Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Amos 5:14-15,21-24  +  Matthew 8:28-34
July 1, 2020

… when they saw him they begged him to leave their district.

While some in our day and age dismiss the possibility of demonic possession, suggesting that reported cases of possession are only psychological disorders, the Church takes today’s Gospel passage at its word.

One striking point in this passage is the reaction of people to the swineherds’ report:  “they begged [Jesus] to leave their district.”  Why do the people react this way?  One might expect the people instead to express gratitude to Jesus, and invite Him to stay as their protector.

Perhaps the people were in shock, never before imagining that demons might dwell among them.  However, demonic possession in the Holy Land was not uncommon in Jesus’ day.  The reaction of the people might reflect a belief that demonic possession only happens to “other” people, much as people in our own day think that tragedy only strikes others.  Some people today, when tragedy strikes in their own lives, react by blaming God, regardless of who truly—if anyone—was to blame.  Some people even stop practicing their religion after being struck by tragedy, so difficult is it for them to understand God’s providential Will.

While each of us needs to practice prudence in order to deter sin, violence and death in our lives, we should have no illusions of escaping them altogether.  Instead of praying to avoid suffering, we need to stand fast with Our Savior on Calvary, knowing that suffering is an essential part of achieving freedom from evil.

OT 13-3

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Amos 3:1-8;4:11-12  +  Matthew 8:23-27
June 30, 2020

“What sort of man is this … ?”

Today’s Gospel passage offers another example of the disciples not seeing the forest for the trees.  Their question at the end of the passage is sincere and understandable, not rhetorical:  “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”  They admit their ignorance of the deeper identity of Jesus.  They do know that he is more than just a fisherman or carpenter.  They do know that he has miraculous powers.  But what exactly does that knowledge reveal?

All told, today’s Gospel passage is just a snapshot.  There’s no way to perceive from this single event that this man is the divine Word made flesh, much less that He will die on a cross for the salvation of all mankind.  You and I, of course, know the rest of the story, but these disciples do not, and are understandably perplexed.  But where does that leave our reflection on this passage?

Perhaps we can relate to these disciples in this specific instance by attending to the dialogue between the disciples and Jesus in the middle of the passage.  In our own lives, we also cry, “Lord, save us!  We are perishing!”  The difference is that these disciples faced mortal danger, while we often face concerns that are much less significant, and are often of our own manufacture.

Nevertheless, what we and these disciples have in common is the same gracious Lord Jesus.  To each of us, no matter what our supposed dangers and no matter their origins, He responds by offering the “great calm” that is ours through faith.

OT 13-2

Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Acts 12:1-11  +  2 Timothy 4:6-8,17-18  +  Matthew 16:13-19
June 29, 2020

“I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.”

Peter, whom Jesus in today’s Gospel passage entrusts with the care of His Church, was very different than Paul.  Peter’s personality was rough and impatient.  He was poor and uneducated.  Now if Jesus had thought as worldly people do, He never would have chosen Peter as the first pope.  Instead, he would have chosen someone like Paul, refined and educated.

Regardless of their differences, Peter and Paul came to the same end:  martyrdom for the Holy Name of Jesus.  In the year 67, Saint Peter was crucified upside-down in the circus of Nero, and buried nearby in an out-of-the-way cemetery on a hill called the Vatican.  Saint Paul, after being held a prisoner in Rome for many years, was beheaded just outside the walls of the city.

As with their Lord, these two men came to what seemed to be shameful deaths.  Unfortunately, unlike their Lord, there was no report of Peter or Paul rising from the dead.  They were simply failures.  That’s surely how they were sized up by many around them, both in the Roman Empire and perhaps even among some members of the Church.  What kind of foundation had they laid for the Church?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Roman Church, the church that spread from that city throughout the world.  Twenty centuries later, the Church certainly is universal, with more than one billion members across the globe.  But are we really any holier than those first members of the Church?  Are we willing to put our lives or even our names on the line for Christ?

Our spiritual lives are never a “done deal.”  They are always under construction.  The Mass we share in is a continual source of strength for us, as each week we struggle to be faithful disciples of Jesus.  Each day is a building block of faith, in which, by our daily sacrifices, we build up others as well as our own spiritual lives.

Sts. Peter & Paul - line art

Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Lamentations 2:2,10-14,18-19  +  Matthew 8:5-17
June 27, 2020

Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”

Many blessings have come from the new English translation of the Roman Missal that the Church began to use in 2011.  One such blessing that comes from greater fidelity to the Latin original is the transparency with which Scripture quotations appear.

For example, in the old translation of the Missal, shortly before Holy Communion those assembled would say, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”  Now they say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”  Which of these more accurately reflects the words of the centurion in today’s Gospel passage:  “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed”?

The fidelity to the words of today’s Gospel passage highlights the centurion’s point:  authority.  The centurion understands the authority that Jesus bears because the centurion himself bears authority.  Because he bears it, he is willing to submit to a higher authority.  The centurion’s humility in the face of Jesus prepares for his faith, and in this he is a model for each of us to follow.

OT 12-6

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Kings 25:1-12  +  Matthew 8:1-4
June 26, 2020

“When Jesus came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.”

After Jesus’ great Sermon on the Mount, today’s Gospel passage might seem meager.  What is the focus of this brief passage?  Is it the healing itself?  Jesus’ divine power?  The leper’s faith before the miracle occurs, or Jesus’ instructions following the miracle?

The focus of the entire Gospel, of course, is the Person of Jesus Himself.  However, in this particular setting fairly early in Matthew’s account of the Gospel (the first miracle Matthew records, although at the end of Chapter 4 we hear in summary manner about Jesus healing multitudes), one detail that stands out is Jesus’ command to the healed leper:  “See that you tell no one”.  If we believe that Jesus ought to be the center of our Faith, and if Jesus Himself had preached not long before (Matthew 5:14-16) the simile of the “Light of the World” which is not to be hidden, how are we to understand such a command?

While Jesus is the center of the Gospel, He came into this world to bring about man’s salvation.  Relate His command to the healed leper to His overall mission.  He did not want worldly fame at this point, because fame would have hindered the growth of His mission, as people would inevitably have misunderstood who Jesus was, wanting the blessings of following Jesus without the burden of the Cross.  A lesson for us as His disciples is always to be willing to grow in the virtue of faith, loving Jesus for who He is rather than what He does for us.

OT 12-5

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
II Kings 4:8-11,14-16  +  Romans 6:3-4,8-11  +  Matthew 10:37-42

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

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

CCC 2232-2233: to follow Christ is the first vocation of the Christian
CCC 537, 628, 790, 1213, 1226-1228, 1694: baptism, to die to self, to live for Christ
CCC 1987: grace justifies through faith and baptism

+     +     +

All over the Wichita Diocese, many priests are in the midst of starting new assignments.  Undoubtedly, some have mixed feelings about uprooting themselves and beginning again in a new part of the diocese.  At such a crossroads, a priest knows to reflect upon Jesus’ three years of public ministry.

Whenever we hear of Jesus’ teaching and miracles, we have to be mindful that Jesus isn’t just wandering from town to town randomly.  He’s a man on a mission.  His mission is the Cross on that hill just outside Jerusalem.  Jesus wants each of us to follow Him there.

At Sunday Mass, the Church’s Sacred Liturgy will be marked by Ordinary Time for the next twenty weeks or so until the end of the Church year in November.  Over the course of these twenty weeks our Gospel Reading each Sunday will follow this journey of Jesus towards Jerusalem.

Consider two points about this journey.  Each relates to your own spiritual life, which is meant to mirror Jesus’ public ministry.

First, reflect upon the sort of strength you need to persevere in the journey.  There are two types of strength that are needed.  There is moral strength on the natural level, which we can develop into moral virtues, especially the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.  Then there is the spiritual strength that comes only from God’s supernatural grace.

But think about how these two interact with each other.  Atheists who want to be virtuous will rely only on the moral virtues, rejecting the idea of turning to God for His grace.  Then on the other hand is the opposite, but also wrong-headed approach.  This is the belief that only through God’s spiritual strength can we make it through life.  This false belief negates the need to cultivate the human, moral virtues.  In other words, this second wrong-headed approach claims that a Christian can just receive the sacraments frequently without the hard work of cultivating the human, moral virtues.

The middle approach, which is the path that Holy Mother Church commends to us, is to integrate these types of strength.  We need human, moral strength that comes from cultivating the virtues.  We also need the divine strength that comes only from God’s grace.

In theology, there’s a basic principle that sums all this up.  It asserts that “grace builds upon nature”, or that “grace presupposes nature”.  Our human nature, including our human formation in all the virtues, is the foundation of our lives as persons.  When God gives us His grace, even as powerful as grace is, it presupposes nature.  If the natural foundation is not there, the supernatural grace washes away, so to speak.

Or to use a different analogy, think of a one-hundred story skyscraper.  If its foundation is made of sand, it doesn’t matter if you build the upper stories with the strongest steel beams on the market.  The whole building will eventually teeter, and then totter, and then the whole thing will collapse, including those strong, steel beams.  This is the risk that each disciple faces in connection with God’s grace, which must build upon the natural qualities that we do or do not have through human cultivation.

Given all that, reflect upon a second point.  Reflect upon the peace that comes from following Jesus instead of following the call of the world.  Jesus at the Last Supper said, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” [John 14:27].

So how can we know this peace in our lives?  It emerges when you focus your earthly days upon the two most important moments in your life.  Whenever you pray the “Hail Mary”, you speak of those two most important moments:  now and the hour of your death.

Some live as if death will never arrive.  Many live only for “now”.  Yet every “now” of our life bears a direct impact on which eternal dwelling God will send us packing for at the hour of our death.  Everything we do now, or don’t do now, bears on that moment at the hour of our death.  Cooperating with God’s grace at each earthly “now” will bring us peace not only at the hour of our death, but also during the eternity that inevitably follows death.

St. Joseph - Happy Death - Bartolomeo Altomonte

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 7:21-29

“… only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven …”

Today the Church proclaims the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus, Our Lord and Savior, has at the beginning of His public ministry proclaimed this great sermon in order to move those listening to follow Him all the Way to Calvary, where He will accomplish our salvation.  Jesus did not come into this world primarily to teach, but to save.  Nonetheless, His teaching serves His saving mission.  How can we be saved if we don’t know that we need saving?  How can we be saved if we don’t accept Christ as Our Savior, and follow Him as the way that leads to salvation?

His Sermon on the Mount is often considered the masterpiece of Jesus’ teaching.  As such, this sermon could serve as a template for any teacher.  One example of its brilliance is the way in which Jesus, in the sermon’s last section, brings to a head what He’s been focusing upon throughout.  As any good teacher does, His last words sum up and reiterate a major point of His lesson.  What point do we hear in today’s final words from this sermon?

Twice in this passage Jesus firmly declares the disciple’s need to unite his will with God the Father and God the Son.  Jesus says first that “only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” “will enter the Kingdom of heaven”.  A few moments later Jesus says that “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”  “The will of [Jesus’] Father” and “these words of [Jesus] are, therefore, where each of us needs to concentrate our prayer and moral efforts.

OT 12-4

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Isaiah 49:1-6  +  Acts 13:22-26  +  Luke 1:57-66,80
June 24, 2020

For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is so important a feast that there are two full sets of Scripture readings for Holy Mass.  One set is proclaimed at Vigil Masses on the evening before the feast day, while the other set is proclaimed on the day itself.  Yet regardless of whether you attend Mass this weekend on Saturday evening or Sunday, the Gospel passage you hear will be taken from the first chapter of St. Luke’s account of the Gospel.

The Vigil’s Gospel passage comes from the beginning of Luke 1.  The Gospel passage for the feast day itself comes from the end of the chapter.  These two passages bookend the story of St. John’s birth.  As with the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ birth, the child to be born is the focus, but not the central actor.  In the Gospel passages for today’s feast, the central actor is John’s father, Zechariah.  St. Luke the Evangelist here contrasts Zechariah with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Zechariah was an elderly husband, yet without children.  Mary was a young betrothed virgin.  Saint Gabriel appears to each of them separately, and tells each not to be afraid.  The archangel announces to each that a son is to be born.  Yet their responses differ profoundly.

The man persists in unbelief, while the woman believes.  Mary’s final word in response to St. Gabriel’s announcement is “Fiat”“Let it be done unto me according to your word” [Luke 1:38].  In response to Zechariah’s unbelief, St. Gabriel declares in a verse not long after the end of the Gospel passage for the Vigil Mass:  “behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass” [Lk 1:20].  That “day” is narrated in the Gospel passage for Sunday.

Saint Augustine in Sunday’s Office of Readings explains that “the silence of Zechariah is nothing but the age of prophecy lying hidden, obscured, as it were, and concealed before the preaching of Christ.”  Later in the same sermon, St. Augustine expounds the distinction between Jesus and His cousin:  “The voice is John, but the Lord ‘in the beginning was the Word.’  John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.”

But if the voice must decrease, so that the Word may increase, what can be said of Zechariah?  He is not even a voice, but silence:  the silence in which the Voice is conceived, and a silence which you as a sinner must enter.

The silence illustrated by Zechariah is born of unbelief.  Every sinner is called into this silence.  Most of our fallen world is a modern Babel.  We are unfaithful to God’s Word, because we cannot hear it for the cacophony of the modern world.  We are among those of whom the Beloved Disciple writes in the prologue to his Gospel account:  “the Word came to His own, and His own people received Him not” [John 1:11].

Because it’s always so in this valley of tears, God calls fallen man into silence so that there we might recognize our sins, and hear and heed God’s Word.  The silence of Zechariah is what St. John of the Cross writes about:  “What we need most in order to make [spiritual] progress is to be silent before this great God, with our appetites and our tongue.”

This silence is a means to man’s true end.  This is the end for which God created man “in the beginning”:  to share in the divine life of the Trinity in a holy and eternal silence.  About this final silence, the end of all we are and do as disciples of the Word made Flesh, St. John of the Cross also speaks:  “the Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul.”

St. John the Baptist was born so that the Old Testament might die.  Yet such a death was meant all along in God’s Providence to be fulfilled by a new life, like the grain of wheat that dies in order to bear much fruit.  St. John the Baptist was born to preach the message of repentance:  the need to accept ourselves as sinner, and the need to accept Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins and those of the whole world.

Nativity of St. John the Baptist - Fra Angelico

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Kings 19:9-11,14-21,31-35,36  +  Matthew 7:6,12-14
June 23, 2020

“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.”

Coming to the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, today we hear Him offer several brief proverbs.  It would be difficult to find a common theme among all of them.  Yet we could take any one of them and, brief as it is, commit it to memory and recite it throughout this day for reflection.

Of these proverbs, the second is best known.  The “Golden Rule” is taught to children early in life.  Of course it demands an ability to step back from a situation and reflect upon it from outside.  This is difficult if someone is used to acting impulsively, without reflection.

Perhaps today, though, we could reflect on the Golden Rule in a different light.  Reflect on the Golden Rule as Jesus lived it; or rather, as He died by it.  Reflect on the Golden Rule in the light of the crucifix.  What Jesus did for you on the Cross is what Jesus would have you do for His sake.  This is what He calls you to, in fact, as a member of His Church:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” [Matthew 16:24].

The Narrow Gate