Monday of the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s readings remind us of the danger of holding on to things that have no permanence.  The rich young man in today’s gospel reading discovers that following the rules is only just a good start; to really gain heaven you must be willing to let go of the fading riches of this world.  The people Israel in today’s first reading have grasped on to the uncertain security of alliances with this world’s powers and have let go of their belief in God, and Ezekiel prophecies that would come back to haunt them.  Holding on to the things of this world will never get us anywhere; we will never find ultimate security in alliances with the powers of this world.  To truly gain heaven, we have to let go and hold on to our God, whose riches never fade and whose power is never outmatched.

The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings

In every age of the world, people have needed hope.  Because in every age of the world, there has been unbelievable hardship.  There has always been war, and disease, and poverty, and oppression, and alienation, and all the rest.  There has always been sin, and broken relationships, and impure desires and that feeling of emptiness that hardens our hearts.  Evil has run rampant from the fall of humanity and ever onward.  And the weight of all of that could be crushing – if we didn’t have hope.

And I don’t need to be abstract about this.  All we have to do is turn on the news or pick up a newspaper and see car bombings in Iraq and Afghanistan; child soldiers killing in Sudan; third world people suffering with disease who lack medicines that can help them; an oil spill that polluted the Gulf of Mexico, maybe for years to come; and you could probably name still more.  In our own lives we have the illness and death of loved ones; family members alienating one another; loss of employment; and that’s just to name a few.  There’s no way we could live with all that – if we didn’t have hope.

And I don’t mean hope in the Pollyanna sense.  I’m not going to tell you, “don’t worry – everything will work out all right” because, honestly, some things won’t.  The hope that I think we can find in today’s Liturgy is the theological virtue that reminds us that this is not all there is; this is not as good as it gets.  Our readings remind us that there has been and still is incredible evil in this world, but evil doesn’t get the final say – not for Jesus, not for Mary, and not for us.  One look at the way things work in our world and in our lives could convince us that this has all been an unbelievable failure – if we didn’t have hope.

The tradition of the Assumption of Mary dates back to the very earliest days of the Church, all the way back to the days of the apostles. It was known that Mary had “fallen asleep” and that there is a “Tomb of Mary” close to Mount Zion, where the early Christian community had lived. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 tells us that, after Mary’s death, the apostles opened the tomb, finding it empty, and concluded that she had been taken bodily into heaven. The tradition was spoken about by the various fathers of the Church, and in the eighth century, St. John Damascene wrote, “Although the body was duly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay . . . . You were transferred to your heavenly home, O Lady, Queen and Mother of God in truth.” The current celebration of Mary’s Assumption has taken place since 1950, when Pope Pius XII proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary in his encyclical, Munificentissimus Deus, saying: “The Immaculate Mother of God, the ever-virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heaven.”[1]

The hope that we find in the doctrine of the Assumption is summed up in the Preface to today’s Eucharistic Prayer, which I will sing in a few minutes.  Listen to the beautiful words of that prayer:

Today the virgin Mother of God was taken up into heaven
to be the beginning and the pattern of the Church in its perfection,
and a sign of hope and comfort for your people on their pilgrim way.

The Church knows well that our pilgrim way would be filled with evil.  But the Church courageously believes that this world’s experience isn’t the beginning and end of our existence: we have much to look forward to in the life to come.  Our Savior himself foretold as much in John’s gospel when he said, “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)  This, brothers and sisters in Christ, is our hope, and this is the hope that we celebrate today.

The reason the Church reveres Mary as much as she does is because Mary’s life is the icon of the Church.  What is important for us to see in this feast is that it proclaims with all the joy the Church can muster that what happened to Mary can and will happen for us who believe. We too have the promise of eternal life in heaven, where death and sin and pain will no longer have power over us. Because Christ caught his Blessed Mother back up into his life in heaven, we know that we too can be caught up with his life in heaven. On that great day, death, the last enemy, will be completely destroyed, as St. Paul tells us today.  That is our hope: our unbelievably gracious, completely unmerited, lovingly-bestowed hope.

Mary’s life wasn’t always easy, but Mary’s life was redeemed. That is good news for us who have difficult lives or fine it hard to live our faith. Because there are those among us too who have unplanned pregnancies. There are those among us whose children go in directions that put them in danger. There are those among us who have to watch a child die. But because Mary suffered these sorrows too, and yet was exalted, we can hope for the day when that which she was given and which we have been promised will surely be ours.  We can and do hope in this salvation every day of our lives.  It’s what makes our lives livable; it’s what gives us the strength to keep on keepin’ on in the midst of so much difficulty.

Today’s readings can seem pretty fantastic, in the sense that we don’t know what to believe about them.  The reading from revelation has a dragon sweeping a third of the stars from the sky, and a child being caught up to heaven.  But really, I don’t think that’s too hard to grasp.  We have all been through things in our lives when it felt like a third of the stars had fallen out of the sky.  There is that evil dragon that seeks us out and wants to devour the hope that we have, but the child of that hope has been taken up to heaven, and we can go there one day too, if we believe, and repent, and cling to Christ who is our hope.

Mary’s song of praise in today’s gospel reading, which the Church prays every evening in Vespers, echoes the hope we have in this feast of the Assumption:

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.

Life is hard.  It always has been, and probably always will be.  But this life is not all there is.  As we walk through this life on our pilgrim way to God’s kingdom, we walk always in the presence of our God who sees us, who notices our pain and sorrow, who grieves with us and laughs with us, who never lets go of us, and who gives us hope beyond anything we deserve.  Where Mary has gone, we hope to follow.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.


St. Maximilian Kolbe, priest and martyr

Today’s readings

Maximilian Kolbe became a Franciscan novice at the age of 16. Earlier in life he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin offering him two crowns, a white one of purity, and a red one of martyrdom. Maximilian said “I choose both.” The Blessed Virgin smiled and departed from him. Maximilian devoted his life to purity through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. He founded the Mission of the Immaculata to combat religious indifference, which he saw as the greatest problem in society. By the time the Nazis overran Poland, the mission numbered as many as a million people.

Maximilian was twice arrested by the Nazis and the second time taken to Auschwitz. One day a fellow prisoner escaped, and the commandant decided to put ten men to death, whom he chose by arbitrarily pointing men out as he walked among their ranks. Just after the tenth man was chosen, Maximilian stepped out of the ranks and asked to take the place of one man, who had a wife and children. The commandant asked “what about you?” to which Maximilian replied, “I am a priest.” Because the regime at the time was striving to eliminate all the leaders of the people, Maximilian’s request was granted, and he died in the starvation chamber some three months later.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Ezekiel exhorts the people to return to God and live.  St. Maximilian was a man who, like his Savior, died so that others may live.  He witnessed to the triumph of love over death, a love that will, in God’s time, lead to eternal life.

Friday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

God never forgets how much he loves us.  If this weren’t so, I don’t think any of us would be in existence.  God loves us into life and loves us through our life and one day, if we let him, will love us into eternal life.  The people of Israel had to know this better than anyone.  Ezekiel today reminds them that God loved them enough that he would remember the covenant he had made with them, the covenant that they had broken many times, and that he would pardon them for all they had done.  Because he loved them.

The question the Pharisees asked Jesus in the Gospel today had nothing to do with love, which is odd because it was a question about marriage.  Or, actually, the converse of marriage: divorce.  They were asking not because they wanted to know about how to love better in their relationships, but rather because they were trying to trick Jesus into some Moses-bashing.  But Jesus has none of that, reminding them of the indissolubility of love.

Many things can be forgotten.  God forgets things all the time – namely, our sins.  But love can never be forgotten.  God never forgets how much he loves us, and we dare not forget how much we love him, and because we love him, how much we love one another.  That love may require all kinds of forgetting: forgetting past hurts, forgetting resentments, forgetting what we think we deserve.  It’s that “letting go” that I spoke about yesterday.

May we all forget what we have to so that love is the only thing we can remember, and may we all go together, one day, to eternal life.

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the greatest sins there is, I think, is the sin of not letting go.  And, if we’re honest, I think we all do it, all the time.  I know I do.  Whether it’s an long-standing argument with a loved one, or a touch of road rage, or demanding what we think we’re entitled to have, we can be real good at holding on to things.  It’s pretty much the original sin: as soon as Adam and Eve found out they couldn’t have the forbidden fruit, they couldn’t let go of it until they had it.  The reason I think it’s the greatest sin is that this is the sin that doesn’t let God in: when we’re grasping on to things, we’re not reasonable; when we’re grasping on to things, we can’t let go and let God be God.

Today’s Gospel parable is about the danger of not letting go.  The servant had no reason to expect his master to forgive his debt.  He had, in fact, run up that debt, and it was his to pay.  The problem is, he could never pay it.  The master had every reason to turn him over to be imprisoned for the rest of his life, or until he paid off the debt, whichever came first.  But the master was moved with pity and didn’t just give the servant more time to pay up, but instead he wrote off the debt in its entirety.

One would think that the servant would be so overjoyed, that he would forgive others the same way.  But he isn’t.  He comes across a fellow servant who owed him a paltry sum, and hands him over to be imprisoned until he can pay the debt.  So naturally, the master finds out and revokes his own mercy.  If that servant had just let go of what he was holding on to, he would have been more than alright.  But he couldn’t do it.

The debt we owe to God is ridiculously large; we’ll never be able to repay it.  But we don’t have to because through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our debt has been forgiven.  In its entirety.  We can’t be like the wicked servant.  The joy that we have in celebrating our forgiveness in this Eucharist has to help us to let go of what we are hanging on to, or it’s no help to our salvation.

Maybe we can pause today as we offer our gifts and offer to let go of something so that others can be set free too.

Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The Catholic notion of salvation is not a private thing; it’s not just “me and Jesus.”  We are to come together to salvation because that is God’s will: that all be saved.  Today’s Scriptures speak of conciliation, repentance, and the responsibility of the Church to lead people to reconciliation with God and community.  We are responsible for one another, and if we don’t bring people back to Christ and back to the Church, we will ultimately have to answer for it.  Where two or more are gathered in the name of Jesus, he is with them.  And I don’t know about you, but that’s where I want to be.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Today’s readings

We are called upon to be good citizens, to pay our taxes, as today’s Gospel portrays.  But good citizenship doesn’t mean giving in to everything that comes our way.  We have to be people who pursue the truth, no matter where it leads us.

A case in point is the life of Today’s saint, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.  Born into a prominent Jewish family in Breslau as Edith Stein, she abandoned Judaism in her teens. She studied philosophy under Edmund Husserl, a leading proponent of the philosophy of phenomenology. Edith earned a doctorate in philosophy in 1916. She became a Catholic in 1922, and the following year entered the Carmelite convent at Cologne, where she took the name Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.

At the end of 1939, she moved to the Carmelite monastery in Echt, Netherlands. The Nazis occupied that country in 1940. In retaliation for being denounced by the Dutch bishops, the Nazis arrested all Dutch Jews who had become Christians. Teresa Benedicta and her sister Rosa, also a Catholic, died in a gas chamber in Auschwitz on August 9, 1942.

The search for truth is an important one; one that we cannot ignore.  When we find that truth, we must follow it with all our hearts.  That will always come at a cost.  For Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, it came at the cost of her life.  For us, it might cost our ego, or our prestige, or even wealth.  But as Teresa’s name suggests, the way to the truth always comes in the cross, and it is in the truth alone that we will find real peace.