Memorial of Saint Benedict, Abbot

In today’s Gospel, we are called to profess before others what Jesus has given to us.  “Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.”  Literally from the Greek, Jesus tells them to “say the same as” what he taught them.  The word for acknowledge has legal connotations in the sense of being a witness for what was taught.

As one scholar noted, we are called to “declare in,” or “profess solidarity with,” Jesus.

Jesus does not bear witness to us before other people.  He bears witness to us before his Father.  He acknowledges us before his Father. 

We bear witness to Jesus before other people.  We stand up and profess before the world that we are in Christ.  There is a reciprocity, but it does not happen before the world.  It happens before the Father and before heaven when Jesus acknowledges us there.

Are we willing to speak “from the housetops” what has been whispered to us about Jesus in the darkness?  Shortly after Jesus’ Ascension, such a public confession would have been dangerous.  In a different way, it might be dangerous today.  It can be a risk to employment, to social standing, and even to some friendships.  Even if we do so in an inviting way, rather than an inflammatory and confrontational one.

Today, we celebrate Saint Benedict, who was foundational to western monasticism.  His Rule of Benedict is followed by both Benedictines and the Trappists.  Monasticism really began to grow significantly after the persecutions ended in the early 4th century, and Saint Benedict lived in the 5th and 6th centuries. 

In the earliest Church, martyrdom was a sign of holiness.  After the persecutions, monasticism and pilgrimages both grew as ways to pursue holiness. 

While monasticism may seem the opposite of Jesus’ command in today’s Gospel, it should be seen as a clear witness to the world that the ways of this world are not what is most important.  The act of entering the monastery is a profession to the world of solidarity with Jesus. 

In what ways are we willing to profess solidarity with Jesus?  Do we look forward to his acknowledgement of us before the Father?  Or do we still expect him to bear witness to us before the world?  How do we publicly profess this Christian alternative to a dissatisfied, anxious, or even despairing secular world?

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus predicts coming persecutions. 

But I find that this passage raises the larger issue of courage in the face of any trial or adversity. 

In our humanity, we avoid adversity.  We do not run toward it by nature.  Even Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane in his human nature that the cup of suffering might be taken from him.  He showed natural human emotions in that moment.  However, his human nature being an instrument of his divine nature and his human will always being subject to his divine will, he committed to entering into his Passion because his divine will was fully one with the Father’s will.  His human will is never be at odds with his divine will.

In our life, we find ourselves subject to various trials and adversities.  When we overcome them, or at least endure them, we usually find that we have grown from the experience.  The cross that we bear, or the yoke that we have, is unique to us.  As Fr. Maurice said last weekend, each yoke is custom fitted for each of us.  And we, in turn, are made for that yoke.  When a yoke does not fit an animal, it chafes the animal.  But, when the yoke fits well, it makes it much easier to pull the load. 

We know that God does not cause evil, but he permits it so that some good might come out of it.  That good that comes from our trials might be our own growth.  It might be an increase in our recognition of our dependence on God.  It might be the witness that we give to others during our suffering.  God does not remove our suffering in this life.  He does give grace and other assistance that help us to bear that suffering. 

Another priest told me that, if God calls you to it, he will give you the grace to get through it.

Does our faith give us courage during any difficulties?  Do we always look for the good that can come out of a bad situation?      

Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, Jesus sends out the Apostles and tells them, “Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick.”  They will be dependent on Divine Providence for their needs on this mission.

That is a difficult thing for us to even think about doing.  We are so accustomed to providing for our own needs and wants. 

The American psychologist, Abraham Maslow, famously represented our motivations in life as based on a hierarchy of needs.  This hierarchy is represented as a pyramid with five levels: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization (or self-fulfillment).  His theory is that human beings are motivated to achieve a higher-level need only once the lower level needs have been met.  Spirituality and spiritual fulfillment would be part of that top level of self-actualization in the pyramid. 

His theory has been criticized because we do not always pursue needs in such a strictly hierarchical manner.  However, our own experience can see some truth in Maslow’s theory.  If we seriously lack food or water or some other physiological need, that is likely to keep us from focusing on higher level needs until that basic need is met.

Jesus’ orders to the Apostles run completely contrary to that experience.  He tells the Apostles not to carry basic supplies on this journey…not even means to purchase basic needs.  He wants the Apostles not to focus on their physiological needs.  He wants them to learn to be completely dependent on God….to abandon themselves to Divine Providence.

There was, in fact, a famous spiritual work published in the 19th century by just that title: “Abandonment to Divine Providence.”  After beginning with the example of the Blessed Mother at the Annunciation, the author tells us:

“The designs of God, the good pleasure of God, the will of God, the operation of God and the gift of His grace are all one and the same thing in the spiritual life. It is God working in the soul to make it like unto Himself. Perfection is neither more nor less than the faithful co-operation of the soul with this work of God…”

And then later, he sums this idea up in a simple statement: “There is no solid peace except in submission to the divine action.

No matter our state in life, God wants us to recognize our dependence on him and to abandon ourselves to him.  Yes, we must cooperate with grace in actively living out our life.  But, at the same time, we must recognize our complete dependence on God.

Am I able to abandon myself to God’s will in my life?  What is holding me back from doing so completely? 

Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

The Father sent the Son to the children of Israel to fulfill his promises to them.  As we read the Gospels, we see how Jesus is focused first on the Jewish people.  They would largely reject him.  Their leaders would arrange to have him crucified.  Nonetheless, he came first to them.

Today’s Gospel gives us another example of this.  Jesus sends out the Apostles and tells them, “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town.  Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

The Catechism tells us that the Jewish faith is already a response to God’s revelation in the Old Covenant.  It says, “To the Jews ‘belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ”; “for the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.’”

And every Good Friday, we pray for the Jewish people in the Solemn Intercessions:

         “Let us pray also for the Jewish people,

         to whom the Lord our God spoke first,

         that he may grant them to advance in love of his name

         and in faithfulness to his covenant.”

We translate today’s passage as the Apostles being sent to the “lost” sheep of Israel.  But they are more than merely lost.  The Greek word used means destroyed, or even slain.  It is not just about guiding them back onto a path.  It is about healing them and restoring them to life.

Of course, Jesus ministry was ultimately universal.  When some Greeks came to Jesus in the Gospel of John and ask to see Jesus, it was at that moment that Jesus announced that his hour had come.  It is at the end of that chapter that Jesus ended his public ministry and began the discourses in the Upper Room before his Passion.

While Jesus limited the Apostles’ mission initially to the Jewish people, our mission is universal.  At the end of Matthew, we find the Great Commissioning: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”

We are thankful that God came in the Person of Jesus Christ to save all peoples.  That God wills that all be saved.  This is a message of hope that the world needs to hear so that all might receive this gift of salvation.  Some might still choose otherwise.  But we bring this message into the world to all peoples.  And we offer an alternative to the ways of this world that is so desperately needed.

Tuesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel passage, we hear this about Jesus:

“At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them

because they were troubled and abandoned,

like sheep without a shepherd.

Then he said to his disciples,

‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few;

so ask the master of the harvest

to send out laborers for his harvest.’”

Again, in our times, the harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.  Specifically, the Church needs more priests to serve the people of God.    

This world values professions in medicine, law, finance, and others.  Those professions are certainly very honorable.  Families take great pride when their sons and daughters enter these careers. 

Priest, though, are doctors of souls.  They are spiritual fathers.  As honorable as those other secular professions are, the priesthood should be considered at least as honorable.  Those others might help people or accumulate success in this life.  They help to set others and themselves up well on this earth.  But priests prepare people for the next life.  They take care of the spiritual needs of people while others might care for their physical needs. 

Without priests, there is no Eucharist.  Confession and Anointing of the Sick cannot happen without priests.  Priests are needed for us to have parishes.  In mission territories where the shortage of priests is most acute, people can go weeks or months without seeing a priest. 

God calls enough priests.  However, not enough men are answering that call.  The reasons are numerous.  The culture pulls men away from the priesthood.  Parents and friends do not nurture the call that a man receives.  They might speak poorly of the priests that they have.  Worst case, they react badly when a man says that he is considering the priesthood.   Some priests might even be reluctant to ask one of their eligible parishioners the simple question, “Have you considered the priesthood?”

One of the most important influences on men being called to the priesthood is Eucharistic Adoration.  Saint Catherine’s is so blessed to have Adoration already.  I pray that the future sees this Adoration become even more integrated into the life of the parish.  I pray that more and more young people will experience Adoration as part of Youth and Encounter here.  I also pray that a culture continues to be built where young men are encouraged to answer the call that God is already giving them.

There is no greater joy to be found than when you do what God is calling you to do.

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel passage, the healing of the woman suffering hemorrhages is bracketed by the two parts to the raising from the dead of the official’s daughter.

Jesus’ only words to the woman here in Matthew’s account are ““Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.”  It says that from that moment, from the moment that he said those words, she was healed of her condition.

Is it not curious that Jesus first says to the woman, “Courage, daughter?”  Earlier, in this same Chapter 9 of Matthew, Jesus tells the paralytic, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven.”

Jesus addresses these adults as children.  He shows the care of the Father for them.  He shows them the love of Our Father.  It is through Jesus, of course, that we can know the Father. 

Jesus also tells both to have courage as he heals them.  Is courage not essential in the spiritual life?  And we take courage in hope.  Hope for the promises to come.  But also, there is hope founded in the way that Jesus addresses both people.  There is hope in being a beloved child of God. 

In the original Greek, one scholar notes that Jesus here uses the same word denoting the heroic courage that overcomes all obstacles as was used by Homer and the Greek tragedians.  This implies a call to boldness.

But that boldness is grounded in hope.  It is grounded in trust.  We can have no courage in our spiritual life or in the things that God calls us to do in this life if we lack the trust in God that necessarily forms the basis for our courage. 

Some of us might struggle with trust.  We might have been burned too many times.  Perhaps our own father or mother violated the innate trust that we have in them as children.  Those trust issues can make it difficult for us to trust God.  We cannot take the leap of faith that is necessary.  We lack the courage to move forward because we cannot trust.  We might even fearfully retreat from God and others because we cannot trust.

Do I find myself struggling with trust issues in my life?  Have those trust issues limited my relationship with God because I find it difficult to trust God?  Am I willing to trust in God?  Not that everything will be perfect in this life, but that God’s way is the best way for me.  Am I willing to have faith in God as the source of all goodness such that this trust might become easier?

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

By the time this is posted, Fr. Ignatius will have already started to announce my August 1 transfer to Lake City where I will help Fr. Trujillo as the parochial vicar.  While I am looking forward to working with Fr. Trujillo and the people of Epiphany parish there, I will miss tremendously the people of Saint Catherine’s.  This is a wonderful parish with so many great people.

Throughout my time here, my focus has been on helping all of you become saints.  On helping you to answer your foundational vocation to holiness.  This is something that I do because of my sincere great love for all of you.  I have tried to illuminate this path by emphasizing the need for a personal prayer life, by encouraging you to take advantage of the mercy of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (not just when urgently needed, but as a regular practice), and especially by promoting a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. 

Today’s Gospel helps us on this journey toward holiness.  I want to highlight one sentence in this passage:

“No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

Our orientation in life should be toward Christ.  We are Christians who strive to cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit in uniting ourselves to Christ who brings us to the Father.  We know the Father through Jesus Christ.  He is our mediator with the Father.

At Mass too, we have this same orientation.  We come together as a community, yes.  But it does not stop there.  We come together as members of the Body of Christ, uniting ourselves to Jesus Christ the head…for whom the priest acts “in persona Christi capitis” (in the person of Christ of head).  We join our prayers to those of Christ, and they are offered to the Father through the Holy Spirit.  We are not focused on one another.  We are focused on God in our communal worship of God. 

And, as part of this worship, we offer our humble gifts of bread and wine.  These are then given back to us as something so much more.  We receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.  The amazing gift of the Eucharist.  How wonderful it is!

I will be here for another month.  But I will continue to pray for you forever.  I will pray that you continue to pursue this universal call to holiness by cooperating with the grace of God.  I will pray that you all become saints.  And I will pray that I will see you again, both soon here in this life and later in the life to come.

Saturday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that we cannot repair an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth.  Neither can we pour new wine into old wineskins.

Jesus is using a couple of analogies to help his followers (and us) understand how to receive him and his message.  He is especially helping a Jewish audience learn how to accept what he is bringing. 

Jesus and the Gospel message cannot be merely patched onto the existing Jewish tradition.  A new cloak is needed.  Patching the old cloak with a new patch only risks damage to the old cloak. 

The new wine of Jesus cannot be put into old wineskins, by the same token.  The old wineskins would burst.

Jesus comes as a practicing Jew who does not abolish the Old Law.  At the same time, he does not come to merely be an incremental addition to the original Jewish tradition.  Yes, his message is for the Jews.  In fact, they are the focus of most of his ministry.  But they largely reject him.  They hold on to their old traditions to the point that they are only willing to add Jesus as a small patch to the old cloak.  They are not willing to adjust their beliefs to embrace him.  No, they are forcing the Son of God to fit within their paradigm…within their understanding and practice of the old tradition.

Jesus does not come to tweak the old ways.  He comes to fulfill them, but he does so in a radical way.  He cannot be limited to the bounds of their expectations.  He is the new wine that cannot be poured into the old wineskins.  He is not merely a prophet within the Jewish tradition.  He is God among us.

Do we see Jesus as something that needs to be incrementally added on to our already established way of life?  Are we so set in our ways that we are not willing to consider the possibility of setting some (or much) of what we do aside to follow him? 

Consider how the Pharisees, scribes and Sadducees tried to make Jesus comply with their understanding of the Old Law.  Contrast that with the way in which the Apostles set aside their old lives to follow Jesus.

We are called to follow him.  He did not come to follow us.

Feast of Saint Thomas, Apostle

Some think that Saint Thomas got a raw deal.  Other Apostles are not known by their failures or weakest moments.  There is no common expression referring to Saint Peter as “rash Peter.”  Or “impetuous Peter.”  Or “denying Peter.”  James and John, who either saw their mother ask for the seats of honor for eternity with Jesus (Matthew’s account) or asked for it themselves (Mark’s account), are not known as “the ambitions sons of Zebedee.”  We do not often refer to ten of the Apostles as “track stars” for their ability to run away from Jesus’ Passion.  But poor Saint Thomas will forever be known as “doubting Thomas.”

Saint Thomas was a great promoter of the faith.  We understand that he was responsible for carrying Christianity all the way to India.  In a day when there was no car, train, or air travel.  What a hazardous and arduous journey that must have been.

Saint Thomas is the patron saint of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.  He was a man who was capable of expressions of great courage.  When Jesus announced that they would return to Bethany just before Jesus would raise Lazarus from the dead, Thomas, knowing that they were going to where Jesus had many enemies, said, “Let us also go to die with him.”  Some of Saint Thomas’ relics can be found in the Santhome Cathedral Basilica in Chennai, Mylapore, India. 

Perhaps, though, Saint Thomas is most remembered positively for his exclamation at seeing the risen Lord.  “My Lord and my God.”  We hear this exclamation in today’s Gospel for his feast day.

This is an exclamation that many priests and faithful (including myself) say quietly to themselves at the consecration of the Eucharist.  It is an expression of faith from the heart.  It is a recognition of the awesomeness that we behold.  It is a recognition of the special and very Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the gift of the Eucharist that he left with us and with his Church. 

Have we had moments where we exclaimed in faith “My Lord and my God” as Saint Thomas did?  Do we feel that exclamation welling up inside us at Mass, especially at the consecration? 

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus crosses back over the Sea of Galilee from Gentile territory and enters “his own town” of Capernaum.  People bring him a paralytic on a stretcher.  Jesus first forgives the man’s sins.  But then, “that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” Jesus heals the man of his paralysis.

There is one message that can be drawn from this story that none of us likely want to hear.  That spiritual health is more important than physical health.  That reconciling the man with God through the forgiveness of his sins is more significant than restoring him to good physical health.

We see physical suffering in our friends and family.  We might be dealing with such suffering ourselves.  It breaks our hearts to see it in others.  Especially if it is a child that is suffering.  We have compassion for them.  We suffer with them.  Naturally, we do all that we can to help them (or even ourselves).  We seek out the best doctors.  We pray for healing.  We ask others to pray for healing.  We leave no stone unturned.

To say that spiritual health is more important is not meant to minimize the physical suffering that people are enduring in this life.  It is not meant to say that we should not do all that we can to receive healing for those that suffer.

This life is so brief compared to eternity.  Psalm 90 says of this life:

         Seventy is the sum of our years,

         or eighty, if we are strong;

         Most of them are toil and sorrow;

         they pass quickly, and we are gone.

Now, perhaps, with current medical technology, many of us can expect more than eighty years.  But none of us will spend eternity in this life. 

What does it mean to say that spiritual health is more important?  It does mean that we cannot overlook the importance of our relationship with God.  It does mean that we should have urgency for spiritual healing, especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation when needed.  It means that we place a priority on daily prayer in our life.  And on Mass, at least on Sunday Mass.  We do not schedule our leisure time and see if there is any time left for daily prayer or Mass.  It means that we schedule prayer and Sunday Mass and then determine how to fit leisure activities around it.  Of course, our state in life places requirements on us.  Our parental, job, school, and other responsibilities must still be met.

Am I making spiritual health a priority without neglecting physical health?  Do I make Confession a regular practice?  Am I scheduling daily prayer and Sunday Mass first?  Am I demonstrating to others that prayer and Mass are important?