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

Wednesday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 9:1-6

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

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday of the Twenty-fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 8:16-18

“… he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light.”

The first two-thirds of today’s Gospel passage from Chapter 8 of Luke evoke another saying of Jesus:  “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” [John 8:12].  Jesus speaks in that verse both about Himself as “the light of the world” and also about the one who follows Him.

Today’s Gospel passage also speaks about both Christ and the one who follows Him.  Yet it’s focus is upon the action that the follower ought to take:  that is, placing the light on a lampstand “so that those who enter may see the light”.

In other words, this passage is not only about Christ and His follower, but also about those with whom the followers comes into contact.  In a word, this passage focuses upon “mission”.  The follower of Christ is someone who works so that the Light of Christ reaches others, illuminating them and the world around them.

Saturday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 8:4-15

“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

Friday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 8:1-3

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 (or reflected upon in one’s home) 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.

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 7:36-50

“So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love.”

In today’s Gospel passage we witness a conflict among the “sinful woman”, Simon the Pharisee, and Jesus.  In this passage, the Lord uses the sinner’s situation to try to bring the Pharisee to Him.  For your own spiritual life, to draw from this Gospel passage, you have to put yourself in the sandals of this sinful woman.

Until we look seriously at our sins, at their effects on our souls, and at their consequences (for ourselves and for others, both in this world and in the next), our experience of prayer will be diminished, and so therefore will the benefits of our prayer.  Too often in our prayer we’re like Simon the Pharisee instead of being like the sinful woman.  The Pharisee says to himself, “If [Jesus] were a prophet, He would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.”  By contrast, the sinful woman says nothing, but she acts with great love.  The Pharisee speaks to himself with doubt about whether Jesus is even a prophet.  But the woman acts with love towards Jesus, because she knows through faith that He is the Messiah who wants to wash away her sins.

If we wanted to sum up today’s Gospel passage, we could ponder just those two sentences that Jesus proclaims to Simon:  “her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love.  But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”  In those words, Jesus teaches us two lessons.  First, the virtue of humility is the beginning of a fruitful prayer life.  Second, through that fruitful prayer the Christian finds the start of the contentment and peace of mind that remain elusive until we remain in God.

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Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady of Sorrows
1 Timothy 3:14-16  +  John 19:25-27
September 15, 2021

“Woman, behold, your son.”

All our joys, all our sorrows, all our glory is only found in Christ:  that is to say, because we are members of Christ’s Body.  It is not true that you have your cross, and I have mine.  We all bear together—as individual members of Christ’s Body—the Cross of Jesus.  We all share in carrying His Cross.

Humanly speaking, sorrows tend to divide people more than joy or glory.  Loneliness and isolation are keenly felt by those who suffer.  Only in Christian faith can we find meaning even in the midst of suffering, because only God—who created everything out of nothing—can create good out of evil.

By approaching the Cross, we find Our Mother of Sorrows standing at its foot.  When we approach the Cross to take it up each day, she is there.  She remains there—at the heart of our Christian faith—to show us with a mother’s love that suffering cannot tear us from each other.

Our Lord Jesus taught us to pray the “Our Father”.  Jesus was not only teaching us that we have a Father in Heaven, because as a consequence of that truth, it’s also true that we are all brothers and sisters.  So then, it’s also true that Mary is the Mother of all of us.  We ask Our Lady of Sorrows, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, to pray for us in all things.  Through her intercession, she helps us know that no matter what we face in life, her Son is there with us, showing us how to walk the only Way that leads to Heaven.