Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Colossians 1:1-8  +  Luke 4:38-44
September 1, 2021

… we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus ….

Today the Church at weekday Mass begins to proclaim Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.  We will hear from this letter over the next eight days, and will hear from the first three of its four chapters.

Most of St. Paul’s letters have introductions similar to one another, following a format that was common in Paul’s day for letter-writing.  But with greater scrutiny we notice unique touches with which Paul foreshadows the kernel of each letter.  One of these touches that he paints in today’s reading evokes the three divine virtues.

Paul says to the Colossians:  “we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the holy ones because of the hope reserved for you in Heaven.”  Paul is writing in this letter to commend the Colossians, yet also to caution them in light of temptations to not focus their lives on Christ.  Here at the beginning of the letter Paul is praising the Colossians at the same time he illustrates the reason that they might be commended.

For each of us, also, there is a need to grow closer to Christ, and to leave aside false hopes, empty loves, and blinding faith.  Christ is the means by which to grow in authentic faith, hope and love.  Christ is the fulfillment of all three:  the love of the Father, into the depths of which the Father wants us to enter.

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time [I]
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6,9-11  +  Luke 4:31-37
August 31, 2021

… they were astonished at His teaching because He spoke with authority.

Astonishment is evoked by the fact that Jesus teaches with authority.  Why is there this astonishment, and what does it mean for Jesus to teach with authority?

In the culture that surrounds us, every person believes himself to be his own authority.  In effect, this wide-spread belief means that no real authority exists.  In our society there is a great need for clarity about the meaning and purpose of authority.

At its most literal level, the word “authority” is related to the word “author”.  The author of a novel can create worlds of his own design from his imagination.  Laws of physics need not apply.  Strange creatures can exist, and fantastic events are commonplace.  Tolkien, Baum and Rodenberry are all authors in this sense.  They have the authority to create worlds and races of creatures, and to confer life upon and take life from individuals.  However, this is merely a fictional form of authority.  In reality, there is only one Author of creation.

Jesus, as God from God and Light from Light, is this divine Author.  Through His divinity He has authority.  He exercises this authority throughout the three years of His public ministry for various persons, and for all mankind on Calvary.  However, in the face of His exercise of divine authority, astonishment arises for varied reasons.

Most cannot believe that a mere man could exercise divine authority.  Jesus, of course, was not merely a man, even though He was fully so.  In our own lives, we should not be astonished by the authority or power of Jesus.  We should root our daily lives in His desire to grant us His divine life.

Monday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Monday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 4:16-30

… the dead in Christ will rise first.

Today’s First Reading is often proclaimed at funerals.  It’s full of teaching from St. Paul about death and the afterlife, fitting for meditation as fall draws closer and our minds turn to the Last Things.  Unfortunately, some of the Church’s teachings about the Last Things have been distorted.  We can find clarity through the wisdom of holy doctors of the Faith, and the Tradition and Magisterium of the Church.

Consider one of the phrases that St. Paul uses in this passage.  He refers to the dead when he writes of “those who have fallen asleep”.  Are we to understand this phrase literalistically?  That interpretation has been adopted by some Christians to the exclusion of the Catholic belief in the saints being alive and active in Heaven.  The Catholic belief in the afterlife would interpret this phrase of St. Paul as referring to the physical appearance of the dead:  that is, once the soul has left the human body, it seems to our physical senses that the person has fallen asleep.

The various human authors of Sacred Scripture often use such metaphors, which appeal only to what seems to be the case to the outer senses.  This appeal has a pedagogic purpose in teaching those who have yet come to understand the Faith fully.  The context, of course, in which to understand this phrase is Christ.  All depend on Christ for their life.  Those who sleep in death await Christ’s Second Coming for the raising of their bodies.  We who work in life rejoice in Christ coming among us in the Eucharist, to strengthen us in the face of the death that we embrace through our sins.

OT 22-1 YrI

St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop & Doctor of the Church

St. Augustine of Hippo, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
1 Thessalonians 4:9-11  +  Matthew 25:14-30
August 28, 2021

“A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.”

It’s helpful to remember that the parables proclaimed at Holy Mass yesterday and today come from Chapter 25 of Matthew.  This is the final chapter before Matthew’s account of the Last Supper and the events that follow.  The section from which these parables come is sometimes called “the Olivet discourse”, in which Jesus’ attention is fixed on the judgment of Jerusalem.

We should not be aloof, though, in listening to Jesus’ words of judgment against Jerusalem.  The city of Jerusalem in the Old Testament is roughly analogous to the Body of Christ in the New Testament.  Jerusalem was meant to be the dwelling place of God on earth, where His holy people would dwell in unity.  In this light we ought to listen to this parable and consider how God will judge us.

The multiplicity of servants in today’s parable offers us hope, as well as room for cautious consideration.  We might ask, “Which of these servants do I most resemble?”  Perhaps, for example, we need to be jarred from self-complacency, and look hard at the last servant.

To avoid hearing the ultimate sentence of today’s parable, we ought to reflect on the penultimate sentence:  “For to everyone who has, more will be given… but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  These words give focus to this parable, and can help us use it as an examination of conscience.

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 25:1-13

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

The parable that Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel passage presents at the outset a question which can prevent us from reaching down into Jesus’ point.  We might well ask, “Why are there ten virgins but only one bridegroom?”  What is the setting or background to this story that Jesus is telling?  Scholars may debate such points, but for ordinary Christians like ourselves, it would be more fruitful to set aside such speculation, and dwell instead on applying the parable to our own spiritual lives today.

Christ is the divine Bridegroom, and each Christian is—in our fallen humanity—called to wed one’s self to Christ.  Our sacramental, spiritual life consists of our espousal to Christ, and in this each of us is one member of the Mystical Body of Christ.  Throughout her history the Church has (so far) had well over a billion members, each a spiritual bride to Christ.  Men may have difficulty applying this imagery to themselves, and of course this imagery has to be considered carefully.  Nonetheless, the writings (not to say the very lives) of both male and female saints show us how to grow authentically within these truths.

If we were to apply Jesus’ parable in a succinct way, we might consider the final sentence, where the divine Bridegroom exhorts us to “stay awake”.  We ought not rest comfortably in God’s grace, but rather realize our need each day to be alert to His coming more deeply into our lives.

OT 21-5

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-8  +  James 1:17-18,21-22,27  +  Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23
August 29, 2021

So the Pharisees and scribes questioned Him ….

On Calvary, Jesus sacrificed His Body and Blood, soul and divinity for all mankind:  not just for those who liked Him.  This means that Jesus gave up His very self in sacrifice on the Cross so that each scribe and Pharisee might enter Heaven.

So why did Jesus speak so boldly against the scribes and Pharisees in today’s Gospel passage?  Why are the scribes and Pharisees wrong, when they seem to have the Book of Deuteronomy on their side?  The Book of Deuteronomy, which is the fifth book of the Bible and the final book of the Jewish Torah, is set on the threshold of the death of Moses.  It is the end of the Exodus, that forty-year trek from slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness of the Sinai desert, to the Promised Land of milk and honey.

The entire Book of Deuteronomy takes place on this side of the Jordan River, before the Israelites conclude their Exodus by entering the Promised Land.  However, the Lord had decided that Moses, as punishment for his infidelities while leading the Exodus, would not be permitted to enter the Promised Land.  Before he dies, Moses must proclaim the Law that God had entrusted to his care on Mount Sinai towards the beginning of the forty-year Exodus.

It’s in this setting that Moses in today’s First Reading makes clear that the Promised Land is Israel’s only on the condition that its people neither subtract from nor add to God’s commands.  The result for being unfaithful to God is clear in the person who is speaking.  That is, Moses is a living example—or more accurately, a dying example—of what happens to those who are unfaithful to God.  God in effect is saying, “If you are unfaithful to my commands, which includes adding to or taking away from them, you will end up like this Moses:  outside the Promised Land, which is to be dead.”

Given this, how ought we understand Jesus saying that the scribes and Pharisees need to change in order to follow Him?  More to the point, do Jesus’ words against the scribes and Pharisees present a challenge to your own spiritual and moral life?

The simplest way to get at the “course correction” Jesus is demanding is to notice the contrast that Jesus speaks about.  He quotes the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:  “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” [Isaiah 29:13].  Jesus contrasts “lips” and “hearts”:  one’s outer self with its actions, and one’s inner life of motives.

But notice that for Jesus, it’s not lips versus hearts.  It’s the scribes and Pharisees who have in fact set up opposition between lips and hearts.  Jesus is pointing out that there’s not meant to be opposition.  Lips and hearts are meant to be integrated.  The scribes and the Pharisees, however, are content with just giving lip service to God.  It’s within this context that Jesus clarifies which human traditions and customs are in conformity with God’s Law.

How, then, can we make certain that, unlike the Scribes and Pharisees, our lips and hearts—our good works and faith—are thoroughly integrated?  The answer starts in what might seem an unlikely place:  silence.  St. James in the Second Reading sets the stage for this answer.

St. James invites us to “[h]umbly welcome the word”.  This “word”, of course, is Christ [see John 1:1].  The best start for humbly welcoming this word is silence.  Yet the silence needed here is not just a lack of audible noise.

Internal silence is needed.  Some people can very easily pray for an hour surrounded by external silence, yet the whole time they’re stuffing human words into their hearts, minds, and souls by reading or carrying on an internal monologue.  These human words exclude the divine word.

The divine “word”, who became flesh and dwelt among us [see John 1:14], is the measure—the standard—against which every person will be judged.  The divine Word made Flesh judges each human person, not only scribes and Pharisees.  In prayer we have to dispose ourselves by silence and patience to hearing this divine Word.  We must not only allow Him to speak to us, but also to judge the works of our lips and hearts.

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time [I]
1 Thessalonians 3:7-13  +  Matthew 24:42-51
August 26, 2021

“Stay awake!”

I’m sure all of us have had experiences throughout our lives where we struggled to stay awake.  Maybe those experiences were experiences of waiting for someone to return home late at night.  In such a case, you might have experienced any sort of emotion:  perhaps joy, or perhaps fear, or perhaps anger.  Maybe the experience was one of driving late at night, anxious and exhausted, to reach a far-off destination.  Maybe the experience was one of finishing a project, paper, or report for school or the office:  such an experience may have been fraught with fear.

There is a wide variety of emotion which can accompany the experience of trying to stay awake, but if we consider the two events that Jesus’ words today concern—the coming of Christ in salvation history, and Christ coming to us at the moment of our death—we see that these two things share something in common:  namely, that they are both unexpected in terms of when they will occur.  To stay awake for these two things is to stay awake for the unexpected.  Do not expect Christ to be part of your life in the way that you expect, or even perhaps in the way that you would prefer.

OT 21-4

Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 23:27-32

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.”

The next time sometime suggests to you that Jesus was nothing more than a teddy bear, point out today’s Gospel passage.  One of several things will happen.  That someone may recognize that he’s mistaken.  Or that someone may suggest—as some scholars actually do—that this passage was made up, and that Jesus never said what this passage records Him as saying.  Or that person might suggest that it’s only against people like the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus ever spoke in such a way.

The third of these possibilities is most likely to be the response of those challenged to explain this passage.  But this is where the sharp point of the Gospel needs to be recognized.

Today’s passage was not included in Matthew’s Gospel account so that we could wag our fingers at those in our own lives who resemble the scribes and Pharisees.  Rather, we need to hold their lives up to ours, and see to what extent we mirror them.  We might like Jesus always to be a teddy bear, but more often than not we need Him for our own sakes not to be.

St. Bartholomew, Apostle

St. Bartholomew, Apostle
Revelation 21:9-14  +  John 1:45-51
August 24, 2021

“Come and see.”

When Philip points out Jesus as the promised Messiah, what does Nathaniel—also known as Bartholomew—say?  We can almost see Nathaniel shrugging his shoulders as he says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  In this one sentence, he insults both Jesus and Jesus’ hometown.  Clearly, he does not have faith at this point.

But we see that Nathaniel is like Peter:  a slow learner, but someone who, once he realizes what’s going on, is completely “in”.  When Nathaniel hears Jesus call him, he realizes who Jesus is, and confesses this truth, declaring:  “Teacher, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”  So if any of us are slow to learn, we should remember that Jesus does not give up on us.  Jesus will still call each of us to live out his vocation each day, and give him whatever is needed to carry it out.

Yet we should also note something else in this “vocation story”:  that is, the role of Philip.  When God calls a young man to be a priest, or a young woman to the consecrated life, He usually calls him or her through other people.  We need not only to encourage vocations:  we need also to encourage those “other people” like Philip to encourage vocations.

After all, Philip said just three words:  “Come and see.”  But if Philip had not said these three simple words, Nathaniel might never have met Jesus, and the Church would not have been built up by this holy apostle Bartholomew.  Little words can do a lot for God’s great glory.

St. Bartholomew LORES

The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew by Jusepe de Ribera [1591-1652]