The Week of Nov. 5-10, 2018

Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Philippians 2:1-4  +  Luke 14:12-14
November 5, 2018

“For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Although Jesus’ words today take the form of a command (“do not invite…”) to us as His disciples, we can reflect on His words through a process of inversion.  That is, we can consider ourselves as those invited to a banquet.  The one inviting us is the Lord Jesus.  The banquet is the sacramental celebration of the Last Supper:  the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Shortly before the distribution of Holy Communion, the priest—holding aloft the Sacred Host—proclaims that “[b]lessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”  The response of the faithful is, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof… .”  In this, both priest and faithful gaze on the One who has called us to Him.  We are “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” of whom Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel passage.

For God Himself, of course, it’s not that He will be blessed because of our inability to repay Him.  It is from the Lord’s own divine goodness—eternal and infinite—that He bestows on us the blessing of being called to the banquet of the Eucharist.  Although we are unable to repay the Lord “in kind” for this invitation, we can repay Him with our lives:  with the self-gift of our own body and blood, soul and humanity as His disciples.

Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Philippians 2:5-11  +  Luke 14:15-24
November 6, 2018

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

Through Jesus on Calvary we see that the capacity for self-sacrifice measures the authenticity of a Christian’s life.  Are you and I authentic Christians?  This is just another way of asking:  what do we sacrifice in our lives?  Of course, the world around us encourages us to sacrifice nothing.  The world that surrounds us encourages just the opposite:  that we glorify and gratify our very selves.  By contrast, Jesus asks the one who wants to follow Him to reach inside himself and to sacrifice his very self.

When we do turn inwards, and look inside ourselves, what do we find there?  There are many things inside ourselves that we might offer up to God:  resentments, vain hopes, desires for material goods, to name just a few.

But listen again to what Saint Paul proclaims about the example of sacrifice given by our Savior, who “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; … He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  Jesus offered His very self:  not only what He was truly attached to and desirous of, but His entire being, from the inside out:  His Body and Blood, soul and divinity.

Wednesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Philippians 2:12-18  +  Luke 14:25-33
November 7, 2018

… work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

Saints of the Church have noted that every aspect of the Christian faith is inevitably distorted twice, in opposite directions.  Take St. Paul’s words in today’s First Reading as an example, where he preaches about the drama of the Christian spiritual life.

On the one hand, St. Paul commands the Philippians:  “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”  This command speaks clearly of the centrality of human effort in the spiritual life.  Salvation is not a “done deal” at one’s baptism.  Salvation is assured only to the Christian who perseveres in God’s love to the very end of her earthly life.  Unfortunately, there are some who have only considered this truth in isolation, claiming that salvation comes through human effort, to the exclusion of God’s help.

On the other hand, St. Paul preaches clearly about God’s centrality in the spiritual life.  “God is the one who… works in you both to desire and to work.”  There are, unfortunately, those who have exaggerated God’s role in the spiritual life, claiming that man cannot contribute anything good to his own salvation.  When we listen with both ears, however, God reveals to us that the spiritual life is a drama:  God is in the lead role, but asks us to follow Him in the acts that lead to Heaven.

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Philippians 3:3-8  +  Luke 15:1-10
November 8, 2018

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus’ first parable in today’s Gospel is heartfelt, offering us hope of God’s compassion for the wayward.  Jesus offers a “moral” to the parable in explaining that “there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”

Although Jesus’ “moral” seems straightforward enough, there is something about it that seems paradoxical.  Wouldn’t it make sense for the “righteous” to rank higher in Heaven than the repentant?  Why isn’t there such rejoicing in Heaven over the righteous?  There are at least two responses that might be offered.

First, the “righteous” of whom Jesus is here speaking are defined by the righteous themselves.  Yet such self-righteousness is a false righteousness.  Only God can make a human person righteous.

Second, those who are righteous in the true sense of the word are so only through their repentance.  A saint is a sinner who knows he’s a sinner.  In this sense, all human beings in Heaven (excepting, of course, Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother) are righteous through their self-repentance.  You and I as sinners rejoice that the Lord has not left us in our sins, but has offered us His grace, which is the means to righteousness in God’s sight.

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
Ezekiel 47:1-2,8-9,12  +  1 Corinthians 3:9-11,16-17  +  John 2:13-22
November 9, 2018

… you are the temple of God….

Today’s Gospel passage shows us God’s passion for His temple, and His passion for the sacrifice offered there.  In the confessional, priests often hear people confess anger.  A priest might find it necessary to ask questions when someone confesses “getting angry”.  In light of Jesus’ action in this passage, it’s important to remember not only that merely “getting angry” is not necessarily a sin.  Also, even acting in anger is not necessarily a sin.

Acting in anger, or fostering anger in oneself or others, certainly can be a sin.  But Jesus acts in anger in today’s Gospel passage, and with good reason.  When reflecting on a state of anger, and actions that flow from it, it’s important to ask what the object of one’s anger is.  This object can make all the difference in the morality of such an act.

While experiencing the passion of anger, Jesus purifies the Temple.  In the passion of love, He purifies the temple of the human body of sin on Calvary, by offering up His own body in sacrifice.  St. John the Evangelist makes this point clearly.  When Jesus challenges His opponents, saying, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”, the evangelist explains that Jesus “was speaking about the temple of His Body.”  The Church’s belief in the great goodness of the human body is based in large measure on this Gospel truth.  The Church’s challenging ethic of purity of body stems not from a belief that the human body is bad, but that the human body’s purity ought to concern us as much as the purity of the Temple concerned Jesus.  Both temples ultimately belong to God, for His purposes and for His glory.  The temple of the human body is meant for the offering of sacrifices, small and large.

St. Leo the Great, Pope & Doctor of the Church
Philippians 4:10-19  +  Luke 16:9-15
November 10, 2018

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at Him.

“You cannot serve God and mammon.”  This sentence of Jesus is sometimes falsely and simplistically interpreted to mean that you cannot have both God and money in your life.  In other words, this false interpretation says that there’s a sort of competition in your life between God and money which is a zero-sum game.  Or to use a picture metaphor:  this false interpretation says that there’s a see-saw in your life:  God and money are sitting at opposite ends of the see-saw.  If one goes up, the other must go down.  The holier you are, the less money you will have, and the more money you have, the less holy you must be.  This interpretation of Jesus’ words is false.

Our spiritual well-being and our financial well-being are not in competition with each other.  Rather, when Jesus plainly tells you that “You cannot serve both God and mammon”, the key is the word “serve”“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  You can serve God, or you can serve mammon.  But you cannot serve both.

The beautiful thing about serving God is that through this form of love, we become more like Him.  After all, “God is love”, as St. John taught the first Christians.  So in the very act of loving God, we become like Him:  that is to say, we enter into His very way of life, His very way of being.  This is as God wants, and in fact this is as each of you wants, in the deepest center of your heart, because God planted that desire there when He created your heart:  the desire to serve Him through sacrificial love, and so become more like Him.