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

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Galatians 1:6-12  +  Luke 10:25-37
October 5, 2020

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

            Today we hear one of the more famous parables of Jesus.  The Parable of the Good Samaritan ought profoundly to shape our spiritual and moral lives.  That order of things is important, however:  spiritual and then moral.

Although in a deeper sense there ought not be a distinction between our spiritual and moral lives, on the practical level, differences do mark the two.  We might say that the two are most sharply distinguished by sin.  The “scholar of the law” who “wished to justify himself” wants to be moral, but not spiritual.  Jesus demands that he be both, and that he be moral by being spiritual.

Mercy is the means by which the moral life is wedded to the spiritual life.  Or rather, mercy is the means by which the spiritual life begets authentic moral choices.  Were we not all children of Adam and Eve, fallen creatures, our moral choices would not demand mercy.  But in this world of sin and corruption, mercy is divine charity’s common currency.

In our spiritual lives, we look on each of our fellow human creatures through the eyes of God the Father.  We love each sinner, beaten and wounded by the sins of himself and others, with the mercy through which the Father sent His innocent Son to be slain for us.  Through this love, we can choose to serve the broken, bind the wounded, and know that in this service we serve God as well.

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

Saturday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Job 42:1-3,5-6,12-17  +  Luke 10:17-24
October 3, 2020

“… you have revealed them to the childlike.”

It’s rare for Jesus, in any of the four Gospel accounts, to speak directly to God the Father.  Because of this rarity, we ought to privilege those verses where we get to “overhear” Jesus address His divine Father.  We might even consider these verses as models for our own prayers, inasmuch as through Baptism we are adopted children of God the Father.

First, we ought to note the context of Jesus’ words to God the Father.  The 72 disciples have returned to Jesus rejoicing that demons are subject to them because of Jesus’ name.  However, Jesus tells them not to rejoice because of such power over demons, but to rejoice instead because their names are written in Heaven.  Jesus is subordinating the disciples’ ministry—as important as it is—to the relationship that each has with the One Jesus teaches them to address as “Our Father, who art in heaven”.

Also, it’s important to note that St. Luke the Evangelist immediately prefaces the words of Jesus to God the Father with the observation that Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit”.  This is significant because St. Luke, more than the other three evangelists, stresses the role of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ.  Here, the words by which Jesus praises the Father are spoken “in the Holy Spirit”.  As the Holy Spirit is the love of God the Father and God the Son for each other, so by the Holy Spirit each adopted child of God finds the inspiration to pray to God more fervently and authentically.

The Holy Guardian Angels

The Holy Guardian Angels
Job 38:1,12-21;40:3-5  +  Matthew 18:1-5,10
October 2, 2020

“… their angels in Heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”

Our Guardian Angels shed light upon the path that we must walk.  When our struggles each day seem too great, they extend a ray of hope down upon us from God.  They allow us to see the face of Our Crucified and Risen Lord, who having shared in our suffering helps us share in His Resurrection, even in the midst of suffering.

Our Guardian Angels guard us from the snares of our enemies.  As the Devil tries time and again to convince us that his way—easier and broader than God’s—is the way that will bring us happiness, our guardians remind us that the Way of the Cross is the only path to the Father.

Our Guardian Angels rule us as we slip from the narrow path.  As we fall prey to the temptations of the Devil, our guardians do not abandon us.  Sharing in the boundless love of our Savior, they do not fail to stand by us even then.  They convince us, as they nurse our consciences back to health, that the Cross is the only true remedy for our constant falling away from God.

Our Guardian Angels guide us by bidding us to share in the sacraments of the Church.  For all their power, our guardians entrust us to the care of Holy Mother Church, since in her care we most truly belong.  For the Church is their Mother, too.  All the angels are fellow members of the Church, and as the Church’s children we imitate the words of Jesus when like little children we recognize and thank those who are our guardians.

The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 5:1-7  +  Philippians 4:6-9  +  Matthew 21:33-43
October 4, 2020

The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel.

Parables are often puzzling and intended to get under your skin.  This Sunday’s parable is no exception.

The parable’s setting is a vineyard, which in the words of Sunday’s Resposorial refrain, symbolizes “the house of Israel”:  that is, the great mass of God’s chosen People; or in other words, the “Family of God”.

Within the vineyard are several actors.  The parable’s landowner symbolizes God.  The tenants symbolize those at whom Jesus is aiming the parable:  that is, those whom God had entrusted with the care of the vineyard.  So if the vineyard is Israel, then the tenants are the leaders of Israel.  Among them are the chief priests and elders mentioned as Jesus’ audience.  Why, then, is Jesus trying to get under their skin?  What does Jesus think that they’re doing wrong?

You’ve all heard the saying, “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”  Likewise:  “too many cooks spoil the broth.”  Those sayings get at the problem that Jesus was addressing.  The leaders of Israel were no longer listening to the founder of Israel.

But who was the founder of Israel?  Was it King David?  Moses?  Abraham?  No, the founder of Israel is the Lord God of Hosts.  The Psalmist says as much in today’s Responsorial, when he cries out:  “O Lord of Hosts … take care of this vine, and protect what your right hand has planted”.

But 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; that they were the landowners, rather than the tenants; that they were the lords of the manor, rather than the stewards.  Jesus’ parable warns them to be better stewards.

The action of the 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 foreshadowed the events of 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”.

At the end of today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus—with divine fore-knowledge—foretells the consequence of Israel’s rejection of Him.  Jesus speaks formally and almost solemnly, declaring:  “Therefore, I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you[,] and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”  Who is this new people?

This new people is the body of Jesus’ followers:  the Mystical Body of Christ.  Jesus is the cornerstone of this new foundation.  The Church that Jesus founded is the new Israel.  This is the body of Christians to which you and I belong.  Jesus was speaking of you and me when He foretold that the “kingdom of God [would] be… given to a people that will produce its fruit.”

But the question in front of us today is whether we are producing spiritual fruit within the vineyard of the Church.  The Church chose this parable for proclamation at this Sunday’s Mass not so that you and I could learn a history lesson about the opposition that Jesus faced two thousand years ago.  We hear this parable today in order to allow it to get under our skin.

Saying “Yes” to God’s call isn’t the same as bearing fruit.  It’s on the latter that God will judge us at the moment each of us dies.  Merely belonging to Church doesn’t mean entrance into Heaven.  Maybe you and I are taking as much for granted as those elders and chief priests.

To make a good examination of conscience in this regard, and to consider how we might go froth and bear fruit in the Lord’s vineyard, we might reflect on two questions this week.  First how much time do we spend in the Lord’s vineyard; and second, what does it mean to be a steward?

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church
Job 19:21-27  +  Luke 10:1-12
October 1, 2020

“The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few ….”

The Church often quotes from today’s Gospel passage in her promotion of vocations.  However, these seventy-two to whom Jesus speaks are appointed and sent for a specific reason.  They are sent “ahead of” Jesus, not in His name or in His person.  They are sent “in pairs to every town and place He intended to visit.”  They are “advance teams”, if you will.  In the general sense in which they are sent ahead of Jesus, we can consider these 72 as symbolizing all baptized Christians.

Jesus offers many brief sayings in today’s Gospel passage.  Many can be singled out and meditated upon for a long period of time; for example:  “behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves.”  It’s not difficult for a Christian disciple to use these words falsely:  that is, as a justification for self-righteousness in the face of any opposition.  Nonetheless, that possibility doesn’t nullify the meaning of Jesus’ words.  At our best, we disciples are “lambs among wolves”.

While a Christian might be tempted to turn away from this “vocation” to be a lamb, we ought to take solace in two simple Gospel truths.  First, Our Savior is the Good Shepherd [John 10:11].  Second, He is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world [John 1:29].  Yet both of these titles that Our Savior bears make sense only within the shadow of the Cross.

St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

St. Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

St. Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church
Job 9:1-12,14-16  +  Luke 9:57-62
September 30, 2020

“I will follow you wherever you go.”

Teachers need to teach their students—and parents, their children—that the two most important moments of one’s life are now and the hour of one’s death.  Likely we’ve known persons who live as if death will never arrive, living only for “now”.  The spiritual goal is constantly to relate these two:  now, and the hour of one’s death.

The world around us, including secular schools that want to produce “achievers”, seeks by contrast to relate every now to goals that one plans for:  goals to be realized next week, next month, next year, or upon retirement.  Yet those are short-sighted if they’re not set within the larger context of one’s death.

In fact, everything we do now, or don’t do now, bears on that hour of our death.  By everything we do or don’t do, we choose whether to follow Jesus.

If our young people are firmly resolved to prepare themselves for the hour of death, they will be firmly resolved in the “now” of every moment to follow whatever God asks.  Yet here we have to be mindful of the way in which God dwells in the present moment.  The need of a human person in the here and now often upsets our well-laid plans.  But Jesus often presents Himself to us in the present moment in the guise of those most in need.

St. Jerome, Priest & Doctor of the Church

Sts. Michael, Gabriel & Raphael, Archangels

Sts. Michael, Gabriel & Raphael, Archangels
Daniel 7:9-10,13-14 [or Revelation 12:7-12]  +  John 1:47-51
September 29, 2020

“… you will see Heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

About a month from now, the Church will celebrate All Saints’ Day, when we spend time thinking about the “lives of the saints”.  But it’s difficult to read and learn about the lives of today’s saints since they haven’t led “lives” in our normal sense of the word.  Furthermore, their lives are still going on as always.  Still, these three saints—the archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael—are a very important part of our Catholic prayer and belief.

These archangels—among the most important of all the angels—are messengers who carry the most important messages from God to human beings like us.

St. Michael, in the beginning, was the one who had to fight against the devil, and force him out of Heaven as punishment for turning against God.  At the end of time, it will be St. Michael who will lead all the good angels in battle against the fallen angels in league with the devil.  But in between the beginning and end of time, Michael protects all those who call upon him, to defend them in the day of battle, which is any day when we face temptation, and are tempted not to love God completely, or tempted not to love our neighbor as our self.

St. Gabriel, by contrast , goes to the heart and center of history, with the most important message that God ever wanted delivered.  It was Gabriel whom God chose to deliver the message to Mary that she should be our Blessed Mother, because God’s own Son should be born from her, that Son destined to be the Savior of all mankind.

In these archangels, we honor three models for the vocation to which God has called all of us through the Sacrament of Baptism.  In word and action, we—like the angels—serve God, and bear His messages to others, all of which are about the sort of love with which God loves us.

Even when we have sinned, God continues to love us, and wants us to draw closer to Him through Jesus.  But when we pray and realize how great God’s mercy towards us is, we are called to take that same message to others, and let others know of God’s love for them.  Even more, we are called to offer forgiveness to others:  to be God’s messenger of love and mercy by forgiving others in the same way that God has forgiven us.

Monday of the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [II]

Monday of the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time [II]
Job 1:6-22  + Luke 9:46-50
September 28, 2020

“Whoever receives this child in My Name receives Me ….”

During Christmastide we are used to thinking of Jesus—the divine Word made Flesh—dwelling among us as an infant.  But today, near the start of Autumn, Jesus counsels us to receive Him as a child.  Clearly, then, spiritual childhood isn’t just for Christmas!

To receive Jesus as a child means that the one who receives Jesus becomes a child him- or herself.

Spiritual childhood is a common theme in the literature of the Catholic masters of spirituality.  Of course, pondering this theme first requires a distinction between the childhood of fallen human nature and the childhood of what we might call either the “original human nature” or the “redeemed human nature”.  What does this distinction mean concretely?  We can picture this distinction by comparing two different images:  on the one hand is a two-year-old who refuses to go to sleep; on the other, the child resting peacefully upon his mother’s chest.

In addition to what Jesus says in today’s Gospel passage, we can use a Scriptural image to help us picture the spiritual childhood to which the Christian is called.  Consider Calvary, where Jesus entrusts Mary and the Beloved Disciple to each other’s care.  This Beloved Disciple, child of Mary, is our icon for spiritual childhood.

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

Saturday of the Twenty-Fifth Week in Ordinary Time [II]
Zechariah 2:5-9,14-15  +  Luke 9:43-45
September 26, 2020

“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men.”

Today’s Gospel passage, from fairly early in Luke’s Gospel account (in chapter 9 of 24 chapters), helps us to focus squarely on Jesus, even if His words here confuse the disciples.  You and I have the advantage of hindsight, of course, in knowing “the rest of the story” of the Gospel.  We know perfectly well what Jesus is referring to when He predicts that the “Son of Man is to be handed over to men.”

Still, we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back for being unlike the disciples portrayed today.  Consider the setting of today’s Gospel passage.  We need to recognize Jesus’ deliberateness in choosing the moment that He did to speak the words that He did:  it was “[w]hile they were all amazed at His every deed” that Jesus foretold His Passion.

What is the relationship between these two:  Jesus’ amazing deeds and His Passion?  Did Jesus foretell His Passion when He did to bring the disciples back down to earth, similar to the occasion of His Transfiguration?  Was Jesus wanting to minimize the significance of His amazing deeds, or at least to help the disciples realize that they were not the ultimate reason for His presence in their midst?  Reflect on these questions in the light of your own desire for God to work amazing deeds in your life, and your reluctance to share in the “handing over” of Jesus that He foretells today.