Thursday, June 30, 2016

Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

“Amos” by Gustave DorĂ©,1865
Reading 1: Amos 8:4-6, 9-12
Commentary on Am 8:4-6, 9-12

In his fourth vision, the Prophet Amos’ oracle now turns to God’s response to greed. The Israelites wait impatiently for the end of the Holy Days (“When will the new moon be over” see Numbers 28:11-15) so they can engage in business. Their practices of cheating on the measure of grain (the ephah is slightly more than a bushel) is strictly forbidden by Mosaic Law (Leviticus 19:36 and Deuteronomy 25:13-15).
The response by God is a judgment against them. Although the original intent was an attack on those who were dishonest, we see the deeper allusion to God’s response to the rejection of Christ, and the death of his Son. The total eclipse is always a sign of God’s impending judgment, and the lamentations that follow (“I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentations”). Finally the prediction that the Word of the Lord (the sacred name is used in the Hebrew text) will be gone from them, and they will search for it in vain, can be seen not only as the loss of the prophet (the original intent), but the loss of the Logos, the Messiah.
CCC: Am 8:4-10 2269; Am 8:4-6 2409; Am 8:6 2449; Am 8:11 2835
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 119:2, 10, 20, 30, 40, 131
R. (Matthew 4:4) One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
Psalm 119 is an individual lament asking for God’s support in times of difficulty. The strophes selected from this very long psalm focus on the fidelity of the singer to the “ordinances, statutes, and decrees” of the Law in reference to the oracle of Amos 8:4-6, 9-12 where the prophet condemns those who violate God’s Law. It emphasizes that God is truth and, as his followers, we are called to live in truth.
CCC: Ps119:30 2465
Gospel: Matthew 9:9-13
Commentary on Mt 9:9-13
The journey of Jesus continues with the Lord’s encounter with Matthew (Levi in St. Mark’s Gospel), the tax collector. The Pharisees are scandalized because this renowned teacher (Jesus) has chosen to associate with “sinners,” who clearly violate some of the numerous laws about ritual purity (Matthew 5:46). Jesus’ response, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” makes it clear that interior faith is more highly prized than purely ritualistic rigor.
This passage is the call of St. Matthew into discipleship. His profession, as customs worker or tax collector, would have stimulated controversy among the Scribes and Pharisees, and the presence of others of the same type at the meal described, would have caused ritual impurity. However, as with his disciples Peter, Andrew, James, and John, Jesus calls Matthew as he was engaged in his profession. The question the Pharisees ask, because such contact would have caused ritual impurity, would have been construed as a critical remark. The Lord responded with a challenge, quoting Hosea 6:6, and punctuated his response with the observation that, those who were critical of his associations did not understand the scriptures they professed to represent.
CCC: Mt 9:12 581; Mt 9:13 589, 2100
Tradition holds that St. Matthew, following his call and wanderings with the Lord, “…was also amongst the Apostles who were present at the Ascension, and afterwards withdrew to an upper chamber, in Jerusalem, praying in union with Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:10; Acts 1:14).[4] He was not mentioned prominently in other parts of the New Testament, even in his own Gospel, although we do have the account given today of his call and response. Other historical accounts have him staying around Jerusalem for about 15 years, and finishing his Gospel then going off to ancient Ethiopia (which is not present day Ethiopia) where he was martyred. There is no clear record on how this took place.
What we are given, however, is that, of the disciples called by the Lord, Matthew (Levi) was the one who gives hope for those who are marginalized. As a customs agent, he served the civil government under Herod Antipas, and was not accepted by the Pharisees (that is an understatement, traditionally these agents [tax collectors] were shunned). Think of them as you might think of an IRS agent (not that I have anything against people who work for the IRS, this is just a metaphor (I hope I don’t get audited)). That is why, when Jesus was invited to dinner following Matthew’s call, he was eating with “tax collectors and sinners.” These were probably the friends of Matthew, his colleagues. Jesus then proclaims his prophetic statement; “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.
Jesus was the great unifier. He took upon himself the sins of all of us. From some he takes a greater burden, but all contribute to it. And look where that particular sinner went once he chose to follow the Lord. He followed the Lord on his journeys through the region. He was with him in the upper room where he blessed and broke bread, that was his body, for the first time. He was with him in the garden when they took him. He was there, in fear, in the locked room, when the Lord came and said to them: “Peace be with you.” And for all of us, he recorded those events so we would know, and have faith.
Matthew is a great hope for us all. If he, who was considered by the religious of the day to be unworthy of a place in the assembly of the faithful, was one of the first called by the Lord, then how much more merciful will Jesus be toward us? If Matthew, Levi, the tax collector, was blessed with the gifts of evangelization, how much more will the Lord give us if we ask him?

[1] The picture is “Amos” by Gustave DorĂ©,1865
[4] The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Optional Memorial for the First Holy Martyrs of Rome)
“Christ Healing the Paralytic” 
by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, 1730-32
Readings and Commentary:[3]
Reading 1: Amos 7:10-17
Commentary on Am 7:10-17
This selection shows the tension between prophet (Amos) and priest (Amaziah). The latter takes Amos’ words out of context and distorts them into what appears to be an attack on the king. As a consequence, Amos is expelled from Bethel (the national sanctuary of the northern kingdom), and would no longer be providing guidance to King Jeroboam II as “court visionary” or prophet.
In reply to the savage rebuke of the high priest, Amos lists his credentials. He denounces the professional prophets, and disclaims any connection with them. Amos had no interest in being a prophet for the purpose of earning money. “[He was] a dresser of sycamores: This insipid fruit, which grows especially in the lowlands of Palestine, is related to, but smaller than, the fig; it was the food of the poor.”[4]
Amos has the last word (v.17). He gives Amaziah the dooming prophecy for the king and his family. The reference to death “in an unclean land” is a reference to Assyria.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11
R. (10cd) The judgments of the Lord are true, and all of them are just.
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.
Gospel: Matthew 9:1-8
Commentary on Mt 9:1-8
Jesus continues his saving works in the healing of the paralytic. The leaders of the synagogue hear Jesus forgive the man’s sins, which in their thinking caused the man’s affliction (cf. John 9:1-3), and could only be taken away by God (cf. Luke 5:21). To demonstrate that he was from God, and acting for God, Jesus took away, not only the man’s sins, but what the scribes believed were the consequences of those sins, his paralysis. The crowds, if not the scribes, immediately understood and gave thanks to God for his mercy.
Jesus first forgives the sins of a young paralytic then he heals him, in the Gospel for today. In Hebrew thought, these two actions are linked. It was the Jewish belief that if something terrible happened, like being paralyzed, it was because the person did something wrong, sinned against God. They believed that God, in retribution, caused the affliction. This belief did not just attach to the one afflicted either; it attached to the whole of the person’s family, including extended family.
So, by saying first: “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven,” Jesus demonstrated that he spoke with the authority of God, since only God could forgive one so afflicted. That is why the Scribes who were present were thinking that Jesus was blaspheming.
It got better though. Jesus, sensing the thoughts of the Scribes, demonstrated that he could not only forgive sins, but also remove the outward signs of interior sin when he says:
Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’
or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?
But that you may know that the Son of Man
has authority on earth to forgive sins”—
he then said to the paralytic,
“Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.”
He rose and went home.
No one present missed the revelation. Only God could forgive sins, and the outward sign of that sin was the paralysis. Jesus first removed the cause, then the effect, in the eyes of the witnesses.
This revelation is very important to us. Christ has told us that sin does not result in immediate and physical punishment from God as the Jews believed. The Lord’s coming changed that forever. He delivered us from sin and death.  Jesus starts us on our journey of faith in the forgiving bath of Baptism, where all sins are washed away. He strengthens us with the gift of the Holy Spirit and adopts us as his children.
Through his gift to Peter of the Keys of the Kingdom, he has passed on to his Holy Church the faculty to continue his loving forgiveness in the sacrament of Reconciliation. He has permanently removed the source of our temporal pain and disfigurement as a consequence of sin.
Finally, again through the gift of the sacraments, he has provided us with the instrument of healing in the Anointing of the Sick, again removing barriers to God and the Kingdom of Heaven.
Indeed, today’s Gospel is an important one for us. We see in it our own salvation. The only price we are asked to pay is, faith and love of him who loves us.

[1] The picture is “Christ Healing the Paralytic” by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, 1730-32
[4] See Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, Inc., © 1968, 14:34, pp. 251.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles

Mass During the Day
Catechism Links[1]

“Saints Peter and Paul” by Guido Reni, c. 1600

Reading 1: Acts 12:1-11

Commentary on Acts 12:1-11

The Christian Jews in Jerusalem have fallen from favor, probably due to St. Stephen’s teaching and the subsequent backlash. The execution of St. James marks the beginning of the third persecution of the early Church in Jerusalem, this one from a more formal source.
The liberation of Peter from prison echoes many events of Jewish history (the deliverance of Joseph, Genesis 39:21-41:57; the three young men, Daniel 3; and Daniel [himself], Daniel 6) that consciously reflect the paschal liberation (Exodus 12:42). Peter now undergoes the same trial and deliverance as his Master and in his own person becomes a sign of God’s deliverance of his people.
CCC: Acts 12:5 2636; Acts 12:6-11 334
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. (5) The angel of the Lord will rescue those who fear him.

Commentary on Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9

Psalm 34 is a song of thanksgiving and a favorite for celebrating the heroic virtue of the saints. The psalmist, fresh from the experience of being rescued (Psalm 34:5, 7), can teach the "poor," those who are defenseless, to trust in God alone. This psalm, in the words of one being unjustly persecuted, echoes hope for deliverance and freedom. The Lord in his faithful love always hears those who call to him for help and salvation. 

CCC: Ps 34:3 716; Ps 34:8 336
Reading II: 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18 

Commentary on 2 Tm 4:6-8, 17-18

Paul is writing from prison at the end of his life. The only deliverance he can expect is death, and he confidently proclaims that it is the greatest deliverance of all. The death of the Christian who has lived and worked in union with the death of Christ, through baptism, is truly released to freedom and glory. The Apostle views this deliverance as an act of worship. At the close of his life Paul could testify to the accomplishment of what Christ himself foretold concerning him at the time of his conversion: "I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name" (Acts 9:16).

CCC: 2 Tm 4 2015
Gospel: Matthew 16:13-19

Commentary on Mt 16:13-19

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. The title 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 is Petros, and from there to Peter. The name, however, becomes the foundation for the Church. As a consequence of this exchange, Peter is given Christ’s authority, an authority that is passed down through Papal Succession to the Pope who sits on the Chair of Peter today.

CCC: Mt 16-18 1969; Mt 16:16-23 440; Mt 16:16 424, 442; Mt 16:17 153, 442; Mt 16:18-19 881; Mt 16:18 424, 442, 552, 586, 869; Mt 16:19 553, 1444

Where would we be without St. Peter and St. Paul? Peter was given the keys to the kingdom to pass down to us while Paul was sent to proclaim that kingdom to non-Jewish people. Without Peter, there would be no first Pontiff, without Paul Christianity might have been nothing more than an insignificant scandalous off-shoot of Judaism.

While they were both critical to God’s plan, how differently they are painted by scripture. Peter was so very human. He could suddenly be open to the Holy Spirit and then just as suddenly fall prey to doubt. We saw it many times in the Gospel. 

Remember the time in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, he saw Jesus and got out of the boat and actually began walking on the water? (Matthew 14:22-36) We are reminded of a child learning to ride a bike. The parent patiently takes the child out onto the sidewalk, tells the child to begin peddling as the parent walks next to them holding on to the back. At some point the parent lets go and the child rides on. Until, that is, they realize the parent is not there and then they generally lose faith (and concentration) and crash. Peter was like that, he started walking on water and as soon as he realized that it was impossible, he started to sink. The Lord rescued him, of course, like he always does for all of us. And he chastised Peter for his lack of faith.

Remember that awful night in the garden when Jesus was taken? How earlier in the evening when they were reclining at table Peter told Jesus how he would follow Jesus down any road. Remember how the Lord told him that before that night was out he would deny the Him 3 times? Again Peter was caught up in the spirit and said the noble thing only to fall prey to his own human weakness later. (Matthew 26:14—27:66) I love him for that weakness; it gives me hope for myself.

Then we have Paul who was a melodramatic firebrand. Paul, it seemed to me, threw himself into situations he knew would be spectacular. It was his style. Once there, with the predictable outcome (usually that meant he was either in jail or on the verge of being executed), he would lament his troubles (like today: I, Paul, am already being poured out like a libation). He wanted us to see graphically that being Christian and following Christ in our lives would be difficult, should be difficult. He had a keen intellect and enjoyed matching wits with the best philosophical minds in Rome. Like so many of us in the Church today, Paul, as a convert, was the most fervent in his faith.

Two very different tools in the Lord’s tool box are celebrated today. We, his modern-day followers will do well if we can emulate either of them in their love of God and their dedication to the faith. We celebrate the fact that both followed Christ in life and death and sit now in the heavenly kingdom with all the angels and saints and we ask for their intercession on our behalf.


[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
[3] The picture used is “Saints Peter and Paul” by Guido Reni, c. 1600
[5] In part, from the commentary from Fr. Tom Welbers at Our Lady of the Assumption Church in Berkley, California.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Memorial of Saint Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr

"St. Irenaeus" 
iconifer and date are UNKNOWN
Reading 1: Amos 3:1-8; 4:11-12
Commentary on Am 3:1-8; 4:11-12
The Prophet Amos issues a warning to Israel (the Northern Kingdom). He begins his address by explaining that, because the people of Israel are God’s chosen ones, the Lord will hold them to a higher standard of behavior (under the Law of Moses). Then he starts with his own divinely inspired compulsion to exhort them with his prophetic vision using a series of everyday events with which his listeners would have been familiar. (“Do two walk together unless they have agreed?” Agreement goes before harmony. “Does a lion roar in the forest when it has no prey?” The answer would be understood as no, etc.) The prophet therefore must also speak: “The Lord God speaks—who will not prophesy!” The concluding remarks in this selection indicate the Lord’s judgment is at hand.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 5:4b-6a, 6b-7, 8
R. (9a) Lead me in your justice, Lord.
Commentary on Ps 5:4b-6a, 6b-7, 8
Psalm 5 is a lament, pleading for rescue from those who are evil and do not follow the statutes of God. The love of God is for his faithful people, and those who do not follow his law “the Lord abhors.
Gospel: Matthew 8:23-27
Commentary on Mt 8:23-27

Jesus calming the sea is the first of this set of miracles recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel. There are notable differences between St. Matthew’s account and that of St. Mark (Mark 4:35-41). First we note that Jesus leads the disciples into the boat, rather than the disciples taking him there. We also see a more reverent attitude on the part of the twelve as they wake him, contrasted with the accusatory tone in St. Mark. (“…do you not care that we are perishing?") This account of the disciples’ experience, in both cases, points directly at the identity of  Jesus as the Son of God, and serves as a proof for the reader.
CCC: Mt 8:20 2444; Mt 8:26 2610
Beyond the obvious proof of Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the Only Begotten Son of God, the story of Jesus calming the sea has another important lesson for us, his modern-day followers.  Simply stated, the story is: Jesus beckons, and the disciples are compelled to follow.  A storm threatens them, and Jesus calms both the storm and their fears.  The story encapsulates one of the many gifts Christ offers those who trust in him: the Lord’s peace and consolation.
The peace of Christ is something so valuable, so cherished by his faithful, that we should thank God for it daily.  It is the peace of Christ that gave the early martyrs, like St. Irenaeus whose memorial we celebrate today, the courage to stand up under torture.  It is the peace of Christ which opened the hearts of many of the saints to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  When the storm rages around us and all seems to be chaotic, our natural emotional state tends to imitate the chaos in which we find ourselves and cloud our vision.  But the peace of Christ calms those turbulent waters, and allows us to see clearly into the very depths of the sea, as is so beautifully stated by Diadochus of Photice in his Treatise on Spiritual Perfection.
The peace of Christ requires something of the believer.  To attain serenity in the face of calamity, it is necessary to place our trust, our complete trust, in the Lord our Savior.  We are reminded of an old movie called “The Court Jester” with Danny Kaye.  In one scene Danny, a bumbling minstrel, was hypnotized by a minion of the beguiling princess (Angela Lansbury) and was transformed into a champion fencer.  While he was under the influence of the suggestion, he fought bravely and with skill against the evil Sir Ravenhurst (Basil Rathbone).  But when the trance was broken he became the terrified jester flailing wildly.  Without trust and faith in Christ, our human emotions betray us and, like horses fleeing fire, we can be led to do exactly the wrong thing.
When we are faced with crises, it is so important that we pause and place our trust in Christ.  Allow Him to take on the fearful situation, as he did with the storm in the Gospel, and he will calm our fears, bring us peace, and show us the way.  Does that mean he will intervene and change our physical reality?  No, but he can change our mental state, providing the comfort, consolation, and peace that will make all the difference in how we react and how others perceive God acting through us.
Our prayer today is that God will strengthen us and give us his peace, calming the storms that rage about us, that we might boldly proclaim his name to all we meet this day.

[2] The picture used is "St. Irenaeus" iconifer and date are UNKNOWN

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Monday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Optional Memorial for Saint Cyril of Alexandria, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)

“Studies of a Fox” by Pieter Boel, 1669-71
Reading 1: Amos 2:6-10, 13-16
Commentary on Am 2:6-10, 13-16
Placed in context, the prophet protests against the crimes of Moab (2 Kings 3:9ff). The selection from Amos begins with a detailed list of the crimes the Hebrew people of Jerusalem have committed. They disregard the poor, and treat them without dignity; they take that which was given in tribute to God, and use it for their own pleasure; they turn to idolatry (“…they recline beside any altar”). They did so in the face of God’s faithfulness: God stood with their armies as they defeated the Amorites, and was with Moses who led them out of bondage in Egypt.
The prophet concludes with a warning oracle. (“I will crush you into the ground.”) God will abandon them, and they will not be able to hide from his punishment.
R. (22a) Remember this, you who never think of God.
Psalm 50 is in the form of a “covenant lawsuit” that is a lament against those who have violated God’s law, and the covenant made with him upon which it was based. Much like the oracle from Amos 2:6ff (above), the strophes point to those who are unfaithful, and contrast them with God who is always faithful.
Gospel: Matthew 8:18-22
Commentary on Mt 8:18-22
This is an interlude between the miracle stories in St. Matthew’s Gospel. In this passage we find two sayings dealing with discipleship, and what that means. The first of these is in the form of a reply to a scribe who wished to travel with the Lord. The Savior’s response indicated that he must be prepared to have no permanent home if he was going to do so. The scribe must give up material wealth, and embrace Christ's consistently stated love of the poor.
In the second situation, the would-be disciple asks to be allowed to bury his father. This does not mean his father had already died, but that he wished to wait for that to happen so he could carry out his family responsibilities. The Lord’s response makes it clear that ties to the family would be secondary to the disciples' call to follow him (see also commentary on Luke 9:51-62).
CCC: Mt 8:20 2444
In the Gospel of St. Matthew, the Lord asks the scribe, in the form of a metaphor, if he is willing to give up all the world holds as important so he can follow him. His inference with the statement: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head,” is that accepting the way of Christ means placing everything of earthly value second. Homes, jobs, and families become secondary to the work of spreading the news of God’s salvation.
Using a more contemporary image, we were reminded recently of the great example set for us by St Josemaria Escriva who, though he did not know what he was being called to, repeatedly said yes to the call of the Lord. In his life, like so many of the great saints, worldly values beckoned to him, and he was forced to say no. The Lord asks for our love, and understands that, when we say yes, we take up a cross that is very familiar to him. It may mean family and friends turn away, they will not understand single- hearted love of God. It will almost certainly mean that secular definitions of success will not apply. Financial wealth, material goods, and worldly pleasures will have little value in the life of Christ’s disciples.
Why then, one might ask, would a person willingly choose to follow Jesus? It seems almost as if the Lord is trying to push us away. No, he is simply trying to teach us where true happiness and peace can be found. By embracing God, we find an inner peace that eludes those whose passion is building wealth, whose treasure is fiscal gain. Wealth demands attention, effort, and work. Trusting Jesus to walk with us, and the Father to watch over us, our spirit soars and a great burden is lifted.
Today we ask for the strength to let go of our earthly desires and turn away from the urgings of the flesh (as St. Paul would say), and to embrace Christ and follow his way to salvation.

[1] The picture used today “Studies of a Fox” by Pieter Boel, 1669-71