Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]
2 Corinthians 9:6-11  +  Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
June 16, 2021

   “And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”   

Today’s Gospel passage is—to the verse—the same passage that we hear every year on Ash Wednesday.  The Church proclaims it today, in the middle of a week in Ordinary Time, because the cycle of Gospel passages for weekday Mass tends to go sequentially through a Gospel account.  This is different than the cycle for Sunday Mass, in which the Gospel passage more often jumps throughout the course of the Gospel account.

We are currently hearing from St. Matthew’s Gospel account at weekday Mass.  A week ago Monday we began hearing from the fifth chapter of Matthew, where the evangelist begins recording the Sermon on the Mount.  Today we begin hearing from Chapter 6.  The Sermon on the Mount continues through the end of Chapter 7, which we will hear at weekday Mass through a week from tomorrow.

Because today’s Gospel passage contains a wealth of spiritual teaching, you might benefit from reflecting on just one third.  In each of these three sections Jesus teaches us the right way of carrying out spiritual works.  But notice that each third ends the same way, with Jesus noting that when the act is performed from the heart—that is, with divine charity—“your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you”.  These acts are ultimately about our relationship with God our Father.

Childers, Milly; Girl Praying in Church; Leeds Museums and Galleries; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/girl-praying-in-church-38914

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]
2 Corinthians 8:1-9  +  Matthew 5:43-48 
June 15, 2021

   “… pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father ….”   

Today’s Gospel passage is from the first third of the “Sermon on the Mount”.  This “inaugural address” is recorded in full only in Matthew, in Chapters 5-7.  Today’s Gospel passage forms part of a series in Chapter 5 of five contrasts between the commands of the Law and Jesus’ commands to love.  Each contrast uses a variation of the form, “You have heard it said… but I say to you.”

The contrast presented in today’s Gospel passage is the last of these five.  You could argue that Jesus saved the hardest for last!  How are we to love our enemies?  The simple answer is:  “As Jesus did on Calvary.”

We might begin by asking how our enemies got to be our enemies in the first place.  In our case, we ought to be mindful that we sinners often gain enemies because of our own sins.  So one way to shorten the list of our enemies is to sin less.

Jesus, of course, was sinless, but still had plenty of enemies.  In fact, Jesus had enemies for just the opposite reason that sinners do:  because of His unwillingness to compromise with evil.  To whatever extent we may, through God’s grace, bear holiness in our own lives, we too will win enemies for this reason also.  We must love all our enemies unto the Cross.

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Monday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time [I]
2 Corinthians 6:1-10  +  Matthew 5:38-42
June 14, 2021

   “Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back….”   

As we continue to hear Our Lord preach the Sermon on the Mount, it is striking how down to earth His words are.  He does not speak fluff:  the sort of words that we hear from so many spiritual gurus.  He gives very practical advice about how to treat others.  In doing so, Our Lord is drawing us into a deeper relationship with the Father.

Our Lord slowly tries to teach us how intimately related are the commands to love both God and neighbor.  It is in Christ Jesus that the divine Word of God is made flesh.  It is in Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross—the sacrifice of the altar—that we share sacramentally in Christ’s life, in order that we might share morally in His life by loving both God and neighbor fully.

However, we must be honest with ourselves, and be mindful that we are hardly advancing in the spiritual life if repentance is the largest part of our prayer.  Our penance merely disposes us to be God’s servants rather than His rivals.  When we consider the words of Christ in today’s Gospel passage, we see how completely we are to give of ourselves to others.

If our own spiritual houses are in order, how devoted are we to helping others build theirs?  How willing are we to be patient with others, with those who cannot be patient in their own prayer?  How will others learn the need for patience if not by seeing our example?  How willing are we to accept insults in silence and pray for the one who insults?  How will others learn the need for forbearance if not by seeing our example?

As we share in the sacrifice of the altar, may Almighty God help us see in our daily lives who it is in most need of a Christian witness.  May Almighty God strengthen us through the Body and Blood of Christ to be the ones to offer that witness.

The Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Isaiah 61:9-11  +  Luke 2:41-51
June 12, 2021

… 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 [B]

The Most Sacred Heart of Jesus [B]
Hos 11:1,3-4,8-9  +  Eph 3:8-12,14-19  +  Jn 19:31-37
June 11, 2021

… and immediately blood and water flowed out.

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

To be “sacred” means “to be set aside for a unique purpose”.  What, then, is the purpose of Jesus’ heart?  The heart is obviously a human element of who Jesus is.  It certainly expresses the love of God the Son, for as Saint John the Divine 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 of course possesses a 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 our darkened, sinful hearts.

Here is the unique purpose of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Here is what Jesus’ heart was set aside for:  that it would be broken and would be pierced.  But far be it from us simply to worship the Sacred Heart as an image to be given thanks.  Instead, the Sacred Heart is a person to be imitated:  or even better, whose love we were created to abide within.

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 the greatest of the capacities of God—and, since he was created in His image, man—is the capacity to will.  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 the Christian is meant to imitate, by means of His abiding within the Christian.  The heart pumps blood to the entire body, and as His members we share in that life-blood as we share in the offering for our sins that Christ sacrificed on the Cross and memorialized sacramentally at His Last Supper.  This sacred meal 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.

The Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Ezekiel 17:22-24  +  2 Corinthians 5:6-10  +  Mark 4:26-34
June 13, 2021

Without parables He did not speak to them, but to His own disciples He explained everything in private.

These reflections mean to prepare you to hear the Scriptures at Sunday Mass.  Usually this preparation involves looking at the words of Scripture themselves.  But today, step back and consider a general way for preparing on your own to hear the Scriptures at Sunday Mass.  This way can be utilized every week of the Church year.

Lectio Divina is a form of praying Sacred Scripture:  not just reading Scripture, but praying it.  At first glance, we might not think there’s any difference between “reading Scripture” and “praying Scripture”.  However, there can be a radical difference.

Picture a dedicated atheist.  This atheist sees himself as doing battle against religion.  So he puts into practice one of the most basic principles of combat:  “Know your enemy”.

Wanting to understand how believers think so that he can debunk their beliefs, he takes a course at a noted Christian university in order to learn all about the Bible.  In his zeal, he might even earn a Ph.D. in biblical studies, and be able to quote at length from the Bible.

By contrast, the aim of your praying Scripture is not merely knowing about Scripture.  The aim is for you to believe in the God who wrote these Scriptures for your good, listen to Him speaking to you, and speak to Him in response by your words and actions.

There are several easy ways to prepare for Lectio Divina.  One is to purchase a hand missal, which contains the complete set of the three-year cycle of prayers and readings that a missalette covers only for part of a year.  Another way, if you’re tech-savvy, is to go to the website of the United States bishops, where you can print out the Scriptures for any day in the coming months.  Another way is to go to your parish church for a visit to the Blessed Sacrament, and during your visit use the missalette in the pew for prayerful reading of Scripture.

The first step of “praying Scripture” is an act of choosing:  choosing a text from Scripture.  Some saints in explaining Lectio Divina recommend choosing a single chapter of a book of Scripture.  Others recommend a single verse, while others recommend only a single phrase or even only a single word.  A single verse is a good ideal.

Wherever and whatever resource of Scripture you use, find the Gospel passage for the coming Sunday.  The other steps of Lectio Divina help one to draw spiritual fruit from one’s chosen passage or verse.  As a simplified form of Lectio Divina, reflect on the coming Sunday’s Gospel passage for at least ten minutes a day during the weekdays leading up to Sunday.  Each of these days, ask the Lord to draw your attention to one verse in particular.  Not only will you grow in your love for the Word of God, but He—the divine Person who is the Word—will open your heart and mind to accepting more faithfully the Word made Flesh in the Holy Eucharist.

Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
2 Corinthians 3:15—4:1,3-6  +  Matthew 5:20-26
June 10, 2021

   “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment ….”  

In yesterday’s Gospel passage, Our Lord stated that He had come not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.  Beginning today, in the Gospel at weekday Mass we hear examples of Jesus fulfilling the Law.

Jesus uses a phrase today that He repeats several times throughout the fifth chapter of Matthew.  The phrase “You have heard that it was said…” signals that Jesus wants to present a contrast to us.  First, Jesus presents a basic teaching that comes from the Jewish Law:  for example, in today’s Gospel passage, “You have heard that it was said… ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’”

Then, Jesus explains how such a teaching of the Law is to be fulfilled.  He declares today:  “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment….”  The rest of today’s Gospel passage is Jesus’ unpacking of His new teaching, which again, is the fulfillment of an ancient teaching from the Law.

Today, then, we strive to reflect on Jesus’ specific example of anger.  What is the means by which Jesus teaches His disciples to enter into the fulfillment of this teaching?  The means is reconciliation.  Jesus, in the examples He cites, gives two commands:  “go first and be reconciled with your brother”, and “Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him.”  Meditate, then, on reconciliation with your neighbor as a form of love of neighbor, and thus as a means to the love of God.

OT 10-4 (2)

Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Wednesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
2 Corinthians 3:4-11  +  Matthew 5:17-19 
June 9, 2021

“I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

This week we’ve begun to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, from the fifth chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel account.  Jesus today sets the framework for the teachings He’s about to offer the disciples.  We could sum up this framework with these words:  “I have come not to abolish [the Law] but to fulfill.” 

Having said that, in the rest of today’s Gospel passage He strictly directs His disciples to integrity in their lives.  There must be integrity between, as we would put it today, what they practice and what they preach.  With this demand Jesus issues a warning and promise:  “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven”, while “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”

Every Christian is, by virtue of baptism, called to be a teacher.  We remember St. Francis’ admonition to “preach always, and if necessary, use words.”  As each of us makes our nightly examination of conscience, we look for the integrity Jesus has asked of us, in what we’ve taught others by our actions and words.

Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]

Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time [I]
2 Corinthians 1:18-22  +  Matthew 5:13-16
June 8, 2021

“‘But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?’”

Yesterday at weekday Mass we began hearing from the Sermon on the Mount, which is found in the fifth through seventh chapters of the Gospel account of Saint Matthew (5:3—7:27).  In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls His disciples “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world”.  Either of these could serve you as the basis for a long period of meditation.  But consider just one aspect of what Jesus sets before you today.

Salt has long been used as a preservative of food.  So one might be tempted to consider Jesus’ image of “the salt of the earth” as meaning that Christians are called to preserve life.  In other words, Christians are called to preserve what we already have.  But the subsequent words of Jesus suggest otherwise.

Jesus speaks of salt in terms of its taste, as a seasoning.  As most of us know, salt isn’t meant to be tasted by itself.  Most of us would be repulsed by even the idea of putting a spoonful of salt in our mouths.  But it’s common to sprinkle salt liberally on one’s food in order to bring out the taste within the food.

Here we can reflect on Jesus’ image in terms of our own discipleship.  If Jesus’ disciples are “the salt of the earth”, Jesus is complimenting “the earth”.  There is value—taste—in the world because it was created by God.  Even though the world that we live in is fallen, our role as disciples involves bringing out what is good in God’s creation—cultivating that good—so that it might be elevated by God’s supernatural grace.