Sunday, August 31, 2008

Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time


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

Commentary:

Reading 1: Jeremiah 20:7-9

Jeremiah’s oracle has foreseen the fall of Jerusalem and the great exile as Israel is sent into slavery in Babylon. In this passage he makes an emotional outpouring to God. He recognizes that God’s word makes him outcast and people think of him as a lunatic but even though he has tried to be silent God’s call forces him to cry out in the prophetic voice.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 8-9
R. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.

Psalm 63 is an individual lament. In this selection we see the emotion of one who longs to be reunited with God from whom separation is like being cast into a desert without water. The singer professes faith in God’s salvation and expresses faith that the prayers offered will be answered.

Reading II: Romans 12:1-2

St. Paul begins a new topic with these verses from his letter to the Romans. The demands of the “New Life” of the Christian are laid out; beginning with the idea of complete dedication to the ideals of their faith. This dedication is expressed here in language reminiscent of the ritual sacrifice of animals in the Hebrew and pagan ceremonies but using the bodies of the faithful in this context. The clear idea is the Christian, like an animal sacrificed to God, is to be wholly given to Christ, untainted by the sins of the world (“Do not conform yourselves to this age”) but, in following the will of God – a pleasing sacrifice to him.

Gospel: Matthew 16:21-27

The passage begins with Jesus’ explanation of his coming passion. Jesus, using the title “Son of Man” (see
Daniel 7:13-14), foresees his trials and passion. This frightens the disciples and probably confuses many of the entourage (remember, there were more than just the 12 following Jesus around) and Peter confronts him asking him to take a different approach to what he tells his students. Seeing this request as an invitation to take an easier path, Jesus rebukes Peter.

This is the second time within the Gospel of St. Matthew the Lord instructs the disciples that if they wish to follow him, they must take up the cross (the first time is in
Matthew 10:38). This passage focuses the followers of Christ on the idea that serving the Lord must come before any other purposes in life since it is through following Jesus that eternal life is gained. It is also explicit that bringing the Word of God, the message of the Kingdom of God to the world will lead to persecution and even the possibility of death.

Reflection:

In the novel “Dune” by Frank Herbert, the young hero of the story, Paul, was at one point tested under torture to see if he was “human.” In the story the proof of his humanity was that he could endure great pain because he knew that he would be killed if he did not. In Sacred Scripture today, Jesus proposes a test for fidelity to the faithful discipleship that requires the believer to deny those human impulses that would lead one to follow the wisdom of the world but deny the eternal life of the spirit.

If we follow the Lord’s logic we see the truth of it. The wisdom of the world is completely focused on self preservation and propagation. That means that when a desired course of action is challenged, human wisdom weighs the odds of success and the consequences of failure and follows the least risky path, regardless of collateral damage and regardless of which moral principles must be sacrificed. An amoral person will predictably always follow this pattern in life decisions. Society’s laws have attempted to curb these baser impulses, especially when it comes to dealing with the general population. However, in dealing with personal relationships, these laws do not dictate a moral course but rather allow great latitude as long as the individual does not disturb the status quo.

Jesus changes that for his followers. God the Father tried to tell the ancient Hebrew peoples about the need to be more concerned for things of faith than for things of flesh. This concept flies in the face of human tendencies toward self preservation. We see that emotional appeal in the reading from the Book of Jeremiah. The prophet recognizes that exhorting the people of Jerusalem to repent – to turn away from their hedonistic worship of false gods, is making him a laughing stock and an outcast. He even tries to deny his role as Prophet but God’s spirit drives him to continue.

St. Paul tells us the depths of conversion to which we are called. He analogizes that we are to become like the holocaust, made sacred in prayer and totally dedicated to God. It is that same conversion that Jesus calls us to when he says “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

Today we are called to conversion once more. We are shown the depths to which we must conform our hearts, denying those primal impulses that make us human but deny our spirit. We are called to “…be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God”. Let us vow today to attempt that transformation toward the people God calls us to be.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used is “Jesus Carries the Cross” by El Greco, 1600-05

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saturday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time


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

Commentary:

Reading 1: 1 Corinthians 1:26-31

St. Paul continues his attack on “worldly wisdom” by pointing to the community that is comprised of all stratus of society. He points out that all are called to the same Lord and that wisdom that is Jesus (“…who became for us wisdom from God”) and are made righteous, sanctified, and redeemed in Him. It is for this reason that the only boast a Christian should make is in God. The evangelist does so paraphrasing
Jeremiah 9:23.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 33:12-13, 18-19, 20-21
R. Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.

Psalm 33 is a hymn of praise in which God as creator is celebrated. In this selection the just are invited to share the Lord’s salvation and are promised his protection. The psalm rejoices in the active help God gives to his chosen people.

Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30

The parable of the Talents comes to us as part of Jesus’ dialog about being prepared and vigilant. This parable, directed at the disciples, exhorts his servants to use the gifts God has given them to the fullest for the benefit of others. It is an exclamation point to Jesus earlier statement “those to whom much is given, even more will be expected.”

Reflection:

Have you ever done something that you think is really spectacular and it seemed that no one noticed or appreciated your effort? Have you ever been asked to do something very difficult and, in spite or the obstacles accomplished that task but the person who assigned it didn’t even say thanks, let alone praise you for your work? It is only natural that we take pride in our work or study. Success in tasks set before us motivates us and invigorates us. So it stands to reason that when we do something we feel deserves recognition and it goes unrecognized we become unmotivated less apt to extend the same effort the next time.

What was described above is a pretty typical of what most secular literature would say about motivating people in the work place or in an educational setting. If you want someone to really maximize the use of their abilities, praise them publicly when they succeed using behaviors you wish to encourage (and chastise privately those you want to discourage).

For the Christian, praise of effort should not be required. In fact praising ones abilities is like telling a sunset what great color it has. The sunset is a reflection of the beauty of God’s creation. Likewise, for us as faithful members of a faith community dedicated to following Jesus who is the Christ, if we are praised for our efforts or abilities, our response should be to thank God for the gifts that made that accomplishment possible. To take pride in such things is like taking pride in our ability to breath air – it is a natural consequence of the life God gave us. Quoting St. Paul “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.”

The Parable of the Talents from St. Matthew’s Gospel takes that idea further. The Lord’s example, because it is being addressed to his disciples, makes it clear that the gifts they have include the gift of Christ’s teachings; of his revelation of the kingdom of God. That gift is meant to be passed on and it is only in that way that it can grow. The knowledge of the incredible love God has for us is not some special, private knowledge or some powerful secret meant to be kept hidden away. It is intended to be passed on and to grow.

And when we do this well, through word or example, we should be carful to give praise where praise is do – to God who first gave the gift to us. Our expectation is that the merciful Lord, like the Master in the Parable will see what we have done and give us His gratitude which is peace and joy beyond all understanding.

Today our message is clear. Through Jesus we have been redeemed and sanctified. We have been given a gift greater that golden talents – the gift of the knowledge of the Kingdom of God and we are charged to see that what was given to us grows and flourishes. By word and example, may we faithfully extend that love and understanding to all we meet.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “The Parable of the Unfaithful Servant” by an UNKNOWN German Master, c. 1580

Friday, August 29, 2008

Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist


Information about the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist[1]

Readings for the Memorial of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist[2][3]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible (for Friday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time)

Commentary:

Reading 1: 1 Corinthians 1:17-25

This passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians begins with an announcement of his own mission – to proclaim the “unvarnished” truth of the Gospel “…not with the wisdom of human eloquence”.

He continues refuting those who point to Christ’s crucifixion as proof of Jesus’ fallibility by saying that faith, graciously given by God allows the Christian to see the victory in what appears to the scoffers to be a defeat (“The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”) St. Paul supports his premise by quoting
Isaiah 29:14 attacking the “wisdom of the wise”. He calls Jesus a stumbling block for the Jews (probably because they expected a Royal Messiah taking power like King David) and again foolishness for the rational gentiles (Greeks) who pride themselves in logic – the cross is not logical for a savior.

St. Paul concludes by telling the community “those who were called”, that it is God who acts in them giving them faith (see also
Romans 9:16) and that in the face of God’s omnipotence all the wisdom and strength of humanity pales in comparison.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 33:1-2, 4-5, 10-11
R. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.

Psalm 33 is a song of praise and thanksgiving. In this selection the emphasis is on faithfulness to God who has saving power combined with hope, a central component of faith in God.

Gospel: Mark 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:

We continue to marvel at God’s plan for us as we are given the end of St. John the Baptist. From the womb he was chosen to be a forerunner of Jesus Christ. He was the one predicted by the prophets – the new Elijah who prepared the way for Jesus’ mission on earth – the ultimate revelation of God in human flesh. He preceded Jesus in life, in ministry, and, as we see in Mark’s Gospel, his death at the hands of those he came to save.

In his martyrdom St. John the Baptist shared in Christ’s victory. Victory? One might think that being beheaded by a lecherous, hedonistic, and sadistic ruler like Herod was not a victory. Yet, as St. Paul points out Christ used the cross to redefine victory. His death became a defeat for death for all who lay aside the wisdom of the world and have faith.

And what practical lesson do we take away from this “redefinition”; this incredible act that defies the wisdom of the world and changes the perspective of those struggling to know God? First, with intense humility, we thank God for giving us the faith needed to understand how his love expressed itself through the sacrifice of His Son foreshadowed by St. John’s own death. We see in the events that unfold in the Gospel that we must not expect the world to welcome the love we offer as followers of Christ who obediently followed St. John in death at the hands of his captors.

We thank God for the examples of St. John the Baptist and all the Saints who have gone before us in faith for their examples of heroic fidelity to the Lord and their unswerving dedication to passing on the message they were given. We pray today that our own examples of faith will give encouragement to our brothers and sisters who, like St. John, are persecuted for their faith and demonstrate for those who have not heard the Lord’s call that his hand is our-stretched to them as well.

Pax

[1] The picture today is The Beheading of John the Baptist by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1610
[2] After Links to Readings Expire
[3] Note – the first reading from 1 Corinthians and the Psalm with its response are taken from the proper of the season (Friday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time # 429). The Gospel from Mark is taken from the proper of the day (Memorial of the Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist #624).

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Memorial of Saint Augustine


Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Biographical Information about St. Augustine[1]

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

Commentary:

Reading 1 1 Corinthians 1:1-9

This reading is the beginning of St. Paul’s first letter to the Church he founded in Corinth. News has reached him of some issues with the community that must be addresses as well as some external situations for which guidance must be given. His introduction, emphasizing his own call as Apostle and the call each of the faithful has received, hints at the letter’s purpose.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 145:2-3, 4-5, 6-7
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.

Psalm 145 is a hymn of praise. These strophes (because it is in the acrostic form – each verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet) although loosely assembled, praise God for his mercy and compassion and give thanks for His creation and redemption.

Gospel Matthew 24:42-51

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 follower 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:

Following the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church is the most difficult thing we do. Some might argue that it should not be so, that our faith should be a “feel good” thing and should be made easy. I do not doubt their sincerity but the discipline embodied in Sacred Scripture and its doctrinal expression by the Church makes following the path difficult (The “Way” as it was called in the very early Church at the time of Acts of the Apostles). In the Gospel today, the Lord tells us that constancy is not optional.

To emphasize the point of how difficult the path is to follow we give you a quote from St. Augustine whose feast we celebrate today. As he reflected upon his mission this is what he wrote:

“The turbulent have to be corrected, the faint-hearted cheered up, the weak supported; the Gospel's opponents need to be refuted, its insidious enemies guarded against; the unlearned need to be taught, the indolent stirred up, the argumentative checked; the proud must be put in their place, the desperate set on their feet, those engaged in quarrels reconciled; the needy have to be helped, the oppressed to be liberated, the good to be encouraged, the bad to be tolerated; all must be loved”.

“The Gospel terrifies me
[3]St. Augustine

When we accept this role or if we simply agree to follow the precepts of the Church in our daily lives (all the issues St. Augustine identifies occur within us as well), we are faced with a daunting task that is only made possible because of God’s gift of the Holy Spirit and the sacramental grace provided along the way.

Today let us pray that we be given the strength to overcome our unruly hearts, to embrace the Father with confident love, and to remain constantly vigilant – “…for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Pax

[1] The picture used today is “The Triumph of St. Augustine” by Claudio Coello, 1664
[2] After Links to Readings Expire
[3] Sermo 339, 4: PL 38, 1481

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Memorial of Saint Monica


Biographical Information about St. Monica[1]

Readings for Wednesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible

Commentary:

Reading 1 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10, 16-18

St. Paul concludes his second letter to the Church at Thessalonika with instructions on how to deal with members of their community who were “disorderly”. It is likely that this behavior was surfacing because of the forged letter that announced that the Apocalypse was at hand – some of the individuals who believed this may have stopped working and became a drain on the resources of the Church. St. Paul tells the membership to shun these individuals – to shame them into returning to St. Paul’s own teaching. (We note he concludes his letter assuring the recipients that it is from him and written in his own hand.)

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 128:1-2, 4-5
R. Blessed are those who fear the Lord.

Psalm 128 is a song of thanksgiving. It begins here with the typical blessings for following and having faith in the Lord. The faithful shall see the work of their hands prosper.

Gospel Matthew 23:27-32

This passage concludes St. Matthew’s treatment of the “Seven Woes” with the final two exhortations against the scribes and Pharisees. In the “Sixth Woe” Jesus derides the leadership for false piety. While their acts of worship would make them seem upright and faith-filled, their interior agendas are sinful. Their professed faith is not echoed with actions – especially with charity.

The “Seventh Woe” attacks the pride of these leaders who engage in pompous piety. “In spite of honoring the slain dead by building their tombs and adorning their memorials, and claiming that they would not have joined in their ancestors' crimes if they had lived in their days, the scribes and Pharisees are true children of their ancestors and are defiantly ordered by Jesus to fill up what those ancestors measured out. This order reflects the Jewish notion that there was an allotted measure of suffering that had to be completed before God's final judgment would take place.”
[3] Theologically, verses 29-32 provide strong support of Maccabeean Purgatory.

Reflection:

Today we think the Sacred Scripture is being “harsh”. In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, he is addressing the methods of dealing with those who “…walk in a disorderly way.” He (Paul) goes on to say that those who do not work should not get anything to eat. This last statement could easily be taken out of context and used to support a position that says that we should not feed the homeless or disenfranchised. But we need to understand what was going on with the Christian community at Thessalonica.

It seems that a significant number of the community thought Jesus’ return was imminent, that is the end times (eschaton) were at hand. As a consequence of this belief they apparently quit working and became quite “disorderly”. We can only guess what that meant (What would you do if you thought the world was going to end in a few short days or weeks?)

Paul’s instructions make sense in those circumstances. If one of these people who lived in the community with you decided to just quit and wait for the end (remember the early Christian communities frequently lived in communal fashion, sharing all property, including the food.), the first thing to do was to shun them, basically stop talking to them avoiding even contact with them. Second, if they are not working, they don’t share the food.

Paul, himself, may have expected the eschaton within his lifetime (based on other parts of his letters he probably did) but he points out, just incase his instructions seem too harsh, that while he and his friends were with them he worked hard (his implication is he did so even though he could have expected, because of his position, not to have been required to do so).

While the message of Paul is directed at another situation we can still take some direction from it. First, we who live in Christian community today are expected to support ourselves. There are those who expect to be supported by us through charity. They understand our faith and know that the Lord commands us to feed the hungry and take care of the poor.

Our first reaction to these individuals is to give them food if they are hungry. That does not necessarily mean give them ten dollars and be on our way (although that is the easiest course). That means take the time to feed them ourselves; take them to a community kitchen or a restaurant to see they are fed. (Note: many who are homeless are on the streets because they have mental conditions which have caused them to be rejected by society. We would urge anyone who feels compelled to feed one of these disenfranchised persons not to take them to your home unless you know the person well and are confident that you are not placing your self or your family at risk. Further, a number of what we will call the “professional homeless” will reject this type of aid – they are really looking for money.)

The next step, if we have the ability and time, is to help them get back on their feet by helping them get in touch with social or educational programs so they can earn their way. If this does not work, if they are either incapable or unwilling to support themselves, we find ourselves in a moral dilemma. Do we now support them in perpetuity or do we “cut them loose”? The work of charity has its own unique set of challenges to the faith.

Pax

[1] The picture used today is “St. Monica” by Louis Tristán De Escamilla, 1616
[2] After Links to Readings Expire
[3] See NAB note on Matthew 23:29-32

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tuesday of the Twenty First Week in Ordinary Time


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

Commentary:

Reading 1 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3a, 14-17

Scholars believe a major purpose for St. Paul’s writing of the second letter to the Thessalonians, apparently only a few months after the first was that another letter had surfaced, supposedly from St. Paul that told the community the Apocalypse was at hand. In this passage he acknowledges the existence of that forgery and tells the community to disregard the false teaching and to remain firm in their faith in Jesus as taught by him when he was with them and from his first letter.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 96:10, 11-12, 13
R. The Lord comes to judge the earth.

Psalm 96 is a hymn of praise to the one true God. The psalmist invites all people to come to faith and believe in God who created all things and is above all things. He exhorts the people to praise the Lord for his wondrous works of creation. The reason for this exhortation is that God will come to rule the earth with his justice. In this passage we see the forerunner of the understanding of the New Jerusalem – the Heavenly Kingdom.

Gospel Matthew 23:23-26

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 (see also
Mark 7:4)”[3]. There is a strong reference here to the lack of self-control shown by these leaders.

Reflection:

“But these you should have done, without neglecting the others.
Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!”

Like so many little gems in scripture this one lesson falls into our laps today. It is a reminder that we must not become so focused on one element of our faith that we loose sight of the need for a holistic view.

In 1984, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin published a document on “
A Consistent Ethic of Life”. He referred to this ethic as a “Seamless Garment” in reference to Jesus “seamless garment” for which the guards cast lots at his crucifixion. Putting it simplistically, the Cardinal stated that for us to authentically follow the teaching of the Church on the dignity of life, we must support that dignity at all stages of life and under all circumstances.

A short time later at a fairly conservative parish I delivered a homily on pro-life in which I summarized the Cardinal’s teaching. In that homily I said that if one is pro-life and opposed to abortion, one must also be pro-life and reject capitol punishment.

To my great surprise I was almost physically accosted by members of the Respect Life Committee following one of the Masses. They rhetorically asked me if I was trying to destroy their ministry by forcing people to link their objection to abortion with objection to capitol punishment. When I tried to explain, they would have none of it. They had their ideas about the greatest evil in the world and nothing anyone said was going to change their minds.

I use this anecdote to illustrate the point made today in the Gospel. These people were so focused on one narrow aspect of an issue they had overlooked the bigger issue and fundamental tenet of our faith – love one another. They were not willing to expand their respect for life to include those who had committed grave sins against society, and had resorted to straining gnats while swallowing camels.

The Lord calls us to view our faith lives holistically. We apply the fundamental principals to our lives in all circumstances, not just those that are convenient. While we all have special interests within the faith, we must never focus on them to the exclusion of all others. We should never focus on the minutia and ignore the huge issues confronting us.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “St. Peter in Prison” 1631
[3] See NAB footnote on Matthew 23:25-26

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday of the Twenty-first Week in Ordinary Time


Saint Louis IX
Saint Joseph of Calasanz, Priest

Biographical Information about Saint Louis
Biographical Information about Saint Joseph of Calasanz

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

Commentary:

Reading 1 2 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 11-12

St. Paul opens his second letter to the Church at Thessalonika, along with his two co-workers Silvanus and Timothy, with the warmth and affection he feels for this community of Christians in northern Greece which he founded. We see in his opening remarks that the pagans and Jews which make up a majority of this city-state continue to persecute the Christians, and the evangelist exhorts them to remain firm in their faith in spite of these trials – God will find glory through their perseverance and in turn will glorify them.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 96:1-2a, 2b-3, 4-5
R. Proclaim God’s marvelous deeds to all the nations.

Psalm 96 is a hymn of praise to the one true God. The psalmist invites all people to come to faith and believe in God who created all things and is above all things.

Gospel Matthew 23:13-22

This selection from St. Matthew’s Gospel lays down the first three of the “Seven Woes” in which Jesus condemns Pharisaic practices. The first of these directly attacks their authority and relates to Christ’s own assignment of that authority St. Peter in
Matthew 16:19. The inference is that they lack the authority principally because their own actions do not merit entry into God’s Kingdom.

The second “Woe” is probably a reflection about the vehemence with which new converts to Judaism persecuted the early Christian Church. The inference is that in the conversion process the Pharisees closed the minds of those converts to the truth and thereby took them off the path to salvation.

The third “Woe” attacks the whole concept of the language used in making a binding oath. The essence of the Lord’s attack is that if one makes a promise the underlying honesty of the person should be the bond not some legal construct based upon the exact language used. If one swears an oath based upon a object that points to God – they have sworn on God Himself.

Reflection:

St. Paul is generally known as the pragmatist when it comes to instructions on how to live one’s faith in God and Christ. Yet today, we see the Lord himself in his criticism of the Pharisees provide us with valuable images of what it means to follow him authentically.

In the first three or the “Seven Woes” found in St. Matthew’s Gospels speak to conduct that makes us worthy of the name Christian. (Oh, if you read the biblical text and not just the readings from the lectionary you may have noticed that v. 14 is actually not there. It is missing because in the very first manuscripts of Matthew that verse was actually inserted later and was taken almost verbatim from St. Mark’s Gospel (
Mark 12:40). The syntax and content were clearly of a different style than the rest of St. Matthew’s work so it has been left out of modern texts.). In the first of these, Jesus takes issue with the conduct of the Pharisees as the exercise the authority of their office. To paraphrase this “Woe” we might say; “Because you tell everyone that does not do exactly as you say that they are going to hell, you have closed the gates of heaven for yourselves.” In other words, if we assume we have somehow been given the authority to judge others in God’s name, we have judged ourselves and woe to us.

In the second “Woe”, we are warned, again through the Lord’s condemnation of the Pharisees, that to lead others into that elitist attitude described in the first “Woe” leads the converted to condemnation. That’s kind of convoluted but let’s say it this way – if we bring a person to share our faith (this is especially important for parents to understand) and tell that converted person that anyone who disagrees with them (and us) about the faith is going to hell, we have placed them on a path that leads to the very place to which we have condemned those who may disagree with us. Logically this means we cling to truth but do not presume to condemn or judge. Judgment is reserved to Jesus alone.

The third “Woe” is aimed at being honest with ourselves and with God. When we make a promise we should not behave like children who might quibble over the exact language used when assigning a task. A child might say “You told me to pick up my room and I did. You didn’t say I had to clean under my bed.” I would hate to be a lawyer and have to live up to this “Woe”. The point is when we make a promise, most especially a sacred promise, we must mean what we say and act on that promise in good faith. “Woe” to us if we do not.

Today we have been given three very practical instructions that will lead us closer to the peace of Christ. They may not always be appreciated by the world, but for us the world is not where we place our hope – it is in Christ’s salvation we hope.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “The Blind Leading the Blind” by Pieter van der Heyden, 1561

Sunday, August 24, 2008

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 Isaiah 22:19-23

Occasionally the prophets denounced individuals who obstructed their work (see
Amos 7 14:17 and Jeremiah 20: 1-6). This is one of those cases. Shebna strongly encouraged King Hezekiah to ask Egypt for aid in attacking Assyria which went against Isaiah’s policy of non-involvement. Here the prophet envisions a time when Shebna is stripped of his office as steward of Jerusalem and that trust bestowed upon another. Placed in context this passage is important because it gives a sense of the high honor associated with being given the keys to a place in biblical times (Key: symbol of authority; see also Matthew 16:19; Rev 3:7).

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 138:1-2, 2-3, 6, 8
R. Lord, your love is eternal; do not forsake the work of your hands.

Psalm 138 is a hymn of thanksgiving. The psalmist sings of deliverance through the mercy of God who rescues the people, not because of their virtues but out of his love for them.

Reading II Romans 11:33-36

This passage is St. Paul’s final reflection on salvation assured for the justified by the love of God. The apostle has illustrated this theme by showing that God’s plan of salvation does not contradict the promise made to Israel. He now provides this hymn to a merciful God. In it he quotes Isaiah (Greek version of
Isaiah 40:13; and Job (Job 41:11a)) to emphasize that God is indebted to no one either for his plan or his gifts to the people. All he gives come from his love and mercy.

Gospel Matthew 16:13-20

St. Matthew’s story of how Jesus asked about what people were saying about him has a profound impact on the Church. Here, when challenged by Jesus with the question, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon answers, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” The second title is not present in St. Mark’s version of this encounter. It adds an understanding that Jesus is not just the Messiah, but also the Son of God.


Given this response, Jesus confers upon Simon a new name “Kephas” which comes from the root Aramaic word Kepa or “Rock”. When translated into Greek it came out Petros and from there to Peter. The name, however, becomes the foundation for the Church and Peter, as a consequence of this exchange, is given Christ’s authority that is passed down through Papal Succession to Pope Benedict XVI today.


Reflection:

The Gospel story begins a great saga of treasure handed down. If we were to tell this part of the story as if it were for a child’s bed time, it might go something like this: Once upon a time there was a man named Simon. Simon was a fisherman by trade. He and his brother Andrew worked together in the family business. They were good people; they were kind to their neighbors and went to church (synagogue) every sabbath.

One day Andrew, who had been following a teacher named John (the Baptist) came running home and told Simon “I think I have found the one who was promised. John says he is the one who is going to save us.” You see an emperor from distant lands had taken over the country where Simon and Andrew lived and almost everyone hated him and his army. There was a prophecy that God would send someone to free them and restore them to a time long before when they had been a great nation.

Simon didn’t think much about it at first but one day that teacher, his name was Jesus of Nazareth, came down to the shore where Simon and Andrew were working and asked Simon to follow him! Something about the man Jesus compelled him. To the shock of his neighbors, he just left his business and he and Andrew started going around with Jesus.

For almost three years Simon and his brother (now joined by ten other special friends) followed the teacher around. The teacher was incredible. He did amazing things but would not take credit for them – he always would say things like “It is My Father’s will;” or “Your faith has done this.” But everyone knew Jesus was something very special.

One day the whole group of friends were walking along by the sea and Jesus turned to them and asked who the people thought he was. Some of his friends said they thought he was a prophet or even that other teacher “John the Baptist” (Jesus and John were cousins you see). Then Jesus asked who his friends thought he was and Simon just said right out “You are Christ,” (that means Messiah – the one who was coming to save the people)”the Son of God.” (That part was totally new.)

To everyone’s surprise Jesus stopped and looked at Simon. Then he told him that what he just said did not come from anything Jesus had said or done but God had told him directly. Everyone knew that God didn’t talk to just anyone like that. Sure God listens to prayers and even talks to us too but it’s really rare that he tells us something totally new. In this case he told Simon something no one had ever known before; that Jesus was His Son!

Jesus figured that since Simon was so special and since he (Jesus) knew that he was going to need someone to take care all the treasure of knowledge and wisdom he was passing out when he had to go home to his Father, he would make Simon his steward. It’s kind of like the executor of a will; he was going to give Simon the power to take care of all that knowledge.

Right then and there Jesus changed his name. He told Simon his new name was “Rock”. It was because he was so solid in what he knew (In the language they spoke back then, the word rock, like bedrock, was Kephas in Greek, the language the Bible was first translated into that word is translated as petros. And that’s were we get the name everyone knows him by now days – Peter.). And he told everyone there that he was going to build his Church upon that Rock – that bedrock.

Then Jesus did something to make sure everyone knew he was giving Peter his authority on earth; he said he was giving Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Everyone back then knew what that meant. That meant that, when Jesus was not around, Peter was in charge of telling them what Jesus would want done or what Jesus meant by things he said when he was around.

Not too long after that Jesus was killed by people who did not understand him. Peter was very frightened when that happened but later on he did exactly what Jesus had asked him to do. And when the time came for Peter to follow Jesus back to his home in heaven, Peter passed on those keys to someone else, a member of the new Church named St. Linus and in turn he passed it on to Cletus and he to Clement the First and so on. Two hundred and sixty six times this has happened until today Benedict the XVI has those keys that Jesus gave to Peter all those years ago. So you see the story is still going on and God is still proving he loves us through is Son and those keys.

Pax

[1] After Links to Readings Expire
[2] The picture used today is “The Handing-over the Keys” by Sanzio Raffaello, 1515

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time


Saint Rose of Lima, Virgin

Biographical Information about St. Rose of Lima[1]

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

Commentary:

Reading 1 Ezekiel 43:1-7ab

Ezekiel’s vision sees the restoration of the temple and the return of God. He speaks from a period of exile in Babylon and envisions a time when the temple will be rebuilt and God’s presence with his people will be eternal. That which was destroyed will be rebuilt, God’s salvation will be offered to those who were defeated and are without hope.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 85:9ab and 10, 11-12, 13-14
R. The glory of the Lord will dwell in our land.

Psalm 85 is a lament in which the psalmist expresses the hope of the faithful, that God will once more dwell with them and be active in his salvific works. God’s renewed presence is remembered in a time when the exiles have returned home (fulfilling Ezekiel’s vision).

Gospel Matthew 23:1-12

This passage is the introduction to the invective against the Scribes and Pharisees. This reading sets the stage for the “Seven Woes” which follow in the chapter. 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:

n: St. Matthew’s Gospel continues to support the idea that one’s faith must be supported by actions that are in accordance with that faith in order for salvation or justification to be assured. In this Gospel we see a clearer definition about what those actions must be.

Clearly Jesus does not approve of the behavior of the Jewish leadership – the Scribes and the Pharisees, formal and informal leaders of the faith community. They have, as a group, fallen into two traps. The first of these we will liken to Tai Chi. Most people think of Tai Chi as a form of exercise that relaxes joints and strengthens muscles. That’s what it is; but it came from the marshal arts – Kung fu was were it got its origins. Anyone who has studied marshal arts like Kung fu, Tae Kwon Do, or Karate has had to learn what are called forms. Forms are set actions done in a specific order that help the student refine either attack or defensive techniques. They are done vigorously and require great coordination, timing, and concentration. In Tae Kwon Do for instance (the only one I am intimately familiar with) there are nine forms to be learned that lead up to black belt and then additional forms to be created or learned as a person continues toward mastery. Tai Chi took the concept of forms and slowed them down to a point were they no longer represent or train for combat but for the sake of the form itself; in other words, its all for show, its original purpose obscured or forgotten.

Does that mean that Tai Chi has no benefits? Not at all, benefit can still be derived from it but if one is attacked, Tai Chi training is not likely to help one defend one’s self; the reflexes are not trained. In the same way the leaders of the temple became so focused on the rigorous “letter of the law” they forgot what the law as intended to accomplish – behaviors that would lead to God’s Kingdom on earth.

The second trap the Scribes and Pharisees fell into was an all too human one. They were given positions of authority and because their own focus was on the letter of the law and they thought they had gotten so good at it, they assumed that they should be honored for their attentiveness to the 613 commandments that make up Mosaic Law. They saw their attention to detail as meriting them special attention and places of honor. In a sense they became ornamental without real purpose.

The lessons we derive from this scripture are compelling. We, first and foremost, must be constantly alert so that we do not become arrogant in our faith. We must never focus so intensely on the precepts of the faith that we loose sight of their practical application in the world around us. The first time that happens we may find ourselves saying something like; “But St. Peter, I should not have to spend that much time in Purgatory, I prayed the rosary every day!”

Pax

[1] The icon of “St. Rose of Lima” by Robert Lentz, contemporary iconifer.
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Friday, August 22, 2008

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Marialis Cultus - Apostolic Exhortation for the Right Ordering and Development of Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary [1]

Readings for Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible
(for the Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary #627)

Commentary:

Reading 1 Ezekiel 37:1-14

The prophet is in Babylon and has the mystical experience of being lead into the desert among bones (possibly those who died in battle). Rather than speaking of “the Resurrection” he is speaking of the restoration of Israel. His prophesying is intended to put a new spirit into the exiles that they might have hope in the Lord.

From the perspective of the Christian, the reference is to the resurrection promised by Christ and the spirit breathed into the flesh seems obviously the Holy Spirit.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 107:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9
R. Give thanks to the Lord; his love is everlasting.

Psalm 107 is song of praise, “… inviting those who have been rescued by God to give praise. Four archetypal divine rescues are described, each ending in thanksgiving: from the sterile desert
[3] “. The imagery strongly links to Ezekiel’s vision above.

Gospel Matthew 22:34-40

Jesus continues to teach in Jerusalem with his disciples and once again is confronted by members of the Jewish hierarchy, this time by Pharisees in this, the fourth of the “Controversy Stories”. Jesus responds to the question posed by the “scholar of the law”. This question would not have been surprising – rather a typical question asked between Rabbis. (Note: according to the Pharisaic tradition, there were 613 distinct commandments in the Law; 248 positive precepts and 365 prohibitions). These commandments were classified as either “light” or “heavy” depending upon the nature of the subject they addressed.

Jesus response, quoting
Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 was unique, not because he used both in his answer, but because he assigned them such that they had equal “weight” (“Heavy”). By linking love of God (the first line of the Shema) with love of neighbor, Jesus linked faith and actions into one “Great Commandment” and said this with underlying principals upon which the law and prophets were based.

Reflection:

In brief reflection we should never ask a question that would require volumes of theological texts and numerous apologetics to respond to but the Great Commandment demands that we do so today. The question is: “Does one’s salvation depend on simply having faith in Jesus as the only Son of the one True and Living God; or are we justified only if our actions support that faith?”

This is one of those questions that can be supported by scripture on either side. St. Paul says in his epistles that faith alone is justification for salvation (see
Romans 3). The argument may be made that since we all fall into sin, salvation must be based solely on faith. If we are required to remain free of sin, how could we ever achieve salvation? Salvation is not, after all, earned but rather a gift of God. (This argument is made by the Lutherans- the main theological point that separates them from reconciliation with the Catholic Church.)

On the other side of our question it can be argued that faith must be accompanied by actions. St. James letters state this explicitly (see
James 2:21). Logically, if a person truly believes that Jesus is the Christ then that person must follow the laws and precepts of their Lord and God. Simply saying “I believe” without acting on those beliefs was why Jesus condemned the hypocritical Pharisees. The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes into great depth to describe both the concept of justification and how we believe it is merited only through faith supported by actions (see Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1987-2011).

Today we hear Jesus proclaim the Great Commandment which joins faith and love of God with his command that we love our neighbor – giving them the same weight. We are called, by the indwelling Holy Spirit to faith in Christ and we are compelled by that same Spirit to act on our beliefs. Thank God for his great gift today, by faith and action we are lead to the new resurrection.

Pax

[1] The picture used today is “Madonna Crowned by Two Angles” by Albrecht Dürer, 1518
[2] After Links to Readings Expire
[3] See NAB note on Psalm 107

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Memorial of Saint Pius X


Pope

Biographical Information about St. Pius X[1]

Readings for Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time[2]
Readings from the Jerusalem Bible (For the Memorial of St. Pius X)

Commentary:

Reading 1 Ezekiel 36:23-28

The prophet envisions the blessings of God being poured out upon the faithful, transforming them with an interior conversion of heart such that they become a sign of God’s great power to all the lands. (“Thus the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.”) This conversion is initiated by cleansing (“I will sprinkle clean water upon you”) and only God may do this; forgiveness is His alone. The process is continued with an indelible change of heart accomplished this time through the gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit (“I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you”). This process, once completed, brings forth a new creation and heavenly adoption. (“…you shall be my people, and I will be your God.”) Theologically, this passage embodies the modern understanding of the gifts given in the Sacrament of Baptism.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19
R. I will pour clean water on you and wash away all your sins.

Psalm 51 is the fourth and most famous of the penitential psalms. The psalmist sings in these verses that only God can reverse the awful affects of sin. Through this action, taken by the Holy Spirit, God’s salvation is made manifest in the repentant and contrite heart.

Gospel Matthew 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 we think first about the orphan. An orphan is defined as “A child who has been deprived of parental care and has not been adopted.
[3]” In wealthier and more developed countries orphans are generally institutionalized or placed in foster care where they are provided for – given the basics; food, shelter, and medical attention. They are sent to school when they are of age and, in listening to some of their stories we find that many end up at the poorest end of the social spectrum.

Yet the orphans in developed countries are far better off than those in poorer regions of the world. In Africa (where there will be staggering numbers of orphans due in part to the Aids epidemic social infrastructure is lacking these children are left to fend for themselves, often victims to the most heinous crimes committed against children. Of course this potentially huge population of orphans is off-set by the fact that the mortality rate among children between birth and five years of age is about one in four due to malaria.

The first time we heard these numbers or saw the images we may have been shocked. However, in an ironic twist, thanks to the constant diet of TV ads for financial aid for these disadvantaged children, we have become somewhat unaffected by their plight.

Our consideration of orphans was not to drum up financial support of these unfortunate victims of either fate or institutional ineptitude (definatly prayers though), but rather to draw an analogy between the orphaned state and the adopted state. An adopted child is accepted into the home of caring parents. They are not just given the basics as the best treated orphans receive, but something more; something that makes all the difference – love. And love makes all the difference in the world. Without love the human spirit dies and when this spirit is dead in a child they can no longer feel, see or in anyway perceive God who is love.

We fortunate Christians have been adopted by God through our baptism. Before that adoption we had what the world offered – food, shelter, and the support of people with whom we had contact. Like the orphan in an institution or foster care – we were given what was needed to live. As many orphaned children find, the basics are not enough. Without love, the self becomes hard and existence becomes just a series of events to be dealt with. Happiness is elusive and fleeting.

In our adoption by God we were made new. The Holy Spirit replaced those stony hearts and made them natural hearts. The love of God infuses us with the warmth of a parent who so loves us that He sent his Only Son to us to make sure we knew we were invited into this special relationship.

Today we rejoice in our call to faith and the Baptism by which we were adopted into the community of believers. We now go forward to become what God called us to be and; “Thus the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when in their sight I prove my holiness through you.”

Pax

[1] The photograph of St. Pius X was taken from a book authored by Karl Benzinger published in 1907. Photographer is UNKNOWN
[2] After Links to Readings Expire
[3] Orphan. (n.d.). The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Retrieved August 21, 2008, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Orphan

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Memorial of Saint Bernard


Abbot and Doctor of the Church

Biographical Information about St. Bernard[1]

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

Commentary:

Reading 1 Ezekiel 34:1-11

The Prophet Ezekiel offers an indictment against the religious leaders of Israel (“shepherds of Israel”). He criticizes them for living in the comfort of their office and neglecting their roles (“pasturing themselves”) while the people wander without spiritual leadership. As a result of the leader’s laxness, the people have fallen prey to other religious practices, pagan practices leading to spiritual death (“So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts”).

In consequence of this neglect on the part of the religious leadership, God promises to supplant them and save them from with a good shepherd (“I myself will look after and tend my sheep.”)– seen as a prediction of the Messiah, the Son of God who is God.

Responsorial Psalm Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
R. The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.

Psalm 23 is one of the most familiar in the entire Psalter. The NAB footnote does a nice job of summarizing the message contained: “God's loving care for the psalmist is portrayed under the figures of a shepherd for the flock (
Psalm 23:1-4) and a host's generosity toward a guest (Psalm 23:5-6). The imagery of both sections is drawn from traditions of the exodus (Isaiah 40:11; 49:10; Jeremiah 31:10).”

Gospel Matthew 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.

Reflection:

One of the very difficult lessons we learn as Christians is that not all of our brothers and sisters are at the same stage of the journey to Christ as we are. We look around us and see people who we think are on the wrong path all together. They don’t see the great worth of spiritual blessings we do. They may not worship with the same depth of feeling we do. We may believe they have totally missed the point. Yet they are all on the same journey.

The Lord makes it very clear that he came for all people, in fact, recalling the invitation he extended to St. Matthew, he paid more attention to the “lost sheep”, those who had lost their way, than to those safely on the right path. When he sends his disciples, he sends them to the whole world, not just to the people who worship and think the way they do. His call is, however, to conversion.

This is an important point. Many in our secular culture would tell us we are “elitist” or discriminating because we do not readily accept the moral interpretations of those who believe differently; who have chose to follow another path. They tell us that because they do not believe in prayer, we should not offend them by praying publicly, or that our own celebrations should be “more inclusive”. The problem we run into is that the appropriate moral behavior for Christians is laid out rather explicitly in sacred scripture.

If we apply those moral principles fairly and consistently across the faith community, there will be some who say they are excluded because they chose not to follow a precept. Let’s take for example the call to chastity. It has become an acceptable social norm for individuals to have sexual relations outside of the married state. The Church has said that this is wrong; that one is either married or chaste and if one is living the Sacrament of Matrimony, physical love is restricted to the partners; and further still the Church defines Marriage as the sacramental union between a man and a woman. This applies to all her members of the faith community. Unfortunately, with secular morality encouraging promiscuity, many, especially younger adults have gotten the impression that the Church somehow turns a blind eye to the violation of this moral principle.

Be assured, the Church still believes in the dignity and sanctity of the human person. Violation of this precept is considered sin and drives a wedge between the individuals in this state and God. The shepherds of our flock hold this to be true and teach it. To do otherwise would be to neglect their call to holiness and cause them to fall into the same trap as those condemned by God through Ezekiel.

The really good news is that even those who are on a path which has placed them at odds with the morality of the Church are still invited to conversion. We are all called to constantly review our own struggle on the path to holiness and to reform our lives. The Lord assures us today that even if we come to this realization late, we will receive the same reward and the Saints who have gone before us in faith. Thank God for His love and mercy.

Pax

[1] The picture today is “St. Bernard of Clairvaux” Artist and Date are UNKNOWN
[2] After Links to Readings Expire

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time


Saint John Eudes, Priest

Biographical Information about St. John Eudes[1]

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

Commentary:

Reading 1 Ezekiel 28:1-10

This selection from Ezekiel is the first of two back to back oracles against Tyre. In this first section the prophet uses satire and irony to describe the city’s king as thinking, because he has been able to amass great wealth, he is a god. He (the king) believes himself to possess wisdom greater than Daniel but all of this will come crashing down. As a consequence of being so presumptuous, Ezekiel predicts that God will allow outside forces to destroy the king and the state will fall to obscurity.

Responsorial Psalm Deuteronomy 32:26-27ab, 27cd-28, 30, 35cd-36ab
R. It is I who deal death and give life.

This passage from Deuteronomy is part of the Song of Moses. In the strophes immediately preceding this section it appeared as if Israel would be destroyed. Here we see that God relented in this action for fear that the utter defeat of Israel would be perceived as a victory for their enemies rather than a punishment from God. The selection concludes in faith, Moses sings that God will surly show mercy to the people.

Gospel Matthew 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 people have fallen prey to that sin.

The Lord then provides the answer that for God all things are possible and that through their faith in 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…").

Reflection:

Two interrelated themes are presented today; the need to place our trust in God and give Him thanks for our success, and the need to seek spiritual gifts above earthly wealth. In the first reading from Ezekiel we hear the prophet using heavy satire to scorn the king of Tyre whom he says “…you say, ‘A god am I! I occupy a godly throne in the heart of the sea!’” His oracle has an immediate prediction that Tyre and its king will fall to the sword of her enemies, as well as a practical point to take to heart, that what we accomplish, we accomplish only with God’s help and grace. The reason Tyre is destroyed is not that the king was successful in his business pursuits, but rather that he was arrogant and believed he had succeeded out of his own strength and wisdom. In fact, it was the view of the prophet that the jealous God of the Old Testament took affront to the king’s haughty attitude and destroyed both king and city.

From our perspective, now knowing that the Messiah came to show us a different image of God – a loving Father who wishes only happiness and life for his people, this incident can give us a more complete understanding of what God wants for us. It is clear that Tyre and its king became wealthy. It is also clear that in its wealth city-state and king became so sure of themselves they believed their prosperity would go on forever. As Ezekiel put it, they thought themselves better than the surrounding peoples.

From what we know of human nature, we can see the situation. Here is a very rich and proud city-state sitting there with its back against the sea. A greedy neighbor sees the riches of the world piled up in one place and decides this wealth should be theirs. From time immemorial, the “have-nots” have taken violent actions against the “haves”.

Had the city-state been more generous with its neighbors, dealt more fairly, not been so ostentatious with its wealth, it may have avoided its fate for a time. As Jesus says the wealth of the world is fleeting. What is truly important is what no enemy can steal, to outsider covets; that is spiritual riches. There can be no arrogance if we believe that what we are able to accomplish we do only with God’s help and will. There can be no greed if our attitude is one that seeks the peace of Christ.

I leave today with a joke. I told it over a year ago in this space but it’s worth repeating:

There was once a very good and very wealthy man who died and went to heaven. When he arrived at the pearly gates, St. Peter looked in his book and saw all the good things the man had done and invited him in. As the man walked by, St. Peter noticed a look of great sorrow on his face. He said to the man “Mr. Jones, I don’t understand your depression. You had a wonderful life on earth, filled with good deeds and great wealth and today you are ushered into heaven. Why are you sad?”

The man said in reply “St. Peter, I know I should be happy and I always knew I could not take my wealth with me but I fear I will miss it. I wish I could have brought up just one souvenir of my earthly success.”

St. Peter again consulted his book and thought for a moment. He turned to the man and said “You know, I think you can be allowed to go back and bring just a small memento of your earthly life, nothing big like a yacht, but just a reminder.”

Poof! The man disappeared and poof he was back. He was holding a small shoe box that was clearly quite heavy. St. Peter could not resist and asked the man what he had chosen to bring back. With his face reddening somewhat the man opened the box lid to show St. Peter four bars of gold bullion. Whereupon St. Peter looked up in surprise and exclaimed “You brought pavement?”

Pax

[1] The picture today is “St. Jean Eudes” Artist and Date are UNKNOWN
[2] After Links to Readings Expire