Saturday, October 31, 2009

Everyone Who Exalts Himself Will Be Humbled, And Whoever Humbles Himself Will Be Exalted.

Reading 1
Romans 11:1-2, 11-12, 25-29

Brothers and sisters:

I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am myself a child of Israel, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah — how he appealed to God against Israel?

This is why I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring.

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not become wise in your own estimation: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

"The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins."

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarch, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.

Luke 14:1, 7-11

On a Sabbath, Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, and he was being carefully watched by the people there.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: "When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, 'Give this man your seat.' Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, 'Friend, move up to a better place.' Then you will be honored in the presence of all your fellow guests. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

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The Link Between Humility and Kindness

The Christian must be humble; but humility does not consist in hiding our talents and virtues, but in the clear knowledge of all that is wanting in us, in not being elated by what we have, seeing that it is a free gift of God, and that even with all his gifts we are still infinitely small.

It is a remarkable fact that great virtue necessarily begets humility; and if great talent does not always have the same effect, it still softens a great deal of the uncouthness that clings inseparably to the pride of mediocrity. True excellence and genuine humility are not incompatible with each other; on the contrary, they are twin sisters. God, who is excellence itself, is without pride. He sees himself as he is, but does not despise what is not himself; he is himself, naturally and simply, with affection for all his creatures, however humble. Kindness and humility are virtually one and the same.

The kindhearted feel naturally drawn to give of themselves to others, to sacrifice themselves, to make themselves little; that is true humility. Pride is more hated than any other vice, not only because it wounds our self-love, but because it shows a lack of the virtue of kindness, without which it is impossible to gain love. Therefore, be kindhearted, and you will inevitably become humble. Your eyes, your lips, the features of your forehead will all begin to look different, and you will find that you will be sought after quite as much as you were formerly shunned. But how do you become kindhearted? First of all, by praying earnestly to God for it, and then by striving constantly and earnestly to seek the good of others, and to sacrifice our own for their sake. That is a long apprenticeship, but good will carries us anywhere.

Father Henri-Dominique Lacordaire, O.P.

Father Lacordaire (+ 1861) was a great preacher of the Dominican Order, who re-established the Order of Preachers in France after the Revolution.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Is It Lawful To Heal On The Sabbath, Or Not?

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (9:1-5).

Paul states “I speak the truth in Christ; I am not lying. The Holy Spirit guides my conscience in bearing witness that I am telling the truth.” Paul expresses great sorrow and deep anguish because his own people, his kindred in the flesh, do not accept the message of Christ. “I would be willing to be cursed by God and cut off from Christ if that would save them.”

Paul might have in mind what happened in the time of Moses. While Moses was at the summit of Sinai, receiving the Tablets of the Law from God, the people made a calf of gold, and did homage to the idol. Moses thought that God would never forgive the people of Israel, and he asked God to punish him in their stead, by “striking his name from the book of life” (Exodus 32:32). On the other hand, Paul realizes that nothing can separate him from the love of God (Romans 8:38). He knows that each of us must place our trust in God if we would be saved. God said to Moses, “I will remove from my book the name of any person who has sinned against me” (Exodus 32:33). God’s mercy is infinite, but his people can accept the gifts of grace – wisdom to know what is true, courage to do what is right, and contrition to accept his mercy when we have strayed – only if we place our trust in him.

Paul then lists the many ways in which God has shown his loving kindness to the people of Israel: He adopted them as his own people (Exodus 4:22). His glory dwelt among them, abiding in the tent in which the people gathered for worship in the desert (Exodus 40:34). He made a covenant with Abraham, promising that he would have a son and that not one nation, but all nations would be his descendants (Genesis 17:4-19). He gave them the Law on Sinai (Exodus 24:8). He promised to David that he would have a son, whose kingdom would endure forever (Psalm 89:34-37). The history of Israel from the time of King David to the time when Herod ruled in Galilee and Pilate was Procurator in Judea clearly tells us that the kingdom that endures forever is not an earthly kingdom. The one of whom Paul speaks is Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. Blessed be God forever! Amen.

Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (14:1-6).

On a Sabbath, Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the most important Pharisees. In front of Jesus there was a man who suffered from dropsy (an accumulation of fluid in bodily tissue, more precisely called edema – Merriam-Webster Online). The people there were watching Jesus carefully to see what he would do. They did not doubt that Jesus could heal the man of his malady, since they had seen him do so many times. But this day was a Sabbath, and the Law of Moses prohibits all work on the Sabbath – and healing is work.

Jesus turned to the Pharisees and the scholars of the law and asked them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” They did not reply. They know that the Law allowed them to do good deeds on the Sabbath. But the Pharisees had limited this rule, saying that only if a person was in danger of death could they be healed on the Sabbath. If the Pharisees answered “Yes” to Jesus’ question, they would be breaking their own rule. If they said “No”, they would appear to be cruel and insensitive. So they kept silence.

Then Jesus asked another question: “Suppose your son, or your ox fell into a well on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you pull him out at once, even on the Sabbath day?” Of course, they would not have hesitated, but they were unable to give an answer to Jesus’ question.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

On The Third Day, I Will Reach My Goal.

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:31b-39)

Paul begins with a question: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” God did not spare his only Son, but gave him to die on the cross to redeem us; how, then, could he not grant us everything else that we need?

Picture a court of law, in which God almighty is the judge. Who will bring charges against those whom God has chosen? Who can condemn them, when Jesus Christ, who died for us, and was raised to life again, stands at the right hand of the Father and intercedes for us?

Paul then asks, “Who can separate us from the love of Christ? He lists seven possible troubles: anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and the sword. Some may be put to death for professing their faith in Christ; but that cannot separate them from God’s love. To the contrary, those who bear witness to the faith by giving up their lives draw even closer to God, because they are sharing in the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, who gave his life on the Cross to redeem us all. As it is written: For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.

“In all these troubles, we shall overcome, through God, who loves us. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Not death or life, not angels or demons, not the present or the future, not height or depth, nothing at all can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (13:31-35)

Some Pharisees came to Jesus and said, “Leave this place, and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

Perhaps these Pharisees were acting as sincere friends. We know that there were two Pharisees, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who were disciples of Jesus. But it is more likely that they wanted Jesus to leave Galilee for their own reasons. They had more power to influence public opinion in Judea, so they would rather have him go up to the city of Jerusalem than remain in Galilee.

Jesus replied: “Go tell that fox that I will drive out demons and cure people today, and tomorrow, and on the third day I will accomplish my purpose. In any case, I must continue on my way today and tomorrow, and on the third day, I will reach my goal.” There is yet another reason that Jesus must go to Jerusalem, “surely no prophet can die except in Jerusalem.”

It is not because of Herod’s wish that Jesus must go to Jerusalem, but because God planned for him to go there. Jerusalem was a holy city, because the Temple was there; but it was also there that the people killed the prophets and stoned those who brought God’s word to them. Yet God continues to love them, “like a hen who gathers her chicks under her wing”, but the people of of Jerusalem were not willing to listen. That is why God allowed the holy city, and the Temple which was his dwelling place, to be razed to the ground, just seven decades after the death of Jesus.

Jesus concludes with the words of Psalm 118:26. People greeted one another with these words when they came to Jerusalem: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” The crowd acclaimed Jesus with these words on a Sunday morning in the spring of the year. On the following Friday, they put him to death.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Jesus Chose Twelve, Whom He Named Apostles.

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (2:19-22).

Paul, called “the Apostle to the Gentiles” is writing to the new Christians in Ephesus, who had been pagans before they were baptized. To the Jews, the people of other nations, and other religions, were “foreigners and strangers”. They might live in the same town and on the same street, but is not like that in the church. Gentiles and Jews have equal rights in the church. Not only are they all citizens of the Kingdom of God, but they are members of the family of God the Father.

Paul likens the church to a building. He is not speaking of a structure built of stone and held together with mortar, but one made up of people. The cornerstone is Jesus himself. All other parts of the structure fit into him, so that they will be straight and level. The foundation stones of the Church are the prophets and apostles. In the Hebrew Scriptures, God gave his word to the prophets, who delivered the message to the people. The Apostles are first the Twelve whom Jesus called his closest companions. Later, that title is given to Paul, Barnabas and Silas, whose apostolic mission is to the Gentile nations. God is building the Church on this firm foundation.

In verse 22, the last verse of this reading, Paul writes, “In him (the Lord Jesus), you also are being built together into a dwelling place in which God lives through his Spirit.” The Jews believed that God lived in the center of the Temple. Of course, God is infinite, and cannot be contained in any building. The entire universe, the sun, moon and stars cannot contain him. But the center of the Temple was the “Holy of Holies”; God is present in the entire universe, but, as the Jews saw it, the Holy of Holies was his abode, his dwelling place.

But God did not make the new building out of stones. All the people together are the family of God. His church is present in every age, and in every place throughout the world. Wherever two or three are gathered in his name, he is in their midst. Whenever someone takes time to say “Please God” for a particular intention, or “Thank God”, for a favor granted, he is there. Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found.


Today’s gospel is taken from Luke (6:12-16).

Jesus knew that his enemies were gathering and his time was coming. He had to decide how his work would continue. So he went up to the mountain to pray, and spent the in prayer to God. At daybreak, Jesus called his disciples together, and chose twelve of them, whom he designated apostles.

The nation of Israel had grown from the twelve sons of Jacob (Genesis 35: 10, 23-26). The foundation of the new people of God would also consist of twelve sons of Israel – another name for Jacob. Simon Peter is always listed first among the apostles. He and his brother Andrew were fishermen, as were James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Philip and Bartholomew were from the seaside town of Bethsaida in Galilee. (Bartholomew is called Nathanael in John 1:45-51).

Matthew, also called Levi, had been a customs tax collector for the Romans. His story was told in greater detail the gospel of September 21, his feast day (Matthew 9:9-13). Thomas was also known as Dydimus, “the twin” (John 11:16). The second Simon was called zelotes in Greek. That may mean that he belonged to a party of Jews who wanted to fight the Romans and force them to leave the country. Or it might simply indicate that he was enthusiastic. Jude, the son of James, is known as Thaddeus in Matthew 10:23 and Mark 3:18. Last (and in some sense least) is Judas Iscariot (the man from Kerioth). Kerioth is a town in Judea, so Judas is the only one of the Twelve who was not a Galilean.

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In the calling of the apostles, after his night in prayer, Jesus set in motion their guidance and commitment—Simon to be called the Zealot for his enthusiasm. Paul was inspired to call us also to reconciliation as fellow citizens with the saints, to build, through the cross of Jesus, a new peace. How can we as Christians share this enthusiasm?

We are aware that nature is becoming a priority in our thinking about climate change. All around, God reminds us of his beauty, glory and power—so we need to make efforts to preserve a sense of wonder and praise for his handiwork as we watch a sunset or a coming storm. Caring for our environment combined with care and love for our neighbor, whatever their color or race, is an essential commitment for our participation in God’s creation of peace.

Dear Jesus, teach us the enthusiasm of your apostles for becoming a holy temple in the Lord and a dwelling place of the Spirit.

Madonna, Daily Prayers

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Of First Fruits, Yeast, And Mustard Seed.

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (8:18-25). Paul is contrasting the sufferings we endure in the present life to the glory that will be revealed later. Paul can speak about troubles and suffering from his own experience. The Pharisees and other leaders of the people opposed Paul because he now preached the gospel of Jesus. He suffered cold and hunger in his travels on land and on sea. He has also spoken about a physical problem that was a particular nuisance to him, which he calls “a thorn in the side”.

Paul then speaks of the suffering of the whole world, which is affected by human sinfulness. When trees in the forests are cut down without regard for planting new ones, the land is made bare. The animals that live in the forests cannot continue to survive in the altered environment. When crops are grown on farmlands without regard for nourishing the soil, the next harvest is not as plentiful or as rich as the previous one, and the land eventually loses its fertility altogether. Paul looks forward to the day when all creation will be freed from its bondage to decay, and will share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Not only that, but we ourselves, who have received the first fruits of the Holy Spirit in baptism, and who are nourished by God’s loving grace, look forward in hope, groaning inwardly as we await for our adoption as children of God, and co-heirs with Christ, will be made complete, and we share fully in the merits of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. It is in this hope that we have been saved. Paul ends this section of his Letter with a conundrum (a riddle not of words, but of ideas). “Hope that is seen is no hope at all”, he writes. To say it more plainly, there is no longer need to hope if we have already gained what we had been hoping for. No one hopes for what they already possess. We hope for what we do not possess, and cannot see as yet, and we wait with eager endurance.

Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (13:18-21).

My mother's mother (my mémère) used to put mustard seeds, black pepper and other spices into a mortar, grind them together with a pestle, then add a little bit of cider vinegar and mix the ingredients with a big wooden spoon. She was making her own mustard which she served with baked ham, and sometimes, when the grandkids were visiting, on hot dogs.

Mustard seeds are quite small, but the shrub on which they grow can get quite large. The man in the first parable Jesus tells in today’s gospel took a single mustard seed and planted it in his field. The plant began to sprout, and when it was fully grown, it was a shrub so large that the birds of the air came and built nests in its branches.

While I liked to watch my grandmother preparing mustard, there was something else she did in her kitchen that I enjoyed even more. It involved flour and water, which I got to mix together in a big bowl. When I got a bit older that task got handed off to my brother and sister, and I got to use a paring knife on the skins of a dozen or two of apples. What kind? Don’t ask! All I can tell you is that some of them were red and some were green. My dad’s older sister, Aunty Mary, also made apple pie, and I helped her too. Aunty Mary’s pies were very different from Mémère’s, and even today I don’t know exactly why, but I can tell you they were both delicious.

The woman in the second parable Jesus tells today is baking – probably not apple pie, but bread. She mixes some yeast in with three measures of flour and stirs it until the whole batch is leavened. Then (although Jesus doesn’t say so) she puts it into the oven until the crust is just the right shade of brown.

No one can see the yeast working as it transforms the dough. All we can see is the results. In much the same way, God works slowly to change for the better our attitudes and our abilities as members of his holy people. Just as the yeast affects the dough, the faith, hope, love of Christ’s disciples affects society, The people of Thessalonica said that the Christians had “turned their world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Yeast changes dough. Trust in God changes people.

Monday, October 26, 2009

We Are Children Of God, We Are Coheirs With Christ.

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:12-27). Paul reminds the Christians of Rome, and ourselves, that we must not be “debtors to the flesh, who live according to the flesh”. Those who live according to the flesh will die. Not only will they die in the flesh when their live in this world comes to an end; they will also experience “the second death”, an eternity of punishment in the abode of the damned.

At the time Paul was writing, if someone adopted a child, the child would bear that person’s family name, and would have the right to inherit that person’s property. There was a formal ceremony in Roman law in which the child was handed over to the adoptive father in the presence of witnesses. The former life of the child ceased to exist, and a new life began. A child who had been a slave was now a free person. The adoptive child had the same rights as the children by birth, and, when the father passed from this world, would receive an equal share of the father’s property and assets.

Paul writes, “You did not receive a spirit of slavery, but a spirit of adoption, by which we cry out “Abba, Father!” Paul reminds the Roman Christians – and ourselves – that by baptism we have become children of God by adoption; “and if we are children, then we are also heirs of God, and coheirs with Christ.” But, just as Christ suffered and died before he entered his glory, so too the Christian must experience suffering in this life; “we suffer with Him, so that we might also be glorified with Him.”

Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (13:10-17) On the Sabbath, Jesus was teaching a synagogue. A woman was there who had been crippled by a demon for eighteen years. She was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect. When Jesus saw her, he called to her, and said, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” In Jesus’ time, the polite way to address a woman directly was to say “Woman”, in much the same way that, in our time, one might say, “Ma’am”, or in more formal speech, “Madam”, or “Milady”. Jesus laid his hands on her, and she immediately stood up straight, and began to glorify God.

The leader of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had healed the woman on the Sabbath, because the Law of Moses prohibited administering medicine or other forms of healing on the Lord’s Day. Yet he did not address himself directly to Jesus, but to the people in the congregation: “There are six days for work; come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

Jesus answered the rabbi’s complaint not to him, but to the people: “You hypocrites! Doesn’t every one of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall, and lead it out to give it water?” (That is prohibited on the Sabbath in the Law of Moses). Jesus continued, “This daughter of Abraham has been kept in bondage by Satan for eighteen long years. Are you telling me that she shouldn’t have been set free on the Sabbath?”

The whole crowd rejoiced at the wonderful deeds he was doing.

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“He was teaching in a synagogue.” This is the last time in Luke that Jesus appears in a synagogue; the rift between him and the authorities is growing wider. They were for law, he was for mercy. The difference was focused poignantly in the figure of the old woman crippled for eighteen years. Jesus healed her, though this constituted breaking the sabbath according to the interpretation of the scribes and Pharisees. They looked and saw only a breach of rules; Jesus looked and saw God's mercy meeting human misery. Jesus was a formidable opponent: he pointed out their inconsistency in allowing people to come to the aid of an animal on the sabbath but not to the aid of a human being. People don’t like been shown up in such an unflattering light, and it goes some way towards explaining their implacable hatred of him. He was not just showing another way, he was undermining theirs.

Theirs was a narrow legalistic version of the great Jewish faith; it was a thing of the mind alone, with no heart in it. What strikes you is the absence of joy: they were unable to feel any joy at the old woman’s healing. Religion without joy is hollow and shows itself to be a product of the ego. The ego knows selfish gratification, but not joy. Joy is an expansion of the heart: to experience joy is to lose oneself – ultimately in God. Luke records that Jesus was filled with joy (10:21), and so were his disciples (Acts 13:52). In each case he says it is joy in the Holy Spirit. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, mentioned next to love by Paul (Galatians 5:22). Between the religion of the ego and the religion of Jesus there is a chasm that can only be crossed in one giant leap (you cannot cross a chasm in two short leaps). It is a leap of joy in the Holy Spirit.

Donagh O’Shea O.P.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Jesus Asked Him: "What Do You Want Me To Do For You?

Today’s readings offer us pictures of  how God moves in our lives, offering us a way forward from exile and darkness into light and fellowship.

We hear first from the Prophet Jeremiah. In the year 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, invaded Judah and captured Jerusalem. Ten years later, the city was destroyed, the Temple razed to its foundations, and the leading citizens carried off to exile in Babylon. The prophet, aged, infirm and disillusioned, remained in the city, living among the ruins. In his grief, he cried out, “A curse on the day of my birth! “May the day my mother bore me never be blessed! A curse on the man who brought my father the news that a son had been given to him!” (Jeremiah 20:14-15)

But the LORD continued to speak through the prophet, even in his melancholy. In today’s First Reading (31:7-9), he is encouraging his fellow exiles to sing a happy tune.

Thus says the LORD:

Sing with joy for Jacob;
Exult at the head of the nations.
Make your praises heard, and say:
“The Lord has delivered his people,
the remnant of Israel.

See, I will bring them from the land of the north
and gather them from the ends of the earth.
Among them will be the blind and the lame,
expectant mothers and women in labor;
a great throng will return.

They will come weeping;
they will pray as I bring them back.
I will lead them beside streams of water
on a level path where they will not stumble,
because I am Israel’s father,
and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

Today’s Responsorial, Psalm 126, also celebrates the return of the captives of Zion.

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

When the LORD brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Then they said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."
The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed.

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like the torrents in the southern desert.
Those that sow in tears
shall reap rejoicing.

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Although they go forth weeping,
carrying the seed to be sown,
They shall come back rejoicing,
carrying their sheaves.

R. The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.

Today’s Second Reading, from the Letter to the Hebrews (5:1-6) honors Jesus, the Great High Priest.

Brothers and sisters:

Every high priest is taken from among men
and made their representative before God,
to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.
He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and errant,
for he himself is beset by weakness
and so, for this reason, must make sin offerings for himself
as well as for the people.
No one takes this honor upon himself
but only when called by God,
just as Aaron was.
In the same way,
it was not Christ who glorified himself in becoming high priest,
but rather the one who said to him:
You are my son:
this day I have begotten you;
just as he says in another place:
You are a priest forever
according to the order of Melchizedek.

Today’s Gospel (Mark 10:46-52) tells of the healing of the blind man Bartimaeus:

As Jesus was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a sizable crowd,
Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus,
sat by the roadside begging.
On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth,
he began to cry out and say,
"Jesus, son of David, have pity on me."
And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent.
But he kept calling out all the more,
"Son of David, have pity on me."
Jesus stopped and said, "Call him."
So they called the blind man, saying to him,
"Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you."
He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.
Jesus said to him in reply, "What do you want me to do for you?"
The blind man replied to him, "Master, I want to see."
Jesus told him, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."
Immediately he received his sight
and followed him on the way.

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What we hear in the First Reading has a theme that foretells the beginning of the Advent season, which is close at hand. Jeremiah foretells that the people will be shouting for joy because their loving God is bringing them back. All of them, including the blind, the lame and the little one will be coming home. It was God’s love that allowed them to go into captivity in order to get their attention, and to motivate their faithful response. Now, He will gather his beloved people in their homeland, they who have wept in sorrow will be singing for joy.

Mark ends this segment of his Gospel with the miracle of the healing of Bartimaeus. At the beginning of the next chapter, Jesus will enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey’s foal, but by the end of the week, he will be headed for the cross.

For the past few Sundays, we have been hearing from this same chapter. Jesus has spoken some hard sayings, about divorce, the danger of wealth, and the role of the disciples not as rulers but as servants. Now, the apostles and other disciples are represented by someone who has heard of Jesus, who has listened to his word, but wants to see him more clearly and follow him more nearly.

This man, the son of Timaeus, is blind, unable to see himself, and know what he looks like. He can feel his face; others can tell him how he looks, but these fall far short of the reality. Not knowing what he looks like has resulted in his sitting on the side of the road, calling out for “pity”. His cry is an echo of how he feels about himself.

It seems that the inability to see one’s own face often brings a feeling of negativity about oneself. One might say, “It is impossible for you to have a positive self-image if you can’t see yourself.” But there are those who can see, but don’t like what they see. They too can tend to sit on the sidelines, pitying themselves because they are blinded by what they do see.

Jesus is passing by. He is asking what we want him to do for us. Because of our fallen human nature, we tend to look at ourselves and see only what is shameful, and not our potential for becoming once again the beautiful images of God we were at our creation. If all we do is curse the darkness, we might never see the light.

It is a simple truth that we cannot give what we do not have. Even more difficult is to love our neighbor as ourselves if we do not love ourselves in the first place. That is the condition in which we find ourselves sitting on the side of the road next to that man crying out for “Pity!” Yet, it is also the condition Jesus enters into and asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” Now comes the real challenge. Be careful! Do you really want to see? Seeing will lead you to accept and appreciate your face, your person, your history. That will lead you to get up, and follow him into positive relationships and generous service. It is his love for us that frees us to love ourselves, and to offer ourselves in service to others with our eyes wide open.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

If The Spirit Of God Dwells In You, He Will Give You Life.

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (8:1-11).

Paul has previously explained how powerful sin can be. People may want to please God, and try to obey God’s law. But human nature is not strong enough to oppose the power of sin. God’s law tells us how to live according to God’s will; but sin is like another law, which goes against God’s law. People struggle against sin, but their efforts to do what is right and avoid what is wrong seem futile.

Now, Paul writes that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, since through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” God frees his people from the power of sin. He forgives us, and makes us righteous, not because we deserve to be forgiven, but because he loves us, and his love is given to us as mercy.

The new relationship between humankind and our creator has been made possible by reason of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, which redeemed us of the burden of our sinfulness. After the death of Jesus, God sent the Holy Spirit, who lives within us, and gives the grace of sorrow and repentance for our wrongdoing, and the grace of wisdom and courage to do what is right and avoid what is wrong in the future.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds focused on the things of the flesh: pleasure, profit and power. Those who live according to God’s Spirit have their minds set on the things of the spirit, and open themselves to be taught how best to fulfill the two great commandments: Love God with all your heart, and mind, and might; and love your neighbor as yourself. That is the whole law and all the commandments.

The ultimate consequence of sin is death, not only physical death, at the end of natural life in this world, but “second death”, eternity in the nether world, “Sheol”, in Hebrew, “Hades” in Greek, “Hell” in English. Those who allow themselves to be led by the Holy Spirit experience joy and peace in this life, because they are aware of the loving presence of God even in the midst of trials and tribulation.

Of course, this does not mean that Christians live perfect lives; they do not. The enemy continues to use their natural thoughts and desires to tempt them, and such thoughts and desires can lead to sinful acts. The followers of Jesus learn to depend upon the Holy Spirit. They learn to allow the Holy Spirit to direct their lives, and they trust God to provide the graces they need, to resist temptation, and to express contrition for their wrongdoing.

In the end, the body will die; but the death of the body is not the end of the human person, because the soul will remain alive. “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells within you, then the one who raised Jesus from the dead will give new life to your mortal bodies, through his Spirit dwelling within you.”

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Today’s gospel is taken from Luke (13:1-9)

Some people came to Jesus and told him about some Galilees who were offering sacrifices to the LORD when soldiers under the orders of Pilate “mingled their blood with the blood of their sacrifices”. In reply, Jesus asked them this question, “What do you think about these Galileans? Were they greater sinners than other Galileans? Is that why they suffered as they did? No, they were not! But, if you do not repent of your own sins, you also will perish!”

Jesus then reminded his disciples of another incident. A water tower was being built at Siloam, as part of Pilate’s plan to improve the supply of fresh water to Jerusalem. It was a necessary project, but the Jews were angry at how it was financed. Pilate took money from the Temple to pay for it. The Pharisees and the Temple priests taught that devout Jews should not work on the project, much less accept money which came from Temple funds as their wages.

When the water tower at Siloam collapsed, Jesus asked his disciples this question: “Do you believe that they were worse sinners than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? No, they were not! But, if you do not repent for your sins, you will perish as they did!”

Then Jesus told the disciples this parable: A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard. He looked for fruit on it, but found none. So he spoke to his servant who tended the vineyard. “Look, I have looked for fruit on this tree for three years. But I have not found any. Cut it down! Why should it waste the space?” But the man answered, “Leave it alone, sir, for just one more year. I will cultivate the ground around it, and fertilize it. It may bear fruit next year; if not, then you can have it cut down.”

The extra year in this parable reminds us that God gives people countless chances to repent of their sins and reform their lives. But there comes a time when there are no more opportunities. That moment, as one of my favorite preachers used to say, is “the moment after the moment of death.”

I have been graced with the opportunity to hear the death-bed confessions of many people over the years since my ordination. In the week before Christmas that year, I visited the local hospital where I gave absolution to two patients who had been away from the sacraments for a total of one hundred ten years. I am looking forward to rejoicing with them in Heaven, and counting on their prayers to help me get there. I am really not in any hurry.  But, in the mean time, I try to remember what I tell folks from seven to seventy-seven and beyond: “Live this day as if were the first day, the last day, the only day of your life. One of these days, it will be!”

Friday, October 23, 2009

If You Know How To Interpret The Weather, Why Can't You Interpret The Present Times?

Today’s First Reading is from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (7:18-25a)

The scripture scholars are of two minds about the struggles with sin that Paul confesses in the first three verses of today’s reading. Some think that Paul is writing about his experiences before he became a disciple of Christ. In those days, Paul wanted to please God, and tried to act according to God’s will. As a Pharisee, he was convinced that the best way to achieve that goal is to obey the Law of the Moses to the letter. But he learned that he was unable to fulfill this commitment. He realized that he could not save himself by his own efforts. That is when Christ “knocked him off his horse” and changed his life (cf. Acts 9:1-22).

Other scholars believe that Paul was writing as a Christian. Even after he accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior, he continues to struggle against temptation and sin. In Philippians (3:12-14) Paul admits that he is not perfect. He is like a marathon runner, struggling to reach the goal. He urges Timothy to “fight for his faith”. In this light, Paul’s cry in is not one of despair, but one of trust. He desires to be free from the shackles of his weak human nature, and to become more holy. And he relies on the gifts of God’s Holy Spirit to grant him the graces he needs to reach the finish line and accept the crown of laurel granted to a champion.

At the end of this passage, Paul uses another image, that of a military combat. There are two opposing forces at war within him. He takes delight in the law of the LORD, but he observes in his body another force at war with his aspiration to obey God’s law, and makes him a prisoner of the sin that dwells within his bodily organs. He conclude with a sigh, and with a prayer of hope and thanksgiving: “Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Today’s gospel is taken from Luke (12:54-59):

Jesus speaks to the gathered crowd: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's going to rain,' and so it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and so it is.” Jesus knew that people could understand the weather, and saw evidence that that it could change. When the clouds were floating in from the Mediterranean, they knew it was going to rain. When the dry wind was blowing from Arabian Desert to the south they knew that extremely hot weather was on the way.

Jesus calls them hypocrites. They understood how to judge the signs that bore evidence of weather coming during the next few days, even without radar scanners in the skies. But they did not understand the “signs of the times” that Jesus was talking about. “Did not”, not because they could not, but because they refused to. The word Mark uses for “time” here is “kairos”, which is best translated “the proper time”. People were deciding not to follow Jesus while they had the opportunity, while “the time was right”.

Jesus asks a pertinent question: “Why don't you judge for yourselves what is right?” He uses the example of someone who is in debt. The debtor should settle the debt before the court date is set. Otherwise, the case will go before the judge, and the judge will hand him over to the constable, and he will be thrown into prison, where he will not be released until he has spent the time allotted to pay the last penny.

The message is clear: We are all indebted to God because we have failed to obey his great commandment, to love him will all our heart and mind and might, and to love one another as he has loved us. Before we appear before the throne of the divine Judge, we should beg for his forgiveness, which he will grant not because of our merit, but because of his loving kindness and his infinite mercy.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I Have Come Not To Establish Peace, But Division!

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (6:19-23). At the end of yesterday’s reading Paul reminded the Christians of Rome that once they were slaves of sin, but now, they have been freed from sin by the sacrifice of Jesus. Paul speaks to them in human terms, because he knows, of his own experience, that human nature is weak. Just as they used to offer their bodies as slaves to impurity and ever increasing wickedness, now they must offer them in slavery to righteousness, which leads to holiness. When they were slaves to sin, they were free of the control of righteousness, but what profit did they gain from doing things that they are now ashamed of? Such behavior ends in death. Paul is not speaking of the death of the body, since sinful activities that lead to physical death are quite rare. He is speaking of what is called “the second death” in the Book of Revelation (20:14; 21:8). That is, the eternal punishment which is the consequence of serious sin.

Now that they have been set free from sin, and have become the servants of God, the benefit they receive, divine grace, leads to holiness, and to happiness in heaven. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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Today’s gospel is taken from Luke (12:49-53).

Jesus said to his disciples, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already ablaze!” Jesus came to bring God’s judgment upon the earth. It was like fire that destroys things that have no value. This judgment would take place at Calvary, on the cross, where God would accept the sacrifice of his only-begotten son as ransom for the sins of humankind. Jesus refers to his death as a baptism. “There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!”

In our Christmas carols, we sing of “Peace on Earth, good will to men”. But in this gospel, Jesus asks “Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, not peace, but division.” In fact, Jesus did bring peace, making people at peace with God. But his message also divided people. Some accepted his message; others refused to listen to him. This would even cause division within families. “A household of five will be divided, three against two, and two against three.” For instance, a father might go one way, and his son the other way. A daughter might go against her mother, or a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law might take opposite sides.

In the gospel, Jesus does not tell us which of the family members are for him, and which are against him. His message goes well beyond squabbles within a human family. History tells us that even in the first century of the current era – the Christian era – there were divisions within the people of God. It is certainly not God’s will that there be 57 varieties of Christianity. There is one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all. Let us pray that someday soon, the Church founded by Jesus Christ might truly be one, as He is in the Father, and the Father in Him, so that the world will know the one true God, and him whom God has sent to set us free.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Much Will Be Required Of One Who Has Been Entrusted With Much

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (6:12-18).

Paul is teaching the newly converted Christians in Rome how they must behave in their new life. Their attitude toward sin much change. “Sin must not reign over your mortal bodies so that you obey their desires.” Every part of our bodies can be subject to sinfulness. With our eyes, we can look at things we shouldn’t. With our ears, we can listen to gossip, to slander, to “dirty stories”. Our mouth can say things that are hurtful to others. Our feet can take us to places we would better avoid. God’s children should use our bodies to serve God. We should do what God wants. We should go where God sends us. The Law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, tells us what we need to do in order to obey God. But it is God’s gift of grace that provides us with both the desire and the power to do God’s will, and to make God’s will our own.

Many of the Christians in Rome at the time Paul wrote this letter were servants in the households of rich, pagan Romans. Slaves are bound to do what the master orders, or they will be punished. These converts to the Way of Jesus knew well what Paul is speaking of when he speaks of the slavery of sin. Someone who commits sin eventually becomes a slave to sin, and the consequence of sin will be spiritual death. Those who have been baptized have become children of God (so are the pagans, children of God, but that is a discussion for another time).

Paul has a message to the converts who had been slaves, and his message is rather surprising to those converts who were freemen, and especially to those who were members of the Roman upper class. “You are slaves of the one you obey, whether of sin, that leads to death, or to obedience, that leads to righteousness.” Paul does not say, as some have interpreted his meaning, that we must be slaves to God. Rather, the Christian must become accustomed to doing God's will (obeying the commandments) as a slave is accustomed to doing the will of their master. The master does not need to tell the faithful servant what to do hour by hour, or even day by day. The servant fulfils the master’s wishes because they are ingrained in his own consciousness. In the same way, God’s will should become ingrained in the conscience of his children, as we become willing slaves of righteousness.

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Today’s gospel is taken from Luke (12:39-48).

Jesus says to his disciples: “Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” No one knows the day and the hour when Jesus will return in glory. His coming will be unannounced and unexpected. Just as the owner of a house must be alert to prevent a thief from breaking and entering, the disciples of Jesus must be ready to meet him when he comes again in glory.

Peter has questions about what Jesus means: “Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?” He understands that the pagans will not know when Jesus is coming. But, does this mean that even the disciples will not be alerted, and might be taken unawares?

Jesus replies to Peter with another parable, this one is about a steward, the head of the household staff. Among his duties is to make sure that everyone in the household, both the family and the staff, are fed at the proper time. This is an important duty at all times, and Jesus’ question involves a special circumstance: What will happen if the lord of the manor goes away to do business in another city? How will the steward’s manage?

The obvious answer is this:  the steward performs his duties properly. When the master returns, that steward will be rewarded, and given even greater responsibility. But what if the master is away longer than first expected?

Here, Jesus mentions three possibilities. The steward who takes advantage of the master’s absence to mistreat the other members of the household staff, to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink to excess and get drunk, will be punished severely, dismissed from service, and treated like a pagan. Jesus also speaks of two ordinary servants: the first one knew the duties that the master had assigned, and did not do what he was supposed to; the other one did not know what he was supposed to do, and did not perform them. The one who knew his responsibilities and ignored them will be beaten severely; the one who did not know what do deserves to be beaten even more severely, but he will be punished only lightly.

The moral of the story: Much will be required of someone who is entrusted with much. But even more will be required of someone who is entrusted with more.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Blessed Those Servants Whom The Master Finds Ready When He Returns!

Today’s first reading is taken from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (5:12-21).

In Genesis, we read that God told Adam that he could eat the fruit of every tree in the garden except one. If he disobeyed this command, he would die (Genesis 1:17). So, Paul writes, “Sin entered the world through one man, and through sin, death. Thus, death has spread through the whole human race, since everyone has sinned.

It is certain that through one man’s sin, many have died. Yet it is still more certain that God’s grace, coming through one man, Jesus Christ, has come to many as an abundant free gift. The result of God’s gift is different from the result of Adam’s sin. Adam’s sin brought God’s judgment upon himself and all of his descendants, and with judgment sin and death. But God’s gift of grace, won for us by one man, Jesus Christ, has made it possible for everyone who will invite him into their lives to become righteous. Many have become sinners because Adam was disobedient; many will become righteous because Christ was obedient, even unto death.

When God’s law was given to Moses on Mount Sinai, the people now knew God’s standards of human behavior. Yet, few tried to live according to God’s standards. People knew what God wanted them to do, but most preferred to do what they wanted to do, even if it were against God’s will. In brief, people ignored God’s law, because they wanted to be a law unto themselves. Yet, however great the sin, God’s grace is even greater. God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son into the world, so that through him the world might be saved (John 3:16). The sacrifice of the Cross is sufficient to bring salvation to everyone who has ever lived, is now alive, or will be alive between now and the Second Coming of Christ. From God’s perspective, salvation is a free gift to all his children, because his first-born and only-begotten Son has already paid the ransom for the rest of us. That gift is more than sufficient to bring eternal salvation to all who trust him.

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In today’s gospel (Luke 12:35-39), Jesus tells his disciples to act like servants waiting for the master to return home from a wedding feast. They don’t know when the festivities will end, or whether the master might decided to come home early. So, they must be dressed, with their lamps lit, ready for action. Servants who are ready whenever the master returns will have a pleasant surprise. The master will put on an apron, seat them at the table, and wait on them. Whether in the middle of the night, or shortly before sunrise, happy those servants if he finds them ready.

The “moral of the story” is found one verse beyond the end of the gospel reading for today: “Keep yourself ready, because the Son of Man will come when you don’t expect him.” Jesus is not speaking only about his coming in glory at the end of time, but about the moment when our life in this world ends, and we stand before the throne of divine justice. 

Live today as if it will be the last day of your life -- remember, one of these days, it will be.  

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Things You Have Accumulated, To Whom Will They Belong?

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans (4:20-25):

From the viewpoint of human nature, it was impossible for Abraham to have children. He was elderly, and Sarah his wife was long past the age of childbearing. But when the LORD promised that he would have a son, he put his faith in God, convinced that God had the power to do what he had promised. This is why Paul writes that his faith in God “was credited to him as righteousness.”

Paul affirms it is not only Abraham whose faith in God will be credited as righteousness, but everyone who believes in him, who raised Jesus from the dead. The Pharisees and the Temple priests handed Jesus over to Pilate, who ordered that Jesus be executed by crucifixion. Both the religious and political authorities in Jerusalem believed that they were in control of the situation. The truth, though, is that these events were a part of God’s plan to redeem the children of Adam and Eve from sin. “God did not spare his own son, but gave him up for our sake” (Romans 8:32). If we have faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and act accordingly, striving to cooperate with the graces we are granted to grow in grace, and to trust in the divine mercy to forgive us when we stray from the path of righteousness, we reap the benefits of the sacrifice of Jesus, who was handed over to pay the price of our transgressions, and who was raised from the dead so that we might share in a like resurrection

Today’s Gospel reading is taken from Luke (12:13-21):

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Rabbi, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” It is possible that this man was a younger son. According to the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 21:17), the oldest son receives the lion’s share of the inheritance, and the younger sons receive less. Jesus answers with a question: “Friend, who appointed me as judge or arbiter between you?” Then, he takes advantage of the opportunity to teach the people about the danger of greed, by telling them a parable:

"There was a wealthy man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.” "Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods, And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."

"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you; and the things you have accumulated, to whom will they belong?”

Jesus concludes: “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich in what matters to God."

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Luke’s gospel often focuses on the pursuit of wealth as an obstacle to spiritual growth. It is no surprise that many of those who have a generous share of this world’s goods want more. It seems that they don’t own what they have, what they have owns them. Greed is a bottomless pit; no matter how much you put in, it never gets filled. Misers live miserable lives. They die rich, and their wealth goes to others who did nothing to earn it.

How is wealth measured? Typically, we consider how much we have. But the saints suggest that we ought to measure how much we give away. Rich people who spend their lives accumulating money and property, show how poor they feel. People who are content with who they are don’t waste their time like that.

How is greed measured? It can’t be done with any precision, but there are some telling indications. Have you ever noticed that the value of a sum of money varies depending on whether you are getting it, or giving it away? The amount remains the same; the difference is your attitude. If you could measure that attitude, it would be your “greed index.”

Why would we want to know how greedy we are? For the same reason that we would rather look in a real mirror than in a carnival mirror. We want to know the truth about ourselves, however ugly it might be. “The truth will set you free,” Jesus said (John 8:32). Self-flattery is really self-delusion.

Once upon a time, a rich man visited a monastery and offered a gift of money to the Abbot. The Abbot answered, “No, thank you. We have enough now.” The man was taken aback. Then he said, “I just learned how poor I am. I don’t have anything to give you but money.” Wealth doesn’t make you rich; it is a poor substitute for peace of mind. Real wealth is a generous spirit. To experience the freedom and the joy of giving, it is not enough to think about it: you have to do it. Freely you have received; freely you should give (Matthew 10:8).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Whoever Wishes To Be Great Must Be The Servant of the Others; Whoever Wishes To Be First Must Be The Slave Of All.

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Prophesy of Isaiah (53:10-11).

These verses from Isaiah are a prophecy of the mission of Jesus, who offered himself in sacrifice for the sins of humankind.

The notion of sacrifice, the death of one for the benefit of many was an essential principle in the religious practice of the people of Israel, in which a Temple priest sacrificed a lamb (or a pair of sparrows, for poor folk) to repair the people’s relationship with God, which had been bruised or broken by sinful behavior.

Since it is God who was offended, only one who shares divine nature can make reparation; since it is human beings who offend God by our disobedience, only someone who shares human nature can atone for our sins. Thus Jesus becomes, as we say in the Eucharistic Prayer, “the priest, the altar, and the lamb of sacrifice”.

Further, having offered his life to redeem us from the burden of our sins, he will see and rejoice in the fulfillment of his sacrifice in eternity, where “he will see his offspring during a long life” life without end in Heaven. And, through him, the will of the LORD – to forgive our iniquities – will be accomplished through him.

Today’s Second Reading is taken from the Epistle to the Hebrews (4:14-16):

We have a great high priest, Jesus, the Son of God, who has “passed through the heavens” to the highest heaven, where God abides. As we have seen already in the First Reading, Jesus, the eternally begotten Son of God, is qualified to make reparation to the Father. But, when Jesus came to earth, he shared our human nature, including not only our physical infirmities, but he was subject to temptation, as we are, although he did not sin, as well have done. Yet he took upon himself the burden of our sins, and died a terrible and extremely painful death on the cross.

Jesus is a great High Priest in whom we can place our trust. We can approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, because Jesus sits at God’s right hand, interceding on our behalf. Through Him, we can receive courage in the face of trials, strength in the face of temptation, and forgiveness for our sins. Jesus has accomplished all of this by his sacrifice on the cross. All we need to is approach the throne of mercy with humble and contrite hearts, with confidence trust in the divine mercy.

Today’s Gospel is taken from Mark (10:35-45) :

The episode begins when James and John, the sons of Zebedee, ask Jesus if they can sit at the right and the left of Jesus when he comes into his glory. Jesus answers their request with a question of his own: “Can you drink the cup I will drink, or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (He was speaking of his temptation, crucifixion and death.) “We can”, they answer, and Jesus says, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the same baptism, but the places at my right and my left are not for me to grant.”

When the other disciples hear this, they are jealous and angry. They didn’t think that Zebedee’s sons were better than they were, even if their mother, Salome, was a kinswoman of Mary, mother of Jesus. Jesus has to teach them all what true greatness is. People in the world think that people who exercise power and authority are great. But in Jesus’ Kingdom, the greatest person is the one who is a servant to the others. The word “servant” in verse 42 translates the word “diakonos” in the original Greek. But in the following verse, Jesus goes even further, using the word “doulos”, which means “slave. Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all.” Jesus concludes by speaking of himself. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Do Not Worry About What To Say. The Holy Spirit Will Give You The Right Words To Say.

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (4:13, 16-18)

God promised Abraham that through him all of the people of the earth would receive blessing (Genesis 12:3). God also promised that Abraham’s descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky. Abraham did not receive this promise through the Law, which God gave to Moses four and a half centuries after Abraham’s time, but through righteousness that comes from faith (Genesis 15:6).

Therefore, Paul writes, the promise is not earned (by obedience to the law, for instance), but it is a gift granted by God to Abraham and his descendants, not only to those who merely obey the Law, but to all who have faith, like Abraham, who is the father of all the faithful, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations” (Genesis 17:5). He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he placed his trust, God who gives life to the dead, and calls into being that which did not exist. Abraham believed, hoping against hope, that God’s promise would be fulfilled, that he would become the father of many nations, and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5).

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 105:6-7, 8-9, 42-43

R. The Lord remembers his covenant forever.

You descendants of Abraham, his servants,
sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
He, the LORD, is our God;
throughout the earth his judgments prevail.

R. The Lord remembers his covenant forever.

He remembers forever his covenant
which he made binding for a thousand generations –
Which he entered into with Abraham
and by his oath to Isaac.

R. The Lord remembers his covenant forever.

For he remembered his holy word
to his servant Abraham.
And he led forth his people with joy;
with shouts of joy, his chosen ones.

R. The Lord remembers his covenant forever.

Today’s Gospel reading is taken from Luke (12:8-12). Jesus tells his disciples, “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I, the Son of Man, will acknowledge before God’s angels. On the other hand, he also says, “But whoever disowns me before men will be disowned before God’s angels. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.”

The teaching of Jesus that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an unforgiveable sin is found not only here, in Luke 12:10, but also in Matthew 12:32 and Mark 3:29. The Church teachings that there are no limits to God’s mercy, but those who deliberately refuse to accept God’s mercy by repentance reject the forgiveness of sin, and the salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Such hardness of heart can lead to final impenitence and eternal loss. [John Paul II, DeV 46]

The disciples of Jesus will have troubles because of their faith, but Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will help them. They may be brought before a synagogue court, or perhaps the Sanhedrin [the Temple Court] would hear their cases. Later, Gentile rulers will oppose them, as well. But Jesus reminds them, “Do not worry about how you will defend yourselves, or what you will say. The Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment the right words to say.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

Have No Fear! You Are Worth More Than Many Sparrows!

Today's First Reading is taken from Paul's Letter to the Romans (4:1-8)

Paul continues his teaching about faith. Paul wants the reader to know that his message about faith is not a new message, so he explains how the Hebrew Scripture teaches the same message, choosing Abraham and David as models of faith. When Abraham was told by God that Sarah, his wife, would bear a son, and that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky, Abraham had faith in God that this would happen. Abraham trusted in God’s word, and God credited his faith to him as righteousness (cf. Genesis 15:6).

A worker’s wages are not credited as a gift, but as earnings. But no one can earn a right relationship with God. When a sinner trusts in God who justifies even the ungodly, such faith is credited as righteousness. Because of God’s merciful love, the sinner is forgiven, and by continuing to cooperate with God’s grace, that sinner can – and will – become a saint. This is the experience of Saul of Tarsus, a persecutor of the Way of Jesus who became the Apostle to the Gentiles. It is the experience of Augustine, the son of Monica, whose prayers for his conversion from a profligate and sinful life were answered, and he became a great saint.

Paul then turns to the experience of King David. It is likely that you are familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, the soldier who lived next door to the palace. Perhaps you also know of an earlier incident, when Saul was murdered while he slept, and David became King. Paul closes this section of his Epistle to the Romans by citing a psalm written by David many years later, a psalm of thanksgiving for God’s boundless and undeserved mercy:

Today’s first reading concludes with the first strophe of today’s Responsorial (Psalm 32).

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R. I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.

Blessed are they
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed are they
to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
in whose spirit there is no deceit. R.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,
and you took away the guilt of my sin. R.

Rejoice in the LORD, and be glad, you who are just;
exult, all you who are upright of heart.

R. I turn to you, Lord, in time of trouble, and you fill me with the joy of salvation.

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

Today’s Gospel is taken from Luke (12:1-7):

At that time, a large crowd had gathered and they were trampling each other underfoot, to get closer to Jesus. Jesus first began to speak to his disciples. “Be on guard against the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” “Leaven” or “yeast” is a substance that bakers use to make bread rise. Jesus uses the word to describe the attitude of the Pharisees, calling it “hypocrisy”. The dictionary defines hypocrisy as: pretending to be what one is not, or to believe what one does not; especially: the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion.

Jesus continues: “There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, no secret that will not be made known. What you say in the dark will be heard in the daylight; what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the rooftops.” Jesus’ words recall an “ironic dictionary" definition of a secret: Something you reveal only to a few of your closest friends. Then, each of your closest friends tells your secret to a few of their closest friends, etc. etc. etc.

Jesus then speaks about the fear of death: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and can do no more. I will tell you whom you should fear: Be afraid of the one who has the power, after your body is dead, to throw you into Hell. That is who you should really be afraid of!”

After a person's physical body dies, no one can kill them a second time. But God’s power remains after the body dies. God is the judge of the living and of the dead. He can punish the wicked and send them to Gehenna. This is the Aramaic word meaning “the Valley of Hinnom”, which was just outside the walls of Jerusalem, and the people of the city brought their rubbish there. As it happens in rubbish dumps in our own time, the Valley of Hinnom was the source of frequent fires, creating billows of black smoke, and an unspeakably ugly stench.

Then Jesus changes his theme from the power of God to punish, to God’s loving kindness. At the market, it cost only two pennies to buy five sparrows. The disciples have nothing to fear. God knows the number of hairs on our heads (and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a woman with flowing curly locks or a man with only a fringe from ear to ear). Have no fear! You are worth more than many sparrows!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

O My God! Source Of All Mercy! Give Me Your Grace, Now And In The Future!

On March 28, 1515 a daughter was born to the wife of Don Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda, Doña Beatriz Davila y Ahumada; she was baptized Teresa. After the death of her mother, when Teresa was 14 years old, and the marriage of her oldest sister, Teresa was sent to the convent school of the Augustinian nuns at Avila, but due to an illness which partially crippled her, she was forced to leave after a year and a half, and remained at home. At 17, she expressed the desire to enter the convent, but her father opposed her decision, and she left the family manor in November 1535 to enter the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation at Avila. Seeing the depth of her commitment, her father and family consented.

Soon after taking her vows, Teresa became seriously ill, and her condition was worsened by inadequate medical treatment, and her health remained permanently impaired. During the years of suffering, she began the practice of mental prayer, but fearing that her conversations with worldly relatives, who often visited the convent, Teresa discontinued the practice until she came under the influence of Dominican and later Jesuit spiritual directors.

Meanwhile, God had begun to inspire her with “intellectual visions and locutions”, to use the words of her autobiography, manifestations in which the five exterior senses were not involved, but the words heard and the images seen were impressed directly on her mind. Feeling unworthy of such graces because of her shortcomings, which her delicate conscience considered to be terrible faults, she stopped praying almost completely for years, under the guise of humility, considering herself a wicked sinner who did not deserve to receive favors from God. When she was 41 years old, a priest persuaded her to go back to prayer, but she continued to find it difficult. “I was more anxious for the hour of prayer to end, than I was to remain there. I don’t know what great penance I would rather have undertaken than to practice prayer." But the more steadfastly she tried to resist, the more powerfully did God work within her soul. Eventually, it would be the task of Jesuit Father Francis Borgia and Franciscan Friar Peter of Alcantara, both of whom became canonized saints, and a number of other priests whose names are not recorded in history, to discern the work of God, and guide Teresa on the path to her own sainthood.

Teresa became determine to found a new convent that went back to the fundamental spirit of a contemplative order: a life of simplicity, poverty, and prayer. After much difficulty, Teresa founded the Convent of Saint Joseph at Avila, on August 24, 1562. It was the first foundation of the “Discalced Carmelite Nuns of the Primitive Rule”; six months later, she received permission to take up residence there. After four years, she welcomed the visit of the General of the Carmelites, Father Giambattista Rossi, who not only approved of what she had done, but gave her permission for the foundation of other convents of nuns, and also of friars. With the assistance of Antonio de Heridia, prior of Medina, and Juan de la Cruz de Yepes y Heredia (Saint John of the Cross), she established the reform of the Carmelite friars.

In 1582, Teresa was invited by an Archbishop to found a convent in his diocese, but when she arrived in the midst of a raging rainstorm, he ordered her to leave. “And the weather was wonderful too”, was her only comment. Although she was ill, she was asked to attend to a noblewoman giving birth. But by the time she got there, the baby had already been born. Teresa commented, “The saint won’t be needed after all!” Too ill to leave, she died on October 4, 1582 at Alba de Tormes in Castile. Her incorrupt body remains at Alba. Teresa de Jesús, also known as Teresa of Avila, was beatified by Pope Paul V on April 24, 1614, and canonized on March 12, 1622, by Pope Gregory XV. In 1970, she was awarded a title she had long held in the popular mind: Doctor of the Church.

Prayer to Redeem Lost Time
O my God! Source of all mercy! I acknowledge Your sovereign power. While recalling the wasted years that are past, I believe that You, Lord, can in an instant turn this loss to gain. Miserable as I am, yet I firmly believe that You can do all things. Please restore to me the time lost, giving me Your grace, both now and in the future, that I may appear before You in "wedding garments." Amen.

Saint Teresa of Avila

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lord, You Give Back To Everyone According To Their Works.

First Reading
Romans 2:1-11

You, O man, are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment.
For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself,
since you, the judge, do the very same things.
We know that the judgment of God on those who do such things is true.

Do you suppose, then, you who judge those who engage in such things
and yet do them yourself,
that you will escape the judgment of God?
Or do you hold his priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience
in low esteem, unaware that the kindness of God
would lead you to repentance?

By your stubbornness and impenitent heart,
you are storing up wrath for yourself
for the day of wrath and revelation
of the just judgment of God,
who will repay everyone according to his works,
eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality
through perseverance in good works,
but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth
and obey wickedness.

Yes, affliction and distress will come upon everyone
who does evil, Jew first and then Greek.
But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone
who does good, Jew first and then Greek.
There is no partiality with God.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 62:2-3, 6-7, 9

R. Lord, you give back to everyone according to his works.

Only in God is my soul at rest;
from him comes my salvation.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed at all.

R. Lord, you give back to everyone according to his works.

Only in God be at rest, my soul,
for from him comes my hope.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I shall not be disturbed.

R. Lord, you give back to everyone according to his works.

Trust in him at all times, O my people!
Pour out your hearts before him;
God is our refuge!

R. Lord, you give back to everyone according to his works.

Luke 11:42-46

The Lord said:
“Woe to you Pharisees!
You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb,
but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God.
These you should have done, without overlooking the others.

Woe to you Pharisees!
You love the seat of honor in synagogues
and greetings in marketplaces.
Woe to you!
You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”

Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply,
“Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.”
And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law!
You impose on people burdens hard to carry,
but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”

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

The “seats of honor” in the synagogue faced the congregation, and those who sat there were visible to everyone. The Pharisees loved to sit right up front, so everyone could see how pious they were. Jesus also calls the front seats the perfect place – for hypocrites. The Pharisees’ religious practice was superficial, in the strict sense of the word: it was about surfaces. Jesus once said, “If your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

Today’s first reading, from Paul’s Letter to the Romans, touches on another facet of hypocrisy, reminding us that “by judging others, you condemn yourself”. Most of us, when we were infants, received baptism, and became members of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church”. Yet, when the Church receives new members who, as grownups or teenagers, belonged to other communities of Christians, they are welcomed into the Catholic Church without being baptized again. Clearly, that signifies that they became members of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” when they were first baptized. As Christians, we believe in One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God IS Truth, the absolute fullness of truth is an aspect of God’s nature (as IS the fullness of justice, of mercy, and of love). We humans, by our very nature, are imperfect beings. We cannot know the fullness of truth until (and unless) we are welcomed into the heavenly presence of God at the end of our natural lives. From the perspective of divine justice, God has ever reason to deny some of us (perhaps most of us, even all of us) entry into Heaven because of our sinfulness. If that does not happen, it is because the fullness of God’s justice is exercise in the fullness of God’s mercy and love.

One of the legal experts said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, what you are saying is insulting us, too!” He answered, “Woe also to you, scholars! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but do not lift one finger to help them." Jesus reminds those of us who administer the law, and interpret it for his people – and in doing so, reminds all of us – that our mission as members of Christ’s Church, is to reflect the “theological” virtues – the three which are the mirrors of God, faith, hope and love – in our own lives. I believe that God will give me the graces I need to do his will on earth. I hope that I will cooperate with God’s grace well enough to be admitted to heaven, and to help my brothers and sisters to achieve that goal. Finally, I keep reminding myself that God’s charity is exercised in mercy, and mercy in forgiveness, and that I must strive to emulate God’s charity if I am ever to be welcomed into His eternal above. For the measure I measure out will be measured back to me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Practice Charity, And Everything Will Be Clean For You.

Today’s First Reading is taken from the Epistle of Paul to the Romans (1:16-25).

Paul speaks boldly about the gospel, because it is God’s message, through which the power of God touches every person, whether Jew or Gentile. In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed to his people, a righteousness that moves “from faith to faith” Through faith, a person accepts God’s promise to grant to the repentant sinner forgiveness for sin, and the graces necessary to live according to God’s will and to share that faith with others. Thus, is it written, “The righteous shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4).

Paul goes on to speak about “the wrath of God”. God’s wrath is not like human anger, which is typically petty and selfish. God’s wrath is like the anger of the judge when issuing a sentence (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). God’s wrath arises because some of his children have chosen to be wicked, which Paul equates with godlessness, since disobeying God’s law is denying God’s will, which is tantamount to denying God’s very existence.

What we can know of God is evident to the wicked as well as to the just, because God has made his presence visible since the creation of the world. The writer of Psalm 19 said, “The heavens tell out the glory of God; the vault of heaven reveals his handiwork.” Paul used this explanation when teaching the pagans at Lystra (Acts 14:15-27); he used the same imagery in speaking to the philosophers in Athens (Acts 17:24-29). Paul concludes, “There is no possible excuse for their conduct, for though they knew God, they did not according glory or give him thanks.” Although they claimed to be wise, they became foolish, exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images formed to look like mortal men, and birds, animals and reptiles.

“That is why God handed them over to the lustful desires of their own hearts, and to the mutual degradation of their bodies. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie; they worshiped and revered creatures rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”


Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 19

R. The heavens proclaim the glory of God.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and their message to the ends of the world.

R. The heavens proclaim the glory of God.


Today’s gospel is taken from Luke (11:37-41):

After Jesus had finished speaking to the gathered crowd, one of the Pharisees invited him to have dinner at his home. When Jesus entered the hose, he immediately reclined at table to eat. The Pharisee was taken about because Jesus did not first wash his hands. This ritual was a sign that the diners came to the table had been purified after being in the world outside. Jesus may have touched something or someone unclean, which would have made him unclean until he washed.

Jesus berated his host: “You Pharisees! You cleanse the outside of cups and dishes but, on the inside, you are greedy and evil. You fools, God made both the outside and the inside. Practice charity, and behold, everything will be clean for you.”

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

Saint Augustine wrote: “There are many sorts of alms. What our Lord says, “Give alms, and everything will be clean for you”, applies to all practical deeds of mercy. It does not apply only to those who give food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, hospitality to the traveller, or refuge to the fugitive. It also means, forgive the one who has offended you.”

In the Latin of Augustine, the verb “donare” is the root of the word “condonare”. This is true of other modern languages as well, not only those with Latin roots, but those with Germanic roots as well: English: give/forgive; German: geben/vergeben.

In almsgiving, the gift comes from without: the wallet, the purse, the bank account. In forgiveness, the gift can come only from within: from the heart. The inner source from which forgiveness flows must be a pure, untainted source. Cyril of Alexandria wrote, “Christ shows that those who sincerely serve God must be pure and clean from what is hidden in the mind.” If the source of your forgiveness is pure, neither your thoughts nor your actions will be tainted. Then, as Jesus said, “everything will be clean for you.”

Monday, October 12, 2009

This Generation Will Seek A Sign. But No Sign Will Be Given To It, Except The Sign of Jonah.

Today’s First Reading is taken from Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (1:1-7).

The letter begins in the usual way at that time. First, the writer’s name, then, a brief description: “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ”. In the Old Testament, “slave” described a loyal servant of God (for instance, Abraham and Moses in Psalm 105: 6, 26). Paul wanted to be Jesus’ obedient servant; in fact, he wanted to be obedient to the LORD as totally as a slave obeys his master.

Then, Paul says that he has been “called to be an apostle, and set apart for the Gospel”. At first, the word “apostle” referred to the twelve disciples whom Jesus had sent out to preach the good news (Luke 6:13). Paul tells the people of Rome that he has received a similar calling, to bring the Good News to the nations – the people of the rest of the world. (Galatians 1:15).

The next two verses tell us what the Good News consists of: Jesus, according to his human nature, belongs to the family of King David, but by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is the Son of God. In Peter’s speech to the people in the Temple Square on the day of Pentecost, God promised not to leave the “Holy One” in the grave, but raised him from the dead. The apostles were witnesses to the resurrection (Acts 2:24-33). The resurrection is the evidence that Jesus is the son of God.

Grace is, by definition, a gift that no one deserves. Once, Paul the Pharisee used to think that he could please God by obeying every detail of the law. Now he knows that eternal life cannot be earned by good deeds, but is God’s good gift. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, and for the sake of his name, Paul has received grace and the call to be an apostle, sent to call the people of the nations to “obedience that comes from faith”.

Among the disciples of Jesus in Rome, there certainly were some of Jewish origin, but many if not most of them were gentiles. Some manuscripts of this Epistle do not include the words, “in Rome”. This suggests that local churches outside of Rome received copies of this letter. Paul concludes by reminding them that they “are loved by God, and called to be saints. He wishes them “grace and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 98

R. The Lord has made known his salvation.
Sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous deeds;
his right hand and his holy arm
have won victory for him. R.

The LORD has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to the house of Israel. R.

All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into song; sing praise. R.

Today’s gospel is taken from Luke (11:29-32):
As the crowds increased, people began to demand evidence of Jesus’ authority. Jesus answered, “This is a wicked generation, which asks for miraculous signs. But no sign will be given to them, except the sign of Jonah. Jonah was the prophet who brought God’s message to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria. He warned the people there that they must change their ways or God would destroy their city (Jonah 3:4) Jonah spent three days in the belly of a great fish (Jonah 1:17). This was evidence of the resurrection of Jesus on the third day (Matthew 12:38-40). Jesus continued, “The Queen of the south will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them. She came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and there is someone greater than Solomon here.” The people of Nineveh will also declare that the Jews of Jesus’ time are guilty, since when Jonah gave them God’s warning, the people of Nineveh repented their wicked ways, “and there is something greater than Jonah here.”

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Go, Sell All That You Have, And Come, Follow Me!

First Reading
Wisdom 7:7-11

I prayed, and prudence was given me;
I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.

I preferred her to scepter and throne,
and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her,
nor did I liken any priceless gem to her;
because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand,
and before her, silver is to be accounted mire.

Beyond health and comeliness I loved her,
and I chose to have her rather than the light,
because the splendor of her never yields to sleep.
Yet all good things together came to me in her company,
and countless riches at her hands.

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 90:12-13, 14-15, 16-17

R. Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!

R. Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!

Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
Make us glad, for the days when you afflicted us,
for the years when we saw evil.

R. Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!

Let your work be seen by your servants
and your glory by their children;
and may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours;
prosper the work of our hands for us!
Prosper the work of our hands!

R. Fill us with your love, O Lord, and we will sing for joy!

Reading II
Hebrews 4:12-13

Brothers and sisters:
Indeed the word of God is living and effective,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow,
and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
No creature is concealed from him,
but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him
to whom we must render an account.

Mark 10:17-27

As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up,
knelt down before him, and asked him,
"Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

Jesus answered him, "Why do you call me good?
No one is good but God alone.

You know the commandments: You shall not kill;
you shall not commit adultery;
you shall not steal;
you shall not bear false witness;
you shall not defraud;
honor your father and your mother."

He replied and said to him,
"Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth."

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him,
"You are lacking in one thing.
Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor
and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

At that statement his face fell,
and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples,
"How hard it is for those who have wealth
to enter the kingdom of God!"

The disciples were amazed at his words.
So Jesus again said to them in reply,
"Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!
It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle
than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."

They were exceedingly astonished and said among themselves,
"Then who can be saved?"

Jesus looked at them and said,
"For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.
All things are possible for God."

Peter began to say to him,
"We have given up everything and followed you."

Jesus said, "Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come."

+++    +++    +++    +++     

Listen to the words of King Solomon at the beginning of Chapter 7, the six verses before today’s First Reading

I am a mortal man, a descendant of the first man formed on the earth, the same as everyone else. From the seed of a man, and the pleasure that accompanies marriage, I was molded into flesh within my mother’s body and grew there, body and blood, for a period of ten months. When I was born, I breathed the common air, and wailing, uttered the first sound common to all. I was wrapped in swaddling clothes, and nurtured with constant care. For no king has a different origin or birth. Entry into life is the same for everyone; and in the same way, everyone leaves it (7:1-6).

The First Reading provides the background to the story of the young man in today’s gospel. “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” he asks Jesus. He has done well for himself in this life; now he wants to find out how he can be equally successful in the next. To begin with, Jesus gives him the standard response, one which he should know already, “You know the commandments …” and then recites them . The man answers, “I’ve observed them from my youth.” Knowing the commandments since your Bar Mitzvah is one thing; observing them faithfully is something else again! But he was speaking to the wrong person. He was confident that he could stand before God on his own merits. But his smug self-assurance is misplaced, and identical to that of the Pharisees.

Jesus does not challenge him directly, though. He simply draws him out further. We are used to hearing this story, and its impact is somehow softened for us. In Jesus’ time, wealth and social status (which tended to come paired) were generally considered a sign of God’s blessing. Jesus looked at him lovingly and said to him, “You are lacking in only one thing. Go, sell all you have, and give the proceeds to the needy. Then, come follow me.” This was too much for the young man, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions. He will be forever remembered as the only person in the gospels who turned down a direct invitation from Jesus, and walked away.

Jesus then turned and spoke to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God!” They were astonished at his words, but he went even further, “Children, how difficult it is for those who put their trust in wealth to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle that for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.”

Some commentators suggest that Jesus was referring to a small gate in the walls of Jerusalem known as “Needle’s Eye Gate.” But the fact is that camels could get through that gate. Jesus is asserting that it is impossible for a rich man to enter God’s Kingdom. The disciples were understandably puzzled, since they came from the same tradition as the young man. “Then, who can be saved?”

Jesus’ reply gives us the solution to the conundrum: “For human beings, it is impossible, but not for God. For God, all things are possible.”

The clear implication here is that the number of one’s possessions and their monetary worth is not nearly as dangerous as one’s attachment to them. There are generous millionaires and there are miserly paupers. To be freed from the hypnotic influence of possessions is to be prepared to put the needs of others above our own comfort and convenience. It was Saint Augustine who said that, from a Christian perspective, the surplus of the wealthy is owed to the poor. Here, surplus means all that is not required for a modest life style. I believe Augustine would apply the same measure to the wealth of nations.