Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 5:1-11

“But if you say so, I will ….”

In spite of Peter’s knowledge and experience in fishing, and in spite of his having been up all night long, Peter and his fishing partners had caught absolutely nothing.  Sometimes in what we do, also, we try our best, even at things we’ve done before and know a lot about, but things don’t work out for us.  That’s a natural part of life in this fallen world.

But in today’s Gospel passage, we hear about Jesus coming along.  Jesus was a carpenter, not a fisherman.  Jesus tells Peter to put out the fishing boat into deep water (not the best place to catch fish), and after the sun had risen (not the best time).  Peter starts out with a protest against Jesus’ idea, but then has second thoughts, and replies to Jesus, “But if you say so, I will….  I will lower the nets.”

Remember that God’s ways are not our ways.  Sometimes, when we pray, we end up telling God what He should be doing, and when God talks to us, we dismiss His ideas.  Instead, when Jesus asks us to do something for Him, we should listen.  Then, through the grace of His sacraments, we should speak as Peter speaks, and say to Jesus, “But if you say so, I will….”

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 4:38-44

At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place.

Today’s Gospel passage, as it’s divided in modern editions of the Bible, consists of three paragraphs. As we reflect on the passage, we see a movement like the ripples in a pond. Jesus in His desire to serve moves outwards towards more and more people: from healing Simon’s mother-in-law, to healing those in the area “with various diseases”, to his departure for ministry in “the other towns”.

As such, we can reflect on this passage as an illustration of the “catholicity” of Jesus’ mission on earth, and so also the catholicity of His Church’s mission. In that latter regard, we ought to reflect on ourselves—each of us—as one member of that Christ who acts in today’s Gospel passage.

Each of us rightly gives thanks and praise to Jesus for being our “personal Lord and Savior”. But such a confession of faith should never move us to think that our Christian Faith is simply about “me and Jesus”. Jesus is the Lord and Savior—or at least, wishes to be—of every human person who ever has, does now, or ever will live. In turn, the salvation that Jesus offers me ought to root itself in my service to others, to bring that about.

Each of us at times might enjoy the prayerful solitude that Jesus entered in a deserted place at daybreak. Perhaps we would prefer that solitude. For most, though, the solitude serves our active roles within the mission of the Church.

The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Wisdom 9:13-18  +  Philemon 9-10,12-17  +  Luke 14:25-33
Catechism Link: CCC 1806
September 4, 2022

“… when things are in Heaven, who can search them out?”

Asking God for things is a tricky business.  We might even say that of the four basic types of Christian prayer (that is, petition, adoration, contrition, and thanksgiving), the prayer of petition demands the most deliberation.

The First Reading addresses this challenge indirectly, asking rhetorically:  “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?  For the deliberation of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans.”  We might paraphrase these verses by asking, “When I pray, how can I get my human free will to align with God’s divine and providential will?”

So to “fine tune” our prayers in order to make them more effective, here’s a question for you.  But be careful, because it’s a trick question:  “When we petition God in prayer, should we pray for a good thing?”  The answer is “Yes… and No.”  Today’s Scripture passages explain why by giving us examples of, and by describing, the virtue of prudence.

To most persons, prudence does not seem the most compelling Christian virtue.  After all, it’s not as simple as humility, as bold as courage, or as sublime as charity.  As virtues go, prudence sort of seems like oatmeal.

Nonetheless, if someone were to ask you, “Should you pray for a good thing?”, then you should answer “No!”  The definition of prudence shows us why we should not pray just for a good thing.  Notice in this definition the two tasks that prudence enables us to carry out.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prudence as “the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance, and to choose the right means of achieving it” [CCC 1806].  Prudence empowers us to do two things:  first, to see our “true good” in a given circumstance; and second, to choose the means to reach this “true good”.  So prudence guides both our intellect (in seeing the true good), and our will (in choosing the true good).  Prudence is really the most practical of all the virtues, because it guides the marriage of our intellect and will in daily life.

Nonetheless, as insightful as this definition is, it begs an important question.  What is this “true good”?

Our Scripture passages today show us how this “true good” is not just the good as opposed to the bad.  The true good is the best good out of many good choices.

When we were little, our parents taught us to make moral choices by recognizing right from wrong; good from bad; what is holy from what is evil.  This is the first stage of moral wisdom.  This is the foundation of making moral choices.  It’s essential that we understand that difference.  In fact, to put it bluntly, this difference is the difference between Heaven and hell.  But as a Christian, you have to build upon that foundation.  God doesn’t leave us to do whatever good on earth we might choose.

So while the foundation of Christian morality is about good versus bad, we build upon that by hearing God call us beyond only choosing what is good.  God wants us to do far more:  He wants us to choose what is best over and above what is merely good.  It’s in this sense that God does not want you to choose a good thing:  God wants you to choose the best thing.  “Good” is not good enough.  Only “the best” is good enough for God, and for you and your vocation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church uses a striking image to describe prudence, calling prudence the “charioteer” of all the other virtues.  In other words, you might think of prudence as being the “inner ear” of the Body of Christ.  As your inner ear controls your body’s sense of balance, so prudence controls the balance of your soul, including the balance of your moral choices.  You could be the strongest football player, the most poised ballerina, or the most agile sprinter in the world.  But if that one little part of your inner ear didn’t work, then you and your strength, poise, and agility would fall flat on your face.

Everyone needs a sense of balance:  not only physical balance, but even more so moral balance.  Other virtues may be more powerful and even more important.  But without prudence, they won’t allow you to reach for the greatest good in life.

Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time
Luke 4:31-37

… they were astonished at His teaching because He spoke with authority.

Astonishment is evoked by the fact that Jesus teaches with authority.  Why is there this astonishment, and what does it mean for Jesus to teach with authority?

In the culture that surrounds us, every person believes himself to be his own authority.  In effect, this wide-spread belief means that no real authority exists.  In our society there is a great need for clarity about the meaning and purpose of authority.

At its most literal level, the word “authority” is related to the word “author”.  The author of a novel can create worlds of his own design from his imagination.  Laws of physics need not apply.  Strange creatures can exist, and fantastic events are commonplace.  Tolkien, Baum and Roddenberry are all authors in this sense.  They have the authority to create worlds and races of creatures, and to confer life upon and take life from individuals.  However, this is merely a fictional form of authority.  In reality, there is only one Author of creation.

Jesus, as God from God and Light from Light, is this divine Author.  Through His divinity He has authority.  He exercises this authority throughout the three years of His public ministry for various persons, and for all mankind on Calvary.  However, in the face of His exercise of divine authority, astonishment arises for varied reasons.

Most cannot believe that a mere man could exercise divine authority.  Jesus, of course, was not merely a man, even though He was fully so.  In our own lives, we should not be astonished by the authority or power of Jesus.  We should root our daily lives in His desire to grant us His divine life, and all good things that we need.

The Passion of St. John the Baptist

The Passion of St. John the Baptist
Mark 6:17-29

When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

How did Saint John the Baptist get to be strong enough to speak the truth, even when he knew that it could mean the end of his life?

John constantly preached and practiced penance.  Before Jesus’ Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Saint John preached a different baptism.  Saint John preached a baptism of penance.  Like the Old Testament prophets, Saint John fasted in the desert so that he would be strong enough to speak the truth.  Keep in mind that in the Jordan River, the baptism that Jesus received was John’s baptism, not the Sacrament of Baptism.  Jesus’ received John’s baptism as a sign that His own earthly vocation would be one of penance:  the Way of the Cross.

If we practice penance in our lives—having been baptized first into Christ’s life—we will be strong enough spiritually to stand up for the Truth, who is Jesus.  With this in mind, listen very closely today to the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer.

There are five saints—the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Joseph, and Saints Peter and Paul—who have their own prefaces.  In the preface that is prayed today, listen especially to its account of John’s last and greatest act of witness to Jesus.  With this is mind, receive Holy Communion today while asking Jesus to allow the Eucharist to help you be a more authentic witness to Jesus.

John the Baptist head

Salome with the Head of Saint John the Baptist by Bernardino Luini (c. 1480-1532)

Saturday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 25:14-30

“A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.”

It’s helpful to remember that the parables proclaimed at Holy Mass yesterday and today come from Chapter 25 of Matthew.  This is the final chapter before Matthew’s account of the Last Supper and the events that follow.  The section from which these parables come is sometimes called “the Olivet discourse”, in which Jesus’ attention is fixed on the judgment of Jerusalem.

We should not be aloof, though, in listening to Jesus’ words of judgment against Jerusalem.  The city of Jerusalem in the Old Testament is roughly analogous to the Body of Christ in the New Testament.  Jerusalem was meant to be the dwelling place of God on earth, where His holy people would dwell in unity.  In this light we ought to listen to this parable and consider how God will judge us.

The multiplicity of servants in today’s parable offers us hope, as well as room for cautious consideration.  We might ask, “Which of these servants do I most resemble?”  Perhaps, for example, we need to be jarred from self-complacency, and look hard at the last servant.

To avoid hearing the ultimate sentence of today’s parable, we ought to reflect on the penultimate sentence:  “For to everyone who has, more will be given… but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”  These words give focus to this parable, and can help us use it as an examination of conscience.

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 25:1-13

… but we proclaim Christ crucified ….

Have you ever noticed in regard to weddings how many of those who are invited don’t come to the wedding ceremony, but do show up later for the free food, free booze, and the dance?  To grasp the significance of how disrespectful this is of the dignity of the wedding, consider the analogy of being invited to someone’s home for an evening.  Would you sit at someone’s supper table and only eat the dessert, pushing away the vegetables and the main course?

In all honesty, in our moral and spiritual lives we’re probably more like those wedding invitees than we’d like to admit.  We want the joys of being married to Jesus, but we don’t want our lives literally to be wedded to the life of Jesus.  This is where we need to reflect further on St. Paul’s words in today’s Epistle:  “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified[:] … to those who are called, … Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

On this Friday—the day of the week of Jesus’ Passion and Death—we need to meditate on the scene of Calvary as the wedding ceremony between God and fallen man.  Do we want to be hear the Good News on Easter Sunday morning without having shared in the Passion and Death of Christ?  Are we like those eleven apostles who betrayed Jesus by their faithless words or by their flight from Jesus?  Or are we willing to imitate Our Lady and the Beloved Disciple at the foot of the Cross?

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 24:42-51

“Stay awake!”

“Stay awake!” Our Lord tells us.  Surely you’ve had experiences where you struggled to stay awake.  Maybe during those experiences you were waiting for someone to return home late at night.  In such a case, you might have experienced any number of emotions:  joy, fear, or perhaps anger.  Maybe the experience was driving late at night in order to reach a far-off destination, making you anxious and exhausted.  Maybe the experience was finishing a project, paper, or report for school or the office:  such an experience may have been fraught with fear.

There is a wide variety of emotion which can accompany the experience of trying to stay awake.  But if we consider the two events that Jesus’ words today concern—the coming of Christ in salvation history, and Christ coming to us at the moment of our deaths—we see that these two things share something in common.  They are both unexpected.

To stay awake for these two things is to stay awake for the unexpected.  Do not expect Christ to be part of your life in the way that you expect, or even perhaps in the way that you would prefer.

St. Bartholomew, Apostle

St. Bartholomew, Apostle
Revelation 21:9-14  +  John 1:45-51

“Come and see.”

When Philip points out Jesus as the promised Messiah, what does Nathaniel—also known as Bartholomew—say?  We can almost see Nathaniel shrugging his shoulders as he says, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  In this one sentence, he insults both Jesus and Jesus’ hometown.  Clearly, he does not have faith at this point.

But we see that Nathaniel is like Peter:  a slow learner, but someone who, once he realizes what’s going on, is completely “in”.  When Nathaniel hears Jesus call him, he realizes who Jesus is, and confesses this truth, declaring:  “Teacher, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”  So if any of us are slow to learn, we should remember that Jesus does not give up on us.  Jesus will still call each of us to live out his vocation each day, and give him whatever is needed to carry it out.

Yet we should also note something else in this “vocation story”:  that is, the role of Philip.  When God calls a young man to be a priest, or a young woman to the consecrated life, He usually calls him or her through other people.  We need not only to encourage vocations:  we need also to encourage those “other people” like Philip to encourage vocations.

After all, Philip said just three words:  “Come and see.”  But if Philip had not said these three simple words, Nathaniel might never have met Jesus, and the Church would not have been built up by this holy apostle Bartholomew.  Little words can do a lot for God’s great glory.

St. Bartholomew LORES