St. Mary Magdalene

St. Mary Magdalene
Songs 3:1-4 [or 2 Cor 5:14-17]  +  John 20:1-2,11-18

… while it was still dark ….

Early in the morning on the first day of the week… that is to say, in the beginning… we see Mary Magdalene huddled at the tomb weeping.  We must give her credit for this, since the apostles themselves were not faithful to the Crucified Lord in this way.  For ourselves, we pray for the grace to persevere in the midst of suffering, to allow our souls to thirst for Our Lord and God without despair in the midst of suffering.  We pray for the ability to hope during those times when we cannot see the Lord present before us.

Only in the midst of such suffering, of such weeping, of such self-emptying, can the Lord be seen clearly, as He calls us by name.  We recognize Christ, and we accept the commission He offers us.  He has news for Mary Magdalene to report:  namely, that He is ascending to His Father and our Father.  Perhaps, though, this is even more difficult:  to rejoice at someone’s return when he tells you he’s getting ready to leave you forever.

After all, on that Easter morning, who wants to hear about the Ascension?  We want to glory in the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead!  And yet that is not where Jesus points us.  Throughout His life, and in His death, he always points away from Himself toward the Father, even on the very morning of His Resurrection.

Noli Me Tangere Giotto

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 13:10-17

“‘Gross is the heart of this people ….’”

When the disciples in today’s Gospel passage ask Jesus why He speaks to “the crowd” in parables, He responds with what we might call a “theology of parables”.  Jesus contrasts the disciples with the crowd.  The disciples, He explains, have been granted “knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of heaven”.  But the crowd has not.  Jesus also points out that the crowd “look but do not see” and “hear but do not listen or understand”.  So given this two-fold deficit on the part of the crowd, why is it fitting for Jesus to speak to them in parables?

Since Jesus then reveals that Isaiah 6:9-10 has been fulfilled in the midst of the crowd, parables seem to be a sort of pabulum.  By way of analogy, we might consider Saint Paul’s explanation of his own preaching to the Corinthians, who had been torn by jealousy and strife:  “I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready” [1 Corinthians 3:1-2].

In other words, parables are for the weak of spirit, for those not yet ready for the full strength of the Gospel message, nor for living this message through their own lives.  Aren’t we ourselves often among their number?

OT 16-4

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 13:1-9

“And He spoke to them at length in parables ….”

There are four illustrations that Jesus paints in today’s parable.  The first three are pictures of the sower laboring in vain, because of the path, rocky ground, and thorns.  Only the fourth illustration describes seed falling on rich soil, producing fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

The first illustrates ignorance; or in other words, not understanding what the Word of God tells us.  To grow in humility, we cannot be ignorant.  To grow in humility requires knowledge of God, and self-knowledge.  Knowledge of God is simple, because God is simple.  God is Love.

But self-knowledge is more complicated.  Self-knowledge has two parts:  knowledge of myself as a fallen person, who has stumbled and fallen into the filth of sin; and knowledge of myself as someone loved by God, who has picked me up, washed me in the Blood of the Lamb, and raised me to the dignity of His own child.

These three forms of knowledge, then – knowledge of God, knowledge of myself as fallen, and knowledge of myself as raised by God – are like three legs of a stool on which I sit.  Without any one of these three, I will fall to the ground.  Without all three, I cannot grow in the virtue of humility.

Humility is the foundation of the spiritual life.  Humility will grow inside of you as you rest more in the knowledge of who you are, and who God is.

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 12:46-50

“Here are my mother and my brothers.”

For at least two reasons, today’s Gospel Reading may be used (erroneously) to criticize Catholic beliefs.  The first is that Jesus seems to downplay the significance of His birth mother, Mary.  The second is that Jesus refers to His “brothers”, which seems to contradict the Church’s teaching about Mary’s perpetual virginity.  In replying to both concerns, we can not only help those with misunderstandings, but we can ourselves move closer to the heart of Jesus’ words.

First, is Jesus downplaying the significance of Mary in saying that “whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother”?  On the contrary, Mary is the perfect example of what Jesus is talking about here.  It’s true that Jesus doesn’t go out of His way on this occasion (at least, as recorded by the St. Matthew the Evangelist) to point to Mary as the perfect embodiment of doing the will of God the Father.  There are several possible reasons why Jesus did not think it prudent on this occasion to highlight Mary’s human perfection, but none of these suggest that Mary is not the perfect human creature that all the Church’s Marian dogmas describe her as being.

Second, the word in today’s Gospel passage that is translated into English as “brothers” is the Greek word “adelphoi”.  Apologists have noted that other New Testament uses of this word show that the word can have meanings other than the strict sense of “siblings”.  Others have noted the logical fact that Jesus having brothers doesn’t mean that Mary had other children besides Jesus, since Jesus’ “brothers” may have been step-brothers from an earlier marriage of Joseph, who may have been a widower.  Ultimately, however, such arguments can turn Jesus’ very intention in this Gospel passage on its head:  Jesus is trying to get us to move away from worrying about His blood relations, so that you and I might be His brethren through the Church.

The Virgin Mary with the Apostles and Other Saints

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Genesis 18:20-32  +  Colossians 2:12-14  +  Luke 11:1-13
July 24, 2022

“… how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him”.

Four Sundays ago we heard Jesus begin his long journey to Jerusalem.  He was “resolutely determined” to journey there, even though He knew full well what He would find at the end of the road.  During these Sundays in Ordinary Time, we are listening to Jesus so that we might follow Him no matter where He leads.

Any guide worth his salt covers the basics at the start of a journey.  Jesus is the best of guides.  He prepares us for the journey to Heaven by way of the Cross.  Today in the Gospel Reading, He’s covering some basic skills regarding prayer that we need for our journey.

When our holy Mother the Church teaches us about prayer, she often uses a mnemonic device to help us remember the four basic types of vocal prayer.  We can remember the letters of the word “ACTS”—A, C, T and S—by thinking about the New Testament Acts of the Apostles, where the disciples after Pentecost lived their Faith through the power of prayer.  These four letters—A, C, T and S—stand for “Adoration”, “Contrition”, “Thanksgiving” and “Supplication”.  It’s the last of these (often called “petition”) on which Jesus focuses our attention today.

Using the word “ACTS” to remember the four types of vocal prayer also helps us keep first things first, because adoration is the most important of these types of prayer.  Supplication is the least important, so it belongs last.  Unfortunately, if we don’t understand the prayer of supplication correctly, we might never move beyond it to the more important forms of prayer.  The potential for this is very real, because petition is the form of prayer most easily corruptible:  that is, it’s the form of prayer that most easily can become self-centered.

So regarding supplication, and beginning with the most simple of questions, why should we ask God for things?  Why is the prayer of supplication even important in the Christian life?  When we reflect on today’s Gospel Reading, and how Jesus teaches us here about petitionary prayer, we see His teaching rooted in two things, or rather, in two Persons:  God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit.  Consider here how prayer leads us to the Father.

Jesus, as the divine Son of God, roots His prayer in His own relationship with God the Father.  Jesus teaches us that the answer to all our questions about prayer, and the answer to all our prayers, is in seeing exactly who God the Father is.  For this purpose, Jesus begins in today’s Gospel Reading by giving us the only verbal prayer He ever taught:  the “Our Father”.  He follows this prayer by unpacking it through two parables.  Then he concludes by asking us a rhetorical question about His Father, which will lead us to the Holy Spirit.

In regard to petitioning God the Father for what we want, a devil’s advocate might ask, “If God is all-knowing, and knows what we want, why do we need to ask?” The devil’s advocate might also ask, “Doesn’t God know better than we do what we need?”  Obviously, these are questions about who the God the Father is.

So we can ask:  when a loving father gives what his child needs, does he always do so immediately?  The loving father does not, because he knows that his child in certain cases needs to desire what he has to give her.  Otherwise, as soon as the father gives the gift, the child might cast it aside.  Even the most knowledgeable and most powerful father does not seek to control his child.  The loving father knows that a child has to experience life for herself.  The desire within the child for what she needs is essential.  The father cannot impose everything.  All this is to say that the manner in which God the Father does, or does not, answer our petitions has a lot to do with His shaping our desires, both by His silence and by His responses to our petitions.

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 12:38-42

“… there is something greater than Solomon here.”

If one were to choose a saying of Our Lord from elsewhere in the Gospel to summarize today’s Gospel passage, one might choose:  “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” [Luke 12:48].  A more mundane way to express Jesus’ disapproval of the request for a sign would be to say that the scribes and Pharisees don’t know what they’re asking for.  It’s dangerous to ask for a sign, because with the sign comes the responsibility to follow that sign.  Signs command us to stop, or yield, or put a limit on our speed.

At the end of today’s passage, Jesus contrasts the scribes and Pharisees with “the men of Nineveh” and “the queen of the south”.  This isn’t meant to flatter the scribes and Pharisees.  The men of Nineveh and the queen of the south were not upstanding characters.  Nonetheless, the men of Nineveh were given the sign of “the preaching of Jonah”, and they responded to the sign of the prophet by repenting.  The queen of the south was given the sign of the “wisdom of Solomon”, and she responded by coming from “the ends of the earth to hear” him.

Jesus’ bottom line puts the scribes and Pharisees in their place.  As bad as the men of Nineveh and the queen of the south were, they repented when given signs by Jonah and Solomon.  Since the scribes and Pharisees will be given a far greater sign, by one who is far greater than Jonah and Solomon (not only a prophet and king, but the divine priest as well), they will be judged by a far higher standard.  Should they not repent (as up to this point in the Gospel account they had not), the conclusion is that their culpability would be far greater.  All of this reminds each of us, a Christian who has Jesus as our Way, our Truth, and our Life, how much responsibility we bear to order our life with Christ at its center.

OT 16-1

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 12:14-21

“‘… my beloved in whom I delight ….’”

The latter half of today’s Gospel passage is a quotation from the Old Testament.  St. Matthew the Evangelist cites Isaiah 42:1-4, a passage which echoes God the Father’s declaration at the Baptism of Jesus.  One way to reflect on these words—“my beloved in whom I delight….”—is to imagine God the Father addressing them to you.  Of course, that is only possible if your life is lived in Christ.  Understanding why God the Father might say these words to you demands reflecting on why the Father naturally says them to God the Son.

This quotation highlights a contrast between the Pharisees’ harsh opposition to Jesus and the delight God the Father takes in His servant and Son.  One of the causes of the Pharisees’ opposition is Jesus serving both the Gentiles and the Jews.  The first sentence of the quoted passage has God the Father speaking of Jesus (as the quote is applied by the evangelist) as His chosen servant.  However, the last sentence points to the relevance of Jesus’ service to the Gentiles.  It is the Father’s will that Jesus serve the Gentiles.

Of course, Jesus came not primarily to cure the sick, but to destroy the power of sin and death.  Part of the power of sin is the division between the Jews and Gentiles.  It is the power of the Spirit whom the Father “places upon” Jesus that can reconcile the races and nations of the earth.

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 12:1-8

“For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”

The “something greater than the temple” of which Jesus speaks today is, of course, Jesus Himself.  As the Old Testament priests served in the Temple, so the disciples of Jesus serve in His Presence.  It is in serving Him, and especially in offering priestly sacrifice through Him, that all Christian works find their meaning and are rightly ordered.

Here the virtue of prudence shows its place.  Prudence is sometimes called the “charioteer of the virtues”.  A modern analogy would be to see prudence as the steering wheel of a car.  Prudence is neither the engine (which could be correlated with divine charity) nor the gearshift (temperance) nor the GPS (hope).  Nonetheless, as simple as the role of the steering wheel is, the whole vehicle depends essentially upon it.  Likewise with prudence.

The most basic level of moral decision-making is to shun evil and to do good.  Prudence is hardly needed at this level.  But the upper echelons of morality depend greatly on prudence, where the moral agent faces many good choices, and is tasked with choosing not merely the good but the best.  If we realize that Christ—that “something greater”—is always with us, then His Presence will guide our prudent choices.

OT 15-5 YEAR 2

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Genesis 18:1-10  +  Colossians 1:24-28  +  Luke 10:38-42
July 17, 2022

“Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Jesus today is in the home of Martha and Mary.  These two sisters—as often is the case with siblings—are very different.  After reflecting upon these two sisters, we have to choose which of their stances to take up.

First, reflect on Martha.  Martha is physically in the same house as Jesus.  But when He speaks, instead of listening to Jesus, Martha is doing her own thing.  Martha is in the presence of Jesus, but she is not present to Him.

But what exactly is Martha doing instead of listening to Jesus?  She would certainly insist that she’s working for Jesus.  Her work is all about Jesus.  Nonetheless, she’s not doing what Jesus wants her to do.

This sets before us one of the key distinctions of the Catholic spiritual life.  This is the distinction between sincerity and fidelity.  Some persons believe that as long as they’re sincere in what they do in life, then they’re being faithful to what God wants them to do.  This is a misconception, and this misconception can lead to many dead-ends in the spiritual life.  Sincerity may be a virtue, but it is not a measure of fidelity.

Turn next to Martha’s sister Mary.  In today’s Gospel passage, Mary is in the presence of Jesus, and is also present to Jesus.  Mary shows us that the yardstick that measures our fidelity is the spiritual virtue of listening.

Mary listens to Jesus.  But what did Jesus say to her?  It’s telling that St. Luke the Evangelist does not reveal to us what Jesus said to her.  What Jesus said was for Mary alone.  But that Mary listened is for all of us to imitate:  to listen, so that we might faithfully obey God.

What the evangelist does reveal is that Mary “seated herself at the Lord’s feet and listened to his words.”  There are at least two points that the evangelist makes in this sentence.  First:  Mary was seated, not standing for service, like a waiter who takes your order.  Whatever Jesus said to her, it was not marching orders, but something so deep that Mary had to take it “sitting down”, to ponder it thoroughly.

Second:  there was no dialogue between the two.  It was not two-way communication.  The words flowed in only one direction:  from Jesus, to Mary.  And Mary listened.  Mary listened to Jesus’ words:  this is what Jesus calls “the better part”.  Today’s Gospel Reading not only makes a distinction between prayer and action, calling prayer the “better part”.

Today’s Gospel Reading also makes a distinction about two different types of prayer:  between speaking to God and listening to Him.  Listening is the “better part” and the foundational part of prayer.  In your life, when you listen to God first, and base decisions upon that prayer, then this becomes the foundation of your fidelity to God.