Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time [II]
1 Corinthians 2:10-16  +  Luke 4:31-37

September 1, 2020

… they were astonished at His teaching because He spoke with authority.

Astonishment is evoked by the fact that Jesus teaches with authority.  Why is there this astonishment, and what does it mean for Jesus to teach with authority?

In the culture that surrounds us, every person believes himself to be his own authority.  In effect, this wide-spread belief means that no real authority exists.  In our society there is a great need for clarity about the meaning and purpose of authority.

At its most literal level, the word “authority” is related to the word “author”.  The author of a novel can create worlds of his own design from his imagination.  Laws of physics need not apply.  Strange creatures can exist, and fantastic events are commonplace.  Tolkien, Baum and Roddenberry are all authors in this sense.  They have the authority to create worlds and races of creatures, and to confer life upon and take life from individuals.  However, this is merely a fictional form of authority.  In reality, there is only one Author of creation.

Jesus, as God from God and Light from Light, is this divine Author.  Through His divinity He has authority.  He exercises this authority throughout the three years of His public ministry for various persons, and for all mankind on Calvary.  However, in the face of His exercise of divine authority, astonishment arises for varied reasons.

Most cannot believe that a mere man could exercise divine authority.  Jesus, of course, was not merely a man, even though He was fully so.  In our own lives, we should not be astonished by the authority or power of Jesus.  We should root our daily lives in His desire to grant us His divine life, and all good things that we need.

Monday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Luke 4:16-30

… the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at Him.

When a Catholic man first receives the Sacrament of Holy Orders, he becomes a deacon.  One of his chief responsibilities is to preach during the Sacred Liturgy.  It’s a rare newly ordained deacon who isn’t very nervous while preaching his first homily.  We might wonder whether Jesus, in His human nature, felt nervous as He preached in the synagogue in Nazareth.  After all, if there’s one thing more nerve-wracking than preaching, it’s preaching in your hometown!

The evangelist does not divulge what Jesus felt as He preached on this occasion.  But he does relate what the congregation felt.  At first, they were “amazed at the gracious words that came from His mouth.”  But then Jesus continued to preach.

As Jesus continues, the congregation feels very differently.  They “were all filled with fury”:  not just anger, but fury.  As a point for our reflection today, we might ponder why Jesus wasn’t content with the congregation’s amazement at His graciousness.  Why did He continue preaching when He knew in His divinity what their response would be?  Why did He knowingly provoke the congregation’s fury?  Finally, what sins of theirs was their fury meant to cover, and which sins in our own lives are we so attached to that we’re willing to manifest fury rather than face them?

The Passion of St. John the Baptist

The Passion of St. John the Baptist
1 Corinthians 1:26-31  +  Mark 6:17-29
August 29, 2020

When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

How did Saint John the Baptist get to be strong enough to speak the truth, even when he knew that it could mean the end of his life?

John constantly preached and practiced penance.  Before Jesus’ Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Saint John preached a different baptism.  Saint John preached a baptism of penance.  Like the Old Testament prophets, Saint John fasted in the desert so that he would be strong enough to speak the truth.  Keep in mind that in the Jordan River, the baptism that Jesus received was John’s baptism, not the Sacrament of Baptism.  Jesus’ received John’s baptism as a sign that His own earthly vocation would be one of penance:  the Way of the Cross.

If we practice penance in our lives—having been baptized first into Christ’s life—we will be strong enough spiritually to stand up for the Truth, who is Jesus.  With this in mind, listen very closely today to the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer.

There are five saints—the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Joseph, and Saints Peter and Paul—who have their own prefaces.  In the preface that is prayed today, listen especially to its account of John’s last and greatest act of witness to Jesus.  With this is mind, receive Holy Communion today while asking Jesus to allow the Eucharist to help you be a more authentic witness to Jesus.

John the Baptist head

St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop & Doctor of the Church

St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
1 Corinthians 1:17-25  +  Matthew 25:1-13
August 28, 2020

… but we proclaim Christ crucified ….

Have you ever noticed in regard to weddings how many of those who are invited don’t come to the wedding ceremony, but do show up later for the free food, free booze, and the dance?  To grasp the significance of how disrespectful this is of the dignity of the wedding, consider the analogy of being invited to someone’s home for an evening.  Would you sit at someone’s supper table and only eat the dessert, pushing away the vegetables and the main course?

In all honesty, in our moral and spiritual lives we’re probably more like those wedding invitees than we’d like to admit.  We want the joys of being married to Jesus, but we don’t want our lives literally to be wedded to the life of Jesus.  This is where we need to reflect further on St. Paul’s words in today’s Epistle:  “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified[:] … to those who are called, … Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

On this Friday—the day of the week of Jesus’ Passion and Death—we need to meditate on the scene of Calvary as the wedding ceremony between God and fallen man.  Do we want to be hear the Good News on Easter Sunday morning without having shared in the Passion and Death of Christ?  Are we like those eleven apostles who betrayed Jesus by their faithless words or by their flight from Jesus?  Or are we willing to imitate Our Lady and the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross?

St. Augustine - Philippe de Champaigne

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Jeremiah 20:7-9  +  Romans 12:1-2  +  Matthew 16:21-27

You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped; you were too strong for me, and you triumphed.

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

CCC 618: Christ calls his disciples to take up the Cross and follow him
CCC 555, 1460, 2100: the Cross as the way to Christ’s glory
CCC 2015: way to perfection by way of the Cross
CCC 2427: carrying our cross in daily life

+     +     +

The human person must stand solidly against death.  This is the truth that Peter denies in the Gospel passage we hear this Sunday.  This is the truth that the prophet Jeremiah wanted to avoid for so long.

Jeremiah had begun his role as a prophet during easy times, during the reign of a king who stood up for goodness, and who inspired others to follow him in the way of goodness.  Only years later, when a corrupt man became the king of Judah, did Jeremiah begin to realize that God had called him to be a prophet for the sake of a decaying society.  He was to speak out against the evil which so many people had made their own.  Yet he was initially unwilling.  Jeremiah could only cry, “You duped me, Lord, and I let myself be duped.”  But we can be sure that God saw things differently.

Jeremiah’s frustration was similar to the frustration of Peter in the Gospel.  We heard last weekend how, after Peter confessed his faith in Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus handed over to him the keys to the kingdom of Heaven.  It’s easy to see how confusing Jesus’ next words to Peter must have seemed.

Jesus seemed to have given Peter the power to make all things right with the world.  But then Jesus tells Peter that he, the Messiah, would have to suffer at the hands of world leaders.  What kind of power was this that Peter had been given?  Not much, apparently.  We can be sure, though, that Jesus saw things differently.

Suffering was brought into this world by sin.  The only real way to deal with it, and so pass from this world to Heaven, is to stand solid like a rock against it.  This may mean disciplining one’s children more strictly than other parents.  This may mean patiently and lovingly relating to one’s spouse.  This may mean allowing oneself to be rejected by a group of peers whenever their attitudes or actions are wrong.

St. Paul tells us that our faith demands that we act.  He says to the Romans in Sunday’s Second Reading:  offer your bodies as a living sacrifice; do not conform yourselves to this age.  This may mean something as simple as praying before meals that we eat in public.  Or this may mean something as risky as arguing—charitably—with someone who does not respect the dignity of others.

Once we have acted, the world must respond to our expression of faith.  Sometimes the response of the world is nothing more than apathy, sometimes curiosity, sometimes anger.  Regardless, we must act.  For the truth of our faith continues to burn within a conscience that is not yet dead, as in the soul of Jeremiah.  That sense of burning truth occurs through the power of the Holy Spirit.  And as the life of the Holy Spirit grows within us, we ourselves begin to see things a little differently.

Museo Thyssen- Bornemisza

Christ on the Route to Calvary by Andrea di Bartolo (c. 1358-1428)

Saint Monica

St. Monica
1 Corinthians 1:1-9  +  Matthew 24:42-51
August 27, 2020

“Stay awake!”

“Stay awake!” Our Lord tells us.  Surely you’ve had experiences where you struggled to stay awake.  Maybe during those experiences you were waiting for someone to return home late at night.  In such a case, you might have experienced any number of emotions:  joy, fear, or perhaps anger.  Maybe the experience was driving late at night in order to reach a far-off destination, making you anxious and exhausted.  Maybe the experience was finishing a project, paper, or report for school or the office:  such an experience may have been fraught with fear.

There is a wide variety of emotion which can accompany the experience of trying to stay awake.  But if we consider the two events that Jesus’ words today concern—the coming of Christ in salvation history, and Christ coming to us at the moment of our deaths—we see that these two things share something in common.  They are both unexpected.

To stay awake for these two things is to stay awake for the unexpected.  Do not expect Christ to be part of your life in the way that you expect, or even perhaps in the way that you would prefer.

St. Monica & St. Augustine

Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]
2 Thessalonians 3:6-10,16-18  +  Matthew 23:27-32
August 26, 2020

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.”

The next time sometime suggests to you that Jesus was nothing more than a teddy bear, point out today’s Gospel passage.  One of several things will happen.  That someone may recognize that he’s mistaken.  Or that someone may suggest—as some scholars actually do—that this passage was made up, and that Jesus never said what this passage records Him as saying.  Or that someone might suggest that it’s only against people like the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus ever spoke in such a way.

The third of these possibilities is most likely to be the response of those challenged to explain this passage.  But this is where the sharp point of the Gospel needs to be recognized.

Today’s passage was not included in Matthew’s Gospel account so that we could wag our fingers at those in our own lives who resemble the scribes and Pharisees.  Rather, we need to hold their lives up to ours, and see to what extent we mirror them.  We would like Jesus always to be a teddy bear, but sometimes we need Him not to be.

OT 21-3

Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3,14-17  +  Matthew 23:23-26
August 25, 2020

“Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup ….”

In today’s Gospel passage, we hear Jesus rather harshly commanding that exterior and interior religious practices be integrated.  The right way in which to integrate them is to put first things first:  that is, to tend first to the inner dispositions of the soul, and then from the soul’s strength to practice virtuous acts.

Jesus condemns the “blind Pharisee” who appears clean on the outside, but inside is full of plunder and self-indulgence.  His actions may appear virtuous, but they are not.  They are deeds that may have good effects.  But these actions worsen a division in the soul of the one who carries them out.

Similarly, Jesus’ first condemnation here—of the scribes and Pharisees—concerns a different form of “dis-integration”.  These “hypocrites” are doing certain good works, but not the works that are far better and more central to a life given to God.  This dis-integration suggests that even the good works are being done for bad reasons.

Jesus doesn’t condemn the scribes and Pharisees for tithing:  indeed, He says they should have tithed.  But He uses a purposefully ridiculous metaphor to describe what they’re doing:  they are straining out the gnat, but swallowing the camel!  The latter part of the metaphor ought to remind us of another quote from Jesus:  “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle then for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

OT 21-2

St. Bartholomew, Apostle

St. Bartholomew, Apostle
Revelation 21:9-14  +  John 1:45-51
August 24, 2020

“Come and see.”

When Philip points out Jesus as the promised Messiah, what does Nathaniel—also known as Bartholomew—say?  We can almost see Nathaniel shrugging his shoulders as he says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  In this one sentence, he insults both Jesus and Jesus’ hometown.  Clearly, he does not have faith at this point.

But we see that Nathaniel is like Peter:  a slow learner, but someone who, once he realizes what’s going on, is completely “in”.  When Nathaniel hears Jesus call him, he realizes who Jesus is, and confesses this truth, declaring:  “Teacher, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”  So if any of us are slow to learn, we should remember that Jesus does not give up on us.  Jesus will still call each of us to live out his vocation each day, and give him whatever is needed to carry it out.

Yet we should also note something else in this “vocation story”:  that is, the role of Philip.  When God calls a young man to be a priest, or a young woman to the consecrated life, He usually calls him or her through other people.  We need not only to encourage vocations:  we need also to encourage those “other people” like Philip to encourage vocations.

After all, Philip said just three words:  “Come and see.”  But if Philip had not said these three simple words, Nathaniel might never have met Jesus, and the Church would not have been built up by this holy apostle Bartholomew.  Little words can do a lot for God’s great glory.

St. Bartholomew LORES