St. Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Jeremiah 26:11-16,24  +  Matthew 14:1-12
August 1, 2020

His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who took it to her mother.

On August 29 the Church celebrates the Passion of St. John the Baptist, and on that memorial we hear the passion narrative according to Saint Mark.  Today’s Gospel Reading offers us this narrative according to St. Matthew the Evangelist.

Jesus does not appear in today’s Gospel passage.  His name is mentioned twice.  Focus on the latter instance, where His name is in fact the last word of the passage.  This is fitting.  In terms of the life and Passion of St. John the Baptist, Jesus is the last word.

John is often considered the last of the Old Testament prophets.  Like many prophets, he was killed because of his witness to God’s Word.  The uniqueness of John’s life and martyrdom lay in how they intertwined with those of the Word made Flesh.

You and I, as Christian disciples, have been baptized into the role of prophet.  It is part of our baptismal commitment to profess the truth of the Gospel no matter what the cost to us.  At times we profess this Truth through our actions; at other times, through our words.  How often do we count the cost first before deciding whether to profess the Truth?  It’s certainly necessary to exercise the virtue of prudence is proclaiming the Truth.  But we ought to ask St. John’s the Baptist’s intercession if we’re ever tempted by fear to refrain from professing the Truth.

St. Alphonsus Liguori

St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest

St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest
Jeremiah 26:1-9  +  Matthew 13:54-58
July 31, 2020

“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place ….”

The last sentence of today’s Gospel passage presents something of a conundrum.  No matter how we interpret the fact that Jesus “did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith”, we are challenged.

Some might interpret these words to mean that Jesus’ power to work miracles was constrained by the lack of faith of those in His hometown.  More sensible, however, is to see Jesus’ lack of miracles as a prudent choice on His part.  It doesn’t require faith on the part of people for God to work miracles.  It requires faith on the part of people for God’s miracles to bring about their primary goal.  God’s goal when He completely cures someone who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer is not to give that person immortal life on earth.  His goal is to bring the one cured and those around him to a greater practice of love for God and neighbor, so as to give them immortal life in Heaven.

We are challenged, then, to admit where we lack faith in our own lives.  We are challenged to allow the miracles that God works to bear fruit in our lives.  We are challenged not to live for ourselves, but for others, beginning with the Other who calls us to share in His life of love.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 55:1-3  +  Romans 8:35,37-39  +  Matthew 14:13-21

… he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.

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

CCC 2828-2837: give us this day our daily bread
CCC 1335: miracle of loaves prefigures the Eucharist
CCC 1391-1401: the fruits of Holy Communion

What do you think is the meaning of Jesus feeding a crowd of more than five thousand people with only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish?  Was Jesus simply showing his power to work a miracle:  demonstrating his power over material things?  Of course, that was part of it.  But this miracle of feeding the five thousand has far more to tell us about Christ than just this.

Being compassionate, Jesus was certainly concerned with the physical well-being of the people who had come to hear Him preach.  Just how deep Christ’s compassion was is made obvious when we consider again something the first verse of this passage tells us.  Jesus is told about the hunger of the crowds right after hearing of John the Baptist’s death, and withdrawing by boat to a deserted place by Himself.  If we were to imagine this, we would see just how human Christ was, responding in grief and perhaps anger at the murder of His cousin.  He withdrew from others to be by Himself.  Yet even at this point in His life, the needs of others pressed upon Him.  His response was that of God Himself:  He turned to help those in need.

We could look at this compassion of Jesus and see in it an example for ourselves.  As Christians, we are called to walk in the footsteps of Christ and imitate Him.  We are especially to imitate the sort of self-sacrifice that He shows in this passage, the sort of self-sacrifice that came to full expression in His death on the Cross.

But this passage is not chiefly about our need to imitate Christ.  We all have our limits.  Very likely, if we learned of the murder of a close relative, we’d be of little help to others.  None of us can expect to match the depth of Christ’s self-sacrifice.

But again, that’s not the chief point of this passage.  Within this event, the example that ought to be our chief focus is not the response of Jesus, but the request of the crowds.  The crowds seek out Jesus because they know that they are in need.  But exactly what kind of need do they have?

Being compassionate, Jesus was certainly concerned with the physical well-being of the people who had come to hear Him preach.  But He knew the people in the crowds better than they knew themselves.  Christ had a much deeper concern for their spiritual well-being.  He had reminded them that their ancestors, whom God had fed in the desert by sending bread in the form of manna, had died.  His divine Father, Jesus told them, had sent Him to be their spiritual bread which would allow them to live forever.  If they would eat this bread by accepting Him and following His commandments, they could enter into God’s eternal kingdom of love.

In today’s First Reading, Isaiah says in the name of the Lord, “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.”  This is the same message which Jesus conveyed to those people gathered near the Sea of Galilee.  He brought His meaning home to them in a concrete way by giving them physical bread to satisfy their bodily hunger.  But at the same time, He revealed that He was the spiritual bread which God had sent to bring them eternal life.  His miracle used what was physical in order to point towards what is spiritual.

The crowds naturally had a spiritual hunger.  Perhaps some of them were not even aware of this hunger inside their souls.  Unfortunately, many of us today also are not aware of the hunger in our souls.  Instead, we are distracted by many things such as our work, our leisure, and our possessions.  We are worried about many things without giving heed to the one needful thing.  Jesus, then, calls us first to recognize the greatest hunger in our lives, and then to seek the One who alone can fill it.

OT 18-0AMultiplication of the Loaves and Fish by Ambrosius Francken I (1544–1618)

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Jeremiah 18:1-6  +  Matthew 13:47-53
July 30, 2020

Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done?

In the Catholic press, much has been said recently about an idea called the “Benedict Option”.  The idea is that Christians would opt to imitate the example of Saint Benedict of Norcia in the face of the disorder within civil society.  Is the example of St. Benedict apropos to our day?  To what extent is Western culture vulnerable to collapse?

Regardless, only an ostrich would be unable to notice the red flags that the high priests of secular culture wave in the faces of everyone.  So ought Christians flee as much as possible from civil society, and form small communities of dedicated Christians?  Or ought Christians engage the secular culture as much as possible in the public square, even until the dying day of that culture?

Regardless of whether Christians choose the “Benedict Option”, or the “Dominican Option”, or the “Gregorian Option”, or any other option, today’s First Reading places before us a salient reminder.  If secular culture is subject to decay and collapse, so also is the spiritual life of a child of God, and of His entire People.  The image of the potter, and the Lord’s message regarding the potter’s work, is an Old Testament complement to Jesus’ exhortation to remove the plank from one’s own eye before attempting to remove the speck from another’s.  “Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand”.

OT 17-4 YEAR 2

St. Martha

St. Martha
Jeremiah 15:10,16-21  +  John 11:19-27
July 29, 2020

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.”

On this feast of Saint Martha, the Gospel Reading must come from the feast day.  The other readings may come from the day in Ordinary Time, which the feast supersedes.  However, there are two options for the Gospel Reading on this feast.  Both, of course, feature Martha.

The first option offers a bit more flattering portrait of Martha.  The occasion is the death of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary.  Martha goes out to meet Jesus, while Mary sits at home, which is an interesting contrast to the sisters’ respective roles in the other Gospel Reading for the feast.  Martha’s words to Jesus express not only her love for her deceased brother, but also for Jesus, as well as faith in Jesus.  Yet Martha is missing something.  When Jesus declares to Martha, “Your brother will rise”, she does not understand fully what Jesus means.  Jesus is promising that her brother will return to her, not on “the last day”, but on that very day when Jesus and Martha are speaking.  It’s to Martha’s credit that when Jesus makes more clear His intention, Martha makes clear her faith in Jesus.  This faith in Jesus, who is “the resurrection and the life”, is a model for our own faith.

The second option for the feast’s Gospel Reading is perhaps the better-known Gospel story about Martha.  Martha is overshadowed by her sister Mary, the latter being an example of putting “first things first”.  Nonetheless, perhaps the example of Martha in this passage is more like most of us Christians.  To identify with Martha in this passage is to humble ourselves and to recall that our good works are empty if they don’t proceed from a faith that’s nourished by the Word of God.

Sts. Martha and Mary - Vermeer LARGE

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Jeremiah 14:17-22  +  Matthew 13:36-43
July 28, 2020 

“Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus offers a point-by-point explanation of the parable that He had preached about the weeds in the field, proclaimed at Holy Mass on Saturday of this past week.  The evangelists rarely offer us examples of Jesus explaining one of His parables.  So today’s passage is insightful both in terms of the parable’s content, and also in terms of understanding how Jesus uses parables.

We might wonder, to start with, what the significance is of the evangelist telling us that it’s after “Jesus dismissed the crowds” that “His disciples approached Him” to ask for an explanation of the parable.  This is an important distinction that the evangelist didn’t have to note for Jesus’ explanation of the parable to make sense.  Perhaps the evangelist is highlighting the importance of petitioning God for deeper insight into His revealed Word.

Jesus then explains the meanings of seven persons or things within the parable.  This allegorical explanation of the parable is important because it’s in accord with the method of interpreting Jesus’ parables commonly found in the writings of patristic and medieval saints.  The allegorical method of understanding Sacred Scripture is often rejected today by scholars who prefer to use only rationalistic forms of the historical-critical method.  Nonetheless, central to all the elements of Jesus’ allegorical interpretation is His call for each of us to be among the “good seed”, sown by the Son of Man in His preaching, Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 13:31-35

All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.

Jesus today proclaims two parables about the Kingdom of Heaven.  In wanting to understand these parables, we might wonder what exactly the Kingdom of Heaven is.  Is the Kingdom of Heaven the realm of Heaven?  Is it the Church, or some measure of both the Church and Heaven, or something else entirely, such as the individual Christian’s soul?

Jesus never directly answers this question.  But even without defining “the Kingdom of Heaven”, we can say that the kernel of each “Kingdom parable” describes in some way the reality of Heaven, and/or the Church, and/or the Christian’s soul.

Take Jesus’ first parable in today’s Gospel passage.  The change from the “smallest of all the seeds” to “the largest of plants” seems more easily applied to the Church and the Christian soul than to Heaven.  Tertullian wrote that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”, a phrase through which we can see how this parable applies to the Church.  With God, all things are possible:  from a natural death springs supernatural life.  Or as the Church prays to God the Father in one of the prefaces for martyrs at Holy Mass:  by “your marvelous works” “in our weakness you perfect your power / and on the feeble bestow strength to bear you witness….”

OT 17-1

St. James, Apostle

St. James, Apostle
2 Corinthians 4:7-15  +  Matthew 20:20-28
July 25, 2020

… so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the apostle James.  But two of the apostles were named James.  The apostle whose feast we celebrate today is usually called “James the Greater”.  This James was the brother of St. John the Apostle.

Saint James the Greater was “greater” than the other James because he followed Jesus for a longer time.  But even though this “Great James” followed Jesus for so long a time, he still didn’t exactly understand who Jesus was.  We can tell that from today’s Gospel passage.

James and John, the apostle-brothers, have a mom who wants what’s best for them.  She knows that Jesus is a great person, very important, and even believes that Jesus is some sort of king.  That’s why she asks Jesus if her sons can sit right next to Jesus’ throne.  She wants her sons to be important.

But Jesus says something that none of them expects.  Jesus says that if you want to be with Him in Heaven, you have to drink from the chalice that Jesus was going to drink from during Holy Week.  When Jesus says this, He’s not only talking about the chalice that He’s going to use at the Last Supper.  Jesus is also talking about the cup of suffering:  He’s talking about the Cross.  Remember that after the Last Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, and prayed to God the Father about the cup of suffering that He knew was coming very soon.

You will actually grow stronger in your life whenever you suffer for Jesus’ sake.  Jesus taught us this in the Beatitudes:  “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” [Matthew 5:11].  Always remember that this is one of the ways that God will give you grace throughout your life:  by sticking with Jesus, even when it’s very difficult.

St. James - Cathedral of Compostela CROPPED

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Jeremiah 3:14-17  +  Matthew 13:18-23
July 24, 2020

“But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it ….”

If you use a computer at all, you know how many different things you can accomplish with it.  Computers can help us with our homework, with our finances, with preparing a talk, and with sending messages and pictures to our loved ones.  The list seems endless.

The more we get used to working with computers, the more we get used to doing what the professionals call “multi-tasking”:  that is, trying to do several things at once.  With computers, this means printing one thing, sending an email, downloading a file, and so on and so forth, all at once.  With computers, the more you can multi-task, the smarter you are.  Or so the theory supposes.

Jesus is saying something very different in today’s Gospel passage.  The parable that He tells us has a simple point:  we need to focus on God in order to love Him.  In a way, Jesus’ parable reminds us of what Jesus said to Martha when He visited the home of Martha and Mary.  Martha and Mary were very different sisters.  Mary sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to His words, while Martha was multi-tasking all over the house.  Mary focused her attention on Jesus, while Martha did not.

Your soul is like a field.  Jesus wants to sow good seed in your soul so that, at the end of your life in this world, He can find a rich field of grace to harvest.  But the parable that Jesus tells us shows that even though Jesus takes good seed everywhere He goes, some fields—some souls—are better than others.  The good soul, ready to accept the seed of God’s Word, is the soul that focuses on God.  This is the person who prays daily to God, asks His help, and knows that God will forgive all sins.  When we look at the crucifix, and pray to Jesus, focusing on His love for us, we see the One who will lead us to life forever with Him in Heaven.

OT 16-5