Thursday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ecclesiastes 1:2-11   +   Luke 9:7-9
September 22, 2022

Nothing is new under the sun.

In our First Reading today, we continue to hear from the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament.  But we are not still hearing from the Book of Proverbs.  We hear today through Saturday from the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes is probably best known for its opening verses, from the very first chapter, from which we have heard today.  The writer of this book, who is named Qoheleth, is talking about the uselessness, or vanity, of things in this world.  We hear:  “Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities!  All things are vanity!”  We might wonder why God would want a book like this in the Bible.

This book is not Manichaean in nature.  That is, it’s not arguing that life itself, or creation in general, is evil.  We can profitably focus upon this book by focusing upon the meaning of the word “vanity”.  Not all vanity comes from looking in a mirror.

Here is the question that all seven books of the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament concerns themselves with:  which things can help us get to Heaven, and which things cannot?  The things in this world that cannot help us get to Heaven are vain:  they are vanities.  They may have some meaning and value, but in the end, that meaning or value is going to pass away.  The more we hold on to them, the more of our own self that will pass away.

St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist

St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist
Ephesians 4:1-7,11-13  +  Matthew 9:9-13
September 21, 2022

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Among the four evangelists, only Matthew and John were apostles.  Mark and Luke did not, as far as we know, ever meet Jesus during His earthly life.  Nonetheless, Mark and Luke were disciples of Peter and Paul, respectively, and from those two Mark and Luke received the apostolic witness to the Good News.

On this feast of St. Matthew, we also ought to keep in mind that while all four accounts of the Gospel are apostolic in origin, each presents a unique portrait of the Messiah.  If a man has four very close friends during his life, then after his death each of those four would likely write a different biography of their common friend.  Each account of his life would reflect the biographer’s interactions with him.

Today’s Gospel passage presents Matthew’s own account of how Jesus called him to serve.  Matthew is strikingly honest about his sinfulness.  In light of his own need for mercy, Matthew presents Jesus’s own vocation through the words that the Lord speaks at the end of today’s Gospel passage:  “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  God the Father called His divine Son to carry out this mission, and that Son extends here to Matthew a share in that mission.

The First Reading might seem fitting today because of St. Paul describing various roles within the Body of Christ, such as apostle and evangelist, both of which Matthew was.  However, consider the beginning of this passage, where Paul describes the Christian’s need for humility and patience, so as to bear “with one another through love”.  These words echo Matthew’s description of how Jesus called himself.

The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Amos 6:1,4-7  +  1 Timothy 6:11-16  +  Luke 16:19-31
Catechism Link: CCC 2831
September 25, 2022

“When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.”

As we listen to the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, if we only focus upon the two title characters, we miss something important.  We miss the Rich Man’s five brothers.  Turn your attention to these five brothers, and—just for a moment—away from the mercy for which Lazarus and the Rich Man beg.

We know very little about these five brothers.  We could presume that these five are like their brother in wearing fine clothing and dining sumptuously.  But we’re not told that outright.  The only details that we hear are that they’re still on earth, and that they need to repent.  Their brother in the netherworld tells us these two facts.

We see, then, that these five brothers represent us.  When Jesus first preached this parable, He was speaking to the Pharisees.  Jesus meant for the Pharisees to see themselves in those five brothers.  Yet like the Pharisees, you and I need to repent, and still have time on earth to do so.

The Rich Man failed to care for Lazarus while they lived on earth.  Jesus makes clear through this parable that both those in real need—such as Lazarus—and those who neglect the needy—such as the Rich Man—meet with God’s justice after death.  Lazarus is “carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham”, while the Rich Man in “the netherworld [is] in torment”.

Here we see how Jesus’ parable drives our focus towards the Rich Man’s five brothers still on earth.  It’s commendable that the Rich Man while in eternal torment would have such a selfless thought:  not wanting his brothers to end up like him.  Nonetheless, Jesus’ point is not the Rich Man’s selflessness after death, but the pointlessness of the Rich Man’s good intention.  The five brothers already have “Moses and the prophets”.  They have what they need to direct their lives towards Heaven, but their lives are still empty, because they don’t recognize their need to give.

God has built into your heart—into your “spiritual DNA”, if you will—this need to give.  This need to give lay dormant in the heart of the Rich Man in Jesus’ parable.  The need to give pulsed in his heart as he dressed finely and dined sumptuously each day.  This need to give is just as real as your need for healthful food, your need for clothing and shelter, and your need for rest.

The difficulty in the Rich Man’s life is that he allowed his needs to be shaped by his wants.  The Rich Man had an authentic need for food and drink, just as you and I, and Jesus and Mary and the saints, and every human being has.  This need is built into us by God in order to serve the physical needs of our bodies, so that through healthy bodies, we as persons can serve the needs of others.  This need is not there in order to be tickled by the tasty and the tempting.

The need for food and drink is very simple.  But we often change it into something that God did not design it to be.  That’s not to say that there’s something wrong with—for example—Thanksgiving dinners, or a dinner celebrating a wedding or a First Holy Communion.  But there is something wrong when one dines “sumptuously each day”:  when the tasty and tempting are one’s “daily bread”.

When we are complacent like the persons that Amos is preaching against in the First Reading—when we allow our needs to be shaped by our wants—we become tired and weak.  If we are weak and tired then it’s not possible to fill the bill that Saint Paul describes in the Second Reading.  St. Paul is preaching to his disciple Timothy when he encourages Timothy to live for God and neighbor, and not for himself.

What Paul is saying today to Timothy in our Second Reading, God says to you each day:  “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.  Compete well for the faith.”  Likewise, just as Moses, the prophets, and even a dead man rising to life again could not help the Rich Man’s brothers until they recognized their need to give, so all the gifts in our lives cannot help us reach Heaven until we recognize our need to give them away.

Sts. Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest & Paul Chŏng Ha-sang and Comp., Martyrs

Sts. Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Comp., Martyrs
Proverbs 21:1-6,10-13   +   Luke 8:19-21
September 20, 2022

“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

Today’s First Reading is from the Book of Proverbs.  A “proverb” is a very short saying—often only one sentence long—that reveals some little bit of wisdom.  Almost every culture in the world, and throughout time, has its own proverbs.  In our own country, one of the Founding Fathers—Benjamin Franklin—spent a lot of his time creating proverbs for the first Americans to reflect on:  such as, “A stitch in time saves nine”, or “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  These proverbs, if we reflect on them, can help us be smarter in the way that we lead our lives in this world.

The proverbs that we hear in the Bible, though, come from God.  These proverbs are not just about helping us lead a better life in this world:  the Book of Proverbs also helps us get to the world to come, which is Heaven.

The proverbs of the Bible are bite-sized.  When we hear from the Book of Proverbs at Mass, we’re hearing a whole bunch of proverbs at once.  The simplest way to gain spiritual profit from the Book of Proverbs is to take just one proverb—usually just one sentence—and repeat it, over and over, in our heart, mind and soul.

Today, we might take the very last sentence of today’s First Reading:  “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor  /  will himself also call and not be heard.”  What does this mean?  Is this proverb talking about you?  Who are the poor in my midst, and what can I do to help them?

We should turn this proverb over in our soul, keeping in mind the words of the Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel passage:  “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

Monday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Proverbs 3:27-34   +   Luke 8:16-18
September 19, 2022

“Take care, then, how you hear.”

Today the First Reading at weekday Mass begins to come from the Book of Proverbs.  As proverbs tend to be pithy, their nature resembles that of Jesus’ parables.  Hearing the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage, we can imagine that He is speaking to us when He says:  “Take care, then, how you hear.  To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away.”

Surely Jesus isn’t talking about money or possessions?  Jesus is talking about our spiritual life, and the grace inside of us:  “To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away.”

Now who is it who would take away grace from our souls?  It’s not God.  It’s ourselves.  We drain ourselves of grace—so to speak—each and every time that we sin.

Here we can turn to the Book of Proverbs for an example.  Even though at Mass we hear from a whole section of verses put together, the Book of Proverbs is actually made up of proverbs that are often only one verse long.  These proverbs are meant to be taken just one at a time, for our reflection and prayer:  maybe at night, as we’re getting ready for sleep.

For example, in the Book of Proverbs today we hear:  “Quarrel not with a man without cause,  /  with one who has done you no harm.”  When we don’t follow these words, we sin, and we lose God’s life—His grace—because we have not followed His Word.  If there is such a person with whom we’ve quarreled, today is the day to ask that person for forgiveness, and to pray for that person and his spiritual growth, with the same care and concern that you have for your own spiritual growth.

Saturday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the 24th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
1 Corinthians 15:35-37,42-49  +  Luke 8:4-15
September 17, 2022

“This is the meaning of the parable.”

The parable Jesus preaches to us today is well-known.  Its meaning is clear because Jesus Himself explains the parable:  something He rarely does.  Given this explanation, we might apply the parable to ourselves as an examination of conscience.  While Jesus describes the different elements of the parable as relating to different groups of persons, one can reflect on these elements as relating to oneself at different times in one’s life.

“The seed is the Word of God”, that is, God the Son, as St. John tells us in the prologue to his Gospel account.  Our lives as disciples are all about allowing this seed to sink into our souls:  allowing God the Son entrance into our hearts and minds, so that He might bear good fruit within us.

When are we “on the path”?  When are we so shallow in giving our attention to Jesus that the devil snatches Him from our lives?  When are we “on rocky ground”?  When do we allow temptation to have the upper hand over Christ?  When are we “among thorns”, allowing our worldly concerns to choke off both God the Son and the graces He wills to bring into our lives?  During the offering of the Holy Eucharist, ask the Word made Flesh to help you till the field of your life so that it might be “rich soil”.

Sts. Cornelius, Pope, & Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs

Sts. Cornelius, Pope, & Cyprian, Bishop, Martyrs
1 Corinthians 15:12-20  +  Luke 8:1-3
September 16, 2022

Jesus journeyed from one town and village to another ….

Today’s Gospel passage doesn’t seem much like a passage!  There’s no narrative to speak of, but mostly a description of Jesus’ entourage as He journeys while preaching.  How is such a “cast of characters” meant to tell us something as it’s preached from the pulpit on this weekday in Ordinary Time?

Perhaps we might relate this cast to what in the Creed we profess as the “communion of saints”.  In Heaven this cast of thousands adores God perpetually, gathered together in voice to worship the Lamb who was slain for our salvation.  But on earth, during our pilgrimage, while we do pause occasionally for worship, we also have many practical matters to attend to.  On earth, while we’re journeying to where we can enjoy “the better part” alone, we have to attend like Martha to many simple needs.

Jesus, as He’s described in today’s Gospel passage, is surrounded by three types of persons.  There are the Twelve apostles, those who had been cured by Jesus, and those who provided for the crowd.  We might reflect on this assembly as the first parish, although journeying from one town and village to another!

Our Lady of Sorrows

Our Lady of Sorrows
1 Corinthians 15:1-11  +  John 19:25-27 [or Luke 2:33-35]
September 15, 2022

“Woman, behold, your son.”

All our joys, all our sorrows, all our glory is only found in Christ:  that is to say, because we are members of Christ’s Body.  It is not true that you have your cross, and I have mine.  We all bear together—as individual members of Christ’s Body—the Cross of Jesus.  We all share in carrying His Cross.

Humanly speaking, sorrows tend to divide people more than joy or glory.  Loneliness and isolation are keenly felt by those who suffer.  Only in Christian faith can we find meaning even in the midst of suffering, because only God—who created everything out of nothing—can create good out of evil.

By approaching the Cross, we find Our Mother of Sorrows standing at its foot.  When we approach the Cross to take it up each day, she is there.  She remains there—at the heart of our Christian faith—to show us with a mother’s love that suffering cannot tear us from each other.

Our Lord Jesus taught us to pray the “Our Father”.  Jesus was not only teaching us that we have a Father in Heaven, because as a consequence of that truth, it’s also true that we are all brothers and sisters.  So then, it’s also true that Mary is the Mother of all of us.  We ask Our Lady of Sorrows, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, to pray for us in all things.  Through her intercession, she helps us know that no matter what we face in life, her Son is there with us, showing us how to walk the only Way that leads to Heaven.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Numbers 21:4-9  +  Philippians 2:6-11  +  John 3:13-17
September 14, 2022

… He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

We know that silence can be deafening.  Sometimes silence is very embarrassing, as when a teacher asks a question about something that’s been studied for weeks, and no one knows the answer.

On the other hand, silence can be a very good thing.  It is in silence that the highest kind of prayer happens.  St. John of the Cross is supposed to have said that silence is God’s native language.  Regardless, there are many different ways to pray.  One of the first ways that we learn is prayers that others teach us, like the “Our Father”, the “Hail Mary” and the “Glory Be”.  Prayers like these let us pray together as a group, so that we’re praying the same thing at the same time.

Other times, though, we pray on our own, and so we make up our own words in prayer.  In this kind of prayer—which is like a conversation with God—we can say anything we want.  We don’t have to remember the right words to pray.  We just pray from our heart, and offer to God whatever is most on our mind.

But there’s another part of prayer that sometimes gets overlooked.  That is silence.  Actually, in our prayer, most of our time should be spent listening rather than speaking.  As the saying goes, this is why God gave each of us two ears, but only one mouth:  we are to listen twice as much as we talk.  This is as true of prayer as it of conversations with our fellow human beings.

It is in our silence—in listening to God—that our deepest prayer can take place.  This makes sense, if we think of it, because after all, isn’t what God wants to say to us probably more important than what we want to say to Him?

Humility is one of the virtues, and silence is one form of humility.  That’s why it’s often difficult to quiet ourselves down.  When we’re forced to be silent, we usually want to talk instead.

Even though we have lots of opportunity to grow in humility, as human beings our greatest call to be humble is when we face death:  the deaths of others whom we love, but eventually, our own death.  This is where Christ reveals to us God’s love.  This is what we celebrate today, on the Feast of the Triumph (or Exaltation) of the Holy Cross.

Picture in your mind the scene at Calvary.  Saint John was the only apostle who stood at the foot of the Cross in silence, and it was into his care that Christ, the only child of Mary, entrusted His Blessed Mother.  In turn, Christ entrusted John to the care of Mary.  In these words we hear the only teaching that is possible from the Cross:  that we must entrust ourselves to each other’s care, bound to each other by Our Father’s love.

Triumph of the Cross

Christ Surrounded by Musician Angels [central panel], Altarpiece of Santa Maria la Real de Nájera, by Hans Memling