St. Maximilian M. Kolbe, Priest & Martyr

St. Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr
Ezekiel 16:1-15,60,63  +  Matthew 19:3-12
August 14, 2020

“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.

OT 19-5

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 56:1,6-7  +  Romans 11:13-15,29-32  +  Matthew 15:21-28
August 16, 2020

For God delivered all to disobedience, that He might have mercy upon all.

Love is what moves people through life.  Love is what motivates.  Love is what gives meaning to life.  But what is true love?  What does real love look like?  The world defines love in countless ways, many of which contradict each other.  If you flip through television or YouTube channels, you’re likely to find a different definition of love offered by each channel.  Love of money, love of possessions, love of knowledge, love of pleasure:  all of these are definitions of love that the world offers for our belief.

The Church proclaims that the love of God is summed up by the crucifix.  If we want to know what love is, that’s all the further we have to look.  But to understand the love of God, and to make it part of our own lives, is something much different and more difficult.  It requires faith.

Today’s Gospel Reading, in turn, shows us how faith becomes love.

The dialogue between Jesus and the Gentile woman shows how God relates to each of us who like the Gentile woman is a sinner.  This dialogue also shows how God wants us to relate to Him:  both in our daily lives, and from the broader perspective of our spiritual growth over the years.

In Sunday’s Gospel Reading, the evangelist Matthew tells us that a Canaanite woman—which is to say, an outsider—came to Jesus and called out, Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!  This woman, despite not being one of the people who had been waiting for the Messiah, nonetheless knew who Jesus was.  So she cried out to Him for help.  But what happened next?

Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.  Not a word!  Here is a woman whose daughter is being tormented, yet Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.  What kind of love is this?  If you have ever prayed intensely for a serious problem, and felt that God did not answer your prayer, you can identify with the Gentile woman.

But can you identify with her faith?  Perhaps you can identify with her cry for help going unanswered, but can you identify with what the woman does next?  She is a woman whose faith is not shaken, and who puts her faith into action time and again.  She goes now to Jesus a second time, and simply says, Lord, help me.  What is Jesus’ response?

He calls the woman a dog!  He says to this outsider, It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.  The children Jesus is referring to are the children of Israel, the ones the Father sent Him to teach, while this woman is an outsider, a “dog”.  But why is Jesus talking this way?

God demands faith from us, even when we believe we have none.  He is willing to “pull” our faith out of us—indeed, to test us—in order to purify our faith.  Jesus knows what sort of faith this woman has.  He is willing to draw it out, because without faith on this woman’s part He will not work a miracle.

Faith is always required for God to work in our lives.  God requires faith, in the sense that He demands it from us.  Whenever you read the Gospel and see an occasion where Jesus does not work a miracle, it is not because His divine power has “run out”.  Without faith on our part, God’s grace would be an empty gift.  But what kind of faith does God want from us?

The faith that God wants from us is not passive.  It’s active.  God does not want the sort of faith that says, “God is going to take care of everything, so I can sit back and coast.”  That is not our Catholic understanding of faith.  Faith involves something active on our part.  It demands constant prayer.  It demands the sort of dialogue that we hear between Jesus and the Gentile woman.  We might even say that God wants us to challenge Him in our prayer, so that He might challenge us to greater faith, and thereby greater love.

OT 20-0A

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
VIGIL:  I Chr 15:3-4,15-16; 16:1-2  +  1 Cor 15:54-57  +  Lk 11:27-28
DAY:  Rev 11:19;12:1-6,10  +  1 Cor 15:20-27  +  Lk 1:39-56
August 15, 2020

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

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 - Reni

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 12:1-12  +  Matthew 18:21—19:1
August 13, 2020

“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.

OT 19-4

Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ezekiel 9:1-7; 10:18-22  +  Matthew 18:15-20
August 12, 2020

“… where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Jesus, in today’s Gospel Reading, explains how His followers can keep from having moral punishment fall upon them.  Jesus preaches that His followers must seek reconciliation with each other.  He also calls upon us to point out a wrong that may have been committed, especially one which destroys harmony and peace.  Correcting others in this way is a very hazardous duty.  Like almost no other responsibility that we have as Christians, it calls for the virtues of prudence, courage, and meekness.  Who can manage this without the help of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus also urges us to pray together.  Individual prayer is indispensable, and Jesus elsewhere in the Gospel commands us to go to our rooms and pray in private:  but that’s not the limit of our prayer.

Where two or three are gathered in Jesus’ Name, He is there in their midst.  But we also know that where two or three are gathered at Holy Mass, Jesus is not only there in their midst, but becomes present in a way that they can receive Him:  Body and Blood, soul and divinity.

OT 19-3

St. Clare, Virgin

St. Clare, Virgin
Ezekiel 2:8—3:4  +  Matthew 18:1-5,10,12-14
August 11, 2020

“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 simply means having the relationship between Jesus and His Father live in your own heart and mind.  This is something mystical, and so difficult to describe in language.  Nonetheless, it’s part and parcel of being a Christian.  It’s not just for cloistered monks and nuns.

By contrast, it’s not as if an ordinary Christian first reads from the Bible 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.”  You cannot enter a relationship by means of imitation.  To think that one can is to put the cart before the horse.

To think that one can 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 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 and then try to imitate.  Rather, it’s as members of Christ’s own Mystical Body that you and I share in the sonship of Jesus.

To ignore all this—to put that 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.  We don’t focus upon this enough in our time of meditation.  Especially in a culture like ours, children are at risk of believing that it’s their accomplishments that earn them their earthly fathers’ and God’s love.  But the Beloved Disciple in his first epistle reminds us of that key truth of the spiritual life, that “in this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and offered His Son as an expiation for our sins” [1 John 4:10].

OT 19-2

St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr
2 Corinthians 9:6-10  +  John 12:24-26
August 10, 2020

… 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

Saturday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Habakkuk 1:12—2:4  +  Matthew 17:14-20
August 8, 2020

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, expressing our questions and weaknesses.


Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Nahum 2:1,3;3:1-3,6-7  +  Matthew 16:24-28
August 7, 2020

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Our souls need nourishment and healing before we spend our selves trying to solve the problems of our own lives and those of the world.  We must be willing to admit, first of all, that we are sinners, and that our sins seriously wound our souls.  Our souls need not only the nourishment of prayer, but the healing that comes from the forgiveness of our sins.  After all, it is in this regard that Jesus is our Messiah, our Savior.  God the Son became human not to save us from the Caesar, or from the IRS, or from our neighbors:  Jesus died to save us from the snares of the Devil.  God the Son became human not to take away our worries, or our financial debts, or our arguments with others:  Jesus died to take away our sins.

Once we regain this perspective in our lives, we realize how truly we need Christ’s help.  Yet at the same time, we hear Christ’s words to his disciples in today’s Gospel passage:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  Christ has died for us on the Cross, but we must join in His saving work.  We must do penance.  We must organize the time and energies of our lives so that they draw others closer to God.  In our speech, in the patience with which we do things and deal with others, through our charitable deeds, we can deny our sinful selves and become more like Christ.  And in doing all this, we should never underestimate or believe that we can imagine what graces God will bestow upon us through acting by means of His grace.

Tintoretto, La crocifissione, Sala dell'albergo, Scuola di San R