Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 9:9-13

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

Today’s Gospel passage presents to us the vocation of Saint Matthew.  The word “vocation” literally means a “calling”.  A vocation is something “vocal”, which comes from the Voice of God (or perhaps better, the Word of God).  That might not seem earth-shattering news.  But what we sometimes forget is that a Christian vocation is not announced by Christ to a Christian at a single initial moment, as the old TV series began each week with the explanation of the spy’s mission, should he choose to accept it.

Rather, a Christian vocation is “declared” to the Christian in an on-going, unfolding manner.  Of course, it’s true that in the beginning a specific form of vocation is made known:  marriage or life as a vowed religious, for example.  But that is only the beginning of Christ’s announcement of one’s vocation.  That is only the beginning of Christ’s guidance.

Throughout the course of living out one’s Christian vocation, the Christian must expect, listen for, and heed God’s Word.  Each of these is a different skill in the skill-set required to flourish in one’s vocation.

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Isaiah 66:10-14  +  Galatians 6:14-18  +  Luke 10:1-12,17-20
July 3, 2022

I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.

Saint Paul tells us today about a spiritual gift that he received from God.  This gift is called the “stigmata”, which refers to Jesus’ wounds from the Crucifixion.  Very few saints have received this gift:  among those who have are St. Francis of Assisi and St. Padre Pio.

But in case we’re tempted to think of the stigmata as mere scars, we ought to realize that St. Paul bore, in addition to the open wounds of Jesus’ crucifixion, the physical pain of those wounds.

To understand what it means for a person to bear the stigmata, it’s helpful to hear St. Paul declare, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  The stigmata, including its pain and disfigurement, sharply distinguish the world from the person who bears these marks.

A few weeks ago the Church celebrated Pentecost.  From the Upper Room in Jerusalem, the Church has grown to the ends of the earth and through the course of twenty centuries.  The life of the Church stands in contrast to “the world” of which St. Paul speaks.

The Christian believer is caught between the Church and the world.  The “catch” stems from the fact that fallen human nature is powerful in its “fallen-ness”.  Try to imagine, if you can, someone who has the five marks of the stigmata on his own body, but doesn’t even notice them.  That’s pretty hard to imagine.  We might be able to imagine someone who is absent-minded not noticing someone next to him bearing the stigmata, but it’s nearly impossible to imagine that someone who bears those wounds does not notice them.

Since you and I are not likely to be given the marks of the stigmata, we might think it a waste of time to speculate about such matters.  But bring the subject closer to home:  if you do not have to deal with the stigmata, what about the wounds caused by your sins?

Personal sins may not often cause physical wounds, but they do often cause wounds of other types.  These wounds often go either unnoticed by us, or are ignored.  Perhaps this is because the pain of these wounds seems greater if we acknowledge it.  Perhaps it’s because acknowledging the pain would imply the need for some sort of action on our part.  We easily look past our sins and their effects on our selves and others.

All this is to say that in dealing with the wounds that mark our souls, we have a radical choice to make.  Each of us has to decide by what means to deal with these wounds, if at all.  St. Paul suggests that we deal with these wounds through the power of Christ’s Cross.

What does St. Paul mean when he claims that through “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ… the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world”?  Consider the explanation of “The Way of the Cross” offered by the 20th century Carmelite friar, Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD in his work titled Divine Intimacy:

“We must be thoroughly convinced that if the Holy Spirit works in our souls to [conform] us to Christ, He can do so only by opening to us the way of the Cross.  Jesus is Jesus crucified; therefore, there can be no conformity to Him except by the Cross, and we shall never enter into the depths of the spiritual life except by entering into the mystery of the Cross.  St. Teresa of [Avila] teaches that even the highest… graces are given to souls only in order to enable them to carry the Cross.  ‘His Majesty,’ says [Teresa], ‘can do nothing greater for us than to grant us a life which is an imitation of that lived by His beloved Son.  I feel certain, therefore, that… favors are given to us to strengthen our weakness, so that we may be able to imitate Him in His great sufferings’ [Interior Castle VII, 4].”

This coming week, say your daily prayers kneeling in front of a crucifix.  If because of health you’re unable to kneel, place a picture of the Crucifixion before you, and look at this image of Jesus dying for you on the Cross as you offer all your prayers through the power of the Cross.

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 9:1-8

“Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”

Jesus asks many rhetorical questions during the course of His three years of public ministry.  His questions often seem on the surface to be simple questions.  Frequently, as in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus follows up a rhetorical question with a dramatic deed that captures one’s attention, distracting one’s attention away from the rhetorical question.

Yet without disregarding the importance of the miracle that Jesus works in today’s Gospel passage, it would be profitable to focus upon Jesus’ rhetorical question:  “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?”

So which of those two statements is, in fact, easier to say?  The most literal response would be that both are equally easy for anyone who has the faculty of speech.  There’s nothing difficult about saying those words.

Of course, the deeper meaning of Jesus’ question concerns the difference between forgiving someone’s sins and giving a lame person the ability to walk.  Why, then, doesn’t Jesus instead ask:  “Which is easier, to forgive a man’s sins, or to give a man the ability to walk?”?  It’s in the context of this difference – between these two types of miracles – that the following words of the passage draw our attention:  “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ – he then said to the paralytic” the words by which Jesus healed his physical infirmity.

In other words, Jesus’ rhetorical question draws our attention to the fact that by means of His divine authority, Jesus chooses to work miracles through the speaking of words.  Instead of saying to the lame man, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home”, Jesus could have waved His arms over the lame man.  Or Jesus could have snapped His fingers.  In fact, as is so often the case during the course of His public ministry, Jesus chooses human words to serve as the effective means of working His miracles.  In turn, Jesus gave to His Church a share in this divine power.  The Church confers the seven Sacraments through the use of words (and often actions as well):  for example, bread and wine become Jesus’ Body and Blood when the priest speaks the same words that Jesus spoke at His Last Supper.  So the simple rhetorical question that Jesus asks in today’s Gospel passage offers us a lot to reflect upon:  Jesus’ choice to use human speech to work miracles, and His choice to extend this means of accomplishing divine words to His Bride, the Church.

OT 13-4 Gospel

Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles

Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles
Readings for the Vigil:
Acts 3:1-10  +  Galatians 1:11-20  +  John 21:15-19
Readings for the Day:
Acts 12:1-11  +  2 Timothy 4:6-8,17-18  +  Matthew 16:13-19

“I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.”

Peter, whom Jesus in today’s Gospel passage entrusts with the care of His Church, was very different than Paul.  Peter’s personality was rough and impatient.  He was poor and uneducated.  Now if Jesus had thought as worldly people do, He never would have chosen Peter as the first pope.  Instead, he would have chosen someone like Paul, refined and educated.

Regardless of their differences, Peter and Paul came to the same end:  martyrdom for the Holy Name of Jesus.  In the year 67, Saint Peter was crucified upside-down in the circus of Nero, and buried nearby in an out-of-the-way cemetery on a hill called the Vatican.  Saint Paul, after being held a prisoner in Rome for many years, was beheaded just outside the walls of the city.

As with their Lord, these two men came to what seemed to be shameful deaths.  Unfortunately, unlike their Lord, there was no report of Peter or Paul rising from the dead.  They were simply failures.  That’s surely how they were sized up by many around them, both in the Roman Empire and perhaps even among some members of the Church.  What kind of foundation had they laid for the Church?

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was the Roman Church, the church that spread from that city throughout the world.  Twenty centuries later, the Church certainly is universal, with more than one billion members across the globe.  But are we really any holier than those first members of the Church?  Are we willing to put our lives or even our names on the line for Christ?

Our spiritual lives are never a “done deal.”  They are always under construction.  The Mass we share in is a continual source of strength for us, as each week we struggle to be faithful disciples of Jesus.  Each day is a building block of faith, in which, by our daily sacrifices, we build up others as well as our own spiritual lives.

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 8:23-27

“What sort of man is this … ?”

Today’s Gospel passage offers another example of the disciples not seeing the forest for the trees.  Their question at the end of the passage is sincere and understandable, not rhetorical:  “What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?”  They admit their ignorance of the deeper identity of Jesus.  They do know that he is more than just a fisherman or carpenter.  They do know that he has miraculous powers.  But what exactly does that knowledge reveal?

All told, today’s Gospel passage is just a snapshot.  There’s no way to perceive from this single event that this man is the divine Word made flesh, much less that He will die on a cross for the salvation of all mankind.  You and I, of course, know the rest of the story, but these disciples do not, and are understandably perplexed.  But where does that leave our reflection on this passage?

Perhaps we can relate to these disciples in this specific instance by attending to the dialogue between the disciples and Jesus in the middle of the passage.  In our own lives, we also cry, “Lord, save us!  We are perishing!”  The difference is that these disciples faced mortal danger, while we often face concerns that are much less significant, and are often of our own manufacture.

Nevertheless, what we and these disciples have in common is the same gracious Lord Jesus.  To each of us, no matter what our supposed dangers and no matter their origins, He responds by offering the “great calm” that is ours through faith.

OT 13-2

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 8:18-22

… He gave orders to cross to the other shore.

Several times during His public ministry, Jesus acts in a way that might be called “anti-social”.  This would be a mistaken perception, of course, but we still might wonder why Jesus acts as He does in these cases.

In today’s brief Gospel passage, when “Jesus saw a crowd around him, He gave orders to cross to the other shore.”  This prefaces the interaction between Jesus and two disciples.  We might be tempted to wonder whether this scene took place on a Monday morning.  The scribe sounds like an idealistic young person, while Jesus seems to splash cold water on his enthusiasm.  The other disciple expresses concern for a deceased loved one, a concern which Jesus seems to dismiss.

Have you ever felt that your enthusiasm for God has gone unmet?  To your desire for a deep spiritual life, have you perceived a sort of shrug on God’s part, if not a rebuke?  If so, you are in good company.  The story is told that Saint Teresa of Avila, suffering persecution because of her reform of the Carmelite order, complained to God about the hostility and gossip she faced.  Jesus told her, “Teresa, that’s how I treat my friends,” to which she responded, “No wonder you have so few.”

It’s not a good idea to banter with God as Teresa did without first possessing her level of holiness.  Still, we might be tempted to agree with her.  More importantly, however, we need to agree with the Lord.

We can speculate that there are two reasons for the distance that Jesus creates between Himself and others during His public ministry.  One is that “distance makes the heart grow fonder”.  The other is more practical:  Jesus doesn’t want to give others more than they can chew.  In other words, we often aren’t ready for what God has to give us.  Even during Holy Week, after three years with Jesus, all but one of His apostles fled from the Cross.  When we agree with the Lord that His Will—even His Cross—is what’s best for us, the distance between ourselves and God will diminish.

The Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Luke 2:41-51

… and His mother kept all these things in her heart.

Today’s Gospel passage is proper to today’s feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  The setting is unique within the four Gospel accounts:  Jesus is twelve years old, on the verge of entering into Jewish manhood (an entrance celebrated today with the ceremony of bar mitzvah).  If those scholars are correct who suggest that Jesus was conceived at the time of Passover, than today’s Gospel occurs right on the threshold of His thirteenth year of human life.  So this narrative, like that of Jesus’ Baptism, foreshadows His vocation as the one who by His death leads the sheepfold to the Father.

The specific link between this Gospel passage and today’s feast is the final phrase, in which St. Luke notes that Mary “kept all these things in her heart.”  Yet the culmination of “all these things” that are related in the passage are Jesus’ two questions:  “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

The setting makes Mary’s pondering all these things in her heart very poignant.  As Jesus enters into manhood, He makes clear not just “Who” His Father is (which Mary and Joseph obviously knew), but also that His Father’s Will (symbolized by the Temple) is His reason for being in this world.  With each new insight into her Son’s life, and with each of the seven swords that pierces her immaculate heart, Mary repeats time and again:  “Fiat.”

IHM Immaculate Heart of Mary

The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus [C]

The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus [C]
Ezekiel 34:11-16  +  Romans 5:5-11  +  Luke 15:3-7
June 24, 2022

The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit ….

Catholics are very familiar with the Church’s devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the heart of her who was never touched by any sin, but rather is full of grace.  Jesus, too, of course, sharing in the divinity of His Father, is sinless, and so we could speak of and celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Jesus.  But today we are celebrating instead the “Sacred Heart” of Jesus.

To be “sacred” means “to be set aside for a special purpose.”  What, then, is the purpose of Jesus’ heart?  The heart is obviously a human element of who Jesus is.  It certainly expresses the love of God the Son, for as Saint John the Divine tells us, God is love.  As God, in his divinity, the Son of course has no physical heart—we can say only that the Godhead possesses a heart in a metaphorical sense—but in His humanity Jesus of course possesses a heart, beating within His Body, pumping His life-blood to all its parts.

What does it mean then to say that Jesus, as human, has a heart?  It means that He is capable of suffering.  To have a heart means to be able to be broken, to be weak, to be vulnerable.  This is the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love:  that He would carry a Cross and die upon it for us, in order to open the gates of Heaven for our darkened, sinful hearts.

This is the special purpose of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the reason for the Incarnation.  This is what Jesus’ heart was set aside for:  that it would be broken, that it would be pierced.  But far be it from us to simply worship the image of the Sacred Heart as an image to be given thanks.  The Sacred Heart is a person to be imitated.

We do not celebrate the feast of “the Sacred Intellect of Jesus”.  Nor do we celebrate the feast of “the Sacred Memory.”  We celebrate the “Sacred Heart” because the greatest of the capacities of God and man is the capacity to will, to choose, and God’s will always chooses love, because God is love, and because love consists in this:  not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and has sent His Son as an offering for our sins.

The Sacred Heart is a person to be imitated.  The heart pumps blood to the entire body, and as His Mystical Body’s members we share in that life-blood as we share in the offering for our sins that Christ sacrificed on the Cross and memorialized sacramentally at His Last Supper.  This sacred meal is “set aside”:  its purpose is our sanctification, that our hearts might become more capable of being broken for the salvation of others, and attain to the fullness of Love, Who is God Himself.

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
I Kings 19:16,19-21  +  Galatians 5:1,13-18  +  Luke 9:51-62
June 26, 2022

When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem ….

This Sunday, as we return to Sundays in Ordinary Time, Jesus sets out for Jerusalem.  The name “Jerusalem” literally means “city of peace”.  Yet Jesus knew that Jerusalem would be the place of His crucifixion and death.  When the event in today’s Gospel Reading occurred, Jesus knew that the easy life of His first thirty-some years was over.

The Church will be celebrating the Sundays of Ordinary Time until the Church year concludes at the end of November.  Over the course of these weeks, our Gospel passage each Sunday will follow this journey of Jesus towards Jerusalem as Saint Luke the Evangelist recorded it.

As Jesus heads resolutely to the City of Peace, He knows that His vocation is to bring peace to each human person.  Jesus at the Last Supper said, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” [John 14:27].  For Jesus, this physical trek towards Jerusalem symbolized the more important journey that he would later make on Good Friday up the hill of Calvary.  We cannot overestimate the importance of Jesus’ death.  Without that moment, everything in our own lives would be meaningless, because to paraphrase Our Lord:  “what would it profit a man if he could gain everything in this world, but not eternal life in the next?”

Within your life, ask yourself how seriously you take the two most important moments in your life:  the two moments that determine whether your life will be one of peace.  You speak of and pray about these two moments when you pray the “Hail Mary”.  The first is now, and the second is the hour of your death.  You don’t pray in the “Hail Mary” about the hour of your birth or the birth of your first child, nor about your graduation or the graduation of your last child; nor about the day of your wedding or about the day you bought your first house.  You don’t even pray about the day of your baptism.

The two most important moments of your life are now and the hour of your death.  Maybe we know other persons who live as if the moment of death will never arrive:  they live only for “now”.  The fact is, though, that every “now” of our life bears a direct impact on which eternal dwelling God will send us packing for at the moment of our death.  Everything we do now, or don’t do now, bears on that moment at the hour of death.

Each of us as a Christian does not control his or her life.  If you do believe you are in control of your life, the life you’re imagining as your own is certainly not the life God wants for you, and which Jesus died to give you.  If you are firmly resolved to prepare your self for the moment of your death, you will be firmly resolved in the “now” of every moment to follow what God is calling you to do.

The call God makes to men and women to embark upon various ways of life—to marriage, to consecrated life, and to the ordained priesthood—is definitely important for each person.  But those calls are not the only calls God makes.  Every day God calls us to follow Him in different ways by serving others.  If we worthily receive the True Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, He will strengthen us at every “now” of the coming week to more closely follow Jesus, in order to live more fully, bearing the peace of our heavenly Father.