St. Bernard, Abbot & Doctor of the Church

St. Bernard, Abbot & Doctor of the Church
Judges 6:11-24  +  Matthew 19:23-30
August 20, 2019

   “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.

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St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot & Doctor of the Church

Monday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Monday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Judges 2:11-19  +  Matthew 19:16-22
August 19, 2019

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

The young man in today’s Gospel Reading knows that something more is needed.  He’s very confident that he has observed the commandments, but knows that he still lacks something for the gaining of 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 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.

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 “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.

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The 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Jer 38:4-6,8-10  +  Heb 12:1-4  +  Lk 12:49-53
August 18, 2019

   “No, I tell you, but rather division.”   

The family is the chief earthly example of the “cloud of witnesses” described in today’s Second Reading.  Another term for this “cloud of witnesses” is the “communion of saints”.  One of the great truths about human families is that we tend over time to resemble those we are close to, for good or ill.  It’s in the domestic church—the family—that we witness the Faith, and learn to practice the Faith.

Each person has her own portrait of God in her mind:  one’s own personal idea of what God “looks like”.  Each Christian paints such a “portrait of God” from one’s spiritual experiences growing up, from personal devotions, and from one’s relationships in the Communion of Saints.

Parents, in the eyes of a child, are the first images of God.  Often, it’s from a mother that a child has his first glimpse of God’s tenderness and gentleness.  Likewise, it’s often from a father that a child has his first glimpse of God’s steadfastness through adversity.

For example, there are those who have a great personal devotion to the Stations of the Cross.  Some Catholics pray the Stations not just on Fridays of Lent, but 52 Fridays a year.  They do this to express their thanks to God the Father for giving up His Son, and to Christ for handing over His life for us poor sinners.  For the Christian with a deep devotion like this, her portrait of God the Father is one where she can see how much mercy the Father has for her:  that the Father sacrificed His Son as if for her alone.

But Jesus talks in the Gospel passage today about what happens when a family is divided.  For example, when parents divorce, and a child sees his father running away from adversity instead of standing steadfast, or when a child sees his mother acting viciously towards his father, it’s not surprising that a child’s belief in God is shattered.  The percentage of children from broken homes who grow up and choose not to practice any sort of faith shows how important the roles of mother and father are, and how big an influence parents have on their children’s practice of the Faith.

Today’s Second Reading and Gospel passage can seem to be talking about two opposite things.  The Letter to the Hebrews encourages us that, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, [we should] rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us, and persevere in running the race that lies before us….”  This “great cloud of witnesses” doesn’t just mean the saints who are already in heaven.  It includes also those who share our Faith here on earth.  After our participation in the Mass, and devotions of our Faith, and after the example of our parents, it is through other fellow Christians within this “great cloud of witnesses” that we are either strengthened in our Faith, or grow weaker.

This is part of the responsibility that each one of us has as a baptized Christian; that is, as a member of the communion of saints.  Each of us has a responsibility to be there for others, and to be an example for others.  This is where our Gospel passage comes in.  Although our Second Reading talks about the importance of the communion of saints, Jesus in our Gospel passage says that He came into this world to bring division.  He did not come to establish peace on this earth.

Now maybe this isn’t a picture of God that we like.  Maybe we want to think about God as a teddy bear.  But either Jesus is lying in today’s Gospel passage, or we have to accept the fact that following Jesus sometimes means causing division.  If we are not willing to stand for our Catholic Faith, and recognize it as a treasure from God to be shared with others because it has the power to give eternal life, then there’s not much reason to be Catholic.

What is our Faith worth?  Jesus answered this question in a very clear way.  To see His answer, all we have to do is look at the Crucifix.  But consider that which we see as an example for us on the crucifix:  this mere example is, in the Eucharist, the true presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood, soul and divinity.  Jesus offers us His sacrificial Self, so that we might have the strength to live for others within and for the sake of that “great cloud of witnesses” that is His Church.

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click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this liturgical Sunday (7:02)

click HERE to read the homily for this Sunday from Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland

click HERE to read the homily of Msgr. Charles Pope for this Sunday

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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2016 Angelus address for this Sunday

click HERE to read Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2007 Angelus address for this Sunday

click HERE to read from a General Audience of St. John Paul II on God the Holy Spirit

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Coronation of the Virgin by Fra Angelico [ca. 1395-1455]

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

Saturday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Joshua 24:14-29  +  Matthew 19:13-15
August 17, 2019

   “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, and in a manner that we constantly have to attend to.  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 be humble, for example, 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, as divine and the only-begotten Son of God, declared from Heaven at the moment of 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 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.

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

Friday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Joshua 24:1-13  +  Matthew 19:3-12
August 16, 2019

   “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.  In the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, 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 it’s God Himself who is marriage’s origin, but also the One whose divine love marriage points to.  Thirdly, He is its mirror in the present, as spouses vow to help each other and their children each day to strive for Heaven.

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The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
VIGIL MASS:  I Chr 15:3-4,15-16;16:1-2  +  1 Cor 15:54-57  +  Lk 11:27-28
MASS OF THE DAY:  Rev 11:19;12:1-6,10  +  1 Cor 15:20-27  +  Lk 1:39-56
August 15, 2019

   “…my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….”   

We Catholics believe that when a person dies, if he is in a state of perfect grace, his soul goes directly to Heaven.  To use another word, we believe that his soul is “assumed” into Heaven.  We may know people in our own families who, we’re sure, had their souls taken by God directly into Heaven.  This may happen with many people who had time to prepare for a holy death.  The main difference between the end of these persons’ lives and the end of Mary’s life is that both Mary’s soul and her body were assumed into Heaven.

Why was Mary’s body taken into Heaven along with her soul?  It’s because Mary is the type of person that all of us were originally supposed to be, but didn’t become because of Original Sin.  If Adam and Eve, and all of us in turn, had never sinned, then every one of us would rise body and soul into Heaven at the end of our lives.  Death as we know it (including the separation of body and soul) only exists because of human sin.

Yet Mary was given a special gift by God, since God knew from eternity that she would accept His calling to be the Mother of Christ.  This gift was the privilege given at the first moment of Mary’s existence:  the privilege of her Immaculate Conception.  The fact that she was conceived by her mother, St. Anne, without Original Sin meant that her whole life was uniquely holy among all God’s creatures.  Her life was still filled with struggles and pain, but at the end of her life on this earth, Mary became a sign of hope for us.

Because Mary was never touched by the effects of Original Sin, and because she never chose to sin, she didn’t suffer the corruption of her body.  Her soul and her body remained united at the end of her earthly life, and both were taken up into Heaven.

Mary is the perfect example of what it means to take the gifts given by God and use them completely for good.  Because Mary faithfully accepted the great gift of being the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, and because she always stood faithful to Christ, even as he was dying on the Cross, she was protected by God from one of the effects of Original Sin:  that body and soul should be separated at the time of death.

So when the end of Mary’s life came, she became the sign that shows all of us our own destiny as disciples of Christ.  When we die, our souls and bodies will be separated for quite some time:  until the end of time, in fact.  Nonetheless, if you and I follow Christ even when it means embracing the Cross—if we are always willing to use the gifts God has given us for good and not evil—then when Christ comes a second time, our bodies will be raised by Christ and rejoined to our souls.  With our Blessed Mother in Heaven we will all thank God for the gift of life.  We shouldn’t forget that we proclaim this hope in our Creed when we pray, “We believe in the resurrection of the body.”  Mary experienced this gift in a unique way immediately at the end of her earthly life.

Assumption of the Virgin - Peter Paul Rubens

Assumption of the Virgin by Peter Paul Rubens [1577-1640]

St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe

St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, Priest & Martyr
Deuteronomy 34:1-12  +  Matthew 18:15-20
August 14, 2019

   “…where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”   

Jesus, in today’s Gospel Reading, explains how His followers can keep from having moral punishment fall upon them.  Jesus preaches that His followers must seek reconciliation with each other.  He also calls upon us to point out a wrong that may have been committed, especially one which destroys harmony and peace.

Correcting others in this way is a very hazardous duty.  Like almost no other responsibility that we have as Christians, it calls for the virtues of prudence, courage, and meekness.  Who can manage this without the help of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus also urges us to pray together.  Individual prayer is indispensable, and Jesus elsewhere in the Gospel commands us to go to our rooms and pray in private:  but that’s not the limit of our prayer.  Where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ Name, He is there in their midst.  But we also know that where two or three are gathered for the Mass, Jesus is not only there in their midst, but becomes present in a way that they can receive Him:  Body and Blood, soul and divinity.

St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe

Today is the memorial of
St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, Priest & Martyr [1894-1941]

Tuesday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Deuteronomy 31:1-8  +  Matthew 18:1-5,10,12-14
August 13, 2019

   “See that you do not despise one of these little ones….”    

For you to be one of God’s “little ones” means to live your life in Christ, and at the same time to allow Christ to live His life in you.  This simply means having the relationship between Jesus and His Father live in your own heart and mind.  This is something mystical, and so difficult to describe in language.  Nonetheless, it’s part and parcel of being a Christian.  It’s not just for cloistered monks and nuns.

By contrast, it’s not as if an ordinary Christian first reads from the Bible about Jesus and the Father, and then says, “Gee, I’d like to have that kind of relationship with God the Father.  I think I’ll try to imitate Jesus.”  You cannot enter a relationship by means of imitation.  To think that one can is to put the cart before the horse.

To think that one can is to ignore the truth that at your baptism, the two events of being adopted by God the Father and becoming a member of the Mystical Body of Christ are part and parcel of each other.  Both are accomplished at the same time by God the Father’s love.  In other words, it’s not so much that Jesus is our “older brother” spiritually, whose relationship with the Father we admire and then try to imitate.  Rather, it’s as members of Christ’s own Mystical Body that you and I share in the sonship of Jesus.

To ignore all this—to put that cart before the horse—is to forget that any relationship between a father and child is based on the primacy of the father’s love.  We don’t focus upon this enough in our time of meditation.  Especially in a culture like ours, children are at risk of believing that it’s their accomplishments that earn them their earthly fathers’ and God’s love.  But the Beloved Disciple in his first epistle reminds us of that key truth of the spiritual life, that “in this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and offered His Son as an expiation for our sins” [1 John 4:10].

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Monday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Monday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Deuteronomy 10:12-22  +  Matthew 17:22-27
August 12, 2019

   “Give that to them for me and for you.”   

Jesus sometimes worked grand spectacles through His miracles.  But as impressive as they are, spectacles were not the norm for Jesus.  More frequent is what, in the life of St. Thérèse the Little Flower, was called the “Little Way”.  Though the Little Flower coined the phrase, the Little Way is the Way of Jesus.

His way is one of simplicity and humility that often goes overlooked by those seeking spectacles.  It is a way that is ignored by those who are looking out for themselves, instead of others:  by those who justify their actions by claiming that they’re just doing what everyone else is doing, walking down the broad path, instead of trying to walk the narrow way that following Jesus demands.

The simplicity and humility of Jesus in today’s Gospel offers a very good meditation for today.  Jesus is not obligated to pay the tax that is demanded of Peter, but Jesus explains—“that we may not offend them”—that He will pay the tax anyhow.  The miracle by which Jesus accomplishes this almost goes unnoticed, because it’s not the point.  Jesus’ point is to teach by humility, to teach by doing what is not necessary, but which can lead others to see that Little Way that—after a long journey through a life of service in this world—does lead to the great vision of eternal life with God and His saints.

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