The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Wisdom 1:13-15;2:23-24  +  2 Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15  +  Mark 5:21-43
June 27, 2021

For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of His own nature He made him.

Both the little girl who was healed in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading, as well as her loved ones, likely had a question on their minds after Jesus worked the miracle:  “Who is this man?”

This is the question that our lives revolve around if Christ is at the center of our lives.  “Who is this man?”  Every Gospel passage during the Sundays of Ordinary Time looks at this Jesus from a different perspective.  It’s like turning a diamond in your hand as you hold it up to the light and gaze upon one facet after another.  Each is beautiful.  Each is brilliant.  Each shines.  Each Gospel passage shows us one more reason to give thanks for being able to know and love this divine person named Jesus.

But St. Paul in today’s Second Reading insists that this Jesus is not to be known and loved as if He were on a pedestal that we small, tiny human beings cannot reach.  Jesus is not to be worshipped from afar.  If that were what God wanted, this Second Person of the Trinity—God the Son—would have remained always in Heaven, far above us poor sinners.

We do worship Jesus Christ because He is the only-begotten Son of God, Light from Light, True God from True God.  But we worship Him also as our personal Redeemer, who for us men and our salvation came down from Heaven so that we could worship God up close.  “Who is this man?”  He is true man, but also True God.  He reigns eternally as God in Heaven, but He also enters into human misery, suffering, and death through His human nature.  That tension between Jesus’ divine nature and His human nature is what makes this such a mysterious question:  “Who is Jesus?”

This is what St. Paul is trying to get across to us, proclaiming:  “… you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ:  that though He was rich, for your sake He became poor, so that by His poverty you might become rich.”  Saint Paul is not talking about material wealth, of course.  He’s talking about spiritual wealth:  in other words, the grace that is a share in divine life.

But Jesus offers us the wealth of divine life only through the Cross:  through His poverty, by abandoning His life completely to the Will of God the Father.  However, although this selflessness reveals a beautiful picture of Jesus, at this point we as Catholics have an important step to take.

Jesus is not just someone for us to admire.  We are asked to share directly in the sacred mysteries of His life.  We are not just to imitate Jesus, as we imitate our childhood heroes.  There’s no way that any of us can imitate Jesus’ selflessness through our own efforts alone.  We can only be as selfless as Jesus if we truly and directly share His life:  if we live our lives in His life, by means of His abiding within us.

How does Jesus abide within the faithful disciple?  Today’s First Reading reminds us that “God formed man to be imperishable; the image of His own nature He made him.”  God designed man—male and female He designed them—to live forever (“imperishably”) in His image.

Yet what exactly is this divine image in which man is created, and through which he abides in God and God in him?  One answer given by Doctors of the Church is that the creation of man in the divine Image involves three aspects:  two faculties and one end.

Man’s intellect and will reflect the divine image.  By these two faculties, man can transcend his animal instincts and drives, and his environment.  Man can transcend his very self, opening his life to both human others and the “Other” who is God.  Yet men like Hitler and Nietzsche show that great intellect and great will power can end in murder, suicide and insanity.  The faculties of intellect and will must be oriented towards love, and must be oriented by love.  After all, the Beloved Disciple writes in his first New Testament letter, “God is love” [1 John 4:8 and 4:16].  This orientation takes shape through self-sacrifice:  the poverty that God the Son embraced out of love for each of us atop Calvary on Good Friday.

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Vigil Readings:
Jeremiah 1:4-10  +  1 Peter 1:8-12  +  Luke 1:5-17
Readings of the Day:
Isaiah 49:1-6  +  Acts 13:22-26  +  Luke 1:57-66,80
June 24, 2021

   For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.   

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is so important a feast that there are two full sets of Scripture readings for Holy Mass.  One set is proclaimed at Vigil Masses on the evening before the feast day, unless June 24th is a Monday, in which case the Vigil is impeded by the celebration of Sunday Mass.  The second set of Scripture readings is proclaimed on the feast day itself.  Yet regardless of whether you attend Mass on the evening before or the day of June 24th, the Gospel passage that you hear will be taken from the first chapter of St. Luke’s account of the Gospel.

The Vigil’s Gospel passage comes from the beginning of Luke 1.  The Gospel passage for the feast day itself comes from the end of the chapter.  These two passages bookend the story of St. John’s birth.  As with the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ birth, the child to be born is the focus, but not the central actor.  In the Gospel passages for today’s feast, the central actor is John’s father, Zechariah.  St. Luke the Evangelist here contrasts Zechariah with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Zechariah was an elderly husband, yet without children.  Mary was a young betrothed virgin.  Saint Gabriel appears to each of them separately, and tells each not to be afraid.  The archangel announces to each that a son is to be born.  Yet their responses differ profoundly.

The man persists in unbelief, while the woman believes.  Mary’s final word in response to St. Gabriel’s announcement is “Fiat”“Let it be done unto me according to your word” [Luke 1:38].  In response to Zechariah’s unbelief, St. Gabriel declares in a verse not long after the end of the Gospel passage for the Vigil Mass:  “behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass” [Lk 1:20].  That “day” is narrated in the Gospel passage for Sunday.

Saint Augustine in Sunday’s Office of Readings explains that “the silence of Zechariah is nothing but the age of prophecy lying hidden, obscured, as it were, and concealed before the preaching of Christ.”  Later in the same sermon, St. Augustine expounds the distinction between Jesus and His cousin:  “The voice is John, but the Lord ‘in the beginning was the Word.’  John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.”

But if the voice must decrease, so that the Word may increase, what can be said of Zechariah?  He is not even a voice, but silence:  the silence in which the Voice is conceived, and a silence which you as a sinner must enter.

The silence illustrated by Zechariah is born of unbelief.  Every sinner is called into this silence.  Most of our fallen world is a modern Babel.  We are unfaithful to God’s Word, because we cannot hear it for the cacophony of the modern world.  We are among those of whom the Beloved Disciple writes in the prologue to his Gospel account:  “the Word came to His own, and His own people received Him not” [John 1:11].

Because it’s always so in this valley of tears, God calls fallen man into silence so that there we might recognize our sins, and hear and heed God’s Word.  The silence of Zechariah is what St. John of the Cross writes about:  “What we need most in order to make [spiritual] progress is to be silent before this great God, with our appetites and our tongue.”

This silence is a means to man’s true end.  This is the end for which God created man “in the beginning”:  to share in the divine life of the Trinity in a holy and eternal silence.  About this final silence, the end of all we are and do as disciples of the Word made Flesh, St. John of the Cross also speaks:  “the Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul.”

St. John the Baptist was born so that the Old Testament might die.  Yet such a death was meant all along in God’s Providence to be fulfilled by a new life, like the grain of wheat that dies in order to bear much fruit.  St. John the Baptist was born to preach the message of repentance:  the need to accept ourselves as sinner, and the need to accept Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins and those of the whole world.

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Genesis 15:1-12,17-18  +  Matthew 7:15-20
June 23, 2021

   “By their fruits you will know them.”   

Twice in today’s Gospel passage Jesus uses this phrase:  “By their fruits you will know them.”  Jesus is speaking here about “bad fruit”, by which one can know false prophets.

In our own day, part of the scandal that members of the Church—laity and clergy alike—face is that considerable “bad fruit” has been borne by bishops and priests of the Church that Jesus founded.  How can one reconcile that such men who are validly ordained seem by their fruits to be false prophets?

Without taking away from any of the harsh reality that Jesus is describing in today’s Gospel passage, we’re mindful to read each passage in the context of the entire Gospel.  We’re mindful of Jesus’ Parable of the Barren Fig Tree [Luke 13:6-9], where the gardener (a symbol of our Savior) makes this plea:  “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.”  These words give hope for reformation in the lives of those who have been truly called by God to service in His Church, but who have truly failed to bear fruit.  The Truth who is Christ can bring redemption to all, just as He will bring just judgment to all.

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Genesis 13:2,5-18  +  Matthew 7:6,12-14 
June 22, 2021

“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.”

Coming to the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, today we hear Him offer several brief proverbs.  It would be difficult to thread them all with a common theme.  We could take any one of them and, brief as it is, commit it to memory and recite it throughout this day for reflection.

Of these proverbs, the second is best known.  The “Golden Rule” is taught to children early in life.  Of course it demands an ability to step back from a situation and reflect on it from outside.  This is difficult if someone is used to acting impulsively, without reflection.

Perhaps today, though, we could reflect on the Golden Rule in a different light.  Reflect on the Golden Rule as Jesus lived it; or rather, as He died by it.  Reflect on the Golden Rule in the light of the crucifix.  What Jesus did to you (or rather, for you) on the Cross is what Jesus would have you do for Him.  This is what He calls you to, in fact, as a member of His Church:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” [Matthew 16:24].

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious
Genesis 12:1-9  +  Matthew 7:1-5
June 21, 2021

“The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you.”

Pondering the mystery of Christ, we find that God calls us to imitate Christ in our moral lives along the same line that we accept Christ:  first, in humble faith; then, with a burning desire to extend God’s love to those beyond our immediate reach.  Thus in the Ten Commandments we are called to serve both God and neighbor.

The first three command us to love God completely, above all others; the last seven command us to serve our neighbor as we love God.  Yet growth in the spiritual life is measured by the extent that we see the first three as intertwined with the latter seven.  We are called to love our neighbor as we love God.  Better yet, we are called to love our neighbor as God loves us.

In today’s Gospel passage we hear Jesus commanding us to forgive our neighbor.  “The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you.”  We should be mindful that our sins, as infinite offenses against Almighty God, will not permit us finally to enter into His Presence unless we are shown infinite mercy by Almighty God.  So we ourselves must forgive others if we ourselves hope to live in God’s sight.

Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]
2 Corinthians 12:1-10  +  Matthew 6:24-34
June 19, 2021

“You cannot serve God and mammon.”

These famous words from Jesus mark a clear divide between Heaven and earth, and between the spiritual and the material.  But to consider these words of Jesus seriously, we need first to address an underlying assumption.

The culture that surrounds modern persons in the West presumes that each person is his or her own boss.  Modern Western culture teaches children from an early age that they are not meant to serve anyone or anything.  In fact, both God and mammon serve me and my needs!

However, while the modern person may believe such ideas, so strongly reinforced as they are by modern culture, Jesus is offering a caution.  In fact, most of today’s Gospel passage is about the dangers of believing that mammon can serve oneself.

What begins in one’s mind as the idea of mammon serving oneself eventually ends in the servitude of the self to mammon.  The slave that mammon is thought to be becomes the master of the self.  This is the crippling servitude that Jesus is diagnosing, so to speak, through the examples He offers in this passage.

That we might live authentically, Jesus invites us to enter into a relationship with God as our Lord and Master.  This relationship of serving God is radically different than that in which one ends up serving mammon.  In the relationship that Jesus invites us to, through serving God, we become His “friends” [see John 15:15] and His “beloved children” [Ephesians 5:1].

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Friday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]
2 Corinthians 11:18,21-30  +  Matthew 6:19-23
June 18, 2021

   “… where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”   

Today’s Gospel passage from the Sermon on the Mount seems to have two distinct sections.  Nevertheless, a connection suggests itself.  The first section concerns wealth of different types.  The second concerns the human eye and light.  So what does human vision have to do with human wealth?

In the first part of today’s Gospel passage we hear one of the more famous of Jesus’ sayings:  “where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”  The truth of this saying is so plain that it would surely be recognized by persons of all types of religious faith (or even by those with little or no faith).  It’s not strictly a religious saying, even though it’s spoken by the Son of God.  It’s a saying about human nature.  The medieval principle puts it somewhat differently:  “grace builds upon nature.”  God wishes for our sake that He be our treasure, but we are free to choose something merely human to serve as our treasure (or rather, as it turns out, for us to serve).

Whatever we choose as the treasure of our life, there will our heart gravitate.  There will we spend the energies of our heart, mind and soul.  But how does one go about choosing one’s treasure?  This is where the second half of today’s Gospel passage comes into play.

How does someone choose his treasure?  Is this process of choosing purely random and spontaneous?  Or does it come about by virtue of where we train the gaze of our soul?  Part of Christian realism is believing that knowledge comes through the human senses.  What we choose to look at has a profound influence on whether we choose something earthly as the treasure we will serve, or whether we choose God’s self-sacrifice of Jesus in the Eucharist as our treasure.  Spend at least five minutes today, then, looking at a crucifix and reflecting upon Jesus’ self-gift as given specifically for you.

The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Job 38:1,8-11   +   2 Corinthians 5:14-17   +   Mark 4:35-41
June 20, 2021

“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

In this Sunday’s Gospel Reading, it’s asked about Jesus, “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”  Yet those who ask this are not strangers.  They were disciples:  people who were close to Jesus, and to whom Jesus had dedicated a lot of His time.  It’s because of Jesus’ dedication that their question seems strange.  Shouldn’t they know better?  Shouldn’t they have some idea that Jesus is more than just a teacher?

In this, these disciples are you and me.  In their ignorance of who Jesus really is, we can see a likeness of ourselves.  This is one of the sources of so much trouble, agitation and discord in our own lives.  The problem isn’t with Jesus.  The problem is with us.  These disciples ask, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Strike one, and strike two.  These disciples make two mistakes here.  Not only are they mistaken in thinking that Jesus is nothing more than a teacher.  In fact, that’s the lesser of their two mistakes.  The worse mistake is what they accuse Jesus of when they ask, “Don’t you care that we are perishing?”

Do you ever say something like this when you pray to God?  Do you ever say to Him, “Don’t You care?”  “Why aren’t You doing something?”  “Don’t You see what’s happening in my life?”

Of course, all of these questions really boil down to the same question:  “Don’t You love me, God?”

What naturally follows is our saying to God, “If You did love me, You never would have allowed things to get this bad in my life.”  Or in other words, we might pray:  “I can’t do anything about this mess, but You surely can.  Since You’re choosing not to help me, You must not love me.”

For the disciples in the boat as they are tossed and pitched about, the same dynamic is at work.  They need to answer these two questions:  “Who am I?” and “Who is God?”  Yet the first question has to be answered first before seeking an answer to the second.

The same dynamic is at work as you are pitched and tossed about in the storm that we call “life”.  In our prayers, we wonder and we ask whether God cares for us.  As we ask this question about God’s love, we in turn wonder who we are, and whether our own lives have meaning.  After all, if God does not love me, what hope—what future—does my life have?

There is only hope—there is only a future for us—if our lives are rooted in Christ.  The answer to the question of the storm-tossed disciples is given by Saint Paul in the Second Reading.  The answer to the questions of our daily lives is given to us by Saint Paul.

As he reflects, looking back in time many decades after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension, Saint Paul could see what the storm-tossed disciples could not.  Saint Paul proclaims in the Second Reading:  “… even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer.  So whoever is in Christ is a new creation:  the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”

The storm-tossed disciples saw only a Teacher.  They could not see a Savior.  They only knew Christ according to the flesh:  that is, with earthly eyes.  They did not see Christ with eyes of faith.

Nor did they look at their own lives with eyes of faith.  If they had, they would have seen more than just storm-tossed, weary, frightened people.  They would have seen themselves as people loved by God:  people loved by a God who protects His beloved from anything that can truly harm them.

In fact, there is a third strike made by the storm-tossed disciples when they cry out, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”  The third strike is thinking that they are perishing.

If the Lord is with you, you will not perish, for the Lord is life.  If you live your life in Christ, there is nothing you cannot endure.  Christ has not made us for this world.  He’s made us for a life that journeys through this world, drawing others into the peace of God’s presence even in the middle of storms.

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]
2 Corinthians 11:1-11  +  Matthew 6:7-15
June 17, 2021

   “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”   

Putting the Gospel passages from recent weekday Masses in context, we see the theme of God the Father emerge.  These passages come from the Sermon on the Mount.  Two days ago the Church proclaimed the last section of Matthew 5, the last phrase of which is Jesus’ command to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Yesterday’s Gospel passage concerned the performance of “righteous deeds”, for which God the “Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

In today’s Gospel passage this theme comes to a head with Jesus teaching His Church to pray the “Our Father”.  This is the only “recited prayer” (or as this type is sometimes called, “vocal prayer”) that Jesus gave to the Church.

Many saints have commented on the “Our Father” by pointing out that Jesus had no need to teach any other prayer, because this prayer contains all that one might need or want to say to the Father.  Of course, other prayers are commended to us by the Church because they expand upon the phrases of the “Our Father”.  We who are slow and weak to believe use other vocal prayers, but those that are authentic lead us to the embrace of God the Father.