Saturday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 43:1-7  +  Matthew 23:1-12
August 25, 2018

“… you have but one Father in Heaven.”

Today’s Gospel passage contains a verse that some Christians quote to “prove” that one of Catholics’ most common practices is “unbiblical”.  Jesus declares, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.”  These words of Jesus would seem to disqualify the Catholic practice of addressing a priest as “Father”, as well as referring to the Pope as the “Holy Father”.

Those who make this argument might be taken aback, then, if it were pointed out to them how many passages from Saint Paul’s letters show the Apostle referring to himself as a spiritual father.  For example, Paul explains how the Corinthians have one father.  He squarely preaches to them, “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father […] it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus…” [1 Cor 4:15].  It’s hard to imagine—if you were to interpret Holy Scripture in a literalistic sense—any words that more directly contradict Jesus’ command to “call no man on earth your father” than what St. Paul says of himself:  “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father […] it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus….”

What are we to make of this seeming contradiction?  St. Paul’s following words only seem to heighten the contradiction against Jesus’ command.  St. Paul commands those listening to him:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” [1 Cor 4:16].  Why doesn’t St. Paul just say instead, “Be imitators of Christ”?  Some Christians will argue over and over again that the Catholic priesthood is a corruption of the Word of God because it puts a middle-man—a mediator—between Christ and the individual believer.  They will say instead that the individual Christian can go straight to Christ, without needing men in between.  (Of course they’ll turn a blind eye to the plain fact that the act of preaching—which is so prominent in Protestant denominations—is an act of a man mediating the Word of God to his listeners.)

It’s here that the teachings of Saint Paul—found, of course, in the Holy Bible—lead us deeper into the mystery of the Christian Faith.  St. Paul’s words don’t contradict Jesus’ command to call no man on earth your father:  St. Paul’s words deepen the revelation of Jesus.  Christian fathers, whether in the home or in the sanctuary, whether through the Sacrament of Marriage or through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, are called to say—by their example if not by their words—what St. Paul proclaims here:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”  Christian fathers are called to lead their children each day and each week deeper into the life of Christ.

St. Bartholomew, Apostle

St. Bartholomew, Apostle
Revelation 21:9-14  +  John 1:45-51
August 24, 2018

“Come and see.”

When Philip points out Jesus as the promised Messiah, what does Nathaniel—also known as Bartholomew—say?  We can almost see Nathaniel shrugging his shoulders as he says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  In this one sentence, he insults both Jesus and Jesus’ hometown.  Clearly, he does not have faith at this point.

But we see that Nathaniel is like Peter:  a slow learner, but someone who, once he realizes what’s going on, is completely “in”.  When Nathaniel hears Jesus call him, he realizes who Jesus is, and confesses this truth, declaring:  “Teacher, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”  So if any of us are slow to learn, we should remember that Jesus does not give up on us.  Jesus will still call each of us to live out his vocation each day, and give him whatever is needed to carry it out.

Yet we should also note something else in this “vocation story”:  that is, the role of Philip.  When God calls a young man to be a priest, or a young woman to the consecrated life, He usually calls him or her through other people.  We need not only to encourage vocations:  we need also to encourage those “other people” like Philip to encourage vocations.

After all, Philip said just three words:  “Come and see.”  But if Philip had not said these three simple words, Nathaniel might never have met Jesus, and the Church would not have been built up by this holy apostle Bartholomew.  Little words can do a lot for God’s great glory.

Thursday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 36:23-28  +  Matthew 22:1-14
August 23, 2018

“Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

What are we to make of the violence in this parable?  The violence flies in two directions.  The second is on the part of the king, who acts in retribution.  Jesus issues a warning to us here that His Father is not just some sort of teddy bear, but rather a Just Judge.  On a practical level, though, the first form of violence is more important for us to reflect on, for it challenges our own way of acting.

First, some who are invited to the feast carry out violence.  Some invited guests simply refuse to come:  “Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.”  But the rest of those invited killed the messengers!  Who are these invited guests, and who are the messengers?

In terms of the first century, when Jesus walked the earth, these invited guests symbolize those to whom Jesus was originally speaking.  The evangelist tells us that these are “the chief priests and elders of the people”.  But the evangelist recorded this parable in his Gospel account because it has perennial meaning.  This parable has been proclaimed in churches in every century since Jesus walked the earth.  The parable’s invited guests symbolize all of mankind who have heard God’s desire that “all peoples” and “all nations” enter into the wedding feast of Heaven.  We need, for our own sake, to understand the parable’s invited guests as ourselves:  you and I!

If we remember not only that God is inviting us into Heaven, but that confessing our sins to the Lamb who was slain is the ticket into the banquet, then we can more easily identify with the ungrateful invited guests.  “Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.”  These persons have no need for either the ticket or the feast.  They have their own lives, and they are their own masters.

But then there are the others who had been invited.  They “laid hold of [the king’s] servants, mistreated them, and killed them.”  This violence forces the question:  who are these servants, and how can we understand the violence done to them?  Those who bring the Lord’s invitation to conversion may be other persons:  for example, a spouse, a parent, a priest, an employer, a neighbor, a grandparent, or a friend.  Unfortunately, we want spouses who compliment us, priests who tickle our ears from the pulpit, and friends who will tell us about the faults of others, rather than about our own.

The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Ezekiel 34:1-11  +  Matthew 20:1-16
August 22, 2018

“…the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Jesus’ parable teaches us who we are to live for, and how we may serve them.

This parable, of course, is not about economics, but about merciful love.  When the landowner rhetorically asks, “am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?”, we understand that Jesus is, so to speak, putting words in the mouth of God the Father.  When faced with us human sinners, God the Father asks, “am I not free to do as I wish with my own merciful love?”

You and I gripe and complain like the laborers in this parable.  We cannot understand why others should receive blessings when they don’t deserve them.  We notice, in fact, not only that “the Lord makes His sun to shine on the evil and the good.”   God actually shows mercy to those who do not deserve it.  This gets to us because it seems unjust.

When we find ourselves torn between what seems just and what God chooses to offer to sinners, we need to reflect again on the answer that the Father gave us when He sent His eternal Son to become flesh and blood, so as to offer that flesh and blood on Calvary and through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Praying while gazing at a crucifix can help us reflect on the Cross as binding together the love of God and the love of neighbor.  In the light of this Cross, God asks us to prefer His form of mercy to our own sense of justice.

Coronation of Mary - Rubens

Pope St. Pius X

St. Pius X, Pope
Ezekiel 28:1-10  +  Matthew 19:23-30
August 21, 2018

“What will there be for us?”

Peter often comes across as a less than stellar candidate for the college of apostles, much less the leader of the apostles.  Consider that after Jesus has declared that salvation is impossible for man to accomplish, but that “for God all things are possible”, what does Peter reply?  He replies, “We have given up everything and followed you.  What will there be for us?”  Obviously Peter is not embarrassed by his self-interest.  We might admire his honesty in expressing himself, even if he himself isn’t so admirable on this occasion.  Can you imagine a brand new postulant arriving at the convent and asking where she can find the hot tub and the coffee bar?

But Jesus answers Peter’s question with a forbearance that might leave us scratching our heads.  Perhaps we need to reflect on whether, and how, Jesus is acting pedagogically here.  Jesus offers Peter an impressive response, assuring us that great gifts are in store in Heaven for those who are saved by God.

But this begs the question:  how does God save us?  For man it is impossible to save himself, but for God it is possible to save man.  But how does God save man?  This question seems to pass over Peter’s head, and perhaps at times over ours as well.  The answer, simply, is the Way of the Cross.  Peter in time will walk there.  God invites you to do so today.

St. Bernard, Abbot & Doctor of the Church

St. Bernard, Abbot & Doctor of the Church
Ezekiel 24:15-24  +  Matthew 19:16-22
August 20, 2018

“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”

The young man in today’s Gospel passage knows that something more is needed.  He’s very confident that he has observed the commandments, but knows that he still lacks something for him to gain eternal life.  Jesus’ response aims for Heaven:  “to be perfect”, the young man must sell what he has in order to give to the poor, and then he must follow Jesus.

It would not be accurate to take today’s passage as a proof that every Christian must abandon all of his or her possessions.  Jesus was speaking on this occasion to an individual.  Individual members of the Body of Christ have different vocations, and are called in different ways.  Individual calls include individual ways of using or giving away material goods.

What every Christian vocation does have in common with every other is to seek “to be perfect”.  In fact, Jesus commands us elsewhere to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.  That might seem an impossibly lofty goal, were we not to understand the meaning of the word “perfect”.  From the Latin, it could be loosely translated as “to become what one is”, or in other words, “to become what one is meant to be”.  God is perfectly God without any trouble.  We humans, on the other hand, have lots of trouble.  God “designed” each human person, and calls each human person, to spend himself in love for others, and above all, for God Himself as the ineffable Other.  However God may ask you to accomplish this, give thanks for His call.

The 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Prv 9:1-6  +  Eph 5:15-20  +  Jn 6:51-58
August 19, 2018

“For my Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink.”

The Church this Sunday, continuing the proclamation of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse, sets before us four Scripture passages to whet our appetite for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  We hear a First Reading, a Responsorial Psalm, a Second Reading, and a Gospel Reading.  Rarely on a Sunday in Ordinary Time are the four passages so closely related to a single theme, like four courses of a fine meal.  Usually in Ordinary Time the four scriptures are more of a smorgasbord.

The refrain of a Responsorial Psalm, when the psalm is related to all three of the other readings, can be especially helpful in appreciating the riches of the Liturgy of the Word.  We might consider this refrain the wine that accompanies the whole meal.  We sip from it repeatedly, and it enhances the flavors of each course.

“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”  This simple sentence from Psalm 34:8 is so profound that its meaning can soar right over our heads.  We’re used to the idea of “seeing” the goodness (or beauty, or wisdom) of the Lord.  In fact, one of theology’s descriptions of the experience of Heaven is the Beatific Vision.  Of course, seeing the goodness of the Lord transcends the type of vision that our eyes make possible.  Our physical sight becomes a metaphor for a spiritual vision of God.

So then, what does it mean to “taste the goodness of the Lord”?  It’s helpful here to recall the experience of tasting a good meal.  But can such an experience serve as a metaphor for the Goodness who is God Himself?  Sacred Scripture answers, “Yes.”  If this scriptural image challenges us in imagination and spirit, we might consider the challenge an experience to be savored.

In Sunday’s First Reading, Wisdom calls us to eat of her food and drink of her wine.  In the Second Reading, Saint Paul exhorts the Ephesians to be wise, not foolish.  In contrast to his example of foolishness—namely, getting drunk on wine—he cites the experience of being filled with the Spirit.  The contrast is clear when we remember how the Apostles on the day of Pentecost were thought to be drunk [see Acts 2:13].

While Sunday’s Gospel passage also uses metaphors of taste, Jesus makes clear that the experience He’s demanding of those who follow Him is no mere metaphor.  Jesus is emphatic:  “unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. … For my Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink.”

As the riches of the Old Testament are, so to speak, appetizers for the Gospel of the New Testament, so the Liturgy of the Word prepares us to taste and see the goodness of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The Word became Flesh in order to offer His Flesh both for us and to us, truly and really, as a means of abiding in Jesus and Him abiding us in us, today, each day of our earthly pilgrimage, and forever in Heaven.

Saturday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 18:1-10,13,30-32  +  Matthew 19:13-15
August 18, 2018

“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them….”

Our spiritual need for humility is like our body’s need for water:  it is foundational in an on-going manner; that is, in a manner that we constantly have to attend to.  It’s not like the foundation of a house that you pour once and then don’t (hopefully) have to attend to afterwards.

Some people think that humility is only for children.  This sort of thinking says, “Of course you should be humble when you’re small.  You should also be humble when you’re applying for a job, and when you’re going to confession, and when you’re at the bank applying for a loan.  But once you’re older, and you’ve made something of your life, and have money in the bank, and people who work for you… well, then, the time for humility is past.  At this point, you should take pride in yourself.”

But Jesus says just the opposite.  Jesus, who is divine, and the only-begotten Son of God, declared at the Annunciation:  “I am willing to become even less than a tiny baby.  I will become a single-celled human being inside the womb of this 14-year-old girl, in order to grow up and die to take away the sins of all mankind.”

We can reflect on the example of the Annunciation as a concrete example of Jesus’ counsel today.  Both Mary and Jesus in the scene of the Annunciation show us to whom “the Kingdom of Heaven belongs”.  Both Mary and Jesus demonstrate humility, but from opposite ends of a spectrum.  Mary—a poor, weak girl—submits her self to God the Father, accepting from Him a vocation that she cannot possibly at that point understand.

Jesus—God’s own divine Son—submits his self to God the Father, accepting from Him a vocation that we cannot understand.  Our Blessed Mother and Our Lord show us that humility is needed at every step of our lives:  from the beginning of our life on this earth, to the end of our life in Heaven.  We never outgrow the need for humility.

Friday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 16:1-15,60,63  +  Matthew 19:3-12
August 17, 2018

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”

In raising the institution of marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, Christ transformed it into a covenant reflecting His own love for His Church.  This transformation was symbolized at the wedding at Cana by Jesus transforming water into wine.  The natural is transformed by the supernatural into some third thing that is both.

Certainly there is a stark contrast between marriage during the Old Testament and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  We might say something similar of the contrast between Christian marriage and what many today—including the federal government, and in collusion with them, state governments—are labeling “marriage”.  The former contrast can be easily seen through the example of Moses, who more than 1200 years before Christ, permitted the Israelites to divorce [Deuteronomy 24:1-4].  Moses’ concession to human sinfulness, however, is repudiated by Jesus in today’s Gospel passage, and the original will of the Creator is reaffirmed against that concession.

The indissolubility of marriage is due not only to the fact that God Himself is marriage’s origin, but also that He is the One whose divine love marriage points to.  Thirdly, He is its mirror as it’s lived in the present, as spouses vow to help each other and their children each day to strive for Heaven.