St. Frances Xavier Cabrini

St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, Virgin
Wisdom 1:1-7  +  Luke 17:1-6
November 13, 2017

Love justice, you who judge the earth; think of the Lord in goodness, and seek him in integrity of heart….

At weekday Mass during this second-to-last week in Ordinary Time, the Church’s First Reading is taken from the Old Testament Book of Wisdom.  Not surprisingly, the Book of Wisdom is part of the Old Testament group of books called the “Wisdom Literature” (the other three groups of Old Testament books being the Pentateuch, the Historical Literature, and the Prophetical Literature).  There are seven books that make up the “Wisdom Literature”.

This book is fitting for us to listen to as we draw near to the end of the Church year.  Towards the end of the Church year, the Sacred Liturgy draws our attention to the Last Things:  Heaven, hell, death and judgment.  You and I need wisdom to think rightly about these four last things.

Today’s First Reading consists of the first seven verses of Wisdom.  It might surprise some just how “earth-bound” this passage is.  It is not “pie in the sky”, meditating abstractly on ideas and theories about God’s wisdom.  The passage is very concrete.

The first two words of the book are “Love justice”.  A good retreat master could develop an entire week-long retreat exploring just these two words, so profound are they.  Love and justice are both virtues:  the former the greatest of the theological virtues, and the latter one of the moral (or “cardinal”) virtues.  To love justice is to devote one’s self to a right ordering of one’s thoughts, words and actions:  giving to God what is His due, and recognizing God in our neighbors, whom He created for us to love.  In attending to the simple matters of daily life with divine love, we cannot fail to grow in wisdom.

The 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Wis 6:12-16  +  1 Thes 4:13-18  +  Mt 25:1-13
November 12, 2017

“Five of them were foolish and five were wise.”

Over the course of the last three Sundays of this liturgical year—that is, today and the next two Sundays—we hear the entirety of Matthew 25.  This is the final chapter before St. Matthew the Evangelist begins his account of the Passion and Death of Jesus.  Matthew 25 prepares us for Jesus’ Passion and Death by relating two of Jesus’ parables, and His description of the Son of Man’s final coming and judgment of the nations.

As background, we need to keep in mind that St. Matthew through his account of the Gospel paints a portrait of Jesus as Teacher.  This does not diminish the core of all four Gospel accounts, which reveal Jesus as Savior and Redeemer.  But as a complement to this central role of Jesus, each Gospel account shows a secondary role of Jesus, which leads us into His saving mission.

St. Matthew’s account of the Gospel is the longest of the four, running to 28 chapters.  Yet only the latter three chapters recount Jesus’ saving Passion, Death, Resurrection and Ascension.  This might seem odd:  that Jesus’ key mission as Savior is summed up in just three chapters, while His secondary role as Teacher is explored in 25 chapters.  Shouldn’t the key role of Savior be treated in more chapters than a secondary role?

Without answering that question, we can briefly consider St. Matthew’s portrait of Jesus as Teacher.  This portrait begins in earnest with Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount:  Jesus’ first sermon takes up three chapters [Mt 5-7].  From there onwards through Chapter 25, the evangelist alternates between portraying Jesus as preaching inspiring words, and performing mighty deeds.

Chapter 25 is the culmination of St. Matthew’s portrait of Jesus as Teacher.  As any teacher will tell you, it’s effective to save the best lesson for last.  Or put another way, a teacher may structure her course so that the earlier lessons build upon each other, and lead up to the final lesson.  St. Matthew records Jesus’ final spoken lesson in Matthew 25:31-46, concerning the future event of Jesus’ Final Coming and Final Judgment.  This final spoken lesson not only helps us understand Jesus’ prior lessons, but also prepares us to understand the final three chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel account.

Given all this, what are we to make of today’s Gospel passage, which is the first third of Matthew 25?  We might note several similarities between Jesus’ parable about the ten virgins and His account of the Final Judgment.  In the latter, the Son of Man calls the sheep into eternal life, while in today’s parable, the bridegroom calls “those who were ready” “into the wedding feast with Him”.  Likewise, as in the latter we hear of the separation of the sheep from the goats, so in today’s parable we hear of the separation of the five foolish virgins from the five wise virgins.

In that second similarity, however, there is an important distinction that we might take for our chief point of reflection today.  In the account of the Final Judgment, it is the Son of Man who does the separating.  But in today’s parable, the five foolish virgins on their own initiative leave the wise.  They must leave, because owing to previous foolishness, they’ve failed to maintain preparedness for the bridegroom’s arrival.

Sin is always based upon human initiative.  Sin, which if clung to leads to eternal separation from the Son of Man in His glory, is based upon failure to focus upon God:  failure to be ready for God, and failure to do what His arrival demands from us.  Sin is preoccupation with our own interests and desires, and a failure to recognize that the Son of Man wants to lead us into something far more interesting and desirable than anything we can achieve on our own.  Wisdom, on the other hand, means being ready for the lesson and the course of the Cross.

St. Martin of Tours

St. Martin of Tours, Bishop
Romans 16:3-9,16,22-27  +  Luke 16:9-15
November 11, 2017

“You cannot serve God and mammon.”

This sentence of Jesus is sometimes falsely and simplistically interpreted to mean that you cannot have both God and money in your life.  In other words, this false interpretation says that there’s a sort of competition in your life between God and money which is a zero-sum game.  Or to use a picture metaphor:  this false interpretation says that there’s a see-saw in your life:  God and money are sitting at opposite ends of the see-saw.  If one goes up, the other goes down.  The holier you are, the less money you will have, and the more money you have, the less holy you must be.  This interpretation of Jesus’ words is false.

Our spiritual well-being and our financial well-being are not in competition with each other.  Rather, when Jesus plainly tells you that “You cannot serve both God and mammon”, the key is the word “serve”“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  You can serve God, or you can serve mammon.  But you cannot serve both.

The beautiful thing about serving God is that through this form of love, we become more like Him.  After all, “God is love”, as St. John taught the first Christians.  So in the very act of loving God, we become like Him:  that is to say, we enter into His very way of life, His very way of being.  This is as God wants, and in fact this is as each of you wants, in the deepest center of your heart, because God planted that desire there when He created your heart:  the desire to serve Him, and so become more like Him.

St. Leo the Great

St. Leo the Great, Pope & Doctor of the Church
Romans 15:14-21  +  Luke 16:1-8
November 10, 2017

…because of the grace… in performing the priestly service of the Gospel of God….

There are differences among Christians, and then there are disagreements.  Differences can be of various types, including those willed by God Himself for the sake of the Church.  Saint Paul has preached about “diversity for the sake of unity” in the First Readings of recent days.  Differences can come about through human sin, contrary to the will of God.  But disagreements often point to something more difficult to reconcile:  beliefs that are contrary to the mind of God.

There are disagreements among Christians about Christians serving others as priests.  A priest, of course, is a mediator:  in more common parlance, a “middle man”.  He stands between God and another human person in order to serve that person:  in order to bridge the gap between God and the other.  Is there such a thing as an authentic Christian priesthood?  If so, what form or forms does it take?

Saint Paul in today’s First Reading shows us that the answer to the first of these questions is “Yes”.  Speaking to the Romans about himself, St. Paul speaks of his “priestly service of the Gospel… so that the offering up of the Gentiles may be acceptable”.

Among Christians who speak regularly against Catholic teaching and practice about the priesthood, you will often hear that there is only one mediator, Jesus Christ.  Therefore, there ought to be no human mediators between “me and Jesus”, as they might put it.  But St. Paul’s words today—inspired as they are by the Holy Spirit—clearly show such an idea to be contrary to the mind of God.  This is only the first principle by which to understand Christian priesthood, but it’s good for us to reflect on it today.

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica
Ez 47:1-2,8-9,12  +  1 Cor 3:9-11,16-17  +  Jn 2:13-22
November 9, 2017

…you are the temple of God….

Today’s Gospel passage shows us God’s passion for His temple, and for the sacrifice offered there.  Priests often hear people confess anger, and it’s usually necessary to ask questions when someone confesses “getting angry”.  In light of Jesus’ action in this passage, it’s important to remember not only that merely “getting angry” is not necessarily a sin.  Also, even acting in anger is not necessarily a sin.  Acting in anger, or fostering anger in oneself or others, certainly can be a sin.  But Jesus acts in anger in today’s Gospel passage, and with good reason.  When reflecting on a state of anger, and actions that flow from it, it’s important to ask what the object of one’s anger is.  This object can make all the difference in the morality of such an act.

In the passion of anger, Jesus purifies the Temple.  In the passion of love, He purifies the temple of the human body of sin on Calvary, by offering up His own body in sacrifice.  St. John the Evangelist makes this point clearly.  When Jesus challenges His opponents, saying, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up”, the evangelist explains that Jesus “was speaking about the temple of His Body.”  The Church’s belief in the great goodness of the human body is based in large measure on this Gospel truth.  The Church’s challenging ethic of purity of body stems not from a belief that the human body is bad, but that the human body’s purity ought to concern us as much as the purity of the Temple concerned Jesus.  Both temples ultimately belong to God, for His purposes and for His glory.  The temple of the human body is meant for the offering of sacrifices, small and large.

November 8, 2017

Wednesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Romans 13:8-10  +  Luke 14:25-33

…love is the fulfillment of the law.

In today’s First Reading, Saint Paul speaks about the second of Jesus’ two great commandments.  As you know, Jesus taught His disciples that the Law of God could be simply expressed in two great commandments.  Before Jesus, with the Ten Commandments that God had given Moses, and the hundreds of moral prescriptions developed by rabbis to explain them, Jewish morality had become complex, and to many, overwhelming.  Jesus profoundly simplifies matters for His disciples.

Love God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  Jesus teaches us that these two sum up the entire law of God.  St. Paul in our First Reading explains that “love is the fulfillment of the law.”  Love is not simply the summary of the Law, but its fulfillment.

When we are young, our parents make sure that we memorize the Ten Commandments.  It’s important to memorize these ten, as each of the ten touches on a key manner in which we must love God and our neighbor.  But we should not lose sight that all of them are about love.  Today’s First Reading helps us focus on what it means to love our neighbor as our self.  Pray for the grace to bring your love for your neighbor into focus through your love for God.

November 7, 2017

Tuesday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Romans 12:5-16  +  Luke 14:15-24

…persevere in prayer.

Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans touches on nearly every theme of the Christian life.  Today’s passage from Romans proclaims the mystery of the Church as Christ’s Body.  The diversity of the Church’s members serves her unity.  The Church’s diversity is willed by God for the sake of her unity, to foster that unity.

From this consideration of the Church as one body with many members, St. Paul moves to a rapid-fire consideration of many virtues that mark the Christian life.

Many of the virtues that ought to mark a Christian’s life come through simple fidelity to one’s calling from the Lord.  Yet we know that each person is called in many different ways.  Whether one reflects on a calling that takes the form of a vocation such as marriage or consecrated life, or a more specific and perhaps temporary calling based upon work, such as teaching or works of mercy, these varied callings are “near occasions of grace”, so to speak.  They all and always find their proper measure within the setting of the Church.

Other virtues that ought to mark a Christian’s life come from struggles and challenges common to all Christians.  Many of these struggles are due to sin.  St. Paul addresses these also in today’s First Reading.  “Endure in affliction.”  “Persevere in prayer.”  “Bless those who persecute you.”  Through these common challenges, we are called to have compassion on our brothers and sisters in Christ.  We are called to recognize our common struggles as sinners:  children of Adam and Eve.  Thanks be to God for the New Adam, Jesus Christ, into whose life He calls us.

November 6, 2017

Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time [I]
Romans 11:29-36  +  Luke 14:12-14

“For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Although Jesus’ words today take the form of a command (“do not invite…”) to us as His disciples, we can reflect today on His words through a process of inversion.  That is, we can consider ourselves as those invited to a banquet.  The one inviting us is the Lord Jesus.  The banquet is the sacramental celebration of the Last Supper:  the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Shortly before the distribution of Holy Communion, the priest—holding aloft the Sacred Host—proclaims that “[b]lessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”  The response of the faithful is, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof… .”  In this, both priest and faithful gaze on the One who has called us to Him.  We are “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” of whom Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel passage.

For God Himself, of course, it’s not that He will be blessed because of our inability to repay Him.  It is from the Lord’s own divine goodness—eternal and infinite—that He bestows on us the blessing on being called to the banquet of the Eucharist.  Although we are unable to repay the Lord “in kind” for this invitation, we can nonetheless repay Him with our lives:  with the self-gift of our own body and blood, soul and humanity as Jesus’ disciples.

The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Mal 1:14—2:2,8-10  +  1 Thes 2:7-9,13  +  Mt 23:1-12
November 5, 2017

“…whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Chief among the principles hammered home by the leaders of the Protestant Revolt five hundred years ago is a principle that some still assert today.  It’s the principle that no one should come between me and God.  Put more formally, it’s the principle that no member of the Church ought to act as a mediator between God and man:  not Mary, not the saints, and certainly not priests.

This principle of rejecting mediators within the life of the Church might seem warranted by today’s Gospel passage.  Jesus seems to caution against three different roles of mediator:  “do not be called ‘Rabbi’.… Call no one on earth your father…. Do not be called ‘Master’”.  It’s hard to imagine being faithful to what the Word of God states here without following the principle of rejecting mediators.

Yet the Apostle Paul claims to be faithful to the Word of God.  In his second letter to Timothy, St. Paul insists:  “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” [2 Tim 3:16].

Since this is true of “all scripture”, it’s true of what St. Paul says in another of his letters.  In writing to the Corinthian people, he explains how they have one father.  He squarely states, “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father […] it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus” [1 Cor 4:15].  It’s hard to imagine—if you were to interpret Holy Scripture in a literalistic sense—any words that more directly contradict Jesus’ command to “call no one on earth your father” than what St. Paul says of himself:  “You might have thousands of guardians in Christ, but not more than one father […] it was I who begot you in Christ Jesus”.

Trying to make sense of this seeming contradiction is made even more difficult by St. Paul’s next words:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” [1 Cor 4:16].  Why doesn’t St. Paul just say instead, “Be imitators of Christ”?  Why is Paul making himself out to be a middle-man, which is to say, a mediator between the Corinthian people and God?

Here we must be mindful of a key Catholic principle of reading and reflecting upon the Bible.  Since “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable”, whenever one passage of Scripture seems to contradict another, the problem lies in the human interpretation of one or both passages.  So in the seeming contradiction between Jesus’ words about mediators and St. Paul pointing to himself as a mediator, we have an example from the Apostle to the Gentiles [see Romans 11:13] of how to interpret the Word of God faithfully and fruitfully.

Saint Paul—who is not only a faithful spiritual father, but also a faithful spiritual teacher (that is, “rabbi”)—leads us deeper into the mystery of living the Christian Faith.  St. Paul’s words don’t contradict Jesus’ command concerning fathers, teachers, and masters.  St. Paul’s words deepen the revelation of Jesus.

Christian fathers, whether in the home or in the sanctuary, whether through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony or through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, are called to say—by their example if not also by their words—what St. Paul proclaims to the Corinthians:  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”  Christian fathers are called to draw their children each day and each week into the life of Christ.

Christian fathers, in other words, recognize that what St. Paul said of human families is true also of human fathers:  “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” [Ephesians 3:14-15].  Every human father derives his power and significance as father from God the Father.  Every human father is meant to lead his children to God the Father.  What Jesus warns us against in today’s Gospel passage is any human father—or teacher, or master—who acts on his own authority, and who leads his children away from God.

Human fatherhood, and teaching, and mastery of every sort, are rooted authentically in the life of God.  Children are not made for their human fathers.  Human fathers, rather, are made to reveal to their children and lead their children to the everlasting love who is God the Father.

St. Charles Borromeo

St. Charles Borromeo, Bishop
Romans 11:1-2,11-12,25-29  +  Luke 14:1,7-11
November 4, 2017

“…do not recline at table in the place of honor.”

The virtue of humility is a thread that runs through today’s Scriptures.  Jesus weaves this thread through the parable that He tells after noticing that His fellow dinner guests were choosing the places of honor at the table (Luke 14:7).  They were not content to receive a sumptuous meal.  They wanted also to receive honor.

These dinner guests were looking only to receive gifts.  They were not thinking of giving.  This is natural, on the one hand, since when you accept a dinner invitation, you’re accepting a gift.  On the other hand, when you go to a dinner party, you might take a token gift such as a bottle of wine.  But your token gift would seem out of place if it were greater than the banquet itself.

But here is the metanoia—the change of heart and mind—which Jesus effects in His disciples through His saving words and deeds.  He wants His disciples—including us—to recognize every gift, every invitation to receive, as an opportunity to give.