

Jesus explains the meanings of seven persons or things within the parable.  This allegorical explanation of the parable is important because it’s in accord with the method of interpreting Jesus’ parables commonly found in the writings of patristic and medieval saints.  This allegorical method is often rejected today by scholars who offer modern theories about how to interpret parables.  It’s important to note that among those whom modern scholars criticize are not only canonized saints whose holiness is proven, but also—as we hear today—Our Lord Himself!

Monday of the 17th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Jeremiah 13:1-11  +  Matthew 13:31-35
July 30, 2018

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.

Jesus today proclaims two parables about the Kingdom of Heaven.  In wanting to understand these parables, we might wonder what exactly the Kingdom of Heaven is.  Is the Kingdom of Heaven the realm of Heaven?  Is it the Church, or some measure of both the Church and Heaven, or something else entirely, such as the individual Christian’s soul?

Jesus never directly answers this question.  But even without defining “the Kingdom of Heaven”, we can say that the kernel of each “Kingdom parable” describes in some way the reality of Heaven, and/or the Church, and/or the Christian’s soul.

Take Jesus’ first parable in today’s Gospel passage.  The change from the “smallest of all the seeds” to “the largest of plants” seems more easily applied to the Church and the Christian soul than to Heaven.  Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”, a phrase through which we can see how this parable applies to the Church.  With God, all things are possible:  from a natural death springs supernatural life.  Or as the Church prays to God the Father in one of the prefaces for martyrs at Holy Mass:  by “your marvelous works” “in our weakness you perfect your power / and on the feeble bestow strength to bear you witness….”

The 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
II Kgs 4:42-44  +  Eph 4:1-6  +  Jn 6:1-15
July 29, 2018

“…He withdrew again to the mountain alone.”

At the end of today’s Gospel passage, “Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry Him off to make Him king, [and so] He withdrew again to the mountain alone.”  This sentence by itself seems strange, but it reveals an important point to keep in mind throughout the five Sundays beginning today.  We will hear almost the entirety of the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel account over the course of these five Sundays.

The sixth chapter of John focuses our attention on Jesus’ teaching about the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.  But today’s passage—John 6:1-15—makes up the chapter’s prologue.  These introductory verses prepare for Jesus’ teaching about the Eucharist by clearing up a few misconceptions.

Your average human being, if he knew that a crowd were wanting to make him a king, would not retreat into solitude.  In the culture of the Internet, an individual by means of a blog or YouTube can quickly become a celebrity with an avid group of followers.  Jesus did not want to be a celebrity.  Jesus did want crowds to follow Him, but only for the right reason, mindful of the goal towards which He wanted to lead them.

Both at the beginning and end of today’s Gospel passage, the crowds are following Jesus for wrong reasons.  At the beginning, when “Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee”, “a large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs He was performing on the sick.”  This large crowd is mistaking the means for the end.  They think that Jesus is in this world to be some miraculous physician.  They don’t understand that His miraculous cures are meant to be attention catchers, not the object of Jesus’ life.

At the end of the passage, after the multiplication of the loaves, the people proclaim Jesus to be “‘the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.’”  “They were going to… carry Him off to make Him king.”  They think Jesus is in this world to rid it of hunger.  They don’t understand that the miracle of feeding five thousand is meant to be an attention catcher, not the object of Jesus’ life.

Both miraculous signs—healing the sick and feeding the hungry—beg an important question.  What was the object of Jesus’ life on earth?  What were all of Jesus’ miracles advertising?  In an important sense, the rest of John 6 answers this question.

Take your own bible and put a bookmark at John 6.  During the next four weeks, read the entire chapter often.  In most versions of the Bible, the chapter is not even three pages long.  Allow the Word of God to move your attention away from whatever is distracting your attention from God’s will for your life.  Whatever God may ask of you, rely for strength upon the grace of the Word made Flesh:  the Son of God who offers us His Body and Blood as strength for the journey, and a foretaste of the Love that awaits at journey’s end.

Saturday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Jeremiah 7:1-11  +  Matthew 13:24-30
July 28, 2018

“‘Where have the weeds come from?’”

“Let them grow together until harvest,” the sower in Jesus’ parable says, referring to the weeds and the wheat.  Modern farmers may not follow the sower’s advice, but the parable is clearly meant to teach a lesson in spirituality, not agriculture.

Jesus begins the parable by clarifying that He is describing the “Kingdom of heaven”.  Some speculate whether the “Kingdom of heaven” and the “Kingdom of God” that Jesus often describes in parables are synonymous with Heaven itself, or with the Church on earth, or with both.  The history of the Church on earth makes it clear—to anyone whose hopes for Heaven are at all lofty—that there’s a significant difference between Heaven and the Church on earth.  Perhaps, then, the kingdoms that Jesus describes through His parables are ideals to be striven for?

Whether we answer any of those questions or not, we can derive spiritual principles from the parables that any sincere Christian will want to make her own.  Regarding today’s parable, the sincere Christian will naturally ask whether he is one of the weeds or one of the tares of wheat.  At different times we may be one or the other.  If we’re constantly complaining about “others” in our lives—”those weeds”—then we likely need to make a good examination of conscience.

One purpose of the parables is to give our daily life focus:  as the old maxim puts it, “to begin each day with the end in mind”.  In other words, we ought not live each day for the sake of each day.  We ought to live each day for the sake of the eternal Day that lies just beyond the hour of our death, when our Lord will, with divine circumspection and justice, separate the weeds from the wheat.

Friday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Jeremiah 3:14-17  +  Matthew 13:18-23
July 27, 2018

“But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it….”

If you use a computer at all, you know how many different things you can accomplish with it.  Computers can help us with our homework, with our finances, with preparing a talk, with sending messages and pictures to our loved ones.  The list seems endless.

The more we get used to working with computers, the more we get used to doing what the professionals call “multi-tasking”:  that is, trying to do several things at once.  With computers, this means printing one thing, sending an email, downloading a file, and so on and so forth, all at once.  With computers, the more you can multi-task, the smarter you are.  Or so the theory supposes.

Jesus is saying something very different in today’s Gospel passage.  The parable that He tells us has a simple point:  we need to focus on God in order to love Him.  In a way, Jesus’ parable reminds us of what Jesus said to Martha when He visited the home of Martha and Mary.  Martha and Mary were very different sisters.  Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to His words, while Martha was multi-tasking all over the house.  Mary focused her attention on Jesus, while Martha did not.

Your soul is like a field.  Jesus wants to sow good seed in your soul so that, at the end of your life in this world, He can find a rich field of grace to harvest.  But the parable that Jesus tells us shows that even though Jesus takes good seed everywhere He goes, some fields—some souls—are better than others.  The good soul, ready to accept the seed of God’s Word, is the soul that focuses on God.  This is the person who prays daily to God, asks His help, and knows that God will forgive all sins.  When we look at the crucifix, and pray to Jesus, focusing on His love for us, we see the One who will lead us to life forever with Him in Heaven.

Sts. Joachim & Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Sts. Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Jeremiah 2:1-3,7-8,12-13  +  Matthew 13:10-17
July 26, 2018

“‘Gross is the heart of this people….’”

When the disciples in today’s Gospel passage ask Jesus why He speaks to “the crowd” in parables, He responds with what we might call a “theology of parables”.  Jesus contrasts the disciples with the crowd.  The disciples, He explains, have been granted “knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven”.  But the crowd has not.  Jesus also points out that the crowd “look but do not see” and “hear but do not listen or understand”.  So given this two-fold deficit on the part of the crowd, why is it fitting for Jesus to speak to them in parables?

Since Jesus then reveals that Isaiah 6:9-10 has been fulfilled in the midst of the crowd, parables seem to be a sort of pabulum.  By way of analogy, we might consider Saint Paul’s explanation of his own preaching to the Corinthians, who had been torn by jealousy and strife:  “I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready” [1 Corinthians 3:1-2].

In other words, parables are for the weak of spirit, for those not yet ready for the full strength of the Gospel message, nor for living this message through their own lives.  Aren’t we ourselves often among their number?

St. James, Apostle

St. James, Apostle
2 Corinthians 4:7-15  +  Matthew 20:20-28
July 25, 2018

…so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the apostle James.  But two of the apostles were named James.  The apostle whose feast we celebrate today is usually called “James the Greater”.  This James was the brother of St. John the Apostle.

Saint James the Greater was “greater” than the other James because he followed Jesus for a longer time.  But even though this “Great James” followed Jesus for so long a time, he still didn’t exactly understand who Jesus was.  We can tell that from today’s Gospel passage.

James and John, the apostle-brothers, have a mom who wants what’s best for them.  She knows that Jesus is a great person, very important, and even believes that Jesus is some sort of king.  That’s why she asks Jesus if her sons can sit right next to Jesus’ throne.  She wants her sons to be important.

But Jesus says something that none of them expects.  Jesus says that if you want to be with Him in Heaven, you have to drink from the chalice that Jesus was going to drink from during Holy Week.  When Jesus says this, He’s not only talking about the chalice that He’s going to use at the Last Supper.  Jesus is also talking about the cup of suffering:  He’s talking about the Cross.  Remember that after the Last Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, and prayed to God the Father about the cup of suffering that He knew was coming very soon.

You will actually grow stronger in your life whenever you suffer for Jesus’ sake.  Jesus taught us this in the Beatitudes:  “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” [Matthew 5:11].  Always remember that this is one of the ways that God will give you grace throughout your life:  by sticking with Jesus, even when it’s very difficult.

Tuesday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Micah 7:14-15,18-20  +  Matthew 12:46-50
July 24, 2018

“Here are my mother and my brothers.”

For at least two reasons, today’s Gospel Reading may be used (erroneously) to criticize Catholic beliefs.  The first is that Jesus seems to downplay the significance of His birth mother, Mary.  The second is that Jesus refers to His “brothers”, which seems to contradict the Church’s teaching about Mary’s perpetual virginity.  In replying to both concerns, we can not only help those with misunderstandings, but we can ourselves move closer to the heart of Jesus’ words.

First, is Jesus downplaying the significance of Mary in saying that “whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother”?  On the contrary, Mary is the perfect example of what Jesus is talking about here.  It’s true that Jesus doesn’t go out of His way on this occasion (at least, as recorded by the St. Matthew the Evangelist) to point to Mary as the perfect embodiment of doing the will of God the Father.  There are several possible reasons why Jesus did not think it prudent on this occasion to highlight Mary’s human perfection, but none of these suggest that Mary is not the perfect human creature that all the Church’s Marian dogmas describe her as being.

Second, the word in today’s Gospel passage that is translated into English as “brothers” is the Greek word “adelphoi”.  Apologists have noted that other New Testament uses of this word show that the word can have meanings other than the strict sense of “siblings”.  Others have noted the logical fact that Jesus having brothers doesn’t mean that Mary had other children besides Jesus, since Jesus’ “brothers” may have been step-brothers from an earlier marriage of Joseph, who may have been a widower.  Ultimately, however, such arguments can turn Jesus’ very intention in this Gospel passage on its head:  Jesus is trying to get us to move away from worrying about His blood relations, so that you and I might be His brethren through the Church.

Monday of the 16th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Micah 6:1-4,6-8  +  Matthew 12:38-42
July 23, 2018

“…there is something greater than Solomon here.”

If one were to choose a saying of Our Lord from elsewhere in the Gospel to summarize today’s Gospel passage, one might choose:  “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” [Luke 12:48].  A more mundane way to express Jesus’ disapproval of the request for a sign would be to say that the scribes and Pharisees don’t know what they’re asking for.  It’s dangerous to ask for a sign, because with the sign comes the responsibility to follow that sign.  Signs command us to stop, or yield, or put a limit on our speed.

At the end of today’s passage, Jesus contrasts the scribes and Pharisees with “the men of Nineveh” and “the queen of the south”.  This isn’t meant to flatter the scribes and Pharisees.  The men of Nineveh and the queen of the south were not upstanding characters.  Nonetheless, the men of Nineveh were given the sign of “the preaching of Jonah”, and they responded to the sign of the prophet by repenting.  The queen of the south was given the sign of the “wisdom of Solomon”, and she responded by coming from “the ends of the earth to hear” him.

Jesus’ bottom line puts the scribes and Pharisees in their place.  As bad as the men of Nineveh and the queen of the south were, they repented when given signs by Jonah and Solomon.  Since the scribes and Pharisees will be given a far greater sign, by one who is far greater than Jonah and Solomon (not only a prophet and king, but the divine priest as well), they will be judged by a far higher standard.  Should they not repent (as up to this point in the Gospel account they had not), the conclusion is that their culpability would be far greater.