St. Isaac Jogues, John de Brébeuf and Companions, Martyrs

Today’s readings

St. Isaac and St. John were among eight missionaries who worked among the Huron and Iroquois Indians in the New World in the seventeenth century. They were devoted to their work and were accomplishing many conversions. The conversions, though, were not welcomed by the tribes, and eventually St. Isaac was captured and imprisoned by the Iroquois for months. He was moved from village to village and was tortured and beaten all along the way. Eventually he was able to escape and return to France. But zeal for his mission compelled him to return, and to resume his work among the Indians when a peace treaty was signed in 1646. His belief that the peace treaty would be observed turned out to be false hope, and he was captured by a Mohawk war party and beheaded.

St. John worked among the Iroquois and ministered to them amid a smallpox epidemic. As a scholastic Jesuit, he was able to compose a catechism and write a dictionary in Huron, which made possible many conversions. He was eventually captured, tortured and killed by the Iroquois.

St. John prayed for the grace to accept the martyrdom he knew he may one day have to suffer. He wrote about it in his diary:

May I die only for you, if you will grant me this grace, since you willingly died for me. Let me so live that you may grant me the gift of such a happy death. In this way, my God and Savior, I will take from your hand the cup of your sufferings and call on your name: Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

My God, it grieves me greatly that you are not known, that in this savage wilderness all have not been converted to you, that sin has not been driven from it. My God, even if all the brutal tortures which prisoners in this region must endure should fall on me, I offer myself most willingly to them and I alone shall suffer them all.

What we see in St. Isaac and St. John and their companions is that we can never relax our zeal for the mission. Whatever the costs to us, Christ must be made known, those who do not believe must be converted, and sin must be driven out of every time and place. Today’s Gospel reading calls us to store up treasure in heaven, knowing that the things of this world are fading.  St. Isaac, St. John and their commandments inspire us to do this very thing: making Christ known, relying on the treasure of blessing he brings us and promises us, and accepting that this world’s glory is not worth our aspirations.  This will not be easy, of course, in a culture that largely rejects the promises of heaven in its pursuit of instant gratification.  But perhaps the witness of these French Jesuits would help us to bravely witness to the Truth with the same zeal for the mission that they did. Our mission may not be to a culture so different to us as the Indian cultures were to these men, but that mission is none the less vital to the salvation of the world.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque

Today’s readings

“I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.” St. Margaret Mary spoke these as her dying words, while being anointed at the age of 43. Margaret was a simple woman and a Visitation nun. She worked as an assistant in the convent infirmary, but God had other plans for her. After being a nun for just three years, she began to receive revelations in which Christ called her to make his love for all humanity known. His human heart was to become the symbol for this divine and human love for all of us. He called her to frequent Holy Communion, especially on First Fridays, and to spend Thursday evenings in an hour’s meditation on the agony at Gethsemane. This devotion eventually spread to the entire Church under the name of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

I have two Margaret Marys in my own life: my sister and my grandmother on my father’s side. My grandmother was one who was a great model of faith for me. She and I would often sit together and talk about her childhood in Ireland, and all the problems of the world. She was one of my best friends until her death shortly after I graduated from college. She too had a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus – in fact, I remember seeing the painting of the Sacred Heart on the wall of her living room, prominently displayed, with last year’s palm from Palm Sunday tucked behind it.  It’s a huge understatement to say that grandma’s love for Christ and the Church helped stimulate my vocation throughout my life.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus would have us know those wonderful comforting words from today’s Gospel: “Do not be afraid.  You are worth more than many sparrows.” We all have a place wrapped up in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and we have St. Margaret Mary to thank for bringing that devotion to the Church.  Like St. Margaret Mary, we disciples are also called to make God’s love manifest in the world through his most Sacred Heart.  With St. Margaret Mary, we need to say, “I need nothing but God, and to lose myself in the heart of Jesus.

Saint Teresa of Avila, virgin and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings: Romans 8:22-27; Psalm 19:8-11; John 15:1-8

Saint Teresa was a virgin, mystic, nun, reformer of the Carmelite order, foundress of the Discalced Carmelites; over all a woman deeply devoted to her God – mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  She was of a large family, toward the end of the group of twelve children.  When she grew into a teenager she began to read and attempt to write romance novels, which, she says, led her into all sorts of other things teenage girls like to explore.  She writes, “I began to imitate the fashions, to take delight in being well dressed, to have great care of my hands, to make use of perfumes, and to afford all the vain trimmings which my position in the world allowed.”  Her father sent her for a time to live in an Augustinian convent, until she became ill about a year or so later.  During her illness, she began to contemplate the prospect of living a religious life, which was both emotionally a positive and negative proposition to her.

She decided to join a convent of Carmelite nuns, which her father strongly opposed.  After she turned twenty-one, she did join, and her father gave up opposition to it.  She was known to be a woman of prudence, charity and personal charm, and so many people came to be devoted to her charism.  She struggled, though, with personal prayer until her early forties.  Persevering in prayer, she found that she more and more enjoyed being in the presence of the Lord, and really began to grow in friendship with him.

A story is told of her that one day, as she walked along a muddy stream pushing a cart, it tipped over and she and the cart ended up in the stream.  Muddy, drenched and frustrated, she said, “God, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!”  This might seem for almost anyone else kind of blasphemous, but for Teresa at this point in her life, it was an expression of conversation with a friend, which is what her prayer life had become.

She truly became that branch that remained part of the vine, bearing fruit in prayer and contemplation, as well as spiritual writing.  She was canonized in 1622, and in 1970, became one of the three female Doctors of the Church we now celebrate.

“By this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”  This was what Teresa took to heart, resulting in a friendship with God that was her strength and a glorious inspiration for others.  May our friendship with God become as wonderful.

Wednesday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The requirements of discipleship cannot be reduced to mere observance of law, and a checklist of things to do.  Paying tithes and keeping feast days are important, but eclipsing them in importance is loving others as Christ does.  We disciples are called to bear others’ burdens, loving God and neighbor, setting aside our own honor and glory for the honor and glory of God.  And we are called to do all this while not neglecting our duty to tithe and keep feast days, and all the other requirements of our religion.  The disciple who loves God considers none of this a burden, and would never consider not taking care of it all.

Tuesday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Like many of you, when I take a vacation somewhere with natural beauty, I am always amazed at it.  The last few years, my family has vacationed up in Wisconsin, on the shore of Lake Michigan.  I am always in awe to see the sun rise over the lake, or after a rain, to see the sometimes double rainbows that appear.  Whenever I am in awe like that, I think about our wonderful creator God who put all that in place.  I am always doubly convinced that nothing like that could ever have come about as the result of chance or coincidence or random serendipity.  I am reminded that God is beauty itself, and that this is a dim reflection of Eden, or perhaps just a glimpse of the beauty of the Kingdom.

So how is it that some people miss that?  It’s too bad that they do, because today’s first reading seems to suggest that we will all be held accountable for God’s revelation in nature.  Even if someone is not churched, they must still be able to see God in nature, and would thus be held accountable for knowing the creator God.  The Church recognizes this revelation and prays that it would be a first step in bringing a person to the Gospel.

For those of us in the Church, we are responsible for acknowledging and loving the beauty of God all around us.  We should see God in every created thing and in every created person.  We do not then, as St. Paul warns the Romans, worship the created thing.  Instead we worship and glorify our Creator who made beauty known among us and let that beauty be part of the revelation of his love for us.

Monday of the Twenty-eighth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We just finished hearing about the challenges and ministry of Jonah this past week.  Jonah, called to preach repentance to the Ninevites, finds that he would rather not, and so attempts to get away from God.  That, of course, doesn’t work because there is no where that God is not, so he ends up in the belly of a big fish for three days and nights, and is eventually disgorged in Nineveh to do the work he was called to do.  This he does, begrudgingly, and the people of Nineveh repent, to the praise and glory of God.

And today we hear that no sign will be given to the people of Jesus’ time except this sign of Jonah.  And that is true.  Jesus is called to preach repentance just like Jonah was, although, praise God, he does it willingly.  Jesus too will be covered over for three days and three nights, but this time in the tomb and not a fish.  He then is disgorged in the glory of the Resurrection to give the way to repentance, which some have done, to the praise and glory of God.  This is the only sign we need.

But Jesus berates the people because while the evil people of Nineveh repented, the Jews of Jesus’ day not so much.  The people of Nineveh didn’t have anything near as  great a prophet as Jesus is, and they repented, but the people of Jesus’ time did not.  And so history and eternity will be kinder to the Ninevites than to these people.

The Psalmist today sings that the Lord has made known his salvation.  This he has done, to the Ninevites, to the people of Jesus’ time, and to us.  Today we pray for the softening of our hearts so that we might repent of our wickedness in the way that the Ninevites did, and so have eternal life.

Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s gospel reading is a rather heartbreaking story, to be honest.  The rich young man is obviously a follower of the law and a religious man, because he is able to talk to Jesus about his observance.  But when Jesus tells him to let go of what he has in order to gain eternal life, he walks away dejected because he has so much.  We don’t know what ultimately happens to the rich young man.  Maybe he did go and begin the hard work of letting go, selling his possessions and giving to the poor.  And maybe he just couldn’t do it.  But at least he knows what he has to do.

I think that far more heartbreaking than this story of the rich young man is the story of modern men and women, rich and not-so-rich, young and old alike.  I am more heartbroken for these because as much as the rich young man in the gospel story asked what he had to do to gain eternal life, too many of today’s men and women have lost the desire even to ask the question.

We too are rich men and women, young and old.  Maybe we don’t think we have much, but we have way more than most people in most parts of the world.  We live in one of the richest counties of the richest nation on earth, and what we have is considerable.  If we too were told to go, sell what we have, and give to the poor so that we could have eternal life, most of us wouldn’t even know where to start.  But to be honest, so many people are not even there yet.  So many don’t even bother to ask what it takes to gain eternal life.  Many more don’t bother to live the requirements of religion, and even more don’t even know what those requirements are.

We may be rich in the things of earth, but, as the story tells us, we are so very poor in the things of eternity.  “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”

I hope your heart is breaking too.  These are not words of joy and blessing that Jesus is speaking to us today.  They are words of challenge.  He wants to light a fire under us and smack us full force out of our complacency.  “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”  So many people are not with us here at Mass today.  Whether it’s soccer or football or work or sloth, they are missing, and our gathering is the poorer for it.  Many of them will feel guilty about missing, perhaps some of them will even confess it.  But far too many of them don’t care or don’t even know that they should care.  How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

People today, even maybe some of us gathered here today, are so greatly focused on getting ahead, becoming rich in the things of earth, skyrocketing our careers, being well thought of – we are so embarrassingly rich in all these ways.  But none of those things are going to get us into heaven, into the kingdom of God.  We are all being told today to go, sell those paltry, fading glory things and give to those who are poorer, so that we can all enter the kingdom of God together.  Will we too walk away, like the rich young man in the gospel, dejected and depressed because we have too much to let go of it all?  How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

In this respect life month, we might find we are too rich in other ways as well.  We may cling to the way that we’re thought of and so encourage or at least look the other way when a mother ends a pregnancy.  Or we’re so concerned about the value of our homes and the safety of our riches that we tolerate the death penalty.  Or the care of a loved one takes us away from our work so we don’t care for those loved ones the way we should.  But we are a people who are gifted with life from conception to natural death, and we are called to reverence that life and celebrate that gift.  We have to let go of anything that gets in the way of that.  How hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

Taking hold of the kingdom of God necessarily means we have to let go of something.  That is the clear message of today’s gospel reading.  What we have to let go of is different for all of us, but clearly there is a rich young man or woman in all of us, and we have to be ready to give up whatever gets in our way, or what we will end up letting go of is the kingdom of God.  And that would be truly, horribly, unforgivably heartbreaking.

“Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”

And so what do we do?  Do we give up, throw up our hands, and walk away dejected because we know it’s all too much – that what we have to let go of is beyond our capacity to do it?  No.  For us, truly, it may be impossible.  But nothing is impossible for God.  God hears that desire for eternal life in us and opens up the way to salvation.  He gave his Son to live our life and die our death and rise to new life that lasts forever.  That same glory is intended for all of us too.  All we have to do is let go – as frightening as that may well be for us – let go, and let God worry about the implications of it all.

And Jesus points out that this will not be easy.  Those who give up their riches to follow him will receive blessing, but also challenge: they will receive “receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.”  There will be persecution in this life.  Not everyone will get why we are letting go.  And that makes the letting go so much more difficult.  But the rewards of a hundredfold here and a googol-fold in the kingdom are worth it.

And so yes, I come here heartbroken today.  “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!”  But I know that God can make it possible in every person’s life.  All they and we have to do is let go of those things that are of fleeting and fading glory.  Because we’re going to need empty hands if we are ever to be able to hold on to the hundred-fold blessing that God wants us to have.