The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Amos 8:4-7  +  1 Timothy 2:1-8  +  Luke 16:1-13
September 22, 2019

   “You cannot serve both God and mammon.”   

Jesus’ final words in today’s Gospel Reading—“You cannot serve both God and mammon”—are sometimes falsely interpreted.  They’re taken to mean that you cannot have both God and money in your life.  In other words, this false interpretation claims that there’s a competition in your life between God and money.  They battle against each other in a zero-sum game.  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.

In fact, our spiritual well-being and our financial well-being are not in competition.  When Jesus plainly tells you that “You cannot serve both God and mammon”, the key word is “serve”“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  You can serve God or you can serve mammon.  But you cannot serve both.

God, of course, wants us to serve Him alone.  He had declared to Israel many centuries before Christ:  “The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!  Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole soul, and with your whole strength.  Take to heart these words which I command you today” [Deut 6:4-6].  To love someone is to serve her.  This is true in our relationship with God, as well:  to love Him is to serve Him.

The beautiful thing about serving God is that through this form of love, we become more like Him.  After all, St. John taught the first Christians that “God is love” [1 John 4:8].  Serving God is as God wants, and in fact this is what you want in your heart.  God Himself planted that desire there when He created your heart:  the desire to serve Him, and so become more like Him.

On the other hand, what happens when you try to serve money?  One simple way to answer is to ask yourself whether your self-image goes up and down with the amount of money that you have.  Do you feel worse about your own self when you lose a significant amount of money?  Do you feel better about yourself when you gain a significant amount of money?  Serving money in this way is a false form of love, and a false servanthood.  It is a love of something that is beneath you.

So what is financial wealth for?  Financial wealth is a means by which to serve others.  If a person gains financial wealth, God intends for that wealth to be used for others.  That doesn’t mean that the wealthy person has to give it all away, like St. Francis of Assisi.  Despite what some socialists might say, there’s nothing inherently immoral about accumulating wealth.  The sin lies in not using one’s wealth for others, especially within the setting of one’s vocation.

We can speculate that God allows financial wealth to accumulate to those who have the skills to use that wealth for others.  Some persons just don’t—for whatever reason—have it in them to handle the responsibility that comes with significant wealth.  If those persons were to come into wealth—as happens, for example, with government lotteries—they would end up with ruined lives.  But some persons do have the skills required to deal with wealth in a way that not only allows them to grow that wealth, but also to use it to serve others.

Money when loved instead of being used for service stunts one’s growth in Christ.  The one who serves money closes himself off from others.  Money has no power to foster growth in persons.  Becoming like money by loving it can only be a downward path, a descent from the personal dignity with which God created us.

God gives us stewardship over all things—including money—for the sake of service.  This service fosters love among persons.  God gives us relationships with other persons—human and angelic—to foster a communion of saints.  God gives us Himself—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—in order that we might enjoy eternal life amidst God’s very essence as a communion of the three divine Persons.

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click HERE to listen to Dr. Scott Hahn’s reflection for this liturgical Sunday (2:59)

click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this Sunday (4:12)

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

click HERE to watch the homily of Archbishop Anthony Fisher, O.P. 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 homily for this Sunday

click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2001 homily for this Sunday

St. Lawrence giving alms - Fra Angelico

St. Lawrence Distributing Alms by Fra Angelico [c. 1395-1455]


St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist

St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist
Ephesians 4:1-7,11-13  +  Matthew 9:9-13
September 21, 2019

   “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”   

Among the four evangelists, only Matthew and John were members of the Twelve apostles.  Mark and Luke did not, as far as we know, ever meet Jesus during His earthly life.  Nonetheless, Mark and Luke were disciples of Peter and Paul, respectively, and from those two Mark and Luke received the apostolic witness to the Good News.

On this feast of St. Matthew, we also ought to keep in mind that while all four accounts of the Gospel are apostolic in origin, each presents a unique portrait of the Messiah.  If a man has four very close friends during his life, then after his death each of those four would likely write a different biography of their common friend.  The account of his life would reflect the biographer’s interactions with him.

Today’s Gospel passage presents Matthew’s own account of how Jesus called him to serve.  Matthew is strikingly honest about his sinfulness.  In light of his own need for mercy, Matthew presents Jesus through the words that the Lord speaks at the end of today’s Gospel passage:  “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The First Reading might seem most fitting today because of St. Paul describing various roles within the Body of Christ, such as Apostle and evangelist, both of which Matthew was.  However, consider the beginning of this passage, where Paul describes the Christian’s need for humility and patience, so as to bear “with one another through love”.  These words echo Matthew’s description of how Jesus called himself.

St. Matthew - Caravaggio.jpg

Sts. Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn & Paul Chŏng Ha-sang & comp.

Sts. Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn & Paul Chŏng Ha-sang & comp.
1 Timothy 6:2-12  +  Luke 8:1-3
September 20, 2019

   Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another….   

Today’s Gospel passage doesn’t seem much like a passage!  There’s no narrative to speak of, but mostly a description of Jesus’ entourage as He journeys while preaching.  How is such a “cast of characters” meant to tell us something as it’s preached from the pulpit on this weekday in Ordinary Time?

Perhaps we might relate this cast to what in the Apostles’ Creed we profess as the “communion of saints”.  In Heaven this cast of thousands adores God perpetually, gathered together in voice to worship the Lamb who was slain for our salvation.  But on earth, during our pilgrimage, while we do pause occasionally for worship, we also have many practical matters to attend to.  On earth, while we’re journeying to where we can enjoy “the better part” alone, we have to attend like Martha to many simple needs.

Jesus, as He’s described in today’s Gospel passage, is surrounded by three types of persons.  There are the Twelve apostles, those who had been cured by Jesus, and those who provided for the crowd.  We might reflect on this assembly as the first parish, although journeying from one town and village to another!

OT 24-5

Thursday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
1 Timothy 4:12-16  +  Luke 7:36-50
September 19, 2019

“So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love.”

In today’s Gospel passage we witness a conflict among the “sinful woman”, Simon the Pharisee, and Jesus.  In this passage, the Lord uses the sinner’s situation to try to bring the Pharisee to Him.  For your own spiritual life, to draw from this Gospel passage, you have to put yourself in the sandals of this sinful woman.

Until we look seriously at our sins, at their effects on our souls, and at their consequences (for ourselves and for others, both in this world and in the next), our experience of prayer will be diminished, and so therefore will the benefits of our prayer.  Too often in our prayer we’re like Simon the Pharisee instead of being like the sinful woman.  The Pharisee says to himself, “If [Jesus] were a prophet, He would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”  By contrast, the sinful woman says nothing, but she acts with great love.  The Pharisee speaks to himself with doubt about whether Jesus is even a prophet.  But the woman acts with love towards Jesus, because she knows through faith that He is the Messiah who wants to wash away her sins.

If we wanted to sum up today’s Gospel passage, we could ponder just those two sentences that Jesus proclaims to Simon:  “her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.  But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”  In those words, Jesus teaches us two lessons.  First, the virtue of humility is the beginning of a fruitful prayer life.  Second, through that fruitful prayer the Christian finds the start of the contentment and peace of mind that remain elusive until we remain in God.

(c) Newtown Town Council; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Wednesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
1 Timothy 3:14-16  +  Luke 7:31-35
September 18, 2019

   “But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”   

Our society today is knowledge-rich but wisdom-poor.  Consider the differences between knowledge and wisdom.

Knowledge today, as it’s commonly considered, is thought to be facts and figures.  A recently enshrined paragon of knowledge is an IBM computer called “Watson”, which can spit forth names and dates faster than human game show champions.  While we might dispute whether facts and figures are the essence of knowledge or merely some of its components, we often educate our children according to knowledge-based systems.

What would it mean instead to educate children, and to re-form adults, according to a pattern of wisdom instead?  Jesus in today’s Gospel hints that “wisdom is vindicated by all her children”.  These curious words suggest that wisdom “educates” not according to a knowledge-based system, but according to a person-based system.  Jesus teaches us that wisdom bears children; it doesn’t generate results.  Wisdom can only be understood according to a personalistic view of human life, the Gospel, and the eternal life to which Jesus wants to lead us.  It’s wise for us to follow Him.

OT 24-3

Our Lady Seat of Wisdom
from the Maestà altarpiece of Duccio di Buoninsegna [c. 1255-c. 1318]

Tuesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time [I]
1 Timothy 3:1-13  +  Luke 7:11-17
September 17, 2019

   …a bishop must be irreproachable, married only once, temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach….   

Today’s First Reading, from St. Paul’s first epistle to St. Timothy, speaks to the lived reality of Holy Orders in the apostolic church.  There are three “orders” (sometimes called “grades” or “degrees”) of the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  St. Paul speaks today of the first and the last.

The highest degree of Holy Orders is the episcopacy, which literally means the “office of over-seeing” (or synonymously, the “office of supervising”).  What does the bishop supervise?  He oversees a local church:  what today we call a “diocese”.

From St. Paul’s description of a bishop we must tease out those qualities which are essential to the office from those rooted in practical first-century circumstances, which may be different from circumstances in our own day.  One example of this is the call of married men to Holy Orders.  In the time of the apostles, Christ’s call to celibacy (see, for example, Matthew 19:3-12) had only been known for a few decades, and so the demand that all bishops be unmarried was not yet enforced by the Church.

In the last section of today’s First Reading, St. Paul comments on the office of deacon.  He describes several requisite qualities for deacons, and uses the word “serve” twice to describe their work.  Deacons serve in a two-fold capacity:  they serve the bishop or priest at the altar in the Sacred Liturgy, and the poor in the world bearing the divine charity that flows from the Sacred Liturgy.  In the office of the deacon is an example that each of us Christians ought to imitate.

OT 24-2

Sts. Cornelius, Pope & Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs

Sts. Cornelius, Pope & Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs
1 Timothy 2:1-8  +  Luke 7:1-10
September 16, 2019

“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 He deigns to enter into our very person, body and soul.  This intimate indwelling is a mystery for which we cannot possibly finish giving thanks.

Sts. Cornelius and Cyprian

St. Cornelius, Pope & Martyr and St. Cyprian, Bishop & Martyr

The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Ex 32:7-11,13-14  +  1 Tim 1:12-17  +  Lk 15:1-32
September 15, 2019

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.   

Jesus’ vocation in this world was to die on the Cross.  Everything that Jesus taught was a means to that end.  So it is with the three parables we hear this Sunday.

Although the long version of today’s Gospel passage is very long, it includes one of the more profound examples of Jesus’ teaching ministry.  The Parable of the Prodigal Son is just that kind of parable that tempts us to believe that Jesus’ vocation was to be a teacher.  But we cannot finally unlock this parable until we recognize it as a means to the end of Calvary.  The first two “mini-parables” help us see this, as they whet our appetite, so to speak, for the “entrée” of the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

These two appetizers are served up to the Pharisees and scribes, not to the tax collectors and sinners.  This tells us something important about what Jesus is cooking up.  The Pharisees and scribes were complaining about Jesus, “saying, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.’”  So Jesus begins to serve the Pharisees and scribes by helping them see why He is where He is:  on the one hand, why He’s hanging around with tax collectors and sinners; but on the other hand, why He is in this world at all.

These two appetizers are very simple in their presentation.  Each has just two key elements:  the shepherd and his lost sheep; the woman and her lost coin.  Within the brief drama of each parable, the focus of joy emerges.  The focus in the first is the joy of the shepherd; in the second, the joy of the woman.

In other words, the focus really isn’t on the found sheep or the found coin, but on those who find them.  Jesus explains that the shepherd’s joy is like “the joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents”.  The woman’s joy over finding her lost coin points our attention to the “rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents”.

These opening parables, then, call us out of ourselves.  We are not the focus of these parables.  Although we’re clearly meant to identify our own selves with the lost sheep, and then with the lost coin, the focus of the parable is the “joy in Heaven”, “among the angels of God”, that results from your being found:  which is to say, rescued from sin and death.

So with those two brief parables as appetizers, Jesus presents a lengthy parable for our spiritual feasting.  As we dig in to the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we should be mindful that what was true of the mini-parables is true here also.  The focus is not upon the one who is lost, but the one who finds.

The parable’s second half shows why we ought to call it the Parable of the Prodigal Father.  If the younger son is prodigal, so is the father, though of course in a different way.  The word “prodigal” means “lavish” or “extravagant”.  The son is extravagant in giving away money that is not his own, but the father is extravagant in giving away mercy from the wellsprings of his heart.

The joy of this father is the focus of Jesus’ teaching.  When you transpose this parable to your own life, then, you need to recognize that God the Father’s joy is infinitely greater than your sins.  A lot of Christians get caught up on this.  Many Christians stay away from God because they do not believe that He is just as loving as the prodigal father.  This may be due to the example set by their earthly fathers.  This may be due to having committed a mortal sin of such depth that they don’t believe it possible for God to forgive them.  Whatever the reason, they and we need to turn to the Father whom Jesus describes through this master parable.

We need first to have the honesty of the prodigal son.  We need, both in our nightly examination of conscience, and before our monthly confession, to say from our hearts, “‘Father, I have sinned against Heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son.’”  But even more than needing to make the honest admission of our sins, we need to know who God the Father is.  We need to listen with faith in order to hear God our Father say from His heart, “‘let us celebrate with a feast, because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again’”.

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click HERE to hear Dr. Scott Hahn’s reflection for this liturgical Sunday (2:59)

click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this liturgical Sunday (4:39)

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

click HERE to listen to the homily of Archbishop Charles Chaput for this Sunday

+     +     +

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

click HERE to read Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2010 Angelus address for this Sunday

click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s reflection upon the Parable of the Prodigal Son
in his 1980 encyclical Dives in Misericordia on the Mercy of God


The Return of the Prodigal Son by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo [1617-1682]


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, 2019

   …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.

Triumph of the Cross