Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Galatians 5:18-25  +  Luke 11:42-46
October 14, 2020

“You pay tithes … but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.”

If the scholar of the Law who interrupted Jesus’ lambasting of the Pharisees thought he would earn an apology from Jesus, he quickly realized otherwise.  Contrary to modern notions of Jesus as a sort of “spiritual teddy bear”, today’s Gospel passage splashes cold water on our souls, forcing us to ask whether Jesus might speak of us in a similar manner.

However, in addition to the sober fact of Jesus’ forthright willingness to condemn those deserving condemnation, we could consider in turn each of the “woes” that Jesus articulates today.  Here consider just the first.

“You pay tithes… but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.”  All three of these objects of religion—tithes, judgment, and love—are due to God from human persons.  They “belong” to God, we might say, each in its own manner.  Why might it be that the Pharisees are willing to give the first, but not the latter two?

There certainly is a hierarchy among the three.  “Love for God” is due God because “God is love”.  Judgment is due God in that only He—all-loving and all-knowing—can judge truly.  Tithing of materials goods such as “of mint and of rue and of every garden herb” is due God because He is the Lord of creation.  Nonetheless, the ascent to God in the practice of religion involves the ascent of a staircase with many steps.  The tithing of material goods is one of the lower steps, and the Pharisees are content to rest there.  This step is meant to lead us further upwards: closer to God, towards a higher share in God’s divine nature.

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Galatians 5:1-16  +  Luke 11:37-41
October 13, 2020

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.

We tend, at weekday Masses, to hear a continuous reading from day to day of whichever book of the Bible is being read for the First Reading.  However, what happens at the beginning of today’s First Reading is unusual.  The first verse of today’s reading was the last verse of yesterday’s First Reading.  This repetition underscores the significance of this verse’s message.  “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”

Freedom, we might say, is the whole point of faith in Jesus Christ.  Without Christ, we are slaves:  to sin, and to our fallen selves.  In Christ, we are free to live eternally.  In Christ, we find the Love who is God Himself, and the love that strengthens us for service of God and neighbor.

During the month of October, the month of Our Lady’s Rosary, the Church also focuses on the dignity of human life.  Part of this focus is upon the need for laws to be passed to protect human life.  While we need laws that reflect the mind of God, we have to be honest about the fact that laws do not change the minds and hearts of lawbreakers.  Laws can make good fences, but they cannot make good people.  That why the fostering of virtue is needed, and there’s no greater source of virtue than God’s grace.

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Galatians 4:22-24,26-27,31—5:1  +  Luke 11:29-32
October 12, 2020

These women represent two covenants.

In today’s First Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, the Apostle to the Gentiles uses a very direct allegory.  Abraham begat one son by a free woman, and another son by a slave woman.  St. Paul sees the slave son as an allegory for those held bound by the Law, while the free son is an allegory for those who share in the freedom of Christ.

In the last line, St. Paul uses this allegory for a practical purpose.  “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”  Many first-century Christians had begun their lives as Jews under the Law, but had converted their lives to Christ as adults as the Church began to grow.  They had personally lived under the Law, and St. Paul is urging them not to regress back to living under the burden of the Law, which is a yoke of slavery.

For us Christians in the twenty-first century, we are like the Galatians in that we experience temptations to live under the law.  Of course, there are many civil and church laws that we are bound to, under the threat of just penalties.  The freedom of Christ doesn’t abolish the need for law.  But St. Paul exhorts us not to believe in law of any sort.  That is to say, no law can make someone a better person.  Law can only indicate when someone has acted outside the boundary of what is good.  Law merely defines wrong-doing.  Only grace, a share in the life of God, can make someone a better person.

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Galatians 3:22-29  +  Luke 11:27-28
October 10, 2020

“Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

In the Catholic Church, Saturday is a “little day” devoted to Our Blessed Mother Mary.  It is little because liturgically, the day only runs until mid-afternoon (some would specify this as 4:00 p.m.).  From that point on, the day is celebrated liturgically as the vigil of Sunday.

This “little day” is traditionally devoted to Our Lady because as Jesus came to us from Mary, so Sunday follows on this brief span of time.  Even in a parish, Saturday mornings and early afternoons are quieter than the rest of the week (unless, of course, a funeral or wedding is celebrated).  Even on a quiet Saturday, though, there’s work to be done behind the scenes in preparation for the Lord’s Day, as our Lady worked quietly to prepare for her Son, and to minister to Him during His public ministry.

Today’s Gospel passage is fittingly short, then:  only two verses long.  A woman from the crowd honors Mary without naming her.  Jesus then seems to cast aside the honor accorded His mother.  In fact, however, He’s describing Mary, and so is pointing out to us our need to be like her:  “blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

We’re familiar with the Third Commandment:  “Keep holy the Lord’s Day.”  This commandment binds us under pain of mortal sin.  It lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.  Nonetheless, each of us needs to “keep hallowed Our Lady’s Day”.  This is not a command that binds under pain of sin, and while the Third Commandment lies at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, the counsel to “keep hallowed Our Lady’s Day” lies at the heart of what it means to grow as a Christian.

No one can grow closer to Jesus, and no one can live his or her life in Christ, without honoring Jesus’ Blessed Mother.  While the Third Commandment binds under pain of mortal sin, devotion to Our Lady’s Day binds under pain of lukewarmness in the Christian life.  Make certain in your life to enkindle, nurture, and foster devotion to Our Blessed Mother each and every Saturday morning and afternoon.

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Galatians 3:7-14  +  Luke 11:15-26
October 9, 2020

Realize that it is those who have faith who are children of Abraham.

In today’s First Reading, Saint Paul preaches to the Galatians about the Old Testament patriarch Abraham.  In the Roman Canon of Holy Mass, we hear Abraham described as “our father in faith”.  It’s in this sense that St. Paul is describing Abraham in the First Reading.

Many virtues color the life of one who pursues God (or rather, who allows God to pursue him).  The three greatest of these are called “theological virtues” because each has a very direct connection to God.  Faith is the first of the theological virtues.  It’s not the greatest of the three, but its importance lies in its being foundational.  Faith is the bedrock on which the rest of the spiritual life is built.  Without true faith, one might as well build on sand.

Abraham is such a powerful example of the virtue of faith because of the way he teaches us how to sacrifice.  Often we are willing to make a sacrifice because we know we’re making a sort of trade, and that we’ll get something that in some way is better than what we’re sacrificing.  But religious sacrifice is rooted in faith.  A tremendous example of this is Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son.  Abraham’s willingness wasn’t based on getting something in return:  indeed, this sacrifice was nothing but profound loss for him!  His willingness was based on his faith in the One who asked him to make the sacrifice.

The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 25:6-10  +  Philippians 4:12-14,19-20  +  Matthew 22:1-14
October 11, 2020

“My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?”

In today’s Gospel Reading we hear of a wedding feast hosted by a king.  As we’d expect, the feast reflects his personality.  We’re given hints of how lavish it was.  Yet this earthly king symbolizes God the Father.  Just as the king’s earthly feast is a feast fit for a king, so the divine feast that it symbolizes is a feast befitting God:  an infinite feast.  In other words, the feast in the parable symbolizes Heaven itself.  Jesus preaches this parable to help those listening imagine what Heaven is like.

In describing “the kingdom of Heaven”, the parable first explains Heaven’s seating capacity, if you will.  God wants everybody there, even though not everyone may end up there.

Yet we also need to focus on an even more important feature of the wedding feast before reflecting on the parable’s action.  The wedding feast is the king’s in the sense that he’s the one who gave it.  However, the wedding feast is given in honor of the king’s son.  This son symbolizes Jesus, of course.

So what does this tell us about the Kingdom of Heaven?  We might turn to the Book of Revelation, where St. John the Evangelist describes Heaven as the wedding feast of the Lamb of God.

The multitudes in Heaven sing eternal praise to the Lamb who was slain.  We ourselves refer to this right before Holy Communion.  The priest elevates the Sacred Host and declares:  “Behold, the Lamb of God ….  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”  Our response acknowledges that God’s forgiveness of our sins is our ticket to entering this wedding supper:  sacramentally at Holy Mass, and—hopefully—in Heaven forever.

If you and I make it to Heaven, we will spend the rest of eternity praising the Lamb of God.  This is the Lamb who was slain so that our sins could be washed in His blood.  In other words, God offering us forgiveness is His invitation to share in the wedding feast of Heaven.

With this as background, what are we to make of the violence in the parable?  The violence flies in two directions.  The second is on the part of the king, who acts in retribution.  Jesus issues a warning to us here that His Father is not just some sort of teddy bear, but rather a Just Judge.  On a practical level, though, the first form of violence is more important for us to reflect on.

The parable’s invited guests symbolize all of mankind.  Man has heard God’s desire that “all peoples” and “all nations” enter into the wedding feast of Heaven.  Nonetheless, they may enter only through confession of their sins.  Here we need to understand the parable’s invited guests as including ourselves.

Yet we also need to ask who the servants are, and how we can understand the violence done to them.  Those who deliver to you and me God’s invitation to repentance may be other persons:  for example, a spouse, a parent, a priest, an employer, a neighbor, a grandparent, or a friend.  Unfortunately, we want spouses who compliment us, priests who tickle our ears from the pulpit, and friends who will tell us about the faults of others, rather than our own.

We may not be accustomed to think of Heaven as a wedding banquet.  Most of us are accustomed to think of Heaven as the fulfillment of our own greatest wishes, hopes, and desires.  Nonetheless, there’s one important truth that is left out of today’s parable.  Jesus didn’t leave it out because He was a poor teacher, but because we’re slow learners.

You and I are the bride at this wedding feast.  We are not only invited guests, but we are invited to espouse our selves to the King’s Son!  Although we’re familiar with the idea that the Church is the Bride of Christ, we may not be used to reflecting on ourselves as being espoused to Jesus Christ.  But consider that truth in the light of today’s parable.  Jesus died for His bride.  His invitation to us is to accept His death—the price of our forgiveness—as the means of union with Him.  It’s through this union that He invites us into the eternal wedding feast of Heaven.

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Galatians 3:1-5  +  Luke 11:5-13
October 8, 2020

O stupid Galatians!

This week and early next, we are hearing from the letter that Saint Paul wrote to the people in the region of Galatia.  It’s not hard to tell that Saint Paul was unhappy when he wrote his Letter to the Galatians.  Saint Paul wrote thirteen of the letters in the New Testament, and only in this letter, to the Galatians, does Saint Paul call people “stupid”.  It must be something very serious that the Galatians have done to be called this by a saintly apostle.

The mistake that Saint Paul is trying to correct is about the Galatians thinking that they are going to get to heaven only because of what they do.  The Galatians think that they are “making” the Holy Spirit present in their lives because of their good choices.

Instead, Saint Paul teaches, echoing the Gospel, that everything begins with God.  Our good works are accomplished only because of the time and talent that God gave us.  The Holy Spirit comes into our lives through the divine virtue of faith.  Even within the Trinity, the Holy Spirit comes from the love of God the Father and God the Son for each other.

Everything begins with God.  Jesus in today’s Gospel passage is teaching us about one specific type of prayer.  There are four basic types of prayer (there are others as well, but these are the four main types).  One way to remember them is to think of the word “pact”, as in an agreement.

The word “pact” has four letters.  Each letter stands for a different type of prayer.  The first of these—“p”—stands for “petition”.  We should ask God for whatever we believe we most need in life.  Sometimes God does not answer our prayers the way we want:  but this helps us grow spiritually, too, because when one of our prayers doesn’t get answered the way we wanted, it’s a chance for us to learn once again that God gives us not what we want, but what we need.

Our Lady of the Rosary

Our Lady of the Rosary
Galatians 2:1-2,7-14  +   Luke 11:1-4
October 7, 2020

“Father, hallowed be your Name, your Kingdom come.”

Every Christian knows by heart the ‘Our Father’:  the only recited prayer that Jesus taught to His followers.  But the ‘Our Father’ that we know in our hearts—which we pray at every Mass before receiving Holy Communion, and which we pray several times throughout the course of a rosary—is not exactly the ‘Our Father’ that we have just heard Jesus teach in today’s Gospel passage.

The version of the ‘Our Father’ that Luke records for us is shorter than the version that we know by heart. Maybe this shorter version is the first version that Jesus taught to his followers, much the same way that a teacher introduces just the key points first, and then later fleshes it out some more.

In this shorter version of the ‘Our Father’, there are three petitions that Jesus teaches us to pray.  In the silence following Holy Communion, of after Mass, or in your home, read and pray this shorter version, and see what the three petitions are.  What are the three things that Jesus teaches us to ask of our Heavenly Father?

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Galatians 1:13-24  +  Luke 10:38-42
October 6, 2020

“Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

In discussing, or learning about, the Catholic Faith, there’s often talk about how the Faith’s saving mysteries have a “both/and” dynamic at work.  The Church does not believe in reaching Heaven by “faith alone”; nor does she believe that one can earn Heaven by means of good works.  The Church’s perennial approach to the dynamic between faith and good works is “both/and”.  Likewise, Jesus is not a God who appears to be human, nor a human being that appears divine.  Jesus Christ is “both/and”:  fully divine and fully human.

Today’s Gospel passage raises another central duality among the Church’s saving mysteries.  The Church preaches that in the life of each Christian, both prayer and good works are vital to the Christian life.  Yet the point that Jesus makes in this passage is one of primacy.

Prayerful abiding at the feet of Jesus is primary in the Christian life.  Good works—even those done for Christ Himself—are secondary.  In turn, taking Jesus’ lesson here to heart helps us see that within every duality among the saving mysteries, one of the two is always prime.  Faith is primary to good works.  Jesus’ essential divinity is primary to His assumed humanity.  The Old Testament prepares for and is fulfilled by the New Testament.  The Liturgy of the Word prepares for and is consummated by the Liturgy of the Word made Flesh.

Our Christian faith challenges us to give ourselves over fully to all of the Church’s saving mysteries, yet to root our self-sacrifice in what is primary.  Striving to serve and striving to good works demands that we live like the sister of Martha:  beginning all we do with giving all we are in listening to Jesus.

Today is the feast of St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusian Order.