Saturday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Philippians 1:18-26  +  Luke 14:1,7-11
October 31, 2020

“… do not recline at table in the place of honor.”

The virtue of humility is a thread that runs through today’s Scriptures.  Jesus weaves this thread through the parable that He tells after He notices that His fellow dinner guests were choosing the places of honor at the table.  They were not content to receive a sumptuous meal.  They wanted also to receive honor.

These dinner guests were looking only to receive gifts.  They were not thinking of giving.  This is natural, on the one hand, since when you accept a dinner invitation, you’re accepting a gift.  On the other hand, when you go to a dinner party, you might take a token gift such as a bottle of wine.  But your token gift would seem out of place if it were greater than the banquet itself.

But here is the metanoia—the change of heart and mind—which Jesus effects in His disciples through His saving words and deeds.  He wants His disciples—including us—to recognize every gift, every invitation to receive, as an opportunity to give:  to be as loving to our neighbor and to love God in His Providential Will as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are fully loving in their communion of divine love in the Godhead.

Friday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Philippians 1:1-11  +  Luke 14:1-6
October 30, 2020

“My sheep hear my voice,” says the Lord; “I know them, and they follow me.”

Can you imagine a homilist only ever preaching upon the Gospel antiphon?  Sacred Scripture is so rich and deep in presenting the Word of God to us that it’s certainly possible for a homilist to preach upon only the day’s Gospel antiphon.  Today, the Church proclaims in this antiphon:  “My sheep hear my voice,” says the Lord; “I know them, and they follow me.”

There are three distinct statements that the Lord makes here.  First, He states:  “My sheep hear my voice”; Second, that “I know them”; and third, that “they follow me.”  Any one of these three could serve as matter for spiritual meditation.  Or one could take any two of the three and compare and contrast them.

In holding up all three of these statements to the light of God’s Word, the role of the Lord’s “voice” seems to link them.  The Shepherd calls to the sheep, whom He knows, by means of His voice.  Thus they follow Him.  Reflect simply, then, on the Lord’s voice:  what does it sound like, what does it say, and what must we turn away from in order to hear it?

The Solemnity of All Saints

The Solemnity of All Saints
Revelation 7:2-4,9-14  +  1 John 3:1-3  +  Matthew 5:1-12
November 1, 2020

“After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”

In two great commands, Jesus summed up all that God asks of us.  At their simplest, we are to love God, and love our neighbor.

God asks a lot of us as Christians.  But like any good father, God equips us for success.  God equips us so as to be able to fulfill what He commands.  That’s one of the reasons why God bestows His grace upon us.  Through His grace, God the Father equips us to succeed as his adopted children.  But there are other gifts by which God also equips us.

One of the greatest of the Father’s gifts to us is the Communion of Saints.  We profess our belief in the Communion of Saints whenever we pray the Apostles’ Creed.  The Nicene Creed, which we proclaim together at Sunday Mass after the homily, does not speak specifically of the Communion of Saints, but it does profess belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”.  The Church that Jesus founded is an expression of the Communion of Saints.  The Church manifests the life of the Communion of Saints, with Christ Jesus as its Head.

We can reflect on today’s feast of all the saints as an encouragement for ourselves.  The feast of All Saints gives us hope that, where the saints are now, we also might be after our deaths, if we persevere in the virtues of faith, hope and divine charity on this earth.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a great teacher of the Faith who lived during the twelfth century, was very blunt about the fact that today’s feast does far more for us on earth than for those we honor.  He asked:

“Why should… the celebration of this feastday mean anything to the saints?  What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son?  What does our commendation mean to them?  The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs.  Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them.  But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.”

St. Bernard goes on by describing how today’s feast is a benefit to those of us on earth who would like someday to be saints in Heaven.  He continues:

“Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself.  We long to share in the citizenship of Heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins.  In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints.” [1]

What St. Bernard in this sermon does not discuss, though, is a common objection from some of our fellow Christians.  The objection is made that every moment we spend in devotion to the saints is a moment taken away from God Himself, who should be the object of all our devotion (as they claim).  However, this is one of many topics about the Faith where we can learn about God from the blessings God has given us:  in this case, the gift of the family.  The life of a human father can reveal the life of God the Father.

Does a loving human father object when brothers and sisters turn to each other in their needs?  A loving human father does not object; in fact, he encourages and fosters relationships among brothers and sisters.  This shows one of the reasons that God gives us brothers and sisters.

God doesn’t give us brothers so that we can develop our punching skills.  God doesn’t give us sisters so that we can have a larger wardrobe.  God gives us brothers and sisters to teach us how to help brothers and sisters when they’re in need, and on the flip side, to turn to them when we ourselves are in need.  This is the first and most practical way for children to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Likewise, on this holy feast of All Saints, we give thanks to God for giving us our elder brothers and sisters in the Catholic Faith.  They strengthen us by the example of their struggles on earth in following Jesus.  They strengthen us by their prayers from Heaven, through which they turn to the same God who helped them reach Heaven, that God’s grace will strengthen us to be faithful on earth, to dwell eternally with God and all His holy saints.

[1] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermo 2: Opera Omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 5 [1968], 364-368, quoted in The Liturgy of the Hours, vol. IV (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1975), 1526-7.

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ephesians 6:10-20  +  Luke 13:31-35
October 29, 2020

“Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the Devil.”

Today is the last day on which we hear at weekday Mass from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.  Today’s passage comes from the last chapter of Ephesians.  It’s a fitting passage to hear within this 30th week in Ordinary Time.

During the last weeks of the Church year—the 30th-34th weeks—the Church asks us to turn our attention to what she calls the “Last Things”.  The four most important of the “Last Things” are Heaven and Hell, death and judgment.

A lot of people like to think, and lead their lives, believing that only one of these four things even exists.  Of course there is a Heaven:  Heaven is the place where everyone goes when they die:  this is what some people believe.  This is what some people teach.  But this is not what Jesus taught.

Jesus taught that people, if they do not follow Him, will go not to Heaven, but to that other place, called Hell.  In today’s First Reading St. Paul teaches us how seriously we need to prepare ourselves here on earth if we want to reach Heaven.  The imagery he uses to describe our earthly battle against evil forces is military in nature.  It’s a fitting conclusion to the Letter of St. Paul in which he describes at such length our need to love our neighbors within the Body of Christ.

Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles

Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles
Ephesians 2:19-22  +  Luke 6:12-16
October 28, 2020

… with Christ Jesus Himself as the capstone.

St. Paul, at the beginning of today’s First Reading, declares to the Ephesians:  “You are no longer strangers and sojourners”.  But St. Peter, in his first epistle, admonishes his disciples:  “conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning” [1 Peter 1:17-21].  How should we understand this discrepancy?  Were St. Paul and St. Peter speaking to different groups of disciples?  Were their words about sojourning in reference to differing circumstances?

Another name for the Church Militant—which is to say, the Church on earth—is the Pilgrim Church.  It’s important that we teach every disciple on earth to have this focus:  namely, that we do not live for this world, even as we take our faith into the world.  So on this feast of two holy apostles, what are we to make of St. Paul declaring, “You are no longer strangers and sojourners”?

In the second phrase of the first sentence, St. Paul makes his intent more clear.  The first half of today’s First Reading is a single sentence:  “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the capstone.”

St. Paul is setting down before the Ephesians his vision of the Church’s nature:  what we would call his “ecclesiology”.  He’s preaching about the Church’s essence.  Although we, like the Ephesians, are sojourning in faith each day, we also share now—by grace—in the eternal life that the Church Triumphant enjoys fully in Heaven.  The role of the apostles—and in turn their successors, including the bishop of one’s own diocese—is to foster our faith, to fix our hearts and minds, and all our apostolates and ministries here on earth, upon the eternal life of Heaven.

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ephesians 5:21-33  +  Luke 13:18-21
October 27, 2020

“To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God?”

Today’s Gospel passage presents two brief parables in which Jesus specifically focuses our attention on “the Kingdom of God”.  It might seem a simple question, but what exactly is this Kingdom?

Is the Church the Kingdom of God?  If so, and if the mission of the Church is to proclaim the Kingdom of God, then the mission of the Church would seem to consist in nothing other than the Church proclaiming itself.

Certainly there is an intimate relationship between the Church and the Kingdom of God.  In fact, it is a relationship of service, articulated by the Second Vatican Council in this manner:  “While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the church has a single intention:  That God’s Kingdom may come, and that salvation of the whole human race may come to pass.”

The sacrifice that Christ makes of His Body for the sake of the Church is the paradigm for understanding the sacrifice that the Church makes for the sake of the Kingdom.  This mission of the Church is inherently future-oriented, calling from Christians the virtue of hope, as they look forward to the Church’s fulfillment through the Lord’s Second Coming.

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ephesians 4:32—5:8  +  Luke 13:10-17
October 26, 2020

Blessed the man who … meditates on His law day and night.

In today’s Responsorial Psalm, we hear the first psalm of the Psalter, and it helps bring focus to our spiritual life.  If you were to ask one hundred Christians whether they knew any of the psalms by heart, you’d probably not garner many “Yes”es.  Among those “Yes”es, most probably have memorized Psalm 23.  But those looking for one of the psalms to memorize ought to consider Psalm 1.

Consider just the first sentence of Psalm 1.  It makes up the first “verse”, or “strophe”, of today’s Responsorial Psalm.  This psalm might at first glance seem merely to describe two type of men:  the just and the wicked.  But it’s not enough not to act like the wicked.  We need to look more closely at the Psalmist’s descriptions of the just.

In the first sentence of Psalm 1, we hear a “Beatitude”:  a description of the man who is blessed.  This single sentence offers five descriptions of the blessed, just man.  Three of them have negative forms, describing what the blessed, just man does not do.  But consider the latter two descriptions, and focus on them as you memorize this psalm.  The blessed, just man “delights in the Law of the Lord, and meditates on His Law day and night.”

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

Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ephesians 4:7-16  +  Luke 13:1-9
October 24, 2020

“‘Sir, leave it for this year also ….’”

Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, gardens, plants and trees of all sorts are used as symbols of growth—and decay—in the spiritual life.  The very first story of the Bible takes place in a garden called Eden.  And today in the Gospel, Jesus tells us a parable along the same lines.

Your spiritual life is the fig tree, and you are the gardener.  Your spiritual life is planted in the Lord’s orchard.  What we have to come to grips with is the fact that we are accountable to the Lord, just as in today’s parable the gardener is accountable to the owner of the orchard.  We are accountable for bearing spiritual fruit in our lives on this earth.

That’s why we’re here on this earth.  If we believed, as some of our fellow Christians do, that the entire point of our relationship with Christ is to be “saved”, then we would be better off dying as soon as we’re baptized.  But the whole truth is that salvation comes to us only at the end of our life on this earth, if we have been faithful to tending our spiritual life, and bearing fruit through the many ways that our spiritual life nourishes our daily life.

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

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ephesians 4:1-6  +  Luke 12:54-59
October 23, 2020

… live in a manner worthy of the call you have received ….

Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians preaches about the nature of the Church as Christ’s Mystical Body.  Concretely, St. Paul describes the Church through examples of loving one’s neighbor:  this second of the two great commands of Jesus is the form that gives shape to the inter-relation of the varied members of the Body of Christ.

In today’s First Reading (a single sentence!), St. Paul stresses some of the demands—the stresses—that stretch one striving to live in Christ.  He refers to himself as “a prisoner of the Lord”.  He was often physically jailed for his ministry as an apostle, but perhaps here he’s using the phrase in a more metaphorical sense.

Perhaps when he preaches about “the bond of peace” he’s using the word “bond” as referring to what holds him bound to others, as if the members of the Body of Christ are a chain gang.  It’s this peace that makes possible the “bearing with one another through love”, and exhibiting the virtues of humility, gentleness, and patience.