Tuesday of the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel is one that’s certainly very familiar to us.  But if we’re honest, every time we hear it, it must give us a little bit of uneasiness, right?  Because, yes, it is very easy to love those who love us, to do good to those who do good to us, to greet those who greet us.  When it comes right down to it, Jesus is right.  There is nothing special about loving those we know well, and we certainly look forward to greeting our friends and close family.

But that’s not what the Christian life is about.  We know that, but when we get a challenge like today’s Gospel, it hits a little close to home.  Because we all know people we’d rather not show kindness to, don’t we.  We all have that mental list of people who are annoying or who have wronged us or caused us pain.  And to have to greet them, do good to them, even love them, well that all seems too much some days.

And yet that is our call.  We’re held to a higher standard than those proverbial tax collectors and pagans that Jesus refers to.  We are people of the new covenant, people redeemed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  And so we have to live as if we have been freed from our pettiness, because, in fact, we have.  Our parish theme this year is welcoming, and, in the light of today’s Gospel, that means welcoming whether it’s convenient or inconvenient, welcoming all those who are in our path, regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.  And we welcome that way because that is how Jesus has welcomed us.

We are told to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect.  That’s a tall order, but a simple kindness to one person we’d rather not be kind to is all it takes to make a step closer.

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate with great joy one of the most wonderful feasts on our Church calendar, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Through this greatest of all gifts, we have been made one with our God who loves his people beyond all imagining. We experience this love in perhaps one of the most basic ways of our human existence, which is to say by being fed. Learning to satisfy our hunger is one of the first things we learn; we learn who we can depend on and develop close relationships with those people. Today’s feast brings it to a higher level, of course. The hunger we’re talking about is not mere physical hunger, but instead a deep inner yearning, a hunger for wholeness, for relatedness, for intimate union with our Creator and Redeemer.

What we see in our God is one who has always desired deep union with his people. We have just recently finished the Lent and Easter seasons, in which the history of God’s work in salvation history has been beautifully recalled. Salvation began with the creation of the whole world, the saving of Noah and those on the ark, the covenant made with Abraham, the ministry of the prophets, and ultimately culminated in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the acceptable sacrifice which brings salvation to the whole world. God never lost interest in his creation; he didn’t set the world in motion and then back off to leave everything to its own devices. God has time and again intervened in human history, offering us an olive branch, seeking renewal of our relationship with him, and bringing us back no matter how far we have fallen.

God has repeatedly sought to covenant with us. Eucharistic Prayer IV beautifully summarizes God’s desire: “You formed man in your own likeness and set him over the whole world to serve you, his creator, and to rule over all creatures. Even when he disobeyed you and lost your friendship you did not abandon him to the power of death, but helped all men to seek and find you. Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation.”

And unlike human covenants, which have to be ratified by both parties, and are useless unless both parties agree, the covenant offered by God is effective on its face. God initiates the covenant, unilaterally, out of love for us. Our hardness of heart, our sinfulness, our constant turning away from the covenant do not nullify that covenant. God’s grace transcends our weakness, God’s jealous love for us and constant pursuit of us is limitless.

Today’s Liturgy of the Word shows us the history of the covenant. The first reading recalls the covenant God made with the Israelites through the ministry of Moses. The people agree to do everything the Lord commanded, and Moses seals the covenant by sprinkling the people with the blood of the sacrifice and saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.” The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews makes the point that if the blood of sacrificed animals can bring people back in relationship with God, how much more could the blood of Christ draw back all those who have strayed. Christ is the mediator of the new covenant, as he himself said in the Gospel: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

And so we, the many, benefit from Christ’s blood of the covenant. The preface for the Eucharist Prayer today says, “As we eat his body which he gave for us, we grow in strength. As we drink his blood which he poured out for us, we are washed clean.” God’s desire for covenant with us cannot be stopped by sin or death or the grave.

We disciples are called then to respond to the covenant. Having been recipients of the great grace of God’s love, we are called to live the covenant in our relationships with others. Which isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Sometimes people test our desire to covenant with them; sometimes they don’t even want to be in covenant with us. But the model for our relationships with others is the relationship God has with us. And so sometimes we have to unilaterally extend the covenant, even if the other isn’t willing, or doesn’t know, that we care for them. God wants to offer the covenant to everyone on earth, and he may well be using us to extend the covenant to those he puts in our path. As the alternate opening prayer for today says, “May we offer to our brothers and sisters a life poured out in loving service of that kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit…”

We do this in so many ways. Here at St. Raphael, one of the important ways we do that is through our support of Hesed House and Loaves and Fishes. The Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry began in a closet here at St. Raphael in 1984. That year, eight families were helped. This year, as the year began, 1,800 families were helped, and that number has grown by about a hundred families a month due to this economy. Most recently, the pantry helped 2,800 families. I was privileged to offer the invocation at their 24 Hours Without Hunger event two weeks ago. The executive director expressed the organization’s deep regard for St. Raphael, noting that although so many Naperville churches currently support them, St. Raphael’s continues to be by far their largest congregational supporter.

We absolutely should feel good about the ways we show our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ. But we cannot rest on our laurels, as that number of families served continues to grow, we who are able must be strong in our support of them. One of the particular needs they have in the summer months is to provide extra food for children who, during the school year, receive a free lunch at school. They want to provide additional juice boxes and healthy snacks for kids this summer. Maybe we can all buy another box of snacks or juice boxes the next time we shop. Or even add slightly to our envelope for Loaves and Fishes on the second Sunday of the month. This is a great option because every dollar we give them can buy $10 worth of food through their sources. A small effort can be a great blessing to those in need this summer.

God’s covenant with us is renewed every day, and celebrated every time we come to receive Holy Communion. When we receive the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, we are renewed in the covenant, strengthened in grace and holiness, and brought nearer to our God who longs for us. We who are so richly graced can do no less than extend the covenant to others, helping them too to know God’s love for them, feeding them physically and spiritually.

The Psalmist asks today, “How shall I make a return to the LORD for all the good he has done for me?” And the answer is given: by taking up the chalice of salvation, drinking of God’s grace, renewing the covenant, and passing it on to others. May the Body and Blood of Christ bring us all to everlasting life!

St. Anhony of Padua

Today’s readings

St. Anthony is probably one of the best-known Catholic saints. As the patron for finding lost objects, I’m sure so many of us have prayed, “Tony, Tony, look around, something’s lost and can’t be found.” We all lose track of things from time to time, and it’s nice to have someone to help us find them. Now that I’m getting ready to move, I’m sure I’ll be calling on St. Anthony a lot!

But the real story of St. Anthony meshes very well with the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’“ St. Anthony was devoted to the mission of the Gospel and was very clear about how he wanted to get there.

The gospel call to leave everything and follow Christ was the rule of Anthony’s life. Over and over again God called him to something new in his plan. Every time Anthony responded with renewed zeal and self-sacrificing to serve his Lord Jesus more completely. His journey as the servant of God began as a very young man when he decided to join the Augustinians, giving up a future of wealth and power to follow God’s plan for his life. Later, when the bodies of the first Franciscan martyrs went through the Portuguese city where he was stationed, he was again filled with an intense longing to be one of those closest to Jesus himself: those who die for the Good News.

So Anthony entered the Franciscan Order and set out to preach to the Moors – a pretty dangerous thing to do. But an illness prevented him from achieving that goal. He went to Italy and was stationed in a small hermitage where he spent most of his time praying, reading the Scriptures and doing menial tasks.

But that was not the end for Anthony’s dream of following God’s call. Recognized as a great man of prayer and a great Scripture and theology scholar, Anthony became the first friar to teach theology to the other friars. Soon he was called from that post to preach to heretics, to use his profound knowledge of Scripture and theology to convert and reassure those who had been misled.

So yes, St. Anthony is the patron of finding lost objects, but what I really think he wants to help us find, is our way to Christ. As a teacher, a scholar and a man of faith, he was devoted to his relationship with God. And so his intercession for us might go a little deeper than where we left our keys. Maybe we find ourselves today having lost track of our relationship with God in some way. Maybe our prayer isn’t as fervent as it once was. Or maybe we have found ourselves wrapped up in our own problems and unable to see God at work in us. Maybe our life is in disarray and we’re not sure how God is leading us. If we find ourselves in those kinds of situations today, we might do well to call on the intercession of St. Anthony. Finder of lost objects, maybe. But finder of the way to Christ for sure.

St. Barnabas, apostle

Today’s readings

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”

Barnabas, a Jew of Cyprus, comes as close as anyone outside the Twelve to being a full-fledged apostle. He was closely associated with St. Paul (he introduced Paul to Peter and the other apostles) and served as a kind of mediator between the former persecutor and the still suspicious Jewish Christians.

When a Christian community developed at Antioch, Barnabas was sent as the official representative of the Church of Jerusalem to incorporate them into the fold. He and Paul instructed in Antioch for a year, after which they took relief contributions to Jerusalem.

We see in today’s first reading that Paul and Barnabas had become accepted in the community as charismatic leaders who led many to convert to Christianity. The Holy Spirit set them apart for Apostolic work and blessed their efforts with great success.

Above all, these men hungered and thirsted for righteousness, a righteousness that went beyond the mere rules and regulations of the scribes and Pharisees, a righteousness based on a right relationship with God. This is a righteousness that could never be disputed and the relationship could never be broken. Just as they led many people then to that kind of relationship with God, so they call us to follow that same kind of right relationship today.

As we celebrate the Eucharist today, we might follow their call to righteousness by examining our lives. How willing are we to extend ourselves and reach out to others and not be bound by mere human precepts? Blessed are we who live in right relationship with God and others. Blessed are we who follow the example of St. Barnabas and blessed are we who benefit from his intercession.

Tuesday of the Tenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

As many of you know, I enjoy cooking. And so our Gospel reading’s reference to seasoning resonates with me quite a bit. Sometimes you can under-season a dish: when you’re cooking, if you don’t add seasoning as you go along, at the end you can never put in enough salt or pepper to make it taste right. Sometimes you can over-season a dish, too. And then all you get is salt taste, and you’ve ruined what you were hoping for. But when you get it just right, the salt you’ve added brings out the other flavors in a dish and everything tastes just right. I love to go over to Penzey’s downtown here, because all the wonderful spices and herbs they have on display give me wonderful ideas of how to cook with just the right seasoning.

And Jesus wants us to think about that today in terms of the Christian life. Jesus doesn’t want us to be under-seasoned. We need to add seasoning all along the way: during the journey of our life, we have to be seasoned with the sacraments and with scripture so that we can come to the banquet just right. And we can’t be over-seasoned either. We have to, as St. Benedict teaches us, pray and work. Otherwise all our prayer and scripture end up all in our heads and never in our hearts, and that’s not right.

I don’t want the next two weeks to be a whole Fr. Pat retrospective, but I do feel like today’s Gospel says a lot about how I’ve experienced my time at St. Raphael’s. You have been salt and light to me. I have learned a lot along the way as you have seasoned me with your wisdom, your prayerfulness, and your willingness to serve and grow. I found that I couldn’t help but get caught up in all that, and have really loved how much I’ve learned and experienced in three too-short years. Remember then, to be salt and light for the new guy – and I say that knowing that you will be, because you can’t help it, that’s who you are as a parish.

When it comes right down to it, we are all here to season each other’s lives. We will never regret what we have given to others in terms of sharing time or experience, in terms of praying or working together. The grace of being salt and light for each other is so preferable to being the bland consumers our society would have us be. Who in our lives needs our salt and light today?

The Most Holy Trinity

Today’s readings

Today’s feast has us gathered to celebrate one of the greatest mysteries of our faith, the Most Holy Trinity. Today we celebrate our one God in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You have probably heard me tell one of my favorite stories about Saint Augustine with regard to the Trinity. The story goes that he was walking along the beach one day, trying to figure out the nature of the Holy Trinity. As he walked along, he came across a little boy who had dug a hole in the sand right next to the shore. With his little hands he was carrying water from the ocean and was dumping it in the little hole. St. Augustine asked, “What are you doing, my child?” The child replied, “I want to put all of the water of the ocean into this hole.” So St. Augustine asked him, “But is it possible for all of the water of this great ocean to be contained in this little hole?” And the child asked him in return, “If the water of the ocean cannot be contained in this little hole, then how can the Infinite Trinitarian God be contained in your mind?” With that the child disappeared.

Indeed, the greatest minds of our faith have wrestled with this notion of the Holy Trinity. How can one God contain three Persons, how could they all be present in the world, working among us in different ways, and yet remain but one? Even the great Saint Patrick, who attempted to symbolize the Trinity with a shamrock, could only scratch the surface of this great mystery.

I think the Trinity isn’t the kind of mystery one solves. And that’s hard for me because I love a good mystery! When I have the chance to just read what I want to read, it’s almost always a mystery novel. I read Agatha Christie all the time growing up, and I’ll often go back to some of her stuff even now. My love for mysteries probably explains why I like to watch “Law & Order” and “CSI.” It’s great to try to figure out the mystery before the end of the book or the end of the show. But, if you like mysteries too, then you know that the mark of a good mystery is when it doesn’t get solved in the first six pages. It’s good to have to think and rethink your theory, right up until the last page.

The kind of mystery that is the Holy Trinity is a mystery that takes us beyond the last page. This is one we’ll take to heaven with us, intending to ask God to explain it when we get there, but when we get there, we’ll most likely be too much in awe to ask any questions. And so we are left with the question, who is this that is the Holy Trinity? How do we explain our one God in Three Persons? Who is this one who is beyond everything and everyone, higher than the heavens, and yet nearer than our very own hearts?

One of the best minds of our faith, Saint Thomas Aquinas, has described the Holy Trinity as a relationship. The Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, and the Holy Spirit is the love between the Father and the Son. And this makes sense to us on some levels, because we all have been taught, and we all accept, that God is love. And not just the kind of paltry love that our pop culture and society calls love, but love in the deepest of all senses, the kind of love that is self-giving and that intimately shares in the life of the other. God is love, but God is better than the best love our feeble human minds can picture. The love that is God is a love so pure that it would wholly consume us if we gave ourselves to it completely. Just as difficult as it is for our minds to describe the Holy Trinity, so that love that is God is impossible for our minds to grasp.

But this picture of God as a relationship is important to us, I think, because we need to relate to God in different ways at different times. Because sometimes we need a parent. And so relating to God as Father reminds us of the nurturing of our faith, being protected from evil, being encouraged to grow, and being corrected when we stray. If you’ve had difficulty with a parent in your life, particularly a father, then relating to God as Father can also be difficult. But still, I think there is a part of all of us, no matter what our earthly parents have been like, that longs to have a loving parental relationship. God as Father can be that kind of parent in our lives.

And sometimes we need the Son. Relating to God the Son – Jesus our brother – reminds us that God knows our needs, he knows our temptations, he’s experienced our sorrows and celebrated our joys. God in Christ has walked our walk and died our death and redeemed all of our failures out of love for us. God the Son reminds us that God, having created us in his own image and likeness, loves what he created enough to become one of us. Our bodies are not profane place-holders for our souls, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that very body was good enough to become the dwelling place of God when he came to earth. Maybe you’ve never had a brother or sister or never were close to yours, but in Christ you have the brother above all others who is present to you in all your joys and sorrows.

Sometimes, too, we need a Holy Spirit. Because we often have to be reminded that there is something beyond ourselves. That this is not as good as it gets. As wonderful as our world and our bodies can be, we also know they are very flawed. The Holy Spirit reminds us that there is a part of us that always longs for God, no matter how far we have strayed. The Spirit reminds us that our sins are not who we are and that repentance and forgiveness are possible. It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to do the really good things we wouldn’t be capable of all by ourselves, the really good things that are who we really are before God.

It might seem like this mystery of the Trinity is a purely academic discussion. Does the Trinity affect our daily lives or make a difference in our here and now? Is all this discussion just talk, or does it really make any difference? Obviously, I don’t think it’s just talk. Instead, as our Gospel suggests today, the Most Holy Trinity must be shared with people in every time and place. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit wants to relate to all of us, be present to all of us, and call all of us to discipleship through common baptism, and it’s up to us to point the way to that Trinity of love that longs to be in loving relationship with all people.

Sometimes the hymnody of our faith can express what prose alone can’t get at. The great old hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy” by Reginald Heber sums up our awe of the Trinity today. Join me in praising God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit by singing that last verse:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

St. Boniface

Today’s readings

Boniface was a Benedictine monk in England. He gave up the real possibility of being elected abbot of his community in order to reach out to the German people. Pope Gregory II sent Boniface to a Germany where paganism was a way of life, and where the clergy were at best uneducated and at worst corrupt and disobedient. Reporting all of this back to Pope Gregory, the Holy Father commissioned him to reform the German Church. He was provided with letters of introduction to civil and religious authorities, but even so met with some resistance and interference by both lay people and clergy. Yet, he was extremely successful, centering his reforms around teaching the virtue of obedience to the clergy and establishing houses of prayer similar to Benedictine monasteries. Boniface and 53 companions were finally martyred during a mission, in which he was preparing converts for Confirmation. The success of Boniface’s mission was that he helped the people and the clergy to see how far they had strayed from God’s plan for the Church.

In his blindness, Tobit came to see what was important, too. If we remember all the way back to Tuesday, we heard about Tobit being made blind by cataracts caused by bird droppings, and later in that same story, he scolded his wife for accepting a goat as a bonus on her labor, because he did not believe her story. I mentioned then that Tobit had to learn that charity – for which he was quite well known – begins at home. His period of blindness gave him that very insight, I think, and in today’s story he rejoices in his cleared vision.

Through the intercession of St. Raphael, Tobit regained his sight and was able to see his son safely returned from a long and dangerous journey. He saw also the return of his family fortune. And he saw the union of his son Tobit with his new wife Sarah. There was great cause for rejoicing in all that he was able to see and Tobit didn’t miss a beat in placing the credit where it belonged. He said,

Blessed be God,
and praised be his great name,
and blessed be all his holy angels.
May his holy name be praised
throughout all the ages,
Because it was he who scourged me,
and it is he who has had mercy on me.

And so we praise God today for angels who help us to see what’s really important. We praise God for angels who clear up our clouded vision and help us to see past the obstacles we’ve put in God’s way. We praise God for saints that point us back in the right direction – toward Jesus Christ. We praise God for all those witnesses who help us to overcome our pride and self-righteousness so that God’s way can become clear to us. May we rejoice along with Tobit and Anna and Boniface and his companions, and all the rest that God has brought us back to him, time and time again.

Invocation for Loaves and Fishes

This prayer was for the opening breakfast for the Loaves and Fishes “One Day Without Hunger” event.

The story about Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes, from which this wonderful organization takes its name, is present in all four of the Gospel narratives that we have. The early church obviously talked about that event quite a bit, and for them it was one of the most important events in the whole Jesus story. I think it’s an important story on many theological levels, but at its most basic, it tells us of Jesus’ concern for the people who followed him.

These people had been amazed at his mighty deeds and convincing words and couldn’t tear themselves away even to eat something. So they all arrived in one place hungry, and without anyplace to go find something to eat. All they can scrounge up is five loaves and two fish which is hardly anything for so many people. But in Jesus’ hands it is enough, and the line that leapt out at me as I was reflecting on this story the other day was this: “They all ate and were satisfied.”

That’s what this day is about. One day without hunger. One day without hunger in one small place on the earth seems like hardly anything in the face of such great hunger for so many people. But maybe in the hands of God, it is enough. Enough to raise awareness, enough to increase donations, enough to provide a resource for people who had no idea they could receive it. In the hands of God, may this day be a great blessing to so many and accomplish the needs that seem so great. This day, may all eat and be satisfied.

And so we pray, loving God, God who knows the needs of your people, be with us on this day and bless this community. May our taking part in the events of this day make us ever more aware of the needs of those who hunger. Bless, dear God, this time together and this meal. Bless those who have prepared it and provided for it, and bless all of us who partake of it. May we all eat and be satisfied, this day and every day. Amen.

Tuesday of the Ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today Tobit finds out that charity begins at home. All his noble deeds of burying the dead are worth nothing if he does not know how to honor the living who are with him. The blindness he develops in today’s first reading is really on two counts. First, and most obviously, there is the physical blindness caused by the cataracts and the doctors’ treatments. But second, and perhaps more seriously, there is the blindness that is caused by cataracts of the heart. His physical blindness is beginning to embitter him, and he cannot “see” past his own suffering to see that others may be hurting too. He doesn’t even take time to listen to his wife, who has been laboring faithfully to support the family during his disability.

The Pharisees and Herodians in today’s Gospel had their own kind of blindness. They wanted to trap Jesus into being either a tax evader or an idolater. If he said don’t pay the census tax, he was an anarchist. If he said pay it, he was blasphemous. But Jesus isn’t going to fall for that. He sees that their blindness is a lack of generosity. Giving Caesar what belongs to Caesar is easy. The hard part is giving to God what belongs to God. That requires true generosity, a willingness to reach out to the poor and needy, a desire for union with God that requires prayer to burst forth into service.

If we would be people of the Gospel, we need to break free of the blindness that sometimes overwhelms us. We have to see past our own needs, and perhaps past our own suffering, to see the needs of those around us. We need to see past getting caught up in trivialities and instead open ourselves up in generosity to our God who is the most generous of all. We need to be the kind of people our Psalmist sings of today: “Lavishly he gives to the poor; his generosity shall endure forever…”