St. Jerome, Priest & Doctor of the Church

St. Jerome, Priest & Doctor of the Church
Job 38:1,12-21;40:3-5   +  Luke 10:13-16
September 30, 2022

“Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!”

Jesus never says, “Woe is me!”  Not once in the four accounts of the Gospel does Jesus ever say such a thing.  However, more than a few times Jesus expresses woe.  He expresses these woes regarding those who do not listen, and do not follow, the Word of God.

We might wonder what emotions Jesus experienced as He pronounced the woes in today’s Gospel passage.  He had just reasons to be angry, as well as frustrated.  Nonetheless, regardless of which emotions might have been running through His mind and heart, we know that Jesus had compassion for those He was preaching against.

In fact, to say that Jesus in pronouncing these woes was preaching against the people of these cities would call for a qualification.  In preaching woes against the people of Chorazin and Bethsaida, Jesus was preaching for them.  Does that sound like a contradiction?  It’s no more of a contradiction than is a father who disciplines his child.  Everything that Jesus did during His earthly life, including the overturning of the money changers’ tables, and the preaching of woes against the unfaithful, was for the sake of those in spiritual danger, to bring them back from a precipice into the arms of a loving Father.

Sts. Michael, Gabriel & Raphael, Archangels

Sts. Michael, Gabriel & Raphael, Archangels
Daniel 7:9-10,13-14 [or Revelation 12:7-12]  +  John 1:47-51
September 29, 2022

“… you will see Heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

About a month from now, the Church will celebrate All Saints’ Day, when we spend time thinking about the “lives of the saints”.  But it’s difficult to read and learn about the lives of today’s saints since they haven’t led “lives” in our normal sense of the word.  Furthermore, their lives are still going on as always.  Still, these three saints—the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael—are a very important part of our Catholic prayer and belief.

These archangels—among the most important of all the angels—are messengers who carry the most important messages from God to human beings like us.

St. Michael, in the beginning, was the one who had to fight against the devil, and force him out of Heaven as punishment for turning against God.  At the end of time, it will be St. Michael who will lead all the good angels in battle against the fallen angels in league with the devil.  But in between the beginning and end of time, Michael protects all those who call upon him, to defend them in the day of battle, which is any day when we face temptation, and are tempted not to love God completely, or tempted not to love our neighbor as our self.

St. Gabriel, by contrast , goes to the heart and center of history, with the most important message that God ever wanted delivered.  It was Gabriel whom God chose to deliver the message to Mary that she should be our Blessed Mother, because God’s own Son should be born from her, that Son destined to be the Savior of all mankind.

In these archangels, we honor three models for the vocation to which God has called all of us through the Sacrament of Baptism.  In word and action, we—like the angels—serve God, and bear His messages to others, all of which are about the sort of love with which God loves us.

Even when we have sinned, God continues to love us, and wants us to draw closer to Him through Jesus.  But when we pray and realize how great God’s mercy towards us is, we are called to take that same message to others, and let others know of God’s love for them.  Even more, we are called to offer forgiveness to others:  to be God’s messenger of love and mercy by forgiving others in the same way that God has forgiven us.

Wednesday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Job 9:1-12,14-16  +  Luke 9:57-62
September 28, 2022

“I will follow you wherever you go.”

Teachers need to teach their students—and parents, their children—that the two most important moments of one’s life are now and the hour of one’s death.  Likely we’ve known persons who live as if death will never arrive, living only for “now”.  The spiritual goal is constantly to relate these two:  now, and the hour of one’s death.

The world around us, including secular schools that want to produce “achievers”, seeks by contrast to relate every now to goals that one plans for:  goals to be realized next week, next month, next year, or upon retirement.  Yet those are short-sighted if they’re not set within the larger context of one’s death.

In fact, everything we do now, or don’t do now, bears on that hour of our death.  By everything we do or don’t do, we choose whether to follow Jesus.

If our young people are firmly resolved to prepare themselves for the hour of death, they will be firmly resolved in the “now” of every moment to follow whatever God asks.  Yet here we have to be mindful of the way in which God dwells in the present moment.  The need of a human person in the here and now often upsets our well-laid plans.  But Jesus often presents Himself to us in the present moment in the guise of those most in need.

The 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Habakkuk 1:2-3;2:2-4  +  2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14  +  Luke 17:5-10
Catechism Link: CCC 144
October 2, 2022

“… bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

Today’s Gospel reading consists of two connected passages.  The first, briefer passage is Jesus’ response to a petition from His apostles:  “Increase our faith.”  To the apostles’ asking for faith, Jesus answers by discussing works.

In this first passage Jesus shows how the works of an authentic Christian are rooted in the divine virtue of faith.  The passage also reveals the power of faith:  this power is shown by the disproportion between “faith the size of a mustard seed” and the great work of a mulberry tree being uprooted and planted in the sea.

Often Catholics can find themselves in debates with separated Christian brethren over the relationship between faith and good works.  Perhaps one problem in understanding the connection between these two is that our faith is so meager that we’re content to carry out merely “good works”.

In fact, Christ calls His disciples not only to carry out good works that can be accomplished by natural human abilities alone, such as the corporal works of mercy, which in fact can be carried out by persons who do not believe in God.  In addition to good works, Christ calls His disciples to strive to carry out great works.  If we Christians carried out great works, we’d have less reason to ascribe such works solely to our own human efforts, since we’d be forced by common sense to realize that such great works are only possible by means of a power greater than ourselves.

However, the Gospel Reading’s second passage offers another way to reflect upon the connection between faith and works.  It’s not quite a parable.  We might instead call it a guided reflection.  Through it, Jesus illustrates one of the necessary motives of those whose works are animated by faith.  This motive is certainly not the only one that a Christian needs in order to produce authentic works.  But its absence in a Christian’s soul inevitably leads to the chief vice of the Christian spiritual life.

Servanthood is the focus of Jesus’ guided reflection.  Servanthood, or servantship, is similar to stewardship.  Servanthood and stewardship are both demanded by those who follow Jesus.  They have much in common, but each has its own unique characteristics.

The image of servanthood sharply focuses our attention upon the relationship between the master and the servant.  It focuses upon the radical dependence of the servant upon the master, and in particular, upon the master’s will.

By contrast, the concept of stewardship implies a distance between the steward and his lord.  The steward is independent, at least for whatever period of time the lord chooses to be away.  The steward acts in the name of the lord during his absence, whether that lasts for days or years.  In J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of the Rings, the stewards of Gondor reigned for centuries while the heirs to the king’s throne lived in exile.  In the case of the steward Denethor, such lengthy independence resulted in consuming, self-destructive pride.

Pride is the target of Jesus’ preaching in today’s Gospel Reading.  The humility that Jesus calls for is reflected in His final words:  “So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”  Of course, humility is a virtue that both stewards and servants are called to exhibit.  What particular quality, then, does Jesus’ image of a servant demand, and how does that quality work against pride?

Given that servanthood focuses on the radical dependence of the servant upon the master’s will, servanthood demands the virtue of obedience.  Obedience motivates and directs one’s works in accord with God’s providential will.

Many Christians might be surprised to learn that the word “obedience” is derived from the Latin infinitive “obedire”, which can be translated as “to listen”.  Naturally, a servant can’t obey his master unless he first listens to his master’s command.  This demands being ready for the master to issue his command, which in turn demands attentive listening:  not to stand at attention, but to listen at attention, humbly waiting not for the master’s return, but for his word; not at the end of time or even at the hour of my death, but here and now and at every moment that I live.

St. Vincent de Paul, Priest

St. Vincent de Paul, Priest
Job 3:1-3,11-17,20-23   +  Luke 9:51-56
September 27, 2022

He resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem ….

Jesus sets out for Jerusalem.  The name “Jerusalem” literally means “city of peace”.  It’s there that Jesus will be condemned to death for our sins, and from there led to Calvary, a hill just outside the city limits.  Calvary is the only way that leads to our destination:  the Father’s city of eternal peace, the heavenly Jerusalem.

As Jesus heads resolutely to Jerusalem, the City of Peace, He knows that His vocation is to bring peace to each human person.  Peace is often, unfortunately, not commonplace in our earthly lives.  You and I may not face the sort of persecution that the martyrs faced, but we never seem to have peace as we would wish.  Nonetheless, Jesus at the Last Supper said, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you”.  So where is this peace in our lives?

Every day God calls us to follow Him.  If we worthily receive the Body and Blood, soul and divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist, He will strengthen us at every “now” of daily life.  He wants us to accept the spiritual strength we need to cultivate the virtues of human life.  These virtues allow the flourishing and flowering of authentic peace in our lives.

Monday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the 26th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Job 1:6-22  + Luke 9:46-50
September 26, 2022

“Whoever receives this child in My Name receives Me ….”

During Christmastide we are used to thinking of Jesus—the divine Word made Flesh—dwelling among us as an infant.  But today, near the start of Autumn, Jesus counsels us to receive Him as a child.  Clearly, then, spiritual childhood isn’t just for Christmas!

To receive Jesus as a child means that the one who receives Jesus becomes a child him- or herself.

Spiritual childhood is a common theme in the literature of the Catholic masters of spirituality.  Of course, pondering this theme first requires a distinction between the childhood of fallen human nature and the childhood of what we might call either the “original human nature” or the “redeemed human nature”.  What does this distinction mean concretely?  We can picture this distinction by comparing two different images:  on the one hand is a two-year-old who refuses to go to sleep; on the other, the child resting peacefully upon his mother’s chest.

In addition to what Jesus says in today’s Gospel passage, we can use a Scriptural image to help us picture the spiritual childhood to which the Christian is called.  Consider Calvary, where Jesus entrusts Mary and the Beloved Disciple to each other’s care.  This Beloved Disciple, child of Mary, is our icon for spiritual childhood.

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

Saturday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Ecclesiastes 11:9—12:8  +  Luke 9:43-45
September 24, 2022

“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.”

Today’s Gospel passage, from fairly early in Luke’s Gospel account (in chapter 9 of 24 chapters), helps us to focus squarely on Jesus, even if His words here confuse the disciples.  You and I have the advantage of hindsight, of course, in knowing “the rest of the story” of the Gospel.  We know perfectly well what Jesus is referring to when He predicts that the “Son of Man is to be handed over to men.”

Still, we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back for being unlike the disciples portrayed today.  Consider the setting of today’s Gospel passage.  We need to recognize Jesus’ deliberateness in choosing the moment that He did to speak the words that He did:  it was “[w]hile they were all amazed at His every deed” that Jesus foretold His Passion.

What is the relationship between these two:  Jesus’ amazing deeds and His Passion?  Did Jesus foretell His Passion when He did to bring the disciples back down to earth, similar to the occasion of His Transfiguration?  Was Jesus wanting to minimize the significance of His amazing deeds, or at least to help the disciples realize that they were not the ultimate reason for His presence in their midst?  Reflect on these questions in the light of your own desire for God to work amazing deeds in your life, and your reluctance to share in the “handing over” of Jesus that He foretells today.

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

St. Pius of Pietrelcina, Priest
Ecclesiastes 3:1-11  +  Luke 9:18-22
September 23, 2022

There is an appointed time for everything ….

Today’s First Reading is one of the Old Testament options for a Requiem Mass.  The first two-thirds of the passage are striking, as the phrase “a time to…” is proclaimed repeatedly.  Taken together, all these descriptions of times in a man’s life stand in contrast to the immortal life than one enters after his death.  This passage can stir something profound in the hearts of those attending a Requiem Mass.  They may leave the church pondering how the “times” of their own earthly lives fit into a larger picture.

The first sentence of today’s Gospel passage shouldn’t be overlooked in this regard.  “Jesus was praying in solitude, and the disciples were with Him.”  This might seem like an odd statement, perhaps even contradictory.  But from the larger canvas on which all four Gospel accounts are drawn, we see several portraits of Jesus as one who prays intensely, at length, in solitude, and often.  That His disciples were with Him doesn’t mean that they were all engaged in prayer together, but that they had the occasion to witness Jesus in this intense, solitary prayer with His Father.

The point of this first sentence within the context of today’s Gospel passage, however, is heard in what Jesus says next.  “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  After they offer the view of the crowds, Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?”  After they give their own view, Jesus offers His view of His own identity.  This portrait of Himself as the “Suffering Servant” who will be raised on the third day was most likely the content of His prayer moments earlier.  There is no doubt about Jesus accepting this call from the Father.  But the disciples’ reactions show that most of them could not accept Jesus as someone called to suffer, much less accept such a call themselves.  We might make an examination of conscience, asking if we ourselves are like these disciples.

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.