Thursday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In the aftermath of the great flood, what’s left is what God wants us to know is important: life. Life is the way we participate in the essence of our Creator God. And that life is so important that absolutely nothing could completely blot it out – not even the waters of the flood. What humankind had done to bring on the flood was not enough for God to allow that deed to completely blot out all life from the face of the earth. Indeed, God preserved life in the Ark so that, even in its impure and imperfect state, it could be brought to perfection in these last days.

These last days came about through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. What the flood could not wash away was cleansed completely by the blood of the Lamb. Unfortunately, Peter and the Apostles did not yet understand that. Jesus rebuked Peter not just because he was slow to get the message, but more because his kind of thinking was an obstacle to the mission. The mission is about life – eternal life – and nothing must interfere with it.

We are the recipients of the command to be fertile and multiply. This command is not just about procreation of life, but also about life in the Kingdom of God. It was always God’s plan that we would not only populate the earth, but populate heaven as well. That’s what we were created for, and that’s why God would sooner allow his Son to die on the cross than live without us. That’s what that rainbow sign of the covenant was about – when we see one, may we remember the love of God.

Monday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We’re still in the opening chapters of human history in our first reading, and in these opening chapters we see some of the less beautiful parts of human nature. The first reading reads like an exposition of deadly sins, and these sins have continued to plague humanity ever since.

We start with envy, as Cain laments that his offering was not accepted with the same favor as was his brother, Abel’s. We move from envy to murder, with Cain committing the very first fratricide, killing his very own brother. From there, we go to apathy, as Cain rejects the call to be his brother’s keeper. And then we meet false witness, as he lies about the murder that he committed. And if all of that isn’t enough, Cain then complains about his punishment as if it was something he didn’t deserve. If he’d only tried repentance, or expressed sorrow for his sins, or even accepted responsibility for what he’d done, maybe things would have turned out differently.

But, in this opening act of human history, we also see God’s mercy. Because of justice, God does not remit the entirety of Cain’s punishment, but he does decree that even his death would be unacceptable. Maybe we should think about that in regard to the death penalty: if even God doesn’t condone the murder of a murderer, then who are we to do that? So God marks Cain, as we all are marked with God’s presence at our baptism. So even in this very early story of our history, we can see that baptism was always intended for our salvation.

The Psalmist this morning says that we absolutely cannot profess God’s commandments and sing his praises, without also accepting God’s discipline and following God’s word. A sacrifice of praise is a life lived with integrity, and that is the sacrifice that God wants of us in every moment.

Monday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s readings speak to us about the wonderful, spiritual quality of goodness.  We have the creation story, or at least the beginning of it, in which God is not only creating the world and everything in it, but also creating it in goodness.  And I think that we can relate to that in some way, because we find created things good all the time.  Think about a vacation or road trip you’ve taken and found some beautiful countryside.  Maybe you’ve seen mountains, or the vast ocean, or hiked some incredible trails through rich forested countryside.  When you’ve been there, looking at all that wonderful creation, perhaps stood there as the sun was setting or rising, maybe you’ve even said a prayer of thanks to God for creating such wonders and allowing you to see them.  You too see that it is very good.

But there’s even more than that in it for us.  When we behold such wonders, such things that are very good, we can also see in them the One who is Goodness itself.  We see God in his creative genius, imparting some of his own Goodness into our world so that we might find goodness too.  In the mountains, we see God’s strength and might; in the forests, his embrace; in the waters, his refreshing mercy.  Our Good God has painted the world with his Goodness, so that we might desire the Good and come at last to Him.

Goodness is all around us, because God created the world to be good.  Today, we can look around to see the good we might otherwise miss: good in people and good in creation – all of it bringing us back to our God who is Goodness itself.  The psalmist leads us today in the prayer that we are moved to pray when we are in the presence of such Good:

How manifold are your works, O LORD!
In wisdom you have wrought them all—
the earth is full of your creatures;
Bless the LORD, O my soul! Alleluia.

The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The encounter between Jesus and Simon Peter in today’s Gospel reading is a nice story, but I think it goes deeper than that. In this encounter, we see five very important principles of the life of a disciple. So I would like to reflect on these principles because we always need to grow in our discipleship, and conversion is an ongoing thing for all of us.

So let’s dive into these five principles. The first principle of the disciple’s life is that we don’t choose God; God chooses us. Simon Peter didn’t put out an invitation to Jesus to join him in the boat. He probably didn’t even want the company, to be honest. He was washing his nets and cleaning up the boat after a very long, and very unproductive night of fishing. They’d been up all night, they were frustrated, and they probably just wanted to be left alone. But Jesus gets into Simon’s boat without even asking if he can come aboard, sits down, and tells him to put out a short distance from shore so he can teach the people from that boat-pulpit. If we think we are all here today because we chose to be here, chose to be God’s people, then we’ve gotten it all wrong. God chose us to be here, and we might not even know why, but God does, and he will reveal it in his own time.

The second principle of the disciple’s life is that it’s not about what we can do. As I’ve pointed out, Simon and his co-workers had a very unproductive night. And that’s horrible for them because this is their livelihood. They weren’t out for a relaxing night of fishing, they were out for fish to sell at market to feed their families, and they’ve caught nothing. It wasn’t just that they caught very little; we are told that they’ve caught nothing – zero fish, or at least nothing they could sell or eat. And that’s not unusual. Whenever you see Peter and the others fishing in the Gospel, they are always catching nothing when they are on their own. Try it – go through the Gospel and look for those stores, you’ll see. So it might seem strange that Jesus would call fishermen to be his Apostles, but it almost seems like fiduciary misconduct to pick fishermen who were such complete failures at their craft. In fact we are told that the only really qualified guy he chose was Judas Iscariot, and we all know what became of him, don’t we? It’s not about what we can do, how successful we are, what personal gifts we have. God has something special in mind for us, and he can call anyone he wants. And he does.

The third principle follows from the second, and that is that it is always God who does the really great things that we seem to accomplish. For Peter and the others, we see it very simply … Jesus tells them to put out into the deep water, and despite their utter exhaustion and their better judgment, they do so, they lower the nets, and they can hardly bring the huge catch of fish in to land. They are extremely successful, but only because they have relied on God’s grace for their success. If we are serious about our success, either in our business or in our discipleship, then we too have to be ready to give it over to God’s grace. It’s hard because that involves letting go, giving God control, taking the good with the bad, constantly seeking God’s will. But that is our calling, fellow disciples, that’s what we do.

The fourth principle is extremely important for us to get, because this is so insidious. This principle tells us that we are completely unworthy of such grace in the face of how awesome God is. And it’s true, none of us is worthy of the calling we have received. I’m not worthy to be a priest, you may not be worthy to be a parent, perhaps you’re not worthy of the work you’ve been called to do. But God has called us to do all of this anyway. Yes, we’re sinful, and perhaps like Peter we’d like to say “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” or woman. Perhaps like Isaiah in our first reading, we find that we are men or women of unclean lips living among people of unclean lips. Who are we to proclaim the Gospel? Who are we to lead others? Satan throws this kind of thing in our faces all the time: he would love for us to give in to it. Because if we are caught up in our unworthiness, we can never be used to accomplish God’s will. But, unworthy as we are, it’s not about us, it’s about God and what God can do in us, so we have to seek forgiveness, pursue conversion, and then do what God asks of us. We must remember that forgiveness and conversion, like every other gift, is never meant just for us, it’s meant for us to share, and the way that we share that is to do God’s work in whatever way He’s called us to do it.

And the fifth principle is that God always sees better stuff in us than we see in ourselves. Jesus saw past Peter’s inadequacies as a fisherman and saw that he would be really great as an Apostle to bring people to the kingdom. He saw past Isaiah’s vulgarity to know that he would be just the person to speak his word. God knows that our sins do not define who we are; having created us, he alone knows of what we are capable, and he gives us a commission that goes beyond what we think we can do. He asks just one thing of us: “Do not be afraid.” This means we can do anything God calls us to do. Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.

Lent is coming. Lent is a call to conversion, re-conversion, and growth in discipleship. We would do well to remind ourselves yet again this Lent that it is God who chooses us, that it’s not about what we can do, that it’s always God who gives us the grace to do truly great things, that our unworthiness does not define us in the eyes of God, and that God knows of what we are capable and sees great things in us. Maybe Lent can find us putting aside whatever fears keep us from answering God’s call and instead allow ourselves to be truly changed, truly used by God to do great things. Do not be afraid.

Monday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

We could look at today’s Gospel reading as an interesting miracle story of Jesus casting a demon out of a long-possessed man. But I think we should dig a little deeper than that this morning. Because many of us, I think, have to tangle with the unclean spirit from the tombs that infests us from time to time. If you’ve been in that situation, you probably can relate to having chained that spirit down with mighty strong chains, only to have them smashed to pieces. Then that unclean spirit starts crying out once again and injuring us in the process.

For some, that demon is some kind of addiction. Or perhaps it’s a pattern of sin. Maybe it’s an unhealthy relationship. Whatever it is, there is nothing we can do to stop it all on our own. None of us is strong enough to subdue it. It is instructive that, when Jesus asks the demon what his name is, the demon responds in the plural: “we are Legion.” Indeed, legion are the demons that can torment us, legion are the past hurts and resentments, legion are the sins, legion are the broken relationships. 

When we find ourselves in that state of affairs, we have to know that human power is useless to subdue our demons. We have to do the only thing that works, which is to beg Jesus to cast those demons out. I often tell people in Confession that it’s okay to pray for yourself and that God doesn’t expect us to subdue our demons on our own. Jesus is longing to cast out our legion demons, all we have to do is ask. The voice of the psalmist today sums up the peace that can come from this Gospel: “Let your hearts take comfort, all who hope in the Lord.

The Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today’s readings remind me of one of my favorite theological facts: we were all created for something.  I think it takes the better part of our lives sometimes to see what that purpose is, but rest assured: God has a purpose.  In our first reading, God says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you…”  Those words are spoken to the prophet Jeremiah, but also to all of us.  God has personal knowledge of every person he has created, and has created each one of us for some special purpose.

It’s an important thing for us to hear in this day and age, I think.  Sometimes I think we take the cynical scientific position that each life is a happy accident.  Molecules have just come together in the right way, and so, well, here we are.  Whatever becomes of us, then, is either fate: something we inevitably take on, or happenstance: we take on the persona of whatever is expedient at any given time.  So if all that is true, then there doesn’t have to be a God, or if there is one, he has set things in motion and stepped back to observe our progress like someone observing a science experiment.

But our faith teaches us that none of that is true.  Faith tells us that God is really active in the world, that he has personally created each one of us, that he desires our happiness, that he gives us grace to become what he created us to become.  That doesn’t mean that every life will be easy and that there will never be suffering or pain.  Sin is a consequence of free will, and the evils of disease and disaster and sadness all run through the world as a consequence of that.  If God desires our happiness, Satan certainly desires us to be unhappy, even unto eternity.

So if there is purpose to our lives, and if God desires that we be happy, then that purpose is well expressed in our second reading from Saint Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.  This letter is certainly familiar to anyone who has been to any number of church weddings.  It’s easy to see why so many couples would choose that reading: the romantic nature of the love they have for one another wants a reading as sweet and beautiful as this to be proclaimed at their wedding.  But I always tell them that they should be careful of what they’re asking for.  Because the love that St. Paul speaks of is not something that you feel, it’s more something that you do.  Or, even better, something that you are.

Because, in any relationship, love is a choice.  If it were just a feeling that you automatically had for someone close to you, it would be so much easier.  If love happened automatically like that, there would be no abusive relationships.  Young people would never turn away from their families.  Parents would never neglect their children.  Spouses would never separate.  We wouldn’t need the sixth commandment, because no one would ever think to commit adultery.  Priests would never leave the priesthood because their love for their congregations and the Church, and above all, for God, would stop them from any other thoughts.

And that’s why St. Paul has to tell the Corinthians – and us too! – that love is patient, kind, not jealous, and all the rest.  In fact, that passage from St. Paul defines love in fifteen different ways.  Because love absolutely has to address pomposity, inflated egos, rudeness, self-indulgence, and much more.  All of us, no matter what our state of life, must make a choice to love every single day.  If you are married, you have to choose to love your spouse; if you are a parent, you have to choose to love your children.  Children must choose to love their parents; priests have to choose to love their congregations, and the list goes on.  Love is the most beautiful thing in the world, but love is also hard work.

As today’s Liturgy of the Word unfolds, we can see that love – true love – makes demands on us, demands that may in fact make us unpopular.  In the first reading, Jeremiah is told that he was known and loved by God even before he was formed in his mother’s womb.  That love demanded of him that he roll up his sleeves and be a prophet to the nations.  God gives him the rather ominous news that his prophecy won’t be accepted by everybody, that the people would fight against him.  But even so, Jeremiah was to stand up to them and say everything that God commanded him, knowing that God would never let him be crushed, nor would God let the people prevail over him.

For Jesus, it was those closest to him who rejected him.  In the Gospel today, while the people in the synagogue were initially amazed at his gracious words, soon enough they were asking “Wait a minute: isn’t this the son of Joseph?” as if to say, “Hey, who is he to be talking to us this way?”  When Jesus tells them that his ministry will make God’s love known to the Gentiles – those whom God had supposedly not chosen – that crosses the line for them: it is then that they rise up and drive him out of the city, presumably to stone him to death.

So we have been created in love, created to love, and created for love.  God is love itself, love in its most perfect form, and out of that love, he set us and the world and everything there is into being.  Out of love for us, God continues to be involved in our lives and in our world, giving us grace, and revealing himself to us when we seek him with all our hearts.  And when we seek him with all our hearts, we do that out of love for God, which is in fact God’s gift to us!  Love is a complex and beautiful thing and love is the purpose of our lives.  Love is a still more excellent way than anything we have in the world!

May the call of all of our lives remind us that we are all embraced in God’s love, and that because of God’s love, we all must decide to love in our own way, according to our own vocation and station in life, every single moment of our lives.  May our love for God, our love for others, and our love for ourselves permeate and give new purpose to a world that has forgotten love, and forgotten how to love rightly.

Tuesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is opening the eyes of his hearers, which includes us, as to who Jesus is and what he came to do.  He speaks of Jesus our God, who is higher than the heavens, who became flesh, essentially “lower than the angels.”  The author points out that he did this so that he could become our brother, making all of us sons and daughters of God.  This is helpful because we sometimes don’t see Jesus clearly: maybe we think of him as so far beyond us, or maybe we see him as a best buddy, but really he is both of these, God becoming man so that we can be led to God.

It is always interesting to me how clearly the unclean spirits know who Jesus is.  For them, Christ our God inspires fear and rebellion.  But even these unclean spirits, hearing his voice, begrudgingly obey.  Jesus teaches with authority, as the people standing by admit of him.  This is a teaching that cannot be ignored. Each person may hear it and respond differently, but they do respond.  Many hear his voice and follow.  Others turn away.

In these early days of Ordinary Time, we essentially have the continuation of the Epiphany event.  We continue to see Christ manifest in our midst, and continue to decide what to make of him.  Today we see him as one who teaches with authority and who has authority over even the unclean spirits within us.  Today he speaks to our sinfulness, to our brokenness, to our addictions, to our fallenness, to our procrastinations, to whatever debilitates us and saddens us and says “Quiet! Come out!”

That can seem remote to us because we don’t have that same kind of demon.  But the truth is, we have to deal with demons all the time: demons of ignorance or apathy, demons of laziness or short-temperedness, demons that lead us to all kinds of sin.  But in Christ, those demons never get to have victory.  This Epiphany of Christ as dispossessor of demons is an epiphany that does more than just heal us.  It is an epiphany that calls us out of darkness, one that insists we come out of our hiding and step into the light, so that the light of God’s love can shine in us and through us.All of this leads us to proclaim with the Psalmist: “O LORD, our Lord, how glorious is your name over all the earth!”

Saturday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our readings have been reminding us that the night is far spent and the day is drawing near.  We are called upon today to remain vigilant so that we do not miss the second coming of the Lord.  And it is well that we receive that warning today, on the cusp as we are of the new Church year.  This is the last day of the Church year and tomorrow, well even tonight, we will begin the year of grace 2019 with the season of Advent.  The day draws ever nearer for us.

As the day draws nearer, we will need less and less of the light that has been given to us in this world.  The first reading says, “Night will be no more, nor will they need light from lamp or sun, for the Lord God shall give them light, and they shall reign forever and ever.”  St. Augustine says of that great day: “When, therefore, our Lord Jesus Christ comes and, as the apostle Paul says, brings to light things hidden in darkness and makes plain the secrets of the heart, so that everyone may receive his commendation from God, then lamps will no longer be needed. When that day is at hand, the prophet will not be read to us, the book of the Apostle will not be opened, we shall not require the testimony of John, we shall have no need of the Gospel itself. Therefore all Scriptures will be taken away from us, those Scriptures which in the night of this world burned like lamps so that we might not remain in darkness.

When all these things are removed as no longer necessary for our illumination, and when the men of God by whom they were ministered to us shall themselves together with us behold the true and dear light without such aids, what shall we see? With what shall our minds be nourished? What will give joy to our gaze? Where will that gladness come from, which eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, which has not even been conceived by the heart of man?” (Tract. 35, 8-9)

And of course, the answer to that, is we shall get our light looking on the face of Christ himself.  As Advent approaches, we pray earnestly for that day: Come quickly Lord, and do not delay!

Thursday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Every now and then, in the Liturgy of the Word, we hear words that have directly influenced our prayers in the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  Today is such an occasion.  Just before we receive Holy Communion, I will elevate the host and the chalice and say: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”  These words are directly influenced by the last line of the first reading this morning.  Here John the Revelator is told to write down specific words:

Blessed are those who have been called
to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

And we all long to be on that invitation list, don’t we?  If not, we certainly should.  Here we will be brought in and given everything we need: at this banquet no one goes hungry, no one is left out, no one is unimportant.  At this banquet, Christ, the Lamb of God, is united most perfectly to his bride, the Church.  Here, all who have been called to the wedding feast are drawn up into the very life of God and are united with God in all perfection.

This is the goal of all our lives, and we get there by following the example of the saints, and by giving our life over to our Lord, the Lamb of God, who came that we might have eternal life in all its perfection and abundance.  In these last days of the Church year, Holy Mother Church reminds us where we’re going so that, should we have strayed from the path, we might make amends and correct our course.

Because not showing up at the wedding feast of the Lamb has eternal consequences.  And forfeiting eternal happiness with all the blessed ones is absolutely unthinkable.

Tuesday of the Thirty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I really don’t like that over-used phrase “at the end of the day.”  But I can’t help but think about this tired old phrase when I read the Scriptures for the Liturgy in these last days of the Church year.  Because the Liturgy is calling our attention to the fact that the end of the year is near, and asking us to reflect on our experience in the year gone by.  Have we been changed?  Are we responding to the Gospel?  Is our relationship with God any different?

God is always ready for the harvest, with the sickle at the ready.  But our Scriptures today take care to point out that we must not be overly-anxious to jump the gun.  We may hear of Nostradamus prophecies, or revelations from some very obscure mystic that lead us to fear the end is upon us.  Lots of people will read the newspaper with dark glasses to misinterpret all of the things that are happening in the world.  But God wants us to know that he is still at work, redeeming the lost, calling those who have strayed, binding up those who are broken.  So much has to happen before the end of days, so many still need to be redeemed.

But at the end of the day, are we any different?  Have we been changed?  Are we responding to the Gospel?  Is our relationship with God any different?  If not, we have a new opportunity next week as we being a new Church year.  We can allow Christ to be the ruler of our lives.  We can be intimately connected with God through prayer and acts of peace and justice.  Seeking the Lord, we need not fear the great winepress of God’s fury.  We can instead cling anew to our Lord who, as the Psalmist says, “shall rule the world with justice and the peoples with his constancy.”