The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Sirach 3:17-18,20,28-29  +  Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24  +  Luke 14:1,7-14
Catechism Link: CCC 2544
August 28, 2022

Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.

In the Catechism’s discussion of the Tenth Commandment—forbidding the coveting of thy neighbor’s goods—humility is mentioned.  You might wonder what humility has to do with not coveting thy neighbor’s goods.  To illustrate the connection, the Catechism quotes the fourth-century saint Gregory of Nyssa.

St. Gregory points out how Jesus “speaks of voluntary humility as ‘poverty in spirit’; the Apostle [Paul] gives an example of God’s poverty when he says:  ‘For your sakes He became poor’” [CCC 2546, quoting 2 Corinthians 8:9].

St. Gregory’s key point is that humility is a kind of poverty.  This key can help us reflect upon today’s Scriptures.

As you know, Jesus speaks about this “poverty in spirit” in the very first sentence of His Sermon on the Mount.  In the sermon’s very first verse Jesus declares:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs” [Matthew 5:3].  That first verse of Jesus’ greatest sermon sheds further light on those words of St. Gregory of Nyssa.

The first point to focus on is the importance of the word “voluntary”.  Jesus is speaking about “voluntary humility” in praising poverty of spirit.  Here we must consider that there are two kinds of humility:  voluntary and involuntary.  On the one hand, there’s the kind of humility that we freely choose.  On the other hand, there’s the kind of humility that’s forced upon us.

Poverty in spirit can only be the kind of humility that we freely choose.  In fact, this is the goal that Jesus is driving us toward in today’s parable:  the voluntary humility which is poverty of spirit.

In today’s Gospel Reading, “Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees”.  Note how at this home, everyone is watching everyone else.  On the one hand, “the people there were observing [Jesus] carefully”.  But on the other hand, the reason that Jesus addresses His parable “to those who had been invited” is because He had noticed “how they were choosing the places of honor at the table”.  They were not choosing humility, but self-promotion.

Jesus illustrates the two kinds of humility through His parable.  Jesus first describes someone seating himself “in the place of honor”, and then being forced by the host to embarrass himself by moving down to “the lowest place”.  This is what’s called “humble pie”:  involuntary humility.

But then Jesus describes the kind of humility that originates in God.  What does Jesus tell us to do?  “[T]ake the lowest place[,] so that when the host comes to you[,] he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’”  In other words, practice the virtue of voluntary humility.  Don’t get frustrated with how often life serves you “humble pie”.  Take the initiative:  practice the virtue of voluntary humility, and you’ll find yourself eating much less, and more spiritually healthy in the bargain.

Yet if we understand the need to practice humility voluntarily, we still have a problem:  humility is difficult to practice.  As in Jesus’ parable, there’s often embarrassment connected to acting humbly.  How can we overcome the difficulties connected with acting humbly?

The answer, of course, is Jesus.  But not just following His example.  Certainly, Jesus gave us two great examples of humility:  being conceived at the Annunciation and dying on Calvary.  In other words, He left the glory of Heaven to become human and walk in this valley of tears, walking finally to His self-sacrifice on the Cross.

These examples, of course, are important for our meditation.  It’s important to imagine these mysteries and ponder their meaning.  Yet how could we be strong enough to imitate such examples?

The answer is to enter into Jesus’ life:  His Body and Blood, soul and divinity.  Only through the grace of Jesus’ sacramental life can you share in Jesus’ own humility and make His humility your own.

In today’s First Reading, Sirach counsels you to “[h]umble yourself the more, the greater you are”.  Through Baptism, you are a child of God.  That is a profoundly great vocation, yet also a demanding one.  To be faithful to that vocation, your humility must be the humility of God’s only-begotten Son.  Thanks be to God, He has called His children to the head of the Banquet Table, to be strengthened by Jesus’ own life.  Blessed are those called to the Supper of the Lamb.

Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 23:23-26

“Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup ….”

In today’s Gospel passage, we hear Jesus rather harshly commanding that exterior and interior religious practices be integrated.  The right way in which to integrate them is to put first things first:  that is, to tend first to the inner dispositions of the soul, and then from the soul’s strength to practice virtuous acts.

Jesus condemns the “blind Pharisee” who appears clean on the outside, but inside is full of plunder and self-indulgence.  His actions may appear virtuous, but they are not.  They are deeds that may have good effects.  But these actions worsen a division in the soul of the one who carries them out.

Similarly, Jesus’ first condemnation here—of the scribes and Pharisees—concerns a different form of “dis-integration”.  These “hypocrites” are doing certain good works, but not the works that are far better and more central to a life given to God.  This dis-integration suggests that even the good works are being done for bad reasons.

Jesus doesn’t condemn the scribes and Pharisees for tithing:  indeed, He says they should have tithed.  But He uses a purposefully ridiculous metaphor to describe what they’re doing:  they are straining out the gnat, but swallowing the camel!  The latter part of the metaphor ought to remind us of another quote from Jesus:  “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle then for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

OT 21-2

The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Isaiah 9:1-6  +  Luke 1:26-38

“May it be done to me according to your Word.”

Today’s feast of Mary’s Queenship falls one week after the feast of her Assumption. Seven days ago, we celebrated the fourth glorious mystery of the Rosary, and today we celebrate the fifth (Mary being crowned as the Queen of Heaven and earth). These two feasts of Mary are connected, and teach us about who Mary our Mother is. The Assumption and the Queenship of Mary also teach us what being a Christian is about.

Mary being assumed, body and soul, into heaven is really nothing other than her share in the Resurrection of Jesus: her body and soul sharing in the glory of her Son’s Resurrection. This is something that we all look forward to sharing at the end of time. Mary has received the fullness of everything that Jesus promises. The humble handmaiden has been made radiant—Mary is the Queen standing at Christ’s right hand, clothed in gold, as one of the Psalms says. All of Mary’s limits have been removed. All her weaknesses have been cured. We speak to Mary with the honor due to a Queen, because she is the first of the disciples to pass body and soul into the palace of the King.

Saint John writes in his first epistle that we do not know what we will look like in heaven, because we will become like Jesus in His Resurrection: almost glowing. Mary has already undergone that change. She looks on the beauty of God’s face not just through her soul—as all the saints do—but with her own eyes. This is what we mean by her Queenship: she is the Queen Mother of all the faithful, because she was perfectly faithful, and the first (of many eventually) who will be admitted body and soul into heaven.

Mary is our Queen, and we give our prayers to her powerful intercession: she will take all our prayers to God. We look to Mary as the example of the perfect disciple. We find consolation in her mother’s heart. She surpasses all of us in her faithfulness to Christ. But her Queenship is also the hope that we have a promise: we have from God the promise of our own Resurrection, when we too will be crowned with glory. In this way, we can see that her majesty and glory is something that we, too, hope one day to receive in some degree. We thank Mary for showing us how good God is, and how God always gives grace and strength to those who follow Him.

Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 23:1-12

“… you have but one Father in Heaven.”

Today’s Gospel passage contains a verse that some Christians quote to “prove” that one of Catholics’ most common practices is “unbiblical”.  Jesus declares, “Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.”  These words of Jesus would seem to disqualify the Catholic practice of addressing a priest as “Father”, as well as referring to the Pope as the “Holy Father”.

Those who make this argument might be taken aback, then, if it were pointed out to them how many passages from Saint Paul’s letters show the Apostle referring to himself as a spiritual father.  For example, Paul explains how the Corinthians have one father.  He squarely preaches to them, “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father […] it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus…” [1 Cor 4:15].  It’s hard to imagine—if you were to interpret Holy Scripture in a literalistic sense—any words that more directly contradict Jesus’ command to “call no man on earth your father” than what St. Paul says of himself:  “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father […] it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus….”

What are we to make of this seeming contradiction?  St. Paul’s following words only seem to heighten the contradiction against Jesus’ command.  St. Paul commands those listening to him:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” [1 Cor 4:16].  Why doesn’t St. Paul just say instead, “Be imitators of Christ”?  Some Christians will argue over and over again that the Catholic priesthood is a corruption of the Word of God because it puts a middle-man—a mediator—between Christ and the individual believer.  They will say instead that the individual Christian can go straight to Christ, without needing men in between.  (Of course they’ll turn a blind eye to the plain fact that the act of preaching—which is so prominent in Protestant denominations—is an act of a man mediating the Word of God to his listeners.)

It’s here that the teachings of Saint Paul—found, of course, in the Holy Bible—lead us deeper into the mystery of the Christian Faith.  St. Paul’s words don’t contradict Jesus’ command to call no man on earth your father:  St. Paul’s words deepen the revelation of Jesus.  Christian fathers, whether in the home or in the sanctuary, whether through the Sacrament of Marriage or through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, are called to say—by their example if not by their words—what St. Paul proclaims here:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”  Christian fathers are called to lead their children each day and each week deeper into the life of Christ.

St. Paul Baptizes His Jailer [Acts 16:29-34]
Stained Glass Window in St Paul’s Church in Jericho, Oxford
Photographed by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 22:34-40

“The whole law and the prophets depends on these two commandments.”

When we were little we were expected to memorize the basic truths of our Faith.  At the top of the list were the Ten Commandments, which are difficult for a child to memorize.  Today’s Gospel passage offers a clue to help us to remember—or to teach—the Ten Commandments more easily.

If not pointed out, we may never have noticed that in many pictures of Moses bringing down the two tablets from Mt. Sinai, the Ten Commandments are not divided five and five.  Rather, the first tablet has the first three commandments, and the other tablet the remaining seven.  This illustrates Jesus’ teaching today:  that there are, in fact, simply “two commandments”.

On the Cross most especially, in His very Person, Jesus embodies the unity of these “two commandments”.  True God and true man, Jesus’ teaching today merely foreshadows what He teaches us on Calvary.  Some people teach a piety that promotes complete devotion to God, but ignores or even disdains the corrupted human race.  Others teach an ethic that promotes an apotheosis of human nature, but disdains or even altogether denies God.  But neither of God’s “two commandments” can stand or be understood thoroughly without the other.  Jesus reveals the meaning of each of these commandments in His divine Person, and in His Self-sacrifice on Calvary.

Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1860) Digital restoration: gldburger

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 22:1-14

“Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

What are we to make of the violence in this parable?  The violence flies in two directions.  The second is on the part of the king, who acts in retribution.  Jesus issues a warning to us here that His Father is not just some sort of teddy bear, but rather a Just Judge.  On a practical level, though, the first form of violence is more important for us to reflect on, for it challenges our own way of acting.

First, some who are invited to the feast carry out violence.  Some invited guests simply refuse to come:  “Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.”  But the rest of those invited killed the messengers!  Who are these invited guests, and who are the messengers?

In terms of the first century, when Jesus walked the earth, these invited guests symbolize those to whom Jesus was originally speaking.  The evangelist tells us that these are “the chief priests and elders of the people”.  But the evangelist recorded this parable in his Gospel account because it has perennial meaning.  This parable has been proclaimed in churches in every century since Jesus walked the earth.  The parable’s invited guests symbolize all of mankind who have heard God’s desire that “all peoples” and “all nations” enter into the wedding feast of Heaven.  We need, for our own sake, to understand the parable’s invited guests as ourselves:  you and I!

If we remember not only that God is inviting us into Heaven, but that confessing our sins to the Lamb who was slain is the ticket into the banquet, then we can more easily identify with the ungrateful invited guests.  “Some ignored the invitation and went away, one to his farm, another to his business.”  These persons have no need for either the ticket or the feast.  They have their own lives, and they are their own masters.

But then there are the others who had been invited.  They “laid hold of [the king’s] servants, mistreated them, and killed them.”  This violence forces the question:  who are these servants, and how can we understand the violence done to them?  Those who bring the Lord’s invitation to conversion may be other persons:  for example, a spouse, a parent, a priest, an employer, a neighbor, a grandparent, or a friend.  Unfortunately, we want spouses who only compliment us, priests who tickle our ears from the pulpit, and friends who will tell us about the faults of others, rather than about our own.

OT 20-4

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 20:1-16

“…the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Jesus’ parable teaches us who we are to live for, and how we may serve them.

This parable, of course, is not about economics, but about merciful love.  When the landowner rhetorically asks, “am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?”, we understand that Jesus is, so to speak, putting words in the mouth of God the Father.  When faced with us human sinners, God the Father asks, “am I not free to do as I wish with my own merciful love?”

You and I gripe and complain like the laborers in this parable.  We cannot understand why others should receive blessings when they don’t deserve them.  We notice, in fact, not only that “the Lord makes His sun to shine on the evil and the good.”   God actually shows mercy to those who do not deserve it.  This gets to us because it seems unjust.

When we find ourselves torn between what seems just and what God chooses to offer to sinners, we need to reflect again on the answer that the Father gave us when He sent His eternal Son to become flesh and blood, so as to offer that flesh and blood on Calvary and through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Praying while gazing at a crucifix can help us reflect on the Cross as binding together the love of God and the love of neighbor.  In the light of this Cross, God asks us to prefer His form of mercy to our own sense of justice.

OT 20-3

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Isaiah 66:18-21  +  Hebrews 12:5-7,11-13  +  Luke 13:22-30
Catechism Link: CCC 2709
August 21, 2022

Endure your trials as “discipline”; God treats you as sons.

In today’s Second Reading, Saint Paul speaks about the “trials” involved in spiritual discipline.  He also refers to discipline as training.  Writing to the Hebrew Christians, he explains:  “At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

The verb “train”, like the verb “try”, is simple and not very exciting.  To train for a new job at work, or for a new position on the team, or for the role of altar server at Holy Mass, is very simple.  In fact, it’s pretty routine.  But routine is at the heart of success.  Trial runs are trials of a sort, even if not exactly the type of trial that St. Paul is writing about in the Second Reading.

Football players get tired and maybe even bored with running the same plays over and over and over again.  Why do the same plays have to be run so many times?  Most adults know the answer to that question from the experiences of life.  Unfortunately, many won’t admit that the principles of discipline—that is, the connection between trial, training, and success—have any connection to the life of Christian prayer.

What role does discipline have in the experiences of Christian prayer?  Discipline is needed in all three stages of prayer.  First, there are the prayers that are spoken, like the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours.  Second is the prayer called meditation, where one reflects on some mystery of the Faith or some truth about God.

Finally, there is the prayer which leads to communion with God Himself:  what the Church calls contemplation.  Within all three of these forms of prayer, discipline is needed.

Yet some people believe that contemplation does not demand discipline.  They think of contemplation being as simple as going outside on a sunny day and soaking in the rays of the sun.  Prayer for them is simply basking in the warmth of God’s love.  The obvious problem with this analogy is that there are these things called clouds in the sky.

So also are there clouds in the life of prayer.  In fact, at times there are also thunderclouds, lightning, and hail.  This is true even in the prayer lives of the saints.  The best guides in this regard are St. Teresa of Jesus (also known as St. Teresa of Avila) and St. John of the Cross.

But apart from the inclement weather of prayer, even more difficult to accept for those who want their prayer life to be sunny and 72° seven days a week is the fact of God’s silence.  Why does God sometimes respond to our efforts at prayer with silence:  that is, by offering us no response whatsoever?

In her book titled The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila speaks about the “interior and exterior trials” that God sets between Himself and the faithful Christian, and which call for disciplined commitment to prayer.  She describes the exterior trials of gossip, persecution, and “the severest illnesses”.  At greater length she describes interior trials.  Within one of these interior trials, she explains:  “The Lord, it seems, gives the devil [freedom] so that the soul might be tried and even be made to think it is rejected by God.”  Regarding such trials, St. Teresa admits that “there is no remedy in this tempest but to wait for the mercy of God.”

As she describes this discipline of waiting for the mercy of God, St. Teresa notes that “at an unexpected time, with one word alone or a chance happening, [God] so quickly calms the storm that it seems there had not been even as much as a cloud in that soul ….  And like one who has escaped from a dangerous battle and been victorious, it comes out praising our Lord; for it was He who fought for the victory. … Thus, it knows clearly its wretchedness and the very little we of ourselves can do if the Lord abandons us.”

In human endeavors—whether reciting multiplication tables, running passing plays, or hitting a high note on the trumpet—discipline leads us to become smarter, stronger, and more skilled.  But in the life of Christian prayer, discipline teaches us how to rely not chiefly on ourselves and our talents, but on God and His mercy.

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Matthew 19:23-30

“What will there be for us?”

Peter often comes across as a less than stellar candidate for the college of apostles, much less the leader of the apostles.  Consider that after Jesus has declared that salvation is impossible for man to accomplish, but that “for God all things are possible”, what does Peter reply?  He replies, “We have given up everything and followed you.  What will there be for us?”  Obviously Peter is not embarrassed by his self-interest.  We might admire his honesty in expressing himself, even if he himself isn’t so admirable on this occasion.  Can you imagine a brand new postulant arriving at the convent and asking where she can find the hot tub and coffee bar?

But Jesus answers Peter’s question with a forbearance that might leave us scratching our heads.  Perhaps we need to reflect on whether, and how, Jesus is acting pedagogically here.  Jesus offers Peter an impressive response, assuring us that great gifts are in store in Heaven for those who are saved by God.

But this begs the question:  how does God save us?  For man it is impossible to save himself, but for God it is possible to save man.  But how does God save man?  This question seems to pass over Peter’s head, and perhaps at times over ours as well.  The answer, simply, is the Way of the Cross.  Peter in time will walk there.  God invites you to do so today.

OT 20-2