Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Memorial of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church

“Saint Therese of Lisieux” 
artist and date are UNKNOWN
Commentary on Neh 8:1-4a, 5-6, 7b-12
We see in this reading the respective roles played by Ezra and Nehemiah in reestablishing Israel following the Diaspora, portrayed here by the chronicler.  Ezra leads the people in reestablishing the Jewish faith while Nehemiah supports that action as the civil leader of the population.  It is interesting to note the response of the people to the reading of the Law of Moses.  The law clearly exposed the people’s failures in responding to the will of God, hence the weeping.  Nehemiah changes that mood by proclaiming a feast or holy day, rejoicing in the return of the Word of God to Jerusalem.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11
R. (9ab) The precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart.
Commentary on Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11
Psalm 19 is a hymn of praise. In this passage we give praise to God’s gift of the Law which guides us in our daily lives. The hymn also extols the virtue of obedience and steadfastness to the Law and its precepts. The passage also reflects the idea that following God’s statutes leads to peace and prosperity. In placed behind the Old Testament reading, the passage sounds ironic against the initial response of the people to the Law of Moses in the Nehemiah reading above.  The psalmist does, however, capture his (Nehemiah’s) intent in proclaiming a holy day and the celebration that ensued.
Gospel: Luke 10:1-12
Commentary on Lk 10:1-12
It is only in the Gospel of St. Luke that we hear the story of Jesus sending the seventy (two). This event is supported by other non-biblical writings (see Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 265-c. 340) Church History, Vol. 1). The instructions given to those sent out are very similar to the instructions given to the Twelve (Matthew 10:5-16; Luke 9:1-6), as was the message they were sent to proclaim.
This selection emphasizes Jesus early struggle to accomplish what he came to do by himself. We sense the humanness as he says; "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;" We also find this event and statement in St. Matthew’s Gospel where instead of the 72 he names the 12 (Matthew 10:1-8). While in St. Matthew’s story Jesus sends them, first to the Hebrew people, St. Luke makes no such distinction.
This effort by Jesus was modeled on Moses’ leadership structure in which 70 elders were appointed (Numbers 11:24-25). It is also possible that the reference number 70 relates to the number of nations mentioned in Genesis 10. The disciples were sent two by two a custom that would be replicated later in the post-resurrection missionary activities of the Church (see Acts 8:1415:39-40).
In another historical similarity, the disciples were sent without possessions, presumably depending upon the traditionally required hospitality for their support. Similar instructions were given by the Prophet Elisha as he sent his servant in 2 Kings 4:29.
The Lord’s instructions concerning this hospitality “…laborer deserves payment” is also quoted in St. Paul’s first letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:18b) and has further support in 1 Corinthians 9:7, 14. Those who labor on behalf of the Gospel and cannot take time to support themselves deserve the support of the community. In a final twist, the Lord’s instruction to “…eat what is set before you” sets aside Mosaic dietary laws (also 1 Corinthians 10:27 and Acts 10:25). It is a clear indication that the scope of their mission is to call all peoples to the Gospel.
CCC: Lk 10:1-2 765; Lk 10:2 2611; Lk 10:7 2122
Standing up for Gospel principles has never been easy. Those of us who believe that because this is a civilized world it is getting easier are in for a rude awakening the first time we challenge the social status quo.  Try taking the high moral ground at work when the discussions get a bit “off color” and sexual innuendo starts to fly.  You will find yourself like the bad comedian who lays an egg on stage and hears crickets chirping.  In countries of the Middle East proclaiming the Gospel can get you killed.  Our own troops who have been deployed to the Middle-East were not allowed to mention their faith outside the compounds that housed them.
The Lord tells the seventy two that he is sending them “like lambs among wolves”.  That descriptor infers an attitude as well as a message.  The message the Lord sent, and is sending, is one of love for God and love of one another. (It is interesting that Pope Francis used that same message as a prelude [re-formatting it as the “Golden Rule”] to his consistent life ethic directed at the joint houses of the US Congress recently.) That message is not welcomed by those who seek power over others; who are focused only on their own hedonistic pleasures.  They find such talk threatening to their life styles and critical of their behaviors (at least we hope so).
They will not thank us for our message, conveyed in word and actions.  On the contrary they will, at best, shun us or at worst seek to do us harm; remove the irritant.  Our response to this treatment is to love them!  Like little children (thank you St. Thèrése) we are called to reach out to them asking they why they cannot see the love God wants to share with them.  As vulnerable and powerless apostles we offer the greatest prize imaginable.  And when it is rejected, we offer it again.
Ah, the Lord did not give us an easy mission.  He calls us to be a light to the world and a beacon of hope.  We pray today for the strength to accept the small measure of pain he endured for us so that we might continue the work he sends us to do.

[2] The picture is “Saint Therese of Lisieux” artist and date are UNKNOWN

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Memorial of Saint Jerome, Priest and Doctor of the Church

“Saint Jerome” by Guido Reni, 1635
Reading 1: Nehemiah 2:1-8
Commentary on Neh 2:1-8
This reading from the Book of Nehemiah is one of the “Memoirs” of Nehemiah depicting his request to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the Temple Nehemiah was a layman called to extraordinary service and effort with constant faith that God was supporting him.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
R. (6ab) Let my tongue be silenced if I ever forget you!
Commentary on Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6
The sadness that drove Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild is reflected in this communal lament.  The people of God, dispersed throughout the region, recall the joys of being in God’s presence in Zion (Jerusalem).  We feel in this hymn our own anticipation of being together in God’s presence as a community of faith.
Gospel: Luke 9:57-62
Commentary on Lk 9:57-62
This passage from St. Luke’s Gospel gives us three sayings of Jesus about the requirement to place the values of Christian discipleship above all other requirements of life. Proclaiming the Kingdom of God must come before even family obligations.
In the first, “Foxes have dens…” Jesus does not deceive anyone – he lives in poverty, dedicated to his mission.
The second; “Let the dead bury their dead” is a play on words; let the spiritually dead bury the physically dead; Jesus message is the message of life. This saying was never intended to be taken literally as filial piety is deeply ingrained in Jewish life.
The third saying; “No one who…looks to what was left behind” Jesus demands more than Elisha (see 1 Kings 19:19-21). “Plowing for the Kingdom demands sacrifice.” [4]
CCC: Lk 9:58 544
The three different scripture passages we are given today combine to show us a call and an attitude.  Follow the logic here – Jesus, in the Gospel, tells us that our faith in Him and the call to discipleship must color all of our actions since it is first in our lives.  The Psalmist sings of our inner longing to be in God’s presence as a result of that call.  And in Nehemiah, we see the fruits of one who listens to that call and places his life at the service of God.  It is a call and an attitude.
As in much of Holy Scripture and the Teaching Magisterium of the Church the lessons are presented in their perfect or absolute state.  Jesus, after all is our example and the one who we are called to emulate.  In him, God’s perfect love is expressed to us and since he was also true man, his perfect love for God was also given as our example.  The call is daunting.
We see the call and the attitude as a requirement in our lives.  It is the bar set by Jesus and the Saints that we hope to follow.  But how?  We are not perfect as our Savior was perfect.  We are not heroic as so many of the saints were heroic in life (Or...perhaps we are but are just not trying hard enough).  Still, the call is there and Jesus asks that our attitude of love for others and humble service to all be what inspires our actions.
Taken as a whole, we could never hope to achieve the sort of perfect attitude of love driving all that we do.  But taken incrementally, one piece at a time, we can move in the right direction.  Our challenge is to first place ourselves on a scale.  Where are we in our attitude of love for others; where are we in our actions that glorify the Father?  Once we recognize were we are, we pray that God will help us become a little better, today.  Each day we weigh ourselves on that scale and each day we try for just the tiniest improvement in our quest to become more like the saints who were much like us and ultimately more like Christ our ideal. 
Today we are challenged to follow Jesus, to place his glory and that of the Father first in our lives.  To do that we know that our attitude must become more like our Savior’s, who every action has pointed to His Father and the Heavenly Kingdom to which we are all called.  Today we hope for baby steps in the right direction.

[2] The picture used today is “Saint Jerome” by Guido Reni, 1635
[4] See Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Inc., © 1968, 44:97.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels

“The Three Archangels with Tobias” 
by Francesco Botticni, 1470
Additional information about Saints MichaelGabrieland Raphael
Reading 1:
First Option: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
Commentary on Dn 7:9-10, 13-14
In this vision from the book of Daniel, we see the symbols for God the Father “the Ancient One”, seated on the throne of Judgment (symbolized by fire) with all the faithful before him. Then comes “One like a Son of Man”, this reference is a messianic vision. Jesus who took that title upon himself in fulfillment of scripture (in addition to John 1:51, see also Mark 14:62Luke 22:69 and Matthew 26:64 all of which reference the attendance of heavenly powers. 
Second Option: Revelation 12:7-12ab
Commentary on Rev 12:7-12ab
This selection from the Book of Revelations is of that same eschatological prophetic genre as that found in Daniel 7:9ff. Here St. John envisions the battle for heaven, joined by the forces of God lead by St. Michael who is victorious.
The vision makes clear that those who were thought to be from God but who opposed the “anointed one”, Christ, were influenced by Satan and in the Devil’s defeat, by the blood of the Lamb, God’s victory is assured and the truth will prevail.
CCC: Rv 12 1138; Rv 12:9 391, 2852; Rv 12:11 2853
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 4-5
This song of praise gives thanksgiving for the visible support of God here attributed to angelic action.  The hymn attributes this saving help to an all merciful God to whom all glory and honor are due.
CCC: Ps 138 304; Ps 138:2 214
Gospel: John 1:47-51
Commentary on Jn 1:47-51
Word of mouth attracts first Philip to discipleship and he in turn invites Nathanael. The symbolism in this passage is noteworthy. First when Jesus describes Nathanael as “A true Israelite”. There is no duplicity in him: Jacob was the first to bear the name "Israel" (Genesis 32:29), but Jacob was a man of duplicity (Genesis 27:35-36).”
Jesus tells Nathanael “"Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree." The fig tree is a symbol of messianic peace (cf Micah 4:4Zechariah 3:10). So in essence, Jesus is saying that Nathanael was resting in Messianic Peace inferring from that that he had faithfully followed the Law and had a genuine love of God. Jesus goes further than Nathanael’s faith in the final verse telling him that he, Jesus is the Anointed One. “…you will see the sky opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Archangels. (In addition, my ordination class and I celebrate our 30th anniversary of Ordination.) Just so we are all on the same page we can listen to the words of Pope St. Gregory the Great who defines what that means:
“You should be aware that the word ‘angel’ denotes a function rather than a nature. Those holy spirits of heaven have indeed always been spirits. They can only be called angels when they deliver some message. Moreover, those who deliver messages of lesser importance are called angels; and those who proclaim messages of supreme importance are called archangels.”(from a homily by Pope Saint Gregory the Great)
The three Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, are the only ones named in scripture and each has a distinct role as can be seen from the links provided above. The fact that these three Spirits have had a direct involvement with mankind is the reason we celebrate their feast today. We see in their intervention God’s fingers affecting the course of human events. Deep within each of us there is also the wish that, at some point in our lives, an angel would speak to us, directly, personally, with clarity. The angel would tell us what God wants from us or what he wants us to do.
It is interesting today that, on this the feast of the archangels, the church gives us the story of Jesus’ encounter with Nathanael rather than one of the encounters with the archangels. In this Gospel Jesus has identified the young man as someone without duplicity; that is, innocent of worldly demeanor that would portray him as something he was not. The way Nathanael speaks when he says “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” makes us wonder how one, not of the twelve, had such an instant and deep understanding of Jesus’ identity. Could it be that this was a messenger from God? None of the commentaries assume this is the case.
Still, we wonder, if this innocent young man, without prompting, identified Jesus and if he was an angel in human form. If that were true, it would mean that God may send his spirits, as Pope St. Gregory the Great has called them, to us and we might not recognize them as anything but people.
There is nothing theological in this reflection. It is just a hope that God might one day send an angel to us so that we might understand at last and clearly what he wants from us. Since we have speculated above that God may indeed send his angels to us in human guise, we must be constantly vigilant that one of our daily encounters may turn out to answer our prayer.  It should also serve another purpose since God frequently gives us opportunities to hear his voice through others we meet in our daily lives.
Certainly the more common intervention of the Holy Spirit can be seen, although usually in retrospect and not always clearly. The overriding principle here is we must always be open to that kind of guidance and be constantly vigilant, knowing that God intercedes in our lives and we must watch for it.

[2] The picture is “The Three Archangels with Tobias” by Francesco Botticni, 1470

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Monday of the Twenty-sixth Week in Ordinary Time

(Optional Memorial for Saint Lawrence Ruiz, Martyr, and his Companions, Martyrs)
(Optional Memorial for Saint Wenceslaus, Martyr)
Biographical Information about St. Lawrence Ruiz and Companions
Alternate readings for the Memorial of St. Lawrence Ruiz and his Companions may be taken from the Common of Martyrs

“Zechariah and Gabriel” 
artist and date are UNKNOWN
Reading 1: Zechariah 8:1-8
Commentary on Zec 8:1-8
The Prophet Zechariah was a contemporary of Ezra and Haggai.  In these first five of the ten prophecies found in Zachariah, there are a series of pronouncements about what God wants from his scatted people (not just the Babylonian exiles but all the Jewish people).  The prophet issues God’s call to the people to come back from exile to Zion. He calls the future Jerusalem a faithful city, one of great import to the faith; a Holy Mountain – a high place, dedicated to God where he resides in a special way.  He issues God’s call for the people to return in faith, that the city might be reborn in greatness.  We may see it as a call to conversion, a return to more steadfast faith in the New Jerusalem – Christ’s Kingdom.
R. (17) The Lord will build up Zion again, and appear in all his glory.
Psalm 102 gives us a prayer of thanksgiving for the restoration of the people to Israel after the Diaspora. God brought them back from their captivity and reestablished them in Zion. The prayer prefigures God’s salvation offered in the New Jerusalem – God’s heavenly kingdom.
Gospel: Luke 9:46-50
Commentary on Lk 9:46-50
St. Luke depicts a teaching moment for Jesus as he tells his Disciples that they must not fall into the all too human trap of rivalry for leadership.  Rather he tells them that humble leadership will be the norm.  In the second instance, the Lord insists that his Disciples accept support from those whom they do not know (see also comments on Mark 9:38-50).
Kneeling before the tabernacle, I can think of only one thing to say to our Lord: "My God, you know that I love You." And I feel that my prayer does not weary Jesus; knowing my weakness, He is satisfied with my good will. -Saint Therese of Lisieux
How do we understand the word of God when we read the Gospel of St. Luke and listen to those words with our hearts; “For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest”? There are some contemporary examples we could point to for meaning.  None, however, are more eloquent than the attitude expressed by St. Thérèse, the Little Flower of Jesus who was quoted at the beginning of this entry.
The simple faith captured in that one piercing prayer “My God, you know that I love You.” says volumes and when it comes from the heart it drives our actions to imitate those of Christ.  His whole mission was to give exactly that message from God to us “My Children, you know that I love you.”
In essence, this is a call to conversion of heart; much the same as Zechariah’s call to the Hebrew people to return to Jerusalem to build up God’s city.  For what is the New Jerusalem but a city of love?
The Lord was telling his Disciples that when their intent was unselfish, their actions directed at loving God, then their leadership would be genuine and the outcome pleasing to the Father whose love is expressed perfectly in Jesus.  It is such a simple concept that, like them, we often “over think” it.  We get caught up in the complexity of human interaction, trying to detect motives and appeal to agendas.  Our expression of that prayer; “My God, you know that I love You.” in our every action will accomplish what God intends.

[2] The picture is “Zechariah and Gabriel” artist and date are UNKNOWN