Thursday of the 25th Week of Ordinary Time: He kept trying to see him

Today’s readings

“And he kept trying to see him.”

Certainly Herod’s motives for trying to see Jesus were highly suspect. He obviously wanted to be sure Jesus didn’t pose some kind of threat to him. And if it was the person of John the Baptist resurrected, Herod would have wanted him out of the way immediately. So we can’t be too proud of Herod for wanting to see Jesus, but maybe we can take that and let it be our own mission, for better motives, of course.

How often do we try to see Jesus? Do we take time to sit before the Blessed Sacrament either in the tabernacle or on days of adoration? We spend the time to look at Jesus and let him look at us, so that when we meet in heaven, we’ll recognize one another! Even just a few minutes a day would be great. And if we can’t make it in for adoration, we can always set time aside to at least be with him in prayer. We have to keep trying to see him.

Another way that we have to keep trying to see Jesus is by serving the poor. I was helping at Hesed House last month, and one of the parishioners I was working along side of said to me, “Can’t you just see the face of Christ in all of them?” He was right. Jesus has made it clear that whatever we do to a brother or sister in need; that we do to him. So we must be intentional about reaching out to the poor and hungry and homeless. We have to keep trying to see him.

And we have to see Jesus in the people around us, all of the people in our lives. Whether it’s friends, family, coworkers, or fellow students, we believe that Christ is in that person. In his famous Rule, St. Benedict says, “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” Whoever God puts in our life for any amount of time, must be seen as Christ, and we must make it our daily prayer that we could see people as Christ does. It is one of my deepest convictions that I know that God loves me largely because of the love of all the people he has given me in my life. We have to keep trying to see him.

So, we know that Herod had it all wrong, motive-wise. But he was right in his eagerness to see Christ. We, too, have to keep trying to see him.

Tuesday of the 25th Week of Ordinary Time: Simplicity of Life

Today's readings

My mother and my brothers
are those who hear the word of God and act on it.

We should be careful not to take this as Jesus downplaying the importance of Mary. We know that he deeply cared for and loved his mother. What he is doing here, though, is forging a deep relationship with those who hear the word of God and act on it. Those people are truly family to Jesus, part of the assembly of his brothers and sisters. We should all strive to be placed in this great company.

And today it is the book of Proverbs that speaks to us about how we can accomplish this. The text gives us practical examples of the word of God. The wise person, the one who would be in the family of Jesus, is one who strives for righteousness and justice, avoids haughtiness and pride, is diligent and honest, is compassionate, avoids arrogance and instead pursues simplicity and integrity, one who hears the cry of the poor.

The Liturgy's words to us today are simple, brothers and sisters in Christ, but in some ways very challenging. To live simple and honest lives with integrity and justice, and to reach out to those in need – all of that is the Gospel's challenge in a nutshell. And those of us who would strive to be the brothers and sisters of Jesus are called to pursue that kind of life.

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time: It’s all about kenosis

Today's readings

In some ways, it's the classic schoolyard disagreement.  "My dad can beat up your dad."  Or, even better, maybe it's the classic sibling rivalry: "Mom likes me best."  These things are sort of understandable among children.  Children growing up need to know where they fit in to the structure of society, so there are a lot of comparisons going on all the time.  But when that kind of argument begins to take place among adults, it loses all its charm.  When that kind of disagreement happens among disciples, it begins to become sinful.

In today's Gospel, Jesus has just told his disciples what, up to now, has been a secret of his life among them.  He is to be arrested, killed, and to rise again.  The disciples of course had no idea what he meant.  They thought of him as the Messiah, and in their notion of what the Messiah was, that kind of end didn't fit in at all.  They expected the Messiah to reign triumphant and restore primacy to Israel.  The Messiah was not to suffer and die.  Yet that, Jesus says, is exactly the kind of Messiah that he was to be.  They also did not understand about him rising from the dead.  The notion of life after death was not widely accepted at that time, so we can certainly excuse them from that.  All in all, it would take Jesus' actual death and Resurrection before the disciples would understand any of this at all.

But what is most surprising about today's Gospel is that, given that they did not understand what Jesus was talking about, they didn't bother to ask him what he meant.  Maybe they had gotten used to some of Jesus' words going over their heads.  Maybe they were afraid of the Teacher's rebuke.  Whatever the reason, they decided to let it go.  But what happens next is what is most unfortunate.  Instead of seeking clarification on an important issue for their discipleship, they have an argument about who was the greatest among them!  It's one thing not to understand, but quite another to let it go and then act like children.

Jesus, however, is the Good Teacher, and uses the opportunity not to rebuke them – although they certainly deserved a rebuke – but instead to teach them the importance of kenosis.  Kenosis is Greek for "self-emptying" or pouring out, as in a libation or drink-offering.  And this is what ties the second half of the Gospel reading together with the first half.  Jesus was going to have to empty himself by laying down his life.  Just so, the disciple would have to empty him or herself by becoming the last of all and the servant of all.  In this instruction, Jesus turns the whole social ranking system upside-down.  He places a child among them.  A child in that society had no rights or status whatsoever.  Women and children only had the status or rights given by the men in society, a husband or father.  But Jesus says that it is only by becoming a child, that is, by pouring out oneself, that one has status in the Kingdom of God.  Only the one who is the last of all and the servant of all can become the greatest of all.

The readings today talk about righteousness, that is, a right relationship with God and others that comes from an interior quality of transparency, integrity and grace.  It would turn the whole schoolyard disagreement upside down if children were to argue: "My father is more righteous than your father."  Or, "My mother has more integrity than your mother."  But the fact is, righteousness matters very little to anyone these days.  Think about what we do value: people who entertain us, even by their own misdeeds; athletic ability, even if the person needs some steroids or illicit substances to get there; political power, even if there is corruption behind it.  I think about the rather unfortunate person of Lance Armstrong who was lauded for his ability to overcome cancer and win several Tours de France, but immediately turned away from the wife who was faithful to him during his battle with cancer the moment she contracted cancer herself.  Will we remember his lack of righteousness, or will we more likely remember his cycling triumphs?

If righteousness is hardly valued, the first reading indicates that righteousness is hardly tolerated.  The just one, whoever it is, has accused the members of his or her own community of their own lack of righteousness.  They have been accused of violating the law and turning away from the way they had been taught.  Rather than calling them back to their senses, this has angered them and caused them to consider doing violence to the just one.  Yes, the just one could withstand the shameful death the others planned, because God would care for the just one.  This leads me to a point that I made in my lecture to the CREEDS group this past week.  One of my instructors used to tell us that we must always love what Jesus loved when he was on the Cross, and despise what Jesus despised while he hung there in agony.  If God would care for the just one, then we disciples had better care for him or her too.  And, we disciples had better listen to that just one, even if the just one's teaching means a change in our behavior and way of life.

The second reading from the letter of St. James makes this all very practically clear.  Righteousness leads to a wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity or anything of that sort.  Righteousness leads to true peace.  It is the lack of righteousness that leads to wars of all sorts.  Covetousness, envy, violence, fighting and war – all these are the result of forgetting righteousness and not attaining the kind of wisdom that comes from that right relationship with God and others.  And all of this nonsense is ultimately unfulfilling.  Listen to James again:

You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive,
because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Will all of this bickering and fighting ever get us anyplace?  No, because all of this is "asking wrongly," out of passion instead of righteousness.

What will it take, then, for us to start getting this right?  How will we ever achieve peace in our world, peace in our communities, peace in our families and peace in our hearts?  What will it take to become the first of all, to attain real greatness in the Kingdom of God?  "If anyone wishes to be first, he or she shall be the last of all and the servant of all."  It's all about kenosis, brothers and sisters in Christ.  We have to realize that our salvation will only come about by pouring out our lives for our brothers and sisters.  We may think we can become number one by looking out for number one only.  We may think we can get ahead by tending to our own interests first and foremost.  But Jesus tells us today that quite the opposite is true.  To become number one, to really get ahead, we must serve all of our brothers and sisters.  We must lay down our lives in every way possible and raise up others whenever we see them down.  Getting this right, becoming truly righteous, will involve us tending to the needs of others first and foremost, knowing that God will take care of the just one.

Friday of the 24th Week of Ordinary Time: Women of Faith

Today’s Readings

What would happen if Christ never rose from the dead? Well, I doubt we would be here today, because as important as Christ’s living and preaching was, it is the Resurrection that gives meaning to it all. This is why it’s important to know that we cannot, as some suggest, do all our praying by looking at nature or meditating by ourselves. We need to hear the proclamation of the kerygma, that is, the message of the Gospel and of salvation, if we are ever to know God’s presence. As beautiful as nature can be, it’s nothing compared to looking at the face of Jesus. As nice as meditating is, we have to have something real to meditate on, or we’ll never rise above our own foolishness.

Today we get a wonderful little look at those who were the first proclaimers of the Risen Christ: the women who were his disciples. We need to thank God for Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and the others, who were the first witnesses to the Resurrection, and the first to proclaim the Good News that Jesus is risen. If not for them, we may not be here today. Think too of all the women whose testimony and urging have proclaimed the faith throughout the ages. I think of St. Augustine’s mother, St. Monica, who urged her son and prayed tirelessly to God for his conversion. I think of my own grandmothers and mother who first taught me the faith. I think of Sr. Merita who taught my fourth grade religious education class. Think of all the women religious in all the schools and parishes throughout the years. Think of all the women in our families who have faithfully passed on the Gospel to their sons and daughters. Thank God for all these wonderful witnesses who have assured that we know the Truth, and who by their living have passed on the faith and have led us to the forgiveness of our sins.

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

Today’s readings

st-matthew

I often wish that I could see in people the same things that Jesus sees. Obviously, Matthew was not qualified for the role of apostle, but he was called anyway. Matthew was, as we know, a tax collector. Tax collectors in those days tended to be rather unscrupulous. They would have assigned to them people from whom to collect a tax, and they would be charged a certain amount by the government to be paid by the people assigned to them. Anything they could collect above and beyond that was theirs to keep. So tax collectors were seen as greedy and usurious, collecting taxes far beyond what people should have been required to pay.

So it’s hard to blame the Pharisees for being taken aback at Jesus dining with tax collectors and other sinners. But Jesus could see beyond all that. First, he saw that these people were willing to be healed of their sins and infirmities. The Pharisees had their own spiritual ailments, of course, but they were unwilling to address them. Matthew and the others were. But second, Jesus also saw something in Matthew that said he would be a good leader and preacher. He obviously was, because we have the Gospel that bears his name as the fruit of his labor.

Wouldn’t it be great, then, to see people as Jesus does? To get beyond the things that are others’ rough edges, even beyond all the things about others that can really annoy us. What a gift it would be to see straight into the hearts of all of them, and to love them for the gifts they were created to be! My prayer is always that I can see others and love others as Jesus does. If we all did that, think how many Matthews there would be, all proclaiming the Gospel!

Ss. Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang & Companions, Martyrs

Today’s Feast | Today’s readings

Korea was introduced to Christianity in the late 1500s when some Koreans were baptized, probably by Christian Japanese soldiers who invaded Korea at that time. It was not until the late 1700s that a priest managed to sneak into Korea, and when he did, he found about 4000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. Seven years later there were over ten thousand Catholics.

In the 1800s, Andrew Kim became the first native Korean to become a priest when he traveled 1300 miles to seminary in China. He managed to find his way back into the country six years later. When he returned home, he arranged for more men to travel to China for studies. He was arrested, tortured and finally beheaded.

St. Paul Chong was a lay apostle who was also martyred. During the persecutions of 1839, 1846, 1866 and 1867, 103 members of the Christian community gave their lives for the faith. These included some bishops and priests, but for the most part they were lay people, including men and women, married and unmarried, children, young people and the elderly. They were all canonized by Pope John Paul II during a visit to Korea in 1984.

All of these men and women were convinced of the “still more excellent way” that St. Paul talks about in today’s first reading. Love for God and one another must consume every disciple, so that every day is an opportunity to lay done one’s life, literally or figuratively, to preach the Gospel.

24th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

One of the things I have always enjoyed is reading a good mystery novel. My mother was a big fan of mysteries, especially Agatha Christie, and she passed the love for that on to me as I was growing up. I still love to read mysteries today, and when I’m not reading them, I’m usually watching shows like Law & Order or CSI – I enjoy these because of the mysteries that unfold just watching them. I remember in high school, the theater club was staging Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, and they checked the books out of the libraries around town so nobody would read ahead and find out who did it! I had already read the book, of course, but it was great fun to see it on stage. I think what I love about mysteries is the opportunity to keep guessing at the solution right up to the very end, and the process of learning new things about the characters all along the way. If you like mysteries too, then you know a really good mystery is one that isn’t solved all in the first six pages.

Today’s readings are a wonderful source of the mystery that still is part of our Church. In the first reading, the figure speaking is commonly referred to as “the Suffering Servant,” a figure that is later identified with Jesus. Whoever the figure is, he or she has incredible faith. One might expect that faith to be rewarded, but it’s not. Instead, his back is beaten, his beard is plucked, and his face is buffeted and spat upon. Yet, he continues to have faith, setting his face, knowing that he will not be put to shame. Maybe you have met a person who has gone through incredible trials like unemployment, family strife, or serious illness, and has remained faithful. If you know a person like that, don’t you just sense a little bit of Jesus working in that person?

In the second reading, St. James tells us that our faith must be living, or it is not faith at all. He has seen far too many people who will say nice things to people and claim to have faith, but refuse to help alleviate anyone’s real needs. “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well” are nice-sounding words, but are actually meaningless when spoken to people who have personal problems, no place to live and keep warm, and little if anything to eat. James’s faith is one that sees the great mystery of Christ’s presence in those who are in need. We have the same challenges today, of course. There are many who are needy among us, and we disciples are called to a living faith that reaches out to those in need. Perhaps you’ve had the opportunity to work at a soup kitchen or a shelter, or go on a mission trip. If you’ve done that, maybe you have seen the face of Christ in those you’ve served.

The Gospel continues the theme of mystery by asking the question point-blank: “who do you say that I am?” The people of Jesus’ time, the disciples included, were constantly trying to figure him out. Peter seems to have figured out one of the clues: Jesus is the Messiah. But he totally misses the boat on what kind of Messiah Jesus is to be. When Jesus talks about the necessity of his suffering and death, Peter just can’t wrap his mind around it. Jesus’ response to Peter is that to really know who Jesus is, Peter needs to think like God, not like a human being. The strangeness of this mystery is so great that it applies not just to Jesus, but also to anyone who would want to follow him. Disciples like us must take up our cross: if we wish to save our lives, we must give them away. This is a very great mystery indeed.

We Catholics believe that the mystery all started with the Incarnation: with Jesus’ coming into the world. The mystery continued with his death, resurrection and ascension. We all know the situation well. Throughout history, our ancestors turned away from God time and time again. As a result, there was a great chasm of sin and death that separated us from God, and we had no hope. But then Jesus was born among us. He did not come with great fanfare and splendor, but as a poor little baby, born to an everyday couple. He grew up and walked among us; he lived our life and experienced all of our joys and sorrows, all of our happiness and pains. He eventually died our death, but that was not to be the end of the story. He rose from the dead and appeared to many believers. Finally, he ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us in his kingdom, where sadness, death, and pain are forever banished. We call all of this the “Paschal Mystery.”

But here’s what makes this even more mysterious. We don’t just believe that this happened at one time, two thousand years ago. We believe that it happened and is happening in all time: the Incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus are happening throughout all time, for all of us. And every single celebration of the Eucharist does not just remember that great mystery that happened once upon a time, every single celebration of the Eucharist makes that great event present once again, right here among us. That’s why it is so important to gather every week for Mass, and not just when we have time to work it in. What could possibly be more important than celebrating the Eucharist, which makes the presence of Christ and his Paschal Mystery present in our lives?

The Church teaches that, when we gather for Mass, Christ is present in four ways. First, he is present in the gathered community. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that “wherever two or more of you are gathered in my name, I am there among you.” We are the face of Christ for one another. We bring his presence to one another by greeting one another, by worshipping together, and by serving with and for one another. Second, Jesus is present in the Word proclaimed. Literally. The words we hear are not just words about Jesus, those words are Jesus. When the community gathers and retells the story of our salvation, Christ is present. Third, Jesus is present in the minister. The priest stands in persona Christi Capitas: that is, in the person of Christ the Head. The priest makes Christ present by administering the sacraments and proclaiming the Gospel. Also, whenever any of us takes on a ministry and serves others, that person makes Christ present to others in some way. Fourth, Jesus is present in the sacraments, but most especially in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the Real Presence of Christ our Savior, body and blood, soul and divinity. When we come forward to receive the Bread of Life and Cup of Life, we receive our God who is life itself. The mystery of the Incarnation, of the presence of Christ, is experienced every time the community gathers, proclaims the word, ministers to one another, and receives the Eucharist.

This presence of Christ among us is a true mystery, but also a great gift. It is the presence of Christ in us and around us that enables us to embrace suffering. Children embrace suffering every time they refuse to join in making fun of another child, or when they reach out to another person who’s having a bad day, or when they share with those who don’t have the things they do. Teens embrace suffering when they choose not to take part in a gathering where there will be alcohol or drugs, even when their friends are all going. Adults embrace suffering when they give up a promotion in favor of spending more time with their family. Seniors embrace suffering when they sit at the bedside of a spouse or friend in the last days of their lives together. Our lives are filled with all kinds of suffering, and suffering is not good in and of itself. It is only when we choose to go through it with faith, a faith rooted in the Incarnation and Paschal Mystery of Christ, a faith that comes from Christ being in us and around us, it is only then that suffering is redemptive. Because it is only God who can give us the grace to make it through the suffering, and only God that can help us to find life in the death of our pain.

The psalmist sums it all up for us today. Yes, the suffering in our lives leads us to experience the cords of death that encompass us. We often fall into distress and sorrow. But when we embrace that suffering and call on the Lord, we will find ourselves freed of death and able to walk before the Lord in the land of the living. We who have embraced and remembered and celebrated the mystery of Christ’s presence in our lives, in our Church and in our world can approach suffering with great faith. There’s a contemporary Christian song that says “sometimes he calms the storm, and other times he calms his child.” God won’t always make our tears and pain go away. But he does promise that we will never go through them alone. We will probably never completely figure Christ out this side of the Kingdom. The disciples didn’t and we won’t either. But when we enter into the mystery, we can keep turning the pages and finding more and more clues. When we enter the mystery, we can look forward to the great unveiling of the solution when we enter our heavenly reward.