Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Today’s readings

St. Ignatius was all set to accomplish great things in the military when his leg was badly injured by a canon ball.  As he was convalescing, he asked for romantic novels to read.  But nothing like that was available, so he had to settle for books on the life of Christ and the lives of the saints.  Reading them, he noticed that those books made him feel differently than the romance novels he was used to.  He noted that the pleasure those books provided was fleeting, but that the joy he felt in reading the spiritual books stayed with him, and so he pursued the Christian life and began a process of conversion.

During this time of conversion, he began to write things down, and these writings served for a later work, his greatest work, the Spiritual Exercises.  These Exercises became the basis for the Society of Jesus, which he formed with six others to live a life of poverty and chastity and apostolic work for the pope.  This was accepted by Paul III and Ignatius was elected its first general.  Ignatius’s motto was Ad majorem Dei gloria: All for the glory of God.  His Spiritual Exercises have become a spiritual classic and have provided the basis rule for other religious orders over time.

Ignatius’s major contribution to the spiritual life is probably his principles of discernment, which help people of faith to know God’s will in their lives.  Today, Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of God as compared to a catch of fish, which the fishermen sort through, tossing the bad and keeping the good.  We too, need to sort through the bad and good that life brings us, tossing the bad and holding fast to the Kingdom of God.  May God grant us, through the intercession of Saint Ignatius, the discernment to do just that.

The Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You’ve probably heard me say that these summer weeks of Ordinary Time give us a wonderful look at how to live the Christian Life.  I always say that the Scriptures give us a kind of “Discipleship Toolbox” that helps us to know what we are supposed to be about and how we are to live the Gospel.  The tool with which we are presented this week is pretty obviously the tool of wisdom.  It’s an important tool and it’s not all that easy to attain.  Wisdom is that wonderful virtue that is kind of like knowledge, but more about knowing what is right and wrong.

So think about it, God comes to you in a dream and says you can have anything you want; all you have to do is ask.  Ever since I can remember hearing that reading as a young boy, I have wondered how I would have answered if I had been in Solomon’s place.  It’s a question that I think is worthwhile for all of us to meditate on, because it says a lot about who we are and what is most important to us.

Clearly, Solomon already had what he was looking for, because he was wise enough to ask for it.  He was already wise enough to seek God and fear God and rely on God, and so God rewards him with so much wisdom, that his very name becomes synonymous with that great virtue.  And it’s wisdom that is in motion in today’s Gospel.

Over the past few Sundays, Jesus has taken time to tell us what the kingdom of God is like.  A couple of weeks ago, the kingdom was like seed that was scattered and sown.  Some fell on rocks, some among weeds, but some on the good soil that yielded more than anyone had a right to hope for.  The kingdom of God is something like that: the more we nurture and cultivate our life with God, the more we benefit ourselves and others.  Last Sunday, the kingdom was again like seed, which was carefully planted, but was interrupted by someone planting weeds too.  The landowner had the harvesters sort it all out at harvest time.  The kingdom of God is something like that: the good and the bad will all be sorted out in due time.

This week we have more images of what the kingdom is like.  It’s like the pearl of great price or the buried treasure.  In both cases, the one finding that pearl or treasure sell everything they have to obtain it.  In both cases, the treasure seeker is wise enough to see the value of what they are looking at, and they give everything to have it.  The kingdom of God is like that.  It’s worth giving everything to have.

But it does take some wisdom to recognize the pearl of great price.  Because lots of things out there are shiny and nice and tempting.  But they don’t lead to everlasting happiness.  And it takes wisdom to go for that pearl when you find it.  Because it costs something, well, everything really.  Just like the people in the Gospel sold everything they had to buy the field with the buried treasure and the pearl of great price, so we will be required to give everything to obtain the kingdom of God.

That might mean walking away from a business deal that is profitable but has bad consequences for other people.  Or perhaps it means giving up a relationship that is destructive.  We may have to give up a leisure pursuit that is enjoyable but separates us from family and friends.  We have to make choices, changes and decisions that amount to selling everything in order to make room for something that is of ultimate importance: that pearl of great price which is the Kingdom of heaven itself.

So think about it.  God gives you the opportunity to obtain anything you want.  What do you ask for?  What is it that you’d give everything to have?

Saints Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings

We don’t know much, well anything really, about Saints Joachim and Anne.  Even in the Gospels where the ancestry of Jesus is traced, nothing is really said about Mary’s family, so we don’t have names that tell us anything about who Mary’s parents were.  Their names themselves are really sourced by legend written more than a century after Jesus died.

The Church has always inferred that Joachim and Anne were heroic people, having given birth to a woman of great faith.  Mary probably had learned her great reverence for God from them, perhaps had learned to trust in God’s plan from them.  She knew the law and was a woman of prayer, and we can only surmise that had to come from her parents who had brought her up to love God and his commandments.  The Psalmist today sings that our hearts and souls yearn for God and for his dwelling place.  The Blessed Virgin knew this great longing, and it was probably her parents who taught her to hope in that promise.

This feast helps me remember my own grandparents, whose faith and love are a part of me today.  Their humor, their reverence for God, their love for people, all of that has become a part of who I am today.  Maybe you too can remember some of the graces that have come from your own ancestors in faith.  And for all these great people, along with Saints Joachim and Anne, we give thanks today.

Saint James, Apostle

Today’s readings

“Can you drink the chalice of which I am going to drink?”

What does that even mean for us?  We know what Jesus’ chalice was like: it led him through sorrow, and abandonment, and ultimately to the cross.  If we have ever been in a situation in which we have felt intense grief, or felt abandoned, or had to stand by and watch the death of one that we loved, well then, we know a little bit of what that chalice is going to taste like.

Being a disciple is messy business.  It means that it’s not all glory.  It means that our faith sometimes has to move from the mountaintop experiences we sometimes have, down into the valleys of despair.  It means that there are times when we will be in situations that are frustrating, infuriating, debilitating, grievous and horrible.  We will have to drink a very bitter chalice indeed.  Jesus wasn’t just talking to John and James when he said “My chalice you will indeed drink.”  That’s the cup reserved for all of us who would be his disciples.

Very clearly those words of St. Paul ring true for us:

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus…

What is unspoken here but clearly implied is grace.  Those who abandon their lives to take up the cross, wherever that leads them, will always have at their disposal the grace to live a life that is joyful in the face of affliction, confident in the midst of uncertainty, whole in the midst of destruction.  There is nothing that the world or its evils can throw at us that cannot be ultimately overcome by the grace of God.  We will still have to live through sadness at times, but that sadness can never and must never overtake the joy we have in Christ.

Like St. James and his brother John, we are all called to drink from the chalice that Jesus drank.  That means that we will always bear the dying of Jesus in our own bodies.  We can’t explain why bad things happen to good people, but we can explain how good people handle bad situations well: they handle it well because they know Christ and live in Christ every day of their lives.  Everyone who is great among us must be a servant, and whoever wishes to be first among us must be a slave.  St. James learned how to do that and still thrive in his mission.  May we all be that same kind of sacrament for the world.

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We’ve just had this Gospel reading in the Sunday readings in the last couple of weeks, so I thought I’d touch on a few verses that I didn’t go into in that homily.  And these are some of the most powerful words in Scripture for me, and always a challenge for me:

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Sometimes we just overlook the blessing of every moment, don’t we?  We might be in the midst of a really good time in our lives.  We get to see new birth, restoration, healing, joy, laughter, and celebration.  But in the midst of all that, we can in fact become jaded to it.  Perhaps we even feel entitled to it and the blessing of it stops registering for us.

Or maybe we’re in the midst of a really lousy time.  Maybe we are seeing death, degradation, sickness, brokenness, pain, weeping and grief.  And we can be real angry about that, overlooking the care that is extended to us, from the kind words, to the thoughtful deeds, or even just the loving embrace.  We miss the blessings of those hard times a lot.

But regardless, in every moment of every day, we get to see things and hear things that others have not been privileged to see and hear.  We get to love and rejoice and persevere in whole new ways every single day.  Whether the times are good or bad, the moments are always blessed by our God who walks with us through every experience.  We have to take the time to see and hear those blessings, because the destruction of our soul that happens when we miss it is just irreparable.  So many have longed to see and hear what we have seen and heard.  Blessed are our eyes, blessed are our ears, blessed are we!

Saint Mary Magdalene

Today’s readings

Today’s feast of St. Mary Magdalene is a good opportunity to set the record straight.  Mary Magdalene was not the woman caught in adultery, nor was she the unnamed “sinful woman” who anointed the feet of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel.  That said, she is the woman from whom Jesus expelled seven demons, also in Luke’s Gospel.  But the idea that she was possessed by demons does not necessarily make her sinful, as many theologians and Scripture scholars have pointed out.

So in fact, aside from the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Mary Magdalene is perhaps the most honored woman in the New Testament.  She was one of the women who was supporting Jesus and his disciples financially out of her means, and most notably, in today’s Gospel, is the first to have seen the Lord after the Resurrection.  Think about that.  Of all the people to whom Jesus appeared immediately following his resurrection, he chose this particular woman, not one of the men, to spread the message to the rest of them.  For this reason, she is often called the “Apostle to the Apostles.”

So for the last twenty centuries or so, poor Mary Magdalene was a victim of mistaken identity.  What we need to see today is that we owe a great deal to her faith because it was she who was first to proclaim the Good News that Jesus had risen from the dead.

The Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I think we’d all admit this has been a bit of a rough week.  We have heard of escalating tensions in the middle east, and very dangerous issues in the Russia/Ukraine situation.  Then a plane was shot down over the Ukraine, killing almost 300 people.  This week, we also heard of the death of Father John Barrett, a former pastor of this parish, and I’ve anointed a few parishioners who had difficult surgery planned.  Lots of challenges for one week, challenges for our faith and prayer life.  And so it is good for us to come here today and hear today’s scriptures speak to that rough week.

The wisdom writer in the first reading praises God who has the care of all, and who permits repentance for sins.  The Psalmist extols God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in kindness and fidelity.  Saint Paul tells the Romans, and us, that the Holy Spirit comes to our aid in our weakness, helping us to pray the right way, even praying in our stead when we cannot.  We need all that consolation on a week such as this.

And we have the Gospel, which continues the theme of planting seeds as we had last week.  Here we hear of the wisdom of God who allows the weeds to grow among the wheat and is wise enough to sort it all out at the harvest time.  This Gospel talks all about the Kingdom of God and what it will be like.  It will be like a tiny mustard seed that grows up to become a huge shrub.  It will be like a measure of yeast mixed with flour to become a loaf of bread.

Here are a couple of things I want us to take from this Gospel.  First, the Kingdom of God is now.  Jesus made it real, showing us that the kingdom is present in ordinary ways: a mustard seed, a measure of yeast.  He wants us to see that we don’t have to wait for a far-off distant Kingdom, but instead to live in the Kingdom now, where he is our King.

Second, the mustard seed, the yeast – that’s us.  We are the ones to make the Kingdom happen.  Jesus needs us to go out and proclaim the message, to witness to the presence of the Kingdom, to make people want to be part of it.  Our prayer, our love, our joy, all of that make it possible for people to come to know Christ.  The Kingdom of God is our true home; the rest of the world is just a travelling place.  When we live in the Kingdom here and now, we will be ready for the great coming of the Kingdom in heaven, where all will be made right and we will live forever with our God.

On a week like this, we need that good news, we need that Kingdom.  And Jesus needs all of us to be leaven in the world, changing sadness into hope, directing all eyes to the One who is our true King.

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s Scripture readings have some “sound bytes” that I have found most meaningful in my prayer life.  Isaiah’s profession of faith today says, “For it is you who have accomplished all we have done.”  What a beautiful thing for us to remember.  This one statement, if we integrate it into our prayer life, will keep us from both false humility and excessive pride.  Because we have no right, when we are called by God to do something, to say, “Oh no, I could never do that.”  That might be absolutely correct, but it’s still completely meaningless.  If God calls us, he will make miracles happen from our willingness to follow.  For it is he who has accomplished all we have done.

And we have no right to be puffed up and call attention to ourselves, and say, “Now look how wonderful I am.”  Because the really good things that we do we could never possibly do on our own: whether that’s becoming a priest and preaching the Word, or becoming a parent and raising children, or whatever our vocation consists of.  That we are willing is cause enough for celebration, but let’s not forget to celebrate the miracle that happens when God does what he needs to do in us.  For it is he who has accomplished all we have done.

And the three verses in our Gospel reading are verses that have long stuck with me.  I have an old Bible in my office that my aunt gave me when I was probably in high school, so like a million years ago!  That Bible has these verses outlined in ink because I went back to them so often.  We all go through trials sometimes, but we can never give ourselves to despair because our Lord is so willing to help us shoulder the burden, and longs to give us the rest we all need to recuperate from the world’s trials.  All we need to do is to come to him for that rest, and to be willing to take up the burdens he offers us, knowing that we will never shoulder them alone.  For it is he who has accomplished all we have done.

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin

Today’s readings

Saint Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1656 to a Christian Algonquin woman.  Her parents died in a smallpox epidemic – which left Kateri herself disfigured and half blind – when she was just four years old.  She went to live with her uncle who succeeded her own father as chief of the clan.  Her uncle hated the missionaries who, because of the Mohawks’ treaty with France, were required to be present in the region.  Kateri, however, was moved by their words.  She refused to marry a Mohawk brave, and at age 19, was baptized on Easter Sunday.  At age 23, she took a vow of virginity.

Kateri’s life was one of extreme penance and fasting.  This she took upon herself as a penance for the eventual conversion of her nation.  Kateri said: “I am not my own; I have given myself to Jesus.  He must be my only love.  The state of helpless poverty that may befall me if I do not marry does not frighten me.  All I need is a little food and a few pieces of clothing.  With the work of my hands I shall always earn what is necessary and what is left over I’ll give to my relatives and to the poor.  If I should become sick and unable to work, then I shall be like the Lord on the cross.  He will have mercy on me and help me, I am sure.”

Saint Kateri was beatified in 1980 and canonized in 2012.  Our call to personal holiness might not be as radical as hers was.  But we are called to embrace the cross and follow Christ wherever he leads us, and we may well be called upon to sacrifice whatever is comfortable in our lives to do it.

The Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Many of us have planted gardens, and maybe you’ve put in some plants this year.  That was really Father Steve’s thing, and my allergies kind of get in the way of all that, so I’m not doing that this year, but I have in the past.  But I’m always astounded when I’ve planted some seeds.  Here is this tiny, dead-looking thing: how can it ever give life to a large plant?  But that’s just what happens, isn’t it?  We carefully plant the seeds and then care for them – giving them water and keeping out the weeds and feeding them on occasion – and just about always they give life, flowers or vegetables for our table.  It’s a way to experience the miracle of life, that something can die and then give life and sustenance to the living.  What a beautiful little model of salvation the seed is!

But if you’ve carefully planted seeds in rows at any point, you might wonder a bit about the methods used in today’s gospel reading.  Seed is scattered willy-nilly and a lot of it seems to be wasted.  But the original hearers of the parable would have understood what Jesus was saying.  It was a method used at that time: seed would be scattered, and then the soil would be tilled thus planting the seeds.  And so they would have understood that sometimes the seed falls in places the farmer didn’t intend, and those seeds don’t come to life, or if they do, it’s not for long, and it’s no big deal.

So Jesus explains the parable for his disciples and for us.  The seed is the seed of faith.  God scatters it with wild abandon, pouring it out freely that his chosen ones – which obviously includes you and me – would come to know him.  Sometimes it works: we receive the seed of faith, it’s watered in the sacrament of baptism, fed with the Eucharist and the other sacraments, and we make of ourselves fertile ground, letting it come up and grow and give life to the world.  But sometimes, of course it doesn’t work out that way.

The seed might fall in a place where the faith is not nourished and Christ is not known.  Maybe it’s a foreign land without benefit of missionaries, but it could even be a little closer to home.  Perhaps the seed falls on those whose turbulent lives can’t give the seed any roots: they receive the word of God with joy, but the trials and tribulations of daily living upset everything and the faith never really sinks in.  Or, maybe it falls on us embroiled as we are with the cares of the world.  The “weeds” of our living are improper relationships, too much time playing video games or surfing the wrong places of the internet, watching too much television, wasting time on passing things.  There is so much that can distract us from our faith, and too often, we are not as diligent about weeding the gardens of our souls the way we should be.

We, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are called to be rich, fertile ground to give life to the faith planted in our hearts.  That means that we must keep ourselves fresh by renewing the waters of baptism in our hearts.  We must feed that seed of faith by dedicating ourselves to the Eucharist and coming to Mass all the time, whether it’s convenient or not.  We must weed out the distractions of our lives and give that seed of faith room to grow.  We must shine the brilliant sunlight of God’s love on that faith by living the Gospel and reaching out in love to brothers and sisters who are in need.

We are the ones who have been called to yield “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”  The seed of faith comes in the form of something that might look dead – Christ’s saving action on the cross.  When we water and feed and weed and let the light shine on that faith, we can give life to the world around us and give witness that the world’s death is no match for the salvation we have in Christ.