St. Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop & Doctor of the Church

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop & Doctor of the Church
Jeremiah 28:1-17  +  Matthew 14:13-21
August 1, 2022

“… his heart was moved with pity for them ….”

Being compassionate, Jesus was certainly concerned with the physical well-being of the people who had come to hear him preach.  Just how deep Christ’s compassion was is made obvious when we consider again something the first verse of this passage tells us:  Jesus is told about the hunger of the crowds right after he had heard of the death of John the Baptist, and had withdrawn by boat to a deserted place by himself.  If we were to take time to imagine this, we could very clearly see just how human Christ was, responding in grief and perhaps anger at the death of his own cousin.  He withdrew from others to be by himself.  And yet, even at this point in his life, the needs of others pressed upon him.  His response was that of God himself:  he turned to help those in need.

Jesus was certainly concerned with the physical well-being of the people who had come to hear him preach.  But he knew the people in the crowds better than they knew themselves.  Christ had a much deeper concern for their spiritual well-being.  He had reminded them that their ancestors, whom God had fed in the desert by sending bread in the form of manna, had died.  His divine Father, Jesus told them, had sent him to be their spiritual bread which would allow them to live for ever.  If they would eat this bread by accepting him and following his commandments they could enter into God’s eternal kingdom of love.

Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 14:1-12

His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who took it to her mother.

On August 29 the Church celebrates the Passion of St. John the Baptist, and on that memorial we hear his passion narrative according to Saint Mark.  Today’s Gospel Reading offers us this narrative according to St. Matthew the Evangelist.

Jesus does not appear in today’s Gospel passage.  His name is mentioned twice.  Focus on the latter instance, where His name is in fact the last word of the passage.  This is fitting.  In terms of the life and Passion of St. John the Baptist, Jesus is the last word.

John is often considered the last of the Old Testament prophets.  Like many prophets, he was killed because of his witness to God’s Word.  The uniqueness of John’s life and martyrdom lay in how they intertwined with those of the Word made Flesh.

You and I, as Christian disciples, have been baptized into the role of prophet.  It is part of our baptismal commitment to profess the truth of the Gospel no matter what the cost to us.  At times we profess this Truth through our actions; at other times, through our words.  How often do we count the cost first before deciding whether to profess the Truth?  It’s certainly necessary to exercise the virtue of prudence is proclaiming the Truth.  But we ought to ask St. John’s the Baptist’s intercession if we’re ever tempted by fear to refrain from professing the Truth.

Sts. Martha, Mary & Lazarus

Sts. Martha, Mary & Lazarus
John 11:19-27 [or Luke 10:38-42]

Click HERE for the propers for today’s feast.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.”

On this revised feast of Saints Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, the Gospel Reading must come from the feast day.  The other readings may come from the day in Ordinary Time.  However, there are two options for the Gospel Reading on this feast.

The first option offers a bit more flattering portrait of Martha.  The occasion is the death of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary.  Martha goes out to meet Jesus, while Mary sits at home, which is an interesting contrast to the sisters’ respective roles in the other Gospel Reading for the feast.  Martha’s words to Jesus express not only her love for her deceased brother, but also for Jesus, as well as faith in Jesus.  Yet Martha is missing something.  When Jesus declares to Martha, “Your brother will rise”, she does not understand fully what Jesus means.  Jesus is promising that her brother will return to her, not on “the last day”, but on that very day when Jesus and Martha are speaking.  It’s to Martha’s credit that when Jesus makes more clear His intention, Martha makes clear her faith in Jesus.  This faith in Jesus, who is “the resurrection and the life”, is a model for our own faith.

The second option for the feast’s Gospel Reading is perhaps the better-known Gospel story about Martha.  Martha is overshadowed by her sister Mary, the latter being an example of putting “first things first”.  Nonetheless, perhaps the example of Martha in this passage is more like most of us Christians.  To identify with Martha in this passage is to humble ourselves and to recall that our good works are empty if they don’t proceed from a faith that’s nourished by the Word of God.

Martha and Mary

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Jeremiah 18:1-6  +  Matthew 13:47-53
July 28, 2022

Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done?

In the Catholic press, much has been said recently about an idea called the “Benedict Option”.  The idea is that Christians would opt to imitate the example of Saint Benedict of Norcia in the face of the disorder within civil society.  Is the example of St. Benedict apropos to our day?  To what extent is Western culture vulnerable to collapse?

Regardless, only an ostrich would be unable to notice the red flags that the high priests of secular culture wave in the faces of everyone.  So ought Christians flee as much as possible from civil society, and form small communities of dedicated Christians?  Or ought Christians engage the secular culture as much as possible in the public square, even until the dying day of that culture?

Regardless of whether Christians choose the “Benedict Option”, or the “Dominican Option”, or the “Gregorian Option”, or any other option, today’s First Reading places before us a salient reminder.  If secular culture is subject to decay and collapse, so also is the spiritual life of a child of God, and of His entire People.  The image of the potter, and the Lord’s message regarding the potter’s work, is an Old Testament complement to Jesus’ exhortation to remove the plank from one’s own eye before attempting to remove the speck from another’s.  “Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand”.

OT 17-4 YEAR 2

Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 13:44-46

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.”

Jesus offers us two brief parables today, both metaphors describing “the Kingdom of Heaven”.  Either parable and its imagery would suffice for a day’s meditation.  We could also meditate, though, upon common threads between the two.

In the first parable, the treasure is buried.  In the second, the pearl of great price is sought by a merchant.  In both cases, the object of great value and meaning has to be discovered.  But there’s a difference between the two.  While the treasure is out of sight, presumably the pearl is in plain sight, yet like a needle in a haystack as it rests amidst many other items in the market.

In the first parable, we don’t know whether the person who finds the treasure was looking for it, or chanced upon it.  In the second parable, Jesus tells us that the merchant was actively “searching for fine pearls”.  The differences and possible differences between these two parables allows us to apply them to various situations in real life.  After all, sometimes an individual seeks the Faith for many years before receiving it as a gift from God.  Others, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, are struck by what seems a bolt from the blue.  Nonetheless, for every Christian, faith in Christ and life in Christ make for a treasure worth all that we have to give.

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:21-23  +  Colossians 3:1-5,9-11  +  Luke 12:13-21
July 31, 2022

“… rest, eat, drink, be merry!”

I loved to read mystery stories as a boy.  The older I get, the less I think about mysteries that have solutions.  A different type of mystery is more compelling:  mysteries of our Faith.  They’re not absolutely mysterious:  that is, there are things we can know and say about them.  But they have no solutions as stories do.

As an example, consider one of the mysteries that Saint Paul describes in today’s Second Reading.  What is Saint Paul claiming when he tells the Colossians that they “have died”?  He says:  “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory.”

Of course, St. Paul is not talking about a physical death.  He’s talking, rather, about the spiritual death that marks the life of every person who follows Jesus.  What does this sort of death look like?

Imagine a large stone being thrown mightily into a deep lake.  The stone starts to sink upon hitting the water, and the impact causes a large splash.  Then, while the stone continues to sink, smaller splashes rise and fall as the impact of stone against water ripples in wider and wider circles.  This image symbolizes your Christian life.

The moment of impact is the moment of your baptism:  an experience of dying into Christ.  The Sacrament of Baptism is the beginning of the Christian life, and of course we should never underestimate the magnitude of the gift of Baptism.  Nor should we forget that it remains a source of blessings throughout our earthly days.  Nonetheless, baptism is not the end of the Christian life.  Baptism makes waves by means of many smaller deaths in daily life.

One that’s neglected by many Christians in our day and age is asceticism.  Asceticism is a habit of the Christian life.  It’s a good habit, and so we call it a virtue of the Christian life.  Asceticism is the good habit of self-denial.

To the world, this sounds like foolishness:  how can denying one’s own self be good?  To the world, the supreme good is to promote oneself, to inflate oneself, to indulge oneself.  But the Christian looks at life differently:  through the lens of baptism into Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.  Baptism is the pattern for the asceticism of our daily life as Christians.  Jesus’ parable in today’s Gospel Reading illustrates the contrast between someone who lives for the world and someone who lives in the world but for God.  In order to heed Jesus’ admonition “against all greed”, asceticism is necessary.

Every act of Christian asceticism is the freely chosen sacrifice of something good.  By contrast, not doing something that’s evil is a moral imperative.  We must not do what is evil.  But we may do what is good… or, we may not do what is good.  We are free to choose either course of action.  It’s from this freedom that asceticism derives its value.  To sacrifice what is good, when we have the moral freedom to enjoy it, turns something good into something better!

To repeat this in a different way:  not doing something that’s intrinsically evil is commanded by God, and must not be done by every Christian, in every circumstance.  But asceticism is different.  Asceticism is not doing something that’s good, something that we are in fact free to do, because we want to sacrifice to God our freedom to enjoy that good.

Here’s an example:  a person is always free to eat what his body expects in order to function in a healthy manner.  But a person may freely choose to sacrifice this same good—that is, a healthy meal that his body expects—as an act of asceticism.  Will his body perish because of his asceticism?  No:  Christian asceticism should never cause irreparable harm to the human person.  But even an athlete, when he wants to strengthen his muscles, has to break them down first.

An authentic act of Christian asceticism has two ends.  The first end regards oneself.  This end or goal is to discipline one’s body and soul.  One purpose is so that one becomes less attached to earthly goods.

The second and more important end, to which the first is oriented, regards God.  Authentic Christian asceticism makes one more free to seek and embrace spiritual goods, even and especially when those spiritual goods come at a demanding cost.

Sts. Joachim & Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Sts. Joachim & Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Jeremiah 14:17-22  +  Matthew 13:36-43
July 26, 2022

“Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus offers a point-by-point explanation of the parable that He had preached about the weeds in the field, proclaimed at Holy Mass on Saturday of this past week.  The evangelists rarely offer us examples of Jesus explaining one of His parables.  So today’s passage is insightful both in terms of the parable’s content, and also in terms of understanding how Jesus uses parables.

We might wonder, to start with, what the significance is of the evangelist telling us that it’s after “Jesus dismissed the crowds” that “His disciples approached Him” to ask for an explanation of the parable.  This is an important distinction that the evangelist didn’t have to note for Jesus’ explanation of the parable to make sense.  Perhaps the evangelist is highlighting the importance of petitioning God for deeper insight into His revealed Word.

Jesus then explains the meanings of seven persons or things within the parable.  This allegorical explanation of the parable is important because it’s in accord with the method of interpreting Jesus’ parables commonly found in the writings of patristic and medieval saints.  The allegorical method of understanding Sacred Scripture is often rejected today by scholars who prefer to use only rationalistic forms of the historical-critical method.  Nonetheless, central to all the elements of Jesus’ allegorical interpretation is His call for each of us to be among the “good seed”, sown by the Son of Man in His preaching, Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Sts. Joachim and Anne

La Educación de la Virgen by Diego Velázquez [1599-1660]

St. James, Apostle

St. James, Apostle
2 Corinthians 4:7-15  +  Matthew 20:20-28

… so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the apostle James.  But two of the apostles were named James.  The apostle whose feast we celebrate today is usually called “James the Greater”.  This James was the brother of St. John the Apostle.

Saint James the Greater was “greater” than the other James because he followed Jesus for a longer time.  But even though this “Great James” followed Jesus for so long a time, he still didn’t exactly understand who Jesus was.  We can tell that from today’s Gospel passage.

James and John, the apostle-brothers, have a mom who wants what’s best for them.  She knows that Jesus is a great person, very important, and even believes that Jesus is some sort of king.  That’s why she asks Jesus if her sons can sit right next to Jesus’ throne.  She wants her sons to be important.

But Jesus says something that none of them expects.  Jesus says that if you want to be with Him in Heaven, you have to drink from the chalice that Jesus was going to drink from during Holy Week.  When Jesus says this, He’s not only talking about the chalice that He’s going to use at the Last Supper.  Jesus is also talking about the cup of suffering:  He’s talking about the Cross.  Remember that after the Last Supper, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, and prayed to God the Father about the cup of suffering that He knew was coming very soon.

You will actually grow stronger in your life whenever you suffer for Jesus’ sake.  Jesus taught us this in the Beatitudes:  “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” [Matthew 5:11].  Always remember that this is one of the ways that God will give you grace throughout your life:  by sticking with Jesus, even when it’s very difficult.

St. James - Cathedral of Compostela CROPPED

Saturday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time 
Matthew 13:24-30

“‘Where have the weeds come from?’”

“Let them grow together until harvest,” the sower in Jesus’ parable says, referring to the weeds and the wheat.  Modern farmers may not follow the sower’s advice, but the parable is clearly meant to teach a lesson in spirituality, not agriculture.

Jesus begins the parable by clarifying that He is describing the “Kingdom of heaven”.  Some speculate whether the “Kingdom of heaven” and the “Kingdom of God” that Jesus often describes in parables are synonymous with Heaven itself, or with the Church on earth, or with both.  The history of the Church on earth makes it clear—to anyone whose hopes for Heaven are at all lofty—that there’s a significant difference between Heaven and the Church on earth.  Perhaps, then, the kingdoms that Jesus describes through His parables are ideals to be striven for?

Whether we answer any of those questions or not, we can derive spiritual principles from the parables that any sincere Christian will want to make her own.  Regarding today’s parable, the sincere Christian will naturally ask whether he is one of the weeds or one of the tares of wheat.  At different times we may be one or the other.  If we’re constantly complaining about “others” in our lives—”those weeds”—then we likely need to make a good examination of conscience.

One purpose of the parables is to give our daily life focus:  as the old maxim puts it, “to begin each day with the end in mind”.  In other words, we ought not live each day for the sake of each day.  We ought to live each day for the sake of the eternal Day that lies just beyond the hour of our death, when our Lord will, with divine circumspection and justice, separate the weeds from the wheat.