Friday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

God never forgets how much he loves us.  If this weren’t so, none of us would be in existence.  God loves us into life and loves us through our life and one day, if we let him, will love us into eternal life.  The people of Israel had to know this better than anyone.  In today’s first reading, Joshua gathers the people for a reminder.  God had called and given them the promise through Abraham.  Throughout the years, he dispelled all their enemies and especially the Egyptians who subjected them to abject slavery.  He also gave them a future and a city to dwell in: land they had not tilled and cities they had not built.  All of this because he loved them.

The question the Pharisees asked Jesus in the Gospel today had nothing to do with love, which is odd because it was a question about marriage.  Or, actually, the converse of marriage: divorce.  They were asking not because they wanted to know about how to love better in their relationships, but rather because they were trying to trick Jesus into some Moses-bashing.  But Jesus has none of that, reminding them of the indissolubility of love.

Many things can be forgotten.  God forgets things all the time – namely, our sins when we confess them.  But love can never be forgotten.  God never forgets how much he loves us because God is love itself, and we dare not forget how much we love him, and because we love him, how much we love one another.  That love may require all kinds of forgetting: forgetting past hurts, forgetting resentments, forgetting what we think we deserve.  

May we all forget what we have to so that love is the only thing we can remember, and may we all go together, one day, to eternal life.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings

In every age of the world, people have needed hope.  Because in every age of the world, there has been unbelievable hardship.  There has always been war, and disease, and poverty, and oppression, and alienation, and all the rest.  There has always been sin, and broken relationships, and impure desires and that feeling of emptiness that hardens our hearts.  Evil has run rampant from the fall of humanity and ever onward. And the weight of all of that could be crushing – if we didn’t have hope.

And I don’t need to be abstract about this.  All we have to do is turn on the news or pick up a newspaper and see mass shootings all over our nation, violence in our cities, families broken apart, the flaunting of pro-abortion rhetoric among political candidates, and you could probably name still more.  In our own lives we have the illness and death of loved ones, family members alienating one another, loss of employment, and that’s just to name a few.  There’s no way we could live with all that – if we didn’t have hope.

And I don’t mean hope in the naïve sense.  I’m not going to tell you, “don’t worry – everything will work out all right” because, honestly, some things just don’t.  The hope that I think we can find in today’s Liturgy is the theological virtue that reminds us that this life is not all there is; this is not as good as it gets. Our readings remind us that there has been and still is incredible evil in this world, but evil doesn’t get the final say – not for Jesus, not for Mary, and not for us.  One look at the way things work in our world and in our lives could convince us that this has all been an unbelievable failure – if we didn’t have hope.

The tradition of the Assumption of Mary dates back to the very earliest days of the Church, all the way back to the days of the apostles. It was known that Mary had “fallen asleep” and that there is a “Tomb of Mary” close to Mount Zion, where the early Christian community had lived. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 tells us that, after Mary’s death, the apostles opened the tomb, finding it empty, and concluded that she had been taken bodily into heaven. The tradition was spoken about by the various fathers of the Church, and in the eighth century, St. John Damascene wrote, “Although the body was duly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay . . . . You were transferred to your heavenly home, O Lady, Queen and Mother of God in truth.” The current celebration of Mary’s Assumption has taken place since 1950, when Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary in his encyclical, Munificentissimus Deus, saying: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.”

The hope that we find in the doctrine of the Assumption is summed up in the Preface to today’s Eucharistic Prayer, which I will sing in a few minutes.  Listen to the beautiful words of that prayer:

For today the Virgin Mother of God

was assumed into heaven

as the beginning and image

of your Church’s coming to perfection

and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people…

The Church knows well that our pilgrim way would be filled with evil.  But the Church courageously believes that this world’s experience isn’t the beginning and end of our existence: we have much to look forward to in the life to come.  Our Savior himself foretold as much in John’s gospel when he said, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)  This, brothers and sisters in Christ, is our hope, and this is the hope that we celebrate today.

The reason the Church reveres Mary as much as she does is because Mary’s life is the icon of the Church. What is important for us to see in this feast is that it proclaims with all the joy the Church can muster that what happened to Mary can and will happen for us who believe. We too have the promise of eternal life in heaven, where death and sin and pain will no longer have power over us. Because Christ caught his Blessed Mother back up into his life in heaven, we know that we too can be caught up with his life in heaven. On that great day, death, the last enemy, will be completely destroyed, as St. Paul tells us today.  That is our hope: our unbelievably gracious, completely unmerited, lovingly-bestowed hope.

Mary’s life wasn’t always easy, but Mary’s life was redeemed. That is good news for us who have difficult lives or find it hard to live our faith. Because there are those among us too who have unplanned pregnancies. There are those among us whose children go in directions that put them in danger. There are those among us who have to watch a child die. But because Mary suffered these sorrows too, and yet was exalted, we can hope for the day when that which she was given and which we have been promised will surely be ours.  We can and do hope in this salvation every day of our lives.  It’s what makes our lives livable; it’s what gives us the strength to keep on keepin’ on in the midst of so much difficulty.

Today’s readings can seem pretty fantastic, in the sense that we don’t know what to believe about them.  The reading from revelation has a dragon sweeping a third of the stars from the sky, and a child being caught up to heaven.  But really, I don’t think that’s too hard to grasp.  We have all been through things in our lives when it felt like a third of the stars had fallen out of the sky.  There is that evil dragon that seeks us out and wants to devour the hope that we have, but the child of that hope has been taken up to heaven, and we can go there one day too, if we believe, and repent, and cling to Christ who is our hope.

Mary’s song of praise in today’s gospel reading, which the Church prays every evening in Vespers, echoes the hope we have in this feast of the Assumption:

He has come to the help of his servant Israel

for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

the promise he made to our fathers,

to Abraham and his children forever.

Life is hard.  It always has been, and probably always will be. But this life is not all there is. As we walk through this life on our pilgrim way to God’s kingdom, we walk always in the presence of our God who sees us, who notices our pain and sorrow, who grieves with us and laughs with us, who never lets go of us, and who gives us hope beyond anything we deserve. Where Mary has gone, we hope to follow.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I once heard it said that you’re only a child once, but you can be childish your whole life long!  I don’t think that Jesus wants us to be childish today, but certainly he is calling us to be more child-like.

Jesus tells us today that we must become like children if we wish to enter the kingdom of heaven. Now when I stop to think about that, I wonder what it is about children that makes them so eligible for the kingdom. Anyone who’s spent quality time with a bunch of three year olds, or has been a substitute teacher for some sixth graders, knows that children aren’t righteous in and of themselves. So if it’s not that they are so pure, what is it that makes them heirs of the kingdom?

One thing about children – at least before they become teenagers – is that they are absolutely dependent on their parents or guardians. They can’t do much of their own power, so they depend on adults to give them what they need. I think this is the crux of what Jesus is getting at today.

Because so often we adults feel like we are supposed to handle everything ourselves. And we need to come to two very important realizations. The first is that we can’t do everything ourselves, and the second is that we’re not supposed to. We can’t because we simply don’t have the power. And that’s not a defect, it’s by design, and that’s why it’s important to realize that we’re not supposed to do everything ourselves. Only when we come to this point can we then turn and become like little children before our God who longs to nurture us into the kingdom of heaven.

God refuses to let any of his little ones to be lost. No shepherd worth his salt would leave 99 sheep alone to go out in search of one. But God does, because every single one of his little ones is important, every one of them was created for the kingdom of heaven. He goes out to look for those who are lost, and when they are lost they are most like children, needing God to show them the way. And he does show them the way. What is it in us that needs to change so that we can become more like children before our loving God?

The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Wow.  If ever there was a frightening Gospel reading, I think we just heard it!  All this talk about beating the menservants and the maidservants, and the hope of being beaten “only lightly.”  Yikes.  Even the whole notion of the Son of Man coming at an hour we do not expect is pretty concerning.  We almost want to close the cover of the book, back away slowly, and say, “then who can be saved?”  But I promise this reading is really good news.

I think we need the good news that this Gospel reading brings us these days.  With major mass shootings happening so very often – two of them last weekend, with families ripped apart as we struggle as a nation with defense of our borders versus welcoming those in need, with politicians vying with each other to see who is the most pro-choice, pro-abortion candidate, with the very dire effects of climate change that we are seeing lately, well, again, we almost want to turn off the television, close the newspaper, back away slowly and say, “then who can be saved?”  In these days we need the good news that there is something eternal and awesome and worth living for.

Listen to the opening line of the Gospel again: Jesus says to his disciples, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”  That is a revelation so glorious that it should have us up dancing in the aisles, praising God, and throwing a huge party.  Think about it: the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom.  The whole thing.  Doesn’t cost us a cent.  All of it is ours!  If there was ever any good news to share, this is it.  It’s better than a huge promotion at work, it’s even better than winning the lottery.  All those things last but a moment, but the kingdom, well that’s for eternity.

And it’s an eternity that we need to keep in mind these days.  Life on this earth is hard, so what is there to live for?  Well, we know it: we have the promise of the kingdom, and our Father is pleased to give it to us!  So now that we know that the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom, I’d like to explore two questions. First, are we pleased to receive the kingdom? And second, what on earth do we do with it?

Okay, so are we pleased to receive the kingdom?  Well, the obvious answer is “yes!” I mean, the kingdom is the great promise that brings us here to church today.  Inheriting the kingdom means we are not going to hell; indeed, we will have everlasting happiness.  But I wonder how readily we receive this gift of all gifts – and let’s be clear: this is the best gift we’re ever going to get.  But there are so many other things out there, and we want to keep our options open.  We’d rather pursue the big promotion, the latest and greatest shiny gadget, and so much more.  Lots of things tempt us and look better than the gift the Father is pleased to give us.

Another obstacle to receiving the kingdom is maybe we feel like there’s always time to receive that gift.  We’re going to live a long time, right?  So why deny ourselves so many passing things in favor of receiving the kingdom?  We can always receive the Father’s gift later. Except for the fact that none of us knows how much time we have in this life.  Procrastination is our enemy, because some day could well turn into never.  Not only that, but Jesus came to clearly proclaim that the kingdom is now, and why would we deny ourselves the pleasure of receiving the kingdom now and latch on to so many easily-tarnished things?  Now is the time, and there’s no gift greater.

And that’s what I think Jesus is addressing in the scary-sounding parables that follow.  We don’t know when our Master will return, so best to be always ready. It’s not that we should fear being beaten – severely or “only lightly” – we should fear something far worse, which would be missing out on life in the kingdom of God.  Jesus came to proclaim very loudly that the kingdom of God is at had – he says those exact words all through the Gospels.  Friends, the kingdom is what happens while we’re busy with all the things that consume us day and night.  If we don’t live like we’ve inherited the kingdom now, we’ll never get it, because we will have lived somewhere else all our lives.

So if we receive the kingdom, what are we supposed to do with it?  Well, just like all of God’s gifts, it’s not just for us.  We’re supposed to share it.  We’re supposed to live like we are part of it.  We’re supposed to live in the kingdom so that others will want to join us.  So this gift of the kingdom calls us to greater integrity, greater love, greater mercy, greater holiness.  This may well seem like hard work, and that’s because it is.  Jesus made it clear at the end of today’s Gospel: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”

So does that make the gift of the kingdom seem like a burden?  Well, maybe.  But it’s a happy burden, a glorious burden, a sweet burden.  All the saints tell us as much.  Even Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:30)  But we’ll never realize that until we go all in and receive the gift the Father is pleased to give us today.  It’s kind of like that project that seems daunting, but once we get into it, is actually kind of fun.  That’s the burden of the kingdom.

Jesus brings us the best of all Good News today: the Father is pleased to give us the kingdom.  So what do we have to do, what do we have to let go of, in order to receive it?  How do we live with to greater integrity, greater love, greater mercy, greater holiness, so that when people see it in us, they will want what we have more than anything?  That’s what should be our to-do list this week.  Put aside the despair of the daily news, receive the Father’s gift of the kingdom, then live in such a way that we share that gift with everyone and brighten our own corner of the world.  We have to live like that’s our job.  Because it is.

Saint Dominic, Priest

On a journey through France with his bishop, St. Dominic came across people who espoused the Albigensian heresy. The Albigensians believed in just good and evil – there was no middle ground. For them, anything material was evil, which meant that they denied the Incarnation and the sacraments. On the same principle they abstained from procreation and took a minimum of food and drink. It’s important to see that while the ascetic practices they undertook were good, their ultimate conclusions were deeply flawed.

St. Dominic sensed the need for the Church to combat this heresy, and he was commissioned to be part of the preaching crusade against it. He saw immediately why the preaching was not succeeding: the ordinary people admired and followed the asceticism of the Albigensians. Understandably, they were not impressed by the Catholic preachers who traveled in luxury, stayed at the best inns and had servants. Dominic therefore, with three Cistercians, began itinerant preaching – living simply and depending on the goodness of others to support them – according to the gospel ideal. 

One of the ancient histories of the Dominican order says of him, “Two or three times he was chosen bishop, but he always refused, preferring to live with his brothers in poverty. Throughout his life, he preserved the honor of his virginity. He desired to be scourged and cut to pieces, and so die for the faith of Christ. Of him Pope Gregory IX declared: ‘I knew him as a steadfast follower of the apostolic way of life. There is no doubt that he is in heaven, sharing in the glory of the apostles themselves.’” (Office of Readings) 

Dominic continued his preaching work for ten years, being successful with the ordinary people but not with the leaders. Eventually, he founded his own religious order, the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, that was dedicated to preaching the Gospel to ordinary people. 

We too are called to preach to every person. We do that not just in words, but mainly by the way we live. When people see our faith at work in our actions, they may well be moved by our example to draw near to God who longs to draw near to them. As we approach the Eucharist today, may we all turn to God for the words to speak and the actions to do, that all the world may come to know that our God is merciful and the source of all grace. 

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Today’s readings

This feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord can be a puzzling one for us to understand.  It’s an event we’ve heard about in Gospel readings, but it’s not something that we’ve ever seen.  So it’s hard, I think, for us to figure out.  If that’s true of us, we shouldn’t feel too bad: it’s clear that Peter, James and John, disciples who were clearly in Jesus’ “inner circle” didn’t get it either.  In fact, they were so frightened by it that they hardly knew what to say.  

But as we reflect on this feast, we should see that the Transfiguration is a sign for us of three things: it’s a sign of who Jesus really is, a sign of what would happen in the paschal mystery, and a sign of what is to be for those who believe.

First, then, it is a sign of who Jesus really is.  We get three very beautiful clues to Jesus’ true identity here.  First, there is the transfiguration, or change, itself. Jesus is transfigured, and his clothes become dazzling white.  He literally shines with the Glory of God.  This perhaps reminded the people of Jesus’ time of the way Moses’ face was said to shine after he came down from the mountain where he conversed with God. It also reminds us of the way the figure who was “one like a son of man” shone in today’s first reading.  The transfiguration tells us that Jesus is no ordinary man, that the divinity the had from the beginning but set aside at his Incarnation, that divinity was ready to burst forth from him at any moment. It did in today’s Gospel, and Peter, James and John were witnesses of it.  The second clue is the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus.  This appearance linked Jesus with Israel’s past, Moses representing the Law and Elijah the Prophets.  His conversation with Moses and Elijah underscore that Jesus’ ministry in the world was part of God’s plan for our salvation.  The third clue is the voice of God.  “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” If there had been any doubt, it had to be gone by now.  Rarely does God speak in such a direct manner to his creation, but he did it here.  Jesus was his beloved Son, and Peter, James and John – and all of us too – would do well to listen to him.

Second, the Transfiguration is a sign of what would happen in the Paschal Mystery.  The incredible event of Jesus’ Transfiguration foreshadows the glory of the Resurrection.  It’s a peek at what Jesus would look like after he rose from the dead.  You may remember that the first witnesses of the Resurrection had a hard time recognizing Jesus.  That may be because he was transfigured by the Resurrection, and so today’s event is perhaps a foreshadowing of what that would be like. Yes, Jesus would have to suffer and die, but his Resurrection and Ascension would be glorious, and would open the possibility of glory to all of us as well.

Third, the Transfiguration is a sign of what waits for us who believe.  The glory that we see in Jesus today is the glory that waits for all of us.  We have hope of the Resurrection, we have hope of an eternal home in heaven.  The Transfiguration shows us that this hope is ours, if we but listen to the one who is God’s beloved Son.  Sure, we come to that as those who don’t deserve that kind of glory.  We are in need of our own kinds of transfigurations.  We are in need of our sins being transfigured into faithfulness, of our failures being transfigured into joys, of our death being transfigured into everlasting life.  All of those transfigurations are accomplished in us when we but listen to God’s beloved Son.

The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You know, it doesn’t take too much thinking to see that our culture is way off base.  I saw a post on social media this week about the “do what makes you happy” aspect of our culture, and how toxic that is for us Christians. Our God does will our happiness.  But he directs that happiness to the afterlife, when all is perfected.  We are called to reasonable happiness in this life, but in this life we are called to glorify God in all of our thoughts, words and deeds, and depend on God to be the source of our joy.

But our culture is all about selfishness being the source of our joy, which is completely disordered. Our attachment to stuff borders on hoarding.  Recently I noticed the proliferation of “you store it” businesses in our area.  Stuff does not make us happy; in many ways it almost makes us less happy because we have to figure out what to do with the stuff. We can be very rich in what matters to us, but the question is, when does it all become too much?

Listen to the last line of this morning’s Gospel one more time: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” So right away the parable is turned around and directed at all of us. And it wouldn’t be so hard to put that parable in modern terms, would it? Think of winning the lottery, only to know that the day you receive the check is the day you go home to the Lord. Or think of spending your days and nights in the office, building wealth and prestige, only to be part of massive layoffs when the company is sold. Or, even worse, spending your days and nights at the office, only to miss the growing of your family. So, Jesus asks us, what treasures have we built up? With what have we filled our barns?

Today’s first reading is from the book of Ecclesiastes, which in Hebrew is Qoheleth, who is the teacher in the book. Among the Wisdom books in the Scriptures, Ecclesiastes can be the hardest to read because it is almost prophetic in content. Qoheleth is the main character in the book, a man who is considered wise among his contemporaries, much like many of the popular wisdom teachers of his day. While we don’t know who Qoheleth was, the book is attributed to Solomon, the wise king. Solomon often wrote of the prizes that lay in store for those who were successful. But this book is a little different. Here he questions if it is all worth it, and challenges the complacency and dishonesty that run rampant in that society. If we didn’t know any better, he could well have been writing his words today, couldn’t he? In the end, though, Qoheleth’s message is basically encouraging, and brings us back to the God who made us. At the end of his book, which is not part of today’s reading, he says: “The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.” (Ecc. 12:13-14) Which is exactly what I found in that social media post: we need to concern ourselves with glorifying God.  That’s what Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel, too.

St. Paul has a little bit of Qoheleth in him too, today. In the letter to the Colossians, which we have been hearing these past few weeks, he is trying to get that community to lay aside earthly things and seek God. Sounds like the message of Qoheleth, doesn’t it? “If you were raised with Christ,” he tells them, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” In other words, stop thinking about what makes you happy and do what glorifies God; stop filling your barns with the stuff that you accumulate on this earth, and be rich in what matters to God. Qoheleth, St. Paul, and Jesus are in complete concert today, and we must be careful to hear their message. St. Paul, typical for him, is very blunt about what he is asking us to lay aside: “Put to death then,” he tells us, “the parts of you that are earthly: immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and the greed that is idolatry.” And, “stop lying to one another.” We are called to be disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful, because absolutely nothing else will lead us to the kingdom of God!

So, let’s look at Jesus’ instruction at the end of today’s Gospel parable: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.” We have to ask ourselves, then, the very important question: “what is it that matters to God?” I think we know what doesn’t qualify – St. Paul made that very clear. I think the things that matter to God are those things we might count among our blessings: namely our family and friends. Those things that matter to God might also be the things that make us disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful. So we might seek to be rich in prayer, rich in reaching out to the poor and needy, rich in standing up for truth and justice.

Today God is tugging at the heart-strings of the hoarder in all of us. What are we stockpiling? Maybe we need a look at our checkbooks, our calendars, and our to-do lists to see where our money, time and resources have gone. Can we take any of that with us if we are called home to God tonight? If those things are all we have, we could find ourselves in real poverty when we arrive at the pearly gates. This week’s to-do list might find us letting go of some of what we thought was important, so that we can be rich in what matters to God. These, brothers and sisters in Christ, are the riches that will not spoil and can never be taken away from us.

Friday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

What kinds of mighty deeds is the Lord Jesus trying to do in our own lives? Is he finding success there, or have we put up obstacles through our own lack of faith?

Today we celebrate a Votive Mass of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for this First Friday. In this celebration, we realize that the “native place” of our Lord is in our own hearts. As he pours out the love of his Sacred Heart on us, he takes up residence in our own hearts in order to guide us and bring us to salvation. And so we cannot be like those in Jesus’ hometown who would give him no honor in his native place. We must joyfully give Christ honor in our hearts and let his love pour forth in all that we do and say this day and every day.

And just as Moses taught the people to observe the Lord’s commands for worship and rest on the Sabbath and the festivals, so we too must carefully observe time for worship and rest in our own hearts, communing with our God who longs to warm us with his presence as the very blood flows through our bodies and who longs to guide the rhythm of our days just like the beating of our own hearts. May we all find a moment of our day today for contemplation to appreciate the presence of the Lord in our hearts and in our lives. May the mighty deeds the Lord longs to do in us pour forth from his Sacred Heart, which resides in the hearts of all of us.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think we get a more vivid picture of today’s Gospel if we’ve ever had the task of weeding a good-sized garden. I’ve done it plenty of times.  It’s not a task I really enjoy, but it is kind of good in that when you finish a job like that, you can look at it and see something good happened. There’s a sense of accomplishment. But discerning what is a weed and what is a plant is sometimes a difficult task.

That’s the kind of question the disciples had for Jesus today.  Jesus had just told them several parables about the kingdom of God, and this one was all the way back on Saturday of last week in the liturgy.  To refresh our memories, the story basically went that the landowner sowed good seed in the field, but when it started to grow, weeds came up too.  His laborers asked him about it and he said, “An enemy has done this.” So they wanted to pull up the weeds, but the master said to let them grow together until harvest time, lest in pulling them up they also accidentally pull up the good plants. They could then be pulled up and burnt at harvest time.

Now I think a good gardener might quibble with the analogy.  But that’s not the point.  The point is good news, and the good news is this: however much we may resemble the weeds from day to day, Jesus gives us the time to grow into much lovelier plants during our lives.  He doesn’t blot us out of the book of life for one transgression.  But the warning is that we only have so much time until the harvest.  If we are going to turn to the God who sowed us and provide good fruit, we need to do it now.  If we wait until the harvest, it may well be too late.  Our God gives us the freedom to choose to be the good seeds in the field of the world, blessed are we who choose to grow that way.

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