Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Haggai 2:1-9  +  Luke 9:18-22
September 24, 2021

Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him.

The first sentence of today’s Gospel passage shouldn’t be overlooked.  “Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with him.”  This might seem like an odd statement, perhaps even contradictory.  But from the larger canvas on which all four Gospel accounts are drawn, we see several times a portrait of Jesus as one who prays intensely, at length, in solitude, and often.  That His disciples were with Him doesn’t mean that they were all engaged in prayer together, but that they had the occasion to witness Jesus in this intense, solitary prayer with His Father.

The point of this first sentence within the context of today’s Gospel passage, however, is heard in what Jesus says next.  “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  After they offer the view of the crowds, Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?”  After they give their own view, Jesus offers His view of His own identity.  This portrait of Himself as the “Suffering Servant” who will be raised on the third day was most likely the content of His prayer moments earlier.  There is no doubt about Jesus accepting this call from the Father.  But the disciples’ reactions show that most of them could not accept Jesus in His suffering, or in their own suffering as His disciples.  We might make an examination of conscience, asking if we ourselves are like these disciples.

The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Numbers 11:25-29  +  James 5:1-6  +  Mark 9:38-43,45,47-48
September 26, 2021

“Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!”

The Scripture passages this Sunday speak to the importance of just and healthy laws.  We also hear of this in the refrain to the Responsorial Psalm:  “the precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.”  The Psalmist continues to explore this in the verses of the psalm—Psalm 19—declaring that “the law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul”, and that “the ordinances of the Lord are true, all of them just.”

The purpose of law is to bring order to a community.  It allows individuals to get along with other, rather than each man, woman, and child being a law unto himself or herself.

Every law, and every person who passes, executes, or judges laws, is answerable to the Creator of all things.  God the Creator created the universe with an intrinsic order.  Every wise scientist knows that the material universe has its own intrinsic order, and will teach those willing to listen that the law of gravity, the law of entropy, and the law of conservation of matter cannot be repealed by any congress.  Every wise physician knows that the human body has its own intrinsic order, and will teach those willing to listen that one cannot pretend that an unhealthy diet, smoking, or exposure to high levels of radiation will make a human person healthier.  So it is with civil law on matters pertaining to man’s intrinsic nature.

Man can pretend to have authority over moral norms, but he does so at his own risk.  The question is whether Christians are willing to speak boldly on behalf of the intrinsic moral order by which God created man.  Modern man might take a cue from today’s First Reading.

“Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!”  The First Reading is somewhat mysterious.  It’s mysterious not only because in this passage the “Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses”.  It’s mysterious not only because the Lord took “some of the spirit that was on Moses” and “bestowed it on the seventy elders”.  It’s mysterious in how it reveals the connection between the law and the prophet.

Each and every Christian, through her or his baptism, is called to be a prophet.  It’s easy to imagine Jesus saying during His days on earth, and also today, what Moses proclaims in the First Reading:  “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!”

Each culture, sub-culture, and religion has its own prophets.  Prophets may differ from one such body of persons to another.  There may be cultures, sub-cultures and religions where to be a prophet is to be nothing other than a “free spirit”, one who lets the wind blow where it wills without regard for rules and regulations, doctrines and dogmas.  But Christianity is not such a body.

The Christian prophet does not oppose the Law of the Lord.  He is precisely the one who takes risks to stand up for it, is willing to be persecuted for his witness, and knows that his life is about the Lord instead of about himself.

The Christian prophet knows that while he himself is vastly imperfect, “the law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul”.  The Christian prophet knows that while he himself is often untrustworthy and simple, “the decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple.”  The Christian prophet knows that while he himself is often false and unjust, “the ordinances of the Lord are true, all of them just.”

God asks you to serve Him as a prophet:  to defend His saving Law, which is the Law that brings order, refreshment, wisdom, truth and justice to the spirit.  This is the spirit of Jesus and His Father.  This is God the Holy Spirit, the spirit who gives everlasting life.

We live in a world today that is so topsy-turvy that it becomes more and more clear each day just how much spirit it takes to defend God’s law.  But the great English journalist G. K. Chesterton had a very optimistic view of this sort of challenge.  He noted that the “act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”  Would that each of us would give ourselves over to this exhilaration.  “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!”

St. Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest

St. Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest
Haggai 1:1-8  +  Luke 9:7-9
September 23, 2021

Consider your ways!  You have sown much, but have brought in little ….

Today’s First Reading consists of the first eight verses of the Book of Haggai.  While this book is found many books later in the order of the Old Testament canon than Ezra and Nehemiah, thematically the three of them are joined.  Haggai is one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament, and the book bearing his name is second to last in the Hebrew canon.

Where in Ezra and Nehemiah God had demanded that His Temple be rebuilt, in Haggai God recognizes that His people’s response has been to declare that “The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord.”  Such bare-faced rejection of God’s Will is what God asks Haggai to confront.

God’s people were using misfortunes as justification for delaying the building of the Temple.  In the face of this, God points out that misfortunes point all the more to the need of the people to trust in His will, and to follow His commands.  We might reflect today on whether we’ve used misfortunes in our own lives as a way to get around—or as we tell ourselves, just to delay—our compliance with what God has asked of us.

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

Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Ezra 9:5-9  +  Luke 9:1-6
September 22, 2021

He sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

The word “apostle” literally means “one who is sent”.  But the reason for being sent can vary, and this reason therefore qualifies the type of apostolic ministry.  For example, today’s Gospel passage comes from the ninth chapter of Luke (which is 24 chapters long).  Here, the apostles are not being sent to proclaim the Resurrection, because Jesus has not died yet!  At the end of the Gospel the Apostles will be sent to proclaim the Gospel and thereby build Jesus’ Church.

In today’s Gospel passage, however, the Twelve are being sent for a simpler mission.  Jesus “sent them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick.”  This two-fold mission is interesting.  How does it relate to the mission that the Apostles will begin to carry out on Pentecost?  Is proclaiming “the Kingdom of God” the same thing as proclaiming the Gospel?  Why does Jesus here give the Apostles power to heal the sick, but not to raise the dead?

Although a book could be written trying to answer these questions, reflect today on the way in which you yourself have been sent by God in the past, and may be sent for a new mission today or very soon.  At any point on one’s earthly journey, the Lord can surprise you with a new request.  Like the Hebrews at the first Passover, we must be ready to move as the Lord asks.

OT 25-3

St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist

St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist
Ephesians 4:1-7,11-13  +  Matthew 9:9-13
September 21, 2021

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Among the four evangelists, only Matthew and John were members of the Twelve apostles.  Mark and Luke did not, as far as we know, ever meet Jesus during His earthly life.  Nonetheless, Mark and Luke were disciples of Peter and Paul, respectively, and from those two Mark and Luke received the apostolic witness to the Good News.

On this feast of St. Matthew, we also ought to keep in mind that while all four accounts of the Gospel are apostolic in origin, each presents a unique portrait of the Messiah.  If a man has four very close friends during his life, then after his death each of those four would likely write a different biography of their common friend.  The account of his life would reflect the biographer’s interactions with him.

Today’s Gospel passage presents Matthew’s own account of how Jesus called him to serve.  Matthew is strikingly honest about his sinfulness.  In light of his own need for mercy, Matthew presents Jesus through the words that the Lord speaks at the end of today’s Gospel passage:  “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The First Reading might seem most fitting today because of St. Paul describing various roles within the Body of Christ, such as Apostle and evangelist, both of which Matthew was.  However, consider the beginning of this passage, where Paul describes the Christian’s need for humility and patience, so as to bear “with one another through love”.  These words echo Matthew’s description of how Jesus called himself.

St. Matthew - Caravaggio.jpg

Sts. Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang & Comp., Martyrs

Sts. Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang & Comp., Martyrs
Ezra 1:1-6  +  Luke 8:16-18
September 20, 2021

“… he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.”

Tomorrow and the next two days, the First Reading comes from the Book of Ezra.  To put this book into context within the Old Testament and within salvation history, at least two things ought to be kept in mind.

First, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah are sometimes considered a single book because their focus is so similar.  They fall within the latter half of the Old Testament section commonly called “the historical books”.  The period of history these books deal with is sometimes called “the second Exodus”, not from exile in Egypt but from the Babylonian exile.

Second, the return of the Chosen People to the Holy Land at this time was different from the Mosaic Exodus in that His people were returning to a land that had previously built up.  Chief among their works of reconstruction was the rebuilding of God’s Temple in Jerusalem.  This is one focus of the First Reading today and tomorrow.

Specifically, today’s First Reading—the opening six verses of Ezra—relates how the Persian king Cyrus was the instrument of God’s will.  This point might move us to reflect on the breadth of God’s holy Power amongst pagan culture, a reflection that might offer hope for our own day.

Saturday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
1 Timothy 6:13-16  +  Luke 8:4-15
September 18, 2021

“Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”

The parable Jesus preaches to us today is well-known.  Its meaning is clear because Jesus Himself explains the parable:  something He rarely does.  Given this explanation, we might apply the parable to ourselves as an examination of conscience.  While Jesus describes the different elements of the parable as relating to different groups of persons, one can reflect on these elements as relating to oneself at different times in one’s life.

“The seed is the Word of God”, that is, God the Son, as St. John tells us in the prologue to his Gospel account.  Our lives as disciples are all about allowing this seed to sink into our souls:  allowing God the Son entrance into our hearts and minds, so that He might live in us.

When are we “on the path”?  When are we so shallow in giving our attention to Jesus that the devil snatches Him from our lives?  When are we “on rocky ground”?  When do we allow temptation to have the upper hand over Christ?  When are we “among thorns”, allowing our worldly concerns to choke off both God the Son and the graces He wills to bring into our lives?  In the Holy Eucharist ask the Word made Flesh to help you till the field of your life so that it might be “rich soil”.

Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
1 Timothy 6:2-12  +  Luke 8:1-3
September 17, 2021

Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another ….

Today’s Gospel passage doesn’t seem much like a passage!  There’s no narrative to speak of, but mostly a description of Jesus’ entourage as He journeys while preaching.  How is such a “cast of characters” meant to tell us something as it’s preached from the pulpit on this weekday in Ordinary Time?

Perhaps we might relate this cast to what in the Apostles’ Creed we profess as the “communion of saints”.  In Heaven this cast of thousands adores God perpetually, gathered together in voice to worship the Lamb who was slain for our salvation.  But on earth, during our pilgrimage, while we do pause occasionally for worship, we also have many practical matters to attend to.  On earth, while we’re journeying to where we can enjoy “the better part” alone, we have to attend like Martha to many simple needs.

Jesus, as He’s described in today’s Gospel passage, is surrounded by three types of persons.  There are the Twelve apostles, those who had been cured by Jesus, and those who provided for the crowd.  We might reflect on this assembly as the first parish, although journeying from one town and village to another!

OT 24-5

The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Wisdom 2:12,17-20  +  James 3:16—4:3  +  Mark 9:30-37
September 19, 2021

… He said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in My Name, receives Me ….”

A priest serving in a rural area was asked how many families were in his parish.  He jokingly responded, “About seven.”  His point was that most of his parishioners were from large, extended families, whose roots stretched back to the founding of the parish.  Sacred Scripture is similar.

There are eight “families” of books in the Bible, and each of the 73 books of Scripture belongs to one of those eight families.  To use an analogy, consider Great-uncle Ebenezer.  He and his first wife begat four children.  Then after her death, Great-uncle married again, and by his second wife begat four more children.

So in the Bible, the Old Testament is made up of four “families” of books:  the books of the Law, of history, of wisdom, and of the prophets.  These books are the fruit of the covenant between the Lord and Israel.

Likewise, in the New Testament there are four “families” of books:  the accounts of the Gospel, the Acts of the Apostles, the apostolic letters, and the Book of Revelation.  These books are the fruit of the covenant between Christ and the Church.

This background helps us appreciate the context of today’s Second Reading.  For four weeks now, the Second Reading at Sunday Mass has come from James, and this will continue through next Sunday.  James is one of the 21 books of the New Testament in the family of apostolic letters or “epistles”.  But you can further divide that family of 21 books according to which apostles wrote them.  Two-thirds of the letters were written by Saint Paul, while out of the remaining seven, only one was written by St. James.

The Letter of St. James is arguably the most practical of all the New Testament letters.  James takes a no-nonsense attitude towards following Jesus.  The focus of St. James in his letter is not some lofty—though important—matter such as how three divine Persons eternally live as one God.  Instead, St. James deals with down-to-earth questions of fallen human nature.  Given this, the Letter of James is a good resource for making a general examination of conscience, and for spiritual reading each Lent.

Listen to how plain-spoken St. James is today when he asks, “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?  …  You covet but do not possess.  …  You do not possess because you do not ask.  You ask[,] but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, [in order] to spend it on your passions.”  That’s what you call matter of fact!

St. James focuses first upon diagnosis:  exposing the spiritual wound and underlying disease to view.  But then he directs our attention to the cure:  the divine Physician, Jesus Christ.  We receive the grace of Christ’s saving remedy through the sacraments.  Yet we need to conform our lives to the life of Christ so as to fittingly receive this gift, at least to the extent of having no more than venial sins.

That is to say that if someone were to receive the sacraments while continuing to live a life like that which St. James is preaching against—what the Church calls living in mortal sin—then Christ’s grace would not abide in him or her.  St. Paul speaks more directly to this point, explaining a further consequence:  “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord” [1 Cor 11:27].

If we were to consider the Gospel’s demands to be mere ideals, and deny that serious sin—whether a single mortal sin or a mortally sinful state of life—prevents one from receiving the sacraments, we would act against the apostolic teachings of the Church.  The successors of the apostles have the weighty pastoral responsibility of shepherding the wayward back to what today is called “Eucharistic coherence”.

The Gospel passage today helps us see what this process of spiritual conformity asks from us.  We need to conform ourselves to the image of the Cross, because this image consists of being “the last of all and the servant of all.”  This image consists of receiving a child in Christ’s Name, so to receive Christ Himself, and so to receive the One who sent Christ.  To receive this One—God the Father—is to allow God the Father to strengthen His likeness within us by means of His daily bread.