Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Thursday of the Twenty Second Week in Ordinary Time

“Wonderful Catch of Fish” by Anton Losenko, 1762
Commentary on 1 Cor 3:18-23
St. Paul continues his treatise on Christian wisdom telling the church at Corinth that, if they wish true wisdom, they must reject human wisdom (“If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise”). They must be guided by the Spirit of Truth. He does this by quoting first Job 5:12 and then Psalm 94:11.
The Evangelist concludes by assigning Christian value to all things: life and the Church, the leaders (Paul or Apollos or Cephas), past and future experience, and, most importantly, the ownership of the Christian by Christ, linked to God through him. “Paul assigns all the persons involved in the theological universe a position on a scale: God, Christ, church members, church leaders. Read from top to bottom, the scale expresses ownership; read from bottom to top, the obligation to serve. This picture should be complemented by similar statements such as those in 1 Corinthians 8:6 and 1 Corinthians 15:20-28.”[4]
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
R. (1) To the Lord belongs the earth and all that fills it.
Commentary on Ps 24:1bc-2, 3-4ab, 5-6
Psalm 24 is a processional song. It recalls that God is the great creator, and he calls his people to be faithful. It is part of a hymn of entrance, sung as the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the Temple, followed by the faithful. The song asks the question: who can come into his presence, and answers, only those who are sinless (completely reconciled to God). Those who achieve that beatified state will receive the reward of eternal life from the savior. 
The hymn focuses on the character of the one who worthily seeks God, and the one who is worthy to come into God’s kingdom and stand before him. This same concept is borrowed in a passage from John’s Revelation (Revelation 14:4ff): who are the ones allowed full access to God? They are those: “whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.” In other words they are clean in heart, body, and spirit.
CCC: Ps 24:6 2582
Gospel: Luke 5:1-11
Commentary on  Lk 5:1-11
St. Luke’s Gospel presents the call of St. Peter, St. James, and St. John to discipleship. The Lord has demonstrated his authority through his teaching, and then through the miraculous catch of fish. We note the similarity of this incident with the post-resurrection incident recounted in St. John’s Gospel (John 21:1-11).
At Jesus' summons, Simon and the two sons of Zebedee leave all they have and follow the Lord. No mention is made here of Simon’s (Peter’s) brother Andrew who would also have been there, and in fact, as a disciple of John the Baptist, actually introduced the two (John 1:41 ff). We do hear that James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were also there as Simon’s partners, and are called at the same time.
Simon Peter’s response to the Lord’s call is one of being sinful and therefore unworthy of the presence of the Lord. In response to Simon’s fearful humility, Jesus invites them all to leave what they have and become fishers of men.
CCC: Lk 5:8 208
There is a great deal of symbolism provided by St. Luke in his story about the call of St. Peter (Simon), his brother (Andrew), and the two sons of Zebedee, James and John. The fact that they were fishing symbolizes their later evangelical activity. That they had been ineffective at fishing until they had Christ with them is another strongly symbolic fact in the story. The entire account, taken as a whole, is one of the call of the Lord and the response of the people of God. But there is something else here; something important in the attitudes of those being called.

When Simon-Peter recognized Jesus as the Messiah following the great catch of fish, we are told “…he fell at the knees of Jesus.” Scripture did not say if he fell prostrate, or simply to his knees, but what is clear is that he recognized Jesus, and realized that he was in a sacred space. The Lord’s presence made it so.

I recently attended Mass in another town, in another diocese. It was a church in which reforms had been made. The Tabernacle had been moved out of the sanctuary and placed in an adjoining chapel, and the kneelers had been removed. When people arrived, there was no genuflection, when they celebrated the Mass, even making Christ present in the Eucharist, there was no sense of the space being sacred, sanctified for worship. When contrasted with St. Thomas the Apostle, here in Ann Arbor where the Tabernacle is central to our space and the sense that , as the Latin Inscription around the dome about the sanctuary says “This is nothing more than the house of God and the gate of Heaven” (Genesis 28:17), there was a feeling that something important was missing. Yes the people were inviting and, with the exception of kneeling during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the Mass was a celebration. But that feeling of sacred space was achingly missing.

When we become complacent, accepting Christ as merely another friend among friends, our own sense of holiness suffers. When we forget that what happens at the Eucharist is no less miraculous than the multiplication of the loaves, or the miraculous catch of fish, we lose our sense of awe and the appreciation for what the Lord has done. We lose our faith in what he is capable of doing for us.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that where Jesus is truly present, that space becomes sacred space, due our respect and reverence. We must never forget that the building itself is not “the Church” but our reverence as a people of God makes it so.

[1] The picture used today is “Wonderful Catch of Fish” by Anton Losenko, 1762
[4] See NAB footnote on 1 Corinthians 3:21-23

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Wednesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

“Paul and Apollos” by Sir Edward Poynter, 1872
Reading 1: 1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Commentary on 1 Cor 3:1-9
St. Paul addresses divisions in the Church of Corinth. He speaks to them as “fleshly people” (sarkinos), as a people immature in the faith. In Romans 7:14 the apostle defines “sarkinos” as “sold into the slavery of sin.” Because of their worldly nature, they evaluate preachers motivated by vanity and prejudice, not the spirit.
Apollos is a leader of that congregation who came after St. Paul had left. Both come from the same master as servants (diakonoi). Paul is sent to establish the church, Apollos to develop it. It is obvious from this reading that divisions and rivalries had occurred, as some favored St. Paul, and others Apollos. St. Paul refutes this division saying he and Apollos are one and the same, being sent by the same God. He calls for unity, because it is God who brings salvation. He states that each of them will receive wages for the hard work of the apostolic mission (see also 1 Thessalonians 3:5; Galatians 4:11; Romans 16:12).
CCC: 1 Cor 3:9 307, 755, 756
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 33:12-13, 14-15, 20-21
R. (12) Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.
Psalm 33 is a hymn of praise in which God, as the 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: Luke 4:38-44
Commentary on Lk 4:38-44
This Gospel passage continues the healing mission of Christ in Capernaum. He first heals Simon’s mother-in-law (at this point in St. Luke’s Gospel, Simon has not yet been called). He then proceeds to heal all who are brought to him. The demons he cast out were aware of Jesus’ identity as the Son of God (as was the demon in Luke 4:31-37).
When Jesus tries to leave, the people try to keep him with them. Contrast this response with the people of Nazareth, his home town, earlier. The Lord then proceeds to teach throughout the region, proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
Today we begin with more of Paul’s distance learning program for the Church at Corinth.   Notice he has moved away from his discourse on “Christian Wisdom,” and now focuses the problems facing the Church itself.  Apparently there is some division among them because, while Paul and his entourage came and started the church, a person named Apollos carried the work forward. Somehow there was a rift with part of the community claiming orthodoxy based upon Paul’s teachings (“I belong to Paul”), and others supporting Apollos.
Paul points out in his letter that by behaving in this rather childish (but true to human nature) way, they were not behaving as a community of faith, but more like the un-converted community at large. (“While there is jealousy and rivalry among you, are you not of the flesh, and walking  according to the manner of man?”)  Even in Paul’s time, there were forces of human nature doing their level best to divide the Church.  Does this sound familiar?
If we were to bring the time forward about a thousand years we see that same ugly situation appear, this time in Constantinople in the 4th Crusade, when members of the Roman Church despoiled the city and churches of the Eastern Church causing a rift that exists to this day.  The fracture exists in spite of numerous attempts on both sides to reconcile the differences.  Some hurts, when allowed to go untreated for too long, may never heal entirely.
Fast forward about six hundred years.  We hear cries from within the ranks of the Church: “I am for Leo X,” and others, “I am for Luther.”  This time there was no St. Paul to remind the community that they were behaving childishly, and they should remember the Lord’s teaching.  Once more, the Church was divided and, because of the reactions on both sides, no reconciliation was possible. That wound also exists today in the separation of the Lutheran denomination along with all of the Bible based subdivisions that have occurred subsequent to the initial schism. 
Less than one hundred years after the Reformation schism, the most recent of the major divisions of the Church occurred. When King Henry VIII of England could not win the Church’s blessing for a divorce, he broke away from the Church of Rome and established the Church of England. The Anglican Church also exists to this day as a separate band of Christians, looking to a leader outside of Rome.
Looking back at the history of these schismatic times, what lesson is there for us today?  How do we approach the whole idea of Christian unity when so many different ideologies have evolved, and there are so many varying interpretations of the will of God in Christ?  The Roman Catholic Church has long maintained that, based upon Apostolic Succession and the Teaching Magisterium handed down through it, that ours is the authentic path to salvation, and that our spawned brothers and sisters, separated dogmatically from us for good reasons or bad, need to follow our lead. 
The problem is once more, as it was in the time of Paul, a human one.  There are so many people in positions of authority in those denominations who would rather be in those prestigious leadership roles, rather than being seen as having caved in to the Roman Church, or reconciling years of rejection of Papal primacy with a call to unity.   I believe the path must continue to be walked.  As a friend of mine likes to point out, we are all sailing to the same destination.  Some of us are on the “Big Boat” and some are on small boats following as best they can.  We pray for those who travel with us that the truth of Paul’s words come to them and they come at last to know: “… we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

[1] The picture is “Paul and Apollos” by Sir Edward Poynter, 1872

Monday, August 29, 2016

Tuesday of the Twenty-second Week in Ordinary Time

St. Paul” by Domenico Beccafumi, 1515
Commentary on 1 Cor 2:10b-16
St. Paul continues his discourse on Christian Wisdom and perfection in the spirit. In this passage he talks about the discernment of things of the spirit, and how Christian Wisdom allows the faithful to discern the will of God ("…no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God”). The “will of God” seems foolish to human wisdom (“…to him it is foolishness”). The Christian, however, has access to the Wisdom of God and is guided by it. (“But we have the mind of Christ.”)
CCC: 1 Cor 2:10-15 2038; 1 Cor 2:10-11 152; 1 Cor 2:11 687; 1 Cor 2:16 389
R. (17) The Lord is just in all his ways.
Psalm 145 is a hymn of praise. These strophes call on the faithful to give thanks to God for opening the gates of his Heavenly Kingdom.  The psalmist sings his praise to God who is faithful to his people and who saves those who are in need. The selection gives praise God for his mercy and compassion, and thanks for his creation and redemption. There is also a subtle link to "Christian Wisdom" that comes with putting on the mind of Christ. The entire song is in the acrostic form (although loosely assembled), each verse beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
CCC: Ps 145:9 295, 342
Gospel: Luke 4:31-37
Commentary on Lk 4:31-37
This passage from St. Luke’s Gospel begins a series of events around Capernaum that expand Jesus' public image from prophet to teacher, exorcist, healer, and proclaimer of God’s kingdom. Here, he expels an evil spirit that asks him if he has come to destroy evil. “How does your concern affect me?" Literally, ‘What is this to me and to you?’ This is a Hebrew expression of either hostility (Judges 11:12; 2 Chronicles 35:21; 1 Kings 17:18), or denial of common interest (Hosea 14:9; 2 Kings 3:13; cf Mark 1:24; 5:7) used by demons to Jesus.”[4] It is interesting that the Spirit uses the Lord’s full name, perhaps in an attempt to control him. Instead the Lord commands the evil spirit and it leaves, amazing the crowd and spreading his fame in the region.
Those of you who are fortunate enough to have fluency in a second language or specialized training in a field of employment are going to have an easier time with St. Paul’s letter today than those of us who only speak a single language.  Paul says today;
We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God. And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.
There is a second language that we must learn to speak when discussing the things of God.  It is “The Language of God.”  The language of God is different than the language of logic or even philosophy used in describing the things of man.  Let’s look at a few examples.
If we observe a person who is making a living wage, not wealthy, not highly paid, but a living wage, and see that person giving a large piece of that wage, say 10%, to a charity, thereby depriving that person of any luxury items, and some things we might even classify as necessities,  using the language of logic, that is the language of the secular world, we would call that person foolish, or even stupid.
Using the language of the Holy Spirit in the same situation, we instantly are reminded of the scripture from the Gospel of Mark:
He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, "Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood." (Mk 12 42-44)
We would say, using the language of the Holy Spirit, how blessed that person is, and what a wonderful example of faith.  We would praise that person as an example to be followed.  It’s a different language.
Let’s look at another situation. A person is at work and sees the boss doing something very wrong and unjust; let’s say doctoring time cards of other employees so he can make his labor budget.  The person goes to that boss, and tells the boss that what he is doing is wrong and illegal, and must be corrected.  Because the boss wants to keep looking good so he can make more money, he has the employee fired under false pretenses.  Using secular logic, the person that confronted the boss would, again, be considered foolish or stupid.  After all, it was someone else’s time card not theirs and the rule is: “Look out for number one.”
Again looking at the same situation using the language of the Holy Spirit, the person in our example would have done exactly the right thing.  That person Imitated our Lord, Jesus Christ, who came to bring justice; attacking the act (notice in our story, the sin was what was attacked not the sinner) was a noble action.  It was made even more admirable because the personal consequences were ignored.  The person in our story clearly knew a better rule: “Love one another.”  It is after all a different language.
The lesson from St. Paul today is a good one for us. We must learn the language of the Holy Spirit, the language of Jesus himself.  And, just as when we are learning a foreign language, the best way to do that is to immerse ourselves in the culture of that language.  We need to force ourselves to speak only that language until we can think in it.  How to do that is very difficult, but let’s give it our best effort. 

[1] The picture used today is “St. Paul” by Domenico Beccafumi, 1515
[4] See NAB footnote on John 2:4