Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Joshua 24:1-13  +  Matthew 19:3-12
August 13, 2021

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”

In raising the institution of marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, Christ transformed it into a covenant reflecting His own love for His Church.  This transformation was symbolized at the wedding at Cana by Jesus transforming water into wine.  In the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, the natural is transformed by the supernatural into some third thing that is both.

Certainly there is a stark contrast between marriage during the Old Testament and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  We might say something similar of the contrast between Christian marriage and what many today—including the federal government, and in collusion with them, state governments—are labeling “marriage”.  The former contrast can be easily seen through the example of Moses, who more than 1200 years before Christ  permitted the Israelites to divorce [Deuteronomy 24:1-4].  Moses’ concession to human sinfulness, however, is repudiated by Jesus in today’s Gospel passage, and the original will of the Creator is reaffirmed against that concession.

The indissolubility of marriage is due not only to the fact that it’s God Himself who is marriage’s origin, but also the One whose divine love marriage points to.  Thirdly, He is its mirror in the present, as spouses vow to help each other and their children each day to strive for Heaven.

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The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
VIGIL:  I Chronicles 15:3-4,15-16; 16:1-2  +  1 Corinthians 15:54-57  +  Luke 11:27-28
DAY:  Revelation 11:19;12:1-6,10  +  1 Corinthians 15:20-27  +  Luke 1:39-56
August 15, 2021

“… my spirit rejoices in God my Savior ….”

This Sunday the Church celebrates the Assumption of our Blessed Mother into heaven.  The Assumption was a gift that God gave to Mary at the end of her earthly life.  To put this gift into perspective, consider this.  We know that anyone who dies without sin and without attachment to sin is assumed into heaven when he or she dies:  but only that person’s soul.  When someone dies in a perfect state of grace, that person’s soul is assumed by God into Heaven.  That person’s body, of course, remains buried under the earth until the Final Judgment.  But at the end of her earthly life, Mary was taken up into heaven both in soul and body.

Why did God give this gift to Mary?  Why did He so highly privilege her at the end of her earthly life?  One way to get at an answer is to see how this gift was related to another of God’s gifts:  that is, the gift God had given Mary at the beginning of her earthly life, when Mary was conceived by Saint Anne.

Here you can see how the twin gifts of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are bound together in meaning.  It was because Mary had never been touched by sin—either the Original Sin of Adam, or her own actual sin—that her body and soul were not torn in two by death.   On the one hand, God kept Original Sin from staining Mary, in virtue of the vocation He wanted her to accept:  to be the Mother of Jesus Christ.  For her part, throughout her earthly life, she never committed an actual sin, either mortal or venial.

Now, there might be some who consider Mary’s vocation and then scoff, saying, “How hard could it be to be the mother of God?”  From one perspective, it’s true that if your son was like Jesus, who in fact was God Incarnate, you would experience many consolations:  no reports from the principal about fighting; no yelling at and kicking his cousins; no backtalk or rolling of eyes; no breaking of curfews.

Yet there’s more to motherhood than keeping your children out of trouble.  In fact, mothers are not meant to keep their children out of all trouble, or even necessarily out of the most serious of trouble.  It’s here that the uniqueness of the Blessed Virgin’s vocation comes into sharper focus.

Motherhood is defined not by keeping children away from all evil, but in steering the child towards what is the greatest Good.  After all, for the Christian, sometimes the greatest good that needs to be embraced is an evil.  Does that sound strange?

Think of Jesus embracing the Cross on Good Friday.  Then think of Mary on Good Friday, and what her vocation meant that day.  She would have been naturally tempted to shield her Son from the Cross.  You who are mothers know instinctually the desire to shield your child from harm.  But Mary was supernaturally moved to join her Son in His vocation as the Messiah of the human race.

Sometimes you’ll hear both mothers and fathers who say, “I just want my child to be happy.”  But we need to stop and think about what that statement means in the end.  We need to ask ourselves:  “Was Jesus happy on Good Friday?”  Yet Good Friday was the Hour for which Jesus came into this world.  Good Friday was the day when His vocation reached its summit.  Here is what fathers and mothers must want for their children more than anything else, including earthly happiness:  namely, that one’s child embrace his or her vocation.  Only by faithfulness to one’s vocation on earth can a person be happy eternally in Heaven.

As we honor our Blessed Mother today, we recognize that there are many “good things” that mothers have and give to their children.  But with the eyes of Faith, we see that there’s something even more difficult that a mother has to give.  A mother has to teach her child what it means not only to embrace the Cross, but to love the Cross.  For in loving the Cross, we love Jesus Himself.

Of all the “good things” a mother has to give her children, a love of the Cross is the “best thing”, because that’s the only road that leads to Heaven.  To help us in accepting this as Gospel, Mary was given the fullness of grace.

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Joshua 3:7-10,11,13-17  +  Matthew 18:21—19:1
August 12, 2021

“So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

The home in which we find the deepest sort of forgiveness, a selfless and generous forgiveness that seeks to build up the one who has transgressed:  this is our truest home.  Christ speaks of this authentic forgiveness in today’s Gospel passage, helping us by His words to see what He will show us on Calvary.

The Church, in which we share in the Sacrifice of Christ’s Body, is our truest home.  By right, we should feel most at home before the altar, because it is there that we rejoice in the source of all forgiveness.  But in the Church during Holy Mass, we give thanks not only for the forgiveness wrought by Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross.  We also give thanks for the fact that when we share fully in this sacrament, we receive not only a share in Christ’s forgiveness.  We receive a share in the life of Christ himself.  We receive not only the Forgiver’s forgiveness.  We receive the Forgiver.

To receive forgiveness is to be restored to our former self.  But to receive the Forgiver:  this means not simply that we’re restored to our former self, but that we’re raised from our state of sinfulness to a state even higher than our old self, to a share in the life of the Forgiver’s Self.  We share in the life of Christ, and so are given the power to forgive others as Christ offers forgiveness:  to all persons, in all circumstances, for ever and ever.

Confession

St. Clare, Virgin

St. Clare, Virgin
Deuteronomy 34:1-12  +  Matthew 18:15-20
August 11, 2021

“… where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Jesus, in today’s Gospel Reading, explains how His followers can keep from having moral punishment fall upon them.  Jesus preaches that His followers must seek reconciliation with each other.  He also calls upon us to point out a wrong that may have been committed, especially one which destroys harmony and peace.

Correcting others in this way is a very hazardous duty.  Like almost no other responsibility that we have as Christians, it calls for the virtues of prudence, courage, and meekness.  Who can manage this without the help of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus also urges us to pray together.  Individual prayer is indispensable, and Jesus elsewhere in the Gospel commands us to go to our rooms and pray in private:  but that’s not the limit of our prayer.  Where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ Name, He is there in their midst.  But we also know that where two or three are gathered for the Mass, Jesus is not only there in their midst, but becomes present in a way that they can receive Him:  Body and Blood, soul and divinity.

St. Lawrence, Deacon & Martyr

St. Lawrence, Deacon & Martyr
2 Corinthians 9:6-10  +  John 12:24-26
August 10, 2021

… whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

In the year of Our Lord 258, Saint Lawrence offered the wealth of the Church to those who had nothing of their own.  Lawrence was the chief deacon—the arch-deacon—of the Diocese of Rome.  Part of the responsibility of a deacon is to proclaim the Word of God, to look after the material goods of the Church, and to care for the poor, and so as the chief deacon of a diocese as large as Rome, Lawrence held a great deal of responsibility.

He was called to act upon all these roles one day when Pope Sixtus II was put under civil arrest (Christianity still being an illegal religion).  Not long after, the pope was martyred, and Lawrence knew that he would be one of the next Christians the Empire would come after.  So Lawrence sought out the poor, widows, and orphans of Rome, and gave them all the money he held, selling even the sacred vessels of the Church.

The civil prefect of Rome called Lawrence before him and demanded that he produce the treasure of the Church.  Lawrence then gathered together the blind and the lame, the leprous, the widows and orphans, and lined them up before the prefect’s villa.  When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, “Here is the treasure of the Church.”  The prefect not only did not understand Lawrence’s words.  He also did not understand Lawrence spending his life in the service of such people.  It’s unlikely, in fact, that the prefect cared, since four days after the death of the pope, Lawrence was martyred as well, on August Tenth.

Saint Lawrence understood that the true wealth of the Church lays in the manner in which our lives touch the lives of others.  In our own lives as Christians, one of the most important challenges we face is to realize to what extent—both for good and evil—our lives are connected to the lives of others.

St. Lawrence - Fra Angelico

St. Lawrence Distributing Alms by Fra Angelico [1395-1455]

 

Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Deuteronomy 10:12-22  +  Matthew 17:22-27
August 9, 2021

“Give that to them for me and for you.”

Jesus sometimes worked grand spectacles through His miracles.  But as impressive as they are, spectacles were not the norm for Jesus.  More frequent is what, in the life of St. Thérèse the Little Flower, was called the “Little Way”.  Though the Little Flower coined the phrase, the Little Way is the Way of Jesus.

His way is one of simplicity and humility that often goes overlooked by those seeking spectacles.  It is a way that is ignored by those who are looking out for themselves, instead of others:  by those who justify their actions by claiming that they’re just doing what everyone else is doing, walking down the broad path, instead of trying to walk the narrow way that following Jesus demands.

The simplicity and humility of Jesus in today’s Gospel offers a very good meditation for today.  Jesus is not obligated to pay the tax that is demanded of Peter, but Jesus explains—“that we may not offend them”—that He will pay the tax anyhow.  The miracle by which Jesus accomplishes this almost goes unnoticed, because it’s not the point.  Jesus’ point is to teach by humility, to teach by doing what is not necessary, but which can lead others to see that Little Way that—after a long journey through a life of service in this world—does lead to the great vision of eternal life with God and His saints.

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Saturday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Deuteronomy 6:4-13  +  Matthew 17:14-20
August 7, 2021

“‘The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!’”

The beginning of today’s First Reading starts a prayer called the Shema.  To this day, devout Jews pray the Shema each morning and evening.  Some make these words the last they speak before falling asleep.  In the broader context of Jewish liturgy, the Shema consists of verses from both Deuteronomy and Numbers.  But reflect here on just the first two verses.

Deuteronomy 6:4 is the Jewish profession of faith.  The Christian creed recited at Sunday Mass is quite long compared to this single verse.  But for us Christians, everything contained in our creed is rooted in this single verse:  the bedrock of monotheism.

Deuteronomy 6:5, then, builds upon the former verse.  Given the truth of the former, the latter is a command, a call to action that flows as a consequence from the truth of authentic monotheism.  The Lord God, being who He is, calls for our complete love.  He calls for love from our whole self:  heart, soul and strength.

The Transfiguration of the Lord [B]

The Transfiguration of the Lord [B]
Daniel 7:9-10,13-14  +  2 Peter 1:16-19  +  Mark 9:2-10
August 6, 2021

We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.

In today’s account of the Transfiguration, we have a miniature of the entire Gospel and a miniature of the way that God has always made His Divine Revelation known.  God, like any loving parent, wants us to share in His love.  But at the same time He wants us to enter into that love as freely as possible.  In other words, God wants us to come to Him of our own accord, because the more freely we come to Him, the more we grow in His love.

But as a loving parent, God knows we are often weak and need His help.  God gave us an intellect by which we could of our own power reason that God exists, that He loves us, and that He wants us to imitate that love.  God also gave us a free will by which to imitate Him.  Our human intellect and will are often very weak, however, and so God constantly gives us signs of His presence, in order to remind us of Who God is and how much He loves us.

God did not have to inspire the human authors of Scriptures, but He did so in order to give us a record of His love.  God did not have to choose twelve men to be his apostles, in order to share the Sacraments of His love, but He did so to strengthen us in this earthly life of ours, because we face so many setbacks, failures, and disappointments.  God the Son was transfigured before the eyes of these three apostles not simply so that they could say, “How good it is for us to be here.”

The Transfiguration occurred so that the apostles would hear the voice of God the Father:  “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”  They do listen to Him.  What is it that He chooses to state next?  Coming down the mountain, Jesus points the apostles’ attention ahead to the Cross, to His death.

As we share in the Eucharist—the offering of Christ’s self-sacrifice on the Cross—God our loving Father nourishes us with the life of His Son.  Here is a further transfiguration:  the death of Jesus on the Cross into the Resurrected Lord, so that the giving of our lives might mean the receiving of God’s life.

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The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
I Kings 19:4-8  +  Ephesians 4:30-5:2  +  John 6:41-51
August 8, 2021

“… the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

At the start of John 6, as we heard two Sundays ago, “the people … were going to come and carry [Jesus] off to make Him king” because of the miraculous signs that He worked.  By contrast, today’s Gospel Reading is where John 6 turns south.  This is where the crowds begin their murmuring against Jesus.  They begin raising objections to His claims.  This is the murmuring and objecting that will lead to most of the crowd abandoning Jesus by the chapter’s end, as we will hear two Sundays from now.

At the very beginning of today’s Gospel Reading, “The Jews murmured against Jesus because He said, ‘I am the bread that came down from Heaven’”.  Their reason for murmuring is not so much that Jesus is simply claiming to be some sort of “bread”.  They seem to accept that claim of Jesus as an innocent sort of metaphor:  someone who is bread offers nourishment, somewhat like a parent in our own day being called a “breadwinner”.  Jesus calling Himself bread seems just a metaphor, so that’s not what bothers the Jews.

Instead, when Jesus declares “I am the bread that came down from Heaven”, what really bothers the Jews is that Jesus is claiming to come down from Heaven.  They murmur:  How can this be when we know his father and mother?  He’s one of them, not someone sent down from Heaven.  But Jesus does not bother long responding to this concern.

Jesus moves forward by doubling down on His real claim, which has at this point passed right over the crowd’s heads.  More important than the fact that He’s come down from Heaven is the question of who He is.  Towards the end of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus gives us three answers to the question of who He is.

Jesus first declares, “I am the Bread of Life.”  Then He describes Himself as “the bread that comes down from Heaven so that one may eat it and not die.”  Third, Jesus calls Himself “the living bread”.  In all three answers, Jesus explains that He is not just nourishment.  He hasn’t just come down from Heaven in order to fill stomachs.  It’s not bread for the stomach, but bread for the soul.  Jesus is a bread that offers a life that’s stronger than death.

Then Jesus reveals the awesome Mystery of His identity further.  In the very last phrase of today’s Gospel passage, Jesus stakes the claim that makes or breaks His disciples.  He claims not just that He is bread, and not just that as bread He gives a life stronger than death.

Jesus declares:  “the bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world.”  Jesus is not just “bread”.  He is not just “food for the hungry”.  Jesus is not just bread that offers life.  Jesus is not just bread that strengthens you to survive death.  Jesus is the divine Word made Flesh, and His Flesh is the bread that He “will give for the life of the world.”  This is the heart of John 6.

His Flesh is bread.  Jesus’ sermon on the Bread of Life makes clear just how radical the Holy Eucharist is.  The Sacrament of the Eucharist is not just a symbol or sign.  The Sacrament of the Eucharist is the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, the divine Word made Flesh.

Those who murmured when Jesus said that He had come down from Heaven are going to murmur even worse against this claim of Jesus:  that the bread that He will give is His Flesh.  Of course, you can read the rest of the story by taking your Bible and reading the whole of John 6.  This would be especially helpful this year, because next Sunday the passage from John 6 that we would usually hear will be displaced by the August 15th celebration of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Assumption.

Jesus gives us His flesh in order to give us life in this fallen world.  This is the life that is divine, which is to say that it’s self-sacrificial.  Jesus offers us this life in the Holy Eucharist.  Jesus asks us to live in daily life with the depth of self-sacrifice that He offered on the Cross.  The strength to live such a life of self-sacrifice comes from this very Bread of Life.