Monday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
1 Corinthians 11:17-26,33  +  Luke 7:1-10
September 17, 2018

“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

With few exceptions, the translation of the Mass introduced in 2011 has been hailed by bishops, scholars and folk in the pews for its advances over the hurried translation made soon after Vatican II.  One of the key improvements in the translation is its greater fidelity to Sacred Scripture.  Today’s Gospel passage offers an example.

The centurion sends the message:  “Lord… I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.  … but say the word and let my servant be healed.”  This very clearly is the origin for the invocation that each Catholic makes to Jesus shortly before Holy Communion.  Such clarity impels us today to reflect deeply on the context of these words, so that our invocation before Holy Communion is more meaningful each time we offer it.

Here, consider just one point of context.  While we might focus on the humility of the centurion, reflect by contrast on the power of the Lord.  The Lord’s power is such that physical proximity to the sick person is not necessary.  The Lord needs only to “say the word”.  This power evokes awe in the communicant because while in today’s Gospel passage Jesus did choose to heal from a distance, at Holy Mass Jesus deigns to enter into our very person, both body and soul.  This intimate indwelling is a mystery for which we cannot possibly finish giving thanks.

The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Isaiah 50:5-9  +  James 2:14-18  +  Mark 8:27-35
September 16, 2018

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it….”

Today’s Gospel passage has three sections.  Consider what each reveals about the larger question of the direction of one’s life.  The first section starts off with Jesus asking the disciples who others say that He is.  They tell Him, but the answers that they give are all wrong.  But then He asks who they say that He is.  Peter replies for all of them:  “You are the Christ.”

Yet Jesus then does something surprising:  “He warn[s] them not to tell anyone about Him.”  It’s almost as if there’s something wrong with the disciples’ answer to the question.  It was the correct answer, but there’s something wrong with their answer.  It’s puzzling.

In the next section of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus no longer asks questions.  He gives answers.  Jesus begins to teach these same disciples.  What He teaches them is just as puzzling as His warning against them telling anyone about Him.  Actually, these two puzzles are connected.

So what puzzling news did Jesus deliver?  “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected… and be killed, and rise after three days.”  This is too much for Peter.  Remember that a few moments before, Peter had been the disciple to speak for the others in declaring, “You are the Christ.”  But now, hearing Jesus predict His own murder by “the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes”?  This is too much.  Peter takes Jesus “aside and beg[ins] to rebuke Him.”  As often happens in the Gospel accounts, Jesus is at the center of conflict.  But here, Jesus is in conflict with the very man He had chosen to lead His Church after His Ascension.

Jesus’ conflict with Peter is about who Jesus truly is meant to be:  who God the Father placed Jesus into this world to be.  A few moments earlier, Peter had spoken the right words when he insisted that Jesus is the Christ.  But in rebuking Jesus for declaring that Jesus must suffer greatly, be rejected by their leaders, and die at their hands, Peter shows that his words had been hollow.  Peter did not know what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ.

This conflict is so serious that Jesus rebukes Peter by calling him “Satan”, a title that literally means “adversary”.  “Get behind me, Satan.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  This conflict is about as fundamental as you can get.

This conflict between Jesus and Peter is so fundamental that in the final section of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus summons every person present—“the crowd with His disciples”—to teach them what we might call the Magna Carta of discipleship.  Jesus’ teaching in these final two sentences of today’s Gospel passage ought to be carved above the entrance of every church throughout the world.  What Jesus teaches here ought to be spoken out loud by every Christian, every day of his or her life, upon waking and upon retiring:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Three times here, Jesus uses the word “whoever”.  He’s not talking about an elite group like cloistered monks, or nuns on a par with Saint Theresa of Calcutta.  “Whoever” includes you, if you wish to follow Jesus.  “Whoever” includes you, if you wish to save your life.  If you wish to live as a Christian, to die as a Christian, to be a Christian, then Jesus is speaking these words to you:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady of Sorrows
1 Corinthians 10:14-22  +  John 19:25-27
September 15, 2018

“Woman, behold, your son.”

All our joys, all our sorrows, all our glory is only found in Christ:  that is to say, because we are members of Christ’s Body.  It is not true that you have your cross, and I have mine.  We all bear together—as individual members of Christ’s Body—the Cross of Jesus.  We all share in carrying His Cross.

Humanly speaking, sorrows tend to divide people more than joy or glory.  Loneliness and isolation are keenly felt by those who suffer.  Only in Christian faith can we find meaning even in the midst of suffering, because only God—who created everything out of nothing—can create good out of evil.

By approaching the Cross, we find Our Mother of Sorrows standing at its foot.  When we approach the Cross to take it up each day, she is there.  She remains there—at the heart of our Christian faith—to show us with a mother’s love that suffering cannot tear us from each other.

Our Lord Jesus taught us to pray the “Our Father”.  Jesus was not only teaching us that we have a Father in Heaven, because as a consequence of that truth, it’s also true that we are all brothers and sisters.  So then, it’s also true that Mary is the Mother of all of us.  We ask Our Lady of Sorrows, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, to pray for us in all things.  Through her intercession, she helps us know that no matter what we face in life, her Son is there with us, showing us how to walk the only Way that leads to Heaven.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Num 21:4-9  +  Phil 2:6-11  +  Jn 3:13-17
September 14, 2018

…He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

We know that silence can be deafening.  Sometimes silence is very embarrassing, as when a teacher asks a question about something that’s been studied for weeks, and no one knows the answer.

On the other hand, silence can be a very good thing.  It is in silence that the highest kind of prayer happens.  St. John of the Cross is supposed to have said that silence is God’s native language.  Regardless, there are many different ways to pray.  One of the first ways that we learn is prayers that others teach us, like the “Our Father”, the “Hail Mary” and the “Glory Be”.  Prayers like these let us pray together as a group, so that we’re praying the same thing at the same time.

Other times, though, we pray on our own, and so we make up our own words in prayer.  In this kind of prayer—which is like a conversation with God—we can say anything we want.  We don’t have to remember the right words to pray.  We just pray from our heart, and offer to God whatever is most on our mind.

But there’s another part of prayer that sometimes gets overlooked.  That is silence.  Actually, in our prayer, most of our time should be spent listening rather than speaking.  As the saying goes, this is why God gave each of us two ears, but only one mouth:  we are to listen twice as much as we talk.  This is as true of prayer as it of conversations with our fellow human beings.

It is in our silence—in listening to God—that our deepest prayer can take place.  This makes sense, if we think of it, because after all, isn’t what God wants to say to us probably more important than what we want to say to Him?

Humility is one of the virtues, and silence is one form of humility.  That’s why it’s often difficult to quiet ourselves down.  When we’re forced to be silent, we usually want to talk instead.

Even though we have lots of opportunity to grow in humility, as human beings our greatest call to be humble is when we face death:  the deaths of others whom we love, but eventually, our own death.  This is where Christ reveals to us God’s love.  This is what we celebrate today, on the Feast of the Triumph (or Exaltation) of the Holy Cross.

Picture in your mind the scene at Calvary.  Saint John was the only apostle who stood at the foot of the Cross in silence, and it was into his care that Christ, the only child of Mary, entrusted His Blessed Mother.  In turn, Christ entrusted John to the care of Mary.  In these words we hear the only teaching that is possible from the Cross:  that we must entrust ourselves to each other’s care, bound to each other by Our Father’s love.

St. John Chrysostom, Bishop & Doctor of the Church

St. John Chrysostom, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
1 Corinthians 8:1-7,11-13  +  Luke 6:27-38
September 13, 2018

“Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus bids us to follow the Golden Rule.  “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”  The Golden Rule is heard within the setting of admonitions by which Jesus leads us to share in His Cross:  “Love your enemies.”  “Do good to those who hate you.”  “Pray for those who mistreat you.”  These admonitions are examples of living out on the moral and spiritual planes what Jesus accomplished on the Cross.

We all know that it’s very hard to live out these admonitions.  But it’s good to remember that Jesus is not only our teacher, who set us an example on the Cross.  He is also our Savior, who from the Cross on Good Friday bestows grace upon all who beseech Him as they strive to imitate Him.

In the final part of today’s Gospel passage Jesus offers us some rhetorical questions.  The first is representative:  “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”  By the questions that follow Jesus leads us to see the Face of His heavenly Father.  When we live the Golden Rule, we will be “children of the Most High”.  Finally, to sum up everything He’s been exhorting us to live, He offers a simple principle that you and I might take and repeat throughout this day whenever there is a quiet moment:  “The measure with which you measure will in return by measured out to you.”

The Most Holy Name of Mary

The Most Holy Name of Mary
1 Corinthians 7:25-31  +  Luke 6:20-26
September 12, 2018

“Woe to you when all speak well of you.”

“Woe to you when all speak well of you.”  These words of Jesus seem at first hard to reconcile with the honors we confer on the canonized saints of the Church.  If we took the words of Jesus literally, then the praise given the saints would be wrong.  Then again, what of our speaking well of Christ Himself, and praising Him?  We don’t doubt that we ought to praise Christ, but given that fact, how do we understand His words in today’s Gospel passage?

What Jesus teaches in this passage—and in all the Lucan Beatitudes—is that a Christian can only find consolation in one place:  within the Holy Spirit.  None of the things which Jesus preaches against is bad.  Money, food, laughter, and praise are all good things.  The evil which distorts and perverts these good things, however, is the temptation to rest in them:  that is, to believe that these things can make us happy for any longer than a mere moment.

It is when we root good things such as money or praise within our earthly selves that they become that source of evil that Christ is preaching against.  May the grace of the sacraments help us to offer all our pleasures in life to God, and admit that none of them can save us from being rooted in this world.

Tuesday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time [II]
1 Corinthians 6:1-11  +  Luke 6:12-19
September 11, 2018

Jesus departed to the mountain to pray, and He spent the night in prayer to God.

St. Luke the Evangelist seems to speak more about prayer than the other evangelists.  He does so both by giving us Jesus’ words about prayer, and by illustrating occasions on which Jesus prayed.  In today’s Gospel Reading we have an example of the latter.

In the example of Jesus’ prayer described today, two things stand out.  The first is that Jesus “spent the night in prayer”.  Most of us Catholics in the Western world live very spoiled lives.  We consider the making of a Holy Hour a great sacrifice on our part.  But Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life show how common it was for Him to spend an entire night “in vigil”.  The lives of the saints show men and women from various stations in life all taking up this practice of the Lord in order to be close to Him.

The second notable thing about Jesus’ prayer in today’s Gospel passage is that He is engaged in prayer before a significant choice.  This reveals that the choice that follows—here, the choosing of the Twelve—is a choice made together by the Father and the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  For ourselves, the choosing of the apostles shows that great sacrifices in prayer, such as nighttime vigils, ought to spent for the sake of God’s work, and not for our own personal interests.

Monday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time [II]
1 Corinthians 5:1-8  +  Luke 6:6-11
September 10, 2018

But they became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

Jesus in today’s Gospel passage (and on many other occasions during His earthly life, leading to the Cross) faced those who had turned the meaning of religion inside out.  Jesus in this passage heals the man with the withered hand, and the response of the scribes and Pharisees is to become enraged:  they discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

In this we see a similarity between Jesus’ day, and our day:  a similarity between the world of Jesus, and the world in which we live.  The world in which we live today may be much larger than Jesus’ world:  there may be more countries, and more peoples who have to speak with each other, and work to get along.  Likewise, the Church today extends throughout the world instead of consisting of a small band of disciples.

Yet there are today people, just as in Jesus’ day, who return evil for good:  whose actions make no sense.  Whether we reflect upon the example of the scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel passage, or Pontius Pilate, or Judas Iscariot, the question we have to ask is:  how did Jesus respond to those who hated Him, and nailed Him to the Cross?  Can we be like our Lord Jesus, even in a situation like this?

The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Isa 35:4-7  +  Jas 2:1-5  +  Mk 7:31-37
September 9, 2018

“He has done all things well.”

It’s hard to imagine higher praise for Jesus than what the crowd offers following His healing of the deaf and mute man in Sunday’s Gospel passage:  “He has done all things well.”

This miracle of Jesus fulfills one of the miraculous signs of God’s coming that the Old Testament prophet Isaiah foretells in the First Reading.  Isaiah also foretells that God will make the blind see and the lame leap, miracles that we hear Jesus accomplishing elsewhere in the Gospel accounts.

The Gospel evangelists don’t, however, record that Jesus ever made streams burst forth in the desert, or turn burning sands into pools, as Isaiah foretells.  Perhaps Jesus did accomplish these miracles without word of them ever reaching the evangelists’ ears.  Regardless, we do hear in the Gospel accounts of Jesus working other miracles over nature, such as calming a storm and walking on water.  All of Jesus’ recorded miracles seem to justify the praise of the crowd:  “He has done all things well.”

The sticking point in today’s Gospel passage is what Jesus commands following His miraculous healing:  “He ordered them not to tell anyone.”  Jesus apparently ordered them more than once, because the evangelist notes that “the more He ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.”

Doesn’t this seem like an odd command for Jesus to make?  Doesn’t it seem opposed to what Jesus commands of His disciples at the end of the Gospel accounts:  to go forth and preach the Good News about Him to all the nations?  Doesn’t this command seem contrary to Jesus’ counsel in the Sermon on the Mount against putting one’s light under a bushel basket?  Isn’t Christ our light, so that news of His miraculous powers ought to be told to everyone?

We can ponder Jesus’ command against telling anyone of His miracle in terms of the location of this passage within the whole of St. Mark’s Gospel account.  This passage is found in the seventh chapter of Mark, which has sixteen chapters in all.  The events of this passage take place well before the death and Resurrection of Jesus.  In other words, at this point in time, Jesus has not yet done all things well.  The best is yet to come on Good Friday.

Jesus often shows a shrewd understanding of fallen human nature.  As we heard a few Sundays ago when the beginning of John 6 was proclaimed, Jesus knew that people were often impressed by His miracles for the wrong reasons.  Jesus knew that many people wanted in His day, and want in our day, to make Jesus their king because of what He can do for them.  Through His grace, Jesus can heal us of our self-interest.  He can help us praise Him for the sake of who He shows Himself on the Cross to be, rather than for what He does for us.  Through this form of praise, we can enter into His life and become more like Him.