Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The presence of God, in some ways, is quite often really unwelcome, at least to those who have made their own gods. Saint Paul urges the Corinthians in today’s first reading to be good discerners of this reality; to turn away from the spirit of the world so that they can turn toward the Spirit of God. That’s good advice for us too, of course. In today’s Gospel the demons that possessed the poor man knew who Jesus was and what he came to proclaim. Those demons wanted no part of Jesus, in fact, they wanted him to go away. But of course, Jesus who is the way, the truth and the life will not let the man remain possessed, and the demon flees.

But the demons that oppose God’s presence remain in our world and are quite active. They possess people, institutions, and social systems. They attempt to cloud a respect for life by preaching the so-called truth of “choice.” They attempt to oppress whole peoples and developing nations with greed and rampant consumerism. They attempt to derail justice with corruption, peace with selfishness, respect for authority with a kind of false freedom of expression. The expression of truth in our society is so relativistic and centered around “me.”

But the Jesus will not go away; he will not be overcome by anything; he will be always omnipresent. And we believe that forces of darkness will never have the last word. For the truth will overcome them like the thief in the night, and all that darkness will be put to flight in the light of truth. So may we Christians continue to sing of the Lord’s truth so that all people will continue to be amazed, just like the bystanders at the casting out of the demon. And with the Psalmist, we can rejoice that “The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.”

The Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Today’s readings

What we are celebrating in today’s feast is the fact that prison bars cannot silence truth. John the Baptist was not asked to renounce his faith; indeed Herod was probably very interested in John’s faith and may have even asked him about it on occasion. Not that he wanted to convert, mind you, but he just seemed to have a kind of morbid fascination with the man Jesus, and anyone who followed him. But the real reason that he kept John locked up was that Herodias didn’t like John, who had a following, publicly telling them what they should and should not do. Herod’s taking his brother’s wife was not permitted in Judaism, but, in her mind, it would all blow over if John would just stop talking about it.

But that’s not how the truth works. And John’s one purpose in life was to testify to the Truth — Truth with a capital “T” — to point the way to Jesus. So he was not about to soft-pedal the wrong that Herod and Herodias were doing. And that was something Herodias just could not live with. As soon as the opportunity presented itself, she eagerly had John beheaded and rid herself of his prophecy. But that didn’t make her any less accountable to the truth.

This could be a rather sad feast. The end of one who worked hard for the reign of God, and over something seemingly so silly. But, as St. Bede the Venerable says of him: “There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless … does Christ not say: ‘I am the truth?’ Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ.”

And so, for those of us who are heirs of the Truth, this is indeed a joyful feast. John the Baptist could not keep silent about the truth, whether it was truth with a capital or lower-case “T”. We must not keep silent about the truth either. We are called to offer our own lives as a testimony to the truth, even when it’s inconvenient.

The Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

You’ve heard of the deadly sins. They are those sins that can really get at us time and time again in our lives and turn us away from God. They are things like lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath and envy. But for each of those deadly sins, there is also a life-giving virtue. Today, our readings focus on humility, which is the life-giving virtue that is the antidote to pride. Of the seven deadly sins, pride is usually considered to be the original and the most serious of the sins. Pride was the sin that caused the angel Lucifer to fall from grace. Pride was the sin that caused our first parents to reach for the forbidden fruit that was beyond them, all in an attempt to know everything God does. A good examination of conscience would probably convince all of us that we suffer from pride from time to time, and sometimes even pervasively, in our own lives. It’s what causes us to compare ourselves to others, to try to solve all our problems in ways that don’t include God, to be angry when everything does not go the way we would have it. Pride, as the saying goes, and as Lucifer found out, doth indeed go before the fall, and when that happens in a person’s life, if it doesn’t break them in a way that convinces them of their need for God, will very often send them into a tailspin of despair. Pride is a particularly ugly thing.

Humility, then, can be the answer to that particularly pernicious sin. But when we think about humility, we might associate that with a kind of “wimpiness.” When you think about humble people do you imagine breast-beating, pious souls who allow themselves to be the doormats for the more aggressive and ambitious? Humble people, we tend to think, don’t buck the system, they just say their prayers and, when they are inflicted with pain and suffering, they just “offer it up.” (Not that offering up our sufferings is a bad thing, mind you.)

But Jesus described himself as “humble of heart,” and I dare say we wouldn’t think of him as such a pushover. He of all people, took every occasion to buck the system and chastise the rich and powerful. He never just let things go or avoided confrontation. But he was indeed humble, humbling himself to become one of us when he could easily have clung to his glory as God. He was strong enough to call us all, in the strongest of terms, to examine our lives and reform our attitudes, but humble enough to die for our sins.

And so it is this humble Jesus who speaks up and challenges his hearers to adopt lives of humility in today’s gospel reading. One wonders why the “leading Pharisee” even invited Jesus to the banquet. If we’ve been paying attention to the story so far, we know that the Pharisee had ulterior motives; he was certainly looking to catch Jesus in an embarrassing situation. But Jesus isn’t playing along with all that. In fact, one can certainly taste the disgust he has for what he sees going on at the banquet.

In our day, banquets are usually put together with thoughtfulness and with a mind toward making one’s guests feel comfortable. If you’ve been involved in a wedding, you know that the hosts try to seat people with those of like mind, with people who might have common experiences. It’s enough to drive a host to distraction, sometimes, because it is such hard work. But in Jesus’ day, the customs were much more rigid. People were seated in terms of their importance, and at this banquet, Jesus watched people try to assert how important they were by the places they took at table. This was all an exercise in pride, and it seems that Jesus was repulsed by it. So he tells them the parable that exhorts them to humble themselves and take the lowest place instead: far better to be asked to come to a more important place than to be sent down to a lower place and face embarrassment.

But there was another aspect of pride taking place here as well. The “leading Pharisee” had obviously invited people who were important enough to repay the favor some day – with one obvious exception – Jesus was decidedly not in a position to do so, at least not in this life. So he tells his host a parable also, exhorting him to humble himself and invite not those who are in a position to repay his generosity, but instead he should invite “he poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind” – and know that because they cannot repay him, he would be repaid at the banquet of the righteous in heaven.

We don’t know how the guests or the host responded to Jesus’ exhortation to practice humility. We do, however, know that Jesus modeled it in his own life. Indeed, he was not asking them to do something he was unwilling to do himself. When he said, “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted” he was in a way foreshadowing what would happen to him. Humbling himself to take up our cross – our cross – he would be exalted in the glory of the resurrection.

The good news is that glory can be ours too, if we would humble ourselves and lay down our lives for others. If we stop treating the people in our lives as stepping-stones to something better, we might reach something better than we can find on our own. If we humble ourselves to feed the poor and needy, to reach out to the marginalized and forgotten, we might be more open to the grace our Lord has in store for us in the kingdom of heaven.

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

Friday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time: Mass of the Holy Spirit

Today’s readings
This is the first school Mass of the year, so I celebrated a Mass of the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience, when you’re talking to someone, that you feel like you’re not both having the same conversation. Or you feel like, even though you’re both speaking English, you’re not talking the same language. Sometimes that happens: you think you’re both talking about the same thing, but very clearly, one or both of you is missing the point.

I think Saint Paul’s message to the Corinthians today might be something like that. They think they know what wisdom is, and I believe they really do know how the world defines wisdom, but the thing is, God’s wisdom is very, very different from the world’s wisdom. God’s wisdom is way beyond anything anyone has ever thought. Because, for God, wisdom looks like that Cross up there. Because the Cross is what the world thinks of as the ultimate defeat. It was a death saved for the most horrible criminals. It was a very public way to put an end to someone’s criminal foolishness.

But God used that horrible thing to make the best thing ever happen. He used the Cross to overcome the worst death ever by raising Jesus up on the third day. The worst death ever became the best life ever, where there is no more pain or sadness or death. It turns out God’s wisdom is very, very wise indeed!

For Jesus in today’s Gospel the call to be truly wise was a bit more simple: be prepared. Just as the wise virgins who had taken the time to buy enough oil to last them through the night were rewarded by getting to join in the marriage feast, so all of us who are wise enough to be a light shining in a dark place will be rewarded with being able to join God’s feast and become one with him.

I think it makes a lot of sense that we talk about wisdom at the beginning of our school year. The whole point of this coming school year is for all of us to grow in wisdom. So we have to be ready to tackle subjects that maybe don’t make a lot of sense to us at first. We might think something new is just foolishness until we actually get it, and then we grow in our ability to learn. And we have to come prepared, knowing that sometimes it doesn’t seem like we’re going to understand what we’re being taught, but persevering, staying with it anyway until it actually makes sense.

For all of this, we have to rely on the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is God’s own spirit, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. It is the Holy Spirit that gives us the grace and the gifts to do all the really good things that we want to accomplish and that God wants us to do. And so we begin our year by asking the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom, and the grace to hang in there when things get tough.

But the Spirit’s gifts are more than just wisdom. Saint Paul says to the Corinthians a little later on in his letter:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes. (1 Cor. 12: 4-11)

And so someone might be able to grasp wisdom or knowledge quickly. Another might be a person of great faith, helping others to trust God when things are tough. Another person might have the gift of healing, maybe helping people when they are hurting physically or emotionally. The point is the Holy Spirit moves us in many different ways, and all of us are given some of the gifts of the Spirit. And we are given those gifts so that we can give them to others.

So as we begin our school year together, we want to pray to the Holy Spirit so that he will give us whatever gifts we need to do whatever it is we are supposed to do. We want to thank the Holy Spirit for those gifts, and promise to use them for our good and the good of the other people he puts in our lives. And we should always thank God for those wonderful gifts, because they make us better, happier people and using them makes our world a better place.

I know a lot of you know the prayer to the Holy Spirit, so if you do, pray it along with me:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. Amen.

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

When I was little, I often remember my grandmother saying “thank God for small favors!” Now that’s a holy and pious thought, and I’ll have you know my grandmother was certainly holy and pious. But when she said it, it was usually because someone had just done the least they could possibly do, or something they should have done long ago. So the sense of the saying was more like, “could you spare it?” or “well, finally!” Still, I love that phrase, “thank God for small favors” because it reminds us that everything, no matter how big or small, is God’s gift to us, and we should be grateful for it.

One of the most important marks of the Christian disciple is thankfulness. St. Paul was a man of thanksgiving, and we see that theme often in his letters. He may berate his communities when they were missing the point, but he would always also praise them for their goodness, and see that as an opportunity to thank God for giving the community grace. Today, it’s the Corinthian Church that he is grateful for. This is the beginning of his letter to them, and so he greets them in the name of his fellow workers, and then notes the abundance of spiritual gifts that have been bestowed on them. Then clearly he says: “I give thanks to my God always on your account for the grace of God bestowed on you in Christ Jesus…” Because it’s always God at work in the believer and never the believer all on his or her own. It’s grace, and we are thankful for grace.

God continues to work his grace in our communities as well. We see that faith in action in the many ministries of our parishes. But even more than that, we see that faith in action in our workplaces, communities, schools and homes. There is never a time when we are not disciples. We are grateful for God’s grace working in and through us in every situation. The word “Eucharist” means thanksgiving, and so the heart of even the most basic and solemn parts of our worship is thanksgiving. We are thankful for all favors, big and small!

Tuesday of the Twenty-first Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today we have readings urging us to pay attention. Paul tells the Thessalonians in our first reading today not to freak out if they hear about the second coming of Christ. Rather, they should be in the moment and live as they have been taught and formed in the Gospel that Paul preached to them. They need to pay attention to what is going on in front of them, to be attentive to what the Gospel calls them to do, and trust that if the Lord comes in glory, he will find them doing his will and gather them to himself. No need to scramble around in fear of what is to come.

Jesus today scolds the scribes and Pharisees, as he often does, about paying more attention to the minute bits of the law than they do to really doing God’s will. They are so caught up in the ritual cleansing of bowls and cups that they cannot attend to the purification of their own hearts. And that, Jesus tells them, is a complete disaster. Their blindness will eventually leave them out of salvation’s reach.

And so we too are called today to pay attention. We need to be attentive to the needs of those around us, to reach out to the oppressed and forgotten, to always be mindful of the poor – in short, we are to live the Gospel faithfully. We shouldn’t be caught up in details, nor should we be overly concerned about the Lord’s return. We can’t have our head in the clouds nor in the sand. We must be attentive to what’s in front of us, the opportunity to live the Gospel faithfully.

The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

On this, the octave day of the Assumption of Mary, we celebrate another great Marian feast, that of the Queenship of Mary. Today we celebrate the fifth glorious mystery of the rosary: Mary is crowned Queen of heaven and earth. The Queenship of Mary has been celebrated ever since Pope Pius XII instituted this celebration in 1954. But the feast itself is rooted in Sacred Scripture. In the Old Testament, the mothers of the king had great influence in court. Certainly this would be the case between Mary and Jesus; we know that Mary’s intercession is a powerful force for our good. The Queenship of Mary, though, is most properly understood as a sharing in the Kingship of Christ the King. St. Paul speaks of the crown that awaited him after a long life, filled with fighting the good fight. And we know that that same crown – the crown that comes from Christ himself – awaits all who believe in Jesus and live lives of faith.
The origin of Mary’s crown, I think, can be seen at the very end of today’s Gospel reading. Having heard the overwhelming news from the angel Gabriel, Mary responds in faith: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Her faith, a faith that responded to the Lord’s call even though the details were not clear, is the kind of faith we’re all called to model. This kind of faith responds to God’s movement with absolute trust in his providence. Mary models that kind of response for us, and perhaps her reward, too, is a model of what we can hope to receive. Just as she responded in faith and was rewarded with a crown of glory, so we too can hope to have the same crown if we live the kind of faith she did.

And that’s the goal of our spiritual lives, brothers and sisters. We are to discern God’s call and respond with faith that leaves the details to God alone. Mary is always the model for us. She paves the way to living the Gospel as we are all called to do. But Mary is also the intercessor for us. She knew the difficulties and the sorrows that taking up the cross of the Gospel means for us, so we can depend on her intercession to help us through it. So on this feast day of her crowning, may we all look at our own calls in this life, and respond with her fiat: “Let it be done for me according to your word.”