The Week of Oct. 15-20, 2018

St. Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church
Galatians 4:22-24,26-27,31—5:1  +  Luke 11:29-32
October 15, 2018

These women represent two covenants.

In today’s First Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle to the Gentiles uses a very direct allegory.  Abraham begat one son by a free woman, and another son by a slave woman.  St. Paul sees the slave son as an allegory for those held bound by the Law, while the free son is an allegory for those who share in the freedom of Christ.

In the last line, St. Paul uses this allegory for a practical purpose.  “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”  Many first-century Christians had begun their lives as Jews under the Law, but had converted their lives to Christ as adults as the Church began to grow.  They had personally lived under the Law, and St. Paul is urging them not to regress back to living under the burden of the Law, which is a yoke of slavery.

For us Christians in the twenty-first century, we are like the Galatians in that we experience temptations to live under the law.  Of course, there are many civil and church laws that we are bound to, under the threat of just penalties.  The freedom of Christ doesn’t abolish the need for law.  But St. Paul exhorts us not to believe in law of any sort.  That is to say, no law can make someone a better person.  Law can only indicate when someone has acted outside the boundary of what is good.  Law merely defines wrong-doing.  Only grace, a share in the life of God, can make someone a better person.

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Galatians 5:1-16  +  Luke 11:37-41
October 16, 2018

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

We tend, at weekday Masses, to hear a continuous reading from day to day of whichever book of the Bible is being read for the First Reading.  However, what happens at the beginning of today’s First Reading is unusual.  The first verse of today’s reading was the last verse of yesterday’s First Reading.  This repetition underscores the significance of this verse’s message.  “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

Freedom, we might say, is the whole point of faith in Jesus Christ.  Without Christ, we are slaves:  to sin, and to our fallen selves.  In Christ, we are free to live eternally.  In Christ, we find the Love who is God Himself, and the love that strengthens us for service of God and neighbor.

During the month of October, the month of Our Lady’s Rosary, the Church also focuses on the dignity of human life.  Part of this focus is upon the need for laws to be passed to protect human life.  While we need laws that reflect the mind of God, we have to be honest about the fact that laws do not change the minds and hearts of lawbreakers.  Laws can make good fences, but they cannot make good people.  That why the fostering of virtue is needed, and there’s no greater source of virtue than God’s grace.

St. Igantius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr
Galatians 5:18-25  +  Luke 11:42-46
October 17, 2018

“You pay tithes… but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.”

If the scholar of the Law who interrupted Jesus’ lambasting of the Pharisees thought he would earn an apology from Jesus, he quickly realized otherwise.  Contrary to modern notions of Jesus as a sort of “spiritual teddy bear”, today’s Gospel passage splashes cold water on our souls, forcing us to ask whether Jesus might speak of us in a similar manner.

However, in addition to the sober fact of Jesus’ forthright willingness to condemn those deserving condemnation, we could consider in turn each of the “woes” that Jesus articulates today.  Here consider just the first.

“You pay tithes… but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.”  All three of these objects of religion—tithes, judgment, and love—are due to God from human persons.  They “belong” to God, we might say, each in its own manner.  Why might it be that the Pharisees are willing to give the first, but not the latter two?

There certainly is a hierarchy among the three.  “Love for God” is due God because “God is love”.  Judgment is due God in that only He—all-loving and all-knowing—can judge truly.  Tithing of materials goods such as “of mint and of rue and of every garden herb” is due God because He is the Lord of creation.  Nonetheless, the ascent to God in the practice of religion involves the ascent of a staircase with many steps.  The tithing of material goods is one of the lower steps, and the Pharisees are content to rest there.  This step is meant to lead us further upwards: closer to God, towards a higher share in God’s divine nature.

St. Luke the Evangelist
2 Timothy 4:10-17  +  Luke 10:1-9
October 18, 2018

“Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”

“One who is sent” is the literal meaning of the word “apostle”.  Today’s Gospel passage, however, is not about the sending of the Twelve, but about the sending of the 72 whom Jesus sent ahead of Him as “advance men”.  The 72 are to prepare people to receive Jesus.  This is how we can relate this Gospel passage to our own lives as disciples.  Very few members of the Church serve as successors of the apostles in the role of bishop, but every Christian is sent by Jesus to prepare others to receive Him.  This fact is often overlooked today.  There is a confusion still, so many years after the Second Vatican Council, between the roles of the clergy and laity.

The role of the laity in the Church is largely “outside” the Church, in that the laity carry the fruits of the Church into the wider, secular world.  The word “apostolate” is all but obsolete today in referring to the work of the laity, but it needs to be reclaimed to describe the right and responsibility of the laity to engage the “world” with the Good News of Christ.

Sts. John de Brébeuf & Isaac Jogues, Priests, et soc., Martyrs
Ephesians 1:11-14  +  Luke 12:1-7
October 19, 2018

“Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna….”

In the secular culture that surrounds modern Western man, the only image of Jesus that is acceptable is that of a spiritual teddy bear.  The only acceptable icon is “the Laughing Jesus”.  The idea that Jesus makes moral demands or sets moral boundaries is incompatible with modern secularism.

What to make of today’s Gospel passage, then?  Jesus declares:  “I shall show you whom to fear.  Be afraid of the one who after killing has the power to cast into Gehenna; yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one.”

Still, just three sentences later Jesus demands“Do not be afraid.”  There seems to be a contradiction.  Jesus tells us to be afraid, and then not to be afraid.

In fact, Jesus insists that we have a fully-rounded, rather than two-dimensional, view of God.  We may consider Jesus to be speaking of God the Father, or of Himself, when He describes whom one should fear.  As God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit condemn the one who persists in mortal sin.  Fear of God, the Just Judge, however, is a fear that helps us shape our lives.  This is a “holy fear”.  This fear gives direction to our days on this earth and to each day’s choices.  But guided by this holy fear, we can trust in the God who guides us away from sin, and to Himself.

Saturday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ephesians 1:15-23  +  Luke 12:8-12
October 20, 2018

“For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you should say.”

Twice in today’s Gospel passage, God the Holy Spirit is referred to.  The first mention is somewhat ambiguous in meaning:  in its plainest sense, “blaspheming against the Holy Spirit” would refer to denying that the Holy Spirit is truly and fully God.  The Church has had to combat such denial throughout her history.

The second mention of the Holy Spirit refers to a situation that many Christians face at some point in their lives.  Whether at the point of death or with the fear of mere embarrassment, Christians at a loss as to how to defend their Faith must rely on the Holy Spirit.  Even the most brilliant Christian orator or preacher (St. Augustine of Hippo being a prime example) knows that human brilliance in any measure is dwarfed by, and comes from, the Wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

However, the Holy Spirit teaching the Christian what to say does not mean that the Christian becomes a puppet or megaphone of the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit who teaches at that moment, but it’s still the Christian who must speak in his own name about the Holy Name of Jesus, making the Good News his own.