Monday of the Fourteenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I love the words of the Psalmist today: “The Lord is gracious and merciful.”

These are words that are easy for us to pray when things are going well, but maybe not so much when we’re going through rough times.  It seems like the psalmist is going through some very good times, but we have no way of knowing that.  The only key to the great hymn of praise the psalmist is singing is that he is reflecting on the wonder of creation and the mighty deeds God does in the world.  The psalmist sees wonders not just in his own place but everywhere.  He says, “The LORD is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.”  Every part of creation has been blessed by God’s goodness.  Because of this, God is to be praised not just now, but “forever and ever” and by “generation after generation.”

This fits in very nicely with Hosea’s prophecy in our first reading today.  Preaching to the Israelites in exile, he proclaims that God will change the relationship between Israel and the Lord.  That new relationship would be a spousal relationship between God and his people, in which the spouses are partners in the ongoing work of creation.  God will give Israel the ability to be faithful to God, and for His part, God will remember His faithfulness forever.  God’s great mercy and compassion are seen with abundance in the Gospel reading.  Jesus rewards the faithfulness of Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage with miraculous healings.  Key to all of these wonderful events, in all three readings, is that God who has created us is committed to re-creating us in His love and faithfulness.

So as we approach the Eucharist today and reflect on all the mighty and wonderful things God does in our midst, may we too sing the Psalmist’s song.  May we all praise God’s name forever and ever, and proclaim his might to generation after generation.

The Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I often wonder how people get through the hard times of their lives if they don’t have faith.  We can all probably think of a time in our lives when we were sorely tested, when our lives were turned upside-down, and, looking back, we can’t figure out how we lived through it except for the grace of our faith.  During the course of my priesthood, I have been present to a lot of people who were going through times like that: whether it be illness or death of a loved one, relationship struggles, job issues, or financial struggles, or a host of other maladies.  Some of them had faith, and some who didn’t.  It was always inspirational to see how people with faith lived through their hard times, and very sad to see how many who didn’t have faith just broken when their lives stopped going well.

That’s the experience that today’s Liturgy of the Word puts before us, I think.  Let’s look at the context.  In last week’s Gospel, Jesus has cured two people miraculously.  He actually raised Jairus’s twelve-year-old daughter from the dead, and he cured the hemorrhagic woman, who had been suffering for twelve years.  So both stories had occurrences of the number twelve, reminiscent of the twelve tribes of Abraham, and later the Twelve Apostles, both of which signify the outreach of God’s presence into the whole world.  So those two miraculous healings last week reminded us that Jesus was healing the whole world.

But this week, we see the exception.  This week, Jesus is in his hometown, where he is unable to do much in the way of miracles except for a few minor healings.  Why?  Because the people lacked faith.  And this is in stark contrast to last week’s healings where Jairus handed his daughter over to Jesus in faith, and the hemorrhagic woman had faith that just grasping on to the garments of Jesus would give her healing.  Faith can be very healing, and a lack of it can be stifling, leading eventually to the destruction of life.

We see that clearly in the first two readings.  First Ezekiel is told that the people he would be ministering to would not change, because they were obstinate.  But at least they’d know a prophet had been among them.  Contrast that with Saint Paul’s unyielding faith in the second reading to the Corinthian Church.  Even though he begged the Lord three times to relieve him of whatever it was that was his thorn in the flesh, he would not stop believing in God’s goodness.  Much has been said about what Saint Paul could possibly mean by this “thorn.”  Was it an illness or infirmity?  Was it a pattern of sin or at least a temptation that would not leave him alone?  We don’t know for sure, but this “thorn” makes Saint Paul’s story all the more compelling for us who have to deal with our own “thorns” in our own lives.  Saint Paul’s faith led him to be content with whatever weakness or hardship befell him, and he came to know that in his weakness, God could do more and thus make him stronger than he could be on his own. That assurance gives us hope of the same grace in our own struggles.

We people of faith will be tested sometimes; that’s when the rubber hits the road for our faith.  Knowing of God’s providence, we can be sure that he will lead us to whatever is best.  And our faith can help us to make sense of the struggles and know God’s presence in the dark places of our lives.  People of faith are tested by the storms and tempests of the world, but are never abandoned by our God.  Never abandoned.

The Thirteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Our readings today, I think, are very poignant and to the point.  As a pastor, I see a lot of suffering, and it breaks my heart when my parishioners are going through hard times.  Whether those hard times are brought about by death or sickness, or by relationship problems, or by poverty or job circumstances, or whatever it is, those hard times can be a real test of faith. The very first words of today’s Liturgy of the Word reach out and grab us: “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.”  And perhaps we already knew that.  Perhaps we know that God does not intend our death or our suffering, but the really hard thing for us is that he permits it.  Why is that?  Why would God permit his beloved ones to suffer so much here on earth? This is one of those sticky questions that sometimes make people doubt their faith.

When I was in seminary, I worked as a fire chaplain the last couple of years.  We were called out one wintry night, just before Christmas break, to speak to some medics who had extracted a nine-year old child from a badly mangled car, only to have the child die on the way to the hospital.  These medics were from a neighboring fire department, so we didn’t know them, and I didn’t have too much hope that the conversation would go well. But, to my surprise, these men did open up and expressed the frustration they felt.  One of the men was Catholic and he was the one who had the task of extracting the child from the car.  His enduring question was, why did this innocent child have to suffer and die?  It was a long evening of conversation that really centered around faith that provided some consolation, although it could never really erase their sadness.

Which brings us to today’s Gospel.  Two people reach out in very different ways to end suffering and provide healing.  One is a man, who approaches Jesus and falls at his feet, begging the teacher to heal his daughter.  The other is a woman, who dares not make herself known, who sneaks up behind Jesus to touch his clothing.  The situations were different, but what unites them is their faith.  They have faith that reaching out to Jesus in their own way will bring them the healing they desire.

And there was a pretty serious leap of faith involved for the hemorrhaging woman.  Touch was her enemy.  She had suffered much at the hands of many doctors.  Not only have their ministrations failed to heal her, but they have also left her penniless.  And to touch anyone in her state of ritual impurity makes them ritually unclean too.  So she is totally marginalized: she is a woman in a patriarchal society, afflicted by an enduring and debilitating illness, she has no money to take care of herself, and she is unable to be part of the community or participate in worship.  Things could not have been worse.  Finding the courage to reach out to Jesus, even in her impure state, she is healed by her faith.

Now please note that that same faith was lacking in the people who were attending to Jairus’s daughter.  Even if they believed that Jesus could cure her illness, she is now dead, and so his assertion that she is merely “sleeping” meets with ridicule and scorn.  So Jesus has to throw out the faithless ones so that they would no longer be an obstacle.  The child cannot reach out to Jesus so he reaches out to her, taking her hand, and raising her up.

So it’s as simple as that.  An act of faith on the part of the hemorrhaging woman and the synagogue official provide healing and restore life. But how realistically does that match our experience?  I am guessing that those medics threw up a prayer or two in addition to all of the life-saving actions they performed on that nine-year old when he was in the ambulance with them, but the boy still died.  How many of us have prayed faithfully, constantly, only to be met by seemingly deaf ears?  We don’t even have the same opportunity as Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman.  We can’t reach out and touch Jesus in the flesh.  So I would never stand here and tell you that one simple act of faith is all it takes to make all your problems go away.  I always say that faith is not a magic wand.

But I will also say this: as I have walked with people who have suffered, those who have reached out to Jesus in faith have not gone unrewarded.  Maybe their suffering continued in some way, or even in some cases got worse, but in Christ they found the strength to walk through it with dignity and find peace.  Maybe Jesus won’t always stop the bleeding of our hurts and inadequacies and woundedness.  But through his own blood, he will always redeem us.  We who are disciples need to make those acts of faith if we are to live what we believe.  For those medics I spent the evening with, the conversation of faith didn’t bring the boy back, but it did provide them with healing and peace and a sense that in God’s time, all would be made right.

I am struck by the Eucharistic imagery at the end of today’s Gospel.  Jesus comes to the home of Jairus and finds his daughter asleep in death.  He reaches out to her, touches her, and raises her up.  Then he instructs those around her to give her something to eat.  We gather for this Eucharistic banquet today and Jesus comes to us, finding us asleep in the death of our sins.  Because we are dead in our sins, we can hardly reach out to touch our Lord, but he reaches out to us.  He takes our hands, raises us up, and gives us something to eat.

We come to the Eucharist today with our lives in various stages of grace and various stages of disrepair.  At the Table of the Lord, we offer our lives and our suffering and our pain.  We bring our faith, wherever we are on the journey, and reach out in that faith to touch the body of our Lord.  We approach the Cup of Life, and whatever emptiness is in us is filled up with grace and healing love, poured out in the blood of Christ.  As we go forth, glorifying the Lord by our lives this day, all of our problems may very well stay with us, remaining unresolved at least to our satisfaction.  Our suffering and pain may very well be with us still.  But in our faith, perhaps they can be transformed, or at least maybe we can be transformed so that we can move through that suffering and pain with dignity and find peace.  And as we go forth, perhaps we can hear our Lord saying to us the same words he said to the woman with the hemorrhage: go in peace, your faith has saved you.

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

In today’s Gospel, we have the disciples arguing among themselves because they find they don’t understand Jesus’ message. And then that degenerates into a further argument about which one of them was the greatest.  They’re doing an awful lot of arguing, and not nearly enough listening.

All of this arguing betrays a real lack of growth in faith among those disciples.  They probably felt like, since they were in Jesus’ inner-circle, they should have all the answers.  And perhaps they should, but to their defense, they hadn’t received the Holy Spirit yet.  In a real sense, they were still in formation, and they shouldn’t have been so afraid to ask Jesus for clarification, rather than start petty arguments.

Jesus’ lesson to them then comes from him putting a little child in their midst.  Receive a child like this in my name, he tells them, and you receive me.  What’s the point of that?  Well, receiving a child in Jesus’ name is an act of service, because a child can do nothing but receive at that point in their life.  So serving others in Jesus’ name, serving those who cannot serve you back, or at least in a way that they can’t return the favor, is what brings us to the Father.

I think the take-away for us is that trying to be smarter than everyone else isn’t what shows that we are faithful people.  Instead of arguing our point, we need to ask God to help us get the point.  And we have to be ready to act on our faith, serving others out of love for God, instead of arguing or debating what Jesus is making plain as day.

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Easter

Today’s readings

There are a lot of miracles going on in today’s first reading.  First, there’s the earthquake that brings down the prison walls, although Paul and Silas did not take advantage of the situation.  Then there’s the conversion of the jailer, who was an employee of the Romans, and so would have had to worship their pagan gods.  You might also note the rather miraculous faith of Paul and Silas, who despite being very badly mistreated on account of Jesus, did not abandon their faith but actually grew stronger in it.  And you might also consider it a miracle that, when they are jailed and singing hymns at midnight, the other prisoners didn’t gang up and beat them into silence!

When you look at it as a vignette, it’s all so amazing, although Paul and Silas probably just viewed it as part and parcel of the life they had been called to live.  They had faith in Jesus and they probably didn’t expect anything less than the miracles they were seeing!

People of great faith experience such great miracles.  This is not to say that all their troubles go away; Paul and Silas were still imprisoned, and continued to be hounded by the people and the government because of their faith.  But the miracles come through the abiding presence of Christ, giving us strength when we need it most, a kind word from a stranger that comes at the right moment, a phone call from a friend that makes our day, an answer to prayer that is not what we expected but exactly what we needed.  The Psalmist today has that same great faith: “Your right hand saves me, O Lord,” he sings.  Let us pray that our hearts and eyes and minds would be open to see the miracles happening around us, that we might sing that same great song!

Easter Tuesday

Today’s readings

Letting go of things is harder than we can sometimes even admit.  I think that’s what was going on with Mary Magdalene.  And we are just like her: we want to hold on to things and people as they are, because what is familiar is so very comfortable to us.  I think sometimes that’s true regardless of whether the familiar is positive or negative.  So many times we hold on to whatever we have and refuse to let them go because it’s as if we’re afraid we’ll be giving away some piece of ourselves.  So then what happens is that we hang on to images of ourselves or other people in our life that are outdated, and stifle any room for growth.  We hang on to resentments or past hurts and never give any chance for healing.  We hang on to unhealthy relationships and never give ourselves a chance to break the cycle of pain they bring.  We hang on to bad work situations and miss following our true calling.

What Mary needed to hear from Jesus in today’s Gospel was that she had to stop hanging on to things as they were, and to allow God’s promise to be fully revealed.  The time for mourning was over, it was now time to rejoice and begin spreading the word that the Gospel was coming to its fruition.  She had to begin that by going and spreading the word to the other disciples.

We too, have to stop grieving our past hurts and resentments and outdated notions of the world, ourselves and our relationships so that God’s promise can be fully revealed in us.  The message of Easter joy means that we must begin that by spreading the news that Jesus is doing something new in us and in our world, and make sure that everyone knows about it. We can do that by examining our lives every day and reflecting on what God is doing in us and how we are responding to it.  This is the kind of daily reflection that will help us to let go of what is unhelpful and grasp firmly to that which will lead us to Christ.

As we continue to live lives of conversion like this, we too can proclaim with Mary Magdalene on this Easter day, and every day, “We have seen the Lord!”

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Today’s Scriptures address another one of the ways that we fallen human beings tend to avoid the truth. Sometimes, when we are confronted with the truth, we attack its source. If we cast doubt on the one bringing us the truth, then we don’t have to follow his or her words, right?

The prophet Jeremiah takes the nation of Israel to task for this in today’s first reading. These are a people who have heard the truth over and over. God has not stopped sending prophets to preach the word. But the Israelites would not listen: in fact, most often, they murdered the prophets. They preferred to live in the world, and to attach themselves to the nations and their worship of idols and pagan gods. They had been warned constantly that this was going to be the source of their demise, but they tuned it out. They “stiffened their necks,” Jeremiah says, and now faithfulness has disappeared and there is no word of truth in anything they say.

Some of the Jews are giving Jesus the same treatment in today’s Gospel. Seeing him drive out a demon, they are filled with jealousy and an enormous sense of inadequacy. These are the men who were religious leaders and they had the special care of driving away demons from the people. But they chose not to do so, or maybe their lukewarm faith made them unable to do so. So on seeing Jesus competent at what was their duty, they cast a hand-grenade of rhetoric at him and reason that only a demon could cast out demons like he did.

We will likely hear the word of truth today. Maybe it will come in these Scriptures, or maybe later in our prayerful moments. Maybe it will be spoken by a child or a coworker or a relative or friend. However the truth is given to us, it is up to us to take it in and take it to heart. Or will we too be like the Jews and the Israelites and stiffen our necks? No, the Psalmist tells us, we can’t be that way. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

The Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

I’ve often heard stories of those who grew up in the great depression.  Many years later, they still had deeply engrained in them the scrupulous care for everything they have that was etched into their very being during that horrible time in our history.  They spent a lifetime wasting nothing, even hoarding things.  They would eat leftovers well past their freshness dates.  It was just their response to having nothing, completely understandable.

And that’s the lens through which I think we need to see this week’s Gospel parable.  Here Jesus presents the often quoted story of a rich man entrusting his slaves with a great deal of wealth before he sets off on a long journey.  The word “talents” here does not mean what we mean when we use that word: here we are not talking about gifts or abilities, but rather money, and a large sum of money at that.  Scholars suggest that a talent was equal to something like one thousand days’ wages, or what a poor person could have lived on for fifteen or twenty years.  So think about it, even the servant who only received one talent actually received quite a bit – he received what the average person would earn in a little over three years!  That’s a lot of money for anyone.

So who is it, then, that is receiving such a magnanimous gift?  On first glance, seeing what it is they have been given, we might think these are senior advisers to the master, people who would have been in charge of his estate and his business transactions.  But that’s not what it says.  It says he called in his “servants” – so we are talking here about slaves, slaves – not business advisers.  And so these slaves are getting ten talents, five talents, and one talent – all of them are getting a considerable amount of money!

And we know the story.  Two of them take what they have and very successfully invest it and when the master returns, are able to hand over the original sum with one hundred per cent interest.  Very impressive!  But the slave who received just a “little” (even though it was certainly still a lot of money), out of fear buries it in the ground and gives it back to the master untouched, with nothing to show for it.  It’s much like a person having gone through something like the great depression placing money under a mattress rather than trust the banks, which they saw fail miserably in their lifetimes.

It’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s see where we can go.  We’ve established that the gift they are receiving – even the slave who received little – is worth an incredible amount of money, especially to a slave who would never have the opportunity to see such wealth if not for the trust the master has placed in them.  So let’s be clear that this parable is not about us using our gifts properly; it’s about we slaves receiving something very great, some inestimable wealth.  What could that possibly be?  Well, of course, it’s God’s love, grace, and favor, which is undeservedly ours and given to us without merit.

So just for background, this is yet another indictment of the Pharisees and religious establishment of the time.  They were the ones who, because Christ was not yet present in the world, received just one talent.  But it was still a huge sum of grace!  Yet, their practice was to protect it so scrupulously by attending to the minutiae of the 613 laws of the Torah, that they missed the opportunity to really invest God’s love in the world and grow the faith to full stature.

So we can’t be like that.  We can’t have the faith taken away from us and be tossed out to wail and grind our teeth.  We have to take the faith we’ve been given, the grace we have received in baptism, and invest it mightily in the world, without fear, so that everyone will come to know the Lord and we would all go on to be put in charge of greater things, in the kingdom of heaven.  That is our vocation in the world, brothers and sisters in Christ.  We have to get that right.  We can’t cower in fear, or think our faith is too little, or we don’t know enough.  That was the cardinal sin for Matthew in his Gospel.  We have to be bold disciples and make sure that Christ is known everywhere we go, everywhere life takes us.  That is the only acceptable response to God’s love.

[[ Today we welcome our candidates for full Communion with the Church.  They have all been baptized in other Christian communities, and have come to us to become Catholic.  They have already been meeting with our RCIA program to grow in their knowledge of the faith and experience of God’s presence in their lives.  Welcoming them today, we have marked them with the sign of the Cross, helping them to remember the treasure of grace and love that God has already entrusted to them in baptism.  As we invest our faith in them today, we have hope that they will do the same for others, so that many more believers may be found for the kingdom of God.]]

We have come to the second-to-last Sunday of the Church year.  Next week, we will celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe, and then look forward to a new year as we begin the season of Advent.  And so it is important that we take today’s Gospel parable seriously.  We need to spend some time reflecting on how well we have invested God’s grace and love in the world around us.  Have we been good examples to our family and others?  Have we been people of integrity in our workplaces, schools and community?  Have we served those who are in need out of love for Christ?  Have we been zealous to grow in our spiritual lives?  Have we taken time to root sin out of our life, and to receive the grace of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance?  Have we been unafraid to witness to our faith in every situation?

If we can’t answer all these questions affirmatively, we have some new-Church-year’s resolutions to make.  Because, and I can’t stress this strongly enough, brothers and sisters, the alternative is wailing and grinding of teeth.  And forever is a long time to be doing that!  No; God forbid.  Our desire is to hear those wonderful words from our Lord one day: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.  Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities.  Come, share your master’s joy.”

Monday of the Twenty-fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

This whole Gospel story can be a little bit jarring, I think. I was particularly struck by what the messenger said to Jesus when he asked him to come to the centurion’s house: “He deserves to have you do this for him.” As if any of us is ever worthy of God’s mercy! To his credit, the centurion must have heard about this, because he hurries to Jesus to set things right: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof. Therefore, I did not consider myself worthy to come to you; but say the word and let my servant be healed.” And what he says also explains why he sent a messenger to come to Jesus instead of coming himself. For his part, Jesus is impressed with the man’s faith: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith,” he says. And so the healing of the man’s slave takes place at once. It’s an interesting exchange, to say the least.

We have the privilege, every time we gather for the Eucharist, to echo the centurion’s faith. Just before we come to the Altar for Holy Communion, we say: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof. But only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” And saying those words out loud is so important at that moment in the Mass. Unless we truly believe that Christ’s Body and Blood are sufficient for the healing of our souls, unless we truly know that we are completely unworthy of God’s mercy, then we don’t have the faith necessary to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord.

But when we do enter into that moment of Communion with hearts open in faith, everything changes for us. True healing can come about, and we can return to our daily lives and find our souls healed with the grace that prepares them for whatever this world brings them.

The Twenty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

So over the past several Sundays, we have 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 is in the spotlight again, but this time not for anything really good!  So, it’s important to realize that Saint Peter, like all of the Jews of that time, had a preconceived notion about what the Messiah would be like, and what he would come to do. Peter was still clinging to those old notions, and so 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 it certainly seems like that was the case – then we have to expect to feel unqualified for the roles to which we have been called.  Parents often feel that way when they start to raise their first child.  Priests feel that every time they witness something incredible – which is a lot of 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.  It’s often said that God doesn’t call the qualified, but instead qualifies those he has called.  If that’s true, then Saint Peter is the patron saint of that!

If Peter made some mistakes along his journey of faith and discipleship – and he clearly did – then we have to expect that we will 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.  Even what he said in today’s Gospel was probably what the rest were all thinking, but he at least had the guts to say it out loud.  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.