Thank You!

Today, I am headed for Epiphany parish in Lake City. 

I wanted to thank you from my heart for the opportunity to have been a priest here for you at Saint Catherine’s.  My entire ministry here has been in service to you.  As a priest, my life’s purpose is to help people to embrace their call to holiness by cooperating with the Holy Spirit, to accompany them on the journey to becoming saints, and to assist them in accepting the gift of eternal life.  I hope that I have done that in some small way for you.

May you continue to live lives ever more centered on the Mass and the Eucharist, including Eucharistic Adoration.  May you continue to regularly experience the gift of God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  And may you continue to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in building up the kingdom of God at Saint Catherine’s.

Perhaps our paths may cross again someday.

God bless,

Fr. Bob

Thursday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

The New Testament was originally written in Greek.  The current English translations that we use are translations of our best understanding of what the original Greek was.  In earlier centuries, the Church often used a translation of a translation: a translation of Saint Jerome’s Latin translation in the Vulgate of what (for the New Testament) the original Greek said.

Often, when we consider alternate English translations of the original Greek, it can add depth, or even another dimension, to our understanding of a passage.  It is that way with today’s Gospel.

After sharing a parable of the Kingdom of heaven in the end times as a sorting of the good fish from the bad, Jesus asks the disciples if they understand these things.  Then, he says, ““Then every scribe who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”

The word “instructed” can also be translated as “trained.”  What does it mean to be trained for the Kingdom of heaven as opposed to merely instructed in it?  Does not a training imply a readiness to participate in some way…as opposed to merely learning about it?

Another translation is “every scribe who has become a disciple for the kingdom of heaven…”  Is this not an even higher level of participation?

This is a participation in God’s holiness.  How are we doing this ourselves?  This participation requires continual attention to take in Jesus’ teaching and make it fruitful in our own lives.  And we know that Jesus’ teaching is only relevant because of who Jesus is.  And because of who Jesus is, we must go to Jesus to receive not just his teaching, but the Lord himself into our lives. 

Are we ready to do that?  Do we want to do that?  Not as a half-hearted hobby, but as something that gives our entire life purpose, meaning, and orientation.  As something we want with our entire being.

When we do this…when we really want to do this…we become more like the one that we seek.  We become more like Jesus himself…God the Son who became human that we might become divine.

What does that mean to me?  Does it not change everything?

Memorial of Saint Martha

Today, we are given two choices for a Gospel passage for Saint Martha. 

The first is when Martha went out to meet Jesus after the death of Lazarus.  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”

The second is the story of Martha serving while Mary sits and listens to Jesus.  He tells Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Almost certainly, none of us can live an exclusively contemplative life.  We all have some need of action in how we live.  We have responsibilities commensurate with our state in life.  Whether a parish priest, a religious, a husband or wife, an employee, a parent, a grandparent, or a single person, we all must find the right blend of prayer and action. 

An overemphasis on one or the other that is not appropriate for our own situation creates problems.

I have heard general complaints about priests (not in this diocese) who neglect their pastoral duties to focus exclusively on prayer.  That is not their calling.  Perhaps as a Carthusian monk, that might be more realistic.  But not as a diocesan priest.

On the other hand, I have encountered people who are completely stressed out trying to keep up with their to-do list.  I suspect that at least some of the items on their list are unnecessary.  But they try to do it all.  And they seemingly will do it all or die trying.  They take no time at all for prayer.  They do not even weave a simple repetitive prayer into the fabric of their day. 

For Martha, and for us, one symptom of a lack of balance with prayer in our lives is that we are “anxious and worried about many things.”  We must discern, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, how to best structure our daily lives to provide the right balance between prayer and action. 

For most of us, including myself, the only way to consistently have time for prayer is to do so first thing in the morning.  Once I leave my residence, my time is not really my own.  Too much can happen.  It was that way at CSX.  It is that way now.  So, I take time for a Holy Hour before I do anything else…with one exception.  Borrowing from the advice of Archbishop Sheen, I do get my morning dose of caffeine even before prayer.

Have we all taken the time to intentionally reserve time for daily prayer?  Are we conscious of the need to discern the right balance between prayer and action?

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ explanation of the parable of the weeds and the wheat that we heard a little over a week ago on Sunday.  Of course, if you heard the short version that Sunday, you missed the explanation of the parable.

Jesus explained that he is the sower of the good seed.  The devil is the one who sows the weeds.  Those weeds are the children of the Evil One.

Jesus says that the weeds should be left for harvest.  Then, the harvesters will collect the weeds and throw them into the furnace.  He is explicit in saying that they will “collect out of his kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evil doers.”

So often, we want to uproot all evil out of this world.  Yet, Jesus tells us that the harvesters are not us.  The harvesters are angels.  It is not up to us to root all evil from this world. 

It is up to us to proclaim the kingdom of God.  To share the Gospel with others.  It is up to us to live a life of Christian witness.  We must live out the Greatest Commandment.  We must live out Matthew 25 (“whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me”) by doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy for those most in need.

But it is not our job to uproot all the weeds. 

That is a difficult message for many of us.  Why does Jesus want this to wait?  He says that some of the wheat might be damaged.  The servants want to immediately uproot the weeds.  But Jesus counsels prudence and patience in the face of evil.  He wants to preserve life.  Even the life of those who do evil.  Until the end.  Until the harvest.

The other question is whether the servants correctly identified the weeds in the first place.  How do they know?  God is the one who knows.  God is the only one capable of making that judgement accurately.  If we read it too literally, we also see this parable excluding the possibility of conversion.  We know that is not the reality of our world.

Are we able to practice prudence and patience in the face of evil?  Do we allow for the possibility of conversion in others?  Can we be disciplined in following our own calling, or do we want to jump over to uproot some weeds?

Monday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel contains parables from part of the same passage that we heard a little over a week ago on Sunday.  Jesus is teaching about the what is called the kingdom of heaven (here in Matthew) or the kingdom of God (Mark and Luke).  Elsewhere, he tells us that proclaiming the kingdom is why he was sent.

The kingdom of God is already, and not yet.  With the Incarnation, it is already here.  However, we will not see the fullness of the kingdom until the end of time.

Building up and proclaiming the kingdom is a responsibility that we have as members of the Church.  We are called to help make it a greater reality present to us here in this world.  And we are called to share this with others.  Pope Paul VI said that the proclamation of the kingdom and of salvation was the two-fold heart of Jesus’ evangelization.

While the Church, via its members, is proclaiming the kingdom, it is also “establishing herself in the midst of the world as the sign and instrument of this kingdom which is and which is to come (also from Paul VI).” 

Our legal system here seems to take flawed precedents and build further on them to create more decisions that stray further from the truth.  Pornography seems to be protected speech.  Promotion of causes contrary to the Church is also protected.  As Paul VI also wrote, “Why do these things have the right to be put before us, or even imposed upon us?”  Even apparent legal victories are usually only temporary ones that do not restore fundamental essential rights.

Where there is constitutional protection of religious freedom, we find that freedom jeopardized.  Protection against the establishment of a national church has seemingly morphed into freedom from religion that allows religion to increasingly be barred from the public square.  Most certainly it is being barred from the realm of public commerce.  And these developments have also seemingly allowed protection for the free exercise of religion to be ignored.  

But proclamation of the kingdom is not only our right, but our duty.  Even when it is difficult.  Prudence is still necessary to ensure that we do so in a way that is optimally effective (and not self-destructive).

Lay people are still called to sanctify the world by allowing the Gospel to inform their practice of their competencies in the realities of human love, education, professional work, etc.  It is only through them that those realities can be at the service of the kingdom of God.

So, how do we navigate this challenging environment today?  How are we fulfilling our duty to proclaim the kingdom in today’s world?

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, Jesus shares some short parables about the kingdom of heaven.  Scholars note that Matthew substitutes “heaven” in places where other Gospels use “God.”  So, Matthew, unlike Mark and Luke, refers to the “kingdom of heaven” rather than the “kingdom of God.” 

Jesus tells us that the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Simultaneously, he asks us to pray in the Our Father that this kingdom draw even closer.  This kingdom starts small, like a mustard seed planted in each of our hearts.  At the end of time, we will see it in its fullness.

For right here and right now, we need to see this as the great treasure that Jesus describes.  It is worth more than all else that we have.  It is hidden so that it might be found.  Jesus wants us to seek it out and to rejoice in finding it.  In finding it, we will have found great riches beyond description.  But only if we orient our life as one in search of this treasure.  A life that seeks to find it and draw it ever closer.

The greatest treasure, of course, that God gives us is himself.  God gives us his only Son that we might have eternal life. 

Yet, it is possible to go about this life ignoring this treasure that has been hidden for us to find.   This world often seems like the streets of a busy city.  So often, people hurrying through the streets are so preoccupied that almost anything could be happening around them.  And they would be oblivious to it all. 

In New York, famous people have played music at subway stations without being recognized.  Jimmy Fallon made it a feature of his show.  U2, Alanis Morissette, Miley Cyrus, Maroon 5, and Christina Aguilera are just a few that have pulled that off with his help.   A much smaller treasure was there, and hardly anyone noticed.

It seems that many will have great regret that they never noticed what God has hidden from them in this life.  That they focused exclusively on the things of this world in living a life that is so, so short compared to eternity.  What a lost opportunity!

Do we fully recognize and appreciated the much greater treasure of God hidden in plain view?  Are we willing to help others to discover this treasure?  Are we equipping ourselves to help others make this discovery? 

Feast of Saint James, Apostle

In today’s Gospel, the mother of the sons of Zebedee (James and John) asked Jesus that her sons be given seats of honor at Jesus’ right and left in the Kingdom.  This is a breathtakingly audacious request.  And it does not come from James and John.  It comes through their mother.  Perhaps we could say that the concept of a helicopter parent has biblical origins.

Notice that Jesus does not address his reply to their mother.  Instead, he responds to James and John directly.  Jesus, even in his human nature, could read people and their thoughts in ways that we cannot.  He knew from where the request had come originally, and he engaged directly with that source.

While two grown men having their mother lobbying Jesus for honors for them is a problem, the bigger problem on which Jesus focuses is the desire for this honor in the first place.  To be an Apostle is to be a leader, yes.  It is to be one of the first leaders of Christ’s Church.  But this leadership is in service to the people.  The proper mindset is not one of a king, but one of a servant.  The goal is not to gain honor for oneself.  The goal is to gain eternal life for others by cooperating with the Holy Spirit.

Priests must avoid falling into the trap of clericalism.  It can be easy to allow the people to give honors to their priest as they show their devotion to the Church and to her priesthood.  While their devotion is not a bad thing, the priest must always remember that he is a servant to the people.  Their success in following the path of Christ is what is most important, not the priest’s own success in fulfilling his agenda.

At the same time, this trap exists for lay leaders too.  Building a resume of accomplishments in lay apostolates is not the purpose of such apostolates.  Serving other people and helping them grow closer to Christ is the reason such apostolates even exist.  And such service is done by discerning and following the will of God. 

Have there been times in my work within the Church when I have been guilty of focusing on my accomplishments rather than on service of the people according to the will of God?  Am I willing to set aside my own ambitions to focus on the salvation of others?

Friday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, we hear the parable of the sower.  He sows seed everywhere.  On the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and in good soil.

Jesus is the sower.  He seemingly indiscriminately sows seed everywhere. 

And yet, Jesus is also God.  And God is omniscient, all-knowing.  At least in his divine nature. 

Why would an all-knowing God waste seed where he knows it will not take root?  Why not save the seed for good soil?

Well, one reason is that this is not a zero-sum game.  There is not a finite supply of the word of God.  If it is given to those in whom it will not take root, that does not mean that there is less for the “rich soil.”  It is the same with the love of God and with the grace of God. 

We must also remember the universal salvific will of God.  God wills that all be saved, as we hear in Saint Paul’s First Letter to Timothy.  God offers to all of us the gift of salvation.  It is our choice to accept it or not.

This parable also illustrates the gratuitousness of God.  His love cannot be contained.  It is shared with all.  It is not rationed out only to those who God knows will respond positively.  It is freely given even to those that God knows will reject it.  God’s love is not rational.  It is excessive.

This infinite love is what leads to his boundless mercy when that love encounters a repentant sinner.  The sinner does not get what he or she deserves.  Instead, the sinner receives mercy that is not deserved.  God does not want to sentence us to eternal punishment.  God wants to welcome us into eternal life with the Trinity. 

Do we fully appreciate that this is who God is?  Are we skeptical that we could be loved with such an excessive love?  Are we doubtful that we could be forgiven for some of the things that we have done?  When we go to Confession, do we trust in the forgiveness and mercy of God?  Or do we still carry guilt for our sins? 

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about how some cannot understand parables.  Yet, others can.  So, why do “they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand?” 

Jesus himself tells us, “Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have  closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and be converted and I heal them.”

Are our eyes open to see?  Are our ears open to hear?  Are our hearts open to understand?

If we are not striving for God and to live a holy life, they will not be open.  If we do not want to see or hear, then we will not. 

When our lives are ones of prayer and sincere love of God, they can be open.

Sin can make us blind and deaf to the help of God in our life.  Mortal sin is certainly a block.  Many people want the Church to more clearly define mortal sin.  But mortal sin has three components – grave matter, full knowledge, and free consent.  The Church can and does help teach us about grave matter.  Murder, idolatry, blasphemy, serious theft, pornography, and not reserving the marital act for within marriage are all examples of grave matter.  However, knowledge and consent vary and are dependent on the individual.

Preoccupation with the things of this world can choke out our receptivity to the things of God.  So often, we cannot hear God because of the noise of our earthly lives.  Correcting that starts with reordering our priorities to put God first. 

A lack of prayer limits our ability to see, to hear, and to understand.  God comes to us in the silence of our prayer.  We must be intentional about creating opportunities for this silence.  We must strive to listen in that silence.  We cannot hear if we do not take time to do so.

Of course, our efforts must be commensurate with our state in life.  A busy parent with many young children cannot attempt the spiritual life of a cloistered monk.  But, in his or her own way, this parent must have a life founded in some way upon prayer.  Even if it is merely repeating a simple prayer in the midst of the busyness.  At the same time, someone with more available time should not bury the opportunity for more time in prayer at the expense of far lesser activities.

How are we intentional about being open to cooperating with the grace of God in our own lives?  Do we make God, and time with God in prayer, a priority?  Are these efforts consistent with our state in life?

Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene

Today’s Gospel is John’s account of the empty tomb.  Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb so early in the morning that it is still dark.  When she finds it empty, she runs (not walks) to tell Simon Peter and John about it.  All of them return to the tomb.  While Peter and John return home after finding it empty, she remains.

Why is the role of Mary Magdalene so significant?   She was among the early followers of Jesus.  In Luke 8:2, there is a mention of her that includes the fact that Jesus had cast seven demons out of her.  Not every person who benefitted from a miracle of Jesus followed him in the way that she did.

She was either the first, or among the first, to discover the empty tomb.  In all narratives, she is either alone or with one or more other women when the tomb is found empty.  The Apostles did not discover this.  It was up to Mary Magdalene (possibly with the other women) to inform the Apostles of this. 

She was the first (or first as part of a group) to see the Risen Lord.  He did not appear first to the Apostles.  Instead, he appeared first to her.  And he told her to tell the disciples of his Resurrection.  And so, she did.  It was Mary Magdalene who announced the empty tomb to Peter and John, and it was Mary Magdalene who first reported the Resurrection to the disciples.  For this reason, the decree from Pope Francis that elevated today to a feast is called “Apostle to the Apostles.”

Yes, it is from the Apostles that we have the governance of the Church through their successors, the bishops.  But that is only one aspect of the Church.  There is always a Marian aspect to the Church.  The Blessed Mother is so important to us.  There is also an evangelical and charismatic aspect that we see in Saint Paul.  There is a spiritual, and even contemplative, aspect from Saint John. 

Mary Magdalene was not an Apostle.  But her role of announcing the Resurrection, even to the Apostles, was so important.  What an honor that was for her too.  She had come to be a holy disciple who was also close to him.

So often, we look only to the commissioned leaders of the Church for our role models and examples for our lives.  We fail to appreciate the critical roles that so many others play.  Roles that might be more important than those of the official leaders. 

What role models can we find in the Church for ourselves?  How many are outside the official hierarchy of the Church?

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?

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?