Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time


Readings for Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 1 Thes 4:1-8

In this passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians the Apostle exhorts the community of faith to increase their attention to sexual morality. He reminds them that they are called to a higher standard of behavior than the pagans who are, by his inference, hedonistic and promiscuous in this regard. He also tells them that if they ignore this standard they are not just ignoring him (Paul) but God who sent him.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 97:1 and 2b, 5-6, 10, 11-12
R. Rejoice in the Lord, you just!

This song of thanksgiving rejoices in the casting down of the idol worshipers linking itself to the first reading as St. Paul chastises the practices of the pagans. The tone of the song upholds those who adhere to God’s Law.

Gospel Mt 25:1-13

St. Matthew’s Gospel gives us the parable of the Ten Virgins continuing the Gospel theme of preparedness and vigilance. In this story the idea of vigilance is expanded to include being prepared. The wise virgins brought oil for their lamps while the foolish ones did not. The oil is interpreted by some scholars to refer to good works.

Reflection:

Holy Scripture today is like a "part two" of yesterday. Remember yesterday’s scripture started the vigilance theme from St. Matthew’s Gospel and the action which suggested itself in response to that call was to love one another – that came from St. Paul’s Letter to the Thessalonians where the Apostle actually paraphrased the Lord.

Today we are again told in the Gospel to remain vigilant and prepared. This time, however, the St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians deals with sexual morality among the members of the community of faith. He nicely differentiates between love and lust, calling the community to look for sacramental love in entering into the married state, not simply physical infatuation.

His instruction, while clearly something to which couples who are contemplating marriage should listen carefully, contains a broader message as well. In a secular society that seems to find sexual promiscuity acceptable and something rejoiced over and encouraged by the media, we are called to a higher standard. The modern day pagans worship the God’s of hedonism, lust, self indulgence, and greed, we are called to worship the one true God who tells us that victory does not mean beating another person or winning some monetary prize but in serving others and loving our neighbor. Success does not mean driving a big car but bringing others to Christ.

And when the bridegroom does return in the dead of night and looks to us to see if we are prepared, will our good deeds be sufficient to give light to the lamps of our souls? When the Lord comes will he see the love of one another or the lust of the pagans? We pray for the former in a special mention of the Lord’s Prayer today that emphasizes the plea to be freed from temptation and delivered from evil.

Pax


[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture today is Last Judgment and the Wise and Foolish Virgins, UNKNOWN Flemish Master, 1450s.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time


Readings for Thursday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 1 Thes 3:7-13

St. Paul speaks to the Thessalonians in a conversational tone. He first thanks God for their faithfulness in the face of difficulties. He then offers a prayer asking God to increase their love for each other and others using one of the Lord’s sayings (Love one another as I have loved you.)

Responsorial Psalm Ps 90:3-5a, 12-13, 14 and 17
R. Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!

Psalm 90 is an individual song of thanksgiving. In this section the psalmist reflects on God’s immenseness and asks for God’s continued presence in support of all activities.

Gospel Mt 24:42-59

This discourse from St. Matthew’s Gospel follows his reflections about the end times and the need for vigilance. The Lord speaks to those who followers and especially the leaders of the community he leaves behind as he tells them they will not know the time when they will be called to the Kingdom of Heaven. In the second section he tells his followers that those who are found to be vigilant will be rewarded at the end of all things while those who have fallen away will be punished.

Homily:

Jesus clearly knows the human heart and mind. He knows there are those who wish to be seen by other as being good and righteous but in their hearts they are only concerned with appearances. These people are with us today. They are the ones who publicly say they support the faith but their private actions shout that are really not willing to walk the difficult path.

We are warned in the Gospel today that we cannot be like this. We must not only embrace the faith and all it entails but live it in our hearts as well. We are called to constant vigilance by Holy Scripture and we are told that faithfulness will be rewarded while hypocrisy will have its own reward.

How will we know our actions reflect our faith? How will others see in us the vigilant servant? St. Paul says it in his letter to the Thessalonians – Love one another. It is the Lord’s most important message and the foundation of who we are and, indeed, why he came. In the end, it will be the measure of our lives, to see how well we stood up to that test.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is Last Judgment by Raphael Coxce, c. 1600

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist


Information about the Memorial of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist[1]

Readings for the Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 1 Thes 2:9-1

St. Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they received from him, not the words of man, but the word of God. He also speaks of the love with which he delivered the message and finally how he rejoices in their ongoing faith.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 139:7-8, 9-10, 11-12ab
R. You have searched me and you know me, Lord.

Psalm 139 is an individual meditation on the omnipresent God who is in all places for all time. The song rejoices that God is always with us, even in the darkest of times.

Gospel Mk 6:17-29

The story of St. John the Baptist life from St. Mark’s Gospel gives a concise picture of St. John’s end. Especially here we note the similarities between the passing of St. John and the passion of Jesus in
Mark 15:1-47 . The rationale in both cases was the anger and guilt felt at the truth proclaimed; in the case of John the guilt of Herodias, in the case of Jesus, the Jewish leaders.

Reflection:

As St. Augustine, whose memorial we celebrated yesterday put it:

John appears as the boundary between the two testaments, the old and the new. That he is a sort of boundary the Lord himself bears witness, when he speaks of "the law and the prophets up until John the Baptist." Thus he represents times past and is the herald of the new era to come.

As we celebrate today the memorial of John’s death, it is fitting to remember how we first met him. He was baby in Elizabeth’s womb who leapt for joy when Mary, the Mother of God, then pregnant with Jesus came to visit. He was the strange holy man, dressed in animal skins, eating honey and locusts (yuck) and proclaiming; “I am a voice crying out in the wilderness.” It is John’s injunction we hear on Ash Wednesday; “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” It was he who first called people to repent and be baptized in the Jordan River.

Today we hear the story of how he ended his ministry and his life. In life he mirrored, somewhat indistinctly, the path Jesus walked. The same is true of his death. He began his ministry calling people to repentance. He ended it the same way. To the very end he was faithful to his mission and his Lord. He was the first person outside Jesus immediate family to recognize him for what and who he was. His death was a great blow to our Lord who knew a great prophet had passed.

It is good for us to hear of the circumstances of John’s passing. The events are plausible and can serve as a stern warning for us. Do we wonder what ever became of Herod, Herodias and Salome? Herod Aggripa and Herodias ended up in exile in Gaul due to family treachery. What became of Salome, history does not record. It is safe to assume that, as merciful as God is, their end was one reserved for those who serve the evil one or listen to his call.

Hear in the story the battle between God and the Devil. First we hear that Herod who imprisoned John did so because Herodias, wife of his brother (and niece) did not like John criticizing the fact that she was living in adultery with the King. This whole chain of events, so cunningly devised to take advantage of human weakness starts with Herodias wanting more power. To get that power Herodias used Herod’s lust as a lever.

Herod’s lust, however, did not completely block his mind from the truth. While he was listening to Herodias about throwing the prophet in the dungeon, he was not going to simply kill him. God did, after all, have a tiny piece of his ear. Herodias, knowing Herod’s weakness, went the next step, throwing her daughter, Salome, in front of her lover. Again, Herod’s lust betrayed him. In his desire, he offered anything to Salome. And, like the dutiful daughter she was, she did her mother’s bidding and asked for John to be beheaded. A sweet chilled, eh?

See how the evil one twists what is good and uses it for evil. See how the ignoble character of greed, ambition, and lust play together for the downfall of all three. Why is this scenario so plausible? It is because those same driving characteristics are so commonly at play in people today. We can easily see ourselves cast into those roles if the circumstances were right. If we turn off the voice of God, we would certainly fall. The less we listen, the closer we dance to the edge.

Just as he did in Jesus day, John calls out to us. He beseeches us to repent and turn away from sin; turn away from greed; turn away from lust, and be faithful to the Gospel. It was for this reason he came and for this noble cause he died.


Pax
[1] The picture today is The Beheading of John the Baptist by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1610
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Memorial of Saint Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church


Biographical Information about St. Augustine[1]

Readings for the Memorial of St. Augustine[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 1 Thes 2:1-8

In speaking of his previous stay with the Thessalonians, St. Paul emphasizes both the content of the Gospel message and the need to present it gently. He concludes this selection reminding them of the deep affection with which he holds them.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 139:1-3, 4-6
R. You have searched me and you know me, Lord.

Psalm 139 is a hymn of meditation upon God’s presence in our lives. The selection carries the awe that one so great could love one so insignificant.

Gospel Mt 23:23-262

This reading from Matthew continues the dialogue of the “Seven Woes”. In this selection we hear how the Pharisees have extended the law of tithing down to the smallest of crops, herbs. The implication is they are lost in the minutia of the Law and have forgotten lager faith issues. The same reference is made when he says “Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!”

The final part of this section is concerned with “a metaphor illustrating a concern for appearances while inner purity is ignored” (NAB Footnote). There is a strong reference here to the lack of self-control shown by these leaders.

Reflection:

"The love of worldly possessions is a sort of bird line, which entangles the soul, and prevents it flying to God." -Saint Augustine

This short analogy by the great saint whose memorial we celebrate today summarizes a major theme of St. Matthew’s Gospel. It is one of the hardest tenets of the faith and I’ll illustrate that with a short story on myself.

Last Sunday I was in the sacristy with the celebrant vesting before Mass. One of the ushers came in and asked father “I will be attending an anniversary celebration for a Sister who has been in vows for 60 years. What would be an appropriate gift?” Father responded, “She has taken a vow of poverty so I would just get her a nice card.”

Knowing the usher well, I interjected in jest “How about a long term certificate of deposit? I’m sure the order would appreciate that.” We all laughed but in thinking about it later, it had some deeper implications. There is a tendency in all of us to place too much importance on material things and forget that it is our spiritual selves we should be more concerned about.

Today our prayer should be that our hearts and minds should remain firmly focused on our Lord. We ask that all we do and accomplish, though his grace, should be for the greater glory of God who made all things possible. We conclude remembering the psalm for today:

Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know the whole of it.
Behind me and before, you hem me in
and rest your hand upon me.

Pax
[1] The picture for today is St. Augustine in Prayer by Sandro Botticelli, 1480
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Monday, August 27, 2007

Memorial of Saint Monica


Biographical Information about St. Monica[1]

Readings from the Memorial of Saint Monica[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 1 Thes 1:1-5, 8b-10

This is the introduction of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. It is also the first mention by St. Paul of the three “theological virtues” Faith, Love, and Hope. Used in conjunction with the Feast of St. Monica it clearly states the great spiritual example of her story.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 149:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6a and 9b
R. The Lord takes delight in his people.

Psalm 149 is a song of praise. In these strophes we rejoice because God brings victory to the lowly and hope to the oppressed.

Gospel Mt 23:13-22

This section of Matthew’s Gospel contains the first of the “seven woes” the Lord issues against the scribes and Pharisees. He first accuses them of “locking the kingdom of heaven” (recall later Jesus gives St. Peter the keys to that lock.) The Lord goes on to ridicule these “false guides” because what they do does not match what they teach. Though Jesus forbids his disciples to make oaths of any sort, he tells the Jewish leaders that because they only value oaths associated with the value it brings to the temple, their reward will be in “Gehenna”.

Reflection:

We reflect today on the life of St. Monica as she lived the great theological virtues expressed in St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. The way they are expressed, “…your work of faith and labor of love and endurance in hope of our Lord Jesus Christ” points the actions of our noble saint squarely at the great reward of the faithful in the resurrection.

Saint Augustine of Hippo, whose mother she was (and whose feast day we celebrate tomorrow), writes extensively of her in his confessions. He tells of her fidelity to the faith in works, of her unceasing love for him (and his father, a pagan baptized on his death bed). He speaks of her unwavering hope for her family and herself that they might achieve that which our Lord and Savior promised.

We recognize in this singular example the struggle of all of the noble Christian men and women who hope and pray in seemingly impossible situations. St. Monica’s example is proof for them that God is with them in their struggle and provides her own strength to them to continue their faithful witness in the face of insurmountable obstacles.

To a lesser extent, those of us who aspire to the place where the saints point also look to our lives and model our interior selves on these three great pillars of faith. In all we do we give glory to God so that our works shine as a gift to Him. With all we meet, our love for our brothers and sisters creates a spreading net to capture the hearts of others for our Lord. In all of our prayers we express the hope in the life to come, that we might be found worthy to take our place among all the saints in the endless ecstasy of worship in heaven.

Pax

[1] The picture today is of St. Monica and St. Augustine by Ary Scheffer, date UNKNOWN
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time


Readings for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Is 66:18-21

At the surface we hear the Prophet’s oracle summoning people from all the nations to Zion. From our view, understanding the mission of the Messiah and the Apostles, we hear God’s universal invitation to the Kingdom of God.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 117:1, 2
R. Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.

Psalm 117 is the shortest of the psalms. In it we hear the call to praise God for his offer of salvation is eternal.

Reading II Heb 12:5-7, 11-13

St. Paul encourages the Hebrew Christians to look at the persecution they endure not as a fall from favor but rather as a means by which the Lord strengthens them as his adopted children. He calls them to remain faithful in the face of these trials so that God’s work may continue in them.

Gospel Lk 13:22-30

Jesus has just told the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Yeast and the questioner is asking if many will be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus’ answer has two levels of meaning. Entering through the “narrow gate” implies that there is but one set of directions that must be followed to achieve heaven. He says many will attempt to follow these directions but will not be able to because they are difficult.

The Lord’s example of the Master locking the door is an analogy for the end times, the eschaton, when final judgment will be leveled against those who seek entry to the heavenly kingdom. Reminiscent of the first reading from Isaiah, we hear that people from all over the world will be called. He concludes saying that some of the last (called to discipleship) will be first (have higher places of honor) and vice versa.

Reflection:

The message today is clear, we are all called to a difficult path and many will find it too heard. One of the great heartbreaks of a parent who is faithful to their religion is watching their child grow up and reject that faith. It happens more that anyone would care to admit. We do our best to show them the path. We take them with us to Church and social events sponsored by our faith communities but so often the secular path is so much easier and so much more fun, as soon as they are able, they turn away.

Sometimes, if we are lucky, they find a way back. God is merciful and his invitation is always open. The very lucky ones find the support they need and accept the discipline of the faith. The unlucky ones continue to flail about with that empty space inside, never knowing what it is that can fill it.

We have said before that God’s path is difficult. He asks us to place others before ourselves. He asks that we turn the other cheek. He asks that we serve others and decline to be served. He asks us to put Him first and tells us that material things are not important. All of these things he asks and they are directly the opposite of what the world holds up as the way to success.

As if this were not enough, we as Catholics, add another layer of discipline to insure our faith is constantly being measured, evaluated and our course corrected. We have the rules that insure we seek the Lord at least weekly in the Eucharist. When we fail to live up to Christ’s perfect example, when we consciously fail to love, we are called to be reconciled, sacramentally. We are asked to give financially to support others in our community that are in need and we are expected be present during special remembrances of our Lord and those he has called to be beacons of faith.

We are called indeed to a difficult path and only the strongest will be able to follow it to its final destination. The really good news, however, is that we have the Lord’s help. Not only can we always come back, but once we are there, the Holy Spirit, His promised aid, well support us in our labors.

Today we pledge once more to stay the difficult course and to be an instrument of God’s love, reminding all we meet that the invitation is always open. We pray that our example will be that invitation and our love for others be the help they need to accept it.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The difficult way – found somewhere on the web but no citation attached – let me know if you can give me the artist and date.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time


Saint Louis (IX, Capet)
Saint Joseph of Calasanz, priest

Biographical Information about St. Louis[1]
Biographical Information about St. Joseph of Calasanz[2]

Readings for Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time[3]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Ru 2:1-3, 8-11; 4:13-17

The Old Testament readings continue to trace God’s relationship with the Hebrew people. We are given a selection from the Book of Ruth that occurred around the same time as the Judges from which we have been hearing for the past week. This story celebrates the piety and fidelity of Ruth, a Moabite (non-Hebrew) who becomes attached to Israel through marriage. Out of that union we find the beginnings of King David’s line and hence the line of Jesus in Bethlehem.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 128:1b-2, 3, 4, 5
R. See how the Lord blesses those who fear him.

Supporting the pleasure God takes in the fidelity shown in the reading from Ruth, this hymn of praise extols the virtuous wife and the role she has in the home. It continues, celebrating the faithful family.

Gospel Mt 23:1-12

St. Matthew uses Jesus' teaching about the leaders of the Jewish faith as counter-examples of what the leaders of the Christian faith must be like. The scribes and Pharisees, lead from the authority given by the Temple. According to the Gospel, they did not practice what they taught and performed their worship for others to see rather than out of true faith and worship of God.

The passage concludes saying that the true leader of the faith must be first the servant of others, as Jesus himself came to serve, not to be served. The final line of the passage is a summary; “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

Reflection:

We have our choice of examples of faith today. We can begin with St. Louis (IX) who is considered by the Church to be model of the Christian secular ruler. As described in the Gospel, he was a servant of his people unlike so many of his contemporaries who reveled in the power of the monarchy.

We can look also at Ruth from the Old Testament Reading. At the beginning of her story, her first husband, one of Naomi’s sons, died. Naomi’s husband and other son also died leaving Naomi with two daughters in-law and no male heirs to take care of them. She left the plateau of the Moabites to return to her own people, having first gone to that place to flee a famine. She encouraged Ruth and her other daughter in-law to stay with their own people because she had neither a way to support them nor any prospects for them. One daughter in-law, Orpah, did return, but Ruth stayed with Naomi proclaiming “"Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you! For wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”

Out of this act of love and faith, the ancestry of King David is initiated as we hear in the selection presented today, Ruth ends up marrying Boaz. From that union a son, Obed, is born. He became the father of Jesse, the father of David. From David’s line comes our Lord and Savior Jesus. God’s plan is fulfilled out of the faithful witness of a foreigner.


Our lesson from these examples (and we have not even touched upon St. Joseph of Calasanz, patron of religious schools and students) is that our faithfulness to the teachings of Jesus are to be for His glory, not our own. Second, we must see that our own calling is not a way to achieve personal ends, but rather as part of God’s plan for the salvation of all. We find a tall order for ourselves mixed among these wonderful examples of faith.

Pax

[1] The first picture is St. Louis of France by El Greco, 1587-97
[2] The second picture is The Last Communion of St. Joseph of Calasanz by Francisco de Goya, 1819
[3] After Links to Readings Expire

Friday, August 24, 2007

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle


Biographical Information about St. Bartholomew[1]

Readings for the Feast of St. Bartholomew[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Rv 21:9b-14

God shows St. John the new Jerusalem, Christ’s heavenly kingdom. The invitation to the children of Israel is still present in the symbolism of the gates. On the feast of St. Bartholomew we are most interested in the foundation of the city. Here we find the names of the twelve Apostles of which Bartholomew is one – supporting the Lord’s Heavenly Kingdom.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 145:10-11, 12-13, 17-18
R. Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.

Psalm 145 is a hymn of praise. In this selection we hear the singer rejoice in the image of God’s Heavenly Kingdom described above – supported at its very roots by the Apostles.

Gospel Jn 1:45-51

St. John’s Gospel gives us the story of the call of Bartholomew (Nathanael). The symbolism used in the story is rich in the Hebrew tradition. When Jesus comments “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him,” he is referring to Jacob who first was called Israel but was one of Joseph’s brothers and therefore considered duplicitous. “True son” would relate him to Abraham.

Next we hear the Lord respond to Bartholomew when he asks “How do you know me?” with the statement “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” The fig tree is a symbol of Messianic Peace. In this statement Jesus identifies himself as the Messiah. Bartholomew understands and immediately responds in faith “Rabbi, you are the Son of God…”

Reflection:

St. Bartholomew’s Feast places us in a bit of a quandary. Based upon references elsewhere in scripture, we believe that St. Bartholomew and Nathanael were the same person. Other sources still say his original name was Jesus and he changed it to avoid any possibility of confusion.

From a spiritual perspective he is problematic. As one of The Twelve, he received the respect and admiration due one of the original members of that tiny group that remained faithful and spread the knowledge of Christ throughout the world. At the same time, the images we have of him are rather gruesome. He is said to have been flayed alive (skinned) and the most famous image of him, painted by Michelangelo in the "The Last Judgment" (Sistine Chapel), shows him holding his own skin.

The readings tell us he was brought to Christ by another one of the twelve, Philip and that Jesus immediately accepted him saying; “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.”, an apparent reference to Jacob, the brother of Isaac who, through a ruse, stole his brother’s blessing and was labeled as duplicitous (
Genesis 32:29). Being straightforward as he was St. John tells us that Bartholomew challenged Jesus saying; “How do you know me?”

Jesus answered with a reference to having seen Bartholomew lying under a fig tree. This, according to the notes on this passage, refers to a symbol of messianic peace. In other words Jesus saw Bartholomew (Nathanael) as a person who had already experienced the peace of the kingdom as transformed by the Lord. Is it any wonder then that once this revelation had been made another followed from the lips of Bartholomew saying; “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (In other words, the Messiah!)

Where does the image of Bartholomew take us? That largely unknown Apostle, who, tradition has it, carried the Gospel to Asia Minor, Ethiopia, India and Armenia; friend of Philip, and martyr, is one more example of faith to inspire us. Why should we expect each of the Twelve to have become famous? Jesus, their example and ours, valued humility, placing the Father always first. Is it surprising that one of his closest friends would choose to have the Lord’s name remembered instead of his own?

Today we actually get a great lesson from the Apostle, Bartholomew. Let us all pray that, at the end of our lives, the Lord’s name will be thought of as people remember us.

Pax

[1] The image used today is detail from The Last Judgment by Michaelangelo, Saint Bartholomew holding the knife of his martyrdom and his flayed skin. 1535-1541
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time


Saint Rose of Lima, Virgin

Biographical Information about St. Rose of Lima[1]

Readings for Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Jgs 11:29-39a

We skip ahead two chapters and discover Jephthah who was a chieftain with a sullied past. Brought back from self imposed exile where he formed a gang and raided neighboring communities, he was put in charge of the Israelite’s defense against the Ammonites. We join him at the onset were he clearly vows human sacrifice, a tradition of his pagan neighbors.

Perhaps because of this pagan vow, we see him punished as his only child, a young daughter, becomes the object of this sacrifice. Because bearing children is seen as the “greatest pride; to be childless was regarded as a great misfortune. Hence Jephthah's daughter asks permission to mourn the fact that she will be put to death before she can bear children.” (see footnote from NAB)

Responsorial Psalm Ps 40:5, 7-8a, 8b-9, 1
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.

This selection of Psalm 40 has a teaching or didactic note as we hear the implied criticism of Jephthah who had not turned from idolatry. God’s harsh justice will be celebrated.

Gospel Mt 22:1-14

St. Matthew’s Gospel presents us with the parable of the King's Wedding Feast. The reference to the first servants sent to invite the guests were the Prophets, rejected or misunderstood by the Jewish Leadership. The second servants sent represent Christ Himself who here predicts his own death at the hands of the people he was sent to invite.

In the second section, we see the feast that was prepared for God’s chosen people, the Hebrew Nation, those first invited, is left unattended. Therefore God’s mercy is extended to all people of all nations. There is a warning at the end. Those not clothed in Christ who attempt to enter by deception will be punished severely.

Homily:

Today as we celebrate the Memorial of St. Rose of Lima, the first saint of the Americas, we recall her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament in which, according to tradition, she participated daily. We reflect upon the Gospel and the rich symbolism of Jesus’ parable of the Kings Wedding Feast.

Perhaps the reason this parable resonates with us so clearly is because of St. Paul’s constant reference to the Lord as the Bride Groom and the Church his bride. It is clear that we are the invited guests in the second part of the story. After he was rejected by the leaders of his day as represented in the first part of the parable, he sent his disciples to invite us. He brings us to this banquet table where we share heavenly food.

All that is necessary is that we accept this invitation. But, we are cautioned at the end of the tale, we must accept it from the depths of our hearts. We may not simply say the words “I accept” and be admitted. God can see past that fa├žade. The wedding garment we must wear is Christ himself. We must put him on over our natural selves and it will be clear to the Lord we are ready to sit at this table and receive eternal life.

Pax
[1] The picture used today is St. Rose of Lima by Claudio Coello, 1884-85
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Exhortation Extending the Feast of the Assumption- Marialis Cultus[1]

Readings for the Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible (alternate readings)

Commentary:*

·
Today we are offered two options for the readings the first is provided by the USCCB site, the second by Universalis in the UK.

Reading 1 Jgs 9:6-15

In this passage from Judges, Jotham uses the analogy of trees selecting a leader to reflect upon the process used by the citizens of Shechem in selecting Abimelech their king and ignoring the line of the sons of Gideon who were faithful to God. The warning at the end of his analogy is explained in subsequent verses.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 21:2-3, 4-5, 6-
R. Lord, in your strength the king is glad.

In this psalm of praise, the faithful king is honored. This song contrasts with the actions of the citizens of Shechem above who selected an unfaithful king in Abimelech.

Gospel Mt 20:1-16

The parable of the Laborers Hired Late continues the dialogue from Matthew’s Gospel yesterday in which the same moral was expressed “the last will be first, and the first will be last.” The inference here changes slightly in that while in yesterday’s Gospel the Lord referred to those who would follow him into eternal life, today he broadens the scope to imply that those called later to faithful service would receive the same reward as those first called.

Alternate Readings for the Memorial of the Queenship
of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Reading 1
Isaiah 9:1 - 6

The Prophet Isaiah predicts the coming of the Messiah and the great blessing he will provide. The last paragraph is most descriptive in that it gives us the “child born for us, a son given to us” (out of the Virgin Mary) that will bring peace to the world.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 113: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
R. Blessed be the name of the Lord for ever.

This song of praise is directed at those who serve the Lord. The praise of the Lord is always on the servants lips.

Gospel
Luke 1:26 - 38

From St. Luke’s Gospel we hear the Archangel Gabriel announce to Mary that she has “won God’s favor” and has been chosen to bare the Son of God. In spite of her fear of the circumstances, she accepts this charge, humbly with the words; “I am the handmaid of the Lord,” and “let what you have said be done to me.”

Reflection:

The Church's reflection today on the mystery of Christ and on her own nature has led her to find at the root of the former and as a culmination of the latter the same figure of a woman: the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ and the Mother of the Church. And the increased knowledge of Mary's mission has become joyful veneration of her and adoring respect for the wise plan of God, who has placed within His family (the Church), as in every home, the figure of a Woman, who in a hidden manner and in a spirit of service watches over that family "and carefully looks after it until the glorious day of the Lord."

-His Holiness Pope Paul VI

We look at these words of Pope Paul VI, written in 1974 and find the truth in them today. Our devotion the Mary is so misunderstood by those of other Christian denominations. If only they would look at how we see her, pointing us to her Son with a simple and humble faith we pray we can emulate.

Our love of Mary, Queen of Heaven, first among all the saints, comes from the fact that she accepted God’s call from the beginning, knowing that the path would be difficult, accepting the sacrifice willingly and obediently. Her reign in Heaven must be one of servant leadership because that was her role from the beginning. It was through her acquiescence to God , “I am the handmaid of the Lord”, that our Lord and Savior came into the world and God’s promise was revealed.

Today we recall Mary, Theotokis, the Mother of God as she points to her Son and through him to the Father. We honor her as first in heaven as she was first to believe on earth. We thank God for his selection of her as Queen of Heaven.

Pax

[1] The picture used today is Mary, Queen of Heaven by Master of the St. Lucy Legend, 1485-1500
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Memorial of Saint Pius X, pope


Biographical Information about St. Pius X, Pope[1]

Readings for the Memorial of St. Pius X[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible (Alternate Readings for Today)

Commentary:*

· Today we are offered two options for the readings the first is provided by the USCCB site, the second by Universalis in the UK.

Reading 1 Jgs 6:11-24a

We hear in the reading from Judges the story of Gideon’s encounter with the Angel of God. As in many of the stories from this period, the hero, Gideon, does not know that it is God who commands him and needs proof. Once he sees the sign it is God in the sacrifice, he accepts and believes.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 85:9, 11-12, 13-14
R. The Lord speaks of peace to his people.

This selection is part of a hymn of thanksgiving. It relates nicely to the Judges reading as it refers to receiving what God has spoken. Note also the reference to peace links to the name Gideon gave to the altar he built Yahweh Shalom (“God’s Peace).

Gospel Mt 19:23-30

St. Matthew’s Gospel continues the focus on valuing the spiritual life above the material pursuits of earthly existence. The disciples were dismayed at the aestheticism required and asked the Lord who could be saved, since all have fallen prey to that sin.

The Lord then provides the answer that for God all things are possible and that through their faith him Him they will find their reward. He continues his discourse with an eschatological description of who shall receive the gift of eternal life regardless of when they come to faith (the last shall be first…).

Alternate Readings for the Memorial of Pius X

Reading 1
1 Thessalonians 2 2b-8

St. Paul describes his worthiness as being established in God’s eyes rather than the view of his abilities as seen by others. He communicates his affection for the Thessalonians and his hope that the word he has spoken will abide with them.


Responsorial Psalm
Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 21-22, 25, and 27
R. Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.

As St. Paul identified himself as God’s servant in the reading from Thessalonians, this psalm speaks of another of God’s servants, David. Like David, St. Paul has been chosen as a faithful servant.


Gospel
John 21:15 – 17

Jesus appears to the disciples in Galilee and is made known to them in the breaking of the bread (this was the third time since his resurrection). He instructs Simon Peter as he receives Peter’s three fold affirmation (in atonement for his three fold denial of the Lord the night in the courtyard of Caiaphas.) His instructions were to fulfill his previous call as Rock upon which Jesus was to found his Church with the Eucharist at the center. (Feed my sheep!).

Reflection:

The celebration of the Memorial of St. Pius X, Pope directs our reflection today. He was called to service and acceded to God’s call without the persuasion of an Angel of the Lord or the proof of a burnt offering. He was faithful throughout his life and with the Help of the Holy Spirit, he accomplished amazing results in a difficult time, leading the Church as Europe moved headlong into war (WW I).

The reforms he was able to make strengthened the Church he loved and allowed her to provide hope to the hopeless and give comfort to those afflicted by “the war to end all wars” (as it was called). It is difficult for us to appreciate the task this Holy Father of the Church undertook. In a time before instant communication and uniform constitutions he brought a unified front to the Church and was able to guide her on right paths when many were falling to greed and despotism.

In short, the Saint we remember today was there in spirit with Christ on that beach in Galilee as he responded with Peter, “Lord, you know that I love you." Our response to this memoriam must be to follow that same path of faithfulness. We too are called to “Feed his sheep” even though we are also sheep. We too are called to “Feed his lambs” even though we are also lambs. May God give us the strength and wisdom to emulate him on this course today.

Pax

[1] The picture used is a photograph of Pope Pius X, photographer and date UNKNOWN
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Monday, August 20, 2007

Memorial of Saint Bernard, abbot and doctor of the Church


Biographical Information about St. Bernard[1]

Readings for the Memorial of St. Bernard[2]
Reading from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Jgs 2:11-19

In this passage from the book of Judges the chronicler recounts how the Children of Israel fell away from God and began to follow secular worship of Baal and Ashtaroth. This led them to destruction, all they attempted turned to disaster. Even when Judges (leaders of the faith) were appointed and who were faithful to God and the Law, the people ignored them. Even those who followed them would fall away once a particular judge died. Nothing was possible without God’s help.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 106:34-35, 36-37, 39-40, 43ab and 44
R. Remember us, O Lord, as you favor your people.

Psalm 104 is a historical psalm. Here it laments the failure of the people to follow God’s instruction to remain faithful and apart from the secular society into which they had come (in actuality they were to have destroyed those societies but did not).

Gospel Mt 19:16-22

In this story from Matthew’s Gospel we hear of the wealthy young man who wishes to gain eternal life. The response from Jesus is first he must be faithful to the Law of Moses, specifically the Decalogue (Ten Commandments). When the young man answers that he has done so the Lord invites him to become perfected by giving up all he owns and follow him. This the young man could not do – his possessions were to dear to him.

Reflection:

The unified theme in scripture today is follow God’s law, placing his will first in our lives and we will find prosperity in this life and receive the promise of the next. This focus is first treated by the reading from the Book of Judges which summarizes the message contained in that book which is: “…is to show that the fortunes of Israel depended upon the obedience or disobedience of the people to God's law.” (see Introduction to Judges from NAB).

The historical summary is reiterated in the selection from Psalm 106 and the final pragmatic instruction is provided by St. Matthew as he describes Christ’s encounter with the wealthy young man. In this story we see clearly the difficult road we as Christians must follow. Our fist and most basic task is to follow God’s Law. Note that the Lord uses this as a starting point. Then he takes us further. Although he is not calling most of us to lay down all we own to follow him (In the cases of those called to priestly or religious life he does just this) he invites us to place him first in our lives, ahead of material wealth.

For those of us who live in the secular world this is often difficult. We are measured by society by our “things”, how big a car we drive, how nice a house and neighborhood we live in, the toys we have. To abandon that life view and embrace Christ’s call to holiness is at the very heart of the scriptural message today.

Our prayer then is that we might remain faithful to Christ’s call today as did the Saint we memorialize, St. Bernard. We pray that, unlike the Children of Israel who were lured away from God by the secular world, we might keep God first in our minds and hearts and thereby come to the reward he promises, eternal life.

Pax

[1] The picture used today is from French Holy Card depiction of St. Bernard, artist is UNKNOWN
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time



Commentary:


Placing this incident in perspective, Jeremiah is already being held by the guards of the princes who complain to the King. What Jeremiah has been saying is that, because the people have turned from God, the city is going to fall to the King of Babylon and any who wish to be saved should flee the city and go to the Chaldeans.

When they are allowed to deal with the Prophet in their own way, the Guards put Jeremiah into a water cistern that has been drained where he sinks into the mud at the bottom. Clearly he is in imminent danger of death. Not wishing to bring more of God’s wrath upon him, the King authorizes Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian, to rescue him.
R. Lord, come to my aid!

Psalm 40 is a lament. This selection gives reference to calling for God’s help in times of distress and the reference to being drawn out of "the pit of destruction, out of the muddy swamp" is a link back to Jeremiah’s situation described in the first reading.

Speaking to the Hebrews, St. Paul exhorts them to follow the example of witnesses both ancient (from the Old Testament) and contemporary. He uses Christ as the banner of steadfast faith, who, seeing the joys of the Kingdom of Heaven, endured the Cross for the sake of salvation for the people.

This discourse from St. Luke’s Gospel emphasizes the divisive nature of Christ’s message. He has already encountered resistance and sees that his message of peace will have an even more profound affect on the world. It is clear the Lord knows that many will not be able to accept his words and this will cause enmity between people, even families.

Reflection:

Today we are reminded that, while the rewards of the faith are tremendous, the do no come without a secular price. Jesus has already seen the resistance to his message and knows that it will grow and intensify as more people come to understand who the Son of Man is and what His message means to those in power.

From the beginning, since God cast out Satan, the message of love has contended for the hearts of people with the message of hate, good fights against evil, and sacrifice with greed. It was implicit in the first reading from the book of the Prophet Jeremiah. The conflict is epitomized in the message of Jesus. His call to absolute virtue will always be seen as a treat to those who would rather cling to the darkness. St. Paul address this very issue in his Letter to the Hebrews ("let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us").

The message comes to us at a time when the secular world with its hedonistic values seems to be gaining strength. We must be prepared to face stiff resistance, even from within our own families as we strive to stay the course Christ has called us to. Let us pray today then that we have the strength in the Holy Spirit to fight the good fight, to run the good race, and in the end come to the victory Christ promises.
2 The picture used today is An Angle and a Devil Fighting for the Soul of a Child by Giacinto Gimignani

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Saturday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time



Commentary:


In this final chapter of the Book of Joshua we hear of the final act Joshua performs. After asking the people to give up all other Gods but God the Father, he tells them it will not be easy. He reminds them that if they are not careful they could fall from grace. He then establishes a covenant between God and the people and goes to his reset.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 11
R. You are my inheritance, O Lord.


Psalm 16 is a song of praise and thanksgiving. In these strophes we echo the sentiment expressed by Joshua when he said " As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."


In this passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel we again see Jesus inviting everyone to come to him including this time the children. There are two connotations here. First we remember that the Lord said earlier in the Gospel that the Kingdom of God belonged to those who possessed the faith of a child. We also recognize that this passage supports the practice of infant Baptism. The children are given to Christ in that sacrament.

Reflection:


Today we hear Joshua conclude his term as leader of the tribes of Israel (and his life). His final appeal to the people is for a conversion of heart. He recognizes, as we all do, that conversion is not usually an event but rather a process. He exhorts the people once more to declare that God is foremost in their lives and they must renounce (in this case false gods and idols) those elements of their lives that might take precedence over their devotion to the Lord.

Joshua uses the instrument great leaders have always used, personal example. He does not ask the people to do something he himself is unwilling to do. He gives us the famous phrase; "" As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

We have seen this verse reproduced on media and it is widely familiar even if most people do not know where it came from or who said it. We wonder how many of those people have asked, as we do today, what it means? What does it mean to serve the Lord?


In Joshua’s speech it was clear that he was challenging the people to observe the laws and precepts laid down by the patriarchs of the people, by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and most specifically Moses. He told them it would not be easy ("You may not be able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy God). Are we able to "serve the Lord" without faltering? Thank God for His Son. The Hebrews to whom Joshua spoke did not know Jesus, had not even heard the promise of the Messiah. Joshua told them that if they failed to life up to their vows, God would punish and kill them. We have the Christ who came to show us God’s mercy.


If we do our utmost in God’s service we are to him as little children who would never be punished by a loving Father for doing our best. The mercy of God is boundless and his love and tenderness toward us is endless. All we need to do is pray for guidance, look carefully at our own motives, and serve the Lord from our hearts as best we can. " As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

2The Picture used today is Exhortation of Joshua by Marc Chagall, 1931-39

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time


Readings for Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time[1][2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Jos 24:1-13

This selection of Joshua summarizes God’s plan for the children of Israel to this point. Joshua reminds them, speaking as an oral historian, of all that God has done. This final verse echo’s God’s promise recorded in
Deuteronomy 6:10 we heard just last week, wherein the Lord gives them cities they did not build and crops they did not till.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 136:1-3, 16-18, 21-22 and 24
R. His mercy endures forever.

This ancient litany of praise to God was probably sung just as we do in responsorial or antiphonal fashion. Like the first reading this selection summarizes God’s saving works directed to the people of Israel.

Gospel Mt 19:3-12

This passage from Matthew’s Gospel is foundational to our understanding of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Here we find Jesus challenged by Pharisees (possibly being asked to take sides in an argument but more likely to be tricked). Jesus comments on the origins of marriage and its sanctity are attacked again using Mosaic Law. Jesus once more goes back to the Father’s intent but does give and out – “unless the marriage is unlawful”, that is, the sacramental bond did not exist from the beginning.

The discourse then switches to one between Jesus and his disciples as they discuss the idea of living the celibate life. Again the Lord tells them that this is not for everyone but “only for those to whom that is granted.” The Gospel links the call to marriage and celibacy, both are gifts from God.

Reflection:

The Gospel passage from St. Matthew is so important that volumes have been written about its implications on both the Sacrament of Marriage and Holy Orders. It is interesting that they are joined even in scripture.

Central to our understanding of the sacramental bond celebrated in both these sacraments is the idea of indelibility. If a sacrament exists it cannot be broken, it cannot leave. Jesus, in this passage speaks the words used in the Sacrament of Marriage to describe the permanent nature of the bond (“what God has joined together, man must not separate”).

It is the understanding of the Church when it witnesses the sacraments that they cannot be undone. Rather, if at a later time it is found that the call to the sacrament of marriage is untenable or not present or if the call to Holy Orders no longer exists, a mistake was made at the onset and the sacraments were not present in the first place. This is the reason for the existence of the Marriage Tribunals and the mechanisms at the Vatican to make certain the mistake was made and it is something not taken lightly. God’s instruments or grace are not to be taken lightly.

Today we thank God for the gift of Marriage and the gift of Holy Orders. We ask the heavenly Father to strengthen the gifts of grace provided in these sacraments and pray that those so called will be faithful to their callings.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is Creation of Eve by Michelangelo Buonarroti, 1509-10

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time


Saint Stephen of Hungary

Biographical Information about St. Stephen of Hungary[1]

Readings for Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 Jos 3:7-10a, 11, 13-17

Earlier this week we heard Moses pass on the leadership of the tribes of Israel to Joshua. In this passage from the Book principally concerned with that next phase in the history of God’s interaction with the descendents of Abraham we find Joshua instructed by God to demonstrate that He (the Lord) would precede them as he had promised. The miraculous damning of the Jordan river is the sign chosen to mark this transition.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 114:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
R. Alleluia!

The final strophe of this psalm of thanksgiving recalls the miracle of the crossing of the Jordan. This event, like other salvific involvement by God, is celebrated in song by Kind David’s line.

Gospel Mt 18:21–19:1

The Gospel from St. Matthew today deals with forgiveness among the disciples. Peter asks Jesus how many times his fellow disciples must be forgiven. Jesus responds that forgiveness must be without limits. He illustrates this point with the parable of the unmerciful servant.

Homily:

The relationship between the first reading from Joshua and the Gospel is not a strong one today. The first reading focuses on God’s promise and the salvation he gives as a result of his Covenant. The second reading is about forgiveness which is indeed central to God’s covenant with us, but the reading itself is much more pragmatic.

Peter’s question: “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?” is answered by Jesus first symbolically (seventy times seven) and then emphatically using the parable of the unmerciful servant. The moral of this parable is quite clear to us. If God will forgive us the sins we have committed against him, how can we hold those (especially our brothers and sisters) accountable for sins we perceive that they have committed against us?

As we hear time and time again in the Gospel we profess, forgiveness is the great healer. When we forgive from the heart as Jesus commands, we are ourselves healed.
The worst hurt in the world is often caused by those we love most dearly. When we perceive that they have wronged us, because of that close relationship, we hold them accountable for their actions. If there is not recognition by the other that reconciliation is required of them, that debt of atonement festers. It grows and develops into anger and even hatred which is self destructive and leads to even greater sin.

Forgiveness washes away that gulf that is opened by perceived wrongs. Again especially in close relationships, forgiveness by the one wronged often will open the way for reconciliation and a strengthening of the bond of love that exists.

Today we praise the Lord for his gift of forgiveness and ask him to help us as we try to emulate him.

Pax

[1] The picture today is a medieval fresco of St. Stephen of Hungary artist is UNKNOWN
[2] After Links to Readings Expire