Sunday, October 30, 2016

Monday of the Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time

“Alms to the Poor” by Martin Drolling, c. 1815
Reading 1: Philippians 2:1-4
Commentary on Phil 2:1-4
St. Paul continues his affectionate teaching of the Philippians enjoining them to be in harmony with each other if they wish to make him, their brother and exemplar, happy with them (“…complete my joy by being of the same mind”). He tells them to place the good of their brothers and sisters before their own interests, in this way adopting an attitude also of humility which will be exalted in the Kenotic Hymn in the next verses.
CCC: Phil 2:1 2842; Phil 2:4 2635
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 131:1bcde, 2, 3
R. In you, O Lord, I have found my peace.
Commentary on Ps 131:1bcde, 2, 3
Psalm 131 is an individual lament praying for harmony and humility among the members of the community. The singer proclaims trust in the Lord and peace, like children's contented peace, secure in the knowledge of the love and protection of their parents.
CCC: Ps 131:2 239; Ps 131:2-3 370
Gospel: Luke 14:12-14
Commentary on Lk 14:12-14
("On a sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees.” 14:1) Following on the teaching about humility (those seeking places of honor at the banquet), Jesus now goes on to speak of service to the poor and to those who could not be expected to pay (or repay) for kindness or service. The purpose of this discourse reflects Jesus’ concern that his disciples should minister to the poor, not just to those who could repay them for their efforts.
There is a very subtle difference between pride and expected courtesy on occasions where guests are invited into one’s home.  On the one hand, we feel obligated to serve our guests the foods they will enjoy, in a home as clean and comfortable as we can make it.  On the other hand, there is “one upmanship”:  The thought that we went to dinner at so-and-so’s house last month and they set an opulent table, so in our turn; we must try to outdo them.  Our menu must be more exotic, our home more inviting and bedecked with more signs of secular success.  This attitude is the one Jesus addresses to his disciples in St. Luke’s Gospel.
When we think about whom we minister to, do we gravitate toward those who have much to give in return, or do we seek those who have nothing, in order to give them something?  Do we serve others who, in turn can serve us (and better), or do we offer our service, knowing as Christ encouraged, that we will not be repaid?
St. Paul, addressing the Philippians, clearly has an idealistic view of how the Christian community should operate.  He wishes his disciples to be in complete harmony and unity with one another, sharing the wealth of the community equally, a very communal view of church.  That would mean then that when a new member was brought into such a community, the expectation would be for that person to share what they had, great or small, and to receive an equal share (which might be larger or smaller than what they brought to the community).
There was good reason for the Pauline communities to establish a three year introduction to the communal life (their form of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults [RCIA]).  They needed to make sure the shared faith and attitudes were there.
Back to the main message: “We are fools on Christ’s account,” as St. Paul has said elsewhere (1 Corinthians 4:10).  As such, we give without expectation of repayment.  We offer help without expectation of reciprocity.  Our example is Jesus who never turned his back on those in need, and offered the most unworthy people a place at the wedding banquet.  If we are worried that a person might take advantage of us, we have probably not made a deep enough commitment to help that person.
Perhaps an explanation is needed for that statement.  If we are asked, say by a person begging on the street, for money so they can buy food, why not, instead of money, take that person to a place where they can be fed?  (This does not mean to throw out common sense!  We must have a prudent and realistic view of potentially dangerous situations.  Act in concert with people you trust, not alone.)  If a person asks for work, offer work if you can and reward that person generously.  Many who, out of pity, give money to such people are contributing to degrading their dignity. 
The key point Jesus is making in the Gospel is the need for those with more to look after those with less. It is a consistent message of love, love of those with more for those with less, love of those in power for those who are powerless, love by those who are loved for the unloved.  And this will be our prayer for today; that we may use the examples of the Saints to love the poor and build up the Body of Christ that is the Church by extending the loving hand of Christ to those we meet.

[1] The picture used today is “Alms to the Poor” by Martin Drolling, c. 1815

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 293-294, 299, 341, 353: the universe created for God’s glory
CCC 1459, 2412, 2487: reparation

“Zacchaeus” Artist and Date are UNKNOWN

Reading 1: Wisdom 11:22-12:2
Commentary on Wis 11:22-12:2
Wisdom (from the Second Diptych) tells us that God created all that is and has being, and because his creation is loved by him, all things and people are loved (see also Hosea 6:4-6; John 3:1-4:11). “Origen used this passage to draw lessons about God's all-embracing love: "Because we are his children, the Lord encourages us to develop the same attitude, and teaches us to do good works for all mankind. For that is why He is called the 'savior of all people, especially of those who believe in him' (1 Timothy 4:10), and his Christ the 'expiation of ours sins, and the sins of the whole world' (1 John 2:2)" (Contra Celsum, 4, 28).”[5]

Implicit in that relationship, however, is the need for repentance by those who have sinned. In that repentance is salvation, for God corrects:“…rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O Lord!
CCC: Wis 11:23 269; Wis 11:24-26 301; Wis 11:24 373
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 145:1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13, 14
R. (cf. 1) I will praise your name for ever, my king and my God.
This hymn of thanksgiving praises God for his mercy, and reflects the same relationship as that described in Wisdom 11:22-12:2 . God loves his creation and tries to conform all to his image. He punishes those who sin against him and gives support to the downtrodden.
CCC: Ps 145:9 295, 342
Commentary on 2 Thes 1:11-2:2
St. Paul concludes his introduction to his second letter by telling the Thessalonians that his prayer is that all may be worthy of the faith to which they were called. He tells them that their actions would bring Glory to God, and Jesus, God's Only Begotten Son. He begins the second chapter warning them not to be taken in by a false letter, purportedly from him (St. Paul), which said the Lord had already returned and the end times were upon them.  
“Those who try to mislead the people of God by teachings contrary to Christian faith often use methods of the same sort. By twisting the meaning of Sacred Scripture (cf. Matthew 4:6) they not infrequently promote wrong teaching as if it were a revelation from the Holy Spirit. The Second Vatican Council has reminded us how to identify subjective interpretation of that kind: "The task of giving an authentic interpretation, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ" (Dei Verbum, 10).[6]
CCC: 2 Thes 1:11 2636
Gospel: Luke 19:1-10
Commentary on Lk 19:1-10
In this passage, we hear the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, and Jesus. While still on his final journey to Jerusalem, this encounter takes place in Jericho, on the western edge of Jordan Valley, about 6 miles north of the Dead Sea, northeast of Jerusalem. Jesus chooses Zacchaeus’ home for his resting place (an unpopular choice: “…they began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner’”).
Jesus uses this occasion to give us a clear idea of why he came. When Zacchaeus tells him what he has done with his material possessions, Jesus proclaims: “…the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” The Lord's mission is salvation.
The story of Zacchaeus is another of the stories unique to the Gospel of St. Luke. The Tax Collector exemplifies the attitude the faithful should take. He detaches himself easily from his wealth. Zacchaeus' offers go beyond what Mosaic Law calls for (assuming some of his dealings were dishonest: Exodus 21:37; Numbers 5:5-7) to give half of his possessions to the poor, and to make amends four times over for any accounts he has wrongly settled. This action, the Lord tells those present, has earned him salvation.
CCC: Lk 19:1-10 2712; Lk 19:8 549, 2412; Lk 19:9 1443
There is an axiom in the first reading from Wisdom that must not be forgotten and bears on all the things that the Church teaches.  In short, the key words are:
“For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.”
This is especially important as we deal with issues reported in the media and supported by many in popular or secular culture.  As members of the Catholic Church we are considered by many to be non-inclusive and, in some quarters, even bigoted because we refuse to change our stance on the Church’s long-held moral principles.  Our first response to those who challenge our views must be to point first at this principle from Wisdom.  First, it must be understood that we are called to love all that God has created as he loves it.  We are called to love people who differ from us, even our enemies, for they too are God’s creation.  When people call us names because we do not support and cannot accept what we consider to be immoral behavior, we must tell them it is the actions of some we detest, not those who have sinned.
We next consider Zacchaeus the Tax Collector (Publican [not Republican-humorous political comment suppressed]).  Zacchaeus was trying to see Jesus, and we find irony here because Jesus, as it turns out, was also seeking him.  Zacchaeus, once his encounter with the Lord had taken its effect, understood what God wanted from him. He understood what scripture said and required, and he exceeded the demands of the Law in his restitution.
We contrast this story with what was going on with St. Paul as he wrote to the Thessalonians in the second reading.  The Apostle addresses a very real concern.  A letter was apparently being sent around that he (St. Paul) is supposed to have written. The letter says the end of life on earth is at hand (sound familiar?).  We can imagine what kind of disruption this causes with the Christian community.  We’ve seen what happens when modern-day self-proclaimed prophets do likewise.  Most are viewed as fanatics or kooks, but some (David Koresh of Branch Davidian infamy, Jim Jones with Jonestown) can cause incredible harm.
What Paul speaks out about, and what Jesus evokes from Zacchaeus, is what could be called in a cliché kind of way, “God’s Truth.”  The problem Paul faces is that others are claiming this same authority.  They claim to speak with either their own version of truth or have commandeered the Apostle’s authority, claiming he has said things about Jesus and his mission that he had not said.
We find the warning given to the Thessalonians germane: “…not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a ‘spirit,’ or by an oral statement.”  There are many people who are trying to justify their actions using sacred scripture; twisting the meaning of it by either taking it out of context or by attempting pseudo-scholarly interpretations that change the meaning.  Here’s just one example: 
A friend of mine recently became quite upset because his denomination, the Presbyterian Church, was considering ordaining openly homosexual individuals as ministers and pastors.  The arguments put forward for accepting this behavior by his minister, a PhD in Theology, cited scripture (Genesis19:4-11; Judges19:1-30; Leviticus 18:1-30; Leviticus 20:1-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-17; 1 Timothy 1:3-13; Jude 1-25; Romans 1:26-27), and said they really didn’t mean that homosexual behavior was necessarily immoral.  The rationale was that there was no reason to exclude an openly homosexual person simply because the marriage covenant did not extend to same-sex partners (From a civil contractual standpoint, this has now been changed by Obergefell v. Hodges and the Supreme Court).  He completely ignored the biblical teaching that identified sodomy (and by implication its female counterpart) as “unnatural [disordered] acts.”
There are numerous other examples of attempts to weaken the concept of “Christian morality” in the name of “inclusivity.”  (The same friend tells me that a protestant church in his rural hometown recently removed the cross from its steeple because they wanted to send the message that they were more inclusive.) 
While some of the more liberal individuals within the Church might find these arguments compelling, the Church’s teaching authority on this subject and many others is firmly rooted in biblical and traditional moral theology.  This has not been changed, as popular media are contending, by our current Pope, Francis.  While he has placed our moral battles in perspective, prioritizing the need to proclaim the Gospel, he has not changed the consistent teaching on these moral truths.  Our constant battle as Church is to make sure those teachings remain clear and that those who claim to be telling us what the Church believes or teaches are doing so with appropriate authority; not something usurped to promote their own agenda or interpretation of morality.
Zacchaeus found the truth in Christ.  Jesus in turn passed the keys of truth to St. Peter, and he to his successors.  Today we cling to that authoritative teaching body as a source and wellspring of truth as we strive to do God’s will.

[1] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[2] The picture used today is “Zacchaeus” Artist and Date are UNKNOWN
[5] The Navarre Bible: “Letters of St. Paul”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2003, pp.534-535
[6] Ibid 1 Thessalonians 2ff

Friday, October 28, 2016

Saturday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Optional Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

On Saturdays in Ordinary Time when there is no obligatory memorial, an optional memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary is allowed. [1] Mass texts may be taken from the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, from a Votive Mass, or from the special collection of Masses for the Blessed Virgin Mary. Note: Suggested for this date # 24. The Blessed Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom

“Christ before the High Priest”
by Gerrit van Honthorst, c. 1617


Commentary on Phil 1:18b-26

St. Paul writes from imprisonment, and begins this passage rejoicing that the Gospel of Christ is being proclaimed, even though it is others who are doing so. He goes on to express a feeling of his mortality which he couples with a sense of longing to be with Christ in his heavenly kingdom. Still, the Apostle feels called to remain on earth to continue the work the Lord intended for him. We hear this same interior debate in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 as he refers to our “earthly dwelling.

“Paul earnestly debates his prospects of martyrdom or continued missionary labor. While he may long to depart this life and thus be with Christ, his overall and final expectation is that he will be delivered from this imprisonment and continue in the service of the Philippians and of others. In either case, Christ is central; if to live means Christ for Paul, death means to be united with Christ in a deeper sense.”[5]

CCC: Phil 1:21 1010, 1698; Phil 1:23 1005, 1011, 1021, 1025; Phil 1:27 1692
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 42:2, 3, 5cdef

R. My soul is thirsting for the living God.
Commentary on Ps 42:2, 3, 5cdef

Psalm 42 (paired with Psalm 43) is an individual lament.  Sung near the origin of the Jordan River at Mt. Hermon, the singer laments not being in God’s presence in the Temple of Jerusalem.  The great pain expressed flows from being separated from the holy spaces of the house of God.

CCC: Ps 42:3 2112
Gospel: Luke 14:1, 7-11
Commentary on Lk 14:1, 7-11

This parable, found only in the Gospel of St. Luke, gives us Jesus teaching the need for humility. The Lord’s indirect criticism of those who seek the attention of the rich, and ignore the poor, sets the stage for the next passage and the parable of the great banquet. Jesus is giving some wisdom of his own. He first speaks of the charism of humility using the example of a feast (just like the one to which he was invited), saying that one should assume the lowly station and be invited up, rather than assuming the higher station and being dismissed.

CCC: Lk 14:1 575, 588

The Gospel parable from St. Luke requires that we examine humility, our own virtue, with regards to pride and our desire to assimilate into the secular culture. True humility can only come if a person has faith in God! It will flow from the knowledge that God is omniscient, and always present in his triune nature, creator of all that is. How can personal pride stand when we know that not only did God create us, and give us life in the flesh, but also gave up his only Son so that we could enjoy eternal life? Can a person who recognizes that they owe everything that they have and are to God be prideful, self-indulged, or self-absorbed?

Going even further, once we understand that the Savior of mankind walks with us daily, that, through the Holy Spirit, he is with us constantly, how can we take pride in our own actions that serve God’s purpose? It is his strength and wisdom poured out for us that allows us to do what we do. And even further still, if we also know that God not only created and gave us life, but also created and gave life to all living creatures, how could we disrespect the dignity of another person or casually destroy God’s creation?

True and virtuous humility comes from faith in God. That same faith demands that we also respect ourselves, the very personal gift God gave us. How can we think that we are anything but beautiful in the eyes of God? We are his favorite creation, and he loves us more than anyone can imagine. Who are we to think poorly of ourselves? In humility we must prize what we are as God created us.

As the Lord tells the Pharisees in the Gospel: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” In all humility we must respect others, not because they demand respect, but because they too are loved by God. It is the great paradox of faith that, in humility, we are glorified. Today we pray that our faith in the Father, His Only Son, and the Holy Spirit, inspire us with awe and wonder, imparting to us true humility and grace.


[3] The picture is “Christ before the High Priest” by Gerrit van Honthorst, c. 1617
[5] See NAB footnote on Philippians 1:19-25