St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin

St. Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin
Isaiah 6:1-8  +  Matthew 10:24-33
July 14, 2018

“[N]ot one [sparrow] falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.”

Jesus preaches today about Our Father’s providential knowledge and will.  “[N]ot one [sparrow] falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.”  God knows all things.  We know this abstractly, but perhaps we fail to consider all that this truth of our Faith means.

When we say that God knows all “things”, what sorts of things are we talking about?  Facts that would win God a championship on trivia shows?  Certainly God knows all objective facts about science, history, etc.  But God’s knowledge is not trivial.

God’s infinite knowledge extends to what is most personal.  God knows every action you have ever done or failed to do.  God also knows every thought you’ve ever had, and every word you’ve ever said.  He knows the hopes and desires of every human heart.  He knows of every emotion you’ve ever felt, and of the circumstances that led to those emotions.

But in human earthly providence, knowledge leads to the will.  God’s knowledge of you, as complete as it is—more complete, in fact, than even your own self-knowledge!—leads God only to love you more.  At times, we hide ourselves from God, not understanding the depth of His providential knowledge and will.  When we submit ourselves completely to God, we are more flexible in serving as an instrument of His peace.

Friday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Hosea 14:2-10  +  Matthew 10:16-23
July 13, 2018

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.

Today’s psalm especially draws out the spiritual themes of today’s Mass.  Psalm 51 is unique among the 150 psalms:  every Friday, it is the first psalm the Church prays at Morning Prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.

The psalm’s importance is understood better when we realize that the very first words the Church utters each morning in the Liturgy of the Hours come from this psalm:  “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.”  These words, the last sentence of today’s responsorial psalm, draw out a verse from today’s First Reading.  All week long we have heard the prophet Hosea bringing the wayward Israelites back to their covenant with the Lord God.  Today Hosea encourages them to make his words their own:  “We shall say no more, ‘Our God,’ to the work of our hands; for in you the orphan finds compassion.”

The temptation to make idols out of the work of our hands is always before us.  Yet the Church calls us to humility.  When we pray the Liturgy of the Hours, our first prayer each day comes from God even before it comes from our lips:  “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall declare thy praise.”  Everything comes from the Lord, and everything is meant to return to the Lord.

Jesus Himself, only Son of the Father, is the embodiment of the wisdom expressed by the Psalmist and Hosea.  He is the embodiment of self-sacrifice.  His is the life that every disciple asks the Father for the grace to enter into.  Even in the midst of the wolves and snakes of the world, when we lay our sins at the foot of the Cross, Christ can act within us.

Thursday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Hosea 11:1-4,8-9  +  Matthew 10:7-15
July 12, 2018

“Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words—go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet.”

The Scriptures and Tradition of the Church use many images to describe God.  The reason for this wealth of images, of course, is the fact that God is infinite:  no one image does justice to the depth and richness of God’s mercy and love.  Likewise, there are many images used to describe the peoples whom, throughout salvation history, God has desired to draw to Himself:  whether the families descended from Adam and Eve, or the tribes or Israel, or the members of the Mystical Body of Christ.

At the same time, we have also to confess that it takes many images to describe God’s People because there are so many ways in which His People sin, and fail to live up to the relationship to which He constantly calls us.  So it is in Hosea, as the prophet describes Israel with the image of a spouse, as well as the image of a child, which expresses the ingratitude of one who fails to give thanks for the sacrifices that the father has made.

One of the metaphors that Hosea uses speaks to us especially as followers of Jesus Christ.  Offering the Lord’s prophecy to Israel, Hosea says, “Yet, though I stooped to feed my child, they did not know that I was their healer.”  “The child”—in the singular—is the nation gathered together and nourished through the Law and the Prophets, yet the Lord recognizes that “they”—all of them—were unfaithful to Him.

Even more so did our Heavenly Father offer His own divine Son for the sake of His people, only to be met with rejection.  The sacrifice of Christ Jesus is both healing and nourishment for the People of God.  This is an important reason to prepare for Holy Mass with great devotion:  spending time in private prayer and devotion, considering how many joys and sorrows we have to offer to God, that we might be both strengthened and healed.

St. Benedict, Abbot

St. Benedict, Abbot
Hosea 10:1-3,7-8,12  +  Matthew 10:1-7
July 11, 2018

“Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Today’s Gospel passage speaks about reaching out to those who are hurt and sick.  We hear Jesus sending his twelve apostles to go out and heal “every disease and every illness.”  More than just a prophet, Jesus has authority not only to call back the repentant to Himself, but also to heal them.

When Jesus sends the apostles, His instructions are for them to go to “the lost sheep of the House of Israel”.  In our own day, there are many fallen-away Catholics, and of course we pray for them.  But we can do more for them than just pray.  With the sort of love that Jesus held in His Sacred Heart when He looked at the crowds and said, “the harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few”, we can reach out to those who have fallen away from the Church.

We can offer gentle instructions to those who don’t know how to start again to live the Faith:  to begin again to receive the sacraments, the gifts of grace which come to us through the apostles and their successors.  It’s the bishops’ responsibility—and the responsibility of those priests who work under their bishops—to bring lost sheep back into the fold through the sacraments.  But often, it will be ordinary Christians who point those lost sheep in the right direction.

Tuesday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Hosea 8:4-7,11-13  +  Matthew 9:32-38
July 10, 2018

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few….”

The cry that we hear Jesus utter in today’s Gospel passage—“the harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few”—is one that we usually associate with the need for vocations in the Church.  But Jesus also speaks through these words about the harvest of one’s heart and the fruits of one’s soul.  In each person is a soul created by God, and each soul is capable of being completely filled, as much as it is able:  that is, to be “perfected” by God’s grace.

Unfortunately, this “harvest of the soul” is neglected by so many of us by our actions and our inaction.  We are not willing to believe what the Church teaches about God calling every human person to be a saint.  The Church at the Second Vatican Council spoke strongly about the “universal call to holiness”.

God gives each one of us many gifts, but only when we talk with God and are strengthened by Him do we learn how to use those gifts correctly, in accord with His plan.  Through our prayer, and God’s grace, our minds and wills can be formed, so that we can be more perfectly the saints God wants us to be.

Monday of the 14th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Hosea 2:16,17-18,21-22  +  Matthew 9:18-26
July 9, 2018

“Courage, daughter!  Your faith has saved you.”

In today’s Gospel passage are two people who see how God wants to be in their lives in time of need.  In our day and age, so many people turn to Christ in need.  When we are honest with ourselves, we know that we would like to ask Christ’s help for many things in our lives.  It’s true that petitionary prayer—in which we ask for something from God—is not as selfless a form of prayer as adoration.  But God wants us to present our petitions to Him.

Consider the woman in this Gospel passage.  She had suffered for many years.  She interrupts Christ right in the middle of His trying to help someone else.  We should make that woman’s faith our own:  not simply her faith in Christ’s power, but also her faith in His patience and compassion.  There is no true need in our lives that we should not offer to God.

Is every petition answered as we wish, as are the petitions of this woman and the official?  Some Christians stop offering their petitions to God—or even stop believing in God—when He doesn’t provide the responses they want.  But growth in prayer requires the acceptance of God’s “No”’s, and learning through them to trust more deeply His providential Will.

The 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Ez 2:2-5  +  2 Cor 12:7-10  +  Mk 6:1-6
July 8, 2018

So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there….

This past week, as we’ve celebrated Independence Day, we’ve reflected on one of the things nearest and dearest to us Americans:  freedom, or as our Founding Fathers described it, liberty.  The Declaration of Independence is founded upon the God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  After the most fundamental human right—the right to life—comes the human right to liberty.

We can think about the morality of human freedom by using an image from C.S. Lewis:  that of a ship sailing out to sea.  Call it the U.S.S. Liberty.  Imagine that in your moral life as a Catholic, you are the first mate on this ship.  This image reflects three different dimensions of Catholic morality and freedom.

The first dimension is carried out by keeping your ship in shape:  this is personal morality, and is based on the virtues.  The second dimension is when you keep your ship from running into other ships that are out there at sea:  this is social ethics, and is based upon the Commandments, especially the latter seven.  The third dimension comes from knowing that you are at sea on a mission.  You’ve been sent to go somewhere, not just to float on the waters.  This is our final morality, which shows how our earthly choices are connected to where we will spend eternity.  Our final morality is based especially upon the four Last Things.

But none of these three sides of morality—personal, social, or final—makes any sense until we recognize what our human freedom really is, and what it is not.

Today’s Gospel passage proclaims that God’s love for us is absolute.  God respects our freedom absolutely.  He does so in a way which can be hard for us to understand.  Often, our drawing closer to someone else means coming under that person’s influence or even control, and from that experience we tend to flinch.  We believe that you can’t draw closer to another without some measure of your freedom being taken away.  Love is a tie that binds, we believe.

In fact, our most base instincts tell us that freedom means only “freedom from” others.  These base instincts try to convince us to stay stuck in the adolescent stage of life.  Of course, it’s only natural that the first several years of human life are spent in the process of separation from others.

Unfortunately, some people spend their entire lives pursuing only this “freedom from” others.  They see independence as the “be all and end all” of freedom, rather than as a means to a more profound type of freedom.  This is the “freedom for”:  the freedom to exercise the capacities we bear within.  As Christians, we understand our capacities as capacities to serve others:  God and neighbor.  The “freedom from” is meant to serve this “freedom for” others.

Those who pursue only the former type of freedom end up separating themselves from others.  As a result, they end their lives in isolation.  This gives us an insight into the meaning of the eternal Hell that results from mortal sin:  Hell is complete isolation, the result of a human person being turned in upon himself.

Christian freedom is unique.  The union between a human being and God doesn’t mean being absorbed by God, or being controlled by Him.  At every step of our journey towards God, we are fully free to accept or reject Him.  So ask for God’s grace, to accept Him more fully, in order to serve Him more fully by loving Him, your neighbors and yourself in an authentic, selfless way.

Saturday of the 13th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Amos 9:11-15  +  Matthew 9:14-17
July 7, 2018

“Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?”

It’s the disciples of St. John the Baptist—and not the saint himself—who appear and speak in today’s Gospel passage.  Nonetheless, today’s passage offers us similarities and contrasts between these two cousins:  one of them the voice of the Word, and the other the Word made Flesh.

One of the more obvious contrasts concerns fasting, and the fact that John’s disciples fast while Jesus’ do not.  But John’s disciples misunderstand the reason for this difference.  They misunderstand the relationship between John and Jesus.  Perhaps they thought of them as two equally inspiring religious figures.  Perhaps they thought of them as two equally valid paths leading to God’s righteousness.

In fact, John leads to Jesus.  John himself preached this clearly, but his disciples did not hear John clearly.

The last four sentences of today’s Gospel passage offer two mini-parables as a way to see these differences between John and Jesus.  Jesus is the new wine that must be poured into new wineskins.  This parable echoes His first public miracle at Cana [John 2:1-12].  To follow Jesus, a new approach to God must be accepted.  To be a disciple means to follow John in the constant need for penance and repentance.

Friday of the 13th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Amos 8:4-6,9-12  +  Matthew 9:9-13
July 6, 2018

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Today’s Gospel passage presents to us the vocation of Saint Matthew.  The word “vocation” literally means a “calling”.  A vocation is something “vocal”, which comes from the Voice of God (or perhaps better, the Word of God).  That might not seem earth-shattering news.  But what we sometimes forget is that a Christian vocation is not announced by Christ to a Christian at a single initial moment, as the old TV series began each week with the explanation of the spy’s mission, should he choose to accept it.

Rather, a Christian vocation is “declared” to the Christian in an on-going, unfolding manner.  Of course, it’s true that in the beginning a specific form of vocation is made known:  marriage or life as a vowed religious, for example.  But that is only the beginning of Christ’s announcement of one’s vocation.  That is only the beginning of Christ’s guidance.

Throughout the course of living out one’s Christian vocation, the Christian must expect, listen for, and heed God’s Word.  Each of these is a different skill in the skill-set required to flourish in one’s vocation.