St. Justin, Martyr

St. Justin, Martyr
Tobit 2:9-14  +  Mark 12:13-17
June 1, 2021

“‘Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’”

Jesus trips up the Pharisees and Herodians in today’s Gospel passage because of a dichotomy in their thinking.  They easily recognize the image of Caesar, but fail to see two even more clear images.  Focus on the first.

They fail to see Jesus as the divine Image of God the Father:  in other words, they don’t recognize Jesus’ divinity.  In addressing Jesus they say, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man”.  Then they assert of him, “You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”  In both statements they speak of Jesus in regard to truth (he is a truthful man and he teaches the way of God in accord with the truth) without recognizing that Jesus, as the divine Image of the Father, is the Truth made flesh.

We might be willing to pardon this, as no one else in the Gospel (excepting perhaps Mary, Joseph and the Baptizer) seems to recognize Jesus’ divinity, either.  This failure is at the heart of the drama in the Gospel, and reaches a climax on Calvary with Jesus’ cry:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”  [Luke 23:34].

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Zephaniah 3:14-18  +  Luke 1:39-56
May 31, 2021

   … Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice ….   

Catholic art is beautiful because it focuses on persons:  the three Divine Persons, and human persons as well.  In Catholic art that portrays today’s feast—the Visitation of Our Blessed Mother—there are four persons shown to the eye of the viewer.  Of course, two of them have to be shown indirectly because they are unborn children:  St. John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth, and Our Lord in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.  Sometimes these two unborn children are portrayed by something akin to halos shining, indicating the grace that dwells within these women through their openness to human and divine life [see the sacred image below].

If we were to order these four persons in order of holiness, we would first place the Lord Jesus, who is not merely a holy human being, but the source of all holiness:  the eternal Son of God.  We would certainly place second the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God:  she who merited to bear our Redeemer.  We would likely place third St. John the Baptist, whom some theologians have taught was without Original Sin.

But reflect today on Saint Elizabeth:  fourth in this line, yet like you and me.  She is a human creature, not a divine Person.  She receives assistance from the Blessed Virgin, as you and I do each day.  She was chosen not for drama, as was her son, but for simplicity of life.  In light of St. Elizabeth’s vocation, what do you and I take today from her example?  “…Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice….”  Ask Jesus in your prayers to open your heart to the Holy Spirit, that you might each day speak of His power, His glory, and His love for all people.

Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Sirach 51:12-20  +  Mark 11:27-33
May 29, 2021

“My hand opened her gate and I came to know her secrets.”

Today concludes our hearing from the book of Sirach at weekday Mass.  Sirach is a long (51 chapters) mediation on the seeker’s relationship with Wisdom, whom Sirach personifies in feminine terms.

The words from today’s First Reading could be imagined as spoken by the seeker in his old age, looking back over a long life of searching after Wisdom.  Especially poignant is the seeker recognizing his need to offer “grateful praise” to Wisdom, whom he calls “my teacher”.

Many schools and colleges have recently ended a semester of studies.  If you’re not a student, recall the days you spent listening to teachers.  Perhaps one especially “spoke” to you, moving your heart and mind to a deeper appreciation of one of the arts or sciences of our Western culture.  Keeping that one special teacher in mind, consider how that teacher passed on not just information or knowledge to you, but wisdom.

Through the Scriptures, Tradition and Sacred Liturgy of His Church, Christ continues to enlighten the minds and hearts of all who hear and heed the Father’s Word.  Offer grateful praise today to the Word of God made flesh, who offers you His very Self in the Holy Eucharist.

Friday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Friday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Sirach 44:1,9-13  +  Mark 11:11-26
May 28, 2021

“May no one ever eat of your fruit again!”

Saint Mark, in composing the Gospel passage that we hear today, uses a literary technique that demonstrates the meaning of faith.  He takes what would seem like two different scenes—Jesus cursing the fig tree, and Jesus confronting those who profane the Temple—and combines them in order to form a single passage, in which one illuminates the other.

The purpose of the Gospel in general is to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  In this particular passage, the good news is that placing faith in Christ produces miraculous fruit in our lives.

The Good News of Jesus stands in sharp contrast to the messages of self-fulfillment that the world tries to preach in so many different forms.  So therefore, the four evangelists use images of contrast in order to convey the Gospel.  The withered fig tree is an image of those who have no faith, such as those who profane the Temple.  Such are those who live by the standards of the world.

We are called, however, to make an act of faith in Christ Jesus.  On this Friday, we recognize especially the first step involved in such an act, declared by Our Lord in the last sentence of today’s gospel passage:  “When you stand to pray, forgive anyone against whom you have a grievance so that your heavenly Father may in turn forgive you your faults.”

The Most Holy Trinity [B]

The Most Holy Trinity [B]
Deuteronomy 4:32-34,39-40  +  Romans 8:14-17  +  Matthew 28:16-20
May 30, 2021

The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God ….

A well-written biography fascinates.  The narrative of a subject’s life—the events surrounding the person, as well as the choices which the person makes amidst those events—captures the imagination.  The individual person’s choices are windows into the person’s inner life:  the person’s mind, heart and soul.

Something similar is true regarding the Most Blessed Trinity.  Theologians describe the Trinity by means of two different terms.  One is called the “economic Trinity”.  The word “economic” refers in this case not to money, but to works performed, as in the phrase “home economics”.  So the “economic Trinity” is the Blessed Trinity described in terms of works performed “outside” the Trinity.

In other words, the “economy” of the Trinity is those works that the Trinity never had to carry out, but nevertheless freely chose to carry out.  The Trinity carried out these works simply out of love.  These works chiefly fall into two groups:  creation and salvation.  The work of creation concerns every created thing in the universe, visible and invisible.  The work of salvation solely concerns mankind, and includes man’s redemption and sanctification.

The Trinity’s works of creation and salvation serve as windows into the inner life of the Trinity.  This inner life is called the “immanent Trinity”.  This inner life of God is the very essence of the Trinity.  While the works of the “economic Trinity” are “exterior” to God, and therefore never had to be carried out, the “immanent Trinity” is God’s essential Being throughout eternity:  as He was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.

On this Sunday’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, we can reflect on God’s works of creation and salvation as a way of peering into His inner life.  It’s fitting that the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity on the Sunday after Pentecost.  The two solemnities stand in a certain contrast to other.  Pentecost celebrates the culmination of the Trinity’s “economy of salvation”, while the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity peers into the inner life of the “immanent Trinity”.  Consider further the connection between the “economic Trinity” and the “immanent Trinity”, and how the former illuminates the latter.

The beauty of creation inspires poets and mountain climbers, biologists and physicists to see the works of creation in a transcendent way.  In other words, the beauty of the works of creation points our attention to “where” they came from.  For believers, this reflective act of transcendence leads beyond those particular works, and also beyond the “how” of creation, all the way back to God Himself.

Chief among the visible works of God’s creation is the human being.  It’s little wonder that first-time parents draw closer to God as they stand in awe of the innocence, beauty, and dignity of a single, tiny human life.  Throughout the Church’s history, the greatest teachers of the Catholic Faith have reflected on how man—male and female—is created in the image of God.  This image is seen especially in how man’s intellect and will operate.  Although every animal has an intellect and a will, allowing it to reason and make choices, the human intellect and will are different because they are capable of self-transcendence.  The human intellect can map the cosmos and the human will can construct an edifice to last a millennium.

Yet while the works of creation reveal God’s inner life in a myriad of ways, the Trinity’s work of salvation does so even more powerfully.  In the order of salvation history, this work includes both redemption and sanctification.

In the fullness of time God revealed Himself as a Trinity of Persons when He established His new and everlasting Covenant through the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.  In this singular act of self-sacrifice—which Jesus offered fully through His human intellect and will, which is to say, knowingly and freely—Jesus gave up His divine and human life for the sake of His Bride, the Church.  Nonetheless, the Sacrifice of the Cross is not only the work of God the Son.  It is is a Trinitarian sacrifice, made at the initiative of God the Father and through the Power of God the Holy Spirit, who is the love of the Father and the Son for each other.

Thursday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Sirach 42:15-25  +  Mark 10:46-52
May 27, 2021

“What do you want me to do for you?”

In the midst of your prayers to Him, or before Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament or during Holy Mass, have you ever heard Jesus ask this question to you?  “What do you want me to do for you?”  If He were to ask this question, most of us wouldn’t know how to respond.

Is this question that Jesus asks to the blind man simply a rhetorical question?  After all, in His divine nature, Jesus knows both what the blind man wants, as well as what the blind man needs.  The deeper question, however, is whether the blind man knows what he needs.

The same is true of each of us.  Most of us spend a majority of our prayer time petitioning God for what we want, or what we believe we need.  However, sometimes what we believe we need is different than what we truly need.

Was the recovery of his sight the blind man’s most important need?  Of course it was not.  But the blind man knows this, as does the evangelist, who ends this passage not by describing the man’s recovery of his sight, but by pointing out that he “followed [Jesus] on the way.”  The blind man subjected the recovery of his sight to a greater need:  the need to follow Jesus on the way.

St. Philip Neri, Priest

St. Philip Neri, Priest
Sirach 36:1,4-5,10-17  +  Mark 10:32-45
May 26, 2021

“The chalice that I drink, you will drink ….”

Throughout the course of the four accounts of the Gospel, most of the apostles take turns appearing quite clueless.  Today the cluelessness of James and John (the Beloved Disciple!) is on display.

Today’s Gospel passage begins with Jesus foretelling His passion, death, and resurrection.  This momentous proclamation is met with complete self-interest on the part of the sons of Zebedee.  When they express to Jesus their request, He replies with words that you and I need to commit to memory:  “‘You do not know what you are asking.’”

Although there are commonly four types of prayer through which a Christian speaks to God—petition, adoration, contrition, and thanksgiving—the early stages of our spiritual life tend to be dominated by our speaking to God, rather than listening to God.  In our speaking to Him, we tend to focus more on petition than the other three.  To most of our petitions, the words of Jesus to James and John are the only fitting reply:  “‘You do not know what you are asking.’”

Here’s a very good petition to offer to God in your prayers today:  “Help me, Lord, to focus on Your providential Will rather than my own self-focused will, and help me to listen for your Word rather than to voice my own.”

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Sirach 35:1-12  +  Mark 10:28-31
May 25, 2021

Peter began to say to Jesus, “We have given up everything and followed you.”

The Evangelist doesn’t give us details surrounding Peter’s statement that Jesus’ disciples have given up everything to follow Him.  But Jesus surely reads Peter’s heart before replying.  Jesus is speaking to us disciples in the 21st century, as well.  He explains the logic of discipleship.  Then He sums up His teaching with a brief point for our meditation.

Is there some regret in Peter’s heart as he lays bare the sacrifice he’s made to follow Jesus?  Jesus explains that both in this world and the next, a disciple’s sacrifice bears fruit.  In “this present age”, material sacrifices are compensated by the superabundance of the Church’s graces and charisms.  All the more, “in the age to come”, the consequence of following Jesus is eternal life.  Jesus’ logic lays bare what St. Francis of Assisi expressed in his canticle:  “It is in giving that we receive, and in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Jesus then sums things up.  “Many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”  Jesus seems to respond to Peter by saying:  in loving your God and your neighbor first, you are putting God and neighbor first, and yourself last.  But in opening ourselves by the act of loving, we are opening our hearts and minds to receiving divine love from God and His Church.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church
Genesis 3:9-15,20 [or Acts 1:12-14]  +  John 19:25-34
May 24, 2021

And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

On the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in 2018, Robert Cardinal Sarah—the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments—announced the institution of a new obligatory memorial for the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.  This memorial is to be celebrated every year on Pentecost Monday, which is to say, the day following Pentecost Sunday.  In the Extraordinary Form of Holy Mass, this is the second day of the Octave of Pentecost.

In his decree inscribing this new memorial into the General Roman Calendar, Cardinal Sarah noted the following:

“The joyous veneration given to the Mother of God by the contemporary Church, in light of reflection on the mystery of Christ and on His nature, cannot ignore the figure of a woman (cf. Gal 4:4), the Virgin Mary, who is both the Mother of Christ and Mother of the Church.”

“Indeed, the Mother standing beneath the cross (cf. Jn 19:25), accepted her Son’s testament of love and welcomed all people in the person of the beloved disciple as sons and daughters to be reborn unto life eternal. She thus became the tender Mother of the Church which Christ begot on the cross handing on the Spirit. Christ, in turn, in the beloved disciple, chose all disciples as ministers of his love towards his Mother, entrusting her to them so that they might welcome her with filial affection.”

“This celebration will help us to remember that growth in the Christian life must be anchored to the Mystery of the Cross, to the oblation of Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet and to the Mother of the Redeemer and Mother of the Redeemed, the Virgin who makes her offering to God.”

Mary the Mother of the Church