The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Ezekiel 43:1-7  +  Matthew 23:1-12
August 22, 2020

“… you have but one Father in Heaven.”

Today’s Gospel passage contains a verse that some Christians quote to “prove” that one of Catholics’ most common practices is “unbiblical”.  Jesus declares, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.”  These words of Jesus would seem to disqualify the Catholic practice of addressing a priest as “Father”, as well as referring to the Pope as the “Holy Father”.

Those who make this argument might be taken aback, then, if it were pointed out to them how many passages from Saint Paul’s letters show the Apostle referring to himself as a spiritual father.  For example, Paul explains how the Corinthians have one father.  He squarely preaches to them, “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father […] it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus…” [1 Cor 4:15].  It’s hard to imagine—if you were to interpret Holy Scripture in a literalistic sense—any words that more directly contradict Jesus’ command to “call no man on earth your father” than what St. Paul says of himself:  “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father […] it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus….”

What are we to make of this seeming contradiction?  St. Paul’s following words only seem to heighten the contradiction against Jesus’ command.  St. Paul commands those listening to him:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” [1 Cor 4:16].  Why doesn’t St. Paul just say instead, “Be imitators of Christ”?  Some Christians will argue over and over again that the Catholic priesthood is a corruption of the Word of God because it puts a middle-man—a mediator—between Christ and the individual believer.  They will say instead that the individual Christian can go straight to Christ, without needing men in between.  (Of course they’ll turn a blind eye to the plain fact that the act of preaching—which is so prominent in Protestant denominations—is an act of a man mediating the Word of God to his listeners.)

It’s here that the teachings of Saint Paul—found, of course, in the Holy Bible—lead us deeper into the mystery of the Christian Faith.  St. Paul’s words don’t contradict Jesus’ command to call no man on earth your father:  St. Paul’s words deepen the revelation of Jesus.  Christian fathers, whether in the home or in the sanctuary, whether through the Sacrament of Marriage or through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, are called to say—by their example if not by their words—what St. Paul proclaims here:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”  Christian fathers are called to lead their children each day and each week deeper into the life of Christ.

Coronation of the Virgin - Diego Velázquez

Pope Saint Pius X

Pope Saint Pius X
Ezekiel 37:1-14  +  Matthew 22:34-40
August 21, 2020

“The whole law and the prophets depends on these two commandments.”

When we were little we were expected to memorize the basic truths of our Faith.  At the top of the list were the Ten Commandments, which are difficult for a child to memorize.  Today’s Gospel passage offers a clue to help us to remember—or to teach—the Ten Commandments more easily.

If not pointed out, we may never have noticed that in many pictures of Moses bringing down the two tablets from Mt. Sinai, the Ten Commandments are not divided five and five.  Rather, the first tablet has the first three commandments, and the other tablet the remaining seven.  This illustrates Jesus’ teaching today:  that there are, in fact, simply “two commandments”.

On the Cross most especially, in His very Person, Jesus embodies the unity of these “two commandments”.  True God and true man, Jesus’ teaching today merely foreshadows what He teaches us on Calvary.  Some people teach a piety that promotes complete devotion to God, but ignores or even disdains the corrupted human race.  Others teach an ethic that promotes an apotheosis of human nature, but disdains or even altogether denies God.  But neither of God’s “two commandments” can stand or be understood thoroughly without the other.  Jesus reveals the meaning of each of these commandments in His divine Person, and in His Self-sacrifice on Calvary.

St. Pius X

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 22:19-23  +  Romans 11:33-36  +  Matthew 16:13-20
August 23, 2020

“… you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church ….”

Rock collectors aren’t known as dynamic and charismatic folks.  Most of us probably wonder why anyone would bother with such a hobby.  It’s not just that rocks are lifeless:  after all, postage stamps are lifeless, but can be very colorful and historical.  Rocks, however, are dull in more ways than one, and seemingly good for little except holding things down as a paperweight.

So is Jesus insulting Simon when He gives him the name “Peter”, which literally means “rock”?  Is Jesus suggesting that Simon is hard-headed, lifeless, dull, and good for little?  The Gospel accounts that feature Simon Peter show that, in terms of temperament and traits, he was hard-headed and occasionally dull of mind.  So why would Jesus appoint such a man to the key role within His Church on earth:  the office of the Pope?

The answer has more to do with Peter’s office than his personality.  In other words, “Peter” is a job description, as Jesus explains in the same sentence in which He names Peter.  Jesus tells Simon Peter:  “… upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”  Jesus’ description of Peter’s new job makes it clear how important it is, and how literally foundational.  Upon a single rock Jesus wants to build His Church, and Simon Peter is the right man for the job.

This key role evokes a similar image that St. Paul wrote about to the Ephesians:  “you are … members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” [Eph  2:19-20].  There seems to be a conflict here.  St. Paul calls Jesus the cornerstone of the household of God, while Jesus Himself says that Peter will be the rock upon which He will build His Church.  How can the roles of Jesus and Peter be reconciled?

One of the most common titles of the Pope clarifies the seeming conflict.  The Pope serves the Church as the “Vicar of Christ”.  Jesus’ role as the Church’s cornerstone is given concrete form in the person of the Pope who walks this earth.  A vicar is one who speaks and acts in the name of a higher authority.  So the Rock who is Peter—through the office of the Pope—serves as the earthly, bodily representative of Christ, the cornerstone of the Church.

Given this, the appointment of Simon to the office of “Peter” is clearly a great honor.  However, there’s another truth about this name “Peter” that might seem a diminishment of Peter’s role, though in fact it’s essential to the office.

One of history’s most vicious persecutors of the Church was the nineteenth-century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.  During his Kulturkampf, Bismarck attacked the First Vatican Council’s definition of papal infallibility.  The bishops of Germany courageously responded in defense by asserting that “the pope cannot be called an absolute monarch, since indeed he is subject to Divine Law and is bound to those things which Christ set in order for his Church.  He cannot change the constitution of the Church which was given to it by its divine Founder.”

Some in Germany feared that the bishops’ assertion had weakened the meaning of Council’s teaching about the Pope.  But the reigning Vicar of Christ, Blessed Pius IX, wrote that the German bishops’ description of the role of Peter deserved “Our most fulsome congratulations.”

This brief window into history seems to reveal a second conflict.  If the Pope is the Vicar of Christ, and Christ is the divine Son of the Omnipotent Father, how can the Pope not be an absolute monarch?  How can the Pope be infallible, but at the same time not all-powerful?

The reasons for Pope Pius’ praise, and why no actual conflict was present in the words of the German bishops about Vatican I, become clear when we pick up the First Vatican Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Church.  The Council decreed about the Bishop of Rome that “the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.”

The British priest-scholar Fr. John Hunwicke wrote an essay for the ecumenical journal First Things titled “Peter Says No”.  He explains the article’s title when he writes:  “When Peter speaks, he says no.  It is true that he also offers words of affirmation, comfort, and encouragement, as all pastors do.  But when he exercises the role most typical of the Petrine mystery—the safeguarding of the faith—he speaks in the negative.”

The occupant of Peter’s chair is the Vicar of Christ not in bearing Christ’s omnipotence, but in teaching in the current day what Christ has already gifted to His Church.  Far from an exciting office of innovation, Peter holds down the Church against the currents of faddish ideologies and fashionable trends.  If the Church were merely a building, this office would mean mere maintenance.  But since the Church is something living—the Mystical Body of Christ—this office is a living mission.

Jesus didn’t ask Peter to be a star, but a rock; not brilliant, but solid; not popular, but the unwavering voice of Christ to His People:  the voice calling each person to take up his cross and follow Him.

OT 21-0A (2)

St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church
Ezekiel 36:23-28  +  Matthew 22:1-14
August 20, 2020

“Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

What are we to make of the violence in this parable?  The violence flies in two directions.  The second is on the part of the king, who acts in retribution.  Jesus issues a warning to us here that His Father is not just some sort of teddy bear, but rather a Just Judge.  On a practical level, though, the first form of violence is more important for us to reflect on, for it challenges our own way of acting.

First, some who are invited to the feast carry out violence.  Some invited guests simply refuse to come:  “Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.”  But the rest of those invited killed the messengers!  Who are these invited guests, and who are the messengers?

In terms of the first century, when Jesus walked the earth, these invited guests symbolize those to whom Jesus was originally speaking.  The evangelist tells us that these are “the chief priests and elders of the people”.  But the evangelist recorded this parable in his Gospel account because it has perennial meaning.  This parable has been proclaimed in churches in every century since Jesus walked the earth.  The parable’s invited guests symbolize all of mankind who have heard God’s desire that “all peoples” and “all nations” enter into the wedding feast of Heaven.  We need, for our own sake, to understand the parable’s invited guests as ourselves:  you and I!

If we remember not only that God is inviting us into Heaven, but that confessing our sins to the Lamb who was slain is the ticket into the banquet, then we can more easily identify with the ungrateful invited guests.  “Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.”  These persons have no need for either the ticket or the feast.  They have their own lives, and they are their own masters.

But then there are the others who had been invited.  They “laid hold of [the king’s] servants, mistreated them, and killed them.”  This violence forces the question:  who are these servants, and how can we understand the violence done to them?  Those who bring the Lord’s invitation to conversion may be other persons:  for example, a spouse, a parent, a priest, an employer, a neighbor, a grandparent, or a friend.  Unfortunately, we want spouses who compliment us, priests who tickle our ears from the pulpit, and friends who will tell us about the faults of others, rather than about our own.

OT 20-4

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 34:1-11  +  Matthew 20:1-16
August 19, 2020

“…the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Jesus’ parable teaches us who we are to live for, and how we may serve them.

This parable, of course, is not about economics, but about merciful love.  When the landowner rhetorically asks, “am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?”, we understand that Jesus is, so to speak, putting words in the mouth of God the Father.  When faced with us human sinners, God the Father asks, “am I not free to do as I wish with my own merciful love?”

You and I gripe and complain like the laborers in this parable.  We cannot understand why others should receive blessings when they don’t deserve them.  We notice, in fact, not only that “the Lord makes His sun to shine on the evil and the good.”   God actually shows mercy to those who do not deserve it.  This gets to us because it seems unjust.

When we find ourselves torn between what seems just and what God chooses to offer to sinners, we need to reflect again on the answer that the Father gave us when He sent His eternal Son to become flesh and blood, so as to offer that flesh and blood on Calvary and through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Praying while gazing at a crucifix can help us reflect on the Cross as binding together the love of God and the love of neighbor.  In the light of this Cross, God asks us to prefer His form of mercy to our own sense of justice.

OT 20-3

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 28:1-10  +  Matthew 19:23-30
August 18, 2020

“What will there be for us?”

Peter often comes across as a less than stellar candidate for the college of apostles, much less the leader of the apostles.  Consider that after Jesus has declared that salvation is impossible for man to accomplish, but that “for God all things are possible”, what does Peter reply?  He replies, “We have given up everything and followed you.  What will there be for us?”  Obviously Peter is not embarrassed by his self-interest.  We might admire his honesty in expressing himself, even if he himself isn’t so admirable on this occasion.  Can you imagine a brand new postulant arriving at the convent and asking where she can find the hot tub and coffee bar?

But Jesus answers Peter’s question with a forbearance that might leave us scratching our heads.  Perhaps we need to reflect on whether, and how, Jesus is acting pedagogically here.  Jesus offers Peter an impressive response, assuring us that great gifts are in store in Heaven for those who are saved by God.

But this begs the question:  how does God save us?  For man it is impossible to save himself, but for God it is possible to save man.  But how does God save man?  This question seems to pass over Peter’s head, and perhaps at times over ours as well.  The answer, simply, is the Way of the Cross.  Peter in time will walk there.  God invites you to do so today.

OT 20-2

Monday of the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 24:15-24  +  Matthew 19:16-22
August 17, 2020

“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”

The young man in today’s Gospel passage knows that something more is needed.  He’s very confident that he has observed the commandments, but knows that he still lacks something for him to gain eternal life.  Jesus’ response aims for Heaven:  “to be perfect”, the young man must sell what he has in order to give to the poor, and then he must follow Jesus.

It would not be accurate to take today’s passage as a proof that every Christian must abandon all of his or her possessions.  Jesus was speaking on this occasion to an individual.  Individual members of the Body of Christ have different vocations, and are called in different ways.  Individual calls include individual ways of using or giving away material goods.

What every Christian vocation does have in common with every other is to seek “to be perfect”.  In fact, Jesus commands us elsewhere to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.  That might seem an impossibly lofty goal, were we not to understand the meaning of the word “perfect”.  From the Latin, it could be loosely translated as “to become what one is”, or in other words, “to become what one is meant to be”.

God is perfectly God without any trouble.  We humans, on the other hand, have lots of trouble.  God “designed” each human person, and calls each human person, to spend himself in love for others, and above all, for God Himself as the ineffable Other.  However God may ask you to accomplish this, give thanks for His call.

OT 20-1

St. Maximilian M. Kolbe, Priest & Martyr

St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr
Ezekiel 16:1-15,60,63  +  Matthew 19:3-12
August 14, 2020

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”

In raising the institution of marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, Christ transformed it into a covenant reflecting His own love for His Church.  This transformation was symbolized at the wedding at Cana by Jesus transforming water into wine.  The natural is transformed by the supernatural into some third thing that is both.

Certainly there is a stark contrast between marriage during the Old Testament and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  We might say something similar of the contrast between Christian marriage and what many today—including the federal government, and in collusion with them, state governments—are labeling “marriage”.  The former contrast can be easily seen through the example of Moses, who more than 1200 years before Christ, permitted the Israelites to divorce [Deuteronomy 24:1-4].  Moses’ concession to human sinfulness, however, is repudiated by Jesus in today’s Gospel passage, and the original will of the Creator is reaffirmed against that concession.

The indissolubility of marriage is due not only to the fact that God Himself is marriage’s origin, but also that He is the One whose divine love marriage points to.  Thirdly, He is its mirror as it’s lived in the present, as spouses vow to help each other and their children each day to strive for Heaven.

OT 19-5

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 56:1,6-7  +  Romans 11:13-15,29-32  +  Matthew 15:21-28
August 16, 2020

For God delivered all to disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all.

Love is what moves people through life.  Love is what motivates.  Love is what gives meaning to life.  But what is true love?  What does real love look like?  The world defines love in countless ways, many of which contradict each other.  If you flip through television or YouTube channels, you’re likely to find a different definition of love offered by each channel.  Love of money, love of possessions, love of knowledge, love of pleasure:  all of these are definitions of love that the world offers for our belief.

The Church proclaims that the love of God is summed up by the crucifix.  If we want to know what love is, that’s all the further we have to look.  But to understand the love of God, and to make it part of our own lives, is something much different and more difficult.  It requires faith.

Today’s Gospel Reading, in turn, shows us how faith becomes love.

The dialogue between Jesus and the Gentile woman shows how God relates to each of us who like the Gentile woman is a sinner.  This dialogue also shows how God wants us to relate to Him:  both in our daily lives, and from the broader perspective of our spiritual growth over the years.

In Sunday’s Gospel Reading, the evangelist Matthew tells us that a Canaanite woman—which is to say, an outsider—came to Jesus and called out, Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!  This woman, despite not being one of the people who had been waiting for the Messiah, nonetheless knew who Jesus was.  So she cried out to Him for help.  But what happened next?

Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.  Not a word!  Here is a woman whose daughter is being tormented, yet Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.  What kind of love is this?  If you have ever prayed intensely for a serious problem, and felt that God did not answer your prayer, you can identify with the Gentile woman.

But can you identify with her faith?  Perhaps you can identify with her cry for help going unanswered, but can you identify with what the woman does next?  She is a woman whose faith is not shaken, and who puts her faith into action time and again.  She goes now to Jesus a second time, and simply says, Lord, help me.  What is Jesus’ response?

He calls the woman a dog!  He says to this outsider, It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.  The children Jesus is referring to are the children of Israel, the ones the Father sent Him to teach, while this woman is an outsider, a “dog”.  But why is Jesus talking this way?

God demands faith from us, even when we believe we have none.  He is willing to “pull” our faith out of us—indeed, to test us—in order to purify our faith.  Jesus knows what sort of faith this woman has.  He is willing to draw it out, because without faith on this woman’s part He will not work a miracle.

Faith is always required for God to work in our lives.  God requires faith, in the sense that He demands it from us.  Whenever you read the Gospel and see an occasion where Jesus does not work a miracle, it is not because His divine power has “run out”.  Without faith on our part, God’s grace would be an empty gift.  But what kind of faith does God want from us?

The faith that God wants from us is not passive.  It’s active.  God does not want the sort of faith that says, “God is going to take care of everything, so I can sit back and coast.”  That is not our Catholic understanding of faith.  Faith involves something active on our part.  It demands constant prayer.  It demands the sort of dialogue that we hear between Jesus and the Gentile woman.  We might even say that God wants us to challenge Him in our prayer, so that He might challenge us to greater faith, and thereby greater love.

OT 20-0A