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

Monday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time [I]
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5,8-10  +  Matthew 23:13-22
August 23, 2021

“You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.”

Christians often confess the sin of anger, perhaps without considering that anger cannot only be justified at times, but indeed can at times even be righteous.  Perhaps the most famous example from the earthly life of our Savior is His overturning the tables of the money-changers in the Temple.  However, the words of Jesus also at times demonstrate anger on His part.  His words in today’s Gospel passage could hardly have been spoken without anger.  But when justified, anger must be directed to an object deserving anger.  What is the object of Jesus’ condemnation today?

We might at first consider the object of Jesus’ anger to be the scribes and Pharisees, and in one sense that’s true.  But we ought to remember that on Calvary, Jesus died for them as for us, with deep love in His Sacred Heart for them.  Jesus never at any moment did not want these “blind fools” to “exult in glory” in Heaven.

Today’s redaction of the Gospel says that Jesus’ words were said “to the crowds and to His disciples”.  Indirectly, He may have said these words for their sake, but clearly they were directed to the scribes and Pharisees.  More importantly, His words were spoken not only for the crowds and His disciples, but also for the scribes and Pharisees:  for their conversion, that they might “rejoice in [Jesus as] their king”.

OT 21-1

St. Pius X, Pope

St. Pius X, Pope
Ruth 2:1-3,8-11;4:13-17  +  Matthew 23:1-12
August 21, 2021

“‘… you have but one Father in Heaven.’”

Today’s Gospel passage contains a verse that some Christians quote to “prove” that one of Catholics’ most common practices is “unbiblical”.  Jesus declares, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.”  These words of Jesus would seem to condemn the Catholic practice of addressing a priest as “Father”, as well as referring to the Pope as the “Holy Father”.

Those who make this argument might be taken aback, then, if it were pointed out to them the many passages from Saint Paul’s letters where he refers to himself as a spiritual father.  For example, Paul explains how the Corinthians have one father.  He squarely preaches to them, “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father […] it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus…” [1 Cor 4:15].  It’s hard to imagine—if you were to interpret Holy Scripture in a literalistic sense—any words that more directly contradict Jesus’ command to “call no man on earth your father” than what St. Paul says of himself:  “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father […] it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus….”

What are we to make of this seeming contradiction?  St. Paul’s following words only seem to heighten the contradiction with Jesus’ command.  St. Paul commands those listening to him:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” [1 Cor 4:16].  Why doesn’t St. Paul just say instead, “Be imitators of Christ”?  Some Christians will argue over and over again that the Catholic priesthood is a corruption of the Word of God because it puts a middle-man—a mediator—between Christ and the individual believer.  They will say instead that the individual Christian can go straight to Christ, without needing men in between.

It’s here that the teachings of Saint Paul—found, of course, in the Holy Bible—lead us deeper into the mystery of the Christian Faith.  St. Paul’s words don’t contradict Jesus’ command to call no man on earth your father:  St. Paul’s words deepen the revelation of Jesus.  Christian fathers, whether in the home or in the sanctuary, whether through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony or through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, are called to say—by their example if not by their words—what St. Paul proclaims here:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”  Christian fathers are called to lead their children each day and each week into the life of Christ.

St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

St. Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church
Ruth 1:1,3-6,14-16,22  +  Matthew 22:34-40
August 20, 2021

“The whole law and the prophets depends on these two commandments.”

When we were little we were expected to memorize the basic truths of our Faith.  At the top of the list were the Ten Commandments, which are difficult for a child to memorize.  Today’s Gospel passage offers a clue to help us to remember—or to teach—the Ten Commandments more easily.

If not pointed out, we may never have noticed that in many pictures of Moses bringing down the two tablets from Mt. Sinai, the Ten Commandments are not divided five and five.  Rather, the first tablet has the first three commandments, and the other tablet the remaining seven.  This illustrates Jesus’ teaching today:  that there are, in fact, simply “two commandments”.

On the Cross most especially, in His very Person, Jesus embodies the unity of these “two commandments”.  True God and true man, Jesus’ teaching today merely foreshadows what He teaches us on Calvary.  Some people teach a piety that promotes complete devotion to God, but ignores or even disdains the corrupted human race.  Others teach an ethic that promotes an apotheosis of human nature, but disdains or even altogether denies God.  But neither of God’s “two commandments” can stand or be understood thoroughly without the other.  Jesus reveals the meaning of each of these commandments in His divine Person, and in His Self-sacrifice on Calvary.

The Ten Commandments

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Joshua 24:1-2,15-17,18  +  Ephesians 5:21-32  +  John 6:60-69
August 22, 2021

“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Today’s Second Reading is hard.  Many Christians do not accept it.  It can seem that the Church herself is not completely convinced that today’s Second Reading is worth hearing, because there’s an option for a shorter version that omits the less provocative parts.

“Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.”  Many Christians in the 21st century would say about this sentence what “[m]any of Jesus’ disciples” said about His teaching in John 6:  “‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’”

Now, you may think that it’s comparing apples and oranges to hold up today’s Second Reading to the light of today’s Gospel passage.  One is preaching about Holy Matrimony, and the other about the Holy Eucharist.  But what if these two Scripture passages have more in common than it seems at first hearing?

The Second Reading’s context is summarized by the first sentence of the longer version:  a sentence which very strangely is not included in the shorter version.  “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  This sentence makes clear that in Holy Matrimony, the husband submits himself to his wife in addition to the wife submitting herself to her husband.

The context is illuminated even more profoundly by the reading’s final sentence.  Fortunately, this sentence is included in both the longer and shorter forms:  “This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the Church.”  The subordination of husband and wife to each other is a mystery that receives its inspiration and its strength from the mystery of Christ and His Church being subordinate to each other.  This truth connects today’s Second Reading to the Gospel passage, and indeed, to all the Gospel passages of the five Sundays that conclude today.

“‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’”  What exactly is so hard about Jesus’ teaching in John 6?  When Jesus says that His Flesh is true food, and when He says that if you do not eat the Flesh of the Son of Man you will not have life in you, are there some who took His words to mean that Jesus was commanding cannibalism?

Understanding the literal meaning of John 6 has always challenged Christians, just as it did the original audience of Jesus’ “Bread of Life” sermon.  Are these words of Jesus to be taken literalistically, as if Jesus were commanding cannibalism?  Or are they to be taken symbolically or as metaphors?  Or is there a “third way” of interpretation, the basis of which is Jesus’ own Incarnation?  The only adequate way to understand Jesus’ words here is in a sacramental sense, which of course would be an entirely new concept 2000 years ago.

Jesus knows that the disciples who leave Him after hearing about the Bread of Life—and the evangelist says that they were “many of His disciples”—do in fact understand what He’s saying.  The problem isn’t in their heads, but in their hearts.  They are not willing to subordinate their minds and hearts to Jesus Christ.  They are not willing to allow Jesus to serve them as their Lord in the sacrifice of His Flesh and Blood for His Bride, the Church.

For cradle Catholics, it’s really not very hard to accept the Church’s beliefs about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.  But to integrate that belief into our daily life is profoundly hard, no matter how long you’ve been a Catholic.  To receive the Eucharist in Holy Communion on Sunday is a very simple action.  But to allow the grace of His Body and Blood to transform you from within, so that Jesus lives in you, and He leads your life 24/7:  that’s the life of a saint.

Too often in our modern day, we approach God from the perspective of a consumer culture, where God offers us deals, and His grace is like a cash-back program for participating in the sacraments.  Instead, God in truth calls each Christian to a divine marriage.  There are many New Testament writings on Holy Matrimony.  These include today’s Second Reading, but also include all of John 6, which is about Jesus subordinating His whole Self—Flesh, Blood, soul and divinity—for His Spouse, the Church, including you who are a member of His Church.

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Judges 11:29-39  +  Matthew 22:1-14
August 19, 2021

“Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

Today’s feast of Mary’s Queenship falls one week after the feast of her Assumption.  Seven days ago, we celebrated the Fourth Glorious Mystery of the Rosary, and today we celebrate the Fifth (Mary being crowned as the Queen of Heaven and earth).  These two feasts of Mary are connected, and teach us about who Mary our Mother is.  The Assumption and the Queenship of Mary also teach us what being a Christian is about.

When we think back on salvation history, there are many “marvelous deeds” to reflect upon.  We might consider the marvel of God parting the Red Sea, or the marvel of the walls of Jericho falling, or indeed the marvelous deeds of Creation that God wrought “in the beginning”.

However, our Christian faith declares that even more marvelous than any of the deeds that God worked in the Old Testament are the marvelous “deeds” who are saints.  We might think it a bit odd to consider any human persons as “deeds” of God, but that is what they are:  not only because they were created by God, but also because of the redemption and sanctification wrought by God through the Paschal Mystery, and offered through the Church to “all the nations”.

Among all of “God’s marvelous deeds” in all of creation, then, the most marvelous is the Blessed Virgin Mary.  We can say of Our Lady what the Church prays in the first Preface of Saints:  “Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God… you are praised in the company of your Saints / and, in crowning their merits, you crown your own gifts.”

When we teach little ones about the twenty mysteries of the Rosary, do we teach them that these twenty mysteries are chapters in a single story, and that the Crowning of Our Blessed Mother is the final chapter of this marvelous story?  Certainly, all of the “marvelous deeds” of salvation history are ultimately for the Glory of God.  At the same time, these marvelous deeds were done for us poor sinners, and this includes the deed of creating, redeeming, and sanctifying so glorious a mother.

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Judges 9:6-15  +  Matthew 20:1-16
August 18, 2021

“… the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Clarity emerges from Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel.  He teaches us who we are to live our lives for, and how we may serve them.

Jesus’ parable, of course, is not about economics, but about merciful love.  At the end of the parable, when the landowner rhetorically asks, “am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?”, we understand that Jesus is, so to speak, putting words in the mouth of God the Father.  When faced with us human sinners, God the Father asks, “am I not free to do as I wish with my own merciful love?”

You and I gripe and complain as we walk through life.  We’re just like the laborers in this parable.  We cannot understand why others should receive blessings in their lives when they don’t deserve them.  We notice, in fact, not only that “the rain falls on the just and the unjust”, and that “the Lord makes His sun to shine on the evil and the good.”   God actually shows mercy to those who do not deserve it.  In our pride, this gets to us, because it seems unjust.

When we find ourselves torn between what seems just, and what God chooses to offer, we need to reflect again on the answer that the Father gave us when He sent His eternal Son to become flesh and blood, in order to offer that flesh and blood on Calvary, and in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  You might spend some time in prayer during this next week simply gazing at a crucifix, reflecting on this mystery of how Jesus on the Cross bound together the love of God and the love of neighbor.  God asks us to prefer His form of mercy to our own sense of justice.

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Judges 6:11-24  +  Matthew 19:23-30
August 17, 2021

“What will there be for us?”

Peter often comes across as a less than stellar candidate for the college of apostles, much less the leader of the apostles.  Consider that after Jesus has declared that salvation is impossible for man to accomplish, but that “for God all things are possible”, what does Peter reply?  He replies, “We have given up everything and followed you.  What will there be for us?”  Obviously Peter is not embarrassed by his self-interest.  We might admire his honesty in expressing himself, even if he himself isn’t so admirable on this occasion.  Can you imagine a brand new postulant arriving at the convent and asking where she can find the hot tub and the coffee bar?

But Jesus answers Peter’s question with a forbearance that might leave us scratching our heads.  Perhaps we need to reflect on whether, and how, Jesus is acting pedagogically here.  Jesus offers Peter an impressive response, assuring us that great gifts are in store in Heaven for those who are saved by God.

But this begs the question:  how does God save us?  For man it is impossible to save himself, but for God it is possible to save man.  But how does God save man?  This question seems to pass over Peter’s head, and perhaps at times over ours as well.  The answer, simply, is the Way of the Cross.  Peter in time will walk there.  God invites you to do so today.

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Judges 2:11-19  +  Matthew 19:16-22
August 16, 2021

“Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?”

The young man in today’s Gospel Reading knows that something more is needed.  He’s very confident that he has observed the commandments, but knows that he still lacks something for the gaining of eternal life.  Jesus’ response aims for Heaven:  “to be perfect”, the young man must sell what he has in order to give to the poor, and then he must follow Jesus.

It would not be accurate to take today’s passage as a proof that every Christian must abandon all his or her possessions.  Jesus was speaking on this occasion to an individual.  Individual members of the Body of Christ have different vocations, and are called in different ways.

What every Christian vocation does have in common with every other is to seek “to be perfect”.  In fact, Jesus commands us elsewhere to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.  That might seem an impossibly lofty goal, were we not to understand the meaning of the word “perfect”.  From the Latin, it could be loosely translated as “to become what one is”, or in other words, “to become what one is meant to be”.  God “designed” each human person, and calls each human person, to spend himself in love for others, and above all, for God Himself as the ineffable Other.  However God may ask you to accomplish this, give thanks for His call.

OT 20-1

Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Joshua 24:14-29  +  Matthew 19:13-15
August 14, 2021

“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them ….”

Our spiritual need for humility is like our body’s need for water:  it is foundational, in an on-going manner, and in a manner that we constantly have to attend to.  Some people think that humility is only for children.  This sort of thinking says, “Of course you should be humble when you’re small.  You should be humble, for example, when you’re applying for a job, and when you’re going to confession, and when you’re at the bank applying for a loan.  But… once you’re older, and you’ve made something of your life, and have money in the bank, and people who work for you… well, then, the time for humility is past.  At this point, you should take pride in yourself.”

But Jesus says just the opposite.  Jesus, as divine and the only-begotten Son of God, declared from Heaven at the moment of the Annunciation:  “I am willing to become even less than a tiny baby.  I will become a single-celled human being inside the womb of this 14-year-old girl, in order to grow up and die to take away the sins of all mankind.”

We can reflect on the example of the Annunciation as a concrete example of Jesus’ counsel today.  Both Mary and Jesus in the scene of the Annunciation show us to whom “the Kingdom of Heaven belongs”.  Both Mary and Jesus demonstrate humility, but from opposite ends of a spectrum.  Mary—a poor, weak girl—submits her self to God the Father, accepting from Him a vocation that she cannot possibly understand.  Jesus—God’s own divine Son—submits His self to God the Father, accepting from Him a vocation that we cannot understand.  Our Blessed Mother and Our Lord show us that humility is needed at every step of our lives:  from the beginning of our life on this earth, to the end of our life in Heaven.  We never outgrow the need for humility.

OT 19-6