Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 36:23-28  +  Matthew 22:1-14
August 18, 2022

“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 [II]

Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 34:1-11  +  Matthew 20:1-16
August 17, 2022

“…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 [II]

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 28:1-10  +  Matthew 19:23-30
August 16, 2022

“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

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Revelation 11:19;12:1-6,10  +  1 Corinthians 15:20-27  +  Luke 1:39-56
August 15, 2022

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

This Sunday the Church celebrates the Assumption of our Blessed Mother into heaven.  The Assumption was a gift that God gave to Mary at the end of her earthly life.  To put this gift into perspective, consider this.  We know that anyone who dies without sin and without attachment to sin is assumed into heaven when he or she dies:  but only that person’s soul.  When someone dies in a perfect state of grace, that person’s soul is assumed by God into Heaven.  That person’s body, of course, remains buried under the earth until the Final Judgment.  But at the end of her earthly life, Mary was taken up into heaven both in soul and body.

Why did God give this gift to Mary?  Why did He so highly privilege her at the end of her earthly life?  One way to get at an answer is to see how this gift was related to another of God’s gifts:  that is, the gift God had given Mary at the beginning of her earthly life, when Mary was conceived by Saint Anne.

Here you can see how the twin gifts of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are bound together in meaning.  It was because Mary had never been touched by sin—either the Original Sin of Adam, or her own actual sin—that her body and soul were not torn in two by death.   On the one hand, God kept Original Sin from staining Mary, in virtue of the vocation He wanted her to accept:  to be the Mother of Jesus Christ.  For her part, throughout her earthly life, she never committed an actual sin, either mortal or venial.

Now, there might be some who consider Mary’s vocation and then scoff, saying, “How hard could it be to be the mother of God?”  From one perspective, it’s true that if your son was like Jesus, who in fact was God Incarnate, you would experience many consolations:  no reports from the principal about fighting; no yelling at and kicking his cousins; no backtalk or rolling of eyes; no breaking of curfews.

Yet there’s more to motherhood than keeping your children out of trouble.  In fact, mothers are not meant to keep their children out of all trouble, or even necessarily out of the most serious of trouble.  It’s here that the uniqueness of the Blessed Virgin’s vocation comes into sharper focus.

Motherhood is defined not by keeping children away from all evil, but in steering the child towards what is the greatest Good.  After all, for the Christian, sometimes the greatest good that needs to be embraced is an evil.  Does that sound strange?

Think of Jesus embracing the Cross on Good Friday.  Then think of Mary on Good Friday, and what her vocation meant that day.  She would have been naturally tempted to shield her Son from the Cross.  You who are mothers know instinctually the desire to shield your child from harm.  But Mary was supernaturally moved to join her Son in His vocation as the Messiah of the human race.

Sometimes you’ll hear both mothers and fathers who say, “I just want my child to be happy.”  But we need to stop and think about what that statement means in the end.  We need to ask ourselves:  “Was Jesus happy on Good Friday?”  Yet Good Friday was the Hour for which Jesus came into this world.  Good Friday was the day when His vocation reached its summit.  Here is what fathers and mothers must want for their children more than anything else, including earthly happiness:  namely, that one’s child embrace his or her vocation.  Only by faithfulness to one’s vocation on earth can a person be happy eternally in Heaven.

As we honor our Blessed Mother today, we recognize that there are many “good things” that mothers have and give to their children.  But with the eyes of Faith, we see that there’s something even more difficult that a mother has to give.  A mother has to teach her child what it means not only to embrace the Cross, but to love the Cross.  For in loving the Cross, we love Jesus Himself.

Of all the “good things” a mother has to give her children, a love of the Cross is the “best thing”, because that’s the only road that leads to Heaven.  To help us in accepting this as Gospel, Mary was given the fullness of grace.

Saturday of the Nineteenth 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 13, 2022

“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 Nineteenth 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 12, 2022

“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.

St. Clare, Virgin

St. Clare, Virgin
Ezekiel 12:1-12  +  Matthew 18:21—19:1
August 11, 2022

“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.

St. Lawrence, Deacon & Martyr

St. Lawrence, Deacon & Martyr
2 Corinthians 9:6-10  +  John 12:24-26
August 10, 2022

… whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

The First Reading and Gospel Reading for today’s feast of Saint Lawrence both lay before us images of agriculture:  sowing seed, a grain falling to the ground and dying, and reaping bountifully.  These images relate to a holy martyr apropos Tertullian’s dictum that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” [Apologeticus, Chapter 50].

In another sense, the martyr himself or herself is the seed that Jesus speaks of in this passage.  In this regard, Jesus’ words reveal the martyr to be an icon of Christ Himself.  “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”  We might choose simply three words from this sentence, and see how many points of meditation the Holy Spirit surfaces for us; those three words being “where I am”.

These three words call to mind the Divine Name revealed to Moses.  While God in His divinity is in all things, above all things, and is everywhere that is, Jesus Christ in His humanity dwelt among us sinners.  He dwelt first within Mary at the site of the Annunciation, then dwelt in the manger at Bethlehem, and then dwelt for many years in the home at Nazareth before beginning His public ministry.

Yet His ministry culminated in His self-offering at Calvary, and above anywhere else that He dwelt in this fallen world, Mount Calvary is the location that reveals the meaning of this phrase that Jesus speaks today:  “where I am”.  Jesus calls us to join Him in His self-offering, standing fast at the foot of His Cross.  There is where Jesus speaks of when He declares, “where I am, there also will my servant be.”

St. Lawrence - Fra Angelico