Monday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The fathers of the Church teach us to “love what Jesus loved when he was on the cross, and despise what Jesus despised when he was on the cross.”  We get that same kind of message from Moses today in the first reading.  He tells the Israelites that their God loves the widow, the orphan, and the alien, and because of that, they too must love the widow, the orphan, and the alien.  That is actually becomes a common theme of all of the prophets.

In our day, loving what Jesus loved when he was on the cross might mean reaching out to those in need: the poor, the hungry, the homeless, those oppressed in any way.  It might mean binding up wounds: old hurts, casual slights, or pervasive anger.  It means forgiving as we have been forgiven, freely and perhaps unilaterally.  We are called upon to extend ourselves and to go beyond our own pettiness to love sacrificially.  We might not be nailed to a cross, but we may well have to die to our own interests and needs in order to love as Jesus calls us.

What do we have that is not God’s gift to us?  The Psalmist says today: “He has granted peace in your borders; with the best of wheat he fills you.”  We benefit eternally from the great sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  As we remember the grace we have been given in celebrating the Eucharist today, let it be our prayer that we would come to love as he has loved, no matter what the cost.

Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

Today’s readings

st-lawrence-distributing-the-riches-of-the-church.jpg!BlogSt. Lawrence was a deacon of the early Church, who was charged with the care of the goods of the Church.  Legend has it that he was called in by the Prefect of Rome, who had just killed Pope Sixtus, whose feast day we celebrated last week.  The Prefect told Lawrence that he wanted the treasures of the Church.  His warped reason for it was that, since Christ didn’t bring any money or material goods into the world with him, then such things must not be important to the Church.  Lawrence told him to give him a few days to inventory the goods of the Church.  Three days later, Lawrence assembled a large group of the widows, orphans, blind, lame and leprous.  He presented them to the Prefect saying, “Behold, these are the treasures of the Church.”  The Prefect was so angry, he ordered him to be killed, but, in his words, “by inches,” meaning a slow and tortuous death.  Lawrence was bound to a gridiron and was roasted over coals.  At one point in the torture, Lawrence is said to have called out cheerfully, “I am done on this side, I think; you can turn me over now.”

A couple of weeks ago on my vacation, I visited the Saint Louis Art Museum and saw a painting of Saint Lawrence distributing the wealth of the Church to the poor so that the Prefect couldn’t have it.  It was painted by Bernardo Strozzi around the year 1625.  That was one of my favorite paintings there in the museum.  Now, this whole story is saintly legend.  We don’t know if it is true or not.  But it is a beautiful story that makes us reflect on Jesus’ call in the Gospel today: “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.”  We who would be followers of Christ are called to know what the real treasures of life are, and to be willing to sacrifice to protect them.

Saint Dominic, priest

On a journey through France with his bishop, St. Dominic came across the Albigensian heresy.  The Albigensians believed in just good and evil – there was no middle ground.  For them, anything material was evil, which meant that they denied the Incarnation and the sacraments.  On the same principle they abstained from procreation and took a minimum of food and drink.  It’s important to see that while the ascetic practices they undertook were good, their ultimate conclusions were deeply flawed.

St. Dominic sensed the need for the Church to combat this heresy, and he was commissioned to be part of the preaching crusade against it.  He saw immediately why the preaching was not succeeding: the ordinary people admired and followed the asceticism of the Albigensians.  Understandably, they were not impressed by the Catholic preachers who traveled in luxury, stayed at the best inns and had servants.  Dominic therefore, with three Cistercians, began itinerant preaching – living simply and depending on the goodness of others to support them –  according to the gospel ideal.

One of the ancient histories of the Dominican order says of him, “Two or three times he was chosen bishop, but he always refused, preferring to live with his brothers in poverty.  Throughout his life, he preserved the honor of his virginity.  He desired to be scourged and cut to pieces, and so die for the faith of Christ.  Of him Pope Gregory IX declared: ‘I knew him as a steadfast follower of the apostolic way of life.  There is no doubt that he is in heaven, sharing in the glory of the apostles themselves.’” (Office of Readings)

Dominic continued his preaching work for ten years, being successful with the ordinary people but not with the leaders.  Eventually, he founded his own religious order, the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, that was dedicated to preaching the Gospel to ordinary people.

We too are called to preach to every person.  We do that not just in words, but mainly by the way we live.  When people see our faith at work in our actions, they may well be moved by our example to draw near to God who longs to draw near to them.  As we approach the Eucharist today, may we all turn to God for the words to speak and the actions to do, that all the world may come to know that our God is merciful and the source of all grace.

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Today’s readings

Sometimes I think that, because of the limitedness of our minds, we accept a rather small view of Jesus.  I think that was true for the disciples too, although they had a good excuse: they didn’t have two thousand years of Church history to guide them!  So they were definitely familiar with the human side of 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.”

Monday of the Eighteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

What I think the folks in our first reading need to learn – and maybe us too – is that the spiritual life is always about the big picture.  The Israelites in today’s reading have completely rejected the God of their salvation.  God had taken them from abject slavery in Egypt, in which they were oppressed beyond anything we could possibly imagine – let alone endure – and led them through the desert, through the Red Sea (covering the pursuing Egyptians in the process), and into safety.  He is going to give them the Promised Land, but they, thank you very much, would prefer to return to Egypt so that they no longer have to sustain themselves on the bread that they have from the very hand of God himself.  They would rather have meat and garlic and onions, and whatever, than freedom and blessing from God.  What a horrible, selfish people they have become.

And Moses is no better.  He alone has been allowed to go up the mountain to be in the very presence of God.  No one else could get so close to God and live to tell the story.  God has given him the power to do miraculous deeds in order to lead the people.  And yet, when things get tough, he too would prefer death than to be in the presence of God.

And aren’t we just like them sometimes?  It’s easy to have faith when things are going well, and we are healthy, and our family is prospering.  But the minute things come along to test us, whether it is illness, or death of a loved one, or job troubles, or whatever, it’s hard to keep faith.  “Where is God when I need him?” we might ask.  We just don’t often have the spiritual attention spans to see the big picture.  We forget the many blessings God has given us, and ask “Well what has he done for me lately?”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus feeds the crowds until they are satisfied and have baskets of leftovers besides.  God’s blessings to us are manifold, and it is good to meditate on them when times are good, and remember them when times are bad.  God never wills the trials we go through, and he never forgets or abandons us when we are in the midst of those trials.  God feeds us constantly with finest wheat.  That’s the big picture, and we must never lose sight of it.

The Eighteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time [C]

Today’s readings

This has been a rather busy pastoral week for me.  I’ve had a couple of funerals this week, and seem to have been called to the hospital a little more frequently than what I’d consider usual.  I’ve ministered to a couple whose baby was stillborn; I anointed a child and a woman in her 80s.  It all reminded me that, no matter what stage of life we’re at, we’re fragile.  Our human flesh is a frail thing.

And so, when I hear these readings on a week like this, it sends a little chill of recognition into my heart.  We here live in a very affluent society.  We are in one of the most well-to-do counties in the most prosperous nation on earth.  Sure, lots of us don’t have as much as others, but most of us have more than most people on the planet.  And yet we’re still frail, we could be called for judgment any time.  This night, perhaps, our very life will be demanded of us.  And all that we have, to whom will it belong?

Listen to the last line of the Gospel one more time: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”  So right away the parable is turned around and directed at all of us.  And it wouldn’t be so hard to put that parable in modern terms, would it?  Think of winning the lottery, only to know that the day you receive the check is the day you go home to the Lord.  Or think of spending your days and nights in the office, building wealth and prestige, only to be part of massive layoffs when the company is sold.  Or, even worse, spending your days and nights at the office, only to miss the growing of your family.  So, Jesus asks us, what treasures have we built up?  With what have we filled our barns?

Today’s first reading is from the book of Ecclesiastes, which in Hebrew is Qoheleth, who is the teacher in the book.  Among the Wisdom books in the Scriptures, Ecclesiastes can be the harshest to read because it is almost prophetic in content.  Qoheleth is considered wise among his contemporaries, much like many of the popular wisdom teachers of his day.  While we don’t know who Qoheleth was, the book is attributed to Solomon, the wise king.  Solomon often wrote of the prizes that lay in store for those who were successful.  But this book is a little different.  Here he questions if it is all worth it, and challenges the complacence and dishonesty that run rampant in that society.  If we didn’t know any better, he could well have been writing his words today, couldn’t he?  In the end, though, Qoheleth’s message is basically encouraging, and brings us back to the God who made us.  At the end of his book, which is not part of today’s reading, he says: “The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.” (Ecc. 12:13-14)  Which is exactly what Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel.

St. Paul has a little bit of Qoheleth in him too, today.  In the letter to the Colossians, which we have been hearing these past few weeks, he is trying to get that community to lay aside earthly things and seek God.  “If you were raised with Christ,” he tells them, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”  In other words, stop filling your barns with the stuff that you accumulate on this earth, and be rich in what matters to God.  Qoheleth, St. Paul, and Jesus are in complete concert today, and we must be careful to hear their message.

So, let’s get back to Jesus’ instruction at the end of today’s Gospel parable: “Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.”  We have to ask ourselves, then, the very important question: “what is it that matters to God?”  I think we know what doesn’t qualify – St. Paul made that very clear to the Colossians and to us today.  I think the things that matter to God are those things we might count among our blessings: namely our family and friends.  Those things that matter to God might also be the things that make us disciples who are pure, compassionate and truthful.  So we might seek to be rich in prayer, rich in reaching out to the poor and needy, rich in standing up for truth and justice.

Today God is urging us to let go…  Let go of the stuff we think we can’t live without and instead grab hold of what matters most, what matters to God, what will bring us to life eternal.  So what are we stockpiling in our barns?  Maybe we need a look at our checkbooks, our calendars, and our to-do lists to see where our money, time and resources have gone.  Can we take any of that with us if we are called home to God tonight?  If those things are all we have, we could find ourselves in real poverty when we arrive at the pearly gates.  This week’s to-do list might find us letting go of some of what we thought was important, so that we can be rich in what matters to God.  These, brothers and sisters in Christ, are the riches that will not spoil and can never be taken away from us.

Saint Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Today’s readings

In today’s first reading, Moses sets about putting up a meeting tent as a place for the Lord to be among his people.  The Lord never abandoned his people; he was present in a column of cloud during the day, and of fire at night.  The presence of God helps us to focus on living a life that keeps us in communion with him.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus points us to God’s presence at the end of time, when he would come in judgment of the nations, separating the good from the bad.

Today is the he feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, the patron saint of moral theology.  At the age of just sixteen, Alphonsus Liguori received degrees in both canon and civil law by acclamation.  He later gave up the practice of law to concentrate on pastoral ministry, particularly giving parish missions and hearing confessions.  He was noted for his writings on moral theology, particularly against the rigorism of the Jansenists.  The Jansenists were a movement that developed after the Protestant reformation and the Council of Trent and emphasized original sin, human depravity, the necessity of divine grace, and predestination.  Alphonsus’s moral theology was much more accessible to the average person.

In 1732, Alphonsus formed the congregation of the Redemptorists, who had as their special charism the preaching of parish missions.  They lived a common life dedicated to imitating Christ and reaching out to the poor and unlearned.  Although they went through their own struggles as a congregation, they were reunited after Alphonsus’s death and are of course active today.

Alphonsus wanted to be sure the people came to know how to live a life that would lead them to God.  Today’s readings give us that same call.  Whether we are here in our modern-day meeting tent, or out and about in our daily life, it’s important that we continually seek the Lord’s presence.  Then we know that we’ll be in the right place at the end of the age.