The Chair of St. Peter the Apostle

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The Chair of St. Peter the Apostle
1 Peter 5:1-4  +  Matthew 16:13-19
February 22, 2020

“Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven….”

Peter is one of those saints so important to the life of the Church that he has more than one feast day during the year.  Today is the feast of “The Chair of St. Peter the Apostle”.

The chair is a symbol of authority.  Jesus refers to this in Matthew 23:2-3, when He commands and warns the crowd and His disciples:  “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”  Of course, Moses must have had an awfully big chair for all the scribes and Pharisees to be able to fit into it… unless this “chair” is metaphorical, referring to the teaching and judging office that Moses held in the Name of God.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus declares to Simon:  “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church”.  The name that Jesus gives to “Peter” is a second metaphor for an office of teaching and judging, but to drive the point home, Jesus uses a third metaphor by speaking of the “keys of the kingdom of Heaven”.

The “power of the keys” is used in many ways:  some are specific to the Office of Peter (that is, the papacy), while others are shared with those ordained to priestly ministry (for example, the Sacrament of Confession).  Jesus mediates the grace of His Death and Resurrection to us through the ministry of mere human beings.  These human leaders of the Church have been chosen by God, and so we pray for them, that they might always be faithful ministers of God’s grace.

Perugino_Christ_handing_keyes_to_st_peter detail

Friday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 2:14-24,26  +  Mark 8:34—9:1
February 21, 2020

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

In the Gospel today we hear Jesus say, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  Do you, who call yourselves Christians, hear what the Word made Flesh is saying to you?  Or do you want to turn your back on the words spoken by Jesus Christ?

Christ died because death is the only way to destroy death’s power.  On the Cross, Christ destroyed the power of death by dying Himself.  When God Himself died, death split in two.  Christ separated the death of the body from the death of the soul, so that the one would not inevitably follow the other.  Christ didn’t die so that you wouldn’t have to.  Christ died so that the death that you will inevitably face—the death of the body—will not be an eternal one:  the death of the soul.

There are two types of death, the death of the body, and the death of the soul.  One is much worse than the other.  Many people spend a lot of time avoiding the one, but not the other, which is strange.  This is strange because the death of the body is unavoidable, while the death of the soul is completely avoidable.  The death they try so hard to avoid is the door that Christ has made the gateway to eternal life, while the death they don’t worry much about is a death that never ends:  a death that is eternal.

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Thursday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 2:1-9  +  Mark 8:27-33
February 20, 2020

He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected….

Asking the right question is extremely important in many situations that we face in life.  It’s also important to ask the right type of question.  For instance, there are questions that ask “How?”, calling for technological answers.  On the other hand, “Why?” questions deal with meaning:  they call for deeper answers.

We find Jesus Christ in today’s Gospel account asking his disciples to tell Him who they think He really is.

Jesus had two reasons for asking His question.  One was to have His disciples give some serious thought to just who they thought they were following.  The other was to take the opportunity to teach them about what was going to happen to Him.  In other words, where was He going?  By extension, where would they end up if they kept following Him?

Is Jesus an interesting historical figure?  Is He, as the Muslims say, a great prophet?  Is he one among many in a long line of Jewish rabbis?

Or is He unique?  Is Christ Jesus God in the Flesh, in order that we can see Him, know Him, and love Him as one of us:  in other words, God so that He can save us, and man so that we can receive His divinity through His humanity?  Christ Jesus is God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, made incarnate, made human flesh and blood for us.  It is, then, His suffering greatly and being rejected that makes possible this “great exchange”:  our sinfulness for God’s own divine life.

Flemish School; Christ Rebuking or Calling Saint Peter

Wednesday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 1:19-27  +  Mark 8:22-26
February 19, 2020

Then He laid hands on the man’s eyes a second time and he saw clearly….

An obvious question leaps out from today’s Gospel narrative.  Why did Jesus have to lay hands upon the blind man twice for him to see clearly?  Doesn’t the fact that He did reveal some weakness or impotence on the part of Jesus?

There is an assumption within this latter question:  that Jesus could not have healed the blind man by a single laying on of hands.  But if Jesus could have done this, why did He not?

This question (neither Jesus Himself nor the evangelist specifies why Jesus laid hands upon the blind man twice) points to a general theological principle about God:  that is, that God does not always effect His Providential Will in the most direct manner possible.  In other words, God does not always choose to manifest His power in the briefest, most direct and most “efficient” manner possible.

This principle does not answer the question of why God acts as He does.  But the truth behind this principle is related to another, that God sometimes chooses as the agents of His Will not the strongest, brightest, or best qualified.  God has a love for the poor, the simple, and the feeble.

To return again to today’s Gospel narrative:  perhaps Jesus wanted to foster perseverance within the blind man.  Perhaps Jesus wanted the blind man to desire healing more deeply.  Perhaps Jesus wanted the blind man to appreciate fully the gift he was being given.  Regardless, the unfolding of God’s Providential Will, whether or not it takes the form we think it should, reveals God’s love to us even in the manner in which it’s revealed.

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Tuesday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 1:12-18  +  Mark 8:14-21
February 18, 2020

“Do you still not understand?”

Frustration in and of itself must not be a sin, or Jesus—according to the portraits painted by the evangelists—would not be divine.  Today’s Gospel passage ends with a question from Jesus.  While we can be sure that Jesus’ next action involved compassion, we might instead back up and reflect on this passage in terms of our selves, inasmuch as we often imitate the disciples in this passage.

There are two things lacking in these disciples.  First, they “had forgotten to bring bread”.  This is a practical omission on their part, and surely each of us can relate to it.  But this is not Jesus’ real concern.

Instead, when Jesus enjoins the disciples to “guard against the leaven” of the Pharisees and Herod, the disciples take Jesus’ words literalistically rather than in the analogical manner in which He meant them.  In other words, the disciples were so concerned with physical hunger that they couldn’t see past it.  They couldn’t see that Jesus was speaking about something far more important:  the spiritual means by which the Pharisees and Herod, on the one hand, and Jesus on the other, considered spiritual growth to take place.  Pray today that your very real practical concerns about life might never obscure the even more important spiritual needs that require your tending today.

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Monday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
James 1:1-11  +  Mark 8:11-13
February 17, 2020

“Why does this generation seek a sign?”

Do we search for heavenly signs as assurance that we are on the right path in life?  Today’s Gospel passage, brief and to the point, ought to make us realize how pointless such a search is.  Jesus’ sigh—“from the depth of His Spirit”—speaks volumes.  His departure from the midst of the Pharisees does in fact serve as a sober sign of His recognition that even His divine words do nothing for one unwilling to listen to Him in faith.  Christ asks us to dedicate each day to him in faith.

A life which is not dedicated to God ends up being a selfish life, a life that excludes both God and one’s brothers and sisters.  This sort of life is opposed to the very practical counsel that Saint James offer throughout the course of the epistle that we begin today to hear at daily Mass.  This sort of life leads to one being a “man of two minds, unstable in all his ways”, as St. James writes in today’s First Reading.  Today we begin hearing at weekday Mass from the letter of St. James.  This is letter is full of practical wisdom, and pulls no punches about the fate awaiting the “man of two minds”.

That fate will be ours unless we are willing to cooperate with God’s grace to conquer the power of sin.  Sin is conquered first through faith, and perfectly through charity.  We are invited to share in this perfect love of God through the Mass.  When we are dismissed from Mass, we take and offer this same love to our brothers and sisters within our daily lives.

St. James - Cathedral of Compostela CROPPED

from the Cathedral facade of Santiago de Compostela, Spain

The 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

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The 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Sirach 15:15-20  +  1 Corinthians 2:6-10  +  Matthew 5:17-37
February 16, 2020

“Rather, we speak God’s wisdom, mysterious, hidden….”

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click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this Sunday (5:24)

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

click HERE to watch the homily of Archbishop Charles Chaput for this Sunday (15:28)

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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2014 homily for this Sunday

click HERE to read Pope Benedict’s 2011 Angelus address for this Sunday

click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 1999 homily for this Sunday

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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 577-582: Jesus and the Law
CCC 1961-1964 the old Law
CCC 2064-2068: the Decalogue in the tradition of the Church

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When we hear about wisdom in today’s First Reading, it’s spoken of in terms of the Lord Himself, not human beings.  Sirach proclaims, “Immense is the wisdom of the Lord; He is mighty in power, and all-seeing.”

When today’s First Reading does speak about ordinary people like you and me, it’s in terms of making simple moral choices.  Sirach explains plainly, “If you choose, you can keep the commandments”.  He then shows how black and white such choices are, declaring that God “has set before you fire and water; to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.  Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given him.”  Sirach portrays moral choices as being so simple that wisdom hardly seems needed.

But Saint Paul in the Second Reading reveals that God grants the Christian disciple a share in the Wisdom of God.  Yet this is for a specific reason, the origin of which lies in God’s providential will.

St. Paul explains that God chooses to bestow His Wisdom upon His children through the preaching of His apostles.  In this light, St. Paul explains to the Corinthians:  “We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age”.  St. Paul wants the Corinthians to be among this group of “mature” disciples, just as God wants you among this group.

By contrast, St. Paul makes clear that there’s a very different type of wisdom making the rounds in the first century.  St. Paul warns the Corinthians about a worldly, false wisdom:  the “wisdom of this age”.  He contrasts the two when he explains that “we speak God’s wisdom[:]  mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages for our glory, and which none of the rulers of this age knew; for, if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

St. Paul makes clear that it’s the crucified Lord of glory who leads us into glory through His mysterious, hidden Wisdom:  that is, the Wisdom of the Cross.  In other words, there’s a great wisdom in self-sacrifice.  Yet there’s an infinite wisdom in the self-sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary.

When you and I make choices that are wise—not just smart or intelligent, but wise—we follow after Jesus.  Living your life by sacrificing your life for others, as Jesus did, leads you into the Father’s Presence.  By contrast, following the “wisdom of this age” leads to eternal death.  So either way, there is death.  Your choice is whether to embrace death in this world in the form of self-sacrifice, or to allow death to embrace you for eternity.

Making such a basic choice might seem like a no-brainer.  But for most of us, it’s not, and this is for at least two reasons.

The world camouflages itself in its own false form of glory.  This is what St. Paul in the Second Reading is driving at, in preaching against what he calls the “wisdom of this age”.  The excitement, glamor, glitz, and notoriety that come with spending money and pleasing the senses are a form of glory in the eyes of the world, and appeal to the baser instincts of man.

The second reason that it’s so difficult to choose the path of self-sacrifice is because even for baptized followers of Jesus, our souls are tainted by what the Church calls “concupiscence”.  Concupiscence is a tendency towards sin that remains within us every day of our life on earth.

Concupiscence isn’t washed away at our baptism along with Original Sin.  It remains with us from conception until death.  Just as gravity constantly pulls you towards the earth, and it takes effort and strength to move your body against gravity, so it is in the moral life.  Concupiscence is a sort of “moral gravity” that constantly pulls us down towards sin.  Wisdom helps us to recognize that we’re being pulled down.  But divine love strengthens us to strive against its pull.

The divine Wisdom of Jesus Christ shows us the path that leads to Our Father.  But Wisdom doesn’t confer the strength to walk that path.  That strength comes through God’s grace.  The greatest source of grace that Jesus gifted you with was the Gift of Himself at the Last Supper, which becomes present before your very eyes in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

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Saturday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
I Kings 12:26-32;13:33-34  +  Mark 8:1-10
February 15, 2020

Then, taking the seven loaves He gave thanks….

That the miracle described in today’s Gospel account foreshadows the Sacrament of the Eucharist is clear.  What could get overlooked, however, is an action of Jesus only briefly described in the midst of this miracle.  The evangelist explains that “taking the seven loaves [Jesus] gave thanks, broke them, and gave them”.

Jesus’ act of giving thanks here is described by the evangelist with the Greek verb “eucharisteo”.  It’s from this word that the English word “Eucharist” derives.  Likely we think of the act of thanksgiving as being part of what the Eucharist is about, but it’s another thing to recognize that this most blessed of the seven sacraments is named after the very act of giving thanks.

In contrasting the four basic types of vocal prayer—petition, thanksgiving, contrition and adoration—thanksgiving is not the most selfless.  Adoration focuses more solely on God in His own goodness.  Thanksgiving regards what God has done for me, not purely for His own glory.  Nonetheless, without thanksgiving, we cannot advance to prayer of adoration.  Giving thanks for what God has done for one allows one to grow in the humility needed to adore God authentically.

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Sts. Cyril, Monk, and Methodius, Bishop

Sts. Cyril, Monk, and Methodius, Bishop
I Kings 11:29-32;12:19  +  Mark 7:31-37
February 14, 2020

He ordered them not to tell anyone.

Perhaps the difficulty that many of us modern persons have with prayer is nothing more than the fact that we’ve forgotten how to have a conversation with anyone, much less with the Almighty.  In the Gospel today, we see Jesus take aside a man who is both deaf and mute.  Jesus heals him of his ailments.  Jesus tells those around them not to speak of the miracle.  But immediately, they proceed to do just that, and the more He orders them not to, the more they do it.  These people, maybe, are examples of what happens during our own prayer:  there is praise of God, words spoken about God, and even words spoken to God.  But all these words drown out Jesus’ demand to be silent.

The English word “obedience” comes from the Latin word which means “to listen”.  These people in the Gospel refuse to listen to what Jesus is telling them, and so, even in praising Jesus, they are disobeying Him.

In our prayer, in our conversation with God, we should listen at least twice as much as we speak.  More importantly, we should listen first, before beginning to speak to Him.  Silence, though, can be deafening.  Were we to stop saying what we want to say, we might lose control of the conversation, and there would be no telling what we might hear in that silence.  Perhaps what God has to say to us would be difficult for us to hear, and would demand self-sacrifice from us.

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