Thanksgiving Day

The reflection for Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time is found in a separate post.

Thanksgiving Day
There are a variety of possible Scriptures.
November 25, 2021

We learn early on in life that thanksgiving is one of the four chief forms of prayer to God, along with adoration, contrition and petition.  Such prayers of thanks might be verbal in nature, or they might be chiefly affective in nature.

Regardless, prayers of thanksgiving can also take another form.  Just as Jesus, during the three years of His public ministry, revealed God’s love through both words and works—that is, words and deeds—so a disciple can choose to give thanks to God through works—that is, through deeds—in addition to his verbal prayers of thanks.

Chief among the “works of God”—those works that Jesus carried out during His earthly life—is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, instituted at the Last Supper.  We might forget or underappreciate the fact that thanksgiving lies at the heart of the Mass.  We hear this in the narratives of the Last Supper in Matthew, Mark and Luke.  The priest speaks from these Gospel texts at the Consecration of Holy Mass:  speaking to God the Father, the priest first states that Jesus “took bread, and giving you thanks”, consecrated the bread to be His sacred Body.  “In a similar way, when supper was ended, [Jesus] took the chalice, and giving you thanks”, consecrated the wine to be His sacred Blood.  Giving thanks to God the Father lies at the heart of the consecration of Holy Mass.

This truth of our faith is not something simply to be appreciated.  We are not meant to be spectators at Holy Mass.  Jesus means for us to be active participants in the offering of Holy Mass.  Lay persons are not, of course, called by God to share in the offering of Mass as an ordained priest does.  Nonetheless, lay persons are called by God to share in the offering of Holy Mass by offering up their own selves:  their own body and blood, soul and humanity, for God to do with their lives as He wills, for the growth of His Kingdom and His glory.

What the ordained priest and laypersons share in common, though, in participating in Holy Mass is a certain form of thanksgiving:  a certain way in which we’re obligated to give thanks to God.  Unlike Jesus, you and I are poor sinners.  Jesus offered Himself, at the Last Supper and on Calvary, for us sinners, as the innocent Lamb to be slain.  You and I poor sinners, through our participation at Holy Mass, give thanks to God for this holy sacrifice:  this holy exchange that God the Father made, giving up His only-begotten Son, so that we could become His adopted children.  You and I have many things for which to give thanks to God:  the gift of human life, the gift of liberty, the gift of family, and many others.  But above all, we need to give thanks to God, especially through our sharing in Holy Mass, for the gift of redemption and sanctification that is our through our savior, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Daniel 5:1-6,13-14,16-17,23-28  +  Luke 21:12-19
November 24, 2021

“By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”

So many people grow fearful thinking about a cataclysmic end of the planet, even though the vast majority of mankind will never face it.  Perhaps you’ve seen one of those movies where there’s a dramatic end to life on the planet Earth as we know it.  Movies like that can draw a great deal of attention, and sell a lot of tickets and popcorn.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t matter if you die from an ice age covering the whole continent, or from old age in your own home:  death is death.

We reflect on this sobering truth at the end of each Church year:  in November, we pray to the saints in heaven, and for the faithful in Purgatory, and the Church reminds us of the “last things”:  heaven, hell, death, and judgment.  All this give us perspective.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus declares to His disciples, “By perseverance you will secure your lives.”  What does this mean?  Every day, God calls us to offer Him our lives in faith, and to live for others.  That’s how we can reach the hour of our deaths in God’s sight.  When all is said and done, there are two types of persons.  There are those who say in the end, “Heavenly Father, thy will be done.”  Then there are those to whom the Father says in the end, “My child, thy will be done.”

OT 34-3

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Daniel 2:31-45  +  Luke 21:5-11
November 23, 2021

“… there will not be left a stone upon another stone ….”

Everything that’s built by human beings can be destroyed.  That’s why something like the Great Pyramids of Egypt are so awesome:  not simply because they are colossal, but because they have—to an amazing extent—survived the ravages of time.  You can think of one of the large cities on the West Coast of our own country:  from the air, as you fly into the area, you can be filled with awe.  Yet an earthquake could destroy everything in the area in a matter of minutes.

Through the prophet Daniel, God wanted King Nebuchadnezzar to know that his kingdom, so dear to him, could and would undergo destruction.  Other kingdoms would take its place, but they, too, would last only a time.  This prophecy of Daniel foreshadowed the words of Jesus, when he spoke of the Temple of Jerusalem:  it, like everything built by human beings, would be destroyed.  These are not the sorts of things to place our hope in.

But Daniel also prophesied that God would set up a kingdom that would not be destroyed.  There was no way that Daniel could understand this prophecy, but through Daniel, God was speaking about the Church:  not church buildings (even Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome will some day fall), but the Church herself, made up of “living stones”.  Those who place their faith in Christ the King, and live in Him as members of His Mystical Body, will have eternal life.

OT 34-2

St. Cecilia, Virgin & Martyr

St. Cecilia, Virgin & Martyr
Daniel 1:1-6,8-20  +  Luke 21:1-4
November 22, 2021

“… she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”

We live in a society in which values contrary to the Gospel are canonized.  A person’s value is measured in economic terms.  The poor are shunned as worthless.

God has a different set of values from those of our society.  When Jesus saw the wealthy putting large amounts of money into the collection box of the Temple, He was not impressed.  It was not as if the wealthy should not have given large sums, but Jesus was looking for something else.  He saw that something else in the poor widow who donated only two small coins.  He explains to us what He saw:  “[The wealthy] have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.”

It was the generosity of the widow that mattered, not the money she gave.  We are called to be generous people, unselfish in all our relationships with others.  God does not value us for giving our money; or, for that matter, for giving our time and talent.  God values us for the generosity from which our giving flows.  Generosity flows from the love that we receive in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist.

OT 34-1

Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Saturday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [I]
I Maccabees 6:1-13  +  Luke 20:27-40
November 20, 2021

And they no longer dared to ask Him anything.

In today’s Gospel passage, Our Lord tries to make clear to the Sadducees the meaning of the Resurrection.  We too, however, even if we understand and believe in both the Resurrection of Our Lord and the promise of resurrection that God offers to all who die, perhaps may need to realize what type of claim the Resurrection places upon our Christian faith.

To believe in the Resurrection is to believe in the future fulfillment of God’s grace.  It is to understand that the suffering of the present is as nothing compared to the future glory to be revealed in Christ Jesus.  It is to guard in God’s name what has been entrusted to us until that final Day, which for each of us is the day of one’s death.

We never find Our Lord going into great detail about the nature of the afterlife.  There are two practical reasons for this.  First, the glory which will be the reward of God’s elect is too far beyond our comprehension.  Second, our only hope for sharing in that glory is to persevere in running the race which God has set before us, to stir into flame the gift of God each of us first received at our baptism, a flame in which we are purified like gold in the furnace.

OT 33-6

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Friday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [I]
I Maccabees 4:36-37,52-59  +  Luke 19:45-48
November 19, 2021

And every day He was teaching in the temple area.

Lots of people in Jesus’ day were fed up with the materialism and commercialism that had crept into the practices of the Temple in Jerusalem.  This place, the Temple, was the holiest place in the entire world for Jews.  One of the obligations of a good Jew in the time of Jesus was to go to Jerusalem at the time of Passover, and offer a sacrifice in the Temple:  those who were wealthy offered an entire ox or sheep; those with less means offered turtledoves.  And so there grew up a very large market during the time around Passover, a system within which many abuses developed.  Jesus undoubtedly had many people cheering for Him as He told off the Jewish officials and the money-makers in the Temple.

But how many people cheered for Him on that occasion when the Jews asked for a sign from Jesus, and He replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”?  Probably some were baffled.  Likely, some became angry at Jesus:  here He had purified the Temple, and now He wanted to destroy it?  The Scriptures go on to tell us that Jesus’ own disciples only came to understand His words after His Resurrection, so we only imagine what those who did not know Jesus well thought of these words.  For ourselves, Christ is the Temple, of which we are parts through the Church.  We need to purify ourselves as Jesus cleansed the Temple, so that we might offer right sacrifice there.

OT 33-5

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe [B]

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe [B]
Daniel 7:13-14   +   Revelation 1:5-8   +   John 18:33-37
November 21, 2021

“To Him… who has made us into a kingdom, priests for His God and Father, to Him be glory and power forever and ever.  Amen.”

If “Michael” is the question, then “Jesus” is the answer.  The name “Michael” literally means, “Who is like God?”  In sacred art, Saint Michael the Archangel is usually shown in conquest over the devil, who believes that the answer to the question is “Me”.

By contrast, St. Michael personifies the virtue of humility.  Humility is the first step on the path towards God.  If all the virtues of the Christian life were like the alphabet, then the letter “A” would be humility, and the letter “Z” would be caritas:  divine love.  But how do we get from “A” to “Z”?

Too often, unfortunately, we’re tempted to think of ourselves as “saved”, as if we’ve already reached our spiritual goal—that spiritual “Z”—simply because we were adopted by God the Father through our baptism.  But you and I are fully capable of rejecting that inheritance, just like the Prodigal Son.  Countless choices that we make testify that we prefer pigs to prayer, servitude to salvation, and husks of corn to the Bread of finest wheat.

Humility focuses our attention upon Christ the King.  In Him we see the fullness of humility, and the fullness of divine love.  “Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega”, the First and the Last, “the one who is and who was and who is to come”.

“Who is like God?”  Only God Himself, as we see in the Person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ embodies all the virtues, from humility to divine love.  Our Gospel passage leads us to look on Jesus as our King, who shows humility and divine love in submitting Himself to sinful man.

Pilate and Jesus stand face-to-face.  Pilate bears the power of the Roman Empire and exercises it with the snap of his fingers.  Pilate plainly explains to Jesus that he has the power to crucify Him.  Jesus responds to all of Pilate’s questions, demands, and threats with what may seem to be disinterested resignation.

In the Nicene Creed that we profess at Holy Mass, there are only three human beings whom we mention by name.  Not surprisingly, two of them are Jesus and His Blessed Mother.  But the third isn’t even a member of God’s Chosen People.  The third is not Abraham or Moses, Peter or Paul, but a pagan by the name of Pontius Pilate.  But why?

The Fathers of the Church who composed the Nicene Creed in the year A. D. 325 could, conceivably, have written that part of the Creed without mentioning Pontius Pilate.  But perhaps they wanted to make a statement about worldly power:  that Pontius Pilate is a symbol of all those who put their faith and trust in worldly power.

St. Teresa of Calcutta explained that “God writes straight with crooked lines.”  God can use crooked men such as Pontius Pilate as His instruments, just as surely as God can use His faithful people as His instruments.  Here again is the topsy-turviness of Good Friday.  Pontius Pilate thought he was serving his earthly Ceasar by delivering Jesus over to death.  In fact, he was serving God’s Providential Will, whether he knew it or not.

Human history is the drama of God’s grace warring against human sinfulness.  Right in the center is Jesus Christ at the top of Calvary.  God’s grace is a river, more powerful than any river in the natural world.  God’s grace will flow, regardless of our choices and priorities.

On this feast of Christ the King, we celebrate the victory of God’s plan for mankind, already won by Christ on the Cross.  In Christ, who reigns from the Cross, we have the King who wants us to share in His victory by our entering into His life and imitating Him through His grace.

Yet God only offers you His grace:  He does not force it upon you.  God’s grace will flow around you, if you divert it from your life.  But on the other hand, God’s grace is always there, ready to flood your life, to destroy only sin and the power of death.  No matter how many times we divert God’s grace, God has another plan for allowing His grace to reach its goal, and for allowing each of us, living in that grace, to rest in God’s divine love for all eternity.

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday of the Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time [I]
I Maccabees 2:15-29  +  Luke 19:41-44
November 18, 2021

“If this day you only knew what makes for peace ….”

As the Church year draws to an end, Jesus in the weekday Gospel passages is drawing near to His own end in Jerusalem.  There is something a little anachronistic about this.  After all, it’s during Lent that we Christians liturgically observe Jesus drawing closer to His end, an end which culminates in the liturgies of the Sacred Triduum.

However, the end of the Church year—as it focuses on the end of human history itself—helps us realize that Jesus’ end is meant to be our end.  Further, the Risen and Ascended Lord Jesus will judge each of us at the end of time.  So today’s Gospel passage helps us orient our lives to our own end.

This passage is quite melancholy, not only because of Jesus’ tears, but also because of His words.  “If this day you only knew what makes for peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”  This sentence alone would offer many hours of meditation to one willing to ponder it.  But as Jesus continues to speak, He directs our attention more specifically towards Himself.  That this peace He speaks of is Jesus Himself becomes clear when He notes that the immanent destruction of Jerusalem is due to it not recognizing “the time of [its] visitation.”  Jesus visited God’s People that they might have eternal life, and they put the author of life to death outside Jerusalem.  Each of us shares in this rejection of Jesus by his own sins.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Religious

St. Elizabeth of Hungary, Religious
II Maccabees 7:1,20-31  +  Luke 19:11-28
November 17, 2021

“… from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Those who think of Jesus as a “teddy bear” are challenged by the last sentence of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage.  These words conclude a lengthy parable, which St. Luke the Evangelist prefaces with a clear explanation of the motive for the parable:  Jesus “proceeded to tell a parable because He was near Jerusalem and they thought that the Kingdom of God would appear there immediately.”

The “king” speaks and acts harshly.  He refers to himself as “a demanding man”, but his greatest demand comes at the end of the parable.  Of his enemies he declares, “bring them here and slay them before me.”  The question is to whom this character in the parable refers in real life?  Can he possibly symbolize Jesus or God the Father?  The king’s demand is reminiscent of practices found in the Old Testament.  God Himself seems in the Old Testament to demand the murder of innocents.  Surely such ideas have no place in the teaching of Jesus?

However, the parable’s own inner logic suggests that the servants did have a choice.  This points to the choice that each servant of God has to follow Him or not.  At the end of each person’s life is a fork.  One branch leads to eternal life and the other to eternal death.  This is where the Kingdom of God comes to its fulfillment.

OT 33-3