Monday, August 31, 2009

Today, This Text Is Being Fulfilled In Your Presence.

In today’s First Reading (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), Paul addresses himself to the Christians in Thessalonica who believed that Jesus would come again someday, and when he came, his disciples on earth would be called to join with him in Heaven. But they had the notion that he would return during their lifetime, so when members of the community died, they were concerned, wondering whether or not they would enjoy the same blessing on the day Jesus returned as those who were still alive. In this passage from 1 Thessalonians, Paul seeks to reassure them that those who have died before the coming of the Lord would have the same benefits as those who are alive when he returns.

This teaching of Paul is based, as he says, on Jesus’ own teaching. Those who are alive at the Lord’s coming will have no advantage over those who have died. When that moment comes, the trumpet shall sound, and the voice of the archangel will call out the command, the LORD himself will come down from heaven. Then, those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then those who are still alive will be taken up into the clouds together with them, to meet the LORD in the heavens.

The conclusion of Paul’s teaching is directed not only to the people of Thessalonica to whom he addressed this epistle, but to all of the LORD’s disciples, and in particular, today, to those who read these words (and first, to him who is writing them). We should not be fearful at the thought that the Lord Jesus will be coming in his glory to judge the living and the dead. Rather, we should have faith in the teaching of Jesus (and that of Paul), and have hope in the resurrection that he promised. We should live every day of our life as if it were our last day in this world, since one of these days it will be, and look forward to that day with confidence, not in ourselves, but in God’s grace and mercy.

In today’s gospel (Luke 4:16-30) Jesus returns to Nazareth, were he was brought up, and went to the synagogue on the Sabbath, as was his custom. At the time set for the reading of the Scripture, Jesus stood up, and was handing the scroll containing the proper reading of the day. He unrolled the scroll, and began to read: The spirit of the LORD has been given to me. He has anointed me and sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom for captives, to give sight to the blind, to set the downtrodden free, and to proclaim a year of favor for the Lord.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the sexton, and sat down. All eyes were trained on him as he began to speak again: “Today, this text is being fulfilled as you listen.”

The listeners were astonished by the eloquence of this carpenter’s son. They knew his father, Joseph. His mother, Mary, had family not only in Nazareth but throughout Galilee. And they were so taken aback by what they knew – or thought they knew – about Jesus, that they could not accept that what Isaiah had prophesied was being fulfilled before their very eyes.

Place yourself in the pews as the preacher is giving his homily. The readings, whether from the Old Testament, the Epistles, or the Gospels, speak to us about events long past. Quite often – and it could be case today, with the reading from Thessalonians, the preacher will focus on the future – on the Second Coming of Christ, or, perhaps more pertinently, on the moment we see the Lord face-to-face, the moment of our death, and encourage us – or perhaps, warn us, to be prepared for the judgment.

What about the present? That depends, I suppose, on who you are, and what is on your mind as you are sitting in the pew. A mother may be thinking about what she’s going to put on the table for today’s dinner. A working man may be worried whether his wages will be sufficient to furnish food for that table, considering the state of the economy. A teenager may be reminiscing about Saturday night’s date (and those thoughts might be very different whether the teen in question is a boy or a girl).

Focus now on the gospel of the day: Jesus says “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”. For people whose focus is on the things of this world, the present is an ever-changing reality. For Jesus, and for those whose awareness is focused on God’s will, the present, like “the world” in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem, “is charged with the grandeur of God"  -- and His goodness! 

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Do Not Add To What I Command You: Keep The Commands Of The LORD

Reading 1
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8

Moses said to the people:
“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin upon you,
you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.
Observe them carefully,
for thus will you give evidence
of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations,
who will hear of all these statutes and say,
‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’

For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?”

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 15:2-3, 3-4, 4-5

R. One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.

Whoever walks blamelessly and does justice;
who thinks the truth in his heart
and slanders not with his tongue.
Who harms not his fellow man,
nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor;
by whom the reprobate is despised,
while he honors those who fear the LORD.

Who lends not his money at usury
and accepts no bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
shall never be disturbed.

R. One who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.

Reading II
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27

Dearest brothers and sisters:
All good giving and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no alteration or shadow caused by change.
He willed to give us birth by the word of truth
that we may be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

Humbly welcome the word that has been planted in you
and is able to save your souls.
Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:
to care for orphans and widows in their affliction
and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem
gathered around Jesus,
they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals
with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands.

—For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews,
do not eat without carefully washing their hands,
keeping the tradition of the elders.

And on coming from the marketplace
they do not eat without purifying themselves.
And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed,
the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. —

So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him,
“Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders
but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?”

He responded,
“Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines human precepts.

You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
He summoned the crowd again and said to them,
“Hear me, all of you, and understand.
Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person;
but the things that come out from within are what defile.

“From within people, from their hearts,
come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder,
adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.
All these evils come from within and they defile.”

+++    +++    +++    +++   

In today’s First Reading, Moses reminds the people of Israel, that the laws and customs, statutes and decrees which he is teaching them are not his, but the LORD’s, and they are offered by the Creator to his chosen people as invitations to the fullness of life and freedom, not as burdens which bind them like slaves to doing someone else’s will rather than their own. In the previous chapter, Moses had instructed the men of Israel to prepare to wage war in order to gain their new homeland. Now this land is their land, is their land; but it has been promised and given as a gift, a gift for which the donor – the LORD – asks, as an act of thanksgiving, that they obey his Law.

What we hear today is a lesson about the wisdom behind these laws and customs. They are wise because they come from the God of Wisdom, the Source of Life. They are wise, because they will prove to be more powerful and influential in establishing their new home than the power of arms waging war. The inhabitants will be won over to believing in the “one God” when they see how well the Israelites live together, fruitfully, justly, and trustingly in their “one God”.

The way the Jews are to live will reveal not only their intelligence, but the closeness of their God to them. This God cares for them, guides them and has revealed to them how to take care of the land and other gifts they have received.

We return to Mark’s Gospel today and find Jesus inviting the scribes and Pharisees to reflect on the why of their customs rather than the what. The religious officials of the Jews have been noticing that Jesus and his disciples do not keep the “traditions” of the “elders”. The “law” is one thing, but these “traditions” are added practices which extend the “law” and the power and prestige of the Rabbis who advance them. Washing of hands and cups is the center of the problem in this reading, but there are other accretions to the “law” to which Jesus takes exception.

The Law of Moses was part of the Covenant which God made with the Jews and was meant to help their relationship or response to this covenanting God. In a sense God is saying, “I have done all these great things for you; keeping these laws and customs is how you live, more than say, thank you.” The practices and little traditions have gotten in the way. They have become responses to the religious officials. The keeping of these has become more important than keeping the relationship which God has initiated, alive in their hearts. “This nation honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me”.

Love is shown in deeds, but so is sham. Having dirt under ones nails comes from doing something outside the body. The deeds of evil come from within and are not erased by washing hands or saucers. Lady Macbeth has been washing the spots off her hands for centuries and will never rid herself of the “damn spot” by all that scrubbing. The list of interior attitudes is quite extensive and encompassing. Jesus did not mince words or leave much to legal interpretation. Worship of God comes from the heart, but the heart hears these other calls as well. As always, Jesus offers the invitation to struggle against foreign voices and do those things which will purify the heart, spirit and soul.

Jesus, as Moses before him, offers us reminders of the relationship which God has extended to us. He embraces our interior with its fragilities. The external actions will reflect the status of the battle inside. To pretend that there is no battle going on is to be in delusion. Pretending by strict conformity to rules, laws, customs, and traditions out of fear, may look good, but eventually will result in a confusion, distraction, and disorder of soul and life. Externals are a revelation of a truth rather than a cover-up for a lie. Jesus came to give us our truth and invites us to reveal it to others by the example of our lives.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

He Must Increase, and I Must Decrease (John the Baptist)

First Reading
Jeremiah 1:17-19

The word of the Lord came to me thus:
Gird your loins! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you. Do not be crushed on their account, as though I would allow you to be crushed before them. Today I have made you a fortified city, an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land—against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land. They will fight against you but will not overcome you, for I am with you and will rescue you," declares the LORD.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 71)
R/ I will sing your salvation.
In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
Rescue me and deliver me in your righteousness;
turn your ear to me and save me.
Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go;
for you are my rock and my fortress.
Deliver me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked.

For you have been my hope, O LORD,
my confidence since my youth.
From birth I have relied on you;
from my mother’s womb, you have been my strength.

My mouth is filled with your praise,
declaring your splendor all the day long.
O God, you have taught me since my youth,
and to this very day I proclaim your marvelous deeds.

Mark 6:17-29

Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound and put in prison. He did this because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married. For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." So Herodias nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. But she was not able to, because Herod feared John and protected him, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. When Herod heard John, he became quite perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him.

Finally Herodia's opportunity arose. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his high officials and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. When Salome, the daughter of Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests. The king said to the girl, "Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you." He promised her with an oath, "Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom."

She went out and said to her mother, "What shall I ask for?"
"The head of John the Baptist," she answered.

At once the girl hurried in to the king with the request: "I want you to give me right now the head of John the Baptist on a platter."

The king was greatly distressed, but because of his oaths and his dinner guests, he did not want to refuse her. So he immediately sent an executioner with orders to bring John's head. The man went, beheaded John in the prison, and brought back his head on a platter. He presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother. On hearing of this, John's disciples came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.

+++ +++ +++ +++

John, the son of Zachary and Elizabeth, a relative of Mary of Nazareth and her Son, Jesus, was a hermit, who was more at home in the desert than in the towns and villages where most of his kinfolk lived. God has granted him holiness even before his birth, and had gifted him with the power to convert sinners. With these gifts he attracted many of the Jews to the banks of the Jordan where he brought them an even greater blessing: a baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.

Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, bore the title Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. His gifts were those of sovereignty and political power. He was responsible for great building projects, in particular his capital, the city of Tiberias on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, named for his patron, the emperor Tiberius Caesar. Unfortunately, Antipas abused his gifts, using his power to become an adulterer and a murderer.

Salome, the daughter of Herod’s brother Philip, had a gift for dancing. Her gift enabled her to bring beauty and pleasure to her audiences, which often included the King and his guests. Her talent brought her great rewards; the King would promise her anything, even half his realm.

Herodias, the spouse of Herod’s brother Philip, and mother of Salome, was gifted with charm and passion. She was able to mesmerize her husband, her daughter, and the King, who made her his mistress. Her gifts enabled her to manipulate all of them for her own evil purposes.

Now that we have been introduced to the players in this melodrama, let us move on to the plot.

John the Baptist was the voice of Herod’s conscience. Each of us has an interior conscience, a gift from God which points out both the paths that will lead us forward on our way to God, and those that will lead us off in other directions. If we do not pay attention to our interior conscience, God will bring others into our lives who will serve as a substitute for the inner voice. Herod was not only a weak man, but a cruel one. Rather than face his own perversity and repent of it, he instead killed the prophet who pointed it out to him.

Bad conscience is always sending us messages from the past, incidents of wrongdoing that refuse to disappear. Jesus of Nazareth and John the Baptist were kinsmen, and there are traditions that suggest that they resembled one another. Later, when the Nazarene carpenter and preacher stood before Antipas, he got the feeling that this was John returned from the dead. There was still a hint of good conscience within him, but he again ignored it, and once again played a significant role in the drama of the Redemption. But that is an element of another drama in this series of tragedies that lead inevitably to happy endings – if we learn to follow the Author’s directions.

In the meantime, let’s return to the topic of gifts: How has God gifted you? Stop to reflect on and to count the gifts God has granted to you. If you want to grow spiritually, ask your guardian angel and your patron saints – who are themselves, gifts of God to you – to assist you in developing God’s gifts to the full. Eventually, if not sooner, you will begin to notice how they bring greater fulfillment to your life, and increased glory to God.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Behold! The Bridegroom! Come Out To Meet Him!

In today’s First Reading (1 Thess 4:1-8) Paul continues to instruct the people of Thessalonica how to live if their goal is to please God – which, as he says, they are already doing. He now asks them – urges them – to continue doing what they’re doing, and to heed the advice he has given them by authority of the Lord Jesus.

The same message can be addressed to each of us: It is God’s will that we become saints. If we want to attain that goal, we must refrain from immorality (the Greek can be translated, “to control our own body”, “to find a worthy spouse”, or “to learn to live with one’s spouse”) in a manner that is honorable and holy. We cannot be motivated only by “passionate lust”, like heathens who do not know God. The Lord will punish those who commit such sins. God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Anyone who ignores this instruction is not merely rejecting Paul’s advice, but the will of God, who has given his Holy Spirit to us.

Today’s gospel (Matthew 25:1-13), like yesterday’s, is a parable told by Jesus but, just as yesterday’s story of the faithful servant whom the master of the household put in charge of his property is directed to men, this time, Jesus is addressing the women among his disciples.

The kingdom of heaven will be like ten maidens who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'
“Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'
“‘No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'
"But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.
"Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!'
"But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'
"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

+++ +++ +++ +++

Once again, the parable is about staying awake and being watchful, an essential factor for a healthy spiritual life. If I am asleep, I have no awareness of what is happening. If I somnambulate (walk in my sleep), I have no idea where I’m going, or why. If I live on an upper storey in an apartment complex, and there’s a window open, I might fall to the pavement and meet my Maker much sooner than I had anticipated.

Yet, what if my waking is also a kind of walking in my sleep? What if my bouts of anger, or my non-stop cravings (whether motivated by lust or gluttony or greed) are like gears turning all by themselves, with no one in charge? Press one button, and become the target of my impatient and angry outburst. Press another, and watch me cower in fear. Show me an attractive advertisement, and I’ll purchase a product I don’t need. I am not a conscious person responding to life, but a human machine, reacting to stimuli. Or, to put it simply: I’m sound asleep.

What about the wise bridesmaids in today’s parable? Here I agree with Irish Jesuit Father Donagh O’Shea, a frequent source of inspiration, who is due “name credit” this time. These young women are awake, all right, but they’re not the sort you’d consult if you had a problem. There are some “good people” like that.

On the other hand, this is not an allegory, but a parable. An allegory has specific points of application from the beginning to the end of the story; a parable has only one point. This point of this parable is the need to stay alert and awake. It would not be right to apply it in other senses (for instance, to conclude that we shouldn’t help people who are in need, if it’s their own fault.) The moral of this story is found, typically, in the last line: “Stay awake! You don’t know either the day or the hour.”

Saint Augustine did his best to make these bridesmaids attractive. “What does the oil signify?” he asked, “Might it be love …? I will tell you why it is. [Saint Paul says, “I will show you a more excellent way (1 Cor 12:31). It is ‘the way above all others” -[the way of love]. At the same time, Augustine also reminds us, as does Jesus, that among us are some who are prepared to accept the Lord’s greeting when he comes to invite to join him at the wedding feast. None of us knows when that moment will come. It would be prudent – even wise! – to make sure we always have oil in our lamps.

Augustine, you might recall, is the son of Saint Monica, whose memorial we celebrated yesterday. Although he was one of the most intelligent men who ever lived, and had been brought up as a Christian, his pride and his lust darkened his mind so much that he could no longer perceive the Divine Truth.

Through the prayers of his saintly mother, and those of the Bishop of Milan, Saint Ambrose, Augustine finally became convinced that the Way of Jesus was the one true faith. But even then he did not accept baptism, believing that he could never acquire the personal discipline necessary to live a pure life.

One day, though, he learned about two men who had been converted upon reading the life of Saint Antony of the Desert. “What are we doing?” he cried out to his friend Alipius. “Untutored people are taking Heaven by force, while we, with all our learning, are so cowardly that we keep wallowing in the mud of our sins!”

Filled with bitter sorrow, Augustine cried out to God, “Quousque tandem, Domine?” “How long O Lord? Why can this hour not put an end to my sins?” At that moment, he heard a child singing, “Tolle, lege!” (Take up and read.) Augustine picked up a book of the Epistles of Paul, and read the first passage his eyes fell upon. In it, Paul says to put away all impure habits and live in imitation of Christ.

That did it! He was baptized, became a priest, a bishop, a renowned Catholic author. He founded an order of religious priests. On the wall of his room, the following sentence was written in large letters: “Here we do not speak evil of anyone.”

Augustine of Hippo, by the grace of God, mastered strong desires of the flesh, and even greater attraction to heresy. He practiced great poverty, and was generous to the needy. He preached with great fervor until his death. Once he cried out to the Lord, “Too late have I loved Thee!” Yet, by his holy life, he certainly made reparation for the sins he had committed before his conversion. He fought valiantly against the errors of his era, and explained the truths of faith cogently and carefully in his writings. He died in AD 430.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Stay Awake! You Don't Know The Day Or The Hour When He Will Come.

As I was reading the Scriptures of the day, I was reminded of two friends, both priests of this diocese, Father Donald, who was ordained in 1971, the same year as I was, and Father Ralph, who was ordained two years later. The three of us grew up in parishes where both English and French were taught in the parochial school, and spoke both languages fluently. Ralph also had an interest in canon law, and became a member of the Tribunal staff about three years after me. But there is one significant distinction between Don and Ralph, on the hand, and me, on the other. In the summer of 1991, while on vacation in Maine, Ralph contracted an infection of the brain, and he passed from this life on the 28th of February, 1992. Don had a severe, unexpected, and fatal heart attack on February 25, 1998. May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.

In today’s gospel, Jesus reminds his disciples of a truth that will touch each and every one of us, and which prompted my thoughts about Ralph and Don: You don’t know what day the Lord will come for you. So, be prepared!

Jesus illustrates this truth with a parable, but unlike Aesop and Lafontaine, he gives the moral of the story first: If the owner of the house had known what time of night the burglar would try to break in, he would have kept watch. So you had better be ready, since the Son of Man will come at a time you least expect him.

"Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth; he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself: 'My master is staying away a long time,' and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The thought sometimes crosses my mind that now, about fifteen years older than Don and Ralph reached, it should be easier for me to put myself in their shoes, but it really isn’t. What does Jesus mean about staying awake? Surely, he doesn’t mean to lose sleep worrying about whether today is the day? (I know, Ralph, “Don’t call me Shirley!”) Still, I ask myself: If my hour comes today or tomorrow, will I be ready?

There is an answer to these questions. It’s not one that will make all concern fade away, because if we are not concerned, we won’t remain alert and watchful. The answer is found in today’s First Reading, from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians (3:7-13). Take a moment to place yourself in the presence of God, and consider that the Apostle to the Gentiles is speaking directly to you:

Brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord.

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

And there is a second witness who provides a different perspective on the answer to this question:

Saint Monica, whose Memorial is celebrated today, lived the sort of life that doesn’t necessarily help someone to become a saint.

She was born to Christian parents in AD 331 at Tagaste on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. While still quite young, she was married to Patricius, a pagan official, who was much older than she. His mother also lived with them, which made life even more difficult.

Monica had three children who survived infancy. The eldest, Augustine, is the most well-known. At his father’s death, Augustine was 17 years of age, and was studying rhetoric in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son was living an immoral life. For some time, she refused to have him share a meal or spend the night in her home. One night, she received a vision that assured her that Augustine would return to the faith. From then on, she remained close to her son, praying and fasting for him. Augustine later wrote that she stayed much closer than he wanted.

At the age of 29, Augustine went to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to accompany him. One night, he told his mother that he was going to the docks to bid farewell to a friend, but instead, he boarded a ship and set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine’s deception, but she soon followed him to Rome, where she learned that he had gone north, so she pursued him to Milan.

There, Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, Saint Ambrose, who also became Monica’s spiritual director. She sought his advice in everything, and humbly gave up some practices which had become second nature to her (see the quote below). She became a leader of the devout Christian women in Milan, just as she had been in Tagaste.

Monica continued her prayers for her son during his years of instruction. At Easter 287, Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Although no one else knew, Monica was aware that her life was coming to an end. She told Augustine, “So, nothing in this world now offers me delight. I do not know what is left for me to do, or why I am still here; all my hopes in this world have been fulfilled.” Not long after, she became seriously ill, and suffered severely for nine days before her death.

One final note: Tomorrow we celebrate the Memorial of Saint Augustine, son of Saint Monica. Which goes to show that mothers’ prayers are not in vain: Not Augustine’s, nor Donald’s, nor Ralph’s nor mine. Mothers, pray for your children. It might be your prayers that will get them to heaven.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

You Have Searched Me, Lord, And You Know Me

First Reading
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13

Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship; we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.

You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed. For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and his glory.

And for this reason, we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.


In today’s First Reading, Paul reminds the people of Thessalonica of how hard he and his companions worked to avoid being a burden to them. The epistle does not say what sort of work they did. We know that Paul was a tent-maker (Acts 18:3), and he probably worked at that trade in Thessalonica; it is likely that Silas and Timothy helped him make tents.

If Paul and his companions worked to sustain themselves, they were also diligent in their behavior toward the people of Thessalonica. “You are witnesses, as is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you.” They treated each and every one of them as a father treats his own children, teaching and training them to love God and to live good lives.

Thessalonica was a city where most of the people worshipped idols. There were those – the pagan priests who conducted worship at the temples, for instance – who attempted to thwart the efforts of Paul and his companions to preach the good news, and to convert people to the Way of Jesus. Some of them accused Paul, Silas and Timothy of bad behavior. This should be a reminder that even in our own times, not everyone who is accused is guilty.

Most of the Christians at Thessalonica had been idol worshippers. Paul and his companions had taught them how God wants them to conduct themselves, and gave them a model to imitate in the way they themselves lived. Elsewhere, Paul sums it up in just a couple of words: “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”

For this reason, Paul gives thanks to God unceasingly, because, when they heard the word of God, they accepted it not as the word of men, but as it truly is: the word of God, which is actively at work in all who believe.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Matthew 23:27-32
Jesus said: "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside, are full of dead men's bones and every type of filth. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.' So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Now, fill up the measure of what your ancestors measured out for you!”


One view of the Pharisees:

St John Chrysostom (344/354 – 407) is able to give as good it gets in preaching about the Pharisees. “You have been counted worthy to become temples of God. But you have instead suddenly become more like sepulchers, having the same sort of smell. This is dreadful. It is extreme wretchedness that one in whom Christ dwells and in whom the Holy Spirit has worked such great works should turn out to be a sepulcher, a place for death. What wretchedness is this? What mourning and lamentation does this call for...! You were intended to be a temple without fault, beautiful, not adorned with gold or pearls but with the spirit that is more precious than these.... You carry around a dead soul. You are shunned. Be honest. If anyone were to go around carrying about a dead body, wouldn’t everyone else rush for cover! Wouldn’t they all flee? But this is what you are like. You go about carrying a corpse far more grievous than this. It is a soul deadened by sins, a soul paralyzed.”

The Pharisees have always been sitting ducks for Christian preachers. “The true prophet says humbly, ‘To me, a sinner, God spoke.’ But the scribes and Pharisees declare, ‘When we speak, God agrees.’ They feel no need of a special revelation, for they are always, in their own view, infallible. It is this self-righteousness of the pious that most breeds atheism, by inspiring all decent, ordinary people with loathing of the enormous lie.” It’s clear, of course, that the person who wrote that wasn't thinking only of the historical Pharisees. The reason they continue to be so popular is that they are still breeding.
Donal O’Shea, S.J.

Another view of the Pharisees:

It is all too easy to treat the Pharisees as embodying all that is worst in humankind. But in fact, they were probably the best men of their time, the most religious, the most devoted to the will of God, the most eager to express their loyalty to him in obedience to his every word, the most determined never to compromise with the world around them. But, as Saint Paul came to see in retrospect, they were exposed to a fatal flaw: the trouble with their outstanding righteousness was that, all too easily, it could be viewed precisely as their righteousness. It was a righteousness that could be measured, so that, at a certain point, you could say that you had now achieved it. This meant that it could all too easily come adrift from its original inspiration in devotion to God, and become a self-sufficient end in itself.

So far as we can tell, the Pharisees were probably quite prepared to acknowledge their dependence on God’s grace; there are some early Rabbinic texts which express such dependence in the most emphatic terms. Of course, there is the risk that human beings will forget their dependence on God, but the far more essential criticism is that the Pharisaic concept of righteousness is such that it allows a man to be self-consciously righteous, to contemplate himself in his righteousness, to treat it as something he can possess as his own, whether or not he also thinks that he has achieved it on his own.

The basic form of complacency, after all, is that a person is pleased with himself. … It is only a subdivision of complacency to be smug because we give full credit for ourselves to ourselves.
Simon Tugwell, O.P

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Do These Things, But Do Not Neglect The Others.

Saint Paul’s first letter to the people of Thessalonica consists of two major sections. Readings from the first section (1 Thes 1:2 – 3:13) would have been read yesterday, if it had not been the Feast of Saint Bartholomew. It was an expression of thanks to the people of Thessalonica for responding so fully to the Word of God and the preaching of Paul, Silas and Timothy that they became models for the believers in other parts of the eastern Mediterranean basin.

Today, the Christians are assured that the visit of Paul and his companions, Silas and Timothy, had been fruitful, and had achieved the purpose God had for it. Many men and women have come to believe the good news of Jesus Christ. Paul remind the Thessalonians that when they had first arrived in Philippi, the principal city of Macedonia, Paul and Silas had been badly mistreated. The leaders of the city had them whipped in the public square and thrown into prison, without even verifying whether the charges against them were true or false. A few days later, they were in Thessalonica, and in spite of the way they had been treated previously, they had the courage to speak boldly and confidently. They knew that God had sent them to tell the people what Jesus Christ had done, and gave them the courage to do it.

Paul, Silas and Timothy never tried to achieve their goals by telling people what they wanted to hear, much less to tell them untruths. Their sole purpose was to do what God had sent them to do: make known the good news of Jesus. It was not important to them how the Thessalonians received their message, or what the people thought of them as persons. Their aim was to please God, and his approval alone was important to them.

Paul and his companions never tried to profit from their visit to Thessalonica. Instead, they had done all they could on behalf of the Thessalonians. They were as gentle – in a simile that seems strange, considering the source – as a nursing mother caring for her children. They have come to share the good news of Jesus, but they cannot help but share themselves as well. The people of Thessalonica had become so beloved to them that they were willing to give their lives for the sake of the new Christians.

+++ +++ +++ +++

In today’s gospel, (Matthew 12:23-26) Jesus addresses the religious leaders of Israel: the scribes and teachers of the law. They did not own land, and the other members of the people were obliged by Mosaic Law to provide for them, one tenth of all the grain, oil and wine, they produced. The Pharisees also gave a tithe from the small plants in their gardens, mint, dill, cumin and other herbs and spices some that gave extra flavor to food, some that were used as “natural remedies”. Jesus commended them for what they did, but chided them for what they ignored. He creates an interesting word-picture: they strain out gnats, but swallow camels.
The Pharisees and scribes avoid everything that they consider “unclean”. Jesus chides them for being diligent about cleansing the outside of cups and dishes, but ignoring the contents. Blind Pharisee: clean the inside, and the outside will also be clean – not only of the cups and dishes, but of yourself!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Here Is A True Child Of Israel. There Is No Duplicity In Him

First Reading
Revelation 21:9b-14

The angel spoke to me, "Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb." And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 145

R/ Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.

Let all you have made praise you, O LORD; and let your saints extol you.
Let them tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might.

Let all men know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures through all generations.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

R/ Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.

John 1:45-51

Philip found Nathanael and told him,“We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law,and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”

But Nathanael said to him,“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him,“Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.”

Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?”

Jesus answered and said to him,“Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”

Nathanael answered him,“Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”
Jesus answered and said to him,“Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?You will see greater things than this.”And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you,you will see heaven opened and the angels of Godascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

+++ +++ +++ +++

We have no special information about Bartholomew. Indeed, his name (which is a patronymic – a family name “Son of Tolmai”) always and only appears in the lists of the Twelve … and is therefore never central to any narrative. However, it has traditionally been identified with Nathanael, a name that means “God has given.” Philip told this Nathanael that he had found “him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). As we know, Nathanael’s retort was rather strongly prejudiced: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth? (John 1:46). Nathanael’s protest highlights God’s freedom, which baffles our expectations by causing him to be found in the very place where we least expect him. Nathanael’s reaction suggests another thought to us: in our relationship with Jesus we must not be satisfied with words alone. In his answer, Philip offers Nathanael a meaningful invitation: “Come and see!” (John 1:46). Our knowledge of Jesus needs above all a first-hand experience: someone else’s testimony is of course important, for normally the whole of our Christian life begins with the proclamation handed down to us by one or more witnesses. However, we ourselves must then be personally involved in a close and deep relationship with Jesus. Despite the scarcity of information about him, Saint Bartholomew stands before us to tell us that attachment to Jesus can also be lived and witnessed to without performing sensational deeds. Jesus himself, to whom each one of us is called to dedicate his or her own life and death, is and remains extraordinary.
Pope Benedict XVI

Sunday, August 23, 2009

“To whom would we go?", Peter said. You are the Holy One of God!"

The religion now known as “Christianity” was originally called “The Way”, and it is referred to this way several times by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles It is not a system of thought composed by a philosopher, or a handbook of behavior compiled by a moralist. It is a revelation from God, who created us out of love, and who invites us to follow a path that leads us to eternal happiness with him. It is a path which can be difficult and dangerous. Think of Mary and Joseph fleeing to Egypt with the newborn child, at the beginning of Luke’s gospel, and of that infant, now grown to manhood, carrying a cross from the palace of Herod the younger to Mount Calvary, some three decades later.

In today’s First Reading (Joshua 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b), Joshua, having finally led the children of Israel into the Land of Promise, summons the elders, the leaders, the judges and the military officers and offers them a choice: Serve the gods of the Egyptians, or the gods of the Amorites, or the LORD, who brought us here. As for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.

Joshua reminds the people of Israel of their past, but he invites them now to look forward. The people reply that they too will serve the LORD, who has made them victorious. But, the entire Old Testament records that, in spite of the guidance they received from the prophets, they really were not very faithful to serving the one true God, but often turned to the worship of false gods – not only the gods of other nations, but the most common and most dangerous of idols: serving their own selfish interests at the expense of their duties toward their neighbors, ignoring the two great commandments: I am the LORD your God; you shall love me with all your heart, and mind and might; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

In today’s gospel, (John 6:60-69) Jesus offers his disciples a similar option. At the conclusion of his teaching Jesus tells the people that He is the true Bread of Life. Some of the disciples find these words offensive, and they choose to leave, and return to their former ways of thinking. They had eaten their fill of bread, but they cannot open their minds and hearts to something even more wonderful, but that goes beyond seeing, touching and tasting; beyond understanding, to believing what they cannot understand.

Most of them leave, but some stay, including Simon Peter. So Jesus puts the question to them: “Do you also want to leave?” For Peter, there was only one response: “To whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life! We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” But later, the same Peter, fraught with fear for his own life, denies Jesus three times: “I don’t even know the man!”

Clearly, the profession of faith in Jesus is more easily said than done. It is a commitment that must be repeated, day by day, as we walk along whatever path life takes, until we reach our destination in the Father’s house.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Queen Stands At Your Right Hand, Arrayed in Cloth of Gold

The Feast of the Queenship of Mary

First Reading
Isaiah 9:1-6

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.

You have made their gladness greater,
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the spoils.

For as in the day of Midian's defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.

Every warrior's boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.

For unto us a child is born,
unto us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

Psalm 112

R/ Blessed be the name of the LORD forever!

Praise, O servants of the LORD,
praise the name of the LORD.
Let the name of the LORD be praised,
both now and forevermore.

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
the name of the LORD is to be praised.
The LORD is exalted over all the nations,
his glory above the heavens.

Who is like the LORD our God,
the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the dung heap;
he seats them with princes,
with the princes of their people.

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

"How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God."

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." With that, the angel left her.

+++ +++ +++ +++

Pope Pius XII established this feast in 1954. But Mary’s queenship has roots in Scripture. At the Annunciation, Gabriel announced that Mary’s Son would receive the throne of David and rule forever. At the Visitation, Elizabeth calls Mary “mother of my Lord.” As in all the mysteries of Mary’s life, Mary is closely associated with Jesus: Her queenship is a share in Jesus’ kingship. We can also recall that in the Old Testament the mother of the king has great influence in court.

In the fourth century St. Ephrem called Mary “Lady” and “Queen” and Church fathers and doctors continued to use the title. Hymns of the eleventh to thirteenth centuries address Mary as queen: “Hail, Holy Queen,” “Hail, Queen of Heaven,” “Queen of Heaven.” The Dominican rosary and the Franciscan crown as well as numerous invocations in Mary’s litany celebrate her queenship.

The feast is a logical follow-up to the Assumption and is now celebrated on the octave day of that feast. In his encyclical To the Queen of Heaven, Pius XII points out that Mary deserves the title because she is Mother of God, because she is closely associated as the New Eve with Jesus’ redemptive work, because of her preeminent perfection and because of her intercessory power.

“Let the entire body of the faithful pour forth persevering prayer to the Mother of God and Mother of men. Let them implore that she who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers may now, exalted as she is in heaven above all the saints and angels, intercede with her Son in the fellowship of all the saints. May she do so until all the peoples of the human family, whether they are honored with the name of Christian or whether they still do not know their Savior, are happily gathered together in peace and harmony into the one People of God, for the glory of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity”
(Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, 69).

Friday, August 21, 2009

Which Of The Commandments Is The Greatest?

Once, in the time of the Judges, there was a famine in Judah; so a man from Bethelehem named Elimelech left with his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilon, left to settle on the plateau of Moab on the other bank of the Jordan. After about two years, Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons, who both married Moabite women, one name Orpah, the other Ruth. When they had been there about ten years, Naomi’s sons also died.

Naomi decided to go back to Judah with her daughters-in-law, but then she said to them “Go back to your mother’s house! And may the LORD be as kind to you as you were to the departed and to me.”
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But Ruth said, “Do not ask me to forsake you. For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you dwell, I will dwell; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Ruth accompanied Naomi back to Bethlehem, where they arrived at the beginning of the barley harvest.

This is the beginning of the story, which is told in the first chapter of the Book of Ruth, today’s First Reading. Eventually, Ruth finds a new husband, Boaz, and she becomes the mother of Obed, who is the father of King David. That’s the rest of the story.

In today’s gospel, a scholar of the law asks Jesus a question to test him: “Which of the commandments is the greatest?” Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind; the second commandment is like the first: Love your neighbor as yourself.” And he concludes: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

The answer Jesus gave was not unfamiliar to the lawyer. The first part, about our obligation to worship God, is the most familiar verse of the Hebrew Scriptures, the “Shema”, Deuteronomy 6:5; the second part, also from the Old Testament, is found in Leviticus 19:18. Children – and grownups – of every generation since the coming of Christ have repeated the same question: How can I learn to my neighbor as myself? The answer to that question is not one found merely in the words of Jesus, but in the example of his life:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
(Philippians 2:5-8)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Many Are Invited, But Few Are Chosen.

What is the Lord saying to me in today’s readings from both the Old and New Testaments? In the First Reading, from the Book of Judges, (11:29-39a), we have the story of Jephthah’s daughter, who is caught up in events over which she has neither control nor even influence. Her father has made a solemn vow: if the Ammonites, enemies of Israel, are vanquished, whatever creature first comes out of the house to greet him will be sacrificed as a burnt offering to the Lord. His daughter is the first one to cross the threshold, and Jephthah is duty-bound to carry out his vow.

It is tempting to chastise Jephthah for the rashness of his vow to the Lord. He must have known that someone close to him would pay the price of his promise. Evidently, the threat of domination by the Ammonites was quite serious, or he would never have been so careless with his words. Furthermore, this daughter of Jephthah does not complain or regret her situation. She even encourages her father to be faithful to his promise. She submits humbly to God all that she has, and all that she is, in fidelity to her father, and to the Lord. The sacrifice of both father and daughter foreshadows an even more amazing oblation: “God sent His only-begotten Son into the world, so that through Him the world might be saved.”

In today’s gospel, (Matthew 22:1-14) Jesus speaks a parable not to his disciples, but to the chief priests and elders of the people, comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to a banquet that a king prepared for the wedding of his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited telling them to come, but they refused. He sent more servants, reminding them that the oxen and fatted calves have been butchered, and everything is ready for the celebration. But again, they paid no attention, and went off, one to his fields, another to his business. Others seized his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.

At this point, the king was enraged. He sent his army and massacred these murderers, and burned their city to the ground.

Then he said to his servants, 'The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.' So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding attire. 'Friend,' he asked, 'how did you get in here without wedding attire?' The man was speechless.

Then the king told the attendants, 'Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

For many are invited, but few are chosen!

+++    +++    +++    +++   

Let us consider the fate of the man who came to the wedding without the proper attire. This parable reminds us that the Kingdom of Heaven is not to be taken for granted. When the king notices him, the lazy guest is reduced to silence. It’s not that he didn’t have or couldn’t get the proper clothing. In those days, as in our own, there were shops were such garments could be rented for special occasions. The other guests certainly managed to dress appropriately. This guest callously preferred the comfort of his blue jeans and t-shirt (or the First Century equivalent), rather than sacrificing a bit of convenience to do the right thing in the situation.

We conclude with the commentary of two great saints: Pope Saint Gregory the Great (c.540-604) wrote: “What do we think is meant by the wedding garment? We cannot say that it is baptism or faith, since no one can enter the marriage feast without them. What then must be understood by the wedding garment but love? Love is the wedding garment, since this is what the Creator possessed when he came to the marriage feast to join the Church to Himself. John says that “God so loved the world that He gave is only-begotten Son, so that through Him the world might be saved.”

Saint Augustine (354-430) is cited by Pope Gregory, “What is the wedding garment, then? This is the wedding garment … charity.” And he adds a further consideration: “Note that the gospel says ‘The master of the house came in to see the guests.’ The servant’s duty was merely to invite the guests, both good and bad. It is not said that the servants took notice of the guests, found one of them who had no wedding garment, and spoke to him about it. It is the master of the house who entered, the master of the house who observed, the master of the house who hauled him off and threw him out.”

We are not the people to whom the invitation was first extended. We are the other guests, gathered from “the highways and byways” of the world. It ill befits us to judge one another. We are the ragtag and bobtail of this world, “both good and bad”, according to the parable. We ought to have the decency not to look down on others. Saint Gregory wrote: “In the Church of the present times, there cannot be bad without good, nor good without bad. They who refuse to endure the bad, are not good.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Are You Envious Because I Am Generous?

Today’s gospel (Matthew 20:1-16) is the well-known story Jesus told his disciples about the landowner who goes at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage, he sends them out to his vineyard. Then he goes back about nine o’clock, and hires more workers. And he went out again about noon, and around three in the afternoon, and hired more workers. Finally, about five in the afternoon, he finds others still standing around. “Why have you been standing here all day long?” “Because no one has hired us.” “Then you, too, go to my vineyard.”

At the end of the day, the vineyard owner told his foreman, “Call the workers and pay them their wages, starting with the last arrivals, and ending with the first.” When those who started at about five o’clock came, each received the full day’s wages. So, when those who started early in the morning came, they thought they would get more, but each of them, regardless of whether they started early, late or in between, got the same amount: a full day’s wages

They complained to the owner, “These men who came last have done only one hour’s work, and yet you have treated them the same as us, even though we’ve done a heavy day’s work in the heat.” He replied to one of them, “Friend, I am not being unjust to you, since we agreed on one full day’s wages, and that is what you received. Take your earnings and leave. If I choose to pay the late-comers as much as I pay you, don’t I have a right to do what I choose? Why be envious because I am generous?”

Thus the last will be first and the first will be last.”

The key to understanding this parable is the audience to whom it is addressed in Matthew’s gospel: Jesus told HIS DISCIPLES this parable.” This parable is not about social justice or about labor relations. The moral of the story is that God is generous with His gifts. God does not give us grace not as a reward, but as an incentive for doing what he asks of us: to love him with all our heart and mind and might, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Saint John Chrysostom, in a sermon on this gospel, asked this question:“Why didn’t he hire them all at once?’ This was his answer: “As far as the Lord was concerned, he did hire them all at once. But not all of them listened and followed at the same time, so the difference in time was caused by them. Some are called early, some in mid-morning, some at noon, some at mid-afternoon, some at sundown. He calls them in the same way he called the thief on the cross next to his at Calvary: If he had called them sooner they – the vineyard workers and the “good thief” would not have obeyed.

Rabbis used to tell a story about a landowner who paid a man as much for two hours work as he paid others for a full day’s work. But this was because the worker had accomplished as much in one hour as the average worker did in two. This rabbinical story is only superficially similar to Jesus’ parable; it is about wages, not about gift; about merit, not about grace. On the other hand, in Jesus’ parable, the late arrivals didn’t deserve as much as the others, but they received as much, by reason of the generosity of the landowner. He knew that a man could not support his family on the wages for one or two hours work, so he paid him a “family wage”. In other words, he did not see the workers as mere “hired hands”; he treated them like full human beings.

The ones who had worked all day long were “envious”. A more ancient – and more literal – translation reads, “Is your eye evil because I am good?” The complainers had an evil eye. When they looked, they were blind to the generosity of the landowner, because it was not they who benefitted, but others. That is how the ego sees: it is the original evil eye. Whenever the ego – the self-centered part of human nature – prays, it says, “Give me this day my daily bread, and don’t be concerned about the others.”

Monday, August 17, 2009

Remember Us, LORD, As You Favor Your People.

Today’s Scriptures portray the weakness of human nature. In the First Reading (Judges 2:11-19) we see that throughout their history, ever since they were freed from slavery in Egypt, the children of Israel tended to ignore the worship of the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and to give homage to the idols worshipped by the inhabitants of the surrounding nations. Now that they are settled in Canaan, they once again abandon the LORD, the God of their fathers, and serve the Baals, the idols honored by the Canaanite people.

Once more, because they had forsaken him and served Baal and his female counterpart Ashtoreth, the LORD’s anger flared, and he allowed them to fall under the power of their enemies. Whatever they undertook, the LORD would turn to disaster. Even when He raised up Judges, they did not listen, but abandoned themselves again and again to the worship of false gods. When there was a powerful Judge in Israel, the people paid heed; but when that judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, refusing to abandon their evil practices or their stubborn misconduct.

Today’s Psalm (106) is a plea to the LORD to be merciful to his people. The LORD had commanded them to exterminate the peoples of the surrounding area, but instead they began to mingle with them, and to behave like them. They even immolated newborn babies, their own sons and daughters, in the service of idols. They became tainted by their deeds, shameful by their crimes. The LORD became angry with them, and abhorred his legacy. He rescued them many times, but they embittered him by their refusal to heed his advice. Still, he continued to have concern for their affliction, and to hear and respond to their cry.

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 19:16-22) a young man asks what good he must do to gain eternal life.

Young Man: Rabbi, what good must I do to gain everlasting life?
Jesus: Why ask me about what is good? Only God is good. If you wish to gain eternal life, keep the commandments.
Young man: Which ones?

Jesus: Don’t kill. Don’t commit adultery. Don’t bear false witness. Honor your father and mother. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Young Man: I do all of that. What is missing?

Jesus: Go, sell all your possessions, and follow me.
When the young man heard Jesus’ explanation, he went away sad, because he had many possessions.

Being a disciple of Jesus is demanding, even all-consuming. But, in the midst of all this scriptural tough love, the Responsorial Psalm (106) reminds us that God hears our distress and responds with love and mercy. This means we can be both realistic and hopeful—we are flawed and we are called to follow Jesus. We have a God who loves us even when we fail. With that ever-present encouragement, we journey forward.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

My Flesh Is True Food and My Blood Is True Drink

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Book of Proverbs, (9:1-6) also known as the Wisdom of Solomon. The author, who wrote about a hundred years before Christ, placed his teachings on the lips of the wise king of Hebrew tradition in order to emphasize their value. The Church agreeing with the assessment of the ancients, has included this book in the canon of the Old Testament, considering its wisdom to be divinely inspired.

Wisdom is personified in today’s reading. Sophia (the Greek word for wisdom), has set a table, and has invited the people of the city, in particular those who are “simple” and who “lack understanding” to share in the mean she has prepared. Her message: forsake the wisdom of the “worldly-wise”; advance in understanding of the wisdom of God, which will result in a deeper and closer relationship with Him.

Today’s Second Reading, from Paul’s Letter to the people of Ephesus, (5:15-20) continues the same theme in just a few sentences:

These are evil times, so be wise, not foolish. Don’t get drunk on wine (or other “spirituous liquors”, which will lead to immoral behavior. Instead, drink your fill of God’s Holy Spirit. Make music not only with your voice but with your heart. Sing psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs. And, always give thanks to God our Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In today’s gospel, (John 6:51-58) Jesus tries to explain to his neighbors that he is not who they think he is. Remember last weeks’ gospel, when Jesus said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven”, they grumbled, “Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph the carpenter? Doesn’t Mary, his mother, have kinfolk in just about every village in Galilee? Now he says, “I am the living bread from heaven. If you eat this bread you will live forever. The bread I will give you is my flesh, for the life of the world.”

Today’ Jesus makes a statement about his true identity, and the listeners continue to struggle with this new teaching. “How can he give us his flesh to eat?” -- It is a very serious question. Some of the tribes in Canaan ate the flesh of their enemies to give them strength, and the Law of Moses had severe penalties for Hebrews who ate human flesh.

This is the first in a series of lessons on the true meaning of Jesus as “bread of life”, but for the moment, the listeners are stuck. They shake their heads in disbelief, while Jesus continues to insist that he can grant them eternal life, if they will only move to the next level of understanding. They are thinking “food for the body” – food for the present life. Jesus is offering them “food for the soul” – food for eternal life.

Everything Jesus is an invitation to “come and see”. The listeners have followed him to the opposite side of the lake because they witnesses – and partook of – the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Now, he is inviting them to enter a desert of belief, like the one their ancestors experienced as the crossed the Sinai, and wished they were back in Egypt, where they were slaves, but at least they had full bellies.

At the end of the day, it would seem that the best way to absorb the lesson Jesus is teaching the Galileans and ourselves is not with the language of philosophy and theology, which reaches the sol through the brain, but with the language of poetry, which reaches the soul through the heart.

The original, composed by Dominican theologian and poet, Saint Thomas Aquinas, is in very beautiful and poetic Latin. It is only fitting to present an English version composed by another theologian and poet, Jesuit Father Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at Thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross Thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here Thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what Thy bosom ran
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with Thy glory's sight. Amen.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Queen Stands At Your Right Hand, Arrayed In Gold.

Reading 1

Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab

God’s temple in heaven was opened,
and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple.
A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet,
and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.
Then another sign appeared in the sky;
it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns,
and on its heads were seven diadems.
Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky
and hurled them down to the earth.

Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth,
to devour her child when she gave birth.
She gave birth to a son, a male child,
destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod.
Her child was caught up to God and his throne.

The woman herself fled into the desert
where she had a place prepared by God.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have salvation and power come,
and the Kingdom of our God
and the authority of his Anointed One.”

Reading II
1 Corinthians 15:20-27

Brothers and sisters:
Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
For since death came through man,
the resurrection of the dead came also through man.

For just as in Adam all die,
so too in Christ shall all be brought to life,
but each one in proper order
Christ the firstfruits;
then, at his coming, those who belong to Christ;

then comes the end,
when he hands over the Kingdom to his God and Father,
when he has destroyed every sovereignty
and every authority and power.

For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
The last enemy to be destroyed is death,
for “he subjected everything under his feet.”

Luke 1:39-56

Mary set out
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said,

“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

And how does this happen to me,
that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears,
the infant in my womb leaped for joy.

Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.

He has shown the strength of his arm,
and has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.”

Mary remained with her about three months
and then returned to her home.

+++ +++ +++ +++

The commemoration of the death of the Blessed Mother is known in the Churches of the East as the Dormition, or falling asleep of the Virgin, and in the Church of Rome as the Assumption, because of the belief that her body did not undergo corruption, but that at the end of her life on earth, she was raised, body and soul, into Heaven. This tradition was already current in the Sixth Century; by the beginning of the Twentieth Century, it was universal.

After consulting the views of the Bishops throughout the world, Pope Pius XII, on 1 November 1950, formally and infallibly declared that the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary was to be held as an authentic and ancient doctrine of the universal Church, a dogma of Catholic Faith. In the Dogmatic Constitutin Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council taught that “the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, when her earthly life was over, and was exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things.”


The Assumption

Clear the way for the entrance
of the bold adventuress
who undoes injustice,
who smashes insults.

The sun’s rays are her
resplendent armor;
the stars her helmet,
the moon her boots.

On her shining shield
with which she dazzles hell,
a mountain is emblazoned
and golden letters: Tota Pulchra.

Celebrated for her beauty,
feared for her ferocity,
she is jaunty and valiant,
and angelic in her beauty …

She dispelled the charms
of the ancient serpent
whose conspiracy
set us under slavery’s yoke.

She avenges wrongs,
and annuls unjust laws,
gives refuge to orphans
and shelter to widows.

She liberated prisoners
from that prison where,
were it not for her daring spirit,
still they’d await their release.

All hell trembles at the mere
mention of her name.
and they say its very kings
fast on her vigil.

She is the one whose tread
no demon can endure.
When he sees her feet,
he takes to his heels.

Crowned with glory and honor,
the deeds that brought her fame,
since they cannot be contained on earth,
send her riding out of this world.

As knight errant of the spheres
on a new adventure,
she find the hidden treasure
sought by so many.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (+ 1695) was a Mexican nun, and a poet, dramatist, and spiritual writer.
MAGNIFICAT, August 2009 

Friday, August 14, 2009

Because Of The Hardness Of Your Hearts

Some Pharisees came to Jesus to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?" "Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?" Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."

The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."
Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this should accept it."

+++ +++ +++ +++

In the Book of Genesis (1:27), there is a wonderful, poetic description of the creation of man and woman. "God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them." God also gave them names. "Adam" is not a name like James or John; it means "creature made from clay" (The Hebrew word for "clay" is "adamah".) At the beginning of the book of Genesis, "Adam" refers to man and woman equally. Clearly, man and woman are on an equal footing before God, and both are equally images of God.

Of course, this is all before the Fall. After the Fall, everything has changed. Humans are considered to be under a curse, and they each suffer for it differently. To the man, God says, "By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken." (Genesis 3:19) To the woman, he ssays, "Your husband will rule over you" (Genesis 3:16) Scholars consider this a reflection of the way it was in the Near East at the time that Genesis was written, in particular the way women were treated in that society. A woman was subject first to her father, then on her marriage, she became subject to her husband. She was subject to them because she was their possession.

At the time of Jesus, divorce was very easily obtained. Some Rabbis of that time taught that if a woman ruined a meal, or spoke disrespectfully about her in-laws, her husband had the right to divorce her. Some even said that if a man noticed a woman who was more beautiful than his wife, he could divorce his wife and marry the other woman.

This tradition was the foundation for the question the Pharisees raise to Jesus, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" Jesus does not get into a legal hassle with them about the Mosaic Law. Instead, he hearkens back to the original state of innocence -- back before the story of the expulsion of the man and the woman from the Garden of Eden. He affirmed the original state over the corrupted state. He proclaimed God's notion of man and woman, and of marriage. The original state was the companionship of equals, not ownership of one by the other. It was love, not domination or subjection.

Today, wherever husbands and wives love one another, refusing to consider the other as property - disposable or not -- the mind of Christ is made visible, and human persons are living in a state of original innocence, not of original sin.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I Say To You, Not Seven Times, But Seventy-Seven Times!

In yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus spoke to his disciples about how to deal with those who have offended them. It may surprise you to learn that the Gospel encourages us to confront our offenders, letting them know that their behavior is unacceptable. Finally, if all else fails, “treat them as you would a Gentile or a Publican” – that is, have nothing further to do with them.

Today, Jesus addresses the other side of the question, in answer to a question from Peter: “Lord, if I am offended, how often must I forgive the offender – as many as seven times? Jesus answers, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Then he illustrates his precept with the parable in today’s gospel.

"The kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

Jesus often resorts to hyperbole in making his point, and he does so in this parable. If we translate the first steward’s debt into today’s dollars, it would reach eight digits – ten billion dollars or more! It is a deliberately exaggerated amount. The point Jesus is making here is that the Christian ethic is not based on accounting principles (as the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law taught, and Peter assumed). The number seventy-seven is totally irrelevant – and so is the number seven. The Christian ethic is a “therefore” ethic. God has forgiven me; therefore I must forgive others. That response turned Peter’s perspective upside down. If we think about it, it might turn ours downside up.

A popular image of the “particular judgment” which occurs at the moment that follows the moment of death has Saint Peter, the keeper of the keys, checking the records to see whether or not we will be allowed entry into the Kingdom of Heaven – rather like Santa checking whether we’ve been naughty or nice.

God’s infinite desire to forgive, and to offer us grace to live in imitation of His Son, poses a challenge to you and me. We are called to forgive others in the same measure as we want God to forgive us. But keep this in mind: forgiveness is a grace received, impossible for us to offer to others without Jesus. Pray constantly for the people you need to forgive, because they offended you yesterday, and those who will offend you today and tomorrow. There is no proportion between my sinning against God and my neighbor’s sinning against me. So, Jesus advises us, don’t try to reckon it.

What is even more astounding than God’s willingness to forgive us, even before we repent, is His gift of His only-begotten Son. As we sing in the Exultet, at the Easter Vigil:

“Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave, you gave away your Son.

Oh, happy fault! O necessary sin of Adam,
Which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

It is not simply that we have been forgiven, and that we will be forgiven again and again. It is that we have been gifted, amazingly and incomprehensibly gifted. Thus, our duty – our calling – is not just to forgive as we have been forgiven, but, just as Jesus gave us the gift of Himself, to gift others with the gift of ourselves.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How Often Must I Forgive?

Moses went from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the headland of Pisgah, which faces Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land, from Gilead to Dan, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea (which we call the Mediterranean), the Negev, the Valley of Jericho, and the City of Psalms, as far as Zoar.

The LORD said to him: “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendants.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it."

Moses, the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He was buried there, but to this day no one knows where his gravesite is located. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses.

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those miraculous signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:1-12)

The Psalmist blesses the LORD who fills his soul with fire. How does God do that? There is a time to say prayers, and a time to stand up in the midst of the assembly and shout for joy, and sing praise to the LORD. When was the last time you “shouted joyfully” to God, and “loudly” sang his praise/ Worship does not have to be loud, but every once in a while shouts of praise have a way of breaking through the humdrum of everyday life, the boredom of routine spiritual exercises. Every so often we need to be filled with fire.

Today’s gospel depicts a time when brothers and sisters do not listen to one another, and will not accept fraternal correction. Jesus presents a process for winning them back.

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them.”

Jesus has given to the Church the power to bind and to loose, both in heaven and on earth. When we pray to God, we know that God will listen. How can two or three persons agree in prayer and expect the heavens to open and the earth to move beneath their feet? Because Jesus is in the midst of them.

Listen to the wisdom of two of our Fathers in the Faith in comment on this passage.

John Chrysostom wrote: The gospel does not use words such as “accuse” or “punish him”, “take him to heart.“ The one who is healthy must reach out to the one who is ill. You must correct a wayward brother privately, in a manner that is easy to accept. The words “correct him” mean that you help him to recognize his indiscretion, and that you have been hurt by it.” Then he added, “Do you see how Jesus seeks not only the interest of the aggrieved party, but also that of the one who caused the grief …? If he had sought the interest of the aggrieved party alone, he would not have told him to forgive his brother seventy times seven times (Matt. 18:22)”

Saint Augustine says that we are obliged by love to correct someone who has done wrong. “He has done you harm, and by doing harm, he has stricken himself with a grievous wound. Will you then completely ignore your brother’s wound? Will you simply watch him stumble and fall? Will you ignore his predicament? If so, you are worse in your silence than he was in his abuse.” See how Augustine interprets the hard saying, “If the offender refuses to listen even to the Church, let him be treated as you would a Gentile or a tax-collector.” Even so, his salvation is not to be neglected. We do not count the Gentiles and the pagans as members of our community, yet we constantly pray for their salvation.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

God Has Called Us With The Good News

First Reading
Deuteronomy 31:1-8

Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel: "I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The LORD has said to me, 'You shall not cross the Jordan.' The LORD your God himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the LORD said. And the LORD will do to them what he did to the kings of the Amorites, whom he destroyed along with their land. The LORD will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, "Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the LORD swore to their forefathers to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance. The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."

Deuteronomy 32

R. The portion of the Lord is his people.

For I will sing the LORD’s renown.
Oh, proclaim the greatness of our God!
The Rock–how faultless are his deeds,
how right all his ways!

R. The portion of the Lord is his people.

Think back on the days of old,
reflect on the years of age upon age.
Ask your father and he will inform you,
ask your elders and they will tell you.

R. The portion of the Lord is his people.

When the Most High assigned the nations their heritage,
when he parceled out the descendants of Adam,
He set up the boundaries of the peoples
after the number of the sons of Israel.

R. The portion of the Lord is his people.

While the LORD’s own portion was Jacob,
his hereditary share was Israel.
The LORD alone was their leader,
no strange god was with him.

R. The portion of the Lord is his people.

Matthew 17:22-27

One day when they were together in Galilee, Jesus said to his disciples, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life." And the disciples were filled with grief.

fter Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" Yes, he does," he replied.

When Peter returned to the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?" "From others," Peter answered.

"Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours."

+++    +++    +++    +++   

Today’s First Reading and today’s Gospel have a common theme. Moses speech to the people of Israel is quite clearly a Farewell Address. He is 120 years old, and he has known for a long time that he would not be among the people who entered the Land of Promise. Jesus, in very plain language, describes what will be happening to him when they return to Jerusalem: betrayal, death and resurrection.

The words of Moses and the words of Jesus are reflections of similar understanding of a fundamental and eternal reality: the covenant between God and his people, and the faith response of those who have been chosen: the patriarch who guided the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt, and the anointed one who taught the children of God throughout the world and throughout the ages to have faith in his word, and confidence in his mercy.

Our fidelity to the covenant between God and his people unites us to God’s being and defines our relationships with each other. God’s being, our communion with God and our communion with each other are all mysteries that reach beyond the limitations of time and space. Further, we are closely linked to all those who through the centuries since these words were first spoken have handed on to us their fidelity to God and each other so that we can continue to be God’s portion, God’s people.

Our daily challenge is to be faithful to who we are.