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.

The Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I had supper with a friend this week.  During the course of our conversation over dinner, he explained his conviction that most people, perhaps even some people who come to Mass every Sunday, don’t really have faith anymore.  He thinks our society has lost the conviction that our faith is radical, real, and life-changing.  And that is because, he says, if we really did believe that the bread and wine became the body and blood of Christ, we wouldn’t have a vocations crisis, because parents would be eager to encourage their sons to become priests so that we would never go without the Eucharist.  I’m still mulling over the implications of what he said.

But whether he’s right or not, today’s Scriptures speak to exactly what he was saying.  In these summer days of the Church’s Ordinary Time, we have been exploring the meaning of discipleship.  Each Sunday, I think, we are given a tool for living our discipleship.  The tool we get today is that of faith.  And faith is a word that we toss around kind of carelessly in these days.  We talk about having faith in someone, having faith in ourselves, being people of faith.  But what does that even mean?  What does faith look like?  Well, today’s Liturgy of the Word helps us to paint that picture.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews lays down the definition of faith for us: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Faith is something we all strive to have, but faith is really a gift. We long to be people of faith because it is faith that gives peace in the midst of uncertainty. Faith, as the author points out, is not the same thing as proof. Proof requires evidence, and faith usually provides none of that. Faith, perhaps, is not knowing what will happen, but instead knowing the one in whom we trust. If we know our God is trustworthy, then we don’t need to know all the details of what is ahead of us; instead, we can trust in the One who leads us. The more that we exercise that faith, the more our faith grows.

The author speaks about Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob.  They were heirs of the promise God made, a real covenant with his people.  Abraham and Sarah should never even have given birth to Isaac and Jacob – they were too old.  But they did, and Isaac and Jacob were but the beginning of “descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.”  Even then, they didn’t see the fulfillment of the promise.  That would only come about in the Paschal Mystery of Christ our God, but they had the glimpse of it from afar.

The parable in our Gospel today tells us what living the faith looks like: “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Faith requires waiting, and we do all sorts of waiting. We wait in the grocery line and in the doctor’s office. We wait for friends or family to join us at the dinner table. We wait for job offers, for the right person in our relationships, and we wait for the right direction in our lives. In all of our waiting, Jesus tells us today, we must be prepared for the outpouring of God’s grace. If we are distracted by worldly things and worldly activities, we may miss that grace as it is poured out right before us. If we are caught up in things that have no permanence, we may miss our opportunity to follow Christ to our salvation. We must always be prepared for the Son of Man to come into our lives.

The parable gives us some wonderful images.  Those faithful servants, whom the Master finds busy doing their jobs when he returns, are not just given a pat on the back.  No, they are seated at table, and the Master himself begins to wait on them!  That image had to be astonishing to those servants of Jesus’ day.  But it is none the less real for us.  We come here to Mass today expecting that very same thing to happen.  We come to the table, and we are fed by our Master in a way that we could never feed ourselves on our own.  The grace poured out on us as people of faith is incredible, if we have the faith to notice it.

The second wonderful image in this parable is what happens at the end: “if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.”  But when you think about it, that has already happened: Jesus  has returned in his Spirit and has “broken into” our house.  Jesus’ return is unexpected: he is like a sneaky thief.  And so, we need to be vigilant, we need to be aware of the return of Jesus.

But again, what does that look like?  For what should we keep vigil?  This is where faith comes in to play.  It might be strength in the midst of crisis, or maybe a deep-down joy underneath the same old daily routine. It could be an unexpected treat, like a visit with an old friend. Sometimes it looks like a reassuring presence during a quiet moment of prayer. Or perhaps even a renewed commitment to keep on doing what we know we are called to do.

Faith can be nebulous, but in today’s Liturgy, we are taught that faith looks like something.  Faith means living the Gospel with urgency every day, as though Jesus were going to return tomorrow, even if that return is many years in the future.  Faith means looking for the blessing in every day, even when cares and concerns and sadness threaten to swallow us up.  Faith means standing up for the truth, reaching out to those in need, preaching the Gospel in our words and in our deeds.

The protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr spoke of the notion of faith in his famous “Serenity Prayer.”  You’ve probably heard the first part, but I think the last part is that prayer for faith that we all pray today:

God,

Grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;

Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world

As it is, not as I would have it;

Trusting that you will make all things right

If I surrender to your will;

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life

And supremely happy with you

Forever in the next.  Amen.

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Today’s readings

How do you picture Jesus? We’ve never seen him face to face, but we have seen artwork depicting him. That artwork can be very inspiring. But that artwork can also give us a false, overly-familiar look at Jesus our God. I tend to think Peter, James and John also had a kind of familiar picture of their Jesus. Over the time they had spent with him thus far, they had become close to him and saw him as a friend, a companion on the journey, and a great teacher. But they were always having trouble with his divinity.

Today’s feast changes all of that for them, and for us as well. If there was any doubt about who Jesus was, it’s gone now. That voice from the cloud is absolutely specific: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Jesus is the Son of God and his divinity must be embraced and proclaimed. While it can be comfortable for us to have a picture of Jesus that is absolutely human, we must always keep in mind the Transfigured Christ, dazzling white, radiating glory, the lamp shining in a dark place. He is the Son of Man of whom Daniel speaks, and to him belongs dominion, glory, and kingship. If Jesus were only human, we would have no Savior, we would have no chance of touching divinity ourselves, that divinity for which we were created.

On the way to the mountain, the disciples came to know Jesus in his humanity, and on the way down, they came to know Jesus in his divinity. That trip down from the mountain took him to Calvary, and ultimately to the Resurrection, the glory of all glories. Christ is both human and divine, without any kind of division or separation. We must be ready to see both natures of our Jesus, so that we ourselves can transfigure our world with justice, compassion and mercy, in the divine image of our beautiful Savior. No matter what challenges may confront us or what obstacles may appear along the way, we must be encouraged to press on with the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.”

Thursday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In the ancient Hebrew, the word we have for righteousness and justice is sedeq, which most literally means right order. The idea is that when things are as they were intended to be by God, then the poor will be taken care of, nobody’s rights will be trampled on, and God’s grace will be evident in every situation. So this idea of sedeq is of course a frequently-mentioned topic in the prophets’ preaching. Today we have the prophet Jeremiah pointing out the lack of sedeq in the community of the Israelites: “for they broke my covenant,” Jeremiah prophecies, “and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.”

There is just one possible antidote to the infidelity of the people, and that is God’s loving-kindness. The Hebrew language has a word for this, too, and that is hesed. It is summed up in the way the Lord wishes to bring the people back into right relationship as Jeremiah says: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

The hesed that Jesus brings is still more radical, and that turns out to be a problem for Peter. He knows well enough who Jesus is: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But when it turns out that the way for Jesus to make all that happen and unleash God’s ultimate loving-kindness is for Jesus to die, that doesn’t set well with Peter. “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.”

The thing is, for hesed to happen in any situation, someone pretty much always has to lay down their life. It might be physically as Jesus did on the cross, but it could also be by letting a disagreement go, pursuing forgiveness even at the cost of being right about something on principle, or giving up one’s own desires so that others can be nourished. And Satan knows that hesed is the worst thing in the world that can happen for him. So he always wants us to say “God forbid, Lord! Why should you have to die? Why should I have to die?” But we have to put such thoughts aside. We have to think as God does, not as human beings do.

St. John Vianney

Today’s readings

St. John Vianney’s seminary education got off to a rather rocky start. In fact, his poor previous education nearly kept him out of the seminary. Then he had trouble understanding lectures in Latin. He was only able to overcome this with some private tutoring and amazing dedication to his calling to become a priest. He was eventually ordained, and in sainthood, he is the patron saint of parish priests.

The Psalmist today sings, “The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock.”   St .John Vianney is the image of the good shepherd who guarded the flock zealously.  He considered it his mission to heal the broken and drive out the demons of sin. He was known to spend 11 or 12 hours in the confessional every day in the winter, 16 hours in the summer! He said that he drew his strength for this ministry from the Eucharist.

In fact, he tried to bring everyone together for the public worship that was the Eucharist. About public and private prayer, he said: “Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.”

As we are gathered here for our public prayer today, we pray for that mighty fire to well up in all of us so that our dark world can be set ablaze with the fire of God’s love.

Tuesday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Gospel reading is one of my favorites.  Truthfully, though, it always makes me a little uncomfortable.  Which is what it’s supposed to do.  This Gospel wants us to get out of the boat, too.

We can tend to give Saint Peter a lot of grief over this incident.  If he was able to walk on the water for a few steps, why couldn’t he finish the journey?  What we see happen here is that while he has his eyes on Jesus, he can accomplish what seems impossible: he walks on water.  But when he gets distracted by the storm and the wind and the waves, he begins to sink into the water.

Our spiritual journeys are a lot like that, I think.  It takes courage to get out of the boat, but the boat is where Jesus is.  We won’t get to him unless we make that leap of faith and step out of the comfort of our boats – whatever those boats may be.  And we do fine while we have our eyes on Jesus, but the minute we get distracted by the storms raging all around us, we begin to sink into the ocean of despair that surrounds us.

When that happens, we can be depressed about our progress.  We can be very hard on ourselves for falling yet again.  But we have to understand that Peter, and we, are not the biggest losers in this whole incident.  There were eleven guys who never had the courage or the faith to get out of the boat in the first place.  And so, like Peter, we can reach up to our Lord and let him pull us out of the swirling waters once again.

For those of us who take the leap of faith with Peter today, we may be of “little faith,” we may even doubt sometimes, but our faith in Jesus will always keep us safe.

Monday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Give them some food yourselves,” Jesus says to the disciples.  Yes, it would be easier to send the people away so they can fend for themselves.  But that’s not how God wants to feed them, and Jesus won’t hear of it.  “Give them some food yourselves.”  All they have are five loaves and couple of fish, hardly enough for the incredible crowd.  But, that sacrifice in the hands of Jesus is enough to feed all of them and then some.  What meager offering will you be called upon to sacrifice today so that others can be fed?  Our little service might not seem like much, but in Jesus’ hands it is more than enough.  “Give them some food yourselves.”