The Solemnity of All Saints

The Solemnity of All Saints
Revelation 7:2-4,9-14  +  1 John 3:1-3  +  Matthew 5:1-12
November 1, 2021

“After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”

In two great commands, Jesus summed up all that God asks of us.  At their simplest, we are to love God, and love our neighbor.

God asks a lot of us as Christians.  But like any good father, God equips us for success.  God equips us so as to be able to fulfill what He commands.  That’s one of the reasons why God bestows His grace upon us.  Through His grace, God the Father equips us to succeed as his adopted children.  But there are other gifts by which God also equips us.

One of the greatest of the Father’s gifts to us is the Communion of Saints.  We profess our belief in the Communion of Saints whenever we pray the Apostles’ Creed.  The Nicene Creed, which we proclaim together at Sunday Mass after the homily, does not speak specifically of the Communion of Saints, but it does profess belief in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church”.  The Church that Jesus founded is an expression of the Communion of Saints.  The Church manifests the life of the Communion of Saints, with Christ Jesus as its Head.

We can reflect on today’s feast of all the saints as an encouragement for ourselves.  The feast of All Saints gives us hope that, where the saints are now, we also might be after our deaths, if we persevere in the virtues of faith, hope and divine charity on this earth.

Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, a great teacher of the Faith who lived during the twelfth century, was very blunt about the fact that today’s feast does far more for us on earth than for those we honor.  He asked:

“Why should… the celebration of this feastday mean anything to the saints?  What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son?  What does our commendation mean to them?  The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs.  Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them.  But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.”

St. Bernard goes on by describing how today’s feast is a benefit to those of us on earth who would like someday to be saints in Heaven.  He continues:

“Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself.  We long to share in the citizenship of Heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins.  In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints.” [1]

What St. Bernard in this sermon does not discuss, though, is a common objection from some of our fellow Christians.  The objection is made that every moment we spend in devotion to the saints is a moment taken away from God Himself, who should be the object of all our devotion (as they claim).  However, this is one of many topics about the Faith where we can learn about God from the blessings God has given us:  in this case, the gift of the family.  The life of a human father can reveal the life of God the Father.

Does a loving human father object when brothers and sisters turn to each other in their needs?  A loving human father does not object; in fact, he encourages and fosters relationships among brothers and sisters.  This shows one of the reasons that God gives us brothers and sisters.

God doesn’t give us brothers so that we can develop our punching skills.  God doesn’t give us sisters so that we can have a larger wardrobe.  God gives us brothers and sisters to teach us how to help brothers and sisters when they’re in need, and on the flip side, to turn to them when we ourselves are in need.  This is the first and most practical way for children to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Likewise, on this holy feast of All Saints, we give thanks to God for giving us our elder brothers and sisters in the Catholic Faith.  They strengthen us by the example of their struggles on earth in following Jesus.  They strengthen us by their prayers from Heaven, through which they turn to the same God who helped them reach Heaven, that God’s grace will strengthen us to be faithful on earth, to dwell eternally with God and all His holy saints.

[1] St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermo 2: Opera Omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 5 [1968], 364-368, quoted in The Liturgy of the Hours, vol. IV (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., 1975), 1526-7.

Saturday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Romans 11:1-2,11-12,25-29  +  Luke 14:1,7-11
October 30, 2021

“… do not recline at table in the place of honor.”

The virtue of humility is a thread that runs through today’s Scriptures.  Jesus weaves this thread through the parable that He tells after noticing that His fellow dinner guests were choosing the places of honor at the table (Luke 14:7).  They were not content to receive a sumptuous meal.  They wanted also to receive honor.

These dinner guests were looking only to receive gifts.  They were not thinking of giving.  This is natural, on the one hand, since when you accept a dinner invitation, you’re accepting a gift.  On the other hand, when you go to a dinner party, you might take a token gift such as a bottle of wine.  But your token gift would seem out of place if it were greater than the banquet itself.

But here is the metanoia—the change of heart and mind—which Jesus effects in His disciples through His saving words and deeds.  He wants His disciples—including us—to recognize every gift, every invitation to receive, as an opportunity to give.

Friday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Friday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 14:1-6

“My sheep hear my voice,” says the Lord; “I know them, and they follow me.”

Can you imagine a homilist only ever preaching upon the Gospel acclamation?  Sacred Scripture is so rich and deep in presenting the Word of God to us that it’s certainly possible for a homilist to preach upon only the day’s Gospel acclamation.  Today, the Church proclaims in this verse [John 10:27]:  “My sheep hear my voice,” says the Lord; “I know them, and they follow me.”

There are three distinct statements that the Lord makes here.  First, He states:  “My sheep hear my voice”; Second, that “I know them”; and third, that “they follow me.”  Any one of these three could serve as matter for spiritual meditation.  Or one could take any two of the three and compare and contrast them.

In holding up all three of these statements to the light of God’s Word, the role of the Lord’s “voice” seems to link them.  The Shepherd calls to the sheep, whom He knows, by means of His voice.  Thus they follow Him.  Reflect simply, then, on the Lord’s voice:  what does it sound like, what does it say, and what must we turn away from in order to hear it?

The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Deuteronomy 6:2-6   +   Hebrews 7:23-28   +   Mark 12:28-34
October 31, 2021

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

During the last Sundays of the Church year, leading as they do to the feast of Christ the King, conflict comes to forefront.  With each successive Sunday, the conflict becomes more pronounced.  Finally, Christ the King celebrates both the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time and His Last Judgment of mankind.

If you do not face Jesus’ Second Coming while on earth, you will face it wherever you then abide:  in Heaven, Purgatory, or hell.  Likewise, you will face divine judgment at the end of your earthly life.  God will judge your life by how your life corresponds to His.

This is an important distinction to remember during these latter Sundays of the Church year.  God judges each human person twice:  at the hour of his or her death, and at the end of time.  The former is called one’s “particular judgment”, while the latter is the “Last Judgment” (or “Final Judgment”).  To emerge victorious from God’s judgment demands that we rely on the strength of God’s love.

There’s a strong parallel between this Sunday’s First Reading and the Gospel Reading.  Jesus directly quotes from the First Reading and its command to love God.  By contrast, the Second Reading seems very different.

On the one hand, the command in the First Reading to “love the Lord your God with all your heart … soul … mind, and … strength” seems very calm and peaceful.  On the other hand, the Second Reading describes the sacrifice required by God for atonement for sin.  It’s easy to see that the Letter to the Hebrews is dealing with conflict.  But the First Reading and the Gospel Reading seem extremely different from the Second.  Is there any way to bring all three into harmony?

The key might be the refrain from the Responsorial Psalm.  “I love you, Lord, my strength” [Psalm 18:2].  This verse echoes the words Jesus quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy.  When the scribe challenges Jesus to identify the prime commandment of God, Jesus quotes the Jewish prayer known as the Shema.  This prayer, which is important to Jews as the “Our Father” is to Christians, commands you when you pray it to “love the Lord your God with all your heart … soul … mind, and … strength.”  The word “strength” there echoes Psalm 18:2.  “I love you, Lord, my strength.” 

But there’s a significant difference between the psalm verse and the line from the Shema.  It’s not that they’re opposed to each other.  It’s that one is much bolder and demanding.  In the Shema, the believer is commanded this way:  “love the Lord your God with… all your strength.”  It’s all your strength, without any description of that strength.  But the Psalmist is more explicit, which makes all the difference in the world (and in the next).  The Psalmist claims:  “I love you, Lord, my strength.”  The Psalmist declares that his strength is the Lord.

Maybe that seems like splitting hairs.  But it’s not.  The difference shows up in the lives of Christians all the time.  It’s the difference between a Christian who wants to love the Lord only with his own human strength and the one who wants the Lord to be his strength.  This is the difference between merely human strength and human strength that’s fortified, if you will:  shot through with the divine strength of God’s grace.

Even before someone tries to be loving in a specific circumstance, this difference becomes apparent in that same Christian’s petitions to God.  Have you ever had the experience of praying to God for the strength—or the wisdom or perseverance—to accomplish some specific goal, only to hear silence from God in response?

“Where is God?” you ask.  “Why isn’t God here for me?”  If you ever feel like God’s not here for you, and that He’s standing remote and silent over there at a distance, you might reflect on that distance between here and there.  Ask yourself, and then ask God, if maybe He’s wanting you to move from here to there.  Maybe where you are isn’t where God wants you to be.  Maybe where you want to be isn’t where God needs you to be in order to extend His love—His strength—where it’s needed most in accord with God’s providential will.

Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles

Sts. Simon and Jude, Apostles
Ephesians 2:19-22  +  Luke 6:12-16
October 28, 2021

… with Christ Jesus Himself as the capstone.

St. Paul, at the beginning of today’s First Reading, declares to the Ephesians:  “You are no longer strangers and sojourners”.  But St. Peter, in his first epistle, admonishes his disciples:  “conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning” [1 Peter 1:17-21].  How should we understand this discrepancy?  Were St. Paul and St. Peter speaking to different groups of disciples?  Were their words about sojourning in reference to differing circumstances?

Another name for the Church Militant—which is to say, the Church on earth—is the Pilgrim Church.  It’s important that we teach every disciple on earth to have this focus:  namely, that we do not live for this world, even as we take our faith into the world.  So on this feast of two holy apostles, what are we to make of St. Paul declaring, “You are no longer strangers and sojourners”?

In the second phrase of the first sentence, St. Paul makes his intent more clear.  The first half of today’s First Reading is a single sentence:  “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the capstone.”

St. Paul is setting down before the Ephesians his vision of the Church’s nature:  what we would call his “ecclesiology”.  He’s preaching about the Church’s essence.  Although we, like the Ephesians, are sojourning in faith each day, we also share now—by grace—in the eternal life that the Church Triumphant enjoys fully in Heaven.  The role of the apostles—and in turn their successors, including the bishop of one’s own diocese—is to foster our faith, to fix our hearts and minds, and all our apostolates and ministries here on earth, upon the eternal life of Heaven.

Sts. Simon and Jude with Virgin and Child

Virgin and Child with Sts. Simon and Jude by Federico Barocci [1535-1612]

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Romans 8:26-30  +  Luke 13:22-30
October 27, 2021

“‘Depart from me, all you evildoers!’”

Christ in today’s Gospel touches upon one of the great temptations faced by those who serve Him.  Repeatedly He tells us that our motivations are as important as our words and actions.  Indeed, bad motives can cancel the “good” we think do and say.

There should be only one motive for serving God in Christ, and that is the sincere desire to return the love He pours out on us and to do His will out of that love, not just for our good but also for the good of others.  God is interested in the condition of our hearts, not just an impressive list of our deeds.

Sin enters into the serving of Christ when it is used as a means of self-aggrandizement or to line pockets with “green.”  While such people may perform well their hearts remain focused on themselves.  They dazzle audiences with their cleverness and charisma and say only what pleases the listeners—denying or downplaying sin, rationalizing wrongdoings, emphasizing God’s love while failing to mention God’s irrevocable truths and the justice by which we must live.  Theirs is the “wide door” against which Christ speaks.

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Romans 8:18-25  +  Luke 13:18-21
October 26, 2021

“To what shall I compare the Kingdom of God?”

Today’s Gospel passage presents two brief parables in which Jesus specifically focuses our attention on “the Kingdom of God”.  It might seem a simple question, but what exactly is this Kingdom?  Is this Kingdom meant to be the Church’s life on earth?  Is this Kingdom in fact Heaven, which is to say, being in the presence of God?  In the latter case, the Church on earth only foreshadows the full glory of the Kingdom of God.

The Second Vatican Council spoke directly about the connection between the Church and the Kingdom of God.  The Council explained that this connection is a relationship of service, stating:  “While helping the world and receiving many benefits from it, the Church has a single intention:  That God’s Kingdom may come, and that salvation of the whole human race may come to pass.”  What this quote does not explain is whether one ought to hope for the coming of this Kingdom on earth, or whether it’s only possible for this Kingdom to be realized on the other side of death’s door.

In any case, the sacrifice that Christ makes of His Body for the sake of the Church is a paradigm.  It is a paradigm for understanding the sacrifice that the Church makes for the sake of the Kingdom.  This mission of the Church is inherently future-oriented, calling forth from Christians the virtue of hope, as they look forward to the Church’s final fulfillment at the Lord’s Second Coming.

OT 30-2

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 13:10-17

As He said this, all His adversaries were put to shame ….

Why is Jesus so insensitive?  Being a divine person, Jesus knew that His words against the ruler of the synagogue would cause His adversaries shame.  But still He spoke as He did.

Is it a sin to make another person ashamed?  The ruler of a politically correct culture would respond, “Always and everywhere.”  Jesus must believe differently.

It’s interesting that this Gospel narrative has no parallel in any of the other three Gospel accounts.  Only St. Luke presents this narrative.  Yet St. Luke’s Gospel account is known especially for highlighting the theme of mercy in the Good News of Jesus Christ.  That might, were we to think like the politically correct, for whom praise and popularity are life’s chief virtues, seem an odd contradiction.  But perhaps instead this narrative reveals to us a certain integrity.

It is precisely for the sake of mercy that Jesus speaks here as He does.  Shame has a place, Jesus reveals here, in lowering the one who has falsely raised himself or herself.  But this very act of shaming enables mercy to be shown:  here, to the woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years.  May Jesus help us in our modern culture to rid ourselves of two-dimensional views of mercy and shame, and accept with gratitude all that comes forth from God’s Word.

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

Saturday of the Twenty-ninth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Ephesians 4:7-16  +  Luke 13:1-9
October 23, 2021

“Sir, leave it for this year also ….”

Both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, gardens, plants and trees of all sorts are used as symbols of growth—and decay—within the spiritual life.  The very first story of the Bible takes place in a garden called Eden.  And today in the Gospel Reading, Jesus tells us a parable along the same lines.

Your spiritual life is the fig tree, and you are the gardener.  Your spiritual life is planted in the Lord’s orchard.  What we have to come to grips with is the fact that we are accountable to the Lord, just as in today’s parable the gardener is accountable to the owner of the orchard.  We are accountable for bearing spiritual fruit in our lives on this earth.

That’s why we’re here on this earth.  If we believed, as some of our fellow Christians do, that the entire point of our relationship with Christ is to be “saved”, then we would be better off dying as soon as we’re baptized.  But the whole truth is that salvation comes to us only at the end of our life on this earth, if we have been faithful to tending our spiritual life, and bearing fruit through the many ways that our spiritual life nourishes our daily life.

OT 29-6