The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31    1 Thessalonians 5:1-6    Matthew 25:14-15, 19-21
November 15, 2020

“Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.”

Being present at Holy Mass is like being present along the Way of the Cross.  As the Mass proceeds, we are ascending to its summit, just as on Good Friday the crowds ascended Mount Calvary.  Further, just as there are stations—stopping points—during the Way of the Cross, we also see stations during Holy Mass.  These three stations reflect the priest carrying out the roles of priest, prophet, and shepherd.

The first station is the priest’s chair.  After the entrance antiphon and its procession, the priest speaks to God’s flock as a shepherd.  He first gathers God’s flock together through a ritual of penance.  He calls God’s lost sheep, including himself, away from their sins and into God’s Presence.

Another example of the priest shepherding from his chair is heard when the priest gathers God’s flock to pray together.  The priest says simply, “Let us pray.”  The shepherd then pauses, not for the server to bring the Missal, but to afford the flock time to call their own prayers to mind.

In the new translation of the Roman Missal, the prayer that the priest then prays is called by its traditional name:  the “Collect”.  This prayer “collects” or folds all our individual prayers into the prayer that the priest offers to God on behalf of all present.

The second station of Holy Mass is the pulpit.  There the second baptismal role is carried out:  the role of prophet.  This role is exercised at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word by laypersons who act as lectors.

Throughout the course of the Liturgy of the Word—the first main part of the Mass—there is an ascent.  We start in the Old Testament (except during Eastertide).  The next Scripture passage that’s proclaimed is typically one of the Psalms.  Then the Church moves to the New Testament, as the Second Reading always comes from one of the writings of the Apostles.

But then the summit of the Liturgy of the Word is reached.  The final Scripture passage that’s proclaimed is from the most important part of the Bible:  the gospel accounts, where Jesus Himself acts and speaks.  In the Old Testament, Jesus is foreshadowed.  In the writings of the Apostles, Jesus’s words and works are unpacked.  But in the Gospel accounts, Jesus Himself directly acts for us and speaks to us.

Because Jesus’ presence in this part of the Bible is unique, the proclamation of this Scripture passage is also unique.  For example, we stand to honor Jesus.  The proclamation of the Gospel is prefaced by a dialogue between the priest and laypeople, and everyone blesses himself over his mind, lips, and heart.  On particularly solemn Sundays and Holy Days, the Gospel may be incensed, servers may bear candles, and the Gospel may be chanted.

Nonetheless, although the proclamation of the Gospel is the Liturgy of the Word’s summit, it’s not its conclusion.  The homily, Profession of Faith, and intercessions conclude the Liturgy of the Word.

Of these three, the homily is where the priest exercises his baptismal role of prophet most specifically.  The homily shows where the Gospel bears directly on the lives of those listening.  The homily illustrates the demands that the Gospel makes upon Christians, thereby revealing their need for the strength of the Holy Eucharist.

The third station of Holy Mass, then, is the altar of priestly sacrifice.  The altar is the final station as the top of Calvary is the goal of the Way of the Cross.  If the first main part of Mass is the Liturgy of the Word, the second is the Liturgy of the Word made Flesh.  The Word becomes flesh and dwells among us so that He might abide in us, and that we might through Him bear abundant fruit in the world.

Jesus, in every one of His acts of shepherding, is leading you to the top of Mount Calvary.  Jesus, in every one of His prophetic words, is telling you to accept Calvary as your destiny, to take up your own cross and follow Him there.  Because the Word of God, as powerful as it is, is not the final goal of Catholic worship.  There’s only one thing in this world more powerful than the proclamation of the Word of God:  the priestly Self-Sacrifice of the Word made Flesh.

St. Josaphat, Bishop & Martyr

St. Josaphat, Bishop & Martyr
Philemon 7-20  +  Luke 17:20-25
November 12, 2020

“For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus describes the phrases “the Kingdom of God” and “the Son of Man”.  The meanings of both are elusive, and that’s Jesus’ point.

In the Pharisees, who ask “when the Kingdom of God would come”, we can see many in our own day who exert great effort in predicting and spreading news of the time of this coming.  Jesus splashes cold water on them all:  this coming “‘cannot be observed, and no one will announce, “Look, here it is”’”.  Along the same line, Jesus soberly explains to the Pharisees that while they “‘will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man,’” they “‘will not see it.’”

However, in the midst of this sobering up, Jesus declares something provocative, if not confusing.  “‘For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.’”  So while the coming of the Kingdom “‘cannot be observed,’” it already “‘is among you.’”  How are we to understand what seems on the surface like a contradiction?  Perhaps such understanding ought only be sought by the Pharisees of old.  Perhaps our part is simply to live within the Kingdom of God, under the shepherding of the Son of Man.

St. Martin of Tours, Bishop

St. Martin of Tours, Bishop
Titus 3:1-7  +  Luke 17:11-19
November 11, 2020

“Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

We may not feel inclined to think of ourselves as lepers.  It’s not an appealing image.  But that’s the plain meaning of these ten persons in today’s Gospel passage.  The ten lepers represent us.

In fact, we’re much worse off than lepers.  Leprosy ends with earthly death.  But the effects of sin—alienation and estrangement from God and neighbor—are unending, ever-lasting, without end if we die in mortal sin.  Without a Redeemer to save us from sin, our suffering will not end with earthly death, but only begin in earnest.

Jesus saves the ten from leprosy with little more than a few words, such is His divine power.  But Jesus saves all of mankind from the far greater penalty of eternal death.  Jesus offers salvation to you not by speaking a few words, but by sacrificing up His complete self—Body, Blood, soul and divinity—to a Passion and Death on the Cross that He suffered out of love.  He suffered this not out of compulsion, or to get something back in return, or to impress anyone, but simply and completely out of love for us.  If this doesn’t inspire gratitude in each of us, it’s hard to imagine what might.

St. Leo the Great, Pope & Doctor of the Church

St. Leo the Great, Pope & Doctor of the Church
Titus 2:1-8,11-14  +  Luke 17:7-10
November 10, 2020

The just shall possess the land / and dwell in it forever.

During the last weeks of the Church year—which more or less correspond with the month of November—the Church asks us to turn our attention to what she calls the “Last Things”.  Each Christian needs to focus his or her attention upon 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.  King David, in composing today’s psalm, puts it this way:  “The salvation of the just comes from the Lord.”  Salvation—being saved, which is another way of saying, “getting to Heaven”—does not come from ourselves, but only from the Lord.  If we try to get to Heaven by ourselves, or if we try to make our own Heaven, we will fail, and end up forever without God.  We are responsible for doing many things, and at the end of our lives, we should be able to give an account of what we have done.  Still, none of those things are what get us into Heaven.

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome
Ezekiel 47:1-2,8-9,12  +  1 Corinthians 3:9-11,16-17  +  John 2:13-22
November 9, 2020

… you are the temple of God ….

Today’s Gospel passage shows us God’s passion for His temple, and His passion for the sacrifice offered there.  In the confessional, priests often hear people confess anger.  A priest might find it necessary to ask questions when someone confesses “getting angry”.  In light of Jesus’ action in this passage, it’s important to remember not only that merely “getting angry” is not necessarily a sin.  Also, even acting in anger is not necessarily a sin.

Acting in anger, or fostering anger in oneself or others, certainly can be a sin.  But Jesus acts in anger in today’s Gospel passage, and with good reason.  When reflecting on a state of anger, and actions that flow from it, it’s important to ask what the object of one’s anger is.  This object can make all the difference in the morality of such an act.

While experiencing the passion of anger, Jesus purifies the Temple.  In the passion of love, He purifies the temple of the human body of sin on Calvary, by offering up His own body in sacrifice.  St. John the Evangelist makes this point clearly.  When Jesus challenges His opponents, saying, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”, the evangelist explains that Jesus “was speaking about the temple of His Body.”  The Church’s belief in the great goodness of the human body is based in large measure on this Gospel truth.  The Church’s challenging ethic of purity of body stems not from a belief that the human body is bad, but that the human body’s purity ought to concern us as much as the purity of the Temple concerned Jesus.  Both temples ultimately belong to God, for His purposes and for His glory.  The temple of the human body is meant for the offering of sacrifices, small and large.

Saturday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Philippians 4:10-19  +  Luke 16:9-15
November 7, 2020

The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at Him.

“You cannot serve God and mammon.”  This sentence of Jesus is sometimes falsely and simplistically interpreted to mean that you cannot have both God and money in your life.  In other words, this false interpretation says that there’s a sort of competition in your life between God and money which is a zero-sum game.  Or to use a picture metaphor:  this false interpretation says that there’s a see-saw in your life:  God and money are sitting at opposite ends of the see-saw.  If one goes up, the other must go down.  The holier you are, the less money you will have, and the more money you have, the less holy you must be.  This interpretation of Jesus’ words is false.

Our spiritual well-being and our financial well-being are not in competition with each other.  Rather, when Jesus plainly tells you that “You cannot serve both God and mammon”, the key is the word “serve”“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  You can serve God, or you can serve mammon.  But you cannot serve both.

The beautiful thing about serving God is that through this form of love, we become more like Him.  After all, “God is love”, as St. John taught the first Christians.  So in the very act of loving God, we become like Him:  that is to say, we enter into His very way of life, His very way of being.  This is as God wants, and in fact this is as each of you wants, in the deepest center of your heart, because God planted that desire there when He created your heart:  the desire to serve Him through sacrificial love, and so become more like Him.

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Philippians 3:17—4:1  +  Luke 16:1-8
November 6, 2020

“And the master commended that dishonest steward for acting prudently.”

“Our citizenship is in Heaven”.  What would our lives look like if we believed these words sincerely?  Saint Paul is exhorting the Philippians neither to place their faith in this world, nor to use the things of this world for their own sake.

If our citizenship is in Heaven, then we are sojourners in this world.  To place our faith in this world is to sink our roots in this world, which can only tie us down when God chooses us to raise us to Himself:  either briefly in prayer, or into Heaven after our death.  How many persons spend a great deal of their time in Purgatory casting off their ties to the world?

If our citizenship is in Heaven, then the things of this world are means, rather than ends.  What do we seek in this life?  What we seek are our ends.  Do we seek things that are of this world?  Or is what we’re seeking of God?  God gives us good things in this world to use as stepping stones, to draw others, and to be drawn up into our true citizenship in Heaven.

The Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Wisdom 6:12-16  +  1 Thessalonians 4:13-14  +  Matthew 25:1-13
November 8, 2020

“Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

There are three roles that God calls every Christian to carry out for the sake of His Kingdom.  These roles are priest, prophet, and king.  Each Christian will carry out these three roles in somewhat different ways, depending on his or her vocation.  Nonetheless, on the day of your baptism God “commissioned” you, if you will, to carry out these three roles.

Immediately after a person is baptized, the priest takes the most sacred of the church’s three blessed oils—Sacred Chrism—and anoints the crown of the newly baptized person’s head.  The crown of the head is called the “crown”, of course, because it’s the part of the head that—if you were a king or queen—would be covered with your golden crown.  But in baptism, that’s in fact what you become:  a king or queen.

In our American culture, the role of king is often looked down on.  Yet when we look into our Catholic history, we see many saintly kings.  Saint Louis, for whom our Midwestern city is named, served France as King Louis IX.  In addition to serving Christ in the people of his own kingdom, St. Louis also served Christ by defending the Holy Land.  He wasn’t a ruler who sat in a situation room and ordered his pawns forward toward death.  He was a king who led his troops into battle.  He armored, saddled up, and faced death for the cause he served.

Yet the role of a saintly king can be summed up more simply by a single word:  “shepherd”.  In our culture, we might consider a king and a shepherd to be different roles, hardly synonymous at all.  But in Sacred Scripture they often coincide.  After all, the greatest king of Israel was David, who was a shepherd before he was anointed king.  David illustrates that part of being a shepherd is the role of protector.

Of course, there is also another, gentler side to a shepherd.  The shepherd also sees to it that his flock is provided nourishment.  We can think of saintly kings like Louis IX of France or Stephen of Hungary, who spent their personal wealth to carry out the corporal works of mercy for the poor and destitute within their kingdoms.

Given all this, however, we must recognize that all kingship and shepherding flows from God.  It’s by the grace of God that kings like St. Louis of France and St. Stephen of Hungary gave their lives for their people.  It’s by the grace of God that you who are fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, protect and provide for those entrusted to your care.

The Lord God acts as protector and provider throughout our lives, in countless ways.  But He does so most powerfully in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  Consider the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in terms of Jesus as our Eucharistic Shepherd and King.

The physical altar in the church’s sanctuary represents the Cross on Calvary.  On the Altar of the Cross, Jesus offered His own Self in sacrifice for His flock:  that is, for His Bride, the Church.  On the altar in the sanctuary, Jesus’ self-sacrifice is truly made present through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to protect us from the power of sin and death.

Yet God also calls us to the altar during Mass to be nourished by Jesus’ entire self.  We are most thoroughly nourished by Jesus when we offer Him our entire self.  If I hold something back from God—if I say that God can have part of my life, or some of my wants and needs, but not my whole life—then the sacrifice of Jesus won’t be able fully to dwell in me.

For Jesus’s life to change your life as He wants, what you bring to the altar has to be as complete a gift as what Jesus offers you from the altar.  Only with a complete exchange of selves will you have the strength to be a faithful steward during the week, in all the sacrifices—large and small—that God asks you to make for others.

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Philippians 3:3-8  +  Luke 15:1-10
November 5, 2020

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus’ first parable in today’s Gospel is heartfelt, offering us hope of God’s compassion for the wayward.  Jesus offers a “moral” to the parable in explaining that “there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.”

Although Jesus’ “moral” seems straightforward enough, there is something about it that seems paradoxical.  Wouldn’t it make sense for the “righteous” to rank higher in Heaven than the repentant?  Why isn’t there such rejoicing in Heaven over the righteous?  There are at least two responses that might be offered.

First, the “righteous” of whom Jesus is here speaking are defined by the righteous themselves.  Yet such self-righteousness is a false righteousness.  Only God can make a human person righteous.

Second, those who are righteous in the true sense of the word are so only through their repentance.  A saint is a sinner who knows he’s a sinner.  In this sense, all human beings in Heaven (excepting, of course, Our Lord and Our Blessed Mother) are righteous through their self-repentance.  You and I as sinners rejoice that the Lord has not left us in our sins, but has offered us His grace, which is the means to righteousness in God’s sight.