St. Jerome

Today’s readings

“But you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”

These are the words that Jesus speaks to one of the crowd following him today.  Get your priorities straight and set out doing the ministry you have been called to do.  These are words that St. Jerome took to heart.  He immersed his entire life into the Sacred Scriptures, living for a time in the cave thought to be the birthplace of Jesus, going to the Holy Land to get to know the context of the Scriptures.  He certainly proclaimed the Kingdom of God, translating the Scriptures from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, creating what came to be known as the Vulgate edition.  His work is still an important basis for today’s modern translations, and his commentaries are extremely well-respected to this day.  We too are told to go and proclaim the Kingdom of God in our own way, perhaps not knowing the Scriptures as well as St. Jerome, but loving them none the less.

Ss. Michael, Gabriel & Raphael, archangels

Today’s readings

This is the beginning of a rather angelic week for us Catholics.  Today we celebrate the feast of the archangels, and on Friday we will have the joy of honoring our guardian angels.  We celebrate the way the angels protect and guide us and keep us on the path to Christ.

Many people think that when people die, they become angels.  That’s not actually true.  Angels are a different order of creation from human beings.  There is a continuum of creation from things that are pure body, like a rock or lump of dirt, all the way to those who are pure spirit, which would be the angels.  We are somewhere in between, being the highest and greatest of the bodies, and the lowest of the spirits.  Everything has its place in creation, and was created the way God intended it.

So today we celebrate the highest of the highest of the Spirits: Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the archangels.  Each of these angels is specifically mentioned in Scripture.  Michael is mentioned in today’s first reading from Revelation, as the protector of the heavens and the defender of the people of God.  He is the patron of police officers, among others.  Gabriel is the announcer of good news, and we know him from the story of the Annunciation to Mary of her pregnancy.  Gabriel is the patron of communications workers, among other things.  Raphael is mentioned in the book of Tobit, in what is a beautiful story.  His purpose in that story is to protect Tobit on the journey to recover his family’s fortune and to introduce Tobit to Sarah, curing her of the despair she had over her last seven marriages, which all ended in death on the wedding night.  Raphael also cured Tobiah, Tobit’s father, of blindness due to cataracts.  Tobit and Sarah get married and live happily ever after, which is why it’s such a great story.  Raphael is the patron of travelers, among other things.

All three of these angels, Raphael, Michael and Gabriel, came to make God’s presence known on earth in some way. St. Raphael came to be Tobiah’s guide and to bring God’s healing to Tobit and Sarah. St. Michael came to defend God’s people against evil and danger. St. Gabriel came to bring good news about the Incarnation and the Salvation we would have in Christ.

But you know, their ministry continues to this day. There are indeed angels among us. I think St. Raphael is still here, keeping us safe when we go on long journeys and, more importantly, helping us to stay on the path to God. He might be here, too, working through the hands of doctors and nurses and physical therapists, and all kinds of healers, to bring sick people back to health.  St. Michael is still here, working through police officers and fire fighters and all kinds of public safety people, in order to keep our communities safe, and St. Michael also works through those who defend the Church against all kinds of evil.  St. Gabriel is still here among us, raising up prophets in our midst; working through parents and teachers and priests and ministers when they bring us news about God and preach the Gospel.

We know a little bit about all these angels because of today’s feast. But I don’t think those stories are finished just yet.  I think the angels are still working among us, guiding us, healing us, defending us, and bringing us good news.  The angels are probably working through people you know.  They’re even working through you whenever you help someone else.  The truth is, I don’t think we would live very safe and happy lives if it weren’t for the angels among us.  Today we should thank God for Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, and for all the people who cooperate with those angels in all their work.

Monday of the Twenty-sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

God’s salvation is radical.  Zechariah, in the first reading, is speaking to the broken Israel.  On account of its sins, it was taken into captivity and exiled to Babylon.  The fate they suffered was well deserved.  Generations had rejected the Lord’s covenant, had instead turned to the pagan gods worshipped by the people in the surrounding areas.  They had profaned the temple with the worship of foreign gods and every one of their kings led them to evil upon evil.  So why would the Lord ever care about them again?  Couldn’t he just throw up his hands and say, “I’m done”?

But he doesn’t say that.  He’s not done.  He fully intends to restore the people, gathering them from the land of the rising sun and from the land of the setting sun, that is from the east to the west, everywhere over all the earth, and gather them back to himself, restoring Israel and making Jerusalem a holy city once again.

All of this is a metaphor for our own need for salvation, of course.  How often have we as a culture rejected God’s covenant?  How much have we as individuals sinned?  How much have our leaders led us to the worship of foreign gods, like wealth and power?  We too have found evil upon evil and have rejected our God.  We would well deserve it if he threw up his hands in our midst and said to us, “I’m done.”

But he doesn’t say that.  He’s not done.  He fully intends to gather us from wherever we have wandered.  No place is beyond the reach of our God who longs to bring us back to himself.  There is no place that we can go that is beyond God’s love.  Nothing is impossible for our God who made us for himself.

God’s salvation is radical.

Twenty-sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

When we think about prophets and prophecy, I think our minds always take us to ancient days.  All the prophets we can think of lived many centuries ago: Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Amos and all the rest, right up to John the Baptist who was the last of the prophets of old and the beginning of the prophecy of the new kingdom.  All of it culminating in the person of Jesus Christ, whose prophecy was the voice of God himself.  But I think our readings today call us to look at prophecy once again, and to be open to the fact that there are many more prophets than we can think of right away, prophets that have lived a bit more recently than Moses and Elijah and all the others.

For Moses, prophecy was a huge task.  He bore the responsibility of bringing God’s message of salvation to a people who had become used to living without it.  He was to strike the covenant between God and his people who had largely forgotten about God, or thought God forgot about them.  So his prophetic burden was great, but God knew the challenges Moses faced, and offered to take some of his prophetic spirit and bestow it on the seventy elders. So seventy were chosen, a list was drawn up, and a ceremony was prepared.

Two of their number – Eldad and Medad – were missing from the group during the ceremony, but the spirit was given to them anyway.  This had Joshua all bent out of shape.  How could they be prophesying when they had not taken part in the ritual?  So he complains about it to Moses, who clearly does not share his concern.  He accuses Joshua of jealousy and says to him, “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!  Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

Moses’ vision for the ministry was bigger than himself, bigger than Joshua, bigger than even the chosen seventy.  And he makes a good point here.  What if every one of God’s people knew God well enough to prophesy in God’s name?  What if all of us who claim to follow God could speak out for God’s concern for the needy, the marginalized and the dispossessed?  The world would certainly be a much different place. Joshua’s concern was that the rules be followed.  Moses’ concern was that God’s work be done.

And so there’s a parallel in the first part of today’s Gospel, of course.  This time it’s John who is all bent out of shape.  Someone was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and even worse, that someone was apparently successful!  Jesus, of course, does not share John’s concern.  Jesus’ vision of salvation was bigger than John’s.  If demons are being cast out in Jesus’ name, what does it matter who is doing it?  If people are being healed from the grasp of the evil one and brought back to the family of God, well then, praise God!  Jesus even goes so far as to say that if people are bringing others back to God, which is the fundamental mission of Jesus in the first place, then they really are members of the group.  Anyone who is not against us is for us.  Anyone who heals a person in God’s name is accomplishing the mission, so praise God.

I think the point here that we need to get is that prophets come in all shapes and sizes.  During the rite of baptism, there is an anointing with the sacred Chrism oil that anoints us in the image of Jesus as priest, prophet and king.  It is part of our baptismal calling for all of the people of the Lord to be prophets.  And so we really ought to be hearing the word of the Lord all the time, from every person in our lives.  God gives us all people who are prophetic witnesses to us: people who say and live what they believe.  They might be our parents or our children, the colleague at work, the person who sits next to us in math class, or even the elderly neighbor who seems to always want to talk our ear off.  At the basic level, one of the most important questions that arises in today’s Liturgy of the Word is, who are the prophets among us?  Who is it in our lives that has been so gifted with the spirit that they make us want to be better people and live better lives?

But as much as we have those kind of prophetic voices in our lives, there are also the other voices.  These are the voices of our culture that drag us down to the depths of brokenness, debauchery and despair.  That, I think is what Jesus meant by all that drastic surgery he talked about at the end of the Gospel reading today.

Maybe we don’t need to chop off a hand, but instead chop off some of the things those hands do.  Maybe it’s a business deal that is not worthy of our vocation as Christians.  Or it could be a sinful activity that we no longer should be engaged in.  We probably don’t need to lop off a foot.  But we may indeed need to cut out of our lives some of the places those feet take us.  Whether they’re actual places or situations that provide occasions for sin, they must go.  I’m not suggesting that you gouge out an eye. But maybe cut out some of the things that those eyes see.  Whether it’s places on the internet we ought not go, or television shows or movies that we should not see, they have to go.  Some people may find that they need to get rid of the computer or television, or put them in a more public spot.  It may be hard to do without these things, but better that than being so wrapped up in our own needs that we forget about God.  Better to live without these things than to be forever without God.

When I read this section of the Gospel reading, I always think of the words of the Act of Contrition: The last words of that prayer say something like, “I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasions of sin.”  Or if you grew up a bit more recently, it says, “I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more, and to avoid whatever leads me to sin.”  Avoiding whatever leads us to sin, avoiding the near occasions of sin, that is what the prophets among us call us to do.  It might seem like radical surgery, but it’s best to chop these things out mercilessly so that we can fully partake of the mercy of God.

Prophecy is a huge responsibility.  We might be the prophets, or we might be the ones hearing the prophets, but in either case we have work to do.  Prophets need to be faithful to God’s spirit, and hearers need to be open to the word and ready to act on it.  Prophecy nearly always calls us to a radical change.  May God help us to recognize the prophets among us, and make us ready to hear the word of the Lord.

Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets!  Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!

Saturday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Fear is a bad thing.  Fear destroys discipleship.  In the case of the gospel story today, fear kept the disciples from understanding.  As well we know, Jesus was speaking to them about his passion and death, and they didn’t get it.  They didn’t get it because that was not their idea of what should happen to the messiah.  They were looking for a king who would bring Israel back to political greatness, not someone who was going to suffer and die.  So they didn’t understand it, but worse yet, they were afraid to ask Jesus what he meant.

Why were they afraid?  Maybe it was because they had invested themselves totally in Jesus, and they couldn’t bear to think of what people might think of them if they had spent all this time following a man who clearly was not the messiah they were looking for.  That would explain why Judas made the deal for thirty pieces of silver, and ultimately why he took his own life.

Or were they afraid to find out that if Jesus was to accept suffering and death, they would have to do the same?  Certainly that was true for most of them; they had to actually give their lives for what they believed.  Whatever the case, they didn’t want clarification or understanding right now.  They could not deal with the truth.

It’s hard to blame them for that, because I strongly suspect that all of us avoid the truth at one time or another in our lives.  We think about something that is confronting us, and think: “I don’t want to know…”  But we disciples can’t avoid the truth.  It catches up with us someday, some way.  Fear merely keeps us from confronting that truth with our God, the God who was willing to take the cross for us and is therefore with us in all our sorrows and joys.

The Christian disciple should never be afraid of the truth.  What we need to fear is what the world would be like if the truth were never spoken.

Friday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel is very interesting compared with yesterday’s.  Yesterday, Herod was trying to figure out who Jesus was; today Jesus is asking who people said he was.  What is most interesting is that the answers both times are the same.  The people advising Herod gave the same answers as the Twelve did today: John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the ancient prophets.  The question is a good one and it’s worth asking and answering.  Peter had the right idea, but didn’t fully understand it.  It’s easy for us to know the right answer but not fully understand it too.  Who is Jesus for us?

Thursday of the Twenty-fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You know, I think Herod was asking the right question.  Sure, he was asking it for all the wrong reasons, but still, it is the right question.  And that question is, “Who is Jesus?”

What Herod was hearing about Jesus is pretty much what the disciples told Jesus when Jesus asked, “Who do people say that I am?”  Elijah, or one of the prophets, or maybe even John the Baptist.  But Herod was the one who killed John so he knew that couldn’t be it, so who is he really?  Herod kept trying to see him, and of course, he’d have more than ample opportunity soon enough, after Jesus is arrested.

So we have the question too.  Oh, we know well enough – intellectually – who Jesus is, but we still have to answer that question in our hearts.  Who is Jesus for us?  We know he is not just some prophet, that he is not like anyone who lived before or after him.  But have we lost the virtue of Herod?  Have we stopped being intrigued by the question, have we lost our fascination with Jesus?  Herod kept trying to see Jesus, and it’s the right instinct.  We have to keep trying to see him too, whether that takes us to a rereading of the Gospels or to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or to contemplative prayer.  Whatever the case, fascination with Jesus is the right way to go, and we have to let ourselves be intrigued by the question again.  Who is Jesus for us?