St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin & Martyr
Jeremiah 31:31-34  +  Matthew 16:13-23
August 9, 2018

“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Today’s Gospel passage is well-known for revealing Jesus’ intention of founding His Church on the rock of faith, personified both in the individual Simon Peter, and in the office of the papacy.  What sometimes is overlooked is what immediately follows.  These latter verses also reveal something important about the Church, the office of the papacy, and the men who hold that office.

When Jesus “began to show His disciples that He must” suffer and be killed, the newly appointed Peter begins to “rebuke” Jesus!  The word “rebuke” is not a soft one.  But Jesus immediately and forcefully corrects Peter, revealing to us that Peter’s office is not subject to the personal concerns, insights or doubts of him who holds the office.  Nor is the officeholder of the papacy unable to err.

Peter’s error here reverses the profession of faith after which Jesus named him “Peter”.  Jesus praised Peter’s confession of faith, pointing out to him that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father”.  Contrast these words with what Jesus says following Peter’s scandalous rebuke:  “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do”.

This contrast between the divine and the human is juxtaposed by Peter’s confession of Jesus and his rebuke of Jesus.  Peter’s confession is of Jesus’ divinity, but his rebuke is based on refusing to accept Jesus’ humanity as the means of His mission.  Each of us needs to accept Jesus’ mission of offering His Body and Blood on the Cross.  Through this mission, Jesus will fully share divine life with those of us who place their faith in Him.

St. Dominic

St. Dominic, Priest
Jeremiah 31:1-7  +  Matthew 15:21-28
August 8, 2018

“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

When the Israelites entered the Promised Land after the Exodus, they met up with the Canaanites.  The Israelites considered them to be wicked and godless, a race of people that they should exterminate.  This outlook persisted until the time of Jesus.  In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus explains that this outlook cannot be held by His followers.

The woman in the Gospel passage is a Canaanite.  She had enough faith in Jesus to ask Him to release her daughter from a demon.  But then Jesus says a shocking thing to the woman:  “It is not right to take the food of the sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs.”  These words do not represent Jesus’ own thoughts, but we see—because of the response that Jesus draws out of the woman, and because of Jesus’ action in reply—the lesson that Jesus has for His followers.

In our culture today, we can apply Jesus’ teaching to the way that many today are tempted to treat those from areas where terrorists dwell.  Jesus says to us, “Love is not exclusively for those who are dear to us.”  Jesus teaches that we must love those we may consider enemies, and pray for those who persecute us.

Tuesday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Jeremiah 30:1-2,12-15,18-22  +  Matthew 14:22-36
August 7, 2018

Those who were in the boat did Him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

Very unusually, on this weekday in Ordinary Time the Church provides two options for the Gospel passage.  The following reflection is based upon the former option (noted above).  The latter option is Matthew 15:1-2,10-14.

The Church bears a rich treasury of interpretation of Sacred Scripture.  By that I don’t simply mean that the Church has accumulated many different, though equally insightful, interpretations of Scripture from the writings of her many members (although that’s true).

The Church’s treasury of Scripture interpretation is based upon a four-fold view of the Holy Bible.  The first view of the Bible looks at the literal meaning of a Scripture passage. In the case of today’s Gospel passage, for example, the literal meaning of the passage is an historical event involving Jesus interacting with His disciples, and miraculously walking on water.  One could make a long and spiritually fruitful meditation solely about the literal meaning of this passage.

However, the other three views of Scripture consider different “spiritual senses” of a given passage.  That doesn’t mean, of course, that the literal meaning doesn’t deal with spiritual matters.  But the three spiritual senses of Scripture relate the literal meaning to a broader meaning that the passage doesn’t directly touch upon.

For example, at the end of today’s Gospel passage, those who were in the boat did Jesus homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”  Above and beyond the literal meaning of this event, one can “see” the boatful of disciples confessing the divinity of Jesus as symbolizing the Church Militant (that is, the Church on earth).  Around this basic symbol are several complementary symbols:  for example, the water on which the boat rests, and the weather surrounding the boat, as the turbulent world in which the Church Militant lives.  Then again, the confession of faith is a symbol of the Sacred Liturgy of the Church, which receives Jesus into the Church’s “boat” in the sense of the faithful receiving God’s Word and His Word made Flesh.

It is easier to ponder the literal sense of Scripture than the three spiritual senses.  But with the guidance of the Church’s saints, the spiritual senses invite us into great theological riches.

The Transfiguration of the Lord [B]

The Transfiguration of the Lord [B]
Dan 7:9-10,13-14  +  2 Pt 1:16-19  +  Mk 9:2-10
August 6, 2018

We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.

In today’s account of the Transfiguration, we have a miniature of the entire Gospel and a miniature of the way that God has always made His Divine Revelation known.  God, like any loving parent, wants us to share in His love.  But at the same time He wants us to enter into that love as freely as possible.  In other words, God wants us to come to Him of our own accord, because the more freely we come to Him, the more we grow in His love.

But as a loving parent, God knows we are often weak and need His help.  God gave us an intellect by which we could of our own power reason that God exists, that He loves us, and that He wants us to imitate that love.  God also gave us a free will by which to imitate Him.  Our human intellect and will are often very weak, however, and so God constantly gives us signs of His presence, in order to remind us of Who God is and how much He loves us.

God did not have to inspire the human authors of Scriptures, but He did so in order to give us a record of His love.  God did not have to choose twelve men to be his apostles, in order to share the Sacraments of His love, but He did so to strengthen us in this earthly life of ours, because we face so many setbacks, failures, and disappointments.  God the Son was transfigured before the eyes of these three apostles not simply so that they could say, “How good it is for us to be here.”

The Transfiguration occurred so that the apostles would hear the voice of God the Father:  “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.”  They do listen to Him.  What is it that He chooses to state next?  Coming down the mountain, Jesus points the apostles’ attention ahead to the Cross, to His death.

As we share in the Eucharist—the offering of Christ’s self-sacrifice on the Cross—God our loving Father nourishes us with the life of His Son.  Here is a further transfiguration:  the death of Jesus on the Cross into the Resurrected Lord, so that the giving of our lives might mean the receiving of God’s life.

Transfiguration_Christ_Louvre_ML145

The 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Ex 16:2-4,12-15  +  Eph 4:17,20-24  +  Jn 6:24-35
August 5, 2018

“I am the Bread of Life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”

Any Scripture passage that you pray over will echo many others in Sacred Scripture.  Take Jesus’ statement in today’s Gospel passage:  “I am the Bread of Life”.  Open your mind to the whole of Sacred Scripture.

Every passage in Scripture where “bread” is spoken about, or “life” is spoken about, relates to these words of Jesus.  There are hundreds of such examples in the Bible.  But start simply within the same book and chapter of the Bible from which this sentence comes, and then move outwards, like the ripples in a pond after a stone falls down into its center.

Saint John the Evangelist refers to “bread” not only in John 6.  Like the other three evangelists, he precedes his account of Jesus’ Death with an account of the Last Supper.  It’s not a coincidence that at the beginning of John 6—which we heard last Sunday—the evangelist notes that “The Jewish feast of Passover was near” [John 6:4].  Jesus chose this sacred time of the year to teach His disciples that He is “the Bread of Life”.  In a later year of Jesus’ life, He chose this sacred time again in order to institute the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  St. John wants those listening to his Gospel account to reflect on how everything Jesus says in Chapter Six strikes a chord with Jesus’ teaching at the Last Supper.

What Jesus prays to the Father in John 17 flows from what Jesus had taught in John 6.  Praying to the Father at the Last Supper about you and all His other disciples, Jesus says, “I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me” [John 17:22-23].  This is the end goal.

But then, remember the ripples in the pond.  Move outwards.  Consider the other three Gospel accounts, the other books in the New Testament, and then the books of the Old Testament.  Many Old Testament events relate to Jesus proclaiming, “I am the Bread of Life.”  The most powerful come from the Book of Exodus, and relate to Israel’s Passover from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land.

Today’s First Reading is from Chapter 16 of Exodus.  The Israelites are only one month past their escape from slavery in Egypt.  But to them, there seems to be no end to their wandering.  They begin to tell themselves that they were better off as slaves in Egypt, complaining to Moses and Aaron:  “Would that we had died… in the land of Egypt, as we… ate our fill of bread!”

However, in response to their ingratitude, the Lord not only does not punish them.  The Lord mercifully says, “I will now rain down bread from heaven for you.  Each day the people are to go out and gather their daily portion”:  that is, their “daily bread”.  What the Lord begins that day to give them is a bread to satisfy physical hunger.  But He is clearly working something deeper at the same time.

This “daily bread” is meant to give the Israelites hope.  Yet though the Lord gives this bread to the Israelites daily for almost forty years, He does not do so perpetually.  This “daily bread” continues only until they arrive at the Promised Land.  Then it ceases, because the Lord has something greater yet in store for them.

Through this we understand better Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel passage.  Jesus says to you today, “Do not work for food that perishes but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”  The Son of Man gave you this food—“the Bread of Life”; that is, Himself—at the Last Supper.  He gave you “the Bread of Life” on the day of your First Holy Communion, and He offers Himself up for you at each celebration of Holy Mass, to strengthen you for the long earthly pilgrimage to the end goal of Heaven.

St. John Vianney

St. John Vianney, Priest
Jeremiah 26:11-16,24  +  Matthew 14:1-12
August 4, 2018

His head was brought in on a platter and given to the girl, who took it to her mother.

On August 29 the Church celebrates the Passion of St. John the Baptist, and on that memorial we hear the passion narrative according to Saint Mark.  Today’s Gospel Reading offers us this narrative according to St. Matthew the Evangelist.

Jesus does not appear in today’s Gospel passage.  His name is mentioned twice.  Focus on the latter instance, where His name is in fact the last word of the passage.  This is fitting.  In terms of the life and Passion of St. John the Baptist, Jesus is the last word.

John is often considered the last of the Old Testament prophets.  Like many prophets, he was killed because of his witness to God’s Word.  The uniqueness of John’s life and martyrdom lay in how they intertwined with those of the Word made Flesh.

You and I, as Christian disciples, have been baptized into the role of prophet.  It is part of our baptismal commitment to profess the truth of the Gospel no matter what the cost to us.  At times we profess this Truth through our actions; at other times, through our words.  How often do we count the cost first before deciding whether to profess the Truth?  It’s certainly necessary to exercise the virtue of prudence is proclaiming the Truth.  But we ought to ask St. John’s the Baptist’s intercession if we’re ever tempted by fear to refrain from professing the Truth.

Friday of the 17th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Friday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Jeremiah 26:1-9  +  Matthew 13:54-58
August 3, 2018

“A prophet is not without honor except in his native place….”

The last sentence of today’s Gospel passage presents something of a conundrum.  No matter how we interpret the fact that Jesus “did not work many mighty deeds there because of their lack of faith”, we are challenged.

Some might interpret these words to mean that Jesus’ power to work miracles was constrained by the lack of faith of those in His hometown.  More sensible, however, is to see Jesus’ lack of miracles as a prudent choice on His part.  It doesn’t require faith on the part of people for God to work miracles.  It requires faith on the part of people for God’s miracles to bring about their primary goal.  God’s goal when He completely cures someone who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer is not to give that person immortal life on earth.  His goal is to bring the one cured and those around him to a greater practice of love for God and neighbor, so as to give them immortal life in Heaven.

We are challenged, then, to admit where we lack faith in our own lives.  We are challenged to allow the miracles that God works to bear fruit in our lives.  We are challenged not to live for ourselves, but for others, beginning with the Other who calls us to share in His life of love.

Thursday of the 17th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Jeremiah 18:1-6  +  Matthew 13:47-53
August 2, 2018

Can I not do to you, house of Israel, as this potter has done?

In the Catholic press, much has been said recently about an idea called the “Benedict Option”.  The idea is that Christians would opt to imitate the example of Saint Benedict of Norcia in the face of the disorder within civil society.  Is the example of St. Benedict apropos to our day?  To what extent is Western culture vulnerable to collapse?

Regardless, only an ostrich would be unable to notice the red flags that the high priests of secular culture wave in the faces of everyone.  So ought Christians flee as much as possible from civil society, and form small communities of dedicated Christians?  Or ought Christians engage the secular culture as much as possible in the public square, even until the dying day of that culture?

Regardless of whether Christians choose the “Benedict Option”, or the “Dominican Option”, or the “Gregorian Option”, or any other option, today’s First Reading places before us a salient reminder.  If secular culture is subject to decay and collapse, so also is the spiritual life of a child of God, and of His entire People.  The image of the potter, and the Lord’s message regarding the potter’s work, is an Old Testament complement to Jesus’ exhortation to remove the plank from one’s own eye before attempting to remove the speck from another’s.  “Indeed, like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand”.

St. Alphonsus Liguori

St. Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Jeremiah 15:10,16-21  +  Matthew 13:44-46
August 1, 2018

“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.”

Jesus offers us two brief parables today, both metaphors describing “the Kingdom of Heaven”.  Either parable and its imagery would suffice for a day’s meditation.  We could also meditate, though, upon common threads between the two.

In the first parable, the treasure is buried.  In the second, the pearl of great price is sought by a merchant.  In both cases, the object of great value and meaning has to be discovered.  But there’s a difference between the two.  While the treasure is out of sight, presumably the pearl is in plain sight, yet like a needle in a haystack as it rests amidst many other items in the market.

In the first parable, we don’t know whether the person who finds the treasure was looking for it, or chanced upon it.  In the second parable, Jesus tells us that the merchant was actively “searching for fine pearls”.  The differences and possible differences between these two parables allows us to apply them to various situations in real life.  After all, sometimes an individual seeks the Faith for many years before receiving it as a gift from God.  Others, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus, are struck by what seems a bolt from the blue.  Nonetheless, for every Christian, faith in Christ and life in Christ make for a treasure worth all that we have to give.

St. Ignatius of Loyola

St. Ignatius of Loyola, Priest
Jeremiah 14:17-22  +  Matthew 13:36-43
July 31, 2018

“Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

In today’s Gospel passage Jesus offers a point-by-point explanation of the parable that He had preached about the weeds in the field [Matthew 13:24-30].  The evangelists rarely offer us examples of Jesus explaining a parable, so today’s passage is insightful not only in terms of the parable’s content, but also in terms of understanding how Jesus uses parables.

We might wonder, to start with, what the significance is of the evangelist telling us that it’s after “Jesus dismissed the crowds” that “His disciples approached Him” to ask for an explanation of the parable.  This is an important distinction that the evangelist didn’t have to note for Jesus’ explanation to make sense.  Perhaps the evangelist is highlighting the importance of petitioning God for deeper insight into His revealed Word.

Jesus explains the meanings of seven persons or things within the parable.  This allegorical explanation of the parable is important because it’s in accord with the method of interpreting Jesus’ parables commonly found in the writings of patristic and medieval saints.  This allegorical method is often rejected today by scholars who offer modern theories about how to interpret parables.  It’s important to note that among those whom modern scholars criticize are not only canonized saints whose holiness is proven, but also—as we hear today—Our Lord Himself!