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.

St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist

St. Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist
Ephesians 4:1-7,11-13  +  Matthew 9:9-13
September 21, 2022

“I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Among the four evangelists, only Matthew and John were apostles.  Mark and Luke did not, as far as we know, ever meet Jesus during His earthly life.  Nonetheless, Mark and Luke were disciples of Peter and Paul, respectively, and from those two Mark and Luke received the apostolic witness to the Good News.

On this feast of St. Matthew, we also ought to keep in mind that while all four accounts of the Gospel are apostolic in origin, each presents a unique portrait of the Messiah.  If a man has four very close friends during his life, then after his death each of those four would likely write a different biography of their common friend.  Each account of his life would reflect the biographer’s interactions with him.

Today’s Gospel passage presents Matthew’s own account of how Jesus called him to serve.  Matthew is strikingly honest about his sinfulness.  In light of his own need for mercy, Matthew presents Jesus’s own vocation through the words that the Lord speaks at the end of today’s Gospel passage:  “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  God the Father called His divine Son to carry out this mission, and that Son extends here to Matthew a share in that mission.

The First Reading might seem fitting today because of St. Paul describing various roles within the Body of Christ, such as apostle and evangelist, both of which Matthew was.  However, consider the beginning of this passage, where Paul describes the Christian’s need for humility and patience, so as to bear “with one another through love”.  These words echo Matthew’s description of how Jesus called himself.

The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Amos 6:1,4-7  +  1 Timothy 6:11-16  +  Luke 16:19-31
Catechism Link: CCC 2831
September 25, 2022

“When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.”

As we listen to the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, if we only focus upon the two title characters, we miss something important.  We miss the Rich Man’s five brothers.  Turn your attention to these five brothers, and—just for a moment—away from the mercy for which Lazarus and the Rich Man beg.

We know very little about these five brothers.  We could presume that these five are like their brother in wearing fine clothing and dining sumptuously.  But we’re not told that outright.  The only details that we hear are that they’re still on earth, and that they need to repent.  Their brother in the netherworld tells us these two facts.

We see, then, that these five brothers represent us.  When Jesus first preached this parable, He was speaking to the Pharisees.  Jesus meant for the Pharisees to see themselves in those five brothers.  Yet like the Pharisees, you and I need to repent, and still have time on earth to do so.

The Rich Man failed to care for Lazarus while they lived on earth.  Jesus makes clear through this parable that both those in real need—such as Lazarus—and those who neglect the needy—such as the Rich Man—meet with God’s justice after death.  Lazarus is “carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham”, while the Rich Man in “the netherworld [is] in torment”.

Here we see how Jesus’ parable drives our focus towards the Rich Man’s five brothers still on earth.  It’s commendable that the Rich Man while in eternal torment would have such a selfless thought:  not wanting his brothers to end up like him.  Nonetheless, Jesus’ point is not the Rich Man’s selflessness after death, but the pointlessness of the Rich Man’s good intention.  The five brothers already have “Moses and the prophets”.  They have what they need to direct their lives towards Heaven, but their lives are still empty, because they don’t recognize their need to give.

God has built into your heart—into your “spiritual DNA”, if you will—this need to give.  This need to give lay dormant in the heart of the Rich Man in Jesus’ parable.  The need to give pulsed in his heart as he dressed finely and dined sumptuously each day.  This need to give is just as real as your need for healthful food, your need for clothing and shelter, and your need for rest.

The difficulty in the Rich Man’s life is that he allowed his needs to be shaped by his wants.  The Rich Man had an authentic need for food and drink, just as you and I, and Jesus and Mary and the saints, and every human being has.  This need is built into us by God in order to serve the physical needs of our bodies, so that through healthy bodies, we as persons can serve the needs of others.  This need is not there in order to be tickled by the tasty and the tempting.

The need for food and drink is very simple.  But we often change it into something that God did not design it to be.  That’s not to say that there’s something wrong with—for example—Thanksgiving dinners, or a dinner celebrating a wedding or a First Holy Communion.  But there is something wrong when one dines “sumptuously each day”:  when the tasty and tempting are one’s “daily bread”.

When we are complacent like the persons that Amos is preaching against in the First Reading—when we allow our needs to be shaped by our wants—we become tired and weak.  If we are weak and tired then it’s not possible to fill the bill that Saint Paul describes in the Second Reading.  St. Paul is preaching to his disciple Timothy when he encourages Timothy to live for God and neighbor, and not for himself.

What Paul is saying today to Timothy in our Second Reading, God says to you each day:  “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness.  Compete well for the faith.”  Likewise, just as Moses, the prophets, and even a dead man rising to life again could not help the Rich Man’s brothers until they recognized their need to give, so all the gifts in our lives cannot help us reach Heaven until we recognize our need to give them away.

Sts. Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest & Paul Chŏng Ha-sang and Comp., Martyrs

Sts. Andrew Kim Tae-gŏn, Priest, and Paul Chŏng Ha-sang, and Comp., Martyrs
Proverbs 21:1-6,10-13   +   Luke 8:19-21
September 20, 2022

“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

Today’s First Reading is from the Book of Proverbs.  A “proverb” is a very short saying—often only one sentence long—that reveals some little bit of wisdom.  Almost every culture in the world, and throughout time, has its own proverbs.  In our own country, one of the Founding Fathers—Benjamin Franklin—spent a lot of his time creating proverbs for the first Americans to reflect on:  such as, “A stitch in time saves nine”, or “A penny saved is a penny earned.”  These proverbs, if we reflect on them, can help us be smarter in the way that we lead our lives in this world.

The proverbs that we hear in the Bible, though, come from God.  These proverbs are not just about helping us lead a better life in this world:  the Book of Proverbs also helps us get to the world to come, which is Heaven.

The proverbs of the Bible are bite-sized.  When we hear from the Book of Proverbs at Mass, we’re hearing a whole bunch of proverbs at once.  The simplest way to gain spiritual profit from the Book of Proverbs is to take just one proverb—usually just one sentence—and repeat it, over and over, in our heart, mind and soul.

Today, we might take the very last sentence of today’s First Reading:  “He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor  /  will himself also call and not be heard.”  What does this mean?  Is this proverb talking about you?  Who are the poor in my midst, and what can I do to help them?

We should turn this proverb over in our soul, keeping in mind the words of the Lord Jesus in today’s Gospel passage:  “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”

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

Monday of the 25th Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Proverbs 3:27-34   +   Luke 8:16-18
September 19, 2022

“Take care, then, how you hear.”

Today the First Reading at weekday Mass begins to come from the Book of Proverbs.  As proverbs tend to be pithy, their nature resembles that of Jesus’ parables.  Hearing the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel passage, we can imagine that He is speaking to us when He says:  “Take care, then, how you hear.  To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away.”

Surely Jesus isn’t talking about money or possessions?  Jesus is talking about our spiritual life, and the grace inside of us:  “To anyone who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he seems to have will be taken away.”

Now who is it who would take away grace from our souls?  It’s not God.  It’s ourselves.  We drain ourselves of grace—so to speak—each and every time that we sin.

Here we can turn to the Book of Proverbs for an example.  Even though at Mass we hear from a whole section of verses put together, the Book of Proverbs is actually made up of proverbs that are often only one verse long.  These proverbs are meant to be taken just one at a time, for our reflection and prayer:  maybe at night, as we’re getting ready for sleep.

For example, in the Book of Proverbs today we hear:  “Quarrel not with a man without cause,  /  with one who has done you no harm.”  When we don’t follow these words, we sin, and we lose God’s life—His grace—because we have not followed His Word.  If there is such a person with whom we’ve quarreled, today is the day to ask that person for forgiveness, and to pray for that person and his spiritual growth, with the same care and concern that you have for your own spiritual growth.