St. John Bosco

Today’s readings

St. John Bosco was a master catechist who knew the importance of living and teaching and handing on the faith that the author of our first reading talked about.  “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for,” the author writes, “and evidence of things not seen.”  John Bosco was a man who lived his faith with conviction.  He was a priest who was concerned with the whole person of the young people he taught: he wanted them to fill both their minds and their souls.

John was encouraged to enter the priesthood for the specific purpose of teaching young boys and forming them in the faith. He was ordained in 1841. This began with a poor orphan, who John prepared for First Holy Communion. Then he was able to gather a small community and teach them the Catechism. He worked for a time as a chaplain of a hospice for working girls, and later opened an oratory – a kind of school – for boys which had over 150 students. The needs of teaching them also encouraged John to open a publishing house to print the catechetical and educational materials used in the classrooms.

He was known for his preaching, and that helped him to extend his ministry by forming a religious community – the Salesians – to concentrate on education and mission work in 1859. He later formed a group of Salesian Sisters to teach girls. By teaching children self worth through education and job training, John was able to also teach the children of their own worth in the eyes of God.

Jesus asks the disciples in today’s Gospel, “Do you not yet have faith?”  It is up to all of us to help people come to faith in Jesus.  St. John Bosco was tireless in his devotion to teaching and forming young people. In today’s Eucharist, may we give thanks for the teachers in our lives, and may we also commend the teachers and catechists of today’s young people to the patronage of St. John Bosco.

Thursday of the Third Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“For he who made the promise is trustworthy.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, if these are the only words we take from this holy place today, we’re doing pretty well.  The essence of our faith is based on this rock-solid statement from the writer of Hebrews: “For he who made the promise is trustworthy.”  That’s true, of course, and I think we can all agree with it on the intellectual level.  But people of faith have to go deeper than that; we have to be people whose living is wrapped up in the truth of that statement: “For he who made the promise is trustworthy.”

If we really believe that, then nothing should ever stop our witness.  We should not be stopped because we think we don’t have the words, or the talents to be a witness for the faith.  That doesn’t stop us because God has promised to give us the words and whatever else we need in those moments, and he is trustworthy.  We should not be stopped because we are afraid of commitment, because God has promised us a life that is better than anything we can imagine if we but take up our cross and follow him.  And he is trustworthy.  None of our objections or insecurities should stop our discipleship, our living for Christ, because God has promised to great things in us.  And he is trustworthy.

And so we place our lamps on the lampstand, unafraid of the watching world looking to us, because we’re not shining our own light but rather Christ’s.  We encourage each other in faith and good works because we have the promise of our trustworthy God to take us wherever we need to go.

Thursday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It’s interesting that in the Gospel reading it’s the unclean spirits who recognize the holiness of Jesus.  The religious leaders of the time didn’t get it, and sometimes I think we don’t either.  The author of our letter to the Hebrews today puts it rather clearly: “It was fitting that we should have such a high priest: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, higher than the heavens.”  I think we tend to get rather easily the immanence of Jesus: that he is our friend, that he is close to us.  And that’s good because it’s absolutely true.  But sometimes we miss the transcendence of Jesus: his holiness and the fact that he is above and beyond anything we can possibly imagine with regard to grace and divinity.

If we knew and appreciated the holiness of Jesus, we would never enter the church without a trip to the Tabernacle, even a brief one.  We would call on him to bless all our endeavors and plans because his ability to act on behalf of his beloved comes from his place in the Blessed Trinity.  We would conscientiously genuflect and bow in adoration of him at all the appropriate times.  We would be careful of how we used the name of the Lord in our speech.

It’s a great gift to us that Jesus is both immanent and transcendent: he is both near to us and far beyond our wildest imaginings.  We can never know him fully, because there is infinitely more of him to know.  That’s what keeps our spiritual lives fresh: we can come to know Jesus and be one with him, but there is always more of him to grasp, more that we can learn, more that we can experience, more that we can love.  That’s why spiritual growth is a life-long process, really a life-long gift.

And so, today we should take time to step back and see how it is that we have come to know Jesus.  We are grateful for what has been revealed to us, and eager to find what is still to come.  We are grateful that he is close to us, and we rejoice that he is beyond us in ways we cannot even come close to knowing.  If even the unclean spirits are impressed at the holiness of Jesus, then we have to be too.  We have the word of God and the ministry of the Church to remind us of who Jesus is.  Everything we say and do should reflect what the unclean spirits said: “You are the Son of God.”

Tuesday of the Second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We know how the interactions between Jesus and the Pharisees affected the Pharisees.  They hated every moment, and sought occasion to put Jesus out of the picture.  But I cannot help but thing that for Jesus, these occasions had to be rather frustrating.  Here are the most educated of the Jews, the people he came to save, and they just were not getting the point.

Jesus’ point is that the Sabbath is not the goal in and of itself. What is important is that God should be glorified in everything that we do, not that we spend time criticizing what others are doing. Perhaps had the Pharisees provided something for the worshippers to eat, those who were hungry would not have had to risk violating the law.

Today’s readings speak to all of us about our true vocation as worshippers. We were made – all of us – to give glory and honor to God. In order to fulfill that vocation, our worship then must be authentic and joyful and a serious priority. We must get all the details right – not the miniscule details crossing every “t” and dotting every “i” – but the details of taking care of one another, and making our worship mean something in our lives.

We were made to worship God in Spirit and truth. We can do that by making every moment, every action of our lives, an occasion of worship. The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. May his lordship in our lives lead us to fulfill our vocation as a worshipping people.

Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We are in many ways a nation of “doers.”  We spend a lot of time measuring productivity, looking for results, documenting procedures, making things happen.  I think that many of us, myself included, if we were asked, just want to get things done.  I think of the old Nike commercial: “just do it.”  Call it the American work ethic or whatever you’d like, but our motto very often is, “don’t just stand there – do something!”

Today’s Liturgy of the Word flies in the face of all that kind of thinking.  And because of that, some of us, myself included, are going to squirm just a little bit today.  Because today’s Scriptures don’t call us to do anything.  Instead, they call us to listen, to wait, and to be.  And none of that is going to come easy for us anxious doers.

Samuel received the call to listen.  We’re told he didn’t really know the Lord just yet; he would have been too young.  His mother, childless, prayed that she would be able to give birth, and promised to dedicate that child to the Lord if she did.  She received what she asked for and when Samuel was weaned, gave him over to the Temple to be in the Lord’s service, under the care and mentorship of Eli, an aged prophet.  And so it is while Samuel is living in the Temple that he hears, with the help of Eli, the call of God for the first time.  When they both finally figure out what’s going on, Samuel gives the reply that Eli had instructed him to make: “speak, Lord, for your servant is listening!”

And that whole “your servant is listening” part is key.  Because it’s not like the Lord doesn’t speak to us ever.  Instead, I believe he’s speaking all the time.  It’s just that most of the time, we’re not listening.  It’s kind of like having a radio but not turning it on.  Just because it’s not on doesn’t mean that radio stations aren’t broadcasting.  It’s just that we’re not listening.  The same is true for God.  Just because we haven’t tuned in doesn’t mean that God isn’t calling, directing, consoling, answering, or loving.  It’s just that we can’t notice it because we haven’t taken the time to stop talking ourselves and listen.

Sometimes in our faith life, to be quite blunt, we need to shut up and listen.  We ourselves talk a whole lot.  And all that talking is an obstacle to real prayer.  Whether we’re talking to the person sitting next to us, or talking on a cell phone (at the same time as we’re eating breakfast, reading the newspaper and driving to work – don’t laugh, I’ve seen it!), whether we’re emailing, or instant messaging, or texting – we’re talking all the time.  And all that talking can really drown out the still, small voice of God that is speaking to us and trying to lead us in the everlasting way.  We have to be honest today and admit that most of us really need to stop all that talking and say with Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

It’s the Psalmist today who urges us to wait.  Psalm 40 is a very beautiful prayer, so I hope you’ll all go home today and mark it in your Bibles and read it all during the week.  There is so much of it that can become our own personal prayer in the days ahead.  The first verse of today’s selection from Psalm 40 says, “I have waited, waited for the Lord.”  That seems harmless enough, but let me read it another way: “I have waited …  waited for the Lord.”  That’s the reading I think the Psalmist is getting at; there isn’t any other reason in Hebrew that the word would have been repeated.  And I think we can all identify with that sentiment at one time or another in our lives.

How often have we prayed for someone or something, and prayed, and prayed and prayed?  How often have we seemed to wait and wait and still not get a response?  This, in large part, is cultural for us too.  We are a people who expect all life’s problems to be sorted out and fixed in a half hour or hour during prime time, minus, of course, the many commercials.  But that’s not how God works.  God’s time is not our time, and so often that’s really frustrating.

But our waiting has to be a trusting wait.  It has to be a wait imbued with the real hope that God will stoop toward us and hear our cry, as he did for the Psalmist.  This might mean realigning our hopes and dreams with what God wants for us.  It might mean that God is calling us to go in a new direction.  It might mean waiting until we are ready to hear and accept the way God is answering that prayer of ours.  It might mean waiting until the time is right.  As the Psalmist goes on to say, God doesn’t necessarily want our sacrifices or sin-offerings.  Instead he is looking for us to say “Here I am, Lord, here I am, I come to do your will.”  God is willing to wait for us to be able to say that.  Are we willing to wait too?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples to be.  Not to do anything, just be.  To live, to follow, to be with him.  When John the Baptist’s disciples begin to seek out Jesus, he says to them, “What are you looking for?”  It’s a question, I think, that takes them a little off-guard.  They don’t have a ready answer – they may have had hopes and dreams of what the Messiah might be like, but here he is in the flesh.  What is it that they’re looking for?  They respond with a question too: “where are you staying?”  For them, it’s enough to get near Jesus, to see what he’s up to.  And so Jesus extends the invitation:  “Come and you will see.”

He doesn’t give them the itinerary.  He doesn’t list his goals and objectives.  He doesn’t offer a resume or prospectus or promise he will do anything for them.  He just asks them to be: “Come and you will see.”  Because it’s in the living that the plan will unfold.  We have to be with Jesus to see the Gospel come to fruition, to take root and spread.  If all we’re concerned with is checking things off our to-do list, we will miss Jesus entirely, this Jesus who broke all the rules of divinity to come and be with us.

Now, please understand, I’m not going to tell you that getting things done isn’t worthwhile and necessary.  I get that.  Sometimes, I get that a little too much.  But spiritual growth doesn’t happen very well if that’s all we’re concerned about.  And so, as much as it  makes a lot of us, myself included, squirm, the spiritual life is about listening, about waiting, and about being.  We have to quiet down, slow down, and just be if we want God’s Spirit to take us to places we never thought we could go.

So maybe this week is a time to make a renewed effort to do that – as incongruous as that may sound.  It will be a real effort for us to quiet down and slow down and just experience life.  But it will be worth it.  Maybe that will give some of us the opportunity to spend time just being in front of the Tabernacle this week.  Or maybe in listening to God’s word in Scripture, or even just being more present to what God is doing in our lives.  The rewards are all there in today’s Liturgy of the Word, too: Samuel’s words – every one of them – were effective; the Psalmist had God stoop toward him and hear his cry; the apostles witnessed the greatest act of love in history.

And we can too.  All we have to do is to listen, wait, and be.

Saturday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, we have the epiphany of Jesus manifested as one who identifies with sinners.  That is not, of course, to say that he was a sinner; quite the contrary, we know that Jesus was like us in all things but sin.  But today we see that he is certainly concerned with calling sinners to the Kingdom, and concerned enough that he will be known to be in their company.  He eats with them, talks with them, walks with them.

This of course, riles the Pharisees.  And for good reason; Jewish law taught that sinners were to be shunned; they were cast out of the community.  But Jesus has come to say that he hates the sin but loves the sinner, that nothing in us is beyond the power of God to redeem.  Nothing that we have done can put us so far away from God that we are beyond God’s reach.  And God does reach out to us, in tangible ways, in sacramental ways, in the person of Jesus and in through the ministry of the Church.

Sin is a terrible thing.  It’s often cyclical.  Because not only does the judgment of the Pharisees make sinners feel unworthy; but also does the guilt that comes from inside the sinner.   The more one sins, the less worthy one often feels of God’s love, and so the more does that person turn away from God, and then they sin more, feel less worthy, turn away again, and so on, and so on, and so on.

But Jesus won’t have any of that.  Instead, he walks into the midst of sinners, sits down with them and has a meal.  He is the divine physician healing our souls, and those who do not sin do not need his ministry.  But we sinners do, and for that we should be always grateful.

Thursday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today, Jesus manifests himself not just as one who came to do flashy deeds and heal the sick, but as one who does will that we would be made clean.  If we take the miracle we have in today’s Gospel at face value, then it’s really nothing special, to be honest.  Jesus comes off as a doctor with perhaps supernatural powers.  But when Jesus performs a miracle, there’s always something deeper he’s getting at, always something more profound that he intends to reveal.  The healing of the leper reveals that Jesus is one who intends to heal us from the inside out.

“If you wish, you can make me clean.”  It’s kind of a weird statement, don’t you think?  On the face of it, it’s obviously true.  Jesus can do anything he wishes.  So it really seems to be a test of what it is that Jesus wishes to do.  And in the light of continuing epiphany, Jesus reveals that he does, indeed, wish that the leper – and all of us too – would be made clean.  Notice that the leper doesn’t ask to be healed of his leprosy, although being made clean could certainly be construed to mean just that.  And Jesus doesn’t say, “I do will it, you’re healed.”  He says instead, “be made clean.”

I think Jesus intends for the leper, as he intends for all of us, that his sins would be forgiven, and that he would indeed be clean on the inside just as much as on the outside.  This may even have been the deepest desire of the poor leper’s heart, as it certainly may be for all of us.  To be made clean inside and out is certainly within the power of Jesus’ abilities, if he would just will it.  And today, we don’t have to tap dance around the issue or walk on eggshells to see if Jesus wills our complete healing.  We see that he certainly does, and for that epiphany we should continue to rejoice.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews exhorts us to live a life faithful to the Gospel today – while it is still “today” – and not to be deceived by sin.  The Psalmist exhorts us not to harden our hearts on hearing the Lord’s voice, as we so often do.  And so we bring our unfaithfulness and our slightly-hardened hearts and all of our uncleanness to the Lord, and with the leper invite him to make all of it clean.  He does will it; and so may we be made clean!