Saturday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This is the second time this week that we have heard these words.  The first was on Sunday, in connection with the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple.  Then, on Wednesday, we heard something very similar: “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”  If we miss the opportunity to grow in humility this week, then we are in serious trouble indeed!

Think about what Jesus is asking the guests of the leading Pharisee to do.  He wasn’t just asking them to give their place to some other leading Pharisee, or someone socially more important than they were.  No, he was asking them to do something far more difficult: the “more distinguished” one among them was one who was in need or marginalized, people we would have a hard time greeting, let alone giving them our place at the dinner table.

Think about going to a banquet and giving your honored place to someone homeless, an immigrant, a foster teenager – would you be so ready to even have dinner with these people?  Think about actually moving over to give them the honored place!  And Jesus has the audacity to ask us to do just that.

Jesus humbled himself to become something far less than what he was, so that we could become far more than we could ever be.  He certainly has the right to ask us to do the same so that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven.

So who is God going to call us to minister to in some deed of generosity or word of encouragement or act of forgiveness today?  Will we be able to give our place to these people?  Will we be humble enough to move over so that they can move up?  If so, maybe we will find that God will exalt us all.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

Today’s readings

Today, we celebrate two apostles who, as often is the case, are relatively unknown except that they were followers of Jesus.  Jude is called Judas in Luke and in the Acts of the Apostles.  Matthew and Mark call him Thaddeus.  We have in the New Testament the letter of Jude, which scholars say is not written by the man whose feast we celebrate today.  Saint Jude is perhaps best known as the patron saint of the seemingly-impossible, reminding us that in God, all things are possible.

Simon – and this is not the Simon who Jesus later named Peter –  was a Zealot, a member of a radical party that disavowed all ties with the government, holding that Israel should be re-elevated to political greatness under the leadership of God alone.  They also held that any payment of taxes to the Romans was a blasphemy against God.

Neither of these men held any claim to greatness here on earth; they found their glory in following Christ.  Their joy was, as St. Paul instructs us in his letter to the Ephesians, in that their citizenship was in heaven, as it is for all of us.  We are merely passing through this place, and our task while we are here, as was the task for Simon and Jude and all the apostles, is to live for Christ and to live the Gospel.  The reward for them, then, as is for all of us, is in heaven, their and our true home.

Their message, as the Psalmist says, goes out to all the earth.  Blessed are all of us when we catch that message and live that message, following the way to Christ Jesus.

Wednesday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

What does it take for us to be known by God?  After all, God forbid we’d be among those to whom he says: “I do not know where you are from.”  I think the answer comes in that last verse of the reading: “For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”  Which goes very much counter to our culture which encourages us to put “me first” – or even, “me only.”  If we wish to enter the kingdom, we have to identify ourselves with those who are marginalized, who are last in the eyes of the world.  For those are the ones who are first in the eyes of God.

Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The injunction for wives to be submissive to their husbands, given in our first reading, certainly offends our modern. That’s just not the kind of thing we say in this society –now.  Yet this was the norm in the society in which St. Paul ministered.  So that command would hardly have raised an eyebrow. What would have been shocking in St. Paul’s time was the reciprocal injunction to husbands to love their wives as they loved their own bodies. Indeed, St. Paul’s point was not to rile either husbands or wives, but more to promote the living of harmonious family relationships.

So how would it look now? Today, I think St. Paul would insist that husbands and wives would live as equal partners, showing mutual respect, and living the love of Christ in their relationship. St. Paul would certainly say that men and women should work together to foster families in which God’s love could be shown and made manifest in the world through them. The real point of this reading, we must remember, is that the love of husband and wife echoes the love between Christ and the Church.

May we all love one another as Christ loves his bride, the Church.

Monday of the Thirtieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Loose lips sink ships.”  That’s a saying that I learned somewhere in my early elementary school life.  I don’t think I fully understood what it meant at the time – all I appreciated was that it told me to keep my mouth shut.  But as I’ve lived and matured, I know very well that frivolous talk can be hurtful and even dangerous.  Our gift of speech is an important one: through it we communicate with each other and it is the basis of our being able to work and live in society.  But using speech in the wrong way can cause a whole host of problems.  We’ve all probably been in the midst of that in some way at some time in our lives.

And so Saint Paul’s words to the Ephesians are probably good ones for us to hear today:

Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you,

as is fitting among holy ones,

no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place

All of us, who are called to be God’s holy ones, have a very important responsibility to use our gift of speech wisely.  We must not engage in idle, frivolous, or even obscene speech, because this is out of place for those who follow the Lord.  But what I think is so important is what Saint Paul says needs to be on the lips of God’s holy ones – and that is thanksgiving.

Big deal, right, of course we can speak about thanksgiving.  But the Greek word that is translated “thanksgiving” here is eucharistia – and we all know what that means.  The Eucharist – which is our thanksgiving – is always to be on our lips.  So that’s the lens by which we ought always to view the words we say: are our words Eucharist?  Are they thanksgiving?  Because those are the only words we need to be saying.

The Thirtieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The thing is, you know, the Pharisee was quite right. His righteousness was beyond reproach. He has been innocent of greed, dishonesty and adultery. He has been more pious than even the law requires. Fasting was only required once a year, on the Day of Atonement, but he fasts twice a week. Tithes were only required to be paid on one’s earnings, but he pays them not only on his earnings, but also on all of his possessions, basically, he paid the tithe on his total net worth. He was probably quite right about his own righteousness, and he may well have been right about the failures of righteousness in the tax collector as well.

And, in those days, tax collectors were despicable human beings. They worked for the Romans, were in league with the foreign occupation. They were told what they had to collect, and whatever the collected over and above that was theirs to keep. Now certainly, they were entitled to some income, so a modest markup would have been understandable – that was how they were paid. But mostly the modest markup was far from modest, and bordered on extortion. The tax collector in our parable today does not deny that he has participated in those activities. He does not even pray about anything he has done except for one thing: he has sinned. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he says.

Both of these men were right in what they said about themselves. From an objective point of view, they have presented themselves honestly before God and everyone. So what’s the problem? Where has the Pharisee gone wrong and how did the tax collector end up justified?

It’s pretty easy to see what went wrong when we step back and look at the nature of their prayers. The Pharisee uses the word “I” four times. It’s all about him. The tax collector does not use the word “I” at all; he uses the word “me.” What’s the difference? Grammar lesson here: “I” is the subject, “me” is the object. So, for the Pharisee, it was all about what he had done through his own righteousness, and not about what God had done or could do. For the tax collector, it wasn’t about him at all. He acknowledges his sinfulness and asked God to have mercy. And that’s the second difference. The tax collector asks for something, namely mercy, and receives it: he goes home justified. The Pharisee asks for nothing, and that’s just what he gets: nothing.

So I think today’s Liturgy of the Word is asking us a very important question: have you been aware of your need for a Savior? Because sin is exhausting. Anyone who has struggled with sin, or a pattern of sin, in their lives can tell you that. Those who have been dragged down by any kind of addiction or who have tried to work on a character flaw or striven to expel any kind of vice from their lives often relate how exhausting the sin can be. Sin saps our spiritual energy, weakens our resolve to do good, and causes us to turn away in shame from family, friends, and all those whose spiritual companionship we need in order to grow as Christians. That’s just the way sin works.

But today’s Liturgy gives us very good news. Sirach says in today’s first reading that “The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds; it does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds, judges justly and affirms the right, and the Lord will not delay.” We see that very clearly in the parable in today’s Gospel. The lowly tax collector cannot even bring himself to raise his eyes to heaven. “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” he says. It is the perfect Act of Contrition. He acknowledges his sin, he prays for God’s mercy. And God responds. He can go home justified.

Just like the Pharisee and the tax collector, we have come to this holy placed to pray today. What is our prayer like?  Are there sins that have become a pattern for us? Do we have addictions that need to be worked out? Have we failed in some way in our daily life? What dark corners of our lives desperately need God’s light and God’s mercy? In what ways do we need a Savior? Have we asked for God’s mercy, or have we been like the Pharisee, asking for nothing and receiving exactly that?

Pray the tax collector’s prayer after me: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Friday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In our overly-litigious society, Jesus’ words that we are to make an effort to settle the matter on the way are a good call to refocus.  This call shifts the emphasis from winning to healing, and it calls us to do some hard things.  In order to settle the matter, we will have to communicate and be open to the fact that we may be in the wrong.  If we are open to settling things the way Jesus would have us do it, we might find ourselves growing in maturity and faith, and becoming better people in the process.

Thursday of the Twenty-ninth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Some people would say that Jesus was a peaceful man.  And that is a basically true statement.  But I think that we have to understand that peace wasn’t necessarily his primary interest, at least not peace in the way that we often see it.

Because sometimes I think we misread what peace is supposed to be.  We might sell peace short and settle for the absence of conflict.  Or even worse, we may settle for peace at any price, swallowing our disagreements and never coming close to true healing in our relationships.  There are families in which never a harsh word would be said, but the underlying hostility is palpable.  There are workplaces in which there are never any arguments, but there is also never any cooperative work done.  Sometimes there are relationships where fear replaces love and respect.

And this is not the kind of peace that Jesus would bring us today.  This is the One who came to set the earth on fire, and his methods for bringing us to peace might well cause division in the here and now.  But there is never any resurrection if we don’t have the cross.  And so there will never be any peace if we don’t confront what’s really happening.  The fire has to be red hot and blazing to burn away all that is unhealthy if there is ever to be any new growth.

And so today we have to stop settling for a peace that really isn’t so peaceful.  We may just have to have that hard conversation we’ve been trying to avoid.  Of course, we do it with love for our brothers and sisters, but out of love we also don’t avoid it.  Our words and actions must always be guided by the fire of the Holy Spirit, but we must never choose to neglect the Spirit’s guidance and instead just settle for something that is really not peace.  We have to work for true healing in all of our relationships.

The Psalmist tells us today that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.”  That goodness resides in all those people God has given us in our lives.  This day, we are called to relish their goodness and work for lasting peace with all of them.

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. Isaac, St. John and their companions inspire us to take up the mission: to make Christ known, relying on the treasure of grace 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.

Saint Luke, evangelist

Today’s readings

Saint Luke, of course, is best known for contributing two major works to the New Testament: the third Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.  In these works, we can see the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, along with his proclamation of the kingdom and the many graces he came to pour out on humankind, and also the life of the early Church, the first community as they strove to make the person and teachings of Jesus present to every creature on earth.  Luke traveled with Saint Paul, and along the way interviewed many eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life and recorded them all meticulously.

Luke introduces his Gospel with these words: “Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us, I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.”  The Acts of the Apostles is introduced similarly, and addressed to Theophilus as well.  We don’t know who Theophilus was, but he appears to have been a convert to the Way, and may even have been a powerful person or a rich benefactor.  But what’s interesting is his name: Theophilus, which translates roughly as a “lover of God.”

That makes these wonderful works accessible to all of us, who presumably are also lovers of God.  We have been reading from Luke’s Gospel on most of the Sundays of this Liturgical Year, and I always love this cycle of readings.  The third Gospel speaks to me in different ways than the others do, and it includes details, glimpses of Jesus that are particular to Luke alone.

“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom,” the Psalmist says today.  And that is very true of Saint Luke; we have much for which to be grateful to his faith, his preaching, and his meticulous investigation and recording.