St. Barnabas, Apostle

St. Barnabas, Apostle
Acts 11:21-26;13:1-3  +  Matthew 5:1-12
June 11, 2018

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Beginning today and for many days to come, we hear at weekday Mass from the Sermon on the Mount.  This sermon is one of the chief features of St. Matthew the Evangelist’s Gospel account.  As such, the sermon illustrates Matthew’s portrait of Jesus:  Jesus as the living fulfillment of Moses.

Moses was the prophet who led God’s People to an earthly salvation in the Old Testament:  from physical slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land.  But Jesus effects salvation in an infinitely more profound way.  So while many features of Jesus’ life and ministry echo the role of Moses, at the same time there are discrepancies between the two of them which point out how Jesus fulfills what Moses could only foreshadow.

Note in today’s Gospel passage two points of the evangelist’s “setting the stage” for the Sermon on the Mount.  First, Jesus “went up the mountain”.  This act is reminiscent of Moses ascending Mount Sinai to receive the Law from God.  However, where Moses must receive the Word of God before teaching it to the people, Jesus is the Word of God!  Jesus teaches “from the heart” of His divinity.

Second, note that “after He had sat down, His disciples came to Him.”  The fact that Jesus sits down points out that Jesus is a teacher.  In ancient cultures—contrary to our American experience—a teacher would sit while the students would stand.

More significant, though, is that “His disciples came to Him.”  Moses had to descend the mountain in order to share with the people the Word he had received from God.  Later, God declared that if anyone should even touch the mountain that he must die.  Then when Moses descended to teach the people, he found that they were worshipping an idol!

But Jesus invites His disciples to join Him up on the mountain.  This contrast to Moses suggests that Jesus will teach in His great sermon something profoundly interior.  He wants His disciples to join Him on the mountain, symbolizing that He is inviting them to climb:  that is, to transcend everything that is of the earth.  So Jesus invites us today to ascend to the Word of God, and through His words, closer to the heart of the Father’s divine life.

The Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]

The Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Gen 3:9-15  +  2 Cor 4:13—5:1  +  Mk 3:20-35
June 10, 2018

For whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.

Jesus explains today that each of us needs to carry out the will of God in order to be His brother or sister.  But how can someone learn what that will of God is?  Granted that your average Christian does want to carry out God’s will, how can he learn what this will is?  Consider three possibilities that the average Christian might weigh.

First, the Christian might follow the simple instruction:  “Do good and avoid evil.”  Such counsel is straightforward, but there are two potholes to be avoided.  On the one hand, how does one know what’s good in a complex moral situation?  The Ten Commandments are good guides, as are the teachings in the third quarter of the Catechism, but we don’t always know how to apply these to difficult situations.

On the other hand, the simple instruction of “Do good and avoid evil” can devolve into the whole of one’s approach to morality.  In a word, we might describe this pothole as “minimalism”.  Often, a moral minimalist considers that he’s doing God’s will as long as he avoids evil.  After all, if something’s not evil, it must be good, the minimalist reasons.  Morality in this case is nothing more than avoiding whatever God shakes His finger at.

A second way of learning God’s will considers the wealth of truly good choices that the Christian has before him.  The key to this way of learning God’s will is the cardinal virtue of prudence.  In this case, there’s not a simple choice between good and evil.  That’s presumed.  But once all evil choices are rejected, the Christian still has many morally good options remaining.  Amidst these many good choices, the Christian wants to exercise the virtue of prudence.  Prudence helps the Christian advance in his moral life, and by that means, also in his spiritual life.  Morality in this case moves us from choosing any old good action to choosing what is best, for as the best possible good, it shares most in the perfection of God’s goodness, and thereby draws us closest to God.

The third way of learning God’s will is the most demanding.  This way could be summed up by the word “discernment”.  In the process of discernment, the Christian listens for and to the Lord’s voice because there is more one needs to know.

Perhaps the Christian is uncertain which of several good choices is the best.  Perhaps he is uncertain if he has all the underlying facts upon which to base a determination of the best choice.  Perhaps he’s wondering if there are further good options not yet visible to him.  Amidst all the different reasons for discernment, the virtue of obedience is key:  obedience to the voice of Jesus, and to the word He speaks.  Morality in this case is founded upon a relationship with the living God, who sacrificed His own Son so that we might become, through Jesus’ self-sacrifice, His brothers and sisters.

The Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary
2 Timothy 4:1-8  +  Luke 2:41-51
June 9, 2018

…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.”

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 8, 2018

…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.

Thursday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Thursday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
2 Timothy 2:8-15  +  Mark 12:28-34
June 7, 2018

“There is no other commandment greater than these.”

In in the Mystery of the Word made Flesh, God makes clear to us—in the flesh—not only His divine nature.  In His human life, God the Son makes clear to us the meaning of the Law of ancient Israel.  In the person of Christ Jesus, we learn how to fulfill the great teaching given our fathers in faith.

In particular, if we listen carefully to Our Lord’s summary of the Torah in today’s Gospel passage, we notice that as there are two natures—divine and human—in the one person of Jesus Christ, so these two commands form one single commandment.

Love, quite obviously, is the common denominator between these two commands:  “Love the Lord completely,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Understanding these two as one means having Christ at the center of our entire spiritual focus:  seeing in Christ our neighbor, and seeing in Christ our Lord and God.  So we are to love others as Christ loved us from the Cross.

However, we must even go one step further.  We are to love others so that others will love as Christ has loved us.  Not merely are we to give our lives for others.  We are so to have an effect on others that they in turn will do the same.  But how is this possible?  We cannot control the decisions of others.  Even if we love them they may hate us in turn.  Yet God’s grace makes all things possible.

Wednesday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Wednesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
2 Timothy 1:1-3,6-12  +  Mark 12:18-27
June 6, 2018

“He is not God of the dead but of the living.”

In today’s Gospel passage, Our Lord tries to make clear to the Sadducees the meaning of the Resurrection.  We too, however, even if we understand and believe in both the Resurrection of Our Lord and the promise of resurrection that God offers to all who die, perhaps need to realize what type of claim the Resurrection places upon us.

To believe in the Resurrection is to believe in the future fulfillment of God’s grace.  In turn, this is to understand that the suffering of the present is as nothing compared to the future glory to be revealed in Christ Jesus.  Furthermore, this is to guard in God’s name what has been entrusted to each of us until that final Day, which for each of us is the day of one’s death.

We never find Our Lord going into great detail about the nature of the afterlife.  There are two practical reasons for this.  First, the glory which will be the reward of God’s elect is too far beyond our comprehension.  Second, our only hope for sharing in that glory is to persevere in running the race which God has set before us in the here and now.  The virtue of perseverance stirs into flame the gift of God, which each of us first received at baptism.  In this flame, each of us is purified like gold in the furnace.

St. Boniface, Bishop & Martyr

St. Boniface, Bishop & Martyr
2 Peter 3:12-15,17-18  +  Mark 12:13-17
June 5, 2018

“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”

Jesus trips up the Pharisees and Herodians in today’s Gospel passage because of a dichotomy in their thinking.  They easily recognize the image of Caesar, but fail to see two even more clear images.  Focus on the first.

They fail to see Jesus as the divine Image of God the Father:  in other words, they don’t recognize Jesus’ divinity.  In addressing Jesus they say, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man”.  Then they assert of him, “You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”  In both statements they speak of Jesus in regard to truth (he is a truthful man and he teaches the way of God in accord with the truth) without recognizing that Jesus, as the divine Image of the Father, is the Truth made flesh.

We might be willing to pardon this, as most in the Gospel fail to see Jesus’ divinity, either (at least before His Resurrection).  This failure is at the heart of the drama in the Gospel, and reaches a climax on Calvary with Jesus’ cry:  “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”  [Luke 23:34].

Monday of the 9th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
2 Peter 1:2-7  +  Mark 12:1-12
June 4, 2018

“They will respect my son.”

The chief priests and elders had forgotten the place of the Lord in their lives.  They thought that they were the masters of Israel, rather than its shepherds.  They thought that they were the landowners, rather than the tenants.  They thought that they were the lords of the manor, rather than the stewards.

The action of today’s parable demonstrates just how topsy-turvy these stewards are.  Believing that they’re the masters of the situation justifies, in their minds, their beating and stoning of the landowner’s messengers, and finally, their murder of his son.

Of course, you and I know how this parable turns out in real life:  that is, during Holy Week.  The chief priests, elders, and other leaders of Israel are not willing to give up the claim to be masters.  So when they come face-to-face with Jesus, who is the rightful heir to the throne of Israel, there’s bound to be conflict.  Like the son in the parable, Jesus is seized and put to death.  Jesus is the “stone that the builders rejected” which “has become the cornerstone”.

Corpus Christi [B]

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ [B]
Ex 24:3-8  +  Heb 9:11-15  +  Mk 14:12-16,22-26
June 3, 2018

“This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

Some fifty years after the close of the Second Vatican Council, disagreements still simmer over the best way to interpret its teachings.  Disagreement is found is different areas of the Church’s life, such as marital morality and ecumenism.  Yet nothing engenders more disagreement than the celebration of the Eucharist.  Today’s feast of Corpus Christi can help us reflect upon the Church’s teachings about this most blessed of the seven sacraments.

One of the more confused ideas used to interpret the Council is that Holy Mass ought to be entertaining (for example, through its music or preaching).  During summer vacation, if you travel far enough outside our diocese, you might stumble upon Masses animated by the principle of giving the faithful what they want.

By contrast, the Church’s history shows a different approach:  give the faithful what they need, and do so by giving them what God has handed down.  There are two questions that have to be answered, then.  First, what do the Christian faithful most need?  Second, what has God handed down?

We’re not talking here about the sacraments’ inner essence, which is grace, but about their outer form, which the Church has the power to change to some extent.  Concerning the form of Holy Mass, what principle should shape it?  What would be wrong with elements drawn from popular entertainment, which clearly draw crowds marked by outer enthusiasm?

Some seem eager for great crowds and great outer enthusiasm in churches.  Yet the history of the Church, both ancient and modern, shows that when the Church sets the course of her mission according to numbers and outer enthusiasm, the Church bears little lasting fruit for lack of roots.  Consider that during the hours that Jesus was nailed to the Cross, the number of His followers was few, and they had little enthusiasm for the way He had trod.  Nonetheless, the Church knows that she is called to preach nothing but Jesus Christ crucified [see 1 Cor 2:2].

At the heart of this preaching is self-sacrifice.  If we want to know what the Christian faithful most need, then, we need to know self-sacrifice.  Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, when He instituted the Eucharist, reflect this central principle.  “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.”  “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”  These words of Jesus don’t reflect a spirit of entertainment, which indulges whatever the crowd currently cries for.

But how can a principle like self-sacrifice take form within Holy Mass?  Consider the example of hymn lyrics.  Tally the proper nouns and pronouns in any given hymn.  Are most of them first-person (I, me, mine, we, us, ours), or do most of them refer to God?  Who is the focus of the hymn:  man or God?  A hymn that illustrates the principle of self-sacrifice sings more about God than man, and sings about man as fallen and redeemed by Jesus’ self-sacrifice on Calvary.

So if the faithful need chiefly from the form of Holy Mass a spirit of self-sacrifice, what, secondly, has God handed down to the Church to foster this goal?  The simplest answer is that He has given Himself, in Word and Sacrament.  God’s Word and the Sacrament of Corpus Christi shape the form of Holy Mass.  The content of the Mass shapes the form of the Mass.  Form follows function, and one of the functions of Mass is to form us into the likeness of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

If that seems a bit abstract, consider practical examples regarding the role of Scripture within Holy Mass.  With a few exceptions, most consider the fact that more of the Bible is read at Mass during the year to be a positive change made after the Second Vatican Council.  Yet two other modern changes distort—towards one extreme or the other—the place of Scripture within Holy Mass.

In some churches built or renovated after the Second Vatican Council, the altar and pulpit are positioned at equal distances from the sanctuary’s midpoint.  This arrangement suggests that the two chief parts of Holy Mass—the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist—are of equal importance.  Yet the Church throughout her history has taught that the structure of Mass—like salvation history itself—contains a dynamism.  The first half of Mass prepares the faithful for the second half, as the Old Testament prepares God’s People for the New, where the Word becomes Flesh and dwells among us.

On the other hand, the modern change that gives prominence to hymns at Mass has come at the cost of the proclamation of Scripture.  In the form of Mass used before the Second Vatican Council, hymns didn’t supplant the singing of the scriptural antiphons (during the Entrance procession, the Offertory, and the Communion procession).  Each of them—antiphons and hymns—had its own place.  But the modern form of Mass allows these scriptural antiphons—which may be sung either in a brief form or in an extended form like the Responsorial Psalm—to be omitted altogether, impoverishing the faithful by substituting the human words of hymns for the divine Word of Scripture.

What the Christian faithful most need is what they most deeply want.  God has handed down to man through the Church what mankind most deeply wants:  self-transcendence through self-sacrifice.  The Church’s Sacred Liturgy inspires us, nourishes us, and fits us for self-sacrifice, and so for fitting praise to God for His own self-sacrificial love.

Sacrifice of the Mass 2

Saturday of the 8th Week in Ordinary Time [II]

Saturday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Jude 17,20-25  +  Mark 11:27-33
June 2, 2018

Beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our First Reading at weekday Mass this week has come from the First Letter of St. Peter, at least until this morning’s Mass.  Next Monday our First Reading will begin to come from the Second Letter of St. Peter.  This morning’s First Reading is from the Letter of St. Jude, which is only one chapter long, and which within the New Testament is the next to the last book.

Who is the Jude who authored this letter?  At the beginning of the letter he identifies himself as “a slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James”.  Yet within the letter, the author’s words seem to exclude him from being one of the apostles, for he exhorts his listeners to “remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, for they told you….”  Surely Jude wouldn’t have spoken about the apostles in the third person if he were one of them.

Nonetheless, Jude’s letter testifies—as do all the New Testament letters—to the centrality of apostolic teaching within the Church.  “Beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Jude doesn’t simply say, “Remember the words spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The teaching of the apostles is vital to the proclamation of the Gospel.  In turn, the teachings of the successors of the apostles in our own day must be given due respect.