The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Vigil Readings:
Jeremiah 1:4-10  +  1 Peter 1:8-12  +  Luke 1:5-17
Readings of the Day:
Isaiah 49:1-6  +  Acts 13:22-26  +  Luke 1:57-66,80

For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is so important a feast that there are two full sets of Scripture readings for Holy Mass.  One set is proclaimed at Vigil Masses on the evening before the feast day, unless June 24th is a Monday, in which case the Vigil is impeded by the celebration of Sunday Mass.  The second set of Scripture readings is proclaimed on the feast day itself.  Yet regardless of whether you attend Mass on the evening before or the day of June 24th, the Gospel passage that you hear will be taken from the first chapter of St. Luke’s account of the Gospel.

The Vigil’s Gospel passage comes from the beginning of Luke 1.  The Gospel passage for the feast day itself comes from the end of the chapter.  These two passages bookend the story of St. John’s birth.  As with the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ birth, the child to be born is the focus, but not the central actor.  In the Gospel passages for today’s feast, the central actor is John’s father, Zechariah.  St. Luke the Evangelist here contrasts Zechariah with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Zechariah was an elderly husband, yet without children.  Mary was a young betrothed virgin.  Saint Gabriel appears to each of them separately, and tells each not to be afraid.  The archangel announces to each that a son is to be born.  Yet their responses differ profoundly.

The man persists in unbelief, while the woman believes.  Mary’s final word in response to St. Gabriel’s announcement is “Fiat”“Let it be done unto me according to your word” [Luke 1:38].  In response to Zechariah’s unbelief, St. Gabriel declares in a verse not long after the end of the Gospel passage for the Vigil Mass:  “behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass” [Lk 1:20].  That “day” is narrated in the Gospel passage for Sunday.

Saint Augustine in Sunday’s Office of Readings explains that “the silence of Zechariah is nothing but the age of prophecy lying hidden, obscured, as it were, and concealed before the preaching of Christ.”  Later in the same sermon, St. Augustine expounds the distinction between Jesus and His cousin:  “The voice is John, but the Lord ‘in the beginning was the Word.’  John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.”

But if the voice must decrease, so that the Word may increase, what can be said of Zechariah?  He is not even a voice, but silence:  the silence in which the Voice is conceived, and a silence which you as a sinner must enter.

The silence illustrated by Zechariah is born of unbelief.  Every sinner is called into this silence.  Most of our fallen world is a modern Babel.  We are unfaithful to God’s Word, because we cannot hear it for the cacophony of the modern world.  We are among those of whom the Beloved Disciple writes in the prologue to his Gospel account:  “the Word came to His own, and His own people received Him not” [John 1:11].

Because it’s always so in this valley of tears, God calls fallen man into silence so that there we might recognize our sins, and hear and heed God’s Word.  The silence of Zechariah is what St. John of the Cross writes about:  “What we need most in order to make [spiritual] progress is to be silent before this great God, with our appetites and our tongue.”

This silence is a means to man’s true end.  This is the end for which God created man “in the beginning”:  to share in the divine life of the Trinity in a holy and eternal silence.  About this final silence, the end of all we are and do as disciples of the Word made Flesh, St. John of the Cross also speaks:  “the Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul.”

St. John the Baptist was born so that the Old Testament might die.  Yet such a death was meant all along in God’s Providence to be fulfilled by a new life, like the grain of wheat that dies in order to bear much fruit.  St. John the Baptist was born to preach the message of repentance:  the need to accept ourselves as sinner, and the need to accept Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins and those of the whole world.

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 7:15-20

“So by their fruits you will know them.”

Twice in today’s Gospel passage Jesus uses this phrase:  “By their fruits you will know them.”  Jesus is speaking here about “bad fruit”, by which one can know false prophets.  In our own day, part of the scandal that members of the Church—laity and clergy alike—face is that considerable “bad fruit” has been borne by bishops and priests of the Church that Jesus founded.  How can one reconcile that such men who are validly ordained seem by their fruits to be false prophets?

Without taking away from any of the harsh reality that Jesus is describing in today’s Gospel passage, we’re mindful to read each passage in the context of the entire Gospel.  We’re mindful of Jesus’ Parable of the Barren Fig Tree [Luke 13:6-9], where the gardener (a symbol of our Savior) makes this plea:  “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.”  These words give hope for reformation in the lives of those who have been truly called by God to service in His Church, but who have just as truly failed to bear fruit.  The Truth who is Christ can bring redemption to all, just as He will bring just judgment to all.

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 7:6,12-14

“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.”

Coming to the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, today we hear Him offer several brief proverbs.  It would be difficult to find a common theme among all of them.  Yet we could take any one of them and, brief as it is, commit it to memory and recite it throughout this day for reflection.

Of these proverbs, the second is best known.  The “Golden Rule” is taught to children early in life.  Of course it demands an ability to step back from a situation and reflect upon it from outside.  This is difficult if someone is used to acting impulsively, without reflection.

Perhaps today, though, we could reflect on the Golden Rule in a different light.  Reflect on the Golden Rule as Jesus lived it; or rather, as He died by it.  Reflect on the Golden Rule in the light of the crucifix.  What Jesus did for you on the Cross is what Jesus would have you do for His sake.  This is what He calls you to, in fact, as a member of His Church:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” [Matthew 16:24].

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 7:1-5

“The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you.”

Pondering the mystery of Christ, we find that God calls us to act morally along the same lines that we accept Christ:  first, in humble faith; then, with a burning desire to extend God’s love to those beyond our immediate reach.  Thus in the Ten Commandments we are called to serve both God and neighbor.  The first three command us to love God completely, above all others.  Then the last seven command us to serve our neighbor from our love for God.

In today’s Gospel passage we hear Jesus commanding us to love our neighbor in a specific way:  that is, by forgiving our neighbor.  Regarding to what extent—or even whether—we forgive any individual neighbor of ours, Jesus declares:  “The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you.”

We should be mindful that our sins, as infinite offenses against Almighty God, will not permit us finally to enter into His Presence unless we are shown infinite mercy by Almighty God.  So it is that we ourselves, strengthened by God’s own infinite forgiveness, must forgive others if we hope to live in God’s sight.

Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 6:24-34

“You cannot serve God and mammon.”

These famous words from Jesus mark a clear divide between Heaven and earth, and between the spiritual and the material.  But to consider these words of Jesus seriously, we need first to address an underlying assumption.

The culture that surrounds modern persons in the West presumes that each person is his or her own boss.  Modern Western culture teaches children from an early age that they are not meant to serve anyone or anything.  In fact, both God and mammon serve me and my needs!

However, while the modern person may believe such ideas, so strongly reinforced as they are by modern culture, Jesus is offering a caution.  In fact, most of today’s Gospel passage is about the dangers of believing that mammon can serve oneself.

What begins in one’s mind as the idea of mammon serving oneself eventually ends in the servitude of the self to mammon.  The slave that mammon is thought to be becomes the master of the self.  This is the crippling servitude that Jesus is diagnosing, so to speak, through the examples He offers in this passage.

That we might live authentically, Jesus invites us to enter into a relationship with God as our Lord and Master.  This relationship of serving God is radically different than that in which one ends up serving mammon.  In the relationship that Jesus invites us to, through serving God, we become His “friends” [see John 15:15] and His “beloved children” [Ephesians 5:1].

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 6:19-23

“… where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

Today’s Gospel passage from the Sermon on the Mount seems to have two distinct sections.  Nevertheless, a connection suggests itself.  The first section concerns wealth of different types.  The second concerns the human eye and light.  What does human vision have to do with human wealth?

In the first part of today’s Gospel passage we hear one of the more famous of Jesus’ sayings:  “where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”  The truth of this saying is so plain that it would surely be recognized by persons of all types of religious faith (or even by those with little or no faith).  It’s not necessarily a religious saying.  It’s a saying about human nature.  Of course, as the medieval principle puts it, “grace builds upon nature.”  God wishes for our sake that He be our treasure, but we are free to choose something merely human to serve as our treasure (or rather, as it turns out, for us to serve).

Whatever we choose as the treasure of our life, there will our heart gravitate.  There will we spend the energies of our heart, mind and soul.  But how does one go about choosing one’s treasure?  This is where the second half of today’s Gospel passage comes into play.

How does someone choose his treasure?  Is this process of choosing purely random and spontaneous?  Or does it come about by virtue of where we train the gaze of our soul?  Part of Christian realism is believing that knowledge comes through the human senses.  What we choose to look at has a profound influence on whether we choose something earthly as the treasure we will serve, or whether we choose God’s self-sacrifice of Jesus in the Eucharist as our treasure.  Spend at least five minutes today, then, looking at a crucifix and reflecting upon Jesus’ self-gift as given specifically for you.

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ [C]

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ [C]
Genesis 14:18-20  +  1 Corinthians 11:23-26  +  Sequence  +  Luke 9:11-17
June 19, 2022

“I am the living bread come down from heaven, says the Lord; whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

In this Year of the Eucharist, today’s feast of Corpus Christi demands even greater attention from us than usual.  This Sunday in churches throughout our diocese, Eucharistic processions and Holy Hours will take place.  Furthermore, we ought to take time to reflect upon the Most August Sacrament and Sacrifice of the Eucharist.

Such reflection might start by pondering why exactly we attend Holy Mass each Sunday.  If you were to survey a hundred Catholics and ask them why they have to go to Mass on Sundays, the most common answer might be either, “Because I’ll go to hell if I miss Mass” or “Because going to Mass is how we get to Heaven”.  While there’s truth in both of those answers, they need to be placed in a broader context.  Saint Paul puts us on the right track at the end of today’s Second Reading.  He explains to the Corinthians what it is that they’re doing when the Eucharist is celebrated:  “you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”

St. Paul doesn’t say that celebrating the Eucharist is a proclamation of the power that Jesus showed in the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  He declares that the Eucharist is a proclamation of death:  of the death of God in the Flesh.

When you participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, “you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”  At Holy Mass, when the Eucharistic Prayer is offered, you are transported mystically and sacramentally to the spot of Calvary, on the day of Good Friday some 2000 years ago.

But why does the Mass have such a focus?  Why is the Eucharist a proclamation of Jesus’ death?  For one thing, it’s because the death of Jesus is the price of our salvation.  Proclaiming the death of Jesus can help us to grow morally:  in our gratitude to God, and so also in our expressions of charity.  Of course, our human gratitude and charitable works pale in comparison to the sacramental grace that we may receive through a devout and worthy reception of Holy Communion.

Nonetheless, we might ask why God chose the death of Jesus as the particular means of our salvation and the vessel of His grace.  After all, God is All-Powerful.  God can accomplish whatever He wills in whatever manner He wills.  God created with nothing but His own Word when He said, “‘Let there be light’, and there was light” [Genesis 1:3].  Likewise, He could have re-created mankind in the same way.  God could simply have said, “Let there be forgiveness for mankind,” and mankind would have been forgiven.

On the other hand, there is a certain fittingness or aptness to God redeeming mankind through the death of God the Son.  St. Paul points out to the Romans that “just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one man the many will be made righteous” [Romans 5:19].  God is, if you will, into fittingness and aptness, so it’s no surprise that God would choose to redeem mankind by the death of God made Flesh, rather than by a spoken “Fiat”.

But the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist reveals yet another reason why God chose the death of Jesus as the means of man’s redemption.  This reason is the most loving reason possible, though at first glance it might not appear so.

By way of contrast, imagine that God set the price of man’s salvation at ten billion galaxies.  Imagine that God chose to redeem mankind from sin and death by destroying ten billion galaxies elsewhere in the universe, instead of by His divine Son’s death.  Where would that leave you?  It would leave you free.  It would leave you redeemed.  But it would not leave you with the ability to imitate our merciful God.  Can you offer ten billion galaxies to God?  You cannot, because such an action is beyond the capacity of a human being.

But every human being can die, and in many different ways.

Death is our means of entrance into the saving mysteries of Christ.  What could be simpler?  This is one important reason why, when the Eucharist is celebrated, “you proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”  This is why Jesus, at His Last Supper, willed to institute the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as the way of being present at Calvary.

The Christian who devoutly attends Holy Mass offers his human life in sacrifice to God, and joins this personal sacrifice to the sacrifice of Jesus offered by the priest at the altar.  While the Mass is offered this Christian says, “Lord, accept my life.  Help me to die to my self as Jesus did on Calvary.  Let my death to self prepare a place within me, so that by receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, His life might take the place of my life.  Help to receive Jesus in order to leave this church and go out into the world to live a life of self-sacrifice in my home, my workplace, and my community.”

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 6:7-15

“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”

Putting the Gospel passages from recent weekday Masses in context, we see the person of God the Father emerge.  These passages come from the Sermon on the Mount.  Two days ago the Church proclaimed the last section of Matthew 5, the last phrase of which is Jesus’ command to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Yesterday’s Gospel passage concerned the performance of “righteous deeds”, for which God the “Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

In today’s Gospel passage this theme comes to a head with Jesus teaching His Church to pray the “Our Father”.  This is the only “recited prayer” (or as this type is sometimes called, “vocal prayer”) that Jesus gave to the Church.

Many saints have commented on the “Our Father” by pointing out that Jesus had no need to teach any other prayer, because this prayer contains all that one might need or want to say to the Father, at least in seminal form.  Other prayers are commended to us by the Church because they draw out further the phrases of the “Our Father”.  We who are slow and weak to believe benefit from other vocal prayers, but they must finally lead us back to the embrace of God the Father.

OT 11-4

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

“And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Today’s Gospel passage is—to the verse—the same passage that we hear every year on Ash Wednesday.  The Church proclaims it today, in the middle of a week in Ordinary Time, because the cycle of Gospel passages for weekday Mass tends to go sequentially through a Gospel account.

We are currently hearing from St. Matthew’s Gospel account at weekday Mass.  A week ago Monday we began hearing from the fifth chapter of Matthew, where the evangelist begins recording the Sermon on the Mount.  Today we begin hearing from Chapter 6.  The Sermon on the Mount continues through the end of Chapter 7.  We will hear this sermon at weekday Mass through a week from tomorrow.

Because today’s Gospel passage contains a wealth of spiritual teaching, you might more easily benefit from reflecting on just one third.  In each of these three sections Jesus teaches us the right way of carrying out spiritual works.  But notice that each third ends the same way, with Jesus noting that when the act is performed from the heart—that is, with divine charity—“your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you”.  These acts ultimately are about our relationship with God our Father.

Childers, Milly, 1866-1922; Girl Praying in Church