Monday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s first reading has always intrigued me, ever since I can remember hearing it as a child. God intends to destroy the city of Sodom because of its pervasive wickedness. Abraham, newly in relationship with God, stands up for the innocent of the city, largely because that was where his nephew, Lot, had taken up residence. In what seems to be a case of cosmic “Let’s Make a Deal,” Abraham pleads with God to spare the city if just fifty innocent people could be found there. God agrees and Abraham persists. Eventually God agrees to spare the city if just ten righteous people could be found in the city of Sodom.

It is important, I think, to know that Abraham’s prayer does not really change his unchangeable God. Instead, God always intended to spare the city if there were just people in it.  What I love about this reading is Abraham’s line, “See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord, though I am but dust and ashes!”  It seems Abraham is testing the relationship, seeing how far it will go.  What happens is that he learns something great about our unchanging God: he learns that, as the psalmist sings today, “The LORD is kind and merciful.”

All of this leads us to an important issue at stake for the praying disciple: that is, prayer must come out of a relationship with God.  Abraham may have been somewhat presumptuous to speak to God the way that he did.  But if he didn’t know God, if he didn’t have a relationship with God, well, then his conversation would have been completely offensive, wouldn’t it?  But he did know God, and was getting to know him better, so his pleas for the just people of Sodom were completely appropriate.

We too are called to relationship with God, a relationship that finds its source in our prayer.  We can persistently plead for loved ones, but we also have to spend time in adoration and praise and thanksgiving, and even quiet contemplation so that this most important of our relationships can grow.  The LORD is kind and merciful, and he longs to reveal his mercy as we come to him in prayer.

 

Vespers for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Reading: 1 Corinthians 11:23-25

During World War II, the officers of the Third Reich’s secret service forcefully recruited many 12- and 13-year-old boys into what was called the Junior Gestapo.  The harshly treated boys were given only inhumane jobs that they were to perform without rest or complaint.

After the war ended, most had lost contact with their families and wandered aimlessly, without food or shelter.  As part of an aid program to rebuild postwar Germany, many of these youths were housed in tent cities.  There, doctors and nurses worked with them in an attempt to restore their physical, mental and emotional health.

Many of the boys would awaken several times during the night screaming in terror.  But one doctor had an idea for handling their fears.  After serving the boys a hearty meal, he’d tuck them into bed with a piece of bread in their hands that they were told to save until morning.  The boys began to sleep soundly after that because, after so many years of hunger and uncertainty as to their next meal, they finally had the assurance of food for the next day.

On the last day of my dad’s life a little over four years ago, I gave him Holy Communion for what would be the last time.  He was able to pray with us, and was so grateful to receive the Sacrament of Jesus’ own Body and Blood.  We call that last Communion Viaticum which, in Latin, means “bread for the journey.”  Like the former Junior Gestapo boys who slept soundly because they knew they had food for the next day, my dad was able to rest in Christ knowing that he would be able to eat at the heavenly banquet table.

On this feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are called to take comfort in the many ways God feeds us.  He gives us bread for today: the stuff we really need, and he gives us bread for eternity: the promise of the banquet of God’s heavenly kingdom.  On this solemn feast, we thank God for his gift of the Eucharist, that sustaining sacrifice which gives us strength to live the Gospel.  We also give thanks today for our diocesan Year of the Eucharist, which we have just completed, and for the many ways we have grown this year in our devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

The gift of the Eucharist comes today also with a commandment, as we have just heard in our reading from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  “Do this in memory of me,” Jesus tells us.  We hear it every time we come to Mass.  And maybe that seems like a bit of a no-brainer.  Sure, we’re here, we’re celebrating the Eucharist, we’re doing it in memory of you.  But I think that Jesus’ commandment goes a little deeper than that, as his commandments often do.

We have to always call to mind during our celebration of this great sacrament, that when Jesus broke the bread and told us to do it in memory of him, he was alluding to what he would soon do up there, on the cross.  He gave willingly laid down his life, so that we could have the hope of eternal life.  So we too have to be willing to lay down our own lives for our brothers and sisters, giving ourselves for them.

Worshiping Christ in the Blessed Sacrament means that we have to be able to acknowledge Christ in our brothers and sisters.  We have to treat them as we would like to be treated, to reach out to them when they are in need, to love them even when we would rather not.  This Eucharist that we receive is the sacrament of charity; charity in the sense of loving completely, without counting the cost.

Jesus gives us seemingly-simple gifts: bread and wine.  These are not unlike the bread that sustained those young German boys through the recovery of the horror they lived.  But these gifts are also complex in their transcendence, giving us strength to lay down our lives for others, giving us peace as Viaticum, giving us hope of eternal life around the table of God’s heavenly banquet.

As we move forth into the coming year, strengthened by our celebration of the Year of the Eucharist, let us pray together the prayer that has led us through this year:

Jesus, may all that is you flow into me.
May your Body and Blood be my food and drink.
May your passion and death be my strength and life.
Jesus, with you by my side enough has been given.
May the shelter I seek be the shadow of your cross.
Let me not run from the love which you offer,
but hold me safe from the forces of evil.
On each of my dyings shed your light and your love.
Keep calling to me until that day comes,
when, with your saints, I may praise you forever. Amen.

Lord Jesus, Bread of Life and Covenant of Love –
R.  Nourish us with your Body and Blood

Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament –
R.  Pray for us

 

St. Aloysius Gonzaga

Today’s readings

St. Aloysius Gonzaga was a well-connected young man who lived during the Renaissance. His father longed for him to become a military hero, and brought him up in the court society. But Aloysius was affected from an early age by a desire to become one with God, and often practiced great penance and asceticism. By age eleven, he was teaching catechism to poor children, and fasting three times a week. I don’t really remember what I was doing at age eleven, but I know my piety was not nearly as advanced as Aloysius! He eventually decided he would like to join the Jesuits, but had to wage a four-year battle with his father, who eventually relented and let him forsake his right to succession and join the novitiate.

Sometimes our plans, for ourselves or for others, are far different than the plans God has for us.  Today’s Gospel urges us to enter through the narrow gate.  It might be far easier to do what we want with our lives, but only when we find that narrow gate of God’s will for us, will we be truly happy.  Just like St. Aloysius, we have to ask what God wants of us, and follow it with all our hearts.

 

Monday of the Twelfth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It’s quite well known that we men hate to stop and ask for directions.  Actually, I am glad I have a GPS in my car, because now I never have to ask for directions any more!  But finding the right way to go is important.  If you don’t have directions, you’ll never make it on vacation, or you’ll never get to that important appointment in time.  It’s so important for us to know where we’re going.

That’s why today’s interaction between God and Abram had to be tough for him.  God makes him quite a promise, and sends him out to claim the lands he had in store for him and his descendants.  But Abram clearly didn’t know what he’d encounter along the way or even where he was finally going to end up.  Yet, Abram’s faith was sure: he goes right through the land of the dreaded Canaanites, and builds an altar to God there.

The direction Jesus gives to his disciples – and to us – today is more spiritual in nature.  In order to be close to God, we have to be more like God.  And so we are to stop judging, lest we be judged.  Spending our time judging others leaves that wooden beam in our eyes, which hinders us from seeing where we are going.  If we want to get to heaven one day, we have to pull that wooden beam out of our eyes, and walk with our brothers and sisters in faith.

Just like Abram, we disciples are being led by God without a clear roadmap.  Those of us who sweat details like that could be a little uncomfortable.  But trusting in God, and walking with our brothers and sisters, we will come to our final destination in the safe and loving hands of our God.

 

The Most Holy Trinity

Today’s readings

Today’s celebration of the Most Holy Trinity reminds us of the fact that God loved the world he created so much that he was determined to remain in relationship with it.  “God so loved the world,” the Gospel tells us, “that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”  That very familiar quote from John 3:16 has often been described as the entire Gospel all in one verse, because it tells us the reason for Our Savior’s coming, and the purpose for our existence, which is eternal life.

God wishes to remain in relationship with us, his creatures, because God himself is a relationship.  We will never really understand the Trinity in this lifetime, we know that, but we also know that in the Blessed Trinity, our Church has described God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We recall this deepest of our beliefs every time we make the sign of the Cross, every time we receive a blessing, indeed every time the priest greets us at Mass with those familiar words: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you.”  God is a relationship: the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Son with the Father and the Spirit, and the Spirit with the Father and the Son.  Three persons, one God, all in relationship.

But make no mistake, I don’t come before you today to define the Holy Trinity for you as if I’ve figured it all out.  This most profound of our beliefs remains perhaps the deepest of all our mysteries.  A story about St. Augustine tells us as much: The story goes that he was walking along the beach, trying to figure out the nature of the Holy Trinity. As he walked along, he came across a little boy who had dug a hole in the sand right next to the shore. With his little hands he was carrying water from the ocean and was dumping it in the little hole. St. Augustine asked, “What are you doing, my child?” The child replied, “I want to put all of the water of the ocean into this hole.” So St. Augustine asked him, “But is it possible for all of the water of this great ocean to be contained in this little hole?” And the child asked him in return, “If the water of the ocean cannot be contained in this little hole, then how can the Infinite Trinitarian God be contained in your mind?”  With that the child disappeared.

But just because the Trinity is a mystery, that doesn’t mean that we can’t talk about it.  In many ways, the mystery of the Trinity is a great blessing.  If we could really figure God out and define God in a neat set of explanations, it would be way to easy for us to simply file God away and never give a second thought.  Because we have to struggle with the mystery of the Trinity, this means we must constantly call God to mind and try to wrap our minds around God in new ways.  I once asked some fourth grade students to write down questions that they had about God.  The questions they had were wonderful:  Why can’t we see God?  Why did God create the world?  If God created life, then how did God become God?  Why does God love us?  Was God there when Jesus was dying?  Why does God forgive us after we’ve done something wrong?  How do we know the Holy Spirit is with us?  But there was one question that seemed to get to the bottom of it all for me:  What is God like? And I realized that question was where the rubber meets the road in our faith, and that question was the whole reason for celebrating this feast of the Holy Trinity: we have to every day examine what God is like so that we can remain in relationship with our God who is a relationship and who longs to remain in relationship with us.

Again, I’m not going to stand here and tell you the definitive answer to that question.  And that’s because there really isn’t one definitive answer to what God is like.  We could pass out cards right now and everyone could write down one thing that God is like.  And every one of us would be right in some ways, and every one of us would be wrong in some ways.  We could say that God is love, and we’d be right, but we’re wrong if we think of love in the limited way that we humans can conceive of love.  We could say that God is good, and we’d be right about that, but we’d be wrong if we think of God’s goodness in the way that a candy bar is good or a new car is good or even a new baby is good.  Our limited vocabulary can’t even come close to describing God.  As the song goes, our God is an awesome God, more so than any lyrics or other words could ever describe.

So I want to go back to this idea of God as a relationship.  I do that because it’s one of a million ways I could talk about the Trinity today.  But I do it also because I think that God as a relationship is such a very appealing way to think about God.  We all know how much our good relationships mean to us, and so it is very desirable to think of our relationship with God, and of the relationship that is God.

Because sometimes we need a parent.  And so relating to God as Father reminds us of the nurturing of our faith, being protected from evil, being encouraged to grow, and being corrected when we stray.  If you’ve had difficulty with a parent in your life, then relating to God as Father can also be difficult.  But still, I think there is part of all of us, no matter what our earthly parents have been like, long to have a loving parental relationship.  God as Father can be that kind of parent in our lives.

And sometimes we need the Son.  Relating to God the Son – Jesus our brother – reminds us that God knows our needs, he knows our temptations, he’s experienced our sorrows and celebrated our joys.  God in Christ has walked our walk and died our death and redeemed all of our failures out of love for us.  God the Son reminds us that God, having created us in his own image and likeness, loves what he created enough to become one of us.  Our bodies are not profane place-holders for our soul, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and that very body was good enough to become the dwelling place of God when he came to earth.  Maybe you’ve never had a brother or sister or never were close to yours, but in Christ you have the brother above all others who is present to you in all your joys and sorrows.

Sometimes, too, we need a Holy Spirit.  Because we often have to be reminded that there is something beyond ourselves.  That this is not as good as it gets.  As wonderful as our world and our bodies can be, we know they are also very flawed.  The Holy Spirit reminds us that there is a part of us that always longs for God, no matter how far we have strayed.  The Spirit reminds us that our sins are not who we are and that repentance and forgiveness are possible.  It is the Holy Spirit that enables us to do the really good things we wouldn’t be capable of all by ourselves, the really good things that are who we really are before God.

Maybe God comes to us as Trinity because one face of God is not sufficient to be God for us creatures who are constantly changing, and constantly struggling.  One day we need the Father, tomorrow we may need the Son and down the road the Holy Spirit.  Whatever we need, the point is that God is there.  Always was, always will be.

So back to that fourth grader’s question:  What is God like? Well, that’s a reflection I think I’ll leave you all with today.  What is God like?  I hope you struggle with that question your whole life long.  I hope I do too.

 

Saint Anthony of Padua, priest and doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

St. Anthony is probably one of the best-known Catholic saints. As the patron for finding lost objects, I’m sure so many of us have prayed, “Tony, Tony, look around, something’s lost and can’t be found.” We all lose track of things from time to time, and it’s nice to have someone to help us find them.

But the real story of St. Anthony centers around finding the way to Christ.

The gospel call to leave everything and follow Christ was the rule of Anthony’s life. Over and over again God called him to something new in his plan. Every time Anthony responded with renewed zeal and self-sacrifice to serve his Lord Jesus more completely. His journey as the servant of God began as a very young man when he decided to join the Augustinians, giving up a future of wealth and power to follow God’s plan for his life. But later, when the bodies of the first Franciscan martyrs went through the Portuguese city where he was stationed, he was again filled with an intense longing to be one of those closest to Jesus himself: those who die for the Good News.

So Anthony entered the Franciscan Order and set out to preach to the Moors – a pretty dangerous thing to do. But an illness prevented him from achieving that goal. He went to Italy and was stationed in a small hermitage where he spent most of his time praying, reading the Scriptures and doing menial tasks.

But that was not the end for Anthony’s dream of following God’s call. Recognized as a great man of prayer and a great Scripture scholar and theologian, Anthony became the first friar to teach theology to the other friars. Soon he was called from that post to preach to heretics, to use his profound knowledge of Scripture and theology to convert and reassure those who had been misled.

So yes, St. Anthony is the patron of finding lost objects, but what I really think he wants to help us find, is our way to Christ. As a teacher, a scholar and a man of faith, he was devoted to his relationship with God. And so his intercession for us might go a little deeper than where we left our keys. Maybe we find ourselves today having lost track of our relationship with God in some way. Maybe our prayer isn’t as fervent as it once was. Or maybe we have found ourselves wrapped up in our own problems and unable to see God at work in us. Maybe our life is in disarray and we’re not sure how God is leading us. If we find ourselves in those kinds of situations today, we might do well to call on the intercession of St. Anthony. Finder of lost objects, maybe. But finder of the way to Christ for sure.

 

Monday of the Seventh Week of Easter

Today’s readings

Yesterday, on the Solemnity of the Lord’s Ascension, Jesus promised to be with us until the end of time.  In these days after the Ascension, the Liturgy calls us to rely on Jesus’ presence among us and to turn and find our hope in God.  Even though Jesus is unseen, having ascended to the Father, he is still very much with us.  He may be in the heaven of our hopes, but he also walks among us.  Jesus is as near as the person in need, as near as the words of Scripture or the Eucharist we celebrate.  Jesus is as near as our own hearts, when they are stirred up to follow God’s call.  We feel him present to us when we are comforted in trying moments.

We are sustained by the hope that we will join Jesus one day in the place he is preparing for us.  We don’t need to worry about finding the way to get there; we just have to have faith in Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life.  Putting our trust in him, we can one day find ourselves sharing the kingdom with our saving Lord.

But the way isn’t always easy.  The world may very well scatter us and give us trouble; Jesus said as much in today’s Gospel.  Satan uses all the circumstances of our world to draw us away from God and get us all caught up in our own worries.  But we believers need not worry; we can take courage in the fact that Jesus has overcome the world and has not abandoned us.