Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel passage is the source of some confusion.  As Jesus speaks to the crowds, “his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him.”

Who are these brothers?  There are three possible alternatives.

One is that Mary had other children after Jesus.  That would make them his younger brothers.

Another is that something is lost in translation.  Some have argued that the word for “brothers” here could also mean “cousins.”  Others argue that the original Greek word used here, and especially in this context, does not support such a translation.  The Greek word used is the same one that makes Philadelphia known as the city of brotherly love.

The third possibility is that these are Joseph’s sons from a previous marriage.  That would make them older half-brothers of Jesus. 

One key point is that younger Jewish brothers in the first century would not interrupt Jesus in this way.  Nor would they try to dissuade him from his ministry as they appear to be doing here.  It just would never happen.  It was culturally unacceptable to do that. 

Older brothers would definitely do that.  They would not feel similarly constrained in speaking up in such a situation…in protecting a younger brother.

An understanding of these brothers as either older half-brothers (or even as cousins) would not be in conflict with longstanding Church teaching regarding Mary’s perpetual virginity.

1 Peter 3:15-16 tells us:

“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.”

Today’s Gospel passage is one that Protestants point to as part of an attempt to undermine our devotion to the Blessed Mother.  It is helpful to have a response ready for their argument.

It is even more helpful to know our faith so that we are better equipped to share our faith.  No, that does not mean that everyone must be a learned theologian.  But it does mean that we cannot share what we do not have ourselves. 

What steps are we taking to learn more about our faith?  Are we committed to some level of continuing learning to become more effective evangelists?  If someone asks why we are Catholic, can we give a compelling answer?

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today, Jesus references the story of Jonah.  Jonah is a somewhat amusing story on many levels.

God calls Jonah to preach to the people of Nineveh.  Jonah was being asked to help convert and save the very capital city of the Assyrian empire whose rulers conquered the northern kingdom of Israel and scattered its people. 

God called Jonah.  What was Jonah’s response?  He wanted no part of God’s plan.  He took a boat for the furthest known point in the completely opposite direction.  Nineveh was northeast of Israel.  Jonah went due west. 

He was swallowed by a fish and returned to his starting point.  Seemingly still reluctant, he went to Nineveh, preached the need for their conversion, and then sat outside of the city in hopeful expectation for its destruction.  As he waits for the death of many people, he gets upset that the plant giving shade dies.  Jonah’s name means “dove” in Hebrew.  Yet, he is anything but peaceful in what he himself wants for Nineveh.

That destruction never comes because the king of Nineveh calls for repentance.  Even the animals repented in sackcloth.

From a vocation standpoint, this is the most reluctant vocation ever.  First, he flees his call.  But God does not allow him to escape the call.  Then, he very reluctantly embraces it.  Despite his own misgivings, his mission is wildly successful.  God makes it so.  With only minimal cooperation on Jonah’s part.

If Nineveh converted because of the work of such a half-hearted prophet, why do the Jewish people in the first century not embrace the message of Jesus, the Son of God incarnate?  For people today who have the Gospels available to them, why do they not embrace the way of Christ?

Think back to what first made you become serious in following our Lord.  What was it that spurred that conversion within your heart?  How can you help to make a similar conversion possible for others? 

Has that initial conversion faded somewhat?  Or, perhaps, do we see how God has withdrawn those initial consolations so that we pursue God himself rather than the good feelings that accompanied our initial conversion?  Do we remain committed about growing ever closer to Jesus? 

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Yes, we live in a word in which evil exists.  There are weeds among the wheat.  The Evil One has sowed the weeds among the wheat to do damage to the wheat crop that God has planted.

The Evil One cannot attack the Father directly.  But, when the Son becomes a vulnerable human being, the Evil One takes full advantage of the opportunity.  He sows hatred among people that ultimately leads to Christ’ crucifixion. 

He also wants to destroy God’s beloved by keeping them from their eternal reward.  He sows division and confusion among God’s people.  All in an attempt at destruction of what God has done and what God has planned.

It is tempting to focus on purging evil from this world ourselves.  But God’s judgement is not ours to make.  Purgation of all evil from all around us is not for us to do except on specific command from God.  God shows great prudence and patience in waiting for the harvest. 

The zeal for removing the weeds in the parable is analogous to our own zeal for justice in this world.  But this zeal can be problematic sometimes.  We are prone to collateral damage.

Perhaps the best example is our use of the death penalty, particularly here in Florida.  The Church teaching has grown from permitting it under certain circumstance to basically saying that those circumstances do not exist.  Pope Francis called it “Inadmissible.”  If we can step back from our possible disagreement with the term that he used, we should be able to see some basic problems with the death penalty here in Florida.

One is that it runs contrary to our fundamental belief in the dignity of human life and its value from conception to a natural death.  All life has dignity.  That dignity does not go away because one is no longer able to function as before due to age or illness.  That dignity must also be respected even one has committed a horrific crime.

In this country, we are capable of incarcerating prisoners without them being a great threat to the rest of society.  In practice, the death penalty is used disproportionately against the poor and minorities.  Whether one can afford adequate legal representation is a major factor.  Not to mention that false convictions cannot be corrected after execution.  And the death penalty also overlooks redemptive and rehabilitative aspects of punishment. 

It is perhaps this last point that most parallels the story of the weeds and the wheat.  Our response to a horrific crime should be justice that allows for the conversion of the perpetrator.  The patience and prudence that God shows in this parable is what we need to mirror in our world.  Because, when it comes to human beings, weeds can transform into wheat if given the time to do so.

Saturday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, the Pharisees decided that they wanted to put Jesus to death.  He was a real threat to their position of authority in the Jewish faith.  They were the guardians of the rules of the faith.  And Jesus had just declared that he is Lord of the sabbath.

He withdrew from that place.  Did he do so out of cowardice?  Did he not come to offer his life for us?

No, he did not do so out of cowardice.  His hour had not yet come.  He came to fulfill the will of the Father, which completely matched his own divine will.  Since his humanity was an instrument of his divinity, his divine will was expressed through his human will.  He would give his life at the time, and in the way, that had been foretold.  Not in any different way.  Not any sooner and not any later.

He would give his life freely.  We could say that his human will was obedient to his divine will.  But we cannot say that, in his divinity, he was obedient to the Father.  He was receptive to all that the Father had given him when he was begotten of the Father.  That includes the Father’s plan for our salvation.  If we say that he is obedient to the Father in his divinity, that implies that he is somehow less than the Father in his divinity.  Both are fully perfect, so that would not be possible.

When the time came, Jesus did not resist his capture.  When Peter cut off Malchus’ ear, Jesus healed him.  He was not combative toward Pilate.  He was led toward his execution like a docile lamb to his slaughter. 

He does not descend to the level of argumentation and dispute of his foes.  He does not match their ultimate violence.  He abides in humility, doing nothing but the Father’s will. 

How can Jesus’ way be a model for us?  A way of interiority, peace, and humility.  Doing nothing but the Father’s will.

Do we thrash against our circumstances or against those who oppose us?  Or do we look for the interior silence where we can encounter God?  Do we bear our cross at the time and in the way to which we are called? 

Friday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel passage has the Pharisees going to Jesus with criticism of his disciples for picking grain on the sabbath. 

Does God need compliance with these rules?  God needs nothing.  God is all good.  We say that God cannot change because God is already completely perfect.  Any change would mean the possibility of God improving or getting worse. 

If God needs nothing, then God did not need to make us.  We were not created out of need, but out of love.  God wants to share his love with us.  Nothing that we do fulfills any need of God. 

So, in today’s passage, we have absurdity in two ways.  First, Jesus is God.  God the Son incarnate as a human being.  Fully human, yes.  But also, fully divine.  So, there is the absurdity of the Pharisees criticizing God for allowing his followers to violate a rule that was originally given by God.  Can God be complicit in violating God’s law?

Second, we have a law that has been completely taken to an absurd level.  Any prohibition on work on the sabbath was meant to ensure that work responsibilities did not overtake necessary time for worship, family, and rest.  Forcing a fast because one cannot even gather food to eat was never intended.  How do we handle it now?  We certainly do not start fasting on Sunday to avoid the work needed to prepare a meal.

So, why do such rules exist at all? 

One thing to remember is how God gradually revealed himself to his people over millennia.  He met people where they were at and led them closer to where they needed to be.  It was not until the Father was revealed by the Son that we have the fullness of revelation for us.  The original Jewish laws reflected where the Jewish people were at that time.  Remember how Jesus referred to one aspect of the old Jewish law by saying that Moses had given it to them because of the hardness of their heart.  They were not ready for the fullness of the law that Jesus would ultimately bring.

Remember also that God’s laws are for our benefit.  God gives us laws to help us.  God knows his creatures.  He made us.  So, he knows us.  He knows what we need.  He wants what helps us to flourish.  So, all of God’s laws are meant to lead us toward our highest flourishing.  Toward our greatest fulfillment.  Following the laws are not the point of life.  Eternal life in communion with the Trinity is the purpose of this life.  And the laws are meant to guide us there.

Have we ever lost sight of why we follow laws of our faith?  Have we ever accused others of failing to follow rules in the Church without remembering their real purpose?

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week In Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel gives us the second half of that passage which we have heard twice in prior weeks.  Again, it is the typical passage used for the Anointing of the Sick.  It is especially the part that we hear today that speaks to those who need this sacrament.

Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.”

Keep in mind that this speaks especially to those who are suffering. 

Jesus says to take his yoke upon us.  Not just any yoke, but his yoke.  It is his yoke because he carried it already in his life and Passion.  He knows it well.  He asks us to carry it.  While it is possible to have a single yoke for just one animal to pull a load, it is more common to have a yoke that allows two animals to share the load.  Jesus asks us to take one part of a double yoke because he will be the second one helping us.

In being yoked to Jesus in carrying our load, or really in carrying our cross, we have Jesus accompanying us.  We learn from Jesus because we learn the pace at which to go.  We learn from him because of our closeness to him as we both bear this burden.  We learn what perfection in human nature looks like because we see it up close in Jesus Christ.  And, through this experience, we learn more about the heart of Jesus Christ.

Inside the heart of Jesus, there is infinite goodness and compassion.  He is meek and humble of heart.  He cares so much for us that he humbled himself to become one of us.  God the Son took on the nature of his creatures.  He allowed himself to be executed in one of the cruelest ways possible.  And he did this for us.  He humbled himself that we might be exalted.

We are called to experience the heart of Jesus by being yoked to him in this life.  We learn from him.  And we can then reflect the heart of Jesus to others in the love that we show them, in the compassion that we have for them, and the way in which we accompany them.

Are we doing our part to cultivate an interior life that accepts this yoke?  How does our own yoke give us insight into the heart of Jesus?  Do we recognize our call to reflect Jesus’ love and care for us toward others?

Memorial of Saint Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Today’s Gospel passage is half of a passage (tomorrow is the other half) that we have heard twice before in recent weeks.  It is also the most common passage used for the Anointing of the Sick.

Jesus says, “for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”

What does it mean that these things are hidden from the wise and learned?  What does it mean to be childlike?

The root Greek word used for wise, “σοφός,” has a connotation of one who has become skilled with a certain store of knowledge.  It means an expert in their field.  While Matthew does not use a word that fully singles out the Jewish religious experts, Jesus is clearly referring to them here.  The more generic phrasing, though, allows the expression to apply to anyone who thinks he or she already has all of the answers.  It can refer to anyone who is not simple, trusting, and open to the word of God.

The childlike is the one who is docile before God.  This is a person who is not convinced that he or she has nothing left to learn.  This is someone who is open to hearing the word of God and to being directed by the Holy Spirit to do the will of God.

What does it look like in the secular realm when someone stubbornly and foolishly believes that they have all of answers?  I remember a co-worker who drove to a microwave tower site after a snowstorm.  The access road was covered over with a snow drift.  He decided to try to drive through it, and he buried his truck in the drift.  Thankfully, a nearby work crew had a winch that they used to pull him out.  So, he jumped back in truck and said, “I know I can make it this time.”  And he buried his truck yet again.  And he was pulled out again.  Despite his prior failures, he started to jump back in the truck to do it yet again.  The foreman of the nearby crew physically stopped him and ordered him to turn around and go back.

How open are we to the word of God?  How open are we to the teachings of God as given to us by the Church?  Can we recognize stubbornness in our own lives where we refuse to listen to God speaking to us? 

Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, Jesus expresses the hurt and severe disappointment that those towns closest to where he grew up in Nazareth have largely not repented and so have not chosen to follow him.  In an earlier chapter in Matthew, we hear that “Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness.”  It is in these towns closest to his hometown that most of his miracles were performed.  It is in these towns that he has spent most of his ministry to this point.  His pain reflects the real human emotions that he experienced in his real human nature.  He came first to them, and they largely rejected or ignored him.

Christianity started within the Jewish community.  But it expanded to the whole world.  In this world and over many centuries, we have continued to see many miracles.  There have been miracles of healing in which someone is cured of a condition or illness and in which that cure cannot be otherwise explained.  Every new saint has miracles attributed to their intercession.  Many Eucharistic miracles have been documented over the centuries. 

Every day at every Mass, a miracle occurs.  The simple unleavened bread and wine that we offer is transformed substantially into the Body and Blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  They truly become Jesus.  While they still retain the sensory characteristics of bread and wine, they are now substantially different.  What are we willing to do to witness this miracle in person?

In addition to the miracles, Jesus has given us the gifts of sacraments – the outward signs that he instituted to give us grace.  The effects pf the grace that we receive is proportional to our receptivity to that grace.  We must be open.  We must be in a state of grace, free from unforgiven mortal sin. 

These gifts are so valuable to success in our journey in this life.  We cannot earn our own salvation by our own efforts.  We depend on God’s grace.  And, what a gift that these sacraments of grace are to us!  What a treasure is Christ’s Church where we find these sacraments!

Do we appreciate the mighty deeds done in our midst?  Do we treasure the daily miracle that happens in the Eucharist at Mass?  Do we value the other gifts given by Christ through the Church?  How are we carrying the miraculous message of Christianity to others?

Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus says, “I have come…”  He does not indicate an origin.  He does not say from Bethlehem, Nazareth, or Capernaum.  He simply says that he has come.  His origin is not earthly.  It is from another dimension that he enters into our earthly dimension.  He has come from the Father.

He says that he has come to bring the sword.  But we understand him as “Prince of Peace,” among other titles.  Not only that, but the Greek word that we translate as sword could also be translated as “war.”  How does the Prince of Peace bring war?  What kind of crazy contradiction is going on here?

We must understand the difference between real peace and false peace.  Real peace is when people come together.  It is when differences are fully set aside and when people realize the real need for unity, even in diversity.  It is when people come together for something greater.  It is when they come together in truth.  False peace is when fighting ceases without any resolution of the sources of the conflict.  It is not when people come together in truth.  It is when compromises are made that keep people from uniting in truth.  This false peace is only temporary.

Jesus did not come to bring a false peace.  He brings peace to those disciples who have united in truth.  But the war continues.  Persecutions will follow, especially in the 250 years from Nero to Constantine.  In different parts of the world and in different ways, they continue today.  Yet, as Christians, we can find peace during this persecution.  We find the real peace of Jesus Christ.

Many of us have undergone painful medical treatments or surgeries which ultimately led to an improvement in health.  In surgery, a scalpel often cuts away the problem tissue and allows the body to heal afterwards.  It is an initial pain that brings later healing.  Often, it can be called a purification of sorts.

This purification….this cutting away of diseased or otherwise problem tissue…is the sword that Jesus brings.  It leads to later healing.  It brings a later and broader real peace.

Jesus promises us life.  Not a comfortable life in this world.  No, he promises eternal life in the next for those that choose to follow him in this life.

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Sunday’s Gospel is the parable of the sower.  We have probably heard this parable many times.  We know that the best of the four scenarios is the one where the seed finds good soil and becomes very fruitful.  We know that the seed sown on the path, on rocky soil, or in thorns all have problems.  None of these other three can come to fruition.

Often, we examine our lives against the three negative scenarios.  We try to figure out how to avoid any of those three.  We likely look for examples of those other three in our own lives.  Other times, we reflect on the gratuitousness of a sower that spreads seed everywhere, even on these other three poor conditions.

Today, I am hoping that we can just reflect on the fourth scenario.  What does it mean for the seed to fall on good soil in our lives?  How do we ensure that we have good soil?

Soil that is considered rich soil is soil that has been cultivated.  It has nutrients.  It has not been over-farmed with other crops previously.  It is primed to receive the seed…to receive this seed.  Just getting the soil ready for the seed takes work.  And there is work to care for the plant from seedling to maturity.

Along with work, there is risk.  Adversities happen that threaten the health of the plant.  Storms, disease, pests, and other things can all jeopardize the life or fruitfulness of the plant. 

In the end, we hope that the work is successful, that risks are mitigated, and that any damages are repaired.  When that happens, the plant bears fruit.  It is not just the fruit that is the point.  It is the multitude of seeds within the fruit.  From one seed can come thousands more seeds.  The yield depends on so many factors – growing conditions, genetics, etc.  But a fruitful plant is a success.

It does not start when the soil receives the seed.  It starts before then.  It begins when the soil is made ready to receive the seed. 

We must be open to receive the word of God.  We must prepare ourselves.  The sacraments are a primary source of nutrients, but prayer is also very important.  We must take on a receptive attitude.  We do so in the model of Christ our head.  The Son of God is begotten of the Father.  He receives all that the Father is and all that the Father has.  And he does so in a receptive manner.  The Son is the one who is begotten.  The Father is the one who begets. 

And, from the Son, we receive.  We are given the word of God by the Word himself.  And we receive the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What are we doing to prepare ourselves to receive?  How are we cultivating our soil?