Sunday, February 26, 2017

Monday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

“Christ and the Young Rich Man” by Heinrich Hofmann,1889
Reading 1: Sirach 17:20-24[4]
Commentary on Sir 17:20-28
The first part of this moral teaching from Sirach (in antiquity called “Wisdom of the Son of Sirach" and in the Middle Ages Ecclesiasticus) deals with penitence. God always invites us back, especially those who have lost hope. All that is necessary is to love what God loves, and to pray constantly to the "Most High God."
The second section asks for conversion or a return to God. Here the author says the dead cannot give God praise (see also Psalm 115:17-18 and Isaiah 38:18-20). This reflects the belief at this point in Hebrew theological development that there was no life after death, no resurrection, only a shadow existence in Sheol. We also hear how God’s mercy flows to those who do return from a sinful past. God forgives those who return to him.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7
R. (11a) Let the just exult and rejoice in the Lord.
Commentary on Ps 32:1-2, 5, 6, 7
Psalm 32 is an individual hymn of thanksgiving.  The psalmist sings a song of gratitude that the Almighty Father has pardoned his sins (which were freely confessed).  In spite of these blemishes, salvation is heaped upon the repentant.
CCC: Ps 32 304; Ps 32:5 1502
Gospel: Mark 10:17-27
Commentary on Mk 10:17-27
The story of the rich young man, presented in St. Mark’s Gospel, is an ideal teaching moment for Christ. Clearly the young man depicted is of Pharisaic persuasion since he believes in the concept of eternal life (Sadducees would not). After he has heard that the young man has carefully followed Mosaic Law (summarized in the Decalogue the Lord mentions), Jesus tells him he has only one more step to take. Selling all he has and giving the proceeds to the poor is too much for the rich young man who leaves downcast.
Jesus uses this example to emphasize, first, that the love of God must come first, before desire for possessions, and before the accumulation of wealth. Those listening were also downhearted and say: “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus then makes his second point. No one earns salvation from God! Only the Lord alone can grant it, and nothing is impossible for him. “For men it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” God must provide the path.
CCC: Mk 10:19 1858; Mk 10:22 2728
The Good News offers us a way home if we have fallen or have moved away from the Lord.  There is a God billboard in our region of the country that says: “If you feel God is far away, who moved?”  It fits today’s scripture.
In Sirach we are told that the path to God is open for those who have fallen into sin or have denied the Lord.  The opening line is an invitation (that sounds like it came out of an Indiana Jones movie) “To the penitent God provides a way back, he encourages those who are losing hope and has chosen for them the lot of truth.”  From the oldest times God has provided a way to return if we fail.
We are told that to return we must first want to return.  Actually, if we think about it, that is the major hurdle we must cross.  If we want something, say a new car or a pair of shoes, our behavior supports that desire.  We save money for the car, and we look into offerings by various dealers or stores.  We do our homework so that we achieve what we want.  The larger the item or the goal, the longer it takes to achieve it and the more discipline in our behavior.  We see how goals can come into conflict in the Gospel story.  The rich young man wants exactly what we do, and finds the barrier in himself.  The Lord tells him to remove the things in his life more important to him than God, his material possessions, and he (the young man) cannot do it.
When Jesus turns to his disciples after the young man leaves, he explains: to those who place their wealth first in their lives, the Kingdom of God is not attainable.  Even if we find a way to achieve that perfect state of mind (it is very difficult), it is only through God’s mercy that we will achieve that heavenly place. Thank God his mercy is endless.

[1] The picture is “Christ and the Young Rich Man” by Heinrich Hofmann,1889
[4] The Biblical Citation used is incorrect at USCCB (and repeated here)  Correct is Sirach 17:24-28 in the NAB

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 302-314: Divine providence and its role in history
CCC 2113-2115: Idolatry subverts values; trust in providence vs. divination
CCC 2632: Prayer of faithful petition for coming of the Kingdom
CCC 2830: Trust in Providence does not mean idleness

“The Worship of Mammon”, by Evelyn De Morgan, 1909
Reading 1: Isaiah 49:14-15
Commentary on Is 49:14-15
This reading from Isaiah is a part of the second “Servant of the Lord” oracles. The servant has promised salvation to the captives and light to those in darkness. The response from Zion is the Lord has forsaken them. To which we hear the tender response: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” God’s fidelity and faithfulness is assured.
CCC: Is 49:14-15 219, 370; Is 49:15 239
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
R. (6a) Rest in God alone, my soul.
Commentary on Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9
Psalm 62 is a hymn in praise of God as the rock and fortress of salvation. This song is one of deep and abiding faith. The singer trusts only in God and is at peace in God’s abiding love.
Reading 2: 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Commentary on 1 Cor 4:1-5
This selection is part of St. Paul’s pre-oration regarding the need for unity in the church in Corinth. In this concluding section, the Apostle calls upon the community to be faithful to the teachings passed on to it. He speaks of Christian wisdom with an exhortation to the community not to pass judgment on their leaders. He summarizes his thought with the statement: "Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God." The words St. Paul uses to describe the roles are, in the first instance: “servants of Christ ,” hypēretēs, a word that designated rowers on the lowest rank of a galley, later coming to mean assistant or helper. The word “stewards” (or managers) was oikonomos, a name given to servants put in charge of their master’s property.
He goes on to exhort them not to pass judgment upon each other, rather to follow his own example of being non-judgmental, even about his own actions. He concludes by reminding them that, at the “appointed time” (referring to the eschaton), the Lord will reveal all motives of the human heart and judgment will be passed.
CCC: 1 Cor 4:1 859, 1117; 1 Cor 4:5 678
Gospel: Matthew 6:24-34
Commentary on Mt 6:24-34
Jesus continues his Sermon on the Mount being very clear about what must be placed first in the life of his disciples. Here the word mammon is used, an Aramaic word meaning wealth. The Lord does not deny that people need the physical things of the world (i.e. food, clothing, and water), but tells them that, if they have faith in God and pursue the things of God’s Kingdom, the heavenly Father will provide for them. He goes further to say that, if they are constantly focused on material goods, they will not extend their lives even a little.
CCC: Mt 6:24 2113, 2424, 2729, 2821, 2848; Mt 6:25-34 2547, 2830; Mt 6:25 2608; Mt 6:26-34 322; Mt 6:26 2416; Mt 6:31-33 305; Mt 6:32 270; Mt 6:33 1942, 2604, 2608, 2632; Mt 6:34 2659, 2836
It seems hard to believe that spring is right around the corner, and not here (this warm spell is a trick to get us thinking about Lent).  Never the less, spring is predicted and coincidentally Lent is almost upon us.  This Wednesday we celebrate the beginning of our season of preparation.  As we prepare mentally for the discipline of Lent, thinking about what we will target, it is useful for us to take a close look at what Jesus has to say in the Gospel just proclaimed.
The passage from Saint Matthew’s Gospel is part of the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount that also included the Beatitudes. It is the platform from which Jesus launched into a discourse about how we, as his followers, are to live in God’s grace.  Over the course of several sections, he speaks about the various commandments and how we need to go further if we are to follow the spirit of the Law.
In the passage proclaimed today, the Lord focuses on the first commandment:
I am the LORD your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me.
While this language represents the typical formula for the commandment, the language from Exodus 20:3-5a refines our understanding.
You shall not make for yourself an idol or a likeness of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or serve them.
Jesus takes that understanding further.  He tells us that we create idols in our lives without even thinking about it. In the encyclical letter, Lumen fidei, a letter begun by Pope Benedict XVI and finished by Pope Francis, faith is contrasted with idolatry.
“In place of faith in God, it seems better to worship an idol, into whose face we can look directly and whose origin we know, because it is the work of our own hands. Before an idol, there is no risk that we will be called to abandon our security, for idols ‘have mouths, but they cannot speak’” (Ps 115:4). (Lumen fidei, no. 13)
I’ll tell a little story on myself to illustrate this point.  As many of you know I really enjoy sailing.  I have sailed since I was 9 years old and it is a great passion of mine.  About ten years ago I started racing in big boats (those thirty feet and over that can be classified as a second home because they have a head [bathroom], a galley [kitchen] and berths [beds]).  The boats I have sailed and raced on were not mine. They were owned by friends or relatives.  As frequently happens when one spends a great deal of time and emotional capital in an enjoyable activity, I have thought about getting a boat of my own.
As I pondered this possibility, it became very clear to me that, when we acquire something of value (really almost anything, for example: a house, a car, a boat, or even wealth), whatever we own owns us as well. If that item is not just of financial value, but also has intrinsic or sentimental value, we feel compelled to take care of it, dedicate time to being with it, take pleasure and perhaps even pride in ownership.  In our society, both ownership and pride in ownership are expected; they are marks of social status.
Now let us step back and examine what we have just observed about things.  It is so easy to move from owning things out of necessity (necessity to provide for ourselves and our families) to owning things for the sake of ownership, pride, avarice, or as the Lord says “mammon.”
The question that begs to be asked as we consider this is: what is enough and what is too much? How can we tell when what we need becomes greed?
We look at scripture first to see what God wants from us.  He wants us to be thinking of him constantly, not golf or vacations.  He wants us to expend effort to know him to seek his grace and favor, not to spend our waking hours daydreaming about a really hot car or our vacation home up North.  When we do these things, when we dream about the huge fish we will catch instead of about how much we want to please God through our service, we have slipped over the line and started to create an idol, a false god which “cannot speak.”
We must consider that, like a house, a car, a boat, or a portfolio of investments, our relationship with the Lord requires time, energy and commitment.  Since there is only so much time and energy possible, when we prioritize, placing God first as we are instructed to do in the first commandment, something else must take a back seat.  Creating balance in our lives between God, family, career, and things is a huge challenge.
As we consider our Lenten journey that begins this coming Wednesday with ashes, let us contemplate the idols we have created, knowingly or unknowingly, in our lives and find ways to redirect our energy toward finding balance in our lives, and building the spiritual gifts that do not perish and never go out of style.

[1] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[2] The picture is “The Worship of Mammon”, by Evelyn De Morgan, 1909

Friday, February 24, 2017

Saturday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Optional Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
On Saturdays in Ordinary Time when there is no obligatory memorial, an optional memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary is allowed.[1] Mass texts may be taken from the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from a Votive Mass, or from the special collection of Masses for the Blessed Virgin Mary (USCCB recommends #29 The Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of All Creation).

“Christ Blessing the Children” 
by Nicolaes Maes, 1652-53
Reading 1: Sirach 17:1-15
Commentary on Sir 17:1-15
This selection is part of Sirach’s treatise linking God’s Wisdom to creation. We note here that Sirach does not consider mankind before and after the fall, but rather accepts the faithful in the cultural situation of his day. Creation is a part of God’s salvific work. Mankind (especially Israel) is given a privileged position in having dominion over what God has provided, but is still a debtor to God. Man's wisdom is but a shadow of the Wisdom of God. The Father gave a part of his wisdom as the law imparted at the covenant at Sinai, and sees how it is kept.
CCC: Sir 15:14 1730, 1743
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 103:13-14, 15-16, 17-18
R. (see 17) The Lord’s kindness is everlasting to those who fear him.
Psalm 103 is a hymn of praise (and thanksgiving). It is a simple and beautiful reaction to God’s goodness. Reflecting upon human mortality, the psalmist sings of the brevity of life, and the mercy God bestows upon us in his eternal blessing of those who follow him and keep his covenant.
CCC: Ps 103 304
Gospel: Mark 10:13-16
Commentary on Mk 10:13-16
The image of Jesus portrayed by this passage demonstrates that those who had seen his works and heard his words saw greatness in him. They brought their children to him instinctively, that these little ones might receive the grace bestowed by his touch. This activity made his disciples indignant. They felt that their master should not be pestered by the children. The Lord, however, used this situation as a teaching moment. Jesus told the crowd that only complete dependence upon God’s support would allow them salvation (“…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”).
CCC: Mk 10:11 2380; Mk 10:14 343, 1261; Mk 10:16 699
We must, given the direction offered by Sacred Scripture, contemplate the need for prayer and its power in our lives. If we think about the relationship we hope to establish with God our Father, and his Son, Jesus, we can use the relationships we build on earth as a worldly model.
When we wish to get to know someone well, we speak with them. We ask them questions.  We hope that by speaking with them we can uncover who they are, where they were from, how and where they grew up, and what do they like or dislike. The more intensely we want this relationship, the deeper and more intensely we talk to them, spending hours conversing about all manner of things.
With members of our own families, much of this discussion is not necessary since we share a common history and life. Much of what we need to know we have learned through long association. The love we have for these family members is stimulated by our common desires, our common experiences, and the deep understanding we build with them over time.
For a child who knows the mind of their loving parent, the worst thing they could imagine is disappointing that parent through actions they know would be against their wishes. Likewise the child knows, without question, that if they are in trouble, that parent will do everything in their power to rescue them from that situation. And if that child falls ill, the loving parent does whatever they can to see that the child of their love returns to health.
The analogy comes so easily. If we wish to know God, to build that relationship with him, prayer is our best approach. Much of who God is and what he likes or does not like, we discover in the Sacred Texts of the Bible. The deeper we delve into that treasure chest of our predecessors’ past experiences of God, the better we understand how to know him in our lives.
But God was not a “Historical Figure,” he is a living God who loves and cares for us. It is this present and living Trinity that we want to know. So we talk to him. We tell him we love him, we honor him because he deserves honor, and when we are in need, we ask for his help. We ask, confident as the child with a loving parent, that he will do all he can to save us from our difficulty. He may show us the way, he may open a door, and if all that is not enough and he wishes to demonstrate his love more visibly, he may offer up a miracle. They are more common than we know.
Today we pray to know our Loving Father better. We thank him for all he has done for us, and in a special way we pray for all those who are sick that through the Sacrament of Anointing, they might be restored to health and oneness with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

[2] The picture is “Christ Blessing the Children” by Nicolaes Maes, 1652-53