St. Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest

St. Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest
Proverbs 30:5-9  +  Luke 9:1-6
September 23, 2020

… He sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

The word “apostle” literally means “one who is sent”.  But the reason for being sent can vary, and this reason therefore qualifies the type of apostolic ministry.  For example, today’s Gospel passage comes from the ninth chapter of Luke, which is 24 chapters long.  Here, the apostles are not being sent to proclaim the Resurrection, because Jesus has not died yet!  At the end of the Gospel, the Apostles will be sent to proclaim the Gospel and thereby build Jesus’ Church.

In today’s Gospel passage, however, the Twelve are being sent for a simpler mission.  Jesus “sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”  This two-fold mission is interesting.  How does it relate to the mission that the Apostles will begin to carry out on Pentecost?  Is proclaiming “the Kingdom of God” the same thing as proclaiming the Gospel?  Why does Jesus here give the Apostles power to heal the sick, but not to raise the dead?

Although a book could be written trying to answer these questions, reflect today on the way in which you yourself have been sent by God in the past, and may be sent for a new mission today or very soon.  At any point on one’s earthly journey, the Lord can surprise you with a new request.  Like the Hebrews at the first Passover, we must be ready to move as the Lord asks.

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

Tuesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Proverbs 21:1-6,10-13   +   Luke 8:19-21
September 22, 2020

“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

Today’s First Reading is from the Book of Proverbs.  A “proverb” is a very short saying—often only one sentence long—that reveals some little bit of wisdom.  Almost every culture in the world, and throughout time, has its own proverbs.  In our own country, one of the Founding Fathers—Benjamin Franklin—spent a lot of his time creating proverbs for the first Americans to reflect on:  such as, “A stitch in time saves nine”, or “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  These proverbs, if we reflect on them, can help us be smarter in the way that we lead our lives in this world.

The proverbs that we hear in the Bible, though, come from God.  These proverbs are not just about helping us lead a better life in this world:  the Book of Proverbs also helps us get to the world to come, which is Heaven.

The proverbs of the Bible are bite-sized.  When we hear from the Book of Proverbs at Mass, we’re hearing a whole bunch of proverbs at once.  The simplest way to gain spiritual profit from the Book of Proverbs is to take just one proverb—usually just one sentence—and repeat it, over and over, in our heart, mind and soul.

Today, we might take the very last sentence of today’s First Reading:  “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor  /  will himself also call and not be heard.”  What does this mean?  Is this proverb talking about you?  Who are the poor in my midst, and what can I do to help them?

We should turn this proverb over in our soul, keeping in mind the words of the Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel passage:  “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist

St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist
Ephesians 4:1-7,11-13  +  Matthew 9:9-13
September 21, 2020

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Among the four evangelists, only Matthew and John were apostles.  Mark and Luke did not, as far as we know, ever meet Jesus during His earthly life.  Nonetheless, Mark and Luke were disciples of Peter and Paul, respectively, and from those two Mark and Luke received the apostolic witness to the Good News.

On this feast of St. Matthew, we also ought to keep in mind that while all four accounts of the Gospel are apostolic in origin, each presents a unique portrait of the Messiah.  If a man has four very close friends during his life, then after his death each of those four would likely write a different biography of their common friend.  Each account of his life would reflect the biographer’s interactions with him.

Today’s Gospel passage presents Matthew’s own account of how Jesus called him to serve.  Matthew is strikingly honest about his sinfulness.  In light of his own need for mercy, Matthew presents Jesus’s own vocation through the words that the Lord speaks at the end of today’s Gospel passage:  “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  God the Father called His divine Son to carry out this mission, and that Son extends here to Matthew a share in that mission.

The First Reading might seem fitting today because of St. Paul describing various roles within the Body of Christ, such as apostle and evangelist, both of which Matthew was.  However, consider the beginning of this passage, where Paul describes the Christian’s need for humility and patience, so as to bear “with one another through love”.  These words echo Matthew’s description of how Jesus called himself.

Saturday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
1 Corinthians 15:35-37,42-49  +  Luke 8:4-15
September 19, 2020

“This is the meaning of the parable.”

The parable Jesus preaches to us today is well-known.  Its meaning is clear because Jesus Himself explains the parable:  something He rarely does.  Given this explanation, we might apply the parable to ourselves as an examination of conscience.  While Jesus describes the different elements of the parable as relating to different groups of persons, one can reflect on these elements as relating to oneself at different times in one’s life.

“The seed is the Word of God”, that is, God the Son, as St. John tells us in the prologue to his Gospel account.  Our lives as disciples are all about allowing this seed to sink into our souls:  allowing God the Son entrance into our hearts and minds, so that He might bear good fruit within us.

When are we “on the path”?  When are we so shallow in giving our attention to Jesus that the devil snatches Him from our lives?  When are we “on rocky ground”?  When do we allow temptation to have the upper hand over Christ?  When are we “among thorns”, allowing our worldly concerns to choke off both God the Son and the graces He wills to bring into our lives?  During the offering of the Holy Eucharist, ask the Word made Flesh to help you till the field of your life so that it might be “rich soil”.

Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
1 Corinthians 15:12-20  +  Luke 8:1-3
September 18, 2020

Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another ….

Today’s Gospel passage doesn’t seem much like a passage!  There’s no narrative to speak of, but mostly a description of Jesus’ entourage as He journeys while preaching.  How is such a “cast of characters” meant to tell us something as it’s preached from the pulpit on this weekday in Ordinary Time?

Perhaps we might relate this cast to what in the Creed we profess as the “communion of saints”.  In Heaven this cast of thousands adores God perpetually, gathered together in voice to worship the Lamb who was slain for our salvation.  But on earth, during our pilgrimage, while we do pause occasionally for worship, we also have many practical matters to attend to.  On earth, while we’re journeying to where we can enjoy “the better part” alone, we have to attend like Martha to many simple needs.

Jesus, as He’s described in today’s Gospel passage, is surrounded by three types of persons.  There are the Twelve apostles, those who had been cured by Jesus, and those who provided for the crowd.  We might reflect on this assembly as the first parish, although journeying from one town and village to another!

The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 55:6-9  +  Philippians 1:20-24,27  +  Matthew 20:1-16
September 20, 2020

I am caught between the two.

Saint Paul is talking about a tension that all of us feel.  “I am caught between the two”, Saint Paul writes to the Philippian people.  He’s wrestling with whether it’s better to live down here on earth, or to live in heaven.

Saint Paul is very straightforward:  “I do not know which I shall choose.  I am caught between the two.”  So if it’s hard for a saint to choose between this world and the next, we shouldn’t be surprised if we’re torn, also.

If Jesus appeared before you tomorrow morning and told you that at that moment He would take you up to Heaven, would you go with Him?  Or would you choose to remain on earth?   All of us feel such tension, yet it’s important to note that the reasons for this tension differ among various persons.

St. Paul’s reason for being torn between Heaven and earth is different than the reasons that some of us have.  If you’re a Kenny Chesney fan, you’re familiar with his song called “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven.”  One version of the refrain goes:  “Everybody wants to go to heaven / Get their wings and fly around / Everybody want to go to heaven / But nobody want to go now.”  To explain why this is the case, the singer tells how after church one Sunday he told his pastor:  “Next time you got the good Lord’s ear / Say I’m comin’ but there ain’t no hurry / I’m havin’ fun down here.”

St. Paul wouldn’t have been singing this song extolling “the good life” as he walked down the country roads to preach.  Instead, his aim was to form what today are called intentional disciples.  Saint Paul explains in the Second Reading:  “I am caught between the two.  I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better.  Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit.”  In other words, there are two competing goods:  two good things, both better than “the good life”.

Clearly, Paul has been laying out his own struggle before the Philippians to give them an example.  By describing this struggle in his own life, he indirectly asks the Philippians, “Do you ever feel like there’s no meaning to this world, that you’d be better off elsewhere?  Do you ever wonder why you’re still here on earth?”

Then in the Second Reading’s last verse he starts to offer an answer:  “… conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ.”  There is only one Way.  There is only one way that gives abiding meaning to this world:  the way of self-sacrifice.  This way means living for others instead of for oneself.  When we realize this in our own lives, the tension between living in Heaven and living on earth clears.

Such clarity emerges also from Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel Reading:  “the last will be first, and the first will be last.”   Saint Paul teaches us to live our lives for others, instead of for ourselves.  But Jesus through this parable clarifies who these others are.

Jesus’ parable is literally about an employee paying his employees.  Yet the point of the parable is not economics, but mercy and love.  At its end, when the landowner rhetorically asks, “am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?”, we understand that this character represents God the Father, who asks each of us, “am I not free to do as I wish with my own love and mercy?”

Each of us gripes and complains just like the laborers in this parable.  We cannot understand why others should receive blessings in their lives when they don’t seem to deserve them.

But God calls us Christians to do something profound.  He calls us not only to be happy for others when they receive blessings.  Our Lord asks us to be the one who bestows blessings on those who don’t seem to deserve them.  Our Lord asks us to imitate that landowner:  to extend blessings to others, not because of how deserving they may or may not be, but to share in the Lord’s work of bestowing undeserved blessings upon our fellow fallen man.

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
1 Corinthians 15:1-11  +  Luke 7:36-50
September 17, 2020

“So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love.”

In today’s Gospel passage we witness a conflict among the “sinful woman”, Simon the Pharisee, and Jesus.  In this passage, the Lord uses the sinner’s situation to try to bring the Pharisee to Him.  For your own spiritual life, to draw from this Gospel passage, you have to put yourself in the sandals of this sinful woman.

Until we look seriously at our sins, at their effects on our souls, and at their consequences (for ourselves and for others, both in this world and in the next), our experience of prayer will be diminished, and so therefore will the benefits of our prayer.  Too often in our prayer we’re like Simon the Pharisee instead of being like the sinful woman.  The Pharisee says to himself, “If [Jesus] were a prophet, He would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”  By contrast, the sinful woman says nothing, but she acts with great love.  The Pharisee speaks to himself with doubt about whether Jesus is even a prophet.  But the woman acts with love towards Jesus, because she knows through faith that He is the Messiah who wants to wash away her sins.

If we wanted to sum up today’s Gospel passage, we could ponder just those two sentences that Jesus proclaims to Simon:  “her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.  But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”  In those words, Jesus teaches us two lessons.  First, the virtue of humility is the beginning of a fruitful prayer life.  Second, through that fruitful prayer the Christian finds the start of the contentment and peace of mind that remain elusive until we remain in God.

Sts. Cornelius, Pope & Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs

Sts. Cornelius, Pope & Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs
1 Corinthians 12:31—13:13  +  Luke 7:31-35
September 16, 2020

“But wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”

Our society today is knowledge-rich but wisdom-poor.  Contrast knowledge and wisdom.

Knowledge today, as it’s commonly considered, is thought to be facts and figures.  Computers can put human persons to shame when it comes to sorting, categorizing and presenting information.  While we might dispute whether facts and figures are the essence of knowledge or merely some of its components, we often educate our children according to knowledge-based systems.

What would it mean instead to educate children, and to re-form adults, according to a pattern of wisdom instead?  Jesus in today’s Gospel passage hints that “wisdom is vindicated by all her children”.  These curious words suggest that wisdom “educates” not according to a knowledge-based system, but according to a person-based system.  Jesus teaches us that wisdom bears children; it doesn’t spit out data.  Wisdom can only be understood according to a personalistic view of human life, the Gospel, and the eternal life to which Jesus wants to lead us.  It’s wise for us to follow Him.

Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady of Sorrows
1 Corinthians 12:12-14,27-31  +  John 19:25-27
September 15, 2020

“Woman, behold, your son.”

All our joys, all our sorrows, all our glory is only found in Christ:  that is to say, because we are members of Christ’s Body.  It is not true that you have your cross, and I have mine.  We all bear together—as individual members of Christ’s Body—the Cross of Jesus.  We all share in carrying His Cross.

Humanly speaking, sorrows tend to divide people more than joy or glory.  Loneliness and isolation are keenly felt by those who suffer.  Only in Christian faith can we find meaning even in the midst of suffering, because only God—who created everything out of nothing—can create good out of evil.

By approaching the Cross, we find Our Mother of Sorrows standing at its foot.  When we approach the Cross to take it up each day, she is there.  She remains there—at the heart of our Christian faith—to show us with a mother’s love that suffering cannot tear us from each other.

Our Lord Jesus taught us to pray the “Our Father”.  Jesus was not only teaching us that we have a Father in Heaven, because as a consequence of that truth, it’s also true that we are all brothers and sisters.  So then, it’s also true that Mary is the Mother of all of us.  We ask Our Lady of Sorrows, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, to pray for us in all things.  Through her intercession, she helps us know that no matter what we face in life, her Son is there with us, showing us how to walk the only Way that leads to Heaven.