The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
II Kings 4:8-11,14-16  +  Romans 6:3-4,8-11  +  Matthew 10:37-42
June 28, 2020

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

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click HERE for Scott Hahn’s reflection for this Sunday (2:53)

click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this Sunday (5:43)

click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Sunday

click HERE to watch the homily for this Sunday from the cathedral in Phoenix, Ariz. (10:46)

+     +     +

click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2017 Angelus address for this Sunday

click HERE to read Pope Benedict’s January 7, 2009 audience talk on St. Paul’s letters

click HERE to read St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea on Mt 10:34—11:1

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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 2232-2233: to follow Christ is first vocation of Christian
CCC 537, 628, 790, 1213, 1226-1228, 1694: baptism, to die to self, to live for Christ
CCC 1987: grace justifies through faith and baptism

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All over the Wichita Diocese, many priests recently started new assignments.  Undoubtedly, some had mixed feelings about uprooting themselves and beginning again in a new part of the diocese.  At such a crossroads, a priest knows to reflect upon Jesus’ three years of public ministry.

Whenever we hear of Jesus’ teaching and miracles, we have to be mindful that Jesus isn’t just wandering from town to town randomly.  He’s a man on a mission.  His mission is the Cross on that hill just outside Jerusalem.  Jesus wants each of us to follow Him there.

At Sunday Mass, the Church’s Sacred Liturgy will be marked by Ordinary Time for the next twenty weeks or so until the end of the Church year in November.  Over the course of these twenty weeks our Gospel Reading each Sunday will follow this journey of Jesus towards Jerusalem.

Consider two points about this journey.  Each relates to your own spiritual life, which is meant to mirror Jesus’ public ministry.

First, reflect upon the sort of strength you need to persevere in the journey.  There are two types of strength that are needed.  There is moral strength on the natural level, which we can develop into moral virtues, especially the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.  Then there is the spiritual strength that comes only from God’s supernatural grace.

But think about how these two interact with each other.  Atheists who want to be virtuous will rely only on the moral virtues, rejecting the idea of turning to God for His grace.  Then on the other hand is the opposite, but also wrong-headed approach.  This is the belief that only through God’s spiritual strength can we make it through life.  The false belief negates the need to cultivate the human, moral virtues.  In other words, this second wrong-headed approach claims that a Christian can just receive the sacraments frequently without the hard work of cultivating the human, moral virtues.

The middle approach, which is the path that Holy Mother Church commends to us, is to integrate these types of strength.  We need human, moral strength that comes from cultivating the virtues.  We also need the divine strength that comes only from God’s grace.

In theology, there’s a basic principle that sums all this up.  It asserts that “grace builds upon nature”, or that “grace presupposes nature”.  Our human nature, including our human formation in all the virtues, is the foundation of our lives as persons.  When God gives us His grace, even as powerful as grace is, it presupposes nature.  If the natural foundation is not there, the supernatural grace washes away, so to speak.

To illustrate this principle, think of a one-hundred story skyscraper.  If its foundation is made of sand, it doesn’t matter if you build the upper stories with the strongest steel beams on the market.  The whole building will eventually teeter, and then totter, and then the whole thing will collapse, including those strong, steel beams.  Something similar occurs in connection with God’s grace, which must build upon the natural qualities that we do or do not have through human cultivation.

Given all that, reflect upon a second point.  Reflect upon the peace that comes from following Jesus instead of following the call of the world.  Jesus at the Last Supper said, “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” [Jn 14:27].

So how can we know this peace in our lives?  It emerges when you focus your earthly days upon the two most important moments in your life.  Whenever you pray the “Hail Mary”, you speak of those two most important moments:  now and the hour of your death.

Some live as if death will never arrive.  Many live only for “now”.  Yet every “now” of our life bears a direct impact on which eternal dwelling God will send us packing for at the hour of our death.  Everything we do now, or don’t do now, bears on that moment at the hour of our death.  Cooperating with God’s grace at each earthly “now” will bring us peace not only at the hour of our death, but also during the eternity that inevitable follows death.

St. Joseph - Happy Death - Bartolomeo Altomonte


Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Kings 24:8-17  +  Matthew 7:21-29
June 25, 2020

“… only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven …”

Today the Church proclaims the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus, Our Lord and Savior, has at the beginning of His public ministry proclaimed this great sermon in order to move those listening to follow Him all the Way to Calvary, where He will accomplish our salvation.  Jesus did not come into this world primarily to teach, but to save.  Nonetheless, His teaching serves His saving mission.  How can we be saved if we don’t know that we need saving?  How can we be saved if we don’t accept Christ as Our Savior, and follow Him as the way that leads to salvation?

His Sermon on the Mount is often considered the masterpiece of Jesus’ teaching.  As such, this sermon could serve as a template for any teacher.  One example of its brilliance is the way in which Jesus, in the sermon’s last section, brings to a head what He’s been focusing upon throughout.  As any good teacher does, His last words sum up and reiterate a major point of His lesson.  What point do we hear in today’s final words from this sermon?

Twice in this passage Jesus firmly declares the disciple’s need to unite his will with God the Father and God the Son.  Jesus says first that “only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” “will enter the Kingdom of heaven”.  A few moments later Jesus says that “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”  “The will of [Jesus’] Father” and “these words of [Jesus] are, therefore, where each of us needs to concentrate our prayer and moral efforts.

OT 12-4

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Isaiah 49:1-6  +  Acts 13:22-26  +  Luke 1:57-66,80
June 24, 2020

For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is so important a feast that there are two full sets of Scripture readings for Holy Mass.  One set is proclaimed at Vigil Masses on the evening before the feast day, while the other set is proclaimed on the day itself.  Yet regardless of whether you attend Mass this weekend on Saturday evening or Sunday, the Gospel passage you hear will be taken from the first chapter of St. Luke’s account of the Gospel.

The Vigil’s Gospel passage comes from the beginning of Luke 1.  The Gospel passage for the feast day itself comes from the end of the chapter.  These two passages bookend the story of St. John’s birth.  As with the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ birth, the child to be born is the focus, but not the central actor.  In the Gospel passages for today’s feast, the central actor is John’s father, Zechariah.  St. Luke the Evangelist here contrasts Zechariah with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Zechariah was an elderly husband, yet without children.  Mary was a young betrothed virgin.  Saint Gabriel appears to each of them separately, and tells each not to be afraid.  The archangel announces to each that a son is to be born.  Yet their responses differ profoundly.

The man persists in unbelief, while the woman believes.  Mary’s final word in response to St. Gabriel’s announcement is “Fiat”“Let it be done unto me according to your word” [Luke 1:38].  In response to Zechariah’s unbelief, St. Gabriel declares in a verse not long after the end of the Gospel passage for the Vigil Mass:  “behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things come to pass” [Lk 1:20].  That “day” is narrated in the Gospel passage for Sunday.

Saint Augustine in Sunday’s Office of Readings explains that “the silence of Zechariah is nothing but the age of prophecy lying hidden, obscured, as it were, and concealed before the preaching of Christ.”  Later in the same sermon, St. Augustine expounds the distinction between Jesus and His cousin:  “The voice is John, but the Lord ‘in the beginning was the Word.’  John was a voice that lasted only for a time; Christ, the Word in the beginning, is eternal.”

But if the voice must decrease, so that the Word may increase, what can be said of Zechariah?  He is not even a voice, but silence:  the silence in which the Voice is conceived, and a silence which you as a sinner must enter.

The silence illustrated by Zechariah is born of unbelief.  Every sinner is called into this silence.  Most of our fallen world is a modern Babel.  We are unfaithful to God’s Word, because we cannot hear it for the cacophony of the modern world.  We are among those of whom the Beloved Disciple writes in the prologue to his Gospel account:  “the Word came to His own, and His own people received Him not” [John 1:11].

Because it’s always so in this valley of tears, God calls fallen man into silence so that there we might recognize our sins, and hear and heed God’s Word.  The silence of Zechariah is what St. John of the Cross writes about:  “What we need most in order to make [spiritual] progress is to be silent before this great God, with our appetites and our tongue.”

This silence is a means to man’s true end.  This is the end for which God created man “in the beginning”:  to share in the divine life of the Trinity in a holy and eternal silence.  About this final silence, the end of all we are and do as disciples of the Word made Flesh, St. John of the Cross also speaks:  “the Father spoke one Word, which was His Son, and this Word He speaks always in eternal silence, and in silence must it be heard by the soul.”

St. John the Baptist was born so that the Old Testament might die.  Yet such a death was meant all along in God’s Providence to be fulfilled by a new life, like the grain of wheat that dies in order to bear much fruit.  St. John the Baptist was born to preach the message of repentance:  the need to accept ourselves as sinner, and the need to accept Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins and those of the whole world.

Nativity of St. John the Baptist - Fra Angelico

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Kings 19:9-11,14-21,31-35,36  +  Matthew 7:6,12-14
June 23, 2020

“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.”

Coming to the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, today we hear Him offer several brief proverbs.  It would be difficult to find a common theme among all of them.  Yet we could take any one of them and, brief as it is, commit it to memory and recite it throughout this day for reflection.

Of these proverbs, the second is best known.  The “Golden Rule” is taught to children early in life.  Of course it demands an ability to step back from a situation and reflect upon it from outside.  This is difficult if someone is used to acting impulsively, without reflection.

Perhaps today, though, we could reflect on the Golden Rule in a different light.  Reflect on the Golden Rule as Jesus lived it; or rather, as He died by it.  Reflect on the Golden Rule in the light of the crucifix.  What Jesus did for you on the Cross is what Jesus would have you do for His sake.  This is what He calls you to, in fact, as a member of His Church:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” [Matthew 16:24].

The Narrow Gate

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
II Kings 17:5-8,13-15,18  +  Matthew 7:1-5
June 22, 2020

“The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you.”

Pondering the mystery of Christ, we find that God calls us to act morally along the same lines that we accept Christ:  first, in humble faith; then, with a burning desire to extend God’s love to those beyond our immediate reach.  Thus in the Ten Commandments we are called to serve both God and neighbor.  The first three command us to love God completely, above all others.  Then the last seven command us to serve our neighbor from our love for God.

In today’s Gospel passage we hear Jesus commanding us to love our neighbor in a specific way:  that is, by forgiving our neighbor.  Regarding to what extent—or even whether—we forgive any individual neighbor of ours, Jesus declares:  “The measure with which you measure will be used to measure you.”

We should be mindful that our sins, as infinite offenses against Almighty God, will not permit us finally to enter into His Presence unless we are shown infinite mercy by Almighty God.  So it is that we ourselves, strengthened by God’s own infinite forgiveness, must forgive others if we hope to live in God’s sight.

Forbes, Vivian, 1891-1937; Sir Thomas More Refusing to Grant Wolsey a Subsidy, 1523

The Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary
II Chronicles 24:17-25  +  Luke 2:41-51
June 20, 2020

… and His mother kept all these things in her heart.

Today’s Gospel passage is proper to today’s feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  The setting is unique within the four Gospel accounts:  Jesus is twelve years old, on the verge of entering into Jewish manhood (an entrance celebrated today with the ceremony of bar mitzvah).  If those scholars are correct who suggest that Jesus was conceived at the time of Passover, than today’s Gospel occurs right on the threshold of His thirteenth year of human life.  So this narrative, like that of Jesus’ Baptism, foreshadows His vocation as the one who by His death leads the sheepfold to the Father.

The specific link between this Gospel passage and today’s feast is the final phrase, in which St. Luke notes that Mary “kept all these things in her heart.”  Yet the culmination of “all these things” that are related in the passage are Jesus’ two questions:  “Why were you looking for me?  Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

The setting makes Mary’s pondering all these things in her heart very poignant.  As Jesus enters into manhood, He makes clear not just “Who” His Father is (which Mary and Joseph obviously knew), but also that His Father’s Will (symbolized by the Temple) is His reason for being in this world.  With each new insight into her Son’s life, and with each of the seven swords that pierces her immaculate heart, Mary repeats time and again:  “Fiat.”

IHM Immaculate Heart of Mary

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus [A]

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus [A]
Deuteronomy 7:6-11  +  1 John 4:7-16  +  Matthew 11:25-30
June 19, 2020

In this is love:  not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.

Tomorrow the Church honors the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the heart of her who was never touched by any sin, but instead is “full of grace”.  Of course, Jesus is sinless also, sharing in the divinity of His Father, so we could speak of the Immaculate Heart of Jesus.  But today we are celebrating instead the “Sacred Heart” of Jesus.

To be “sacred” means “to be set aside for a special purpose.”  What, then, is the purpose of Jesus’ heart?  The heart is obviously a human aspect of who Jesus is.  It certainly expresses the love of God the Son, for as Saint John the Beloved Disciple tells us, “God is love”.  As God, in his divinity, the Son of course has no physical heart—we can say only that the Godhead possesses a heart in a metaphorical sense—but in His humanity Jesus possesses a physical heart, beating within His Body, pumping His life-blood to all its parts.

What does it mean then to say that Jesus, as human, has a heart?  It means that He is capable of suffering.  To have a heart means to be able to be broken, to be weak, to be vulnerable.  This is “the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love”:  that He would carry a Cross and die upon it for us, in order to open the gates of Heaven for the redemption of our darkened, sinful hearts.

This is the special purpose of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the reason for the Incarnation.  This is what Jesus’ heart was set aside for:  that it would be broken, that it would be pierced.  But far be it from us only to give thanks before an image of the Sacred Heart.  The Sacred Heart is a person to be imitated.

We do not celebrate the feast of “the Sacred Intellect of Jesus”.  Nor do we celebrate the feast of “the Sacred Memory”.  We celebrate the “Sacred Heart” because of the importance of the capacity of God and man to will:  that is, to choose.  God’s will always chooses love, because “God is love”, and because “love consists in this:  not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and has sent His Son as an offering for our sins.”

The Sacred Heart is a person to be imitated.  The heart pumps blood to the entire body, and as Jesus’ members we share in that life-blood:  we share in the offering for our sins that Christ sacrificed on the Cross and memorialized sacramentally at His Last Supper.  The sacred meal of Holy Mass is “set aside”:  its purpose is our sanctification, that our hearts might become more capable of being broken for the salvation of others, and “attain to the fullness of God Himself.”

Sacred Heart - Bruges

The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Jeremiah 20:10-13  +  Romans 5:12-15  +  Matthew 10:26-33
June 21, 2020

“What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”

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click HERE to hear Scott Hahn’s reflection for this Sunday (3:00)

click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this Sunday (5:29)

click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Sunday

click HERE to watch the homily for this Sunday from the cathedral in Phoenix, Ariz. (15:26)

+     +     +

click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2017 Angelus address for this Sunday

click HERE to read Pope Benedict’s 2008 homily for this Sunday

click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s homily on August 15, 1993 at the World Youth Day in Denver

+     +     +

references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 852: the Spirit of Christ sustains the Christian mission
CCC 905: evangelizing by the example of life
CCC 1808, 1816: courageous witness of faith overcomes fear and death
CCC 2471-2474: bear witness to the truth
CCC 359, 402-411, 615: Adam, Original Sin, Christ the New Adam

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During the first three centuries of the Church, being a Christian was no easy thing.  Christianity was illegal.  The first thirty-three popes were all martyred.  For over three hundred years, to lead the Church from the Chair of St. Peter meant to be killed.  It’s no wonder that there arose in the Church such a reverence for the office of the Pope.  In their earthly leader, Christians could plainly see the image of Jesus Christ, whose death opened the gates of Heaven.

Of course, it was not only the popes who became martyrs.  Thousands of Christians from every walk of life—carpenters, farmers, mothers and fathers, tradesmen and fishermen, to name just a few—were martyred generation after generation until Christianity was made legal in the fourth century.

Once the Emperor Constantine joined the Church, Christianity became not just legal, but the religion of the Roman Emperor.  Christian martyrs seemed a thing of the past.  For hundreds of years thereafter, the Faith was wedded to the rule of empires, nations, and kingdoms throughout the world.

Unfortunately, this led to a different problem.  Martyrdom often took another form.  Instead of people being sacrificed, the Truth was at times sacrificed for the sake of worldly peace.  The Faith was sacrificed at the altar of the secular.

Even in our own day, God asks us Christians to consider such a form of martyrdom.  He asks faithful Catholics, the members of His Church, to stand on guard.  We do not know when the truth is going to be attacked.  Have you ever been surprised by something you’ve come across in the media which takes the truth and twists it?  Have you ever heard the topic of the Church brought up in conversation, only to be met with laughs and sneers?

Throughout the Gospel accounts, you don’t hear Jesus talk much about the Devil.  Even when He was tempted by Satan in the desert, Jesus did not pursue Satan.  Jesus simply fought against the temptations that Satan placed before Him.  When Satan was through trying to tempt Jesus and fled the desert, Jesus did not give chase.  The devil fled to fight another day, and century, and millennium.

In Sunday’s Gospel Reading, Jesus says that what we receive within the walls of our parish churches we need to be willing to speak in public.  We don’t have to go searching for arguments.  When we hear someone putting down the Church’s beliefs, we ourselves are being putting down.  The Church is the Body of Christ, and we are all members of that Sacred Body.  When the Body of Christ is attacked, her teachings ridiculed, or her rights suppressed, we must be willing to speak out and at times even act against what is false and unjust.

But how do we go about doing that?  Sometimes, just speaking out and saying that a remark is offensive makes someone understand his wrong-doing.  Yet sometimes we may be challenged by another to defend what the Church teaches, and that demands that we understand the Faith.  This raises another important point about Jesus’ words in Sunday’s Gospel Reading.

There hasn’t been a saint in the history of the Church who has completely understood everything that there is to know about the Faith.  Nonetheless, we must be willing to explain as much as we do we know.  Furthermore, we must be willing to learn more than what we currently know, whether we do this by reading, watching television shows that accurately teach about the Faith, or simply by holding a conversation with knowledgeable Catholics.

Of course, the greatest resource we have at our disposal is God the Holy Spirit.  Through Baptism we have received the Holy Spirit, and those of us who have been confirmed have been strengthened by the Spirit’s seven gifts.  Four of these seven gifts strengthen the human intellect to help us know the Faith:  wisdom, understanding, counsel, and knowledge.  The other three gifts of the Holy Spirit strengthen the human will to help us spread the Faith:  fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord.  All of these help us to speak Jesus’ words in the light and to proclaim them on the housetops.

Preaching - La_Prédication_de_saint_Etienne_à_Jérusalem_de_Carpaccio

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Sirach 48:1-14  +  Matthew 6:7-15
June 18, 2020

“Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name.”

Putting the Gospel passages from recent weekday Masses in context, we see the person of God the Father emerge.  These passages come from the Sermon on the Mount.  Two days ago the Church proclaimed the last section of Matthew 5, the last phrase of which is Jesus’ command to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Yesterday’s Gospel passage concerned the performance of “righteous deeds”, for which God the “Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

In today’s Gospel passage this theme comes to a head with Jesus teaching His Church to pray the “Our Father”.  This is the only “recited prayer” (or as this type is sometimes called, “vocal prayer”) that Jesus gave to the Church.

Many saints have commented on the “Our Father” by pointing out that Jesus had no need to teach any other prayer, because this prayer contains all that one might need or want to say to the Father, at least in seminal form.  Other prayers are commended to us by the Church because they draw out further the phrases of the “Our Father”.  We who are slow and weak to believe benefit from other vocal prayers, but they must finally lead us back to the embrace of God the Father.

OT 11-4