St. Ignatius of Loyola

Today’s readings

St. Ignatius is a good example of what the Lord is saying through Jeremiah the prophet today. Just like the potter, God can and does form and re-form us all through our lives, becoming ourselves more and more like the potter, more and more one with the potter’s actions.

St. Ignatius was all set to accomplish great things in the military when his leg was badly injured by a canon ball. As he was convalescing, he asked for romantic novels to read. But nothing like that was available, so he had to settle for books on the life of Christ and the lives of the saints. Reading them, he noticed that those books made him feel differently than the romance novels he was used to. He noted that the pleasure those books provided was fleeting, but that the joy he felt in reading the spiritual books stayed with him, and so he pursued the Christian life and began a process of conversion.

During this time of conversion, he began to write things down, and these writings served for a later work, his greatest work, the Spiritual Exercises. These Exercises became the basis for the Society of Jesus, which he formed with six others to live a life of poverty and chastity and apostolic work for the pope. This was accepted by Paul III and Ignatius was elected its first general.

Ignatius’s motto was Ad majorem Dei gloria: All for the glory of God. His Spiritual Exercises have become a spiritual classic and have provided the basis rule for other religious orders over time, including Sr. Anne’s community, the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We can wish Sr. Anne a happy feast day today!

Ignatius’s life changed like the clay in the hands of the potter. We have lots of those experiences too, and blessed are we when we accept them as enthusiastically as St. Ignatius did!

St. Martha

Today's readings

You know, I think St. Martha gets kind of a bad rap in general.  She is maybe best known for the fact that she complained about having to do all the cooking and serving while her sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet the whole time.  Jesus told her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.  There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”  That was in the Gospel reading I did not choose to read for today’s Mass.

But that reputation is so wrong.  I think the Gospel I did read gives us a better look at why Martha is indeed a saint.  This reading gives us Martha’s profession of faith.  Jesus asks her if she believes that he indeed is the resurrection and the life, and she responds with great faith, “Yes, Lord.  I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

There was a division among the Jews at the time, between those who believed in life after death and those who did not.  It was the Sadducees that did not believe in an afterlife (and so that’s why they were sad, you see…).  Martha clearly isn’t one of these.  Not only does she believe in a resurrection of the dead, but she believes that Jesus is the one who has come to make it all possible.  And she couldn’t be more right.

Martha’s profession of faith comes at a particularly low point in her life: her brother Lazarus has died.  So I think Martha is the patron saint of all of us who choose to witness to our faith even when times are hard.  Those who live faithfully when they are sick or dying, or when they are grieving, or when they are looking for work, or when they are suffering from addiction, or whatever it may be, can look to St. Martha as their patron.  Because when our faith is tested and we choose to live it anyway, that is when we are most like the saints.  And St. Martha is the one to lead us in proclaiming, “Yes, Lord: my faith may be tested right now, but I believe anyway.  You are the Christ.  You are the resurrection and the life.  You are the one who is coming into the world!”

Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

Someone once told me about a movie called “Everest.”  I haven’t seen it, but I’m told it’s about a mountain climbing expedition that went horribly wrong. The climbers were making their way to Everest's summit when a storm came up and stranded them on the mountain. The storm was so severe that rescuers couldn't get to them and some of the climbers died. One man, whom they thought was dead, survived. He had some of his toes and fingers amputated because of frost bite.

In an interview the climber was asked, "Will you climb again?" And without hesitation he said, "Absolutely!"  "But why?" he was asked, "You almost died on the mountain!" His reply, "You just have to be there. Climbing makes this minute of life so alive, so precious. It's not just about your time on the mountain. Once you have been on the mountain you become more aware of everything. Nothing is ever the same in your life. If you have been there, all of your life is affected by your experience. Climbing alters the way you see your family, job…everything."

Now, I have to admit, I have a little bit of a hard time relating to that.  I’m obviously not a mountain-climber, and so I don’t think I’d be risking my life to do it.  But this story does beg the question in us: what is so important you’d give your life for it?

Because that’s the question that’s forming the heart of today’s Scripture readings.  Solomon could have wished for anything he wanted.  After all, the Lord simply said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.”  How would you answer that question?  Well, Solomon didn’t wish for riches or political power, or fame or glory or anything at all like that.  He asks instead for wisdom, for “an understanding heart
to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”  In itself, this is a response that is laden with wisdom, and God is so pleased that the grants Solomon “a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.”

In the parables in today’s Gospel, two people are going about their daily work, searching for treasure, and for fine pearls.  They have probably done this day in and day out and occasionally find something fairly good that brings them some income.  But on these particular days, they find a treasure, and a pearl, that is more wonderful than anything they have ever seen.  They quickly give up everything they have in life so that they can purchase it.  Can you imagine their joy?  Well, Jesus tells us, finding the Kingdom of heaven is kind of like that.

But not just like that, right?  Because we know that worldly goods can never hold a candle to the riches of the Kingdom of heaven.  The success in our careers is nice, the nice things we have in our homes give us some pleasure, our accomplishments – like climbing Mt. Everest – may even give us some pride.  But all of these will pale in the face of the joy of the Kingdom. 

And so we have the invitation today.  We have found the great treasure, the pearl of great price.  We have come here today to worship and to receive the Lord in the Eucharist.  We know where to find that which is ultimately valuable.  But the fact is that we can come and go from this holy place today and still not have what’s truly worthwhile.  Because in order to receive it, we have to give up everything.  We have to sell everything and buy the field or purchase that pearl of great price.

That might mean walking away from a business deal that is profitable but has consequences for the poor or the environment.  Or perhaps it means giving up a relationship that is destructive.  We may have to give up a leisure pursuit that separates us from family and friends.  We have to make choices, changes and decisions that amount to selling everything in order to make room for something that is more important in our lives – something that is ultimately important: that pearl of great price which is the Kingdom of heaven itself.

Today’s Liturgy of the Word leaves us with some very important questions.  What is the pearl of great price for us?  What is worth giving up everything?  How important is it for us to enter the Kingdom of heaven?  What is it that we must give up to get there?  Our prayer today is that we would be strengthened by the Word of God and nourished by the Eucharist so that we would have the courage to sell everything for the Kingdom of heaven, that pearl of ultimately great price.

Ss. Joachim and Anne, Parents of Mary

Today's readings: Sirach 44:1, 44:10-15, Psalm 132:11-18, Matthew 13:16-17

“Now I will praise those godly men and women,
our ancestors, each in their own time.”

We don’t know much, well anything really, about Joachim and Anne.  Even in the Gospels where the ancestry of Jesus is traced, nothing is really said about Mary’s family, so we don’t have names that tell us anything about who Mary’s parents were.  Their names themselves are really sourced by legend written more than a century after Jesus died.

The Church has always inferred that Joachim and Anne were heroic people, having given birth to a woman of great faith.  Mary perhaps had learned her great reverence for God from them, perhaps had learned to trust in God’s plan from them.  She knew the law and was a woman of prayer, and we can only surmise that had to come from her parents who had brought her up to love God and his commandments.

This feast helps me remember my own grandparents, whose faith and love are a part of me today.  Their humor, their reverence for God, their love for people, all of that has become a part of who I am today.  Maybe you too can remember some of the graces that have come from your own ancestors in faith.  And for all these great people, along with Ss. Joachim and Anne, we give thanks today.  As Sirach tells us today, “At gatherings their wisdom is retold, and the assembly proclaims their praise.”

Feast of St. James, Apostle

Today's readings

“Can you drink the chalice of which I am going to drink?”

What does that even mean for us?  We know what Jesus’ chalice was like: it led him through sorrow, and abandonment, and ultimately to the cross.  If we have ever been in a situation in which we have felt intense grief, or felt abandoned, or had to stand by and watch the death of one that we loved, well then, we know a little bit of what that chalice is going to taste like.

Being a disciple is messy business.  It means that it’s not all the glory, pomp and circumstance.  It means that our faith sometimes has to move from the mountaintop experiences down into the valleys of despair.  It means that there are times when we will be in situations that are frustrating, infuriating, debilitating, grievous and horrible.  We will have to drink a very bitter chalice indeed.  And Jesus wasn’t just talking to John and James when he said “My chalice you will indeed drink.”  That’s the cup reserved for all of us who would be his disciples.

Very clearly those words of St. Paul ring true for us:

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
For we who live are constantly being given up to death
for the sake of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

But what is unspoken here but clearly implied is the grace.  Those who abandon their lives to take up the cross, wherever that leads them, will always have at their disposal the grace to live a life that is joyful in the face of affliction, confident in the midst of uncertainty, whole in the midst of destruction.  There is nothing that the world or its evils can throw at us that cannot be ultimately overcome by the grace of God.  We will still have to live through sadness at times, but that sadness can never and must never overtake the joy we have in Christ.

Like St. James and his brother John, we are all called to drink from the chalice which Jesus drank. That means that we will always bear the dying of Jesus in our own bodies. We can't explain why bad things happen to good people, but we can explain how good people handle bad situations well: they handle it well because they know Christ and live in Christ every day of their lives. Sometimes the chalice we will have to drink will be unpleasant, distasteful and full of sorrow. But with God's grace, our drinking of those cups can be a sacrament of the presence of God in the world.

Everyone who is great among us must be a servant, and whoever wishes to be first among us must be our slave. St. James knew how to do that and still thrive in his mission. May we all be that same kind of sacrament for the world.

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today's readings

We’ve just had this Gospel reading in the Sunday readings in the last couple of weeks, so I thought I’d touch on a few verses that I didn’t go into in that homily.  And these are some of the most powerful words in Scripture for me, and always a challenge for me:

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Sometimes we just overlook the blessing of every moment, don’t we?  We might be in the midst of a really good time in our lives.  We get to see new birth, restoration, healing, joy, laughter, and celebration.  But in the midst of all that, we can in fact become jaded to it.  Perhaps we even feel entitled to it and the blessing of it stops registering for us.

Or maybe we’re in the midst of a really lousy time.  Maybe we are seeing death, degradation, sickness, brokenness, pain, weeping and grief.  And we can be real angry about that, overlooking the care that is extended to us, from the kind words, to the thoughtful deeds, or even just the loving embrace.  We miss the blessings of those hard times a lot.

But regardless, in every moment of every day, we get to see things and hear things that others have not been privileged to see and hear.  We get to love and rejoice and persevere in whole new ways every single day.  Whether the times are good or bad, the moments are always blessed by our God who walks with us through every experience.  We have to take the time to see and hear those blessings, because the destruction of our soul that happens when we miss it is just irreparable.  So many have longed to see and hear what we have seen and heard.  Blessed are our eyes, blessed are our ears, blessed are we!