Saturday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

It’s dangerous to be a prophet.  It’s dangerous because nobody wants to really hear the truth.  Both Jeremiah and Saint John the Baptist find that out very clearly in today’s Scripture readings.  Both of them insisted on proclaiming the truth, and both of them ultimately paid for it with their lives, although Jeremiah was protected in today’s first reading.

The thing we need to take with us this morning is that we are all called to be prophets.  We are all called to speak the truth.  And usually that truth won’t be welcome.  But we have to be people of integrity and say what the Lord puts on our hearts.  Maybe it will be received and maybe it won’t, but we will have at least fulfilled the call we received at baptism when we, like our Lord, were anointed as priest, prophet and king.

It may be difficult to speak the truth, but God is faithful.  If we do what he asks us to do, he will walk with us and never leave us alone.  Being prophets is a dangerous business, but as the Psalmist tells us today, “For the LORD hears the poor, and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Why is the human heart so much opposed to hearing the truth and acting on it? I remember as a child I used to hate it when my parents would tell me something and turn out to be right. If the truth be told, I probably still struggle with that a little today. Who wants to hear the hard truth and then find out that it’s absolutely right? The pride of our hearts so often prevents the prophet from performing his or her ministry.

The message of Lent, though, is that the prophets – all of them – whether they be Scriptural prophets, or those who spoke the truth to us because they want the best for us – all of these prophets are right. And our task during Lent has to be to give up whatever pride in us refuses to hear the voice of the prophet or refuses to accept the prophetic message, and instead turn to the Lord and rejoice in the truth.

The prophets of our native land – those prophets who are closest to us – are the ones we least want to hear. Because they know the right buttons to push, they know our sinfulness, our weakness, and our brokenness. And we desperately want to avoid being confronted with all that failure. Yet if we would hear them, then maybe just like Naaman, we would come out of the river clean and ready to profess our faith in the only God once again.

Athirst is my soul for the living God – that is what the Psalmist prays today. And that is the true prayer of all of our hearts. All we have to do is get past the obstacles of pride and let those prophets show us the way to him. Then we would never thirst again.

Saint John of the Cross

Today’s readings

Today at Mass we hear from three prophets.  A prophet is a person who helps us to see God.  And during Advent these prophets help us to see God coming to be born in us.

And we have to admit: lots of times we don’t see God.  We’re either too busy to notice God, or too wrapped up in ourselves to care about God, or just completely disinterested in the whole notion of God.  Sometimes we just don’t want to see God because we would rather be doing what we want to do and not what’s best for ourselves or others.  God can see through all of that, and prophets help us to see through it too.

We hear from three prophets today.  The first is the prophet Isaiah, and we heard from him in today’s first reading.  The people of Israel had turned away from God a whole lot.  God often made a new covenant with them, and then after a while, they would lose interest and get distracted and turn away from God all over again.  So in today’s reading, Isaiah is trying to wake them up once again.  He tells them if they had stayed on the right path, the path God marked out for them when he made a covenant with them, if they had followed his commands, they would have been blessed by good fortune, many descendants, and a rich land and nation that would never have been destroyed.  It’s too late for that now, but maybe by seeing what caused their misfortune, they can turn back to God and let him heal them.  Which is something God is always longing to do.

The second prophet we hear from today is St. John the Baptist, and we hear about him in today’s Gospel reading.  Jesus is frustrated with people of Israel – again! – because just about nothing could get their attention.  When John the Baptist went around fasting and staying away from strong drink, the people thought he was weird and couldn’t relate to his message to repent of their sins.  But when Jesus came along asking them to repent also, he ate and drank just as they did, so they judged him harshly and wouldn’t listen to him either.  They always had an excuse, and of course it was never their fault.  Kind of sounds like us sometimes, doesn’t it?  Basically, no matter who was calling them to reform their lives and no matter how they proclaimed that message, the people wanted to do what they wanted to do, and nothing was going to persuade them to change.

The third prophet we hear from today is Saint John of the Cross, whose feast we celebrate today.  Saint John of the Cross was a Carmelite friar, a kind of monk who was vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience.  He was called by God and by his friend, Saint Teresa of Avila, to reform the Carmelite Order.  The Carmelites had relaxed some of their rules over time, and had basically turned away from the life that had been envisioned when the Order started.  Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila founded a reformed Carmelite Order, and Saint John suffered for it terribly.  In those days, religious affairs were all tied up in the government of the nation, and so there was a lot of politics.  People didn’t agree with Saint John, so he was taken prisoner for over nine months.  Even when he was released, his fellow friars who didn’t agree with him went around to all the monasteries making trouble for him.  He was oppressed for his preaching of reform almost until the day he died.

Each of these prophets had been given a message by God.  Isaiah and Saint John the Baptist called the people of Israel to turn back to God.  Saint John of the Cross called his fellow Carmelites to turn back to the ideals on which their Order was founded.  All of them suffered for their witness to the truth.  Prophets don’t usually have an easy life.  But if we will get past the politics and get over ourselves, we might hear from them a call that leads us back to God who will make us happier than we’ve ever been.

During Advent, we remember that Christ is always near to us, and we remember that we must always turn back to him and let him be born in our hearts once again, stronger than ever.  And so during Advent, we hear from the great prophets like Isaiah, John the Baptist, and John of the Cross who are calling us to turn back to God and to prepare a way for Christ in our lives, in our hearts, and in our world.

Today in our Psalm we hear what God is trying to tell us through all these prophets:

Blessed the one who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.

And we will be happy too, if we hear God’s call through the prophets and follow in his ways.

Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate a feast that is a bit unusual for us.  First of all, it’s a saint’s feast day, and saints’ days don’t usually take precedence over a Sunday celebration.  Secondly, whenever we do celebrate a saint’s day, it is usually celebrated on the feast of their death, not their birth.  But today we do gather to celebrate the birth of a saint, Saint John the Baptist, and the fact that we’re celebrating his birth and his day at all on this Sunday points to the fact that St. John the Baptist had a very special role to play in the life of Christ.  In fact, the only other saint for whom we celebrate a birthday is the Blessed Virgin Mary, so that tells us something about how important John the Baptist is.

Just as for Jesus, we don’t know the precise day John the Baptist was born.  So the feast of their Nativities – their births – was a tradition developed by the early Church. The dates the Church selected are significant.  Jesus’ birthday was placed around the time of the winter solstice, mostly to counteract pagan festivals of the coming of winter.  John the Baptist’s birthday was then placed around the time of the summer solstice for similar reasons.  But there’s more to it even than that.  In the Gospel of John, there is a passage where John the Baptist says of himself and Jesus, “I must decrease, he must increase.”  So John’s birthday is placed at the time when the days start to become shorter, and Jesus’ birthday is placed at the time when the days start to become longer.  John the Baptist must decrease, Jesus must increase.

Today’s readings have a lot to do with who the prophet is.  St. John the Baptist was the last prophet of the old order, and his mission was to herald the coming of Jesus Christ who is himself the new order.  Tradition holds that prophets were created for their mission, that their purpose was laid out while they were yet to be born.  Isaiah, one of the great prophets of the old order, tells us of his commissioning in our first reading today.  He says, “The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.”  The rest of the reading tells us of his mission, a mission of hardship, but one of being compelled to speak the word of god as a sharp-edged sword.  His calling began as a call to preach to his own people, but by the end of the reading, it is clear that that commission became a call to preach to every nation on earth.

Isaiah says that he was given his name while in his mother’s womb.  The same was true of St. John the Baptist, whose name was given to Zechariah and Elizabeth by the Angel Gabriel.  There’s a dubious story in my own family’s history that my mother had my name picked out from the time she was twelve.  But it’s pretty hard for me to believe that a young Italian woman would have picked the name Patrick Michael for her son.  But that’s how the story goes.  Names have meaning.  Maybe you know what your name means.  I looked mine up this week and found that Patrick means “nobleman,” so if you feel like bowing when you see me, it seems like that would be appropriate!  But far more significant are the names of the prophets we encounter in today’s Liturgy of the Word.  Isaiah means “Yahweh is salvation,” which pretty much encompassed the meaning of Isaiah’s mission, proclaiming salvation to the Israelites who were oppressed in exile.  The name given to the Baptist, John, means “God has shown favor.”  And that was in fact the message of his life.  He came to pave the way for Jesus Christ, who was the favor of God shown to the whole human race.

The point is, these men were created for their prophetic calling.  That’s true for us too.  All of us who have been baptized have a prophetic calling that came before we were ever born.  God created us for something special.  He created us to be with him, he created us to follow him, he created us to draw other people to him.  This means that, according to our abilities, our vocation and station in life, we were meant to serve God in some way that God might be glorified and that others may come to know him.

During these couple of weeks, we have been asked to observe a fortnight of religious freedom.  As our nation’s bishops point out, religious freedom is one of our first and most cherished freedoms.  It was largely in pursuit of religious freedom that our nation’s forefathers came to this great land, and in defense of that freedom that they fought and died.  But now, many issues have put that freedom in danger.  The so-called HHS mandate is kind of the banner issue on the religious freedom front.  The HHS mandate requires all employers to pay for birth control regardless of whether it is against their moral teachings, as it is for us.

But this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Another sad assault on religious freedom has been the requirement of any adoption placement agency to place children for adoption with people in same-sex unions.  Since our religion forbids this practice, we have been unable to comply, and so we have been pushed out of the adoption process, something that has been an extension of our acts of charity since this country began.

The essence of the issue is that freedom of religion is now being defined in a very narrow way, which amounts to freedom of worship.  One is free to worship in any way one chooses, but must obey the law in all other things.  Let’s bracket for the moment the obvious objection that such a narrow definition was never intended by our founding fathers.  More important is that, for us, worship is not something we can separate from our daily living.  When we are sent out to “go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life,” we are just beginning to worship.  What we do in our daily life is our real worship, not just the hour we’re here on Sunday.

So our worship of God may indeed call us to speak against issues of the day, or to take in an adoptive or foster child to share God’s love, or any number of charitable acts, and our Church should have the freedom to pursue those according to our moral teachings.  That’s the essence of religious freedom, and that is what we are seeking to defend.  The prophetic call in all of us absolutely must speak up for what we believe as a Church and preach the Gospel by the way that we live our lives.

We live in a society that is all about protecting and promoting ourselves.  Saint John the Baptist would have us promote Jesus instead.  That’s what he was about.  As it was for him, so it is for us: we must decrease, Jesus must increase.

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Why is the human heart so opposed to hearing the truth and acting on it?  I remember as a child I used to hate it when my parents would tell me something and turn out to be right.  If the truth be told, I probably still struggle with that a little today.  Who wants to hear the hard truth and then find out that it’s absolutely right?  The pride of our hearts so often prevents the prophet from performing his or her ministry.

The message of Lent, though, is that the prophets – all of them – whether they be Scriptural prophets, or those who spoke the truth to us because they want the best for us – are speaking truth.  The prophets of Scripture speak Truth to us in an elevated way, of course.  And our task during Lent has to be to give up whatever pride in us refuses to hear the voice of the prophet or refuses to accept the prophetic message, and instead turn to the Lord and rejoice in the truth.

The prophets of our native land – those prophets who are closest to us – are the ones we least want to hear.  Because they know the right buttons to push, they know our sinfulness, our weakness, and our brokenness.  That’s how it was for the people of Jesus’ home town.  But we also desperately want to avoid being confronted with truth.  Yet if we would open our ears to hear and our hearts to understand, then maybe just like Naaman, we would come out of the river clean and ready to profess our faith in the only God once again.

Athirst is my soul for the living God – that is what the Psalmist prays today.  And that is the true prayer of all of our hearts.  All we have to do is get past the obstacles of pride and let those prophets show us the way to him.  Then we would never thirst again.

Monday of the Third Week of Lent

Today’s readings

Why is the human heart so much opposed to hearing the truth and acting on it? I remember as a child I used to hate it when my parents would tell me something and turn out to be right. If the truth be told, I probably still struggle with that a little today. Who wants to hear the hard truth and then find out that it’s absolutely right? The pride of our hearts so often prevents the prophet from performing his or her ministry.

The message of Lent, though, is that the prophets – all of them – whether they be Scriptural prophets, or those who spoke the truth to us because they want the best for us – all of these prophets are right. And our task during Lent has to be to give up whatever pride in us refuses to hear the voice of the prophet or refuses to accept the prophetic message, and instead turn to the Lord and rejoice in the truth.

The prophets of our native land – those prophets who are closest to us – are the ones we least want to hear. Because they know the right buttons to push, they know our sinfulness, our weakness, and our brokenness. And we desperately want to avoid being confronted with all that failure. Yet if we would hear them, then maybe just like Naaman, we would come out of the river clean and ready to profess our faith in the only God once again.

Athirst is my soul for the living God – that is what the Psalmist prays today. And that is the true prayer of all of our hearts. All we have to do is get past the obstacles of pride and let those prophets show us the way to him. Then we would never thirst again.

Monday of the Twenty-second Week of Ordinary Time

Today’s readings

Today Jesus tussles not with the scribes and Pharisees as he often does, but instead with the people of his own home town.  They are amazed at his words and speak highly of him, right up until the time when he begins to challenge them.  Then they have no more use for them.  The question for us disciples today is who are the prophets among us and what message are they bringing us?  God may well be using someone in our workplaces or homes or schools or wherever we find ourselves this day to speak a message to us.  The question is, will we be open to hear it?