The 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Prv 9:1-6  +  Eph 5:15-20  +  Jn 6:51-58
August 19, 2018

“For my Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink.”

The Church this Sunday, continuing the proclamation of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse, sets before us four Scripture passages to whet our appetite for the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  We hear a First Reading, a Responsorial Psalm, a Second Reading, and a Gospel Reading.  Rarely on a Sunday in Ordinary Time are the four passages so closely related to a single theme, like four courses of a fine meal.  Usually in Ordinary Time the four scriptures are more of a smorgasbord.

The refrain of a Responsorial Psalm, when the psalm is related to all three of the other readings, can be especially helpful in appreciating the riches of the Liturgy of the Word.  We might consider this refrain the wine that accompanies the whole meal.  We sip from it repeatedly, and it enhances the flavors of each course.

“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”  This simple sentence from Psalm 34:8 is so profound that its meaning can soar right over our heads.  We’re used to the idea of “seeing” the goodness (or beauty, or wisdom) of the Lord.  In fact, one of theology’s descriptions of the experience of Heaven is the Beatific Vision.  Of course, seeing the goodness of the Lord transcends the type of vision that our eyes make possible.  Our physical sight becomes a metaphor for a spiritual vision of God.

So then, what does it mean to “taste the goodness of the Lord”?  It’s helpful here to recall the experience of tasting a good meal.  But can such an experience serve as a metaphor for the Goodness who is God Himself?  Sacred Scripture answers, “Yes.”  If this scriptural image challenges us in imagination and spirit, we might consider the challenge an experience to be savored.

In Sunday’s First Reading, Wisdom calls us to eat of her food and drink of her wine.  In the Second Reading, Saint Paul exhorts the Ephesians to be wise, not foolish.  In contrast to his example of foolishness—namely, getting drunk on wine—he cites the experience of being filled with the Spirit.  The contrast is clear when we remember how the Apostles on the day of Pentecost were thought to be drunk [see Acts 2:13].

While Sunday’s Gospel passage also uses metaphors of taste, Jesus makes clear that the experience He’s demanding of those who follow Him is no mere metaphor.  Jesus is emphatic:  “unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. … For my Flesh is true food, and my Blood is true drink.”

As the riches of the Old Testament are, so to speak, appetizers for the Gospel of the New Testament, so the Liturgy of the Word prepares us to taste and see the goodness of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  The Word became Flesh in order to offer His Flesh both for us and to us, truly and really, as a means of abiding in Jesus and Him abiding us in us, today, each day of our earthly pilgrimage, and forever in Heaven.

Saturday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 18:1-10,13,30-32  +  Matthew 19:13-15
August 18, 2018

“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them….”

Our spiritual need for humility is like our body’s need for water:  it is foundational in an on-going manner; that is, in a manner that we constantly have to attend to.  It’s not like the foundation of a house that you pour once and then don’t (hopefully) have to attend to afterwards.

Some people think that humility is only for children.  This sort of thinking says, “Of course you should be humble when you’re small.  You should also be humble when you’re applying for a job, and when you’re going to confession, and when you’re at the bank applying for a loan.  But once you’re older, and you’ve made something of your life, and have money in the bank, and people who work for you… well, then, the time for humility is past.  At this point, you should take pride in yourself.”

But Jesus says just the opposite.  Jesus, who is divine, and the only-begotten Son of God, declared at the Annunciation:  “I am willing to become even less than a tiny baby.  I will become a single-celled human being inside the womb of this 14-year-old girl, in order to grow up and die to take away the sins of all mankind.”

We can reflect on the example of the Annunciation as a concrete example of Jesus’ counsel today.  Both Mary and Jesus in the scene of the Annunciation show us to whom “the Kingdom of Heaven belongs”.  Both Mary and Jesus demonstrate humility, but from opposite ends of a spectrum.  Mary—a poor, weak girl—submits her self to God the Father, accepting from Him a vocation that she cannot possibly at that point understand.

Jesus—God’s own divine Son—submits his self to God the Father, accepting from Him a vocation that we cannot understand.  Our Blessed Mother and Our Lord show us that humility is needed at every step of our lives:  from the beginning of our life on this earth, to the end of our life in Heaven.  We never outgrow the need for humility.

Friday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 16:1-15,60,63  +  Matthew 19:3-12
August 17, 2018

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh.”

In raising the institution of marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, Christ transformed it into a covenant reflecting His own love for His Church.  This transformation was symbolized at the wedding at Cana by Jesus transforming water into wine.  The natural is transformed by the supernatural into some third thing that is both.

Certainly there is a stark contrast between marriage during the Old Testament and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.  We might say something similar of the contrast between Christian marriage and what many today—including the federal government, and in collusion with them, state governments—are labeling “marriage”.  The former contrast can be easily seen through the example of Moses, who more than 1200 years before Christ, permitted the Israelites to divorce [Deuteronomy 24:1-4].  Moses’ concession to human sinfulness, however, is repudiated by Jesus in today’s Gospel passage, and the original will of the Creator is reaffirmed against that concession.

The indissolubility of marriage is due not only to the fact that God Himself is marriage’s origin, but also that He is the One whose divine love marriage points to.  Thirdly, He is its mirror as it’s lived in the present, as spouses vow to help each other and their children each day to strive for Heaven.

Thursday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 12:1-12  +  Matthew 18:21—19:1
August 16, 2018

“So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

Our truest home is the home where we find the deepest sort of forgiveness.  In this home we find a selfless and generous forgiveness that seeks to build up the one who has committed a transgression.  The Church, through which we share in the Body of Christ, is our “home of homes”.

By right, we should feel most at home before the altar, because it is there that we rejoice in the source of all forgiveness.  But in the Church during the Eucharist, we give thanks not only for the forgiveness wrought by Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross.  We also give thanks for the fact that when we share fully in the Eucharist, we receive not only a share in Christ’s forgiveness; we receive a share in the life of Christ himself.  We receive not only the Forgiver’s forgiveness.  We receive the Forgiver.

To receive forgiveness is to be restored to our former self.  But to receive the Forgiver means something greater.  It means not simply that we’re restored to our former self, but that we’re raised from our state of sinfulness even higher than our original state, to a share in the life of the Forgiver’s Self.  We share in the life of Christ, and so are given the power to forgive others as Christ offers forgiveness:  to all persons, in all circumstances, for ever and ever.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Rev 11:19;12:1-6,10  +  1 Cor 15:20-27  +  Lk 1:39-56
August 15, 2018

“…my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….”

NOTA BENE:  The Vigil Mass uses different Scripture readings than the Mass of the day.

We Catholics believe that when a person dies, if he is in a state of perfect grace, his soul goes directly to Heaven.  To use another word, we believe that his soul is “assumed” into Heaven.  We may know people in our own families who, we’re sure, had their souls taken by God directly into Heaven.  This may happen with many people who had time to prepare for a holy death.  The main difference between the end of these persons’ lives and the end of Mary’s life is that both Mary’s soul and her body were assumed into Heaven.

Why was Mary’s body taken into Heaven along with her soul?  It’s because Mary is the type of person that all of us were originally supposed to be, but didn’t become because of Original Sin.  If Adam and Eve, and all of us in turn, had never sinned, then every one of us would rise body and soul into Heaven at the end of our lives.  Death as we know it (including the separation of body and soul) only exists because of human sin.

Yet Mary was given a special gift by God, since God knew from eternity that she would accept His calling to be the Mother of Christ.  This gift was the privilege given at the first moment of Mary’s existence:  the privilege of her Immaculate Conception.  The fact that she was conceived by her mother, St. Anne, without Original Sin meant that her whole life was uniquely holy among all God’s creatures.  Her life was still filled with struggles and pain, but at the end of her life on this earth, Mary became a sign of hope for us.

Because Mary was never touched by the effects of Original Sin, and because she never chose to sin, she didn’t suffer the corruption of her body.  Her soul and her body remained united at the end of her earthly life, and both were taken up into Heaven.

Mary is the perfect example of what it means to take the gifts given by God and use them completely for good.  Because Mary faithfully accepted the great gift of being the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God, and because she always stood faithful to Christ, even as he was dying on the Cross, she was protected by God from one of the effects of Original Sin:  that body and soul should be separated at the time of death.

So when the end of Mary’s life came, she became the sign that shows all of us our own destiny as disciples of Christ.  When we die, our souls and bodies will be separated for quite some time:  until the end of time, in fact.  Nonetheless, if you and I follow Christ even when it means embracing the Cross—if we are always willing to use the gifts God has given us for good and not evil—then when Christ comes a second time, our bodies will be raised by Christ and rejoined to our souls.  With our Blessed Mother in Heaven we will all thank God for the gift of life.  We shouldn’t forget that we proclaim this hope in our Creed when we pray, “We believe in the resurrection of the body.”  Mary experienced this gift in a unique way immediately at the end of her earthly life.

Assumption - Murillo

St. Maximillian Mary Kolbe

St. Maximillian Mary Kolbe, Priest and Martyr
Ezekiel 2:8—3:4  +  Matthew 18:1-5,10,12-14
August 14, 2018

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones….”

For you to be a saint means to live your life in Christ, and at the same time to allow Christ to live His life in you.  This means nothing more or less than having the relationship between Jesus and His Father live in your own heart and mind.  This is something mystical, but nonetheless is part and parcel of being an ordinary Christian.  It’s not just for monks and nuns who spend each day in prayer.

By contrast, it’s not as if an ordinary Christian first reads stories from the Gospel about Jesus and the Father, and then says, “Gee, I’d like to have that kind of relationship with God the Father.  I think I’ll try to imitate Jesus.”  To think along that line is to put the cart before the horse.  To think that way is to ignore the truth that at your baptism, the two events of being adopted by God the Father and becoming a member of the Mystical Body of Christ are really part and parcel of each other.  Both are accomplished at the same time by God the Father’s love.  In other words, it’s not so much that Jesus is our “older brother” spiritually, whose relationship with the Father we admire.  Rather, it’s as members of Christ’s Mystical Body that you and I share in the sonship of Jesus.

To ignore all this—to put the cart before the horse—is to forget that any relationship between a father and child is based on the primacy of the father’s love.  Especially in a culture like ours, children are at risk of believing that it’s their accomplishments that earn them their fathers’ and God’s love.  As Christians we must combat this ethic, for our own spiritual lives as well as for those of our children.

Monday of the 19th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 1:2-5,24-28  +  Matthew 17:22-27
August 13, 2018

“Give that to them for me and for you.”

When Jesus walked this earth—Jesus, the one whose life and ministry fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament—there were three ways in which He spoke and acted as a prophet.  Through these three, He teaches us not only how to be His disciples, but also how to teach in His name.

The sort of grand spectacle that we hear in Ezekiel today was fulfilled by Jesus through the miracles He worked, and also by His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, when He shone in glory before three of His disciples.  But as impressive as that was, spectacle was not the norm for Jesus.

Though many like to pretend otherwise, Jesus also preached “fire and brimstone” when the occasion called for it.  This second way of being a prophet, of course, is one of the reasons that Jesus was led to the Cross.

The third way in which Jesus acted as a prophet is a kind which is very rare in the Old Testament.  But it is uncommonly common in the life of Jesus.  In the life of one of His saints—St. Thérèse the Little Flower—it was called the “Little Way”.  It is a way of simplicity and humbleness that goes overlooked by those looking for spectacles.  It is a way that is ignored by those who are looking out for themselves, instead of others:  by those who justify their actions by claiming that they’re just doing what everyone else is doing, walking down the broad path, instead of trying to walk the narrow way that following Jesus demands.

The simplicity and humbleness of Jesus in today’s Gospel is a very good meditation for those setting out again to begin a new school year.  Jesus is not obligated to pay the tax that is demanded of Peter, but Jesus explains—“that we may not offend them”—that He will pay the tax anyhow.

The miracle by which Jesus accomplishes this almost goes unnoticed, because it’s not the point.  Jesus’ point is to teach by humility, to teach by doing that which is not necessary, but which can lead others to see the Little Way.  This is the way that, after a long journey through a life of service in this world, leads to the vision of eternal life with God and His saints.

The 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
I Kgs 19:4-8  +  Eph 4:30—5:2  +  Jn 6:41-51
August 12, 2018

“…the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The past two Sundays’ Gospel passages came from John 6.  In both passages “signs” are mentioned.  There were the signs that Jesus performed in miraculously healing the sick, and the sign of the Multiplication of the Loaves.  But there was a problem with Jesus’ miraculous signs:  no one understood what these signs were meant to signify.  It’s true, the crowds literally saw the signs themselves.  But they did not see their purpose.  They saw the “what”, but not the “why”.

Because they misunderstood why Jesus had multiplied the loaves, “the people… were going to come and carry Him off to make Him king.”  However, Jesus understood that these people wanted to do the right thing for the wrong reason, and so “He withdrew again to the mountain alone.”

However, these people were stubborn.  They went “looking for Jesus”, and “when they found Him”, “Jesus answered… ‘Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.’”  Jesus wanted to be their king.  But Jesus was thinking “Christ the King”, while the crowds were thinking “Burger King”.  Jesus was thinking about souls.  The crowds were thinking about stomachs.

The crowds did see that this man could make their lives on earth more comfortable.  But they did not see that He worked these signs in order to show them who He truly was.  The signs weren’t about them.  They were about Him and His identity.

This Sunday the Church proclaims Jesus’ own answer to the question of who He is.  His answer will unfold further in the next two Sundays’ Gospel passages.

Within today’s passage, in the span of just four verses, Jesus gives us three answers, each a variation on the other.  In each, Jesus describes himself in terms of bread and life.  Jesus declares, “I am the Bread of Life.”  Then He describes Himself as “the bread that comes down from Heaven so that one may eat it and not die.”  Then Jesus calls Himself “the living bread”.  In all three of these answers, Jesus tells us that He is a bread that gives life.

“Life” is what Jesus is as God, in His divine nature.  “Bread” is what Jesus is for us, in His human nature.  It’s through Jesus’ human nature that He shows us His divine love for us, and allows us to share in His divine nature.

In all this, Jesus has been preparing the crowds for His final words in this passage:  “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”  With these words Jesus elevates His use of signs.  He goes beyond metaphorical talk about bread and life to discuss the historical offering—on Good Friday—and the sacramental offering—at Holy Mass—of His Flesh as life-giving bread.

Jesus speaks here today, and the next two Sundays, of a sign that will be a sacrament.  A sacrament not only signifies, but also manifests and make truly present what it signifies.  Christ is speaking to us about the Holy Eucharist when He proclaims:  “the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

St. Clare, Virgin

St. Clare, Virgin
Habakkuk 1:12—2:4  +  Matthew 17:14-20
August 11, 2018

Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence while the wicked man devours one more just than himself?

Before we begin next Monday a two-week period of listening to the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel, we hear today—on this day that we dedicate to Our Blessed Mother Mary—from the minor prophet Habakkuk.  The Book of the Prophet Habakkuk is only three chapters long, which is less than three pages of most bibles.

The prophet Habakkuk is very unusual among the people of the Bible.  The first two chapters of his prophecy record how Habakkuk questioned God:  for God’s ways of governing the world, and for allowing Judah’s enemies to prey upon Judah.  The prophet questions God by asking:  “Are you not from eternity, O LORD….?  Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence while the wicked man devours one who is more just than himself?”  Habakkuk asks the questions to God that many are unwilling to ask, believing that it’s sinful to even talk to God, much less ask Him questions.

How much more is Our Mother Mary a model for us:  a model of faith, first and foremost, but a model of being honest with God, and pouring our questions and weaknesses.

St. Lawrence, Deacon & Martyr

St. Lawrence, Deacon & Martyr
2 Corinthians 9:6-10  +  John 12:24-26
August 10, 2018

“…whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

In the year of Our Lord 258, Saint Lawrence offered the wealth of the Church to those who had nothing of their own.  Lawrence was the chief deacon—that is, the arch-deacon—of the Diocese of Rome.  It’s the responsibility of a deacon to proclaim the Word of God, to look after the material goods of the Church, and to care for the poor.  So as the chief deacon of a diocese as large as Rome, Lawrence held a great deal of responsibility.

He was called to act upon all these roles one day when Pope Sixtus II was put under civil arrest (Christianity still being an illegal religion).  Not long after, the pope was martyred, and Lawrence knew that he would be one of the next Christians the Empire would come after.  So Lawrence sought out the poor, widows, and orphans of Rome, and gave them all the money he held, selling even the sacred vessels of the Church.

The civil prefect of Rome called Lawrence before him and demanded that he produce the treasure of the Church.  Lawrence then gathered together the blind and the lame, the leprous, the widows and orphans, and lined them up before the prefect’s villa.  When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, “Here is the treasure of the Church.”  The prefect not only did not understand Lawrence’s words.  He did not understand Lawrence spending his life in the service of such deplorable people.  It’s unlikely, in fact, that the prefect cared, since four days after the death of the pope, Lawrence was martyred as well, on the tenth of August.

Saint Lawrence understood that the true wealth of the Church lays in the manner in which our lives touch the lives of others.  In our own lives as Christians, one of the most important challenges we face is to realize to what extent—both for good and evil—our lives are connected to the lives of others.