The Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This month we’ve been seeing a lot of one of my favorite characters in the Gospel, and that is Saint Peter.  Just three weeks ago, the Apostles were out in a boat, and Jesus came to them on the water.  Saint Peter asked our Lord to command him to come to him on the water, and he did, and we all know how that went.  Then last week, Jesus was quizzing the Apostles about who people said that he was.  Peter was the one who spoke up and professed that Jesus was the Christ, the coming Anointed One, and Jesus proclaimed Peter the Rock on which he would build the Church.

And here we are today, just a couple of verses later in Matthew’s Gospel, and Peter steps in it yet again.  Because Peter was still clinging to the old notions of what the Messiah would be, he could not fathom that Jesus would have to suffer and die.  And so Jesus chastises him for thinking not as God does, but as people do.  It’s a mistake we all make time and again in our spiritual lives.

Peter’s faith journey was like that: up one minute, and down the next.  One minute he’s walking on water, the next he’s drowning; one minute he speaks eloquently of his Lord, and the next he’s the voice of temptation.  So maybe it seems like Saint Peter, flawed as he was, was an inappropriate choice to be the pillar of the Church, the first of the Popes.  But our Lord never makes any mistakes.  He chooses who he chooses for a reason, and I think that’s what we have to spend some time looking at today.

If Peter was unqualified for the position to which he was called – and he clearly was – then we have to expect to be unqualified for the roles to which we have been called.  Parents often feel that when they start to raise their first child.  Priests feel that every time they witness something incredible – which is almost all the time.  We are all unqualified, but God sees more in us, he sees our heart, he sees who he created us to be, and he won’t rest until we’ve fulfilled that potential.

If Peter made some mistakes along his journey of faith and discipleship – and he clearly did – then we have to expect to make mistakes in our own faith journey.  One minute we’ll have a glimpse of God and we’ll feel like we could never let him down, then the next minute we’ll fall into sin, maybe a sin we’ve been struggling with for so long, and we’ll feel like God couldn’t love us.  But he loved Peter, and he loves us.  He pulled Saint Peter out of the stormy waves, and he will reach out and pull us out of our own storms of failure, as often as we cry out.

The one thing you can’t fault Saint Peter for is his courage.  Eleven other guys stayed in the boat, but Peter wanted to be where our Lord was: out on the water.  Eleven other guys kept their mouth shut when Jesus asked who they said he was, but Peter did his best to make a profession of faith.  His life wasn’t perfect, his discipleship wasn’t perfect, his faith had a long way to go, but he knew that he couldn’t leave our Lord forever.  Even when he blows it in the hours before Jesus died and denies our Lord three times, he accepts our Lord’s forgiveness and fulfills the role Jesus gave him in last week’s Gospel.

Saint Peter’s story kept evolving, and ours isn’t done yet either.  Our Lord loved Saint Peter and he loves us too.  And that’s all it takes for great things to happen.

Monday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s gospel has Jesus taking the Scribes and Pharisees to task for forgetting what is really holy, and treating things as sacred while ignoring God who is holiness itself.  Apparently, they thought that swearing an oath by the gold of the temple was more binding than an oath simply sworn on the temple itself: but, Jesus asks, isn’t the temple what makes the gold holy?  And they confused swearing an oath by the altar and by the gift on the altar.  They had forgotten that the altar is what makes the gift holy.  But even more than that, they had been so caught up in details, that they forgot that God is holy, and makes anything that can be called holy, holy.

Now, Jesus isn’t saying that people should disobey the first and third commandments, using God’s name as an assurance of an oath.  Swearing by the name of God isn’t to be taken lightly.  But what he is saying is that the Scribes and Pharisees needed to straighten out their flawed notion of holiness.  God is holy; and he alone makes holiness.

So today might be a call for us to take a moral inventory of our own notion of holiness.  What have we been putting before God?  What do we hold sacred?  Do we have idolatry in our life?  Do we sometimes forget that, as we say in the Gloria: “you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the most high, Jesus Christ…”?

Saint Pius X, Pope

Today’s readings

St. Pius would have been a great organizer of the feast that our Gospel tells us about today. The whole point of the feast is that all are welcome, but some choose not to come, or don’t come worthily. Jesus was speaking pointedly to the Jewish rulers who should have had the place of honor at the banquet. But they all had excuses that kept them away. And so the banquet was made available to all the nations – Gentiles too! – if they would come properly attired, that is, if they would come worthily, with open hearts and longing minds.

St. Pius X was born Joseph Sarto, the second of ten children in a poor Italian family. He became pope at the age of 68, and he too wanted to open the banquet for all those who would come worthily. He encouraged frequent reception of Holy Communion, which was observed sparingly in his day, and especially encouraged children to come to the banquet. During his reign, he famously ended, and subsequently refused to reinstate, state interference in canonical affairs. He had foreseen World War I, but because he died just a few weeks after the war began, he was unable to speak much about it. On his deathbed, however, he said, “This is the last affliction the Lord will visit on me. I would gladly give my life to save my poor children from this ghastly scourge.”

“The feast is ready,” we are told in today’s Gospel. May we all take this occasion to receive the Eucharist worthily and often, reviving our devotion and love for the Eucharist every day. May we all be among those brought in for the feast, and found to be appropriately attired with pure hearts.

Monday of the Twentieth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

A friend of mine told me that a wise old nun once taught him, “Work like everything depends on you, but pray like everything depends on God.”  It’s good advice, because everything, of course, does depend on God, but God expects us to work in cooperation with him, so that his will be done.  But it’s certainly a hard line to walk.  Once we get to working, we almost always get full of ourselves and think everything will fall apart if we don’t take care of it.  I know I find it hard to pack up and go on vacation or take time off unless I know I’ve got everything in order, and then I still worry about what comes up in the meantime.

Today’s readings remind us of the danger of crossing that line and forgetting that God is in charge.  The rich young man in today’s gospel reading discovers that following the rules is only just a good start; to really gain heaven you must be willing to let go of the fading riches of this world.  The people Israel in today’s first reading have grasped on to the uncertain security of alliances with this world’s powers and have let go of their belief in God, and Ezekiel prophecies that would come back to haunt them.  Holding on to the things of this world will never get us anywhere; worrying about what God is doing is unproductive; we will never find ultimate security in alliances with the powers of this world.  To truly gain heaven, we have to let go and hold on to our God, whose riches never fade and whose power is never outmatched.

The Psalmist gives us good advice today.  Do not forget the God who gave you birth.  He is in control; we are not.  God is God, and we are not.

Saturday of the Nineteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

“Return and live!”

This is very good advice from the prophet Ezekiel.  He was preaching to a nation that was steeped in sin, and whose sinfulness was passed on from previous generations.  But unlike the punishments of old, where God punished those who sinned for many generations, Ezekiel proclaimed that God was going to do something new.  He was going to punish only those who did wrong, and bless those who did right.  If the son sinned, it was not the father’s fault, and if the mother sinned, it was not the daughter who would pay the price.

We might call that “personal responsibility,” a notion that doesn’t get as much adherence these days as it ought to.  Now if the son sins, the parents sue the person who punished the son for it.  Nothing is anyone’s fault; no one has to step up and take responsibility for what they’ve done.  Or at least it sure seems that way.

Ezekiel would take us all to task for that philosophy.  Our God is Truth, and we should live that truth every day of our lives.  So if we’ve wandered from that, Ezekiel has the remedy today: “Return and live!”

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today’s readings

Today we gather to celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary body and soul into heaven, to reign with her Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  We believe that our Lord did not want any taint of death to corrupt his Blessed Mother, who was conceived without sin.  What is important for us to see in this feast is that it proclaims, with all joy and great solemnity, that what happened to Mary can absolutely happen for us who believe.  We too have the promise of eternal life in heaven, where death and sin and pain will no longer have power over us.  Because Christ caught his Blessed Mother back up into his life in heaven, we know that we too can be caught up with his life in heaven.  On that great day, death, the last enemy, will be completely destroyed, as St. Paul tells us today.

Mary’s life was a prophecy for us.  Like Mary, we are called to a specific vocation to do God’s work in the world.  We are called to make sacrifices so that God’s work can be accomplished in us and through us.  We can be joyful because God is at work in us.  We are called to humility that lets God’s love for others shine through our lives.  We are called to lives of faith that translate into action on behalf of others, a faith that leads God’s people to salvation.  And one day, we hope to share in the glory that Mary has already received in the kingdom of God.

Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe, Priest and Martyr

Today’s readings

Maximilian Kolbe became a Franciscan novice at the age of 16. Earlier in life he had a vision of the Blessed Virgin offering him two crowns, a white one of purity, and a red one of martyrdom. Maximilian said “I choose both.” The Blessed Virgin smiled and departed from him. Maximilian devoted his life to purity through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. He founded the Mission of the Immaculata to combat religious indifference, which he saw as the greatest problem in society. By the time the Nazis overran Poland, the mission numbered as many as a million people.

Maximilian was twice arrested by the Nazis and the second time taken to Auschwitz. One day a fellow prisoner escaped, and the commandant decided to put ten men to death, whom he chose by arbitrarily pointing men out as he walked among their ranks. Just after the tenth man was chosen, Maximilian stepped out of the ranks and asked to take the place of one man, who had a wife and children. The commandant asked “what about you?” to which Maximilian replied, “I am a priest.” Because the regime at the time was striving to eliminate all the leaders of the people, Maximilian’s request was granted, and he died in the starvation chamber some three months later.

Saint Maximilian had a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and so it is appropriate that we celebrate his feast on this day, the vigil of Mary’s Assumption.  Through the intercession of Saint Maximilian and our Blessed Mother, may we too combat religious indifference and give our lives in service to others.