Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Heavenly Jerusalem - 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Heavenly Jerusalem - 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind

Last week there was a luncheon for seniors at an affluent parish.  Many people came to attend, very nice people most of whom are now retired from distinguished careers in law, medicine, and business.  Their gathering was a jovial one:  good food, good conversation, and some lively bingo games with nice prizes awarded to winners.  

One other person was invited to the luncheon.  Jeremy is a large African American man who suffers from a permanent disability.  He found himself homeless recently and was found on the corner crying about his plight.  Jeremy was invited and welcomed to the luncheon, sitting with all the others enjoying the food, fellowship, and friendship.  After the luncheon Jeremy was given a ride to an agency who will help him find housing. 

This simple event captured in the concrete and practical the lesson of today's readings:  our judgment has to do with how we treat the least among us and in nothing else.  And in serving the least among us, we provide a foreshadowing of the heavenly banquet table in the heavenly Jerusalem - the reign of God.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Counting Chickens - 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Counting Chickens - 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lord, will only a few be saved?

Today's Gospel is filled with points we often overlook in the reading.  The text begins with this question above, and the first thing to notice is that Jesus does not directly answer the question in either the affirmative or negative.  Instead, he offers parables that redirect the question to a consideration of our own status before God.  Perhaps Jesus realized then, as now, that the motivation behind the question was not salutary.

The second point to note is that the Church connects this Gospel text to the first reading from Isaiah where people of all nations are coming to Jerusalem finding salvation, a point that Jesus too makes in the Gospel text.  In our own time we need to be reminded of the point of these passages:  that God is generous with his salvation, and it is not restricted to our exclusive clubs and our preconceived ideas as to who gets in and who gets shut out.

We have only one conscience God has given for us to examine, and very often we don't accomplish that feat very well.  In the Ignatian examen done rightly, God reveals to us the horrid state of our souls, but also reminding us that we are his children whom he calls to himself.  Each one of us is in that state, which is the point of today's readings, and the way forward for us all toward the reign of God.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mary's Assumption, Our Assumptions

Mary’s Assumption, Our Assumptions

God’s temple in heaven was opened,
and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.

The presence of God among the Jewish people wandering in the desert was the Ark of the Covenant.  What suggested God’s presence was not the box itself but what was in the box:  the tablets of God’s commandments, the heavenly manna, and Aaron’s staff.  These represented God’s great presence to them while in the desert:  God’s law, God’s feeding his people, God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt at the Red Sea.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has been given the title Ark of the Covenant by the author of the Book of Revelation and early church fathers.  Mary suggest God’s presence to us not in herself but in what was within her – Jesus, the Son of God.  Jesus, like the contents of the previous Ark, represents God’s great presence to us in our journey through the desert of the world:  God’s law of love, God feeding us with the body and blood of Christ, and our deliverance by God from evil at the font of baptism.

The original Ark of the Covenant was lost forever in the history of Israel, not that God’s presence had left Israel but that God’s presence was found in the hearts of His people.  Mary, the new Ark of the Covenant, has been brought up to heaven by God, for the presence of Jesus is with us sacramentally and in the hearts of his disciples down through the ages in the Church. 

As disciples of the Lord Jesus, we too can be a certain Ark of the Covenant.  If we carry within us the presence of Jesus in our hearts and make that presence known to others by the lives we live, then we are an Ark manifesting God’s presence – the law of love, the sacramental presence of Christ, and deliverance from sin.  And we too hope to be one day body and soul with Mary and all the saints in the reign of God.  

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Keeping the Peace - 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Keeping the Peace - 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I did not come to bring peace, but the sword.

What words are these that come from the mouth of Jesus?  Did Jesus not say, "Peace I leave you, my peace I give to you"?  Do we not call Jesus the Prince of Peace?  So what can we make of these words of his in today's Gospel?  We pray for peace each day, and yet we have these words in the Gospel that somehow have to make sense.  

There is a strange irony in the fact that peacemakers often are opposed by the most violent forces among us.  When we seek to defend life in all its stages, violent voices are raised against us that seek the life of the unborn, the person on death row, the immigrant, the foreigner. And within our own souls many things seek to wage war on the peace God seeks to bring us within our hearts and minds.  Oddly enough, we find peace only where its opposite exists.

So we must be peacemakers and seek peace in spite of the violent voices around us and within us.  The opposition is inevitable, and sometimes the opposition can be quite painful.  But we take consolation in knowing that the Lord Jesus experienced in his life so that he can lead us in peace to the reign of God.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Not by Sight - 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Not by Sight - 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Faith is the evidence of things not seen.

It is often said that our modern age has no room for faith.  With all our technology, scientific advancements, and the ability to see almost all things in the heavens and on earth, it is asserted that these things crowd out religious faith.  On the contrary, these things rather presuppose faith in other ways.  Who of us knows anything about brain surgery, or auto mechanics, or any other specialty?  We, then, trust others and put our faith in their skills in order for us to get through modern life.

How different is this from the experience of Abraham, who trusted when God spoke in his heart to move from the only land he knew to Canaan, and at his age!  And what of the servant in the Gospel - as well as the landowner who entrusts the oversight of his estate to the servant?  Jesus uses these figures as analogies to our faith in God.  Similarly, we can use our own modern examples above to reflect in our own times on the analogy of our faith in God.

Our times are no different than those of Jesus, or Abraham, or anyone else.  Faith is just as necessary and prevalent in our own times than in any other.  God is present just as He has always been.  It remains for us to respond to God's initiative, remain ever open to the call of God in our lives, and follow our one sure guide - the Lord Jesus - to the reign of God.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

We Belong to Each Other - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

We Belong to Each Other - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Take care to guard against all greed...

If we take the story of creation seriously, then we must recognize that there are no tribes among us.  We are all brothers and sisters sharing in the same human origins and sharing the same divine destiny.  All of us are one; we belong to each other.  This truth is the foundation of the entire Catholic social teaching.  

Both the first reading and Gospel warn against amassing great stores of riches.  Why?  They are needed by others; these riches do not belong to us.  When we amass riches we are robbing others of what they need.  As St. Caesarius of Arles taught: "What kind of people are we? When God gives, we wish to receive, but when he begs, we refuse to give. Remember it was Christ who said, I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. When the poor are starving, Christ too hungers. Do not neglect to improve the unhappy condition of the poor, if you wish to ensure that your own sins be forgiven you. Christ hungers now, my brethren, it is he who deigns to hunger and thirst in the persons of the poor. And what he will return in heaven tomorrow is what he receives here on earth today."

As our culture exalts the rich and promotes division among us, we look to the Lord Jesus as our example and guide, leading us ever closer to the reign of God.  

Saturday, July 13, 2013

You Can Do It! - 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

You Can Do It! – 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C

Teachers have a frustrating job.  Every year they lay out an entire plan for their students to be successful in their class.  On the face of it, the plan seems easy:  do these assignments, study this material, and do well on the tests.  If you do all these things, you will be successful in this class.  In addition to laying it all out, the teacher will invariably spend time before and after school helping students master the material.  Tutors are made available to students who need extra help.  And in spite of all this structure, there will be students who will fail the course.  In some cases students will have things happen to them that are beyond their control that leads them to be unsuccessful – an illness, family crisis, or some other calamity.  But for others the failure represents a failure at a basic level of putting forth no effort to achieve what on paper seems rather simple.

Moses seems at the point of teacher exasperation with the people of Israel in the first reading.  The Law really isn’t that complicated.  Its content is not too lofty to understand; its meaning is clear and its application is near us.  We have only to put it into effect in our lives.  What is more, God will send them help:  great leaders of faith, great signs to instill faith within them, and His presence among them in the tabernacle of the ark of the covenant.  These aides will be with Israel for generations, and yet time and again the people fail to follow the Law.  Is it any wonder Moses gets frustrated time and again with his own people?

The reason the Law is so difficult for the people to follow is found in today’s Gospel text.  A teacher of the law asks Jesus what is necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven.  The answer is simple.  The entire law is summarized in two sentences:  you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, with all your mind, and with all your soul; and love your neighbor as yourself.  That’s it.  Jesus affirms this answer, stating that if we do this we will live.  It seems quite simple.  And yet it becomes hard when the lawyer asks a question – who is my neighbor?  It is the legalism of our minds and systems that looks to complicate that which is simple. 

Jesus’ reply to the lawyer’s question is the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, the lesson being of course that everyone is our neighbor, even – no, especially – our enemy.  But we knew this already.  Jesus had taught it to us in the Sermon on the Mount.  And yet we saw the disciples ask Jesus if they should call down fire upon the Samaritan village that rejected them.  Apparently we are no better than the ancient Israelites when it comes to living the Law as we ought.  We need not belabor the point in citing event after event in the history of the Church where we continually sought not to forgive and love our enemy but rather to execute and wage war upon him. 

And yet each time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist we are reminded that Jesus lived the Law of love perfectly.  He died for His enemies after first forgiving them.  He commanded us to put aside the sword, and He commands us to follow Him in living the Law of love.  We can do it.  We have every help available to us:  the teaching and example of Jesus, sacramental celebrations where we remember in a tangible way how Jesus lived this Law and where grace is made available to us in order to live it ourselves.  The time has come to put aside our legalistic distinctions, mental reservations, just war theories, and all other excuses for not living as we are commanded to live, for not loving as we are commanded to love. 

The renewal of the Church will not come through some parish program, nor in some insistence upon orthodoxy, nor from any further tinkering with the liturgy.  Important as these things may be, they are no substitute for authentic Christian living by each and every one of us.  We may have great attendance at parish programs.  We may have orthodoxy reinforced to the hilt.  We may tinker with the liturgy to the very last genuflection.  But if they do not produce people living the Law of the Gospel, the Law of Love, we have made ourselves very busy with the wrong emphases.  Programs, teaching, and liturgy are means to an end, not ends in themselves.  The parable of the Good Samaritan is a sober reminder of this fact.

As we look to follow the Lord Jesus along the way of love, we come together at Mass to be nourished and reminded once again in the Eucharistic action the life we must live.  “Let us pray to be faithful to the light we have received, to the name we bear.  Father, let the light of your truth guide us to your kingdom through a world filled with lights contrary to your own.  Christian is the name and the gospel we glory in.  May your love make us what you have called us to be.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.  Amen.”