The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
II Kings 4:42-44  +  Ephesians 4:1-6  +  John 6:1-15
July 25, 2021

“… He withdrew again to the mountain alone.”

Signs frame today’s Gospel Reading.  Signs appear at the beginning and at the end of the passage.  This is significant because this Sunday is the first of five Sundays during which most of the sixth chapter of St. John’s account of the Gospel is scheduled to be proclaimed (although this year, one of these five Sundays will be displaced by the August 15th celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary).  This chapter of John 6 is where Jesus proclaims His teaching about the Most Blessed Sacrament:  the Holy Eucharist, which comes into our midst through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Consider the signs of Jesus that are mentioned.  At the beginning of today’s Gospel Reading, Saint John the Evangelist explains to us that “a large crowd followed [Jesus] because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.”  Then, at the end of the passage, St. John explains how after “the people saw the sign He had done” just then—that is, multiplying the loaves and fish—“Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, [and so] he withdrew again to the mountain alone.”

That’s one of the most melancholy verses in all of the Gospel:  Jesus “withdrew again to the mountain alone.”  Again.  Apparently this had happened before.  The problem, of course, wasn’t Jesus:  the one performing these signs.  The problem was in the crowds:  those who saw His signs but mistook their message.  Yet it’s not the crowds who withdraw.  It’s Jesus who chooses to withdraw repeatedly to the mountains alone.

At the end of Holy Week comes further isolation atop a mountain.  Because the crowds mistake Jesus’ greatest sign—the Sign of the Cross, in which the crowds see mortal shame instead of immortal glory—most of Jesus’s disciples abandoned Him to Calvary.  Atop Mount Calvary, Jesus takes upon His shoulders the sins of the world, and on behalf of man cries the psalm of solitude:  “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” [Psalm 22:1].

But that’s getting ahead of the story.  At the end of today’s Gospel Reading, “Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off to make him king, [and so] He withdrew again to the mountain alone.”  This sentence by itself seems strange, but it reveals an important point to keep in mind throughout the Sundays when we hear from John 6.

Your average human being, if he knew that a crowd were wanting to make him a king, would definitely not retreat into solitude.  We see this in the culture of the Internet, where on blogs or through YouTube an individual can become something of a celebrity.  Jesus did not want to be a celebrity.  Jesus wanted crowds to follow Him, but only for the right reason.

Both at the beginning and end of today’s Gospel Reading, the crowds are following Jesus for wrong reasons:  not bad reasons, but not the ultimate reason for following Him.  When “Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee”, “a large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs He was performing on the sick.”  This large crowd is mistaking the means for the end.  They seem to think that Jesus is in this world to be some miraculous physician.  They don’t understand that His miraculous cures are meant to be attention catchers, not the object of Jesus’ life.

At the end of our passage, after the Multiplication of the Loaves, the people proclaim Jesus to be “‘the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.’”  “They were going to … carry Him off to make Him king.”  They think Jesus is in this world to rid it of hunger by His miracles.  They don’t understand that the miracle of feeding 5000 is meant to be an attention catcher, not the object of Jesus’ life.

Both signs—healing the sick and feeding the hungry—beg an important question.  What was the object of Jesus’ life on earth?  What were all of Jesus’ miracles advertising?  The rest of John 6 answers this question, revealing to us the divine Person of the Word made Flesh:  the Son of God who offers us His Body and Blood as strength for the journey, and a foretaste of the Love that awaits at journey’s end.

St. Mary Magdalene

St. Mary Magdalene
Songs 3:1-4 [or 2 Cor 5:14-17]  +  John 20:1-2,11-18
July 22, 2021

… while it was still dark ….

Early in the morning on the first day of the week… that is to say, in the beginning… we see Mary Magdalene huddled at the tomb weeping.  We must give her credit for this, since the apostles themselves were not faithful to the Crucified Lord in this way.  For ourselves, we pray for the grace to persevere in the midst of suffering, to allow our souls to thirst for Our Lord and God without despair in the midst of suffering.  We pray for the ability to hope during those times when we cannot see the Lord present before us.

Only in the midst of such suffering, of such weeping, of such self-emptying, can the Lord be seen clearly, as He calls us by name.  We recognize Christ, and we accept the commission He offers us.  He has news for Mary Magdalene to report:  namely, that He is ascending to His Father and our Father.  Perhaps, though, this is even more difficult:  to rejoice at someone’s return when he tells you he’s getting ready to leave you forever.

After all, on that Easter morning, who wants to hear about the Ascension?  We want to glory in the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead!  And yet that is not where Jesus points us.  Throughout His life, and in His death, he always points away from Himself toward the Father, even on the very morning of His Resurrection.

Noli Me Tangere Giotto

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Exodus 16:1-5,9-15  +  Matthew 13:1-9
July 21, 2021

And He spoke to them at length in parables ….

Jesus paints four illustrations in today’s parable.  The first three are pictures of the sower laboring in vain because of “the path, rocky ground”, and “thorns”.  Only the fourth illustration describes seed falling “on rich soil”, producing “fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

The first illustrates ignorance:  specifically, ignorance about what the Word of God tells us.  To grow in humility, we cannot be ignorant.  To grow in humility requires knowledge of God, and self-knowledge.  Knowledge of God is simple, because God is simple.  God is Love.

But self-knowledge is more complicated.  Self-knowledge has two parts:  knowledge of myself as a fallen person, who has stumbled and fallen into the filth of sin; and knowledge of myself as someone loved by God, who has picked me up, washed me in the Blood of the Lamb, and raised me to the dignity of His own child.

These three forms of knowledge, then—knowledge of God, knowledge of myself as fallen, and knowledge of myself as raised by God—are like three legs of a stool on which I sit.  Without any one of these three, I will fall to the ground.  Without all three, I cannot grow in the virtue of humility.

Humility is the foundation of the spiritual life.  Humility will grow inside of you as you rest more in the knowledge of who you are, and who God is.

OT 16-3

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Exodus 14:21—15:1  +  Matthew 12:46-50
July 20, 2021

“Here are my mother and my brothers.”

For at least two reasons, today’s Gospel Reading may be used (erroneously) to criticize Catholic beliefs.  The first is that Jesus seems to downplay the significance of His birth mother, Mary.  The second is that Jesus refers to His “brothers”, which seems to contradict the Church’s teaching about Mary’s perpetual virginity.  In replying to both concerns, we can not only help those with misunderstandings, but we can ourselves move closer to the heart of Jesus’ words.

First, is Jesus downplaying the significance of Mary in saying that “whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother”?  On the contrary, Mary is the perfect example of what Jesus is talking about here.  It’s true that Jesus doesn’t go out of His way on this occasion (at least, as recorded by the St. Matthew the Evangelist) to point to Mary as the perfect embodiment of doing the will of God the Father.  There are several possible reasons why Jesus did not think it prudent on this occasion to highlight Mary’s human perfection, but none of these suggest that Mary is not the perfect human creature that all the Church’s Marian dogmas describe her as being.

Second, the word in today’s Gospel passage that is translated into English as “brothers” is the Greek word “adelphoi”.  Apologists have noted that other New Testament uses of this word show that the word can have meanings other than the strict sense of “siblings”.  Others have noted the logical fact that Jesus having brothers doesn’t mean that Mary had other children besides Jesus, since Jesus’ “brothers” may have been step-brothers from an earlier marriage of Joseph, who may have been a widower.  Ultimately, however, such arguments can turn Jesus’ very intention in this Gospel passage on its head:  Jesus is trying to get us to move away from worrying about His blood relations, so that you and I might be His brethren through the Church.

The Virgin Mary with the Apostles and Other Saints

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Exodus 14:5-18  +  Matthew 12:38-42
July 19, 2021

“… there is something greater than Solomon here.”

If one were to choose a saying of Our Lord from elsewhere in the Gospel to summarize His point in today’s Gospel passage, the following would be a possibility:  “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” [Luke 12:48].  A more mundane way to express Jesus’ disapproval of the request for a sign would be to say that the scribes and Pharisees don’t know what they’re asking for.  It’s dangerous to ask for a sign, because with the sign comes a responsibility.

At the end of today’s passage, Jesus contrasts the scribes and Pharisees with “the men of Nineveh” and “the queen of the south”.  This isn’t meant to flatter the scribes and Pharisees.  The men of Nineveh and the queen of the south were not upstanding characters.  Nonetheless, the men of Nineveh were given the sign of “the preaching of Jonah”, and they responded to the sign of the prophet by repenting.  The queen of the south was given the sign of the “wisdom of Solomon”, and she responded by coming from “the ends of the earth to hear” him.

Jesus’ bottom line puts the scribes and Pharisees in their place.  As bad as the men of Nineveh and the queen of the south were, they repented when given signs from Jonah and Solomon.  Since the scribes and Pharisees will be given a far greater sign, by one who is far greater than Jonah and Solomon (not only a prophet and king, but the divine priest as well), they will be judged by a far higher standard.  Should they not repent (as up to this point in the Gospel account they had not), the conclusion is that their culpability would be far greater.  What, then, of ourselves, to whom God the Father has given the life of His only-begotten Son?

OT 16-1

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Exodus 12:37-42  +  Matthew 12:14-21
July 17, 2021

“… my beloved in whom I delight ….”

The latter half of today’s Gospel passage is a quotation from the Old Testament.  St. Matthew the Evangelist cites Isaiah 42:1-4, a passage which echoes God the Father’s declaration at the Baptism of Jesus.  One way to reflect on these words—“my beloved in whom I delight….”—is to imagine God the Father addressing them to you.  Of course, that is only possible if your life is lived in Christ.  Understanding why God the Father might say these words to you demands reflecting on why the Father naturally says them to God the Son.

This quotation highlights a contrast between the Pharisees’ harsh opposition to Jesus and the delight God the Father takes in His servant and Son.  One of the causes of the Pharisees’ opposition is Jesus serving both the Gentiles and the Jews.  The first sentence of the quoted passage has God the Father speaking of Jesus (as the quote is applied by the evangelist) as His chosen servant.  However, the last sentence points to the relevance of Jesus’ service to the Gentiles.  It is the Father’s will that Jesus serve the Gentiles.

Of course, Jesus came not primarily to cure the sick, but to destroy the power of sin and death.  Part of the power of sin is the division between the Jews and Gentiles.  It is the power of the Spirit whom the Father “places upon” Jesus that can reconcile the races and nations of the earth.


Our Lady of Mount Carmel

Our Lady of Mount Carmel
Exodus 11:10—12:14  +  Matthew 12:1-8
July 16, 2021

“This day shall be a memorial feast for you ….”

During Lent we hear many passages in the Sacred Liturgy about the Exodus of ancient Israel.  During these days of Ordinary Time in which we are hearing of Moses’ vocation, there is more hop-scotching through these narratives.  From yesterday’s to today’s weekday Mass, we jump from Moses in front of the burning bush to the final of the ten plagues by which God forced the hand of Pharaoh.

The majority of today’s First Reading is the Lord speaking, instituting the sacred Passover.  Much of what the Lord says seems “merely” instructive, giving details about how to celebrate the Passover.  Saints of the Church have looked deeply into these details and made many insightful observations about how these instructions for celebrating the Passover relate to theological truths of our Judaeo-Christian tradition.  But here, focus on the last sentence that the Lord speaks in today’s First Reading.

“This day shall be a memorial feast for you, which all your generations shall celebrate with pilgrimage to the Lord, as a perpetual institution.”  From this single sentence packed with religious meaning, consider only the last phrase.  The Passover is “a perpetual institution.”  How do we as Christians understand this?  The Passover was transformed by the Messiah, on the evening before He was crucified, into the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  Read today’s passage from Exodus, and all the Lord’s particular instructions, with this in mind.


The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Jeremiah 23:1-6  +  Ephesians 2:13-18  +  Mark 6:30-34
July 18, 2021

“… that He might create in Himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace ….”

Saint Paul, in his love for the Christians living in Ephesus, wrote to them about what it means to be one people.  In today’s Second Reading from Ephesians, St. Paul teaches us about the mark of unity.  Unity, as you know, is one of the four marks of the Church that Jesus established.  In the Nicene Creed we profess our belief that the Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”.

Saint Paul, in his love for the Ephesians, wanted them to grow in their unity with each other.  Some of the Ephesians were Gentiles, while others were Jews.  St. Paul explains to the Gentiles:  “You who once were far off have become near ….”  The Jews had been God’s Chosen People for millennia, but now the Gentiles were being included among God’s People.  The Jews and Gentiles were becoming united as God’s People, wedding their lives together through the Body of Christ, the Church.

Saint Paul, in his love for these Ephesians, wanted them to recognize the source of their unity.  This was the point of his preaching here:  to focus on the source of their unity.  What was this source?  The Jews and Gentiles in Ephesus lived among each other, within the same culture, and had livelihoods and social standing similar to each other.  But none of those things, according to St. Paul, was the source of their unity.

Step back for a moment, and consider these questions about unity in light of the entire Letter to the Ephesians.  In one word, what’s the theme of this letter that St. Paul wrote?  One possible answer is that the word “wedding” summarizes the Letter to the Ephesians.

It’s not a coincidence that when you attend a Catholic wedding, the Second Reading often comes from Ephesians, because this whole letter focuses on the wedding of Christ and His Church.  Yet while literally Sunday’s Second Reading concerns the unity of these Jews and Gentiles in Ephesus 2000 years ago, spiritually this same passage points your attention towards the unity of Jesus and the Church through the imagery of a wedding.

The unity of Jesus and the Church is the source of all unity for each and every Christian:  not just for the Ephesians, but for you, also.  Jesus created this unity when He gave up His Spirit on the Cross, sacrificing His life so that His bride might have life:  in effect, saying through His sacrifice, “This is my Body, which is given up for you” [Luke 22:19].  Recognizing what Jesus gave for you, then, consider your own life.

If your daily life seems at all frazzled, disjointed, fragmented or uncentered, the unity of Jesus and His Church—that is to say, the wedding of Jesus to His Church—is where you need to turn.  If you’re a visual learner, look at a crucifix.  If you’re not a visual learner, look at a crucifix anyway.  Take a crucifix and make some sort of stand for it.  Place it in front of you, and then spend time in silent prayer, gazing at the crucifix.  In the crucifix, you see the source of the unity you need in your life.

Unfortunately, one of the most common and dangerous temptations of the Christian spiritual life emerges here.  The symbol of the crucifix is commonplace in our lives as Catholics.  This symbol reminds you of your need to model your thoughts, words and actions according to what you see in the crucifix.  But this is the temptation:  to turn Jesus merely into a model to be imitated.

It’s certainly true that you are commanded by God to model your choices according to what you see on the crucifix.  But the temptation is to limit your moral life to this.  Jesus is not just a teacher who lived 2000 years ago.  He also, and more importantly, is your eternal Savior.  It’s as your divine Savior that Jesus Christ is the source of grace in your life.  Through this grace, your spiritual life buoys your moral life.  Through this grace, you become capable of imitating Jesus Christ.  Without God’s grace, the model of self-sacrifice that you see in the crucifix is impossible to attain.  Impossible.  “But with God, all things are possible” [Matthew 19:26].

St. Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

St. Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Exodus 3:13-20  +  Matthew 11:28-30
July 15, 2021

God replied, “I am who am.”

We often take for granted the power of names.  Two examples can illustrate this simple truth.  Many of us had the experience when little of our parents calling us by our full name:  first, middle, and last.  This was generally not a good thing.  Secondly, when someone is angry with you, it’s a very powerful expression of anger when that person calls out your name in anger.  Hearing your name called out in anger can easily rattle you.

At the same time, the use of names can also be a strong force for good.  Reflect on the use of one’s full name (or at least, one’s first and middle names) at one’s baptism, and the taking of an additional name at Confirmation, and the holy custom of a bride taking her husband’s surname to express the unity created by God through Holy Matrimony.

As important as human names are, the divine Name is infinitely more important.  It’s not much of a stretch to say that of all the Commandments, the Second is the least understood, and the one most often broken by Christians.  In today’s First Reading, God gives the gift of His Holy Name to Moses.  He entrusts it to them to use rightly.

There are only two valid reasons to speak the name of God (including the Holy Name of Jesus):  for prayer, and for teaching.  Any other use is sinful, because any other use is “in vain”.  It’s obvious to us that speaking the Name of “God” or “Jesus” in anger is sinful.  But so is speaking these names casually:  that is, to express boredom, impatience, and/or frustration.  Christians have the obligation to teach this to their children and grandchildren, in part by turning off media that violate this commandment.

OT 15-4 YEAR I