Thursday, June 22, 2017

Solemnity of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 210-211, 604: God’s mercy
CCC 430, 478, 545, 589, 1365, 1439, 1825, 1846: Christ’s love for all
CCC 2669: The Heart of Christ worthy of adoration
CCC 766, 1225: The Church born from the pierced side of Christ
CCC 1432, 2100: Christ’s love moves our hearts
“The Sacred Heart of Jesus”
from an ancient holy card,
artist and date unknown

Readings and Commentary:[4]

Reading 1: Deuteronomy 7:6-11

Commentary on Dt 7:6-11

This passage is taken from Moses' second address to the people of Israel. He has just explained that the people of the lands which they occupy (Canaan in this case) must be held at arm’s length, and they must not intermingle their cultures or relationships. The selection presented is the rationale for that injunction. The members of God’s covenant are sacred to the Lord and the precepts of that covenant are not to be threatened by people not bound by it.

The intense love of God for his people is made clear in this reading with specific mention made to the Heart of God: “…the Lord set his heart on you and chose you.” This directly supports devotion to the Sacred Heart of God's Only Begotten Son especially: “It was because the Lord loved you.

CCC: Dt 7:6 762; Dt 7:8 218; Dt 7:9 215
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 103:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 10.

R. (cf. 17) The Lord's kindness is everlasting to those who fear him.

Psalm 103 is a song of praise to God for his mercy. It recognizes both God’s mercy and our need, as sinners, for it. It is a simple and beautiful reaction to God’s goodness. Remembering God’s promise of mercy for the innocent, these strophes praise God for his compassion and give thanks for his salvation.

CCC: Ps 103 304
Reading II: 1 John 4:7-16
Commentary on 1 Jn 4:7-16

Love, as we share in it, testifies to the nature of God and to his presence in our lives. A person who loves shows that they are a child of God and they know God, for God's very being is love. A person without love is without God. The revelation of the nature of God's love is found in the free gift of his Son to us, so that we may share life with God and be delivered from our sins. The love we have for one another must be of the same sort: authentic, merciful; this unique Christian love is our proof that we know God and can "see" the invisible God.[5]

CCC: 1 Jn 4:8 214, 221, 733, 1604; 1 Jn 4:9 458, 516; 1 Jn 4:10 457, 604, 614, 620, 1428; 1 Jn 4:11-12 735; 1 Jn 4:14 457; 1 Jn 4:16 221, 733, 1604
Commentary on Mt 11:25-30

Jesus has just completed a fairly scathing criticism of the people in the places he has been and performed miracles, yet many have not accepted him as the Messiah. He now concludes this section as he reflects that, while the Scribes and Pharisees (“the wise and learned”) have not understood who he is, those with simple faith have accepted him freely. He then issues an invitation to all who “labor and are burdened” quoting an invitation similar to one in the book of Sirach to learn wisdom and submit to her yoke (Sirach 51:23, 26).

“This Q saying, identical with Luke 10:21-22 except for minor variations, introduces a joyous note into this section, so dominated by the theme of unbelief. While the wise and the learned, the scribes and Pharisees, have rejected Jesus' preaching and the significance of his mighty deeds, the childlike have accepted them. Acceptance depends upon the Father's revelation, but this is granted to those who are open to receive it and refused to the arrogant. Jesus can speak of all mysteries because he is the Son and there is perfect reciprocity of knowledge between him and the Father; what has been handed over to him is revealed only to those whom he wishes.”[6]

The final verses of this section are found only in St. Matthew’s Gospel and promise salvation to those who are downtrodden or in pain.

CCC: Mt 11:25-27 2603, 2779; Mt 11:25-26 2701; Mt 11:25 153, 544, 2785; Mt 11:27 151, 240, 443, 473; Mt 11:28 1658; Mt 11:29-30 1615; Mt 11:29 459

We begin our thoughts of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in an odd place, remembering our first days in college (in ancient times).  Anxious to start on our curriculum of studies in biochemistry, we went to the advisor for the department, a brilliant young doctor of chemistry.  He immediately reviewed the options for first year students and said, “You don’t need freshman biology, let’s sign you up for zoology, and you certainly don’t need plain geometry and trigonometry – you should take calculus, and by all means we should skip freshman inorganic chemistry and go straight to organic chemistry.”  Not knowing any better we did as instructed and it almost killed us.  Study should be fun, not terrifying.

What does this have to do with the intense love of God expressed by our devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus?  In the Gospel reading today we are invited by the Lord to accept his yoke: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."  He was contrasting his simple commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you” to the complex and difficult rules the Pharisees applied to authentic worship as defined by Mosaic Law.

Here is the ironic part; Jesus the Christ; the Only Son of God, is love personified.  He comes, one might say, “hard wired” to react out of love of others in all situations; the pinnacle of heroic virtue.  What he does instinctively requires of us who struggle valiantly to follow him tremendous discipline and faith.  It is like the brilliant young advisor who looked at difficult courses and thought them too easy for his new charge. 

Our comfort is this; that this day we contemplate not so much how we have failed in our attempt to be like Christ, but rather his unfathomable love for us.  If we think about how intensely a mother loves her child, and then understand that the Lord loves us even more completely, we begin to get an understating of that blessing that engulfs us.  So beyond our comprehension is this immeasurable gift that we look to the Saints to describe their God-given visions of the warmth that comes from that ultimate source.

Today we pray once more that the Lord will help us love as he does, without judgment, without reserve, in perfect acceptance of all we meet.  We thank him for his example and ask for the strength to follow it, especially with those who most need to feel its warmth.


[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 “The Sacred Heart of Jesus” from an ancient holy card, artist and date unknown
[5] See NAB footnote on 1 John 4: 7-12
[6] See NAB footnote on Matthew 11:25ff

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Thursday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Optional Memorial for Saint Paulinus of Nola, Bishop)
(Optional Memorial for Saints John Fisher, Bishop, and Thomas More, Martyrs)

“Study of an Apostle's Hands (Praying Hands), 
Albrecht Dürer, c. 1508
Commentary on 2 Cor 11:1-11
In the first part of this selection we hear St. Paul being somewhat ironic as he chastises the Church in Corinth about listening to false prophets and those teaching an unorthodox version of the Gospel (in this instance it sounds as if there may be some heretical teachings on the nature of Christ).  He goes on to ask them if they reject his message because it was brought to them free of charge, and refers to his support coming from other Christian communities while he stayed in Corinth.
CCC: 2 Cor 11:2 505, 796
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 111:1b-2, 3-4, 7-8
R. (7a) Your works, O Lord, are justice and truth.
R. Alleluia.
Commentary on Ps 111:1b-2, 3-4, 7-8
Psalm 111 is a hymn of thanksgiving.  In this selection we find the singer giving thanks for God’s guidance, and his works of creation and salvation.
Gospel: Matthew 6:7-15
Commentary on Mt 6:7-15
This Gospel passage from St. Matthew actually interrupts the pattern in the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus is clarifying the spirit of the Law regarding almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. In the presentation of the Lord’s prayer, St. Matthew differs from the presentation by St. Luke (Luke 11; 1-4) in which the Lord was asked by the disciples how to pray. This passage begins by telling the disciples: “do not babble like the pagans.” This may also be critical of the Jewish tradition of presenting long lists of petitions to God for help. The idea is the same: “Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
The prayer in St. Matthew has seven petitions (compared to six in St. Luke). The first three are synonymous, asking that God’s ultimate reign at the Eschaton be brought to fulfillment. The request for “daily bread” has a couple of possible meanings beyond the obvious. It may be related to the petition in Matthew 6: 31-33 (“So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?'”) and it may also be referring to the Messianic banquet of the Eucharist. Using this interpretation, the fourth petition continues the intent of the first three.
The fifth petition, “…forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” is, in spite of the denominational tradition, best translated as “debts.” In St. Luke’s version, the word used is “sins,” an easier word for non-Jewish readers. Regardless of the transliteration, the precondition for forgiveness given is that we forgive others.
…Lead us not into temptation” is not likely intended to mean our daily encounter with “evil” or the “evil one.” St. Matthew would agree with St. Paul, that God would easily avoid the evil of the world (1 Corinthians 10: 13). Rather the likely meaning would be that we not be led to a great test, that is, despair at the tribulations of the Eschaton (the end times). Similarly the final petition, “…deliver us from evil,” also would focus on the Christian hope of salvation rather than damnation.
CCC: Mt 6:7 2608, 2668, 2776; Mt 6:8 443, 2736; Mt 6:9-13 1969, 2759, 2759; Mt 6:9 268, 443; Mt 6:10 2632; Mt 6:11 1165, 2659; Mt 6:12 2845; Mt 6:14-16 2792; Mt 6:14-15 2608, 2841
The Lord’s Prayer is likely the most used prayer of our faith.  It is used in nearly every celebration of the Church from the Mass to devotions such as the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy.  It is prayed at meetings, at meal times, and at almost any occasion where communal prayer is offered.  It is ironic, then that such an important prayer can become mere babbling as St. Matthew put it in his Gospel.
We are all guilty of sprinting through the Lord’s Prayer.  There are many times when even the individual words are uttered either out loud or silently with such speed that the seven petitions we place before God are indistinguishable noise.  Even to ourselves.
Jesus warned about this in his opening remarks from the Gospel we heard today.  He told the disciples: “do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  Our Heavenly Father knows our needs before we ask him!  Yet we must recognize our need to offer him praise and honor.  Our uttered prayer is to remind us that we need his strength, his guidance, and his mercy to come to the place he has prepared for us.
We listen to those words of prayer as we recall our wish that we might receive the reward of eternal life, pledged in a covenant with God as Christ’s sacrifice sealed it with his blood.  We hear the deeper meaning of our request of “daily bread.”  It is not food for our table.  Rather it is our admittance to the eternal Eucharistic banquet.  We pray to be forgiven, knowing that God has offered forgiveness at a great price paid by our Savior, and we recall that before we might accept God’s forgiveness, we must also forgive.
Finally, we beg God to keep us courageous in the face of the trials we will surely face.  As we ask to be freed from temptation, we recognize it is temptation to fall into despair, to forget we are precious in the eyes of the Lord.  That same temptation was placed before our Lord as he prayed in the Garden the night he was betrayed.  And we conclude with the great hope that our merciful Father will welcome us at last to His Heavenly Kingdom, rescuing us from the eternal fall.
When next we pray this great prayer left to us by Jesus, let us hear the words we pray and let our spirit offer the praise God desires of his adopted children.

[1] The picture today is “Study of an Apostle's Hands (Praying Hands), Albrecht Dürer, c. 1508

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious

“The Vocation of St. Aloysius Gonzaga” 
by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, c. 1650
Commentary on 2 Cor 9:6-11
This is possibly part of a second letter, written after Titus was sent from the churches of Macedonia to initiate a collection for the Church in Jerusalem.  Here St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that they should be generous as the Heavenly Father is generous and have faith that he will supply their needs as a consequence of their own generosity. “The behavior to which he exhorts them is grounded in God's own pattern of behavior. God is capable of overwhelming generosity, as scripture itself attests (2 Corinthians 9:9), so that they need not fear being short. He will provide in abundance, both supplying their natural needs and increasing their righteousness. Paul challenges them to godlike generosity and reminds them of the fundamental motive for encouragement: God himself cannot be outdone.”[4]
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 112:1bc-2, 3-4, 9
R. (1b) Blessed the man who fears the Lord.
R. Alleluia.
Commentary on Ps 112:1bc-2, 3-4, 9
Psalm 112 is a hymn of praise. The psalmist assures the faithful that those who follow God’s own beneficence will receive a like reward. (“Light shines through the darkness for the upright; he is gracious and merciful and just.”)  The psalmist also encourages the faithful to give generously to the poor.
Commentary on Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
The Lord continues the Sermon on the Mount. In this selection, the Lord specifically addresses the pious acts of charity, prayer, and fasting, contrasting each with the spurious or pandering acts of the Scribes and Pharisees. He tells his audience that when they do these things, do them for God to see, not other people. They are to do what is right for God’s glory, not their own, not so that others will place them in high esteem because of their piety or generosity. In all three instances, almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, the same instruction is given. We are to give generously but in private, we are to pray fervently but alone, and we are to fast with purpose but hide our discomfort. (Omitted from this reading, Matthew 6; 7-15, is Jesus giving the disciples the Lord’s Prayer.)
CCC:  Mt 5:43-44 1933, 2844; Mt 5:44-45 2303, 2608; Mt 5:44 1825, 1968, 2262; Mt 5:45 2828; Mt 5:46-47 2054; Mt 5:47 1693; Mt 5:48 443, 1693, 1968, 2013, 2842
Sacred scripture deals with a difficult subject that contains some interesting traps for the unwary Christian.  We speak of course about “almsgiving” or stewardship.  As in almost every society, as far as written history reaches, material wealth and the disposition of it is a subject of great interest.  This is especially true for the society in which we live.
From the beginning of man’s encounter with God, the Father’s great generosity and mercy toward his creation has been seen as an example to follow.  Since his gift of life was given to Adam and Eve in the Garden, God has always been generous to his faithful, generous in material wealth, in spirit, and in what he only can offer- life.  How we have responded to this example is the subject of the portion of the Sermon on the Mount that was presented in St. Matthew’s Gospel.
Jesus takes issue with the Scribes and Pharisees who feel a need to be recognized within the social structure for their acts of charity and piety.  He points out that, if it is the admiration of people that is important to one motivated to almsgiving, prayer or fasting, the total reward will be just that, NOT God’s grace, but simply the admiration of one’s peers.  When the object of the action is ostensibly to please God, the admiration of peers is a poor substitute indeed.  To quote another part of the Gospel, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Matthew 16: 26)
For us this message is clear.  Our piety and generosity must be motivated by a desire to please God, not the neighbors.  Acts of intense love of God should not be for others to see, but for God to see and reward.  To be facetious, acting pious for others to see is like appearing to be diligent at work for your peers to see but ignoring the desires of your boss who is the one who will let you keep your job!
We mentioned that there were traps involved in these instructions and there are.  We too are called to be examples to others.  It is the principal way in which we spread the good news of the Gospel – through our own example.  How are we to be that example if we are instructed to keep our acts of piety and charity a secret from others?  Therein lies the distinction we must draw.  The Lord asks that we behave in ways that let everyone see that we love one another.  We do not try to draw attention to ourselves (blowing our own horn as the Gospel says).  Rather our efforts and intentions on behalf of God and others will be seen, even if we do so innocuously.
Today we smile (because, as St. Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver”) as we go into the world as a people sent by God to continue the work of his Son.  We dedicate our efforts to the Lord, working to use his gifts for the good of all so that all might see and give glory, not to us, but to God.

[1] The picture is “The Vocation of St. Aloysius Gonzaga” by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, c. 1650
[4] See NAB footnote on 2 Corinthians 9:6ff