Friday, July 31, 2009

Sing With Joy to God Our Help

Ignatius ( Iñigo, in his native Basque) was born in the Basque country on the borders of Spain and France in 1491. The son of a noble family, he spent his early years at court, and then became a junior officer in the army of the King of Spain. At the age of 30, he was wounded in a battle against the French at Pamplona. During a long and painful convalescence he read a life of Christ and a collection of the lives of the saints, and became aware of his calling to devote his life entirely to God. He spent some time in a Dominican monastery, and then made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He then studied theology at the University of Paris, where he met his first followers. Later, in Rome, he formed them into the Society of Jesus. His knightly quest for glory led him not to military honors, but to sainthood.

Today’s first reading is taken from the third book of the Torah, the Law which God dictated to Moses on Mount Sinai to guide the people of Israel on their journey to the Holy Land and their pilgrimage to God’s Heavenly Kingdom. This reading is not a trip through space but through time, a calendar of observances to be held throughout the year, beginning on the fourteenth day of the first month, with the weeklong spring festival of Passover, celebrating their release from slavery in Egypt, yet at the same time, eating only unleavened bread in memory of the dangers and difficulties of their journey. On the tenth of the seventh month is the Yom Kippur, when a sacred assembly with fasting and prayer is held to atone for their sins. The reading lists several other readings, festivals and fasts, sacrifices and libations prescribed for every day throughout the year.

Today’s gospel also speaks of a spiritual journey, but from a very different perspective. Jesus returned from Jerusalem to Nazareth, where he taught the people in the synagogue. His neighbors are astonished at how he has changed. “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t Mary his mother? Aren’t James and John, Simon and Jude his kinfolk? Where did he get such wisdom and power?”

Matthew tells us that Jesus “did not” work wonders in Nazareth because of his neighbors’ unbelief. Mark (6:5), the earliest gospel, says that Jesus “could not” exercise his ability to cure the sick and free the obsessed from the power of the evil one in his native village.

The theme of rejection runs throughout the gospels. “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first” (John 15:18), and continues after the Resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit. “Was there even one prophet whom your ancestors never persecuted?” asked Stephen the deacon, just before they stoned him to death (Acts 7:52).

Don’t get the impression that Jesus was angry, embittered or disappointed by his treatment in his home town. He probably expected it. In Luke’s account of this incident, he even seems to provoke it. Like all of us, he starts out with ambitious imagination. We expect everyone to love us as our parents did – and if we don’t have positive memories of our youth, we imagine that other people will treat us better than they did. When we learn that the world is not like what we imagined, we are tempted to become bitter and disillusioned, and so we climb aboard the rollercoaster of emotions. If we had no expectations, we would also have no bitterness. But, without faith in God, we would also be without hope. “Father, let this cup pass from me. Yet, your will be done, not mine”, cried Jesus in the Garden. And from the cross, “Eli, eli, lema sabacthani!” (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) Jesus’ humanity was tested well beyond what his disciples are subject to, Jesus’ trust in the Father can be our guide on your path of discipleship -- and mine.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

How Lovely Is Your Dwelling Place, Lord, Mighty God!

Today’s First Reading describes the construction of the Dwelling, the tabernacle in which the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Moses did everything exactly as the LORD commanded him. He put in place the pedestals, built the framework, inserted the crossbars and set up the posts. Then he spread the tent over the Dwelling, and put a covering on top of the tent, just as the LORD commanded him.

He then took the Tablets of the Law and placed them in the Ark, and put the atonement cover over them. Then he brought the Ark into the tabernacle and hung the curtain, shielding the Ark of the Commandments, as the LORD had commanded him.

Then a cloud covered the meeting tent, and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling. Moses was unable to enter the meeting tent, because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the Dwelling. Whenever the cloud was lifted from the Dwelling, the children of Israel would continue on their journey; but if the cloud did not left, they would not go forward. During the day, the cloud of the LORD was seen over the Dwelling, and at night, fire was seen in the cloud by the people of Israel during all stages of their journey. (Exodus 40:16-21; 34-38)

This reading not only tells us in great detail how the Ark of the Covenant, the Dwelling place of the LORD was built, but also its purpose: to guide the children of Israel, who had been slaves in Egypt, on their journey to the Land of Promise. It was not only an awesome sight, but a confirming sign of God’s providence. It should call us to ask this question: In what ways have I been aware of the presence of the Lord, the Dwelling, in my life during the past twenty-four hours? Have I allowed the Lord to lead me? In what ways have I felt unworthy to enter the divine Presence, and in what ways have I allowed it to shine forth in my words and actions.

+++    +++    +++    +++   

Today’s gospel brings us to the conclusion of the discourse on the Kingdom of Heaven, which Jesus presents to his disciples, mostly in the form of parables. The last parable is presented in language that must have been very familiar to Peter, Andrew, James and John, who owned and operated a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus compares the Kingdom to a net that was let down into the sea, and collected all sorts of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected all the good fish in buckets, but threw the bad away. That is how it will be at the end of the age. Angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous, and threw them into a fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Then Jesus asks them a question: “Have you understood all these things?” “Yes,” they reply. And he said, “Therefore, every teacher of the law who has been instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.

When Jesus had finished these parables, he moved away from there.

In this concluding passage of Jesus’ discourse, he reminds us that God does not act like a fisherman separating good fish from bad fish, or like a judge who acquits the innocent and condemns the guilty. God allows both, and it is only at the end of time that there will be a final judgment. In the meantime, there are good and bad together, both among us, and within us.

Preachers and teachers are wont to draw clear lines between good and evil. That is not hard to do in a classroom or from a pulpit, but the line that is drawn separates what is objectively right from what is objectively wrong. On either side of that line, there is a great spectrum of virtuous thoughts, words and deeds on one side, and vicious thoughts, words and deeds on the other, with the most egregious and the most praiseworthy at the end zones, and the least significant on both sides of the midfield.

But it is not so within the human heart, where a constant conflict goes on between the desire to serve God and the temptation to satisfy our lower nature. And so we find this principle at work within us: “When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. In my inner self, I delight in God’s law; but there is another law at work in the members of my body, one that wages war against the law of my mind, and makes me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my body. What a wretch I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:21-25)

The holiest of God’s servants, from Paul of Tarsus to Teresa of Calcutta, struggled with this conflict throughout their lives, and sometimes expressed doubt that they would be saved. So, if you feel conflicted, you are in very good company! Do what they did: Praise God for the temptations – and even for the failures, which afford God your Father in Heaven  opportunity to exercise divine mercy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Martha, Martha!

There are very few instances in the gospels where someone is identified as a friend of Jesus. One occurs in John, chapter 11, verse 5, where we read, "Jesus loved Martha and her sister (Mary) and Lazarus (their brother)" It would seem that Jesus was a frequent guest at Martha's home in Bethany, a village on the hillside across the Kedron valley, about two miles from Jerusalem. There are accounts of three visits in the scriptures, one in the gospel of Luke and two in the gospel of John.

In Luke, Martha welcomes Jesus and his disciples to her home, and immediately sets about preparing a meal for them. Imagine her frustration when her sister Mary, instead of going to the kitchen to help, sits at Jesus' feet , listening to him speak. Martha doesn't speak to her sister, but to Jesus, and her attitude is fairly obvious in the words she chooses: "Don't you care that my sister has left me alone to do the serving? Tell her to help me!' Jesus responds gently, "Martha, Martha! You are are worried and upset about many things. But Mary has made the better choice, and it will not be taken from her. " In Martha, we can see ourselves, worried and distracted by all the cares and concerns we have in this world, and neglecting to spend some time listening to Jesus.

The next visit, narrated by John, occurs at Martha's home a few days after the death of Lazarus, her brother. A house full of mourners had come to grieve with her. When she hears that Jesus has arrived from Galilee, she leaves her guests, and goes to meet him. Again, her strong personality shows clearly in her choice of words, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!" Then she takes a breath, swallows her frustration, and continues, "But I know that even now God will grant you whatever you ask of him." Jesus comforts her with words of hope: "Your brother will rise again." "I know my brother will rise again, in the resurrection at the end of time." Jesus continues, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will never die." Then he goes out to the garden tomb, where Lazarus has laid for four days, and calls him back to life. We meet Martha one last time at her home in Bethany, where she gave a dinner in Jesus' honor. While Jesus, his disciples, Lazarus and the other guests were reclining at table, Martha's sister Mary came and knelt at Jesus' feet and anointed them with nard, an expensive aromatic ointment. This caused quite a commotion, especially from Judas Iscariot. But there was not a word of complaint from the lady of the house, Martha. In fact, only two words are written about her: "Martha served". She isn't in the spotlight, she doesn't complain about the commotion. She simply serves Jesus.

Yet, wouldn't it be wonderful if when we finally meet Jesus face-to-face, what he had to say was: "You listened, and you served."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Lord Is Kind And Merciful, Slow To Anger And Abounding In Kindness

Reading 1
Exodus 33:7-11; 34:5b-9, 28

The tent, which was called the meeting tent,
Moses used to pitch at some distance away, outside the camp.
Anyone who wished to consult the LORD
would go to this meeting tent outside the camp.
Whenever Moses went out to the tent, the people would all rise
and stand at the entrance of their own tents,
watching Moses until he entered the tent.

As Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down
and stand at its entrance while the LORD spoke with Moses.
On seeing the column of cloud stand at the entrance of the tent,
all the people would rise and worship
at the entrance of their own tents.

The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face,
as one man speaks to another.
Moses would then return to the camp,
but his young assistant, Joshua, son of Nun,
would not move out of the tent.
Moses stood there with the LORD and proclaimed his name, “LORD.”

Thus the LORD passed before him and cried out,
“The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity,
continuing his kindness for a thousand generations,
and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin;
yet not declaring the guilty guiltless,
but punishing children and grandchildren
to the third and fourth generation for their fathers’ wickedness!”

Moses at once bowed down to the ground in worship.
Then he said, “If I find favor with you, O LORD,
do come along in our company.
This is indeed a stiff-necked people;
yet pardon our wickedness and sins,
and receive us as your own.”

So Moses stayed there with the LORD for forty days and forty nights,
without eating any food or drinking any water,
and he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant,
the ten commandments.

Matthew 13:36-43

Jesus dismissed the crowds and went into the house.
His disciples approached him and said,
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the Kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the Evil One,
and the enemy who sows them is the Devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.

The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his Kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the Kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

+++    +++    +++    +++   

Do you know any stiff-necked people? The expression has many shades of meaning: haughty, arrogant, inflexible, quick to judge, lacking compassion, even cruel.

Moses saw his people, the children of Israel, as stiff-necked, ungrateful and stubborn. But still, he prayed the LORD to forgive them. The LORD’s response is a message for the people of every generation, of every nation, a message for Christians, Jews, Muslims, pagans, agnostics, and atheists. It is a marvelous description of the LORD’s attitude toward humanity in general, and toward each and every human person in particular:

“The LORD, the LORD, a merciful and gracious God,
slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity,
continuing his kindness for a thousand generations,
and forgiving wickedness and crime and sin;
yet not declaring the guilty guiltless,
but punishing children and grandchildren
to the third and fourth generation for their fathers' wickedness!”

A few years ago, in a Catholic high school classroom, probably not very long after we had celebrated the Mass for Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time, one of the students raised a question:

“Father, how can God say that he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and forgiving, if He punishes children and grandchildren to the third and four generations?” Martha’s question gave rise to a very animated discussion among these sophomores. Our conclusion: First: The Lord never refuses grace to his people, even if they persist in their wickedness. He will forgive us no matter how far we stray, or how long we stay away, if we are truly sorry. Next: If some folks willingly and willfully lead a life that is contrary to God’s will, and raise their family in that environment, then it is likely that the wickedness will persist for two, three, four and perhaps more generations. It is not that God punishes children and grandchildren directly for the sins of their ancestors. In the same passage, he has promised forgiveness to anyone who repents sincerely. But still, it is likely that the wickedness brought about by the sins of the ancestors will persist for many generations to come.

In today’s gospel, Jesus explains to his disciples the true meaning of the parables about sowing seed. It is the Son of Man (Jesus himself) who saws good seed in the field which is the world. The good seed are the children of God’s kingdom; the weeds are the stiff-necked people. It is not so much that they are hardened criminals, but rather that they are “hard of heart”. Sometimes the ground gets so choked off by weeds that we feel unable to respond. At such moments, we can be moved by the Holy Spirit to recognize that there are situations we are eager to see resolved but are the one who can resolve them. These situations are wonderful exercises in humility, and humility is truth, and truth is GOD.

Monday, July 27, 2009

I Will Open My Mouth In Parables.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1221), the account in Exodus of the crossing of the Red Sea, the story of the liberation of the children of Abraham from slavery in Egypt, prefigures the liberation wrought by Baptism. We go from birth with original sin through the waters of baptism to live out our lives, sometimes doing God’s will, but all too often falling back as did the Israelites.

Today’s first reading tells of the most egregious of these incidents:

Moses turned around, and came down the mountain, carrying in his hands the two tablets on which the Commandments were inscribed. The tablets were the handiwork of the LORD; the inscriptions were engraved by the LORD’s hand.

When Joshua heard the noise of the people shouting, he said to Moses, “There is the sound of battle in the camp.” Moses replied: “It is not the sound of victory, nor the sound of defeat. What I hear is the sound of singing.” As he drew near the camp, he saw the calf and the dancing. With that, his anger burned and he threw the tables down and broke them to pieces at the foot of the mountain. Then he took the calf they had made, melted it in the fire, ground it down to powder, which he scattered on the water, and made the children of Israel drink it.

Moses asked Aaron, “What did these people do to you, that you led them into so great a sin?” Aaron replied, “Do not be angry, my lord. You know how prone these people are to evil. They said to me, ‘Make us a god to be our leader. As for this fellow Moses, who brought us out of Egypt, we have no idea what has happened to him.’ So I told me, “Anyone who has golden jewelry, take it off.” Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it on the fire, and out came this calf!”

The next day Moses said to the people, "You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin." So Moses went back to the LORD and said, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." The LORD replied to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin." (Exodus 21:15-24. 30-34)

In today’s gospel, Jesus proposed a parable to the crowd: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." Then he told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed it into about half a bushel of flour until it worked all through the dough."  (Matthew 13:31-35)

Jesus never spoke to the crowds except in parables. This was to fulfill what was said by the psalmist: “I will open my mouth in parables, and will announce things that have been hidden since the creation of the world.”

In this gospel, Jesus instructs us on how we receive the gift of salvation, our membership in the Kingdom of Heaven. We go through our life, sometimes doing what God wants, and at other times, failing to do what God wants, because of our weakness and self-centeredness. While it is true that we are weak and self-centered, and we feel ashamed of our sinfulness. We tend to be judgmental of others, but we are often even more judgmental of ourselves.

Speaking of judgment, the truth is that only God can judge whether we have sinned, and if we have, whether our offense has been serious or trivial. We are not very accurate in making that assessment. The stories of many truly holy persons-- for instance,Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Faustina Kowalska and Theresa of Calcutta – suggest that what we like least in ourselves can be what God likes most.

The previous paragraph was written in prose. Prose is very useful for giving explanations. Yet sometimes, prosaic words are not adequate. Sometimes, we need pictures instead of words.

Children understand pictures much better than they understand words, which is why there’s a lot of pictures and not so many words in children’s books. But that isn’t only true for children. We dream in images, not in words, which suggests that, deep down inside, we are still children.

Jesus is the Son of God, and neither words nor images are necessary for Him to communicate with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is also the Son of Mary, through whom he shares our human nature. That is why Jesus spoke in parables, that is, in images. Jesus is trying to communicate heart-to-heart with us, his sisters and brothers. We are all children of God, younger brothers and sisters of Jesus.

In the Scriptures, God does not present himself to us as a Sovereign who demands homage and obedience under penalty of banishment from the Kingdom (although there are prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures and preachers in more recent times – especially in Puritan New England – whose language is deliberately intended to frighten people. It is no wonder that they speak in prose not in poetry.

Don’t try to explain today’s parable to yourself. Live with it. Get inside it – or let it get inside you. You are a child of God, and God wants to love you as his child. If you would like to experience God’s love to the fullest, then take to heart the word of Jesus, “Become like a little child.” Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to learn to call God Daddy. If you had a positive relationship with your dad when you were a preteen or a teen, that will help; if not, it might help even more. Allow the Child of God who told the story for the first time in today’s gospel to tell it you now, in the way a big brother would tell it to a younger member of the family. Don’t forget, if the Lord God of Heaven and Earth is your Father, then Jesus is your Brother, and your proper title is “Princess” -- unless it would more proper to call you “My Lord”.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

Reading 1
2 Kings 4:42-44

A man came from Baal-shalishah bringing to Elisha, the man of God,
twenty barley loaves made from the first fruits,
and fresh grain in the ear.

Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat.”
But his servant objected,
“How can I set this before a hundred people?”
Elisha insisted, “Give it to the people to eat.”
“For thus says the LORD,
'They shall eat and there shall be some left over.’”
And when they had eaten, there was some left over,
as the LORD had said.

Responsorial Psalm
Psalm 145

R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might.

R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

The eyes of all look hopefully to you,
and you give them their food in due season;
you open your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

The LORD is just in all his ways
and holy in all his works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon him,
to all who call upon him in truth.

R. The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.

Reading II
Ephesians 4:1-6

Brothers and sisters:
I, a prisoner for the Lord,
urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience,
bearing with one another through love,
striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace:
one body and one Spirit,
as you were also called to the one hope of your call;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism;
one God and Father of all,
who is over all and through all and in all.

John 6:1-15

Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee.
A large crowd followed him,
because they saw the signs he was performing on the sick.
Jesus went up on the mountain,
and there he sat down with his disciples.

The Jewish feast of Passover was near.
When Jesus raised his eyes
and saw that a large crowd was coming to him,
he said to Philip,
“Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”
He said this to test him,
because he himself knew what he was going to do.

Philip answered him,
“Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough
for each of them to have a little.”

One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.

Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.

When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”

So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments
from the five barley loaves
that had been more than they could eat.

When the people saw the sign he had done, they said,
“This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”
Since Jesus knew that they were going to come and carry him off
to make him king,
he withdrew again to the mountain alone.

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

Elisha is described in today’s First Reading as “a man of God”. Earlier in this chapter, he promised a woman who had offered him hospitality, and who longed to have a child, that she would conceive, and so it happened. Then he cured another child of a serious illness, and provided a never ending supply of lamp oil to another widow and her sons for them to use and sell.

Today, we hear about the multiplication of twenty barley loaves to feed one hundred people who are suffering from famine. The holy man had to insist to his servant to take the loaves and start sharing them, even though they didn’t seem to be enough. He promised that there would be more than sufficient food to satisfy the needs of the hungry crowd, and that after everyone had eaten their fill, there would be plenty of leftovers. So it was promised, and so it was fulfilled.

With today’s Gospel, we are beginning a four-week series of reflections from John on Jesus, the Bread of Life. Today’s reading is a follow-up to Mark’s gospel from last Sunday. The crowd has followed Jesus and his disciples to a deserted place, and when they get there, they are famished. The disciples complain that they don’t have money to give everyone even a bit. Tensions begin to rise.

The gospel of John is fraught with such tense situations. Earlier, there was a wedding feast at Cana in Galilee, when the wine ran out. Today, there are only five barley loaves and a couple of fish. Jesus does not appear overly concerned, “Tell them to sit down and relax.” Then he started picking up loaves of barley bread and giving them to the disciples, who gave them to the crowd reclining on the hillside. Five thousand men, not counting women and children got to eat their fill, and when all was said and done, there were twelve bushel baskets of leftovers. The people were so content that they wanted to make Jesus their king. But he slips away by himself, already well aware of that he will someday be proclaimed “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” – not on a throne, but on a cross.

There will be more references to “bread” in the coming weeks. Think of the boy who had five loaves and two fish. “What good are they, when there are so many to feed?” Jesus takes the lad’s offering and does something miraculous with it. If there is something Eucharistic in this message, it is that Jesus takes our gifts, which have received from his bounty, and takes what seems to be insignificant and, giving thanks, transforms it into a perfect offering.

Yet, that’s not the full meaning of Jesus’ blessing of the loaves. He empowers us to accept our very life as a gift, and our abilities, whatever they happen to be, as gifts meant for the nourishment of others. But, within some of us – No, within all of us – there is sense of “poor self-image” or “inferiority complex”, that tends to masquerade as humility. But genuine humility is truth, and the truth is that Jesus can empower us, as he empowered James and John, Peter and Andrew, and the others, to speak, to teach, to work miracles, to bear witness to His presence in their lives and in the world – and He will do the same for us, if we rid ourselves of self-importance or self-loathing (whichever applies) and allow the empty vessel to be filled with His grace.

In the Sacrament of the Altar, writes Pope Benedict XVI in Sacramentum Caritatis , his recently published encyclical, the Lord meets us and become our companion on our journey. The very word companion derives from two Latin words, cum meaning “with” and panis, meaning bread. It’s even clearer in Spanish, “con pan” and “compañero”. True joy, the Pope writes, is found in recognizing that the Lord is with us, accompanying us faithfully along our way.

The crowd’s hunger was plea enough for Jesus. He fed them abundantly before they had so much as asked. There are times when we do not recognize our true hunger; but if we simply admit and acknowledge our need before the Father, he will feed us with all that we need to lead the full life of our covenant with him in Christ Jesus, our true Bread of Life.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Do you know what you are asking? Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?

The apostle whose feast we are celebrating is known as “James the Greater”, to distinguish him from the other apostle of the same name, who is called “James the Less”. In the gospels, he is never mentioned apart from his brother John. Yet it is clear that he must have been held in high esteem by his fellow apostles, since soon after Pentecost he was chosen to be the leader of the Church of Jerusalem, and there presided over the Council of Jerusalem, at which the decision was made to appoint deacons to serve the material needs of the growing community of Christians, so that the Twelve could be free to exercise their ministry of the word and the sacraments.

James and John make their first appearance early in the gospels. They were fishermen, partners with Peter and his brother Andrew. Their mother was a close kinswoman of Mary, mother of Jesus, and is called her sister. She, whose given name is Salome, is really the principal player in the scene described in today’s gospel:

Matthew 20:20-28
Salome approaches Jesus and kneels before him:

Jesus: What is it you want?

Salome: Grant that one of my two sons may sit at your right and the other at your left in your Kingdom.

Jesus (addressing James and John): Do you know what you are asking? Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?

James and John: We can.

Jesus: You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.

When the other ten heard about this, they became indignant at the two brothers. So Jesus called them together and spoke to them.

Jesus: You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. But you are not to act like them. Whoever wants to become great among you must be a servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave – just as the Son of Man has not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The mother of James and John seeks a place of honor in the Kingdom for her sons. Jesus does not respond to her directly, but questions them, as to whether they can accept the responsibilities that accompany such an honor, and he reminds them, that it only God knows what position each of us will occupy when we enter the eternal Kingdom (and, for that matter, if we get there at all).

The message of Jesus is quite clear: Through Jesus, God our Father invites each of us to gain entry into the Kingdom by being of service to one another. Our talents, our positions of authority, our powers are not for our own glory. All who aspire to greatness before the Lord of Heaven must earn that esteem by placing the needs of God’s people above all other considerations.

There is one other point to be made: Pray that you – and I – not only learn to use the gifts God lends to us for the benefit of our sisters and brothers, his children, but that we learn to be content with our own human limitations, especially when they make it difficult, if not impossible, to do what we thought God was calling us to do.

We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,
that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us.

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.

For we who live are constantly being given up to death
for the sake of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.
So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Since, then, we have the same spirit of faith,
according to what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke,
we too believe and therefore speak,
knowing that the one who raised the Lord Jesus
will raise us also with Jesus
and place us with you in his presence.

Everything indeed is for you,
so that the grace bestowed in abundance on more and more people
may cause the thanksgiving to overflow for the glory of God.
2 Corinthians 4:7-15

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Law Of The LORD Is Perfect

First Reading

Exodus 20:1-17

In those days: God delivered all these commandments:

"I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.

You shall not have other gods besides me. You shall not carve idols for yourselves in the shape of anything in the sky above or on the earth below or in the waters beneath the earth; you shall not bow down before them or worship them. For I, the LORD, your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for their fathers' wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but bestowing mercy down to the thousandth generation on the children of those who love me and keep my commandments.

"You shall not take the name of the LORD, your God, in vain. For the LORD will not leave unpunished
those who take his name in vain.

"Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then either by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your beast, or by the alien who lives with you. In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested.

That is why the LORD has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

"Honor your father and your mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you.

"You shall not kill.
"You shall not commit adultery.
"You shall not steal.
"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

"You shall not covet your neighbor's house.
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife,
nor his male or female slave, nor his ox or ass,
nor anything else that belongs to him."


Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11

R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul;
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.

R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart;
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.

R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever;
The ordinances of the LORD are true,
all of them just.

R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.

They are more precious than gold,
than a heap of purest gold;
Sweeter also than syrup
or honey from the comb.

R. Lord, you have the words of everlasting life.


Matthew 13:18-23

Jesus said to his disciples:
"Hear the parable of the sower.

The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the Kingdom without understanding it,
and the Evil One comes and steals away what was sown in his heart.The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,he immediately falls away.

The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.

But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold."

+++    +++    +++    +++

Today’s First Reading presents the law of the Lord as he gave it to Moses on Mount Sinai. You may have noticed that the first three are quite a bit longer than the form in which they are usually found. The Responsorial sings the praise of God’s law. In the Gospel, Jesus presents the Parable of the Seed. Matthew reminds us that often the word, which we may have received with joy, does not take root in our hearts, either due to our lack of understanding, or because the fruit of the word is choked off by worldly anxiety and the lure of riches.

What is there about the Decalogue that makes it difficult to understand? Could it be, as some have said, that the Commandments were addressed to nomadic tribal community, and are not relevant to the educated urban dweller of the 20th and 21st century? Surely that can’t be the case, for the law of the Lord is perfect; the precepts of the Lord are right, and the command of the Lord is clear. God’s truth is there, but we must receive it with open eyes and open hearts.

“I, the Lord, am your God…You shall not have other gods besides me…I am a jealous God, inflicting punishment…but bestowing mercy to…those who love me and keep my commandments.” There is a pleading quality to these words. I am your God, please listen to me, take me seriously. I will not abandon you. I desire you.

These laws, commandments, were addressed to a community attempting to separate themselves from other tribal communities. They were the Chosen and invited to respond accordingly. These commandments were meant to be encouragements from He who Is – this is how one who is in a loving relationship with the LORD would want to respond to that gratuitous relationship. One would want to love and be faithful to one’s only God. All, including the LORD, recognized the garden of gods available and vying for attention. Still today, we are aware of the garden of gods vying for attention and adoration – money, fame, success, status, drugs, sex, body image and all manner of addictions.

We hear these same pleading sentiments – today, in the 21st century. I am your God. I am a jealous God. I love you. God longs for me. When I am aware of being involved in an intimate and loving relationship with God, these commandments fall away. As Matthew suggests, the temptations become more subtle as I grow in spiritual maturity. I no longer use or need the Ten Commandments with which to examine my conscience. As I move into deeper intimacy with the Lord, Spirit, God, the Lover – I am invited to examine my consciousness, to examine my day, my life, my relationships, in terms of, in light of my relationship with God. My relationship with God becomes foundational to all my other relationships – with family, friends, children, spouse and even professional relationships. Gradually, as I become more intimate with Jesus, with the Father, with the Spirit, I become more and more conscious of God’s loving desires for me and of God’s presence in all my relationships. Gently, God reveals my own faults, shortcomings, wounds in need of healing and tendencies to inflict pain on myself or others.

As I grow in intimacy with God, I grow in self awareness and grow in loving relationship with others.

Once we have heard the Word which summons us to the way of life of our Lord, let us come and allow ourselves to be made perfect. Let us set as a law for ourselves the imitation of the holy ones, saying “Why not become like them, seeing that they once were like us?” Listen to Paul who says, “I have despised all that is visible … and I consider as dung all the gain that will remain behind when I die, and not accompany me to the world of truth and of glory. “Become like me (Phil 3:17) since I was once like you. “ You see, if we want, we can become like Paul.
The Book of Steps (AD 400)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Blessed Are Your Eyes Because They See, And Your Ears Because They Hear

Exodus 19:1-2, 9-11, 16-20
In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on the very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel pitched camp there in the desert in front of the mountain.

The LORD said to Moses, "I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you." Then Moses told the LORD what the people had said.

And the LORD said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder. Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.

The LORD descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain.


Matthew 13:10-12
The disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; they hear, but they do not listen or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

" 'You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people's heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.'

“ But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

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

It was three months, day for day, after they had left Egypt that the children of Israel reached the Sinai Desert. What did they do when they got there? They pitched camp. Reading this passage from Exodus reminded me of a journey I made nearly half a century ago, crossing the country with a couple from my home town and their children. We travelled from Massachusetts to New Mexico, where I would spend one year, and they would spend their lives, as lay missionaries.

I remember one night in particular when we pitched camp on the plains, and spent the night watching the Perseid meteor shower. We sensed the presence of God, as we enjoyed the warmth of the campfire and the beauty of His creation.

I wonder if the children of Israel had the same sentiments when they pitched camp in the Sinai Desert. After their exodus from Egypt, they felt a need for reassurance, both about Moses’ leadership, and about the Lord’s presence with them on their way to the land of promise. For the most part, God’s presence had been masked by smoke and fire, which was surely more awesome than our campsite. It was about to become even more spectacular when the Lord called Moses to the mountain top for a leadership conference.

In today’s gospel, the disciples of Jesus wonder why he speaks to the crowds in parables. There seems to be an underlying question: “Why don’t you just say what you mean? Why can’t you simply tell us who will live in eternal bliss with God, and who will perish in hellfire?” I can sympathize with the disciples, as I wonder why some folks speak in a manner that is less than direct. (And, to be honest, sometimes people say that about me, when they ask me to explain some point of scripture, of doctrine, or of church law.)

Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, which allowed everyone who heard to learn from his words. Even those who resisted the teaching of Jesus, the Good News he was announcing, could not help but gain some insight into the relationship between them and God. Rather than stating a proposition plainly, the parable requires reflection and meditation to unpack the meaning of the message. People see different things in the parables. Reflection adds richness to these stories, as we begin to grasp the dimensions of the characters and of the interaction between them.

But, this gospel also suggests that some folks are not granted insights into the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. Some shut their eyes, block their ears, and turn their backs. This can be troublesome, but we may experience evidence that bears out the truth of the mystery as we consider the parallels between the personages in the parable and our own experiences. Sometimes, our confrontation with the truth can be uncomfortable, and we might well back off, or even run away, if we are not ready to face our true self. But, like the Prodigal son in the parable, we can come to our senses, and allow God to draw us to greater understanding of his goodness and of his call to follow him.

It is a precious grace to have our eyes and ears opened so that we might see and understand the mysteries of the Kingdom. May God help us not to take that gift for granted; may we be attentive to the Word of Life that has been shared with us, so that we might dwell in His Kingdom now and forever.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Woman, Why Are You Weeping?

Exodus 16:1-5; 9-15
The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the LORD's hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death."

Then the LORD said to Moses, "I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days."

Then Moses told Aaron, "Say to the entire Israelite community, 'Come before the LORD, for he has heard your grumbling.' "

While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud.

The LORD said to Moses, "I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, 'At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.' "

That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, "What is it?" since they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, "It is the bread the LORD has given you to eat.”

John 20:1-2; 11-18
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don't know where they have put him!"

Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, "Woman, why are you crying?" "They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put him." At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. "Woman," he said, "why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."

Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Hebrew, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said, "Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, 'I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.' "

Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!" And she told them that he had said these things to her.

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

In today’s readings, there is a lot of talk about food, and a lot of food for thought.

The Israelites were tired and hungry in the desert, and they began to think that they were better off as slaves in Egypt than as wanderers doomed to die of hunger and thirst in the middle of nowhere. Does it ever cross my mind that yesterday’s troubles might have been better than today’s challenges? Is that an expression of a lack of trust in the Lord? Or is a lack of confidence in my own ability to cooperate with the Lord’s grace?

In the desert, the Lord provided quail and manna as sustenance for his people. But only one day at a time. Once again, the Lord is challenging them to trust that, just as he was there yesterday, he will still be there tomorrow, to provide for their needs and to guide them to the land of promise.

On Wednesday in the middle of the 16th week of Ordinary Time, we have an extraordinary gospel: the Magdalene woman’s discovery of the empty tomb, and her encounter with the former occupant of that burial place, now risen from the dead. Imagine what was going on in her mind, until He speaks, and she comes to realize that he has not left her, but is present in a different manner.

“Don’t hold on to me!” the risen Lord says to Magdalene. He asks her to let go of the ways in which she had know him in the past, up to the time she stood with his mother at the foot of the cross. How many times have I had to do that in my life. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, and thought like a child, and acted like a child”, wrote Paul, whose conversion experience was quite different from Magdalene’s. How often do we get challenged to set aside our comfortable notions about the Lord in order to accept new challenges that call for a fuller and deeper relationship with the Lord?

Blessed Lord, help us to perceive, and to receive the ways you will come to us today. Help us to move beyond what our past experiences have led us to, and let us come to you now in faith, in hope, in trust that you will feed us, and comfort us, and guide us in our present and our future commitments.

Adapted from a Daily Scripture Refection by Ruth Iliff, of St. Monica Parish, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?

Exodus 14:21-15:1
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, "Let's get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt."

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen." Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD :
"I will sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has cast into the sea.

Matthew 12:46-50
While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you."

He replied to him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" Pointing to his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother."

+++    +++    +++    +++   

For the last several days, the first Reading brought memories of going to the movies to see the magnificent Cinemascope of Cecil B. Demille’s motion picture, The Ten Commandments. If you are old enough, you probably saw that film in a movie theatre or at a drive-in. If you are somewhat younger, you no doubt watched it on television, every year in the early Spring – at the time the Passover and the Resurrection are celebrated. But, if there is a scene that stands out in your mind – as it does in mine – it is the parting of the Red Sea. As a teen, whenever I heard this reading or saw the motion picture I rooted for the “children of Israel” to win – which they did, of course. But today, the digits of my age are reversed, and at this stage of my journey toward the Promised Land, I respond somewhat differently. I no longer think of this movie as a propaganda piece for this nation’s involvement in conflicts in the lands on either side of the Red Sea.

There is a common theme between the first reading and the gospel. While Jesus was speaking to the crowd, Mary his mother and his brothers (James and John, Simon and Jude Thaddeus are his kinfolk). Jesus extends his hand to the folks in the crowd and verbally expands the definition of who is a brother, a sister, a mother to him.

Some commentators on Scripture suggest that the words of Jesus here, and at the wedding banquet at Cana in John’s gospel, are a “put-down” to the Mary. That is contrary to the truth: rather than insulting his mother, Jesus is inviting us to a high dignity and a great responsibility.

By trusting God’s word, and doing God’s will, Mary became the Mother of God, and the spiritual mother of every man, woman and child in earth.

Gracious Lord, we have the privilege, and the responsibility to live with ever greater awareness that you are with us. We ask your other now to intercede for us that we also might share with her in your great longing for the salvation of all God’s children.

Monday, July 20, 2009

We Wish To See A Sign

Human nature hasn’t changed since the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt. We are always in bondage to something or other. And the Lord always makes it possible for us to be freed, but it requires some effort and some risk on our part. But many of us would rather complain about our problems than rely on the Lord to give us the strength and courage to do something about it. We would rather that the Lord do all the work himself. We can see that in the first reading for today.

When Pharaoh found out that the Israelites had fled, he ordered his foot soldiers, his chariots and charioteers to pursue them. When the Israelites saw that the Egyptians were catching up with them they cried out to the Lord, and they complained to Moses: “Why did you have to bring us out into the desert to die? Weren’t there burial places enough for us in Egypt?” “Why didn’t you listen when we said, ‘Leave us be. We would rather be slaves in Egypt than to perish in the desert’? “

Moses answered them, “Don’t be afraid. Stand your ground, and you will see the victory that the Lord will win for you today. The Lord himself will fight for you, and you have only to place your trust in him.” But the Lord other ideas: “Why cry out to me? Command the children of Israel to go forward. Lift up your staff, and with your hand stretched out over the sea, spilt the waters in two, so that the children of Israel can pass through on dry land.”

As I reflect this passage from Exodus, I gain insight into the typically human behavior of Moses. When the people express a lack of confidence in him, he absorbs their fear, and loses confidence in himself. It seems he would prefer that the Lord win the battle. Yet it is not the Lord’s plan to do it all himself, but rather to give Moses the grace he needs to fulfill the mission the Lord had given him: “You stand on the shore, with your hand outstretched over the water. You split the sea in two, so that the people can cross to the other shore without even getting their feet wet. When the Egyptians follow you, the wheels of their chariots will sink into the wet sand, and you will escape.”

This episode from Exodus is a sure sign of God’s power and love for his people. But it is at the same time a demonstration of how divine providence operates. If you read carefully, you will notice that on the side of the children of Israel, there are three principal sources of their success. There is Moses, who leads in spite of his fear. There is God, who encourages Moses but allows him to act on his own behalf. And in between, there is nature, specifically the waters of the Gulf of Aqaba which were at low tide when the Israelites crossed on foot, and the desert sand which had lain beneath the surface of the sea, and were still waterlogged enough to cause the chariots of the Egyptians to get mired, allowing the children of Israel to escape unharmed.

Conclusion: There are no coincidences in God’s plan; and for those who love God and are called in his plan, everything works out for the good.

+++    +++    +++    +++   

There are many commentaries on the topic of Jonah and the Whale, whether in reference to the Old Testament that bears the name of Jonah, or to today’s gospel passage. But there is one sign embedded in this passage that is rather subtle and easily missed. It has to do with the time Jonah spent in the belly of the big fish: He was rescued on the third day.

Many events in scripture occur on the third day. Abraham was saved from sacrificing his son Isaac when God intervened on the third day. Joseph freed his brothers from prison on the third day. And, of course, Jesus was raised from the tomb on the third day.

We are nearly compelled to ask: Didn’t anything significant ever happen on the second day, or the fourth, the fifth, the sixth, the tenth? What is so special about the third day? When we read a passage from Scripture that refers to the third day, our natural inclination is to begin a chronological countdown: Friday, Saturday, Sunday. But when scripture scholars (or reflection writers) see multiple uses of an expression in scripture they tend to ask what more is meant. What is the deeper meaning?

The scholars tell us that in scripture, the expression “the third day” does not refer simply to the passage of time; it is rather a theological statement. For instance: “He will revive us after two days, and on the third day he will raise us up to live in his presence.” (Hosea 6:1-2); “Be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come.” (Exodus 19:11) The third day is the day of deliverance; it is our assurance that God will not leave us orphans, that he will not abandon us.

Warning: we mustn’t take these words too literally, either in the contemporary or the biblical usage. For instance, if you lose your job on Friday, don’t anticipate getting hired for a better one on Monday; of if your spouse leaves home on Tuesday, don’t wait for her to return on Friday. What the expression means is that, no matter what is happening in our live, God will not leave us orphans, and he will rescue us. As Christ’s disciples, we are called to live in hopeful anticipation, waiting for the third day. Mind you, we have no notion how many hours, or days or weeks will pass between now and then, or what will happen while we are waiting for God to make his presence known.

“No sign will be given to this wicked generation,” Jesus said, “except the sign of Jonah!” Matthew interpreted this rather fancifully, comparing the three days and three nights that Jonah spent in the belly of the beast with the three days and three nights that Jesus spent in the tomb. Except that even in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus spent: on the first day from mid-afternoon to dawn of the second day; on that day from dawn to dawn of the third day, which is when he rose from the dead. That’s a total of thirty-three hours, just nine hours more than one entire day, but a digit composed of two threes side by side, and a figure which represents the number of years Jesus spent on earth. The sign to the people of Nineveh was Jonah himself and his preaching. Jesus is saying, “You are seeking a sign? I, and my preaching, am God’s sign!”

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Behold My Servant, Whom I Have Chosen, My Beloved In Whom I Delight!

Exodus 12:37-42

The children of Israel set out from Rameses for Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, not counting the women and children. A crowd of mixed ancestry also went up with them, besides their livestock, very numerous flocks and herds. Since the dough they had brought out of Egypt was not leavened, they baked it into unleavened loaves.They had rushed out of Egypt and had no opportunity even to prepare food for the journey.

The time the children of Israel had stayed in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. At the end of four hundred and thirty years,all the hosts of the LORD left the land of Egypt on this very date. This was a night of vigil for the LORD,as he led them out of the land of Egypt;so on this same night all the children of Israel must keep a vigil for the LORD throughout their generations.


From the time Jacob, the father of Joseph, and his brothers with their families settled in Egypt, four hundred and thirty years passed until that holy night when the LORD told Moses to lead them to the land of promise. There were about six hundred thousand men of Israel in that caravan, as well as women and children. There were also many other people who joined them, as well as large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds. To feed themselves the baked cakes of unleavened bread with dough they brought with them. The dough was without yeast, since they did not have time to prepare food for themselves when they left Egypt.

Imagine that you were one of the children of Israel who accompanied Moses on that journey. As you entered the wilderness, you looked back, and saw the land of Egypt disappear on the horizon. You had escaped from the power of Pharaoh, but now your life was endangered in a new way. You have no idea what lies ahead, or where food and water are to be found.

The Israelites, when they fled from Egypt into the Sinai desert, were well aware that they were repeating the “faith journey” God asked of Abraham several generations before. The children of Israel put their trust in God, and eventually reached the Promised Land. From a spiritual perspective, each of us is called to make a similar “journey of faith.” It took them forty years to reach the banks of the Jordan, a distance caravans of camels travel in a week’s time, because they tended to look back to the place where they had been slaves, but well fed, rather than forward to a land unknown where they were being led.

On your faith journey, keep in mind the counsel of Saint Augustine, who eventually learned to follow where the Holy Spirit was leading him:
Trust the past, to God's mercy,
the present, to God's love, and
the future, to God's providence.

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

Matthew 12:14-21
The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place. Many people followed him, and he cured them all, but he warned them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Isaiah the prophet:

Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved in whom I delight;
I shall place my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not contend or cry out,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory.
And in his name the Gentiles will hope.


Today Jesus encourages secrecy as he continues to fulfill the prophet Isaiah’s words. These words characterize the role of Jesus: we have Jesus healing, and being followed by multitudes, while the Pharisees were plotting against him. Matthew says: ‘He healed them all, yet he warned them not to make him known’. It seems like Jesus was a bit of a rebel. He clearly grasped the situation, knowing full well the need to be on the move and try to maintain secrecy.

It seems to indicate an attitude worth adopting. Like Jesus, we should aim to fulfill our role in the Christian story, and maybe our role is similar to that of the multitudes at that time, where ideas of faith and support are required.

Friday, July 17, 2009

This Is A Day To Commemorate Forever

Exodus 11:10-12:14
Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the LORD hardened Pharaoh's heart, and he would not let the Israelites go out of his country.

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, "This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire—head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD's Passover.

"On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn—both men and animals—and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

"This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD -a lasting ordinance.”

Matthew 12:1-8
At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."

He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

+++ +++ +++ +++  

The first reading today is a narrative of the meal the people of Israel shared on the evening before the angel of the Lord passed over them. It is also the first reading of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

Saint Paul, in 1 Corinthians, writes, “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Just as the blood of the first Passover Lamb saved Israel from physical slavery and death, so the blood of our Passover lamb saves us from spiritual slavery and death. Just as the first Passover lamb’s flesh was eaten by the Israelites, so the flesh of “our Passover lamb” is eaten by the people of the new covenant.

How do the two covenants fit together? “In the Old Testament, the New Testament is concealed; in the New Testament, the Old Testament is revealed.” (Saint Augustine)

“When nothing great or noble is happening, the Pharisees remain silent. But when they see people being healed, they are deeply offended.” (Cyril of Alexandria) The Pharisees were more interested in the appearance of religion than in its substance. But we should not allow them to hog the spotlight. We too are capable of the same offence. The substance of religion – the relationship of God’s people to their creator, redeemer and sanctifier – is so subtle and so deep, it is not surprising that we are often like them, focusing on what is shallow and obvious.

Jesus himself refers to the events of the Old Testament in his teaching: “Have you not read what David did…?” as if to imply that his own behavior was excusable because people in earlier ages had done similar things. John Chrysostom comes to the rescue. He doesn’t want us to think that this was how the Lord’s mind works, absolving himself from blame, “by noting that someone else committed similar offenses”, implying that David’s law breaking should become the norm for everyone. No, he said, “Jesus was not satisfied with such reasoning. Instead, he said something much more radical: that the deed itself in this case was no sin at all…! For here the Giver of the law was overriding the law.”

Clearly, there was nothing obvious or shallow about this. Laws are designed to be very clear and obvious. That fully satisfies the needs of some people. But there is the matter of spirit. Laws are always trying to be spirit; they try to cover every aspect of life – to go into every nook and cranny and guide us from within. But it doesn't work. We need spirit, or rather the Spirit, to guide us wisely. The Lord of the Sabbath is the one who is able to give us the Spirit.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Take My Yoke Upon Your Shoulders

Exodus 3:13-20
Moses, hearing the voice of the LORD from the burning bush, said to him,
"When I go to the children of Israel and say to them,
'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,'
if they ask me, 'What is his name?' what am I to tell them?"
God replied, "I am who am."
Then he added, "This is what you shall tell the children of Israel:
I AM sent me to you."

God spoke further to Moses, "Thus shall you say to the children of Israel:
The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob,
has sent me to you.
"This is my name forever;
this my title for all generations.
"Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and tell them:
The LORD, the God of your fathers,
the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
has appeared to me and said:
I am concerned about you
and about the way you are being treated in Egypt;
so I have decided to lead you up out of the misery of Egypt
into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites,
Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites,
a land flowing with milk and honey.

"Thus they will heed your message.
Then you and the elders of Israel
shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him:

"The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has sent us word.
Permit us, then, to go a three-days' journey in the desert,
that we may offer sacrifice to the LORD, our God.
"Yet I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go
unless he is forced.

I will stretch out my hand, therefore,
and smite Egypt by doing all kinds of wondrous deeds there.
After that he will send you away."

Matthew 11:28-30
Jesus said:
"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

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

When Moses heard the voice from the burning bush, sending him back to Egypt, to free the children of Israel from slavery, he had one question: “When I say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me’, and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’, what shall I tell them?”

The LORD said to Moses, “Yahweh”. That is what you are to say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me. The LORD, the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has sent me to you.”

“The elders of Israel with listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to Pharaoh and tell him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has asked us to go into the desert for three days to offer sacrifices to him, the LORD our God.’ But Pharaoh will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So, I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with wonders that I will work among them. Then, he will let you go.”

The LORD has made a covenant with Moses, and with the people of Israel, and he will be faithful to his covenant. He will be, because He is God. The other side of the question is: will the people be faithful to their commitment to the covenant. They will not be, because they are human. In fact, it will take forty years for their caravan to travel from the Gulf of Aqaba to the banks of the Jordan, a journey that should take no more than a week.

The same is true for you and me. When we find it difficult to live up to the covenant our parents made on our behalf in Baptism, and that we assumed responsibility for in Confirmation, we tend to ignore our commitment. When we put ourselves first, instead of what God asks of us, we do not remember the covenant. We are burdened under the weight of living in a world full of temptations, attractions, selfishness, greed and pride. Because of our fallen nature, we tend to fail more often than we succeed, and we easily become discouraged. At such times, we tend to form habits that make it even more difficult for us to come back, even though God, who is forever faithful, is always there for us.

Jesus, in the gospel, reminds us that the struggle does not have to be so difficult. He invites us to join him in a new covenant by being yoked to him. It is an image which was much easier to understand for our ancestors, who grew their own crops and tilled their own fields.

This new covenant builds on the covenant of God with Abraham, Isaac and Moses, but it is different. This is more of a shared undertaking, a partnership, than the older covenant, because it is founded on Jesus, who not only shares the same nature as the Father, but also shares our own human nature. When Jesus tells us that we can learn from Him, that the yoke is easy and the burden light, He is promising to help us from His own experience, knowing us better than we know ourselves, and guiding us in how we can respond more fully to God’s call.

Following in the path set forth for us by the Father can certainly be a challenge, but we are not alone in the struggle, we have Jesus at our side as our companion and our guide. When we stumble, He is there to pull us along, for we share the yoke with Him.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

You Have Hidden These Things From The Wise, And Revealed Them To Children

Exodus 3:1-6; 9-12
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up."

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!"  And Moses said, "Here I am."

"Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt."

But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"

And God said, "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain."

Matthew 11:25-27
At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. "All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

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

When we are planning a trip, or when we are facing a decision, we often look for signs to guide us, to keep us on the right path. Wouldn’t it be helpful if the signs were as visible as the one Moses was given in today’s first reading? It would be hard to miss a burning bush. What God had in mind for Moses to accomplish was an important and challenging task. The vision of a desert shrub burning, but never being consumed, seems like an appropriate signal.

Moses, for his part, is not sure he’s the best candidate to accomplish the task: Who am I? Why choose me? I have some sense of how he felt, since about forty years ago, I had to make a decision whether God was calling me, and wondering whether I’d be up to the challenge.

God did not produce a burning bush to get my attention, then, and I doubt he will do that now. Nevertheless, I have to pay attention, to pray, to be open to whatever God has in store for me tomorrow, and the next day, and for as long as he gives me the strength and the clarity of mind to do whatever he asks of me. And, merely mentioning those two words reminds me of my father and my mother’s brother who lost both physical strength and clarity of mind before they left this life for the next life. But, whatever the future holds for me, I need to remember that God is with me, and will give me the graces I need to do his work and accept his will.

There is an expression I used to hear when I was a youngster, mostly from my father’s sisters, aunts Rose and Helen, “Tell the truth, and shame the devil.” My mother’s sisters, Ma Tante Aline and Ma Tante Claire had different expressions about reminding us to tell the truth, which suggests that it is an Irish saying.

Now that I’m past my childhood (and not yet into my second one), I could use some of that advice myself, at times. In today’s gospel, Jesus tells us that many truths have been hidden from the wise and the learned, but shared with little children. Elsewhere, Jesus tells his disciples that to enter the kingdom of God, we have to become like little children (Matthew 18:3).

The English word “infant” comes from the Latin in-fans, which means unable to speak. Babies don’t tell lies, they don’t boast, they don’t slander other people. Why not? Because they’re not old enough --- yet! But the “little ones” of whom Jesus speaks are not just the children, but the humble, the helpless, the heavy burdened. They are the ones who realize their need for God, and for God’s gifts. Their knowledge may not seem significant at all; it is not derived from book-learning, and is not capable of subtle debate and discussion. It is, “a wisdom that has been hidden, and that none of the rulers of this age have understood and if they had understood it, they would not have crucified the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 2:8) It is the wisdom of God incarnate in Jesus, that dwells in us through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Out Of Egypt Have I Called My Son

Exodus 2:1-15a
A certain man of the house of Levi married a Levite woman,
who conceived and bore a son.
Seeing that he was a goodly child, she hid him for three months.

When she could hide him no longer, she took a papyrus basket,
daubed it with bitumen and pitch,
and putting the child in it,
placed it among the reeds on the river bank.

His sister stationed herself at a distance
to find out what would happen to him.
Pharaoh's daughter came down to the river to bathe,
while her maids walked along the river bank.

Noticing the basket among the reeds, she sent her handmaid to fetch it
On opening it, she looked, and lo, there was a baby boy, crying!
She was moved with pity for him and said,
"It is one of the Hebrews' children."

Then his sister asked Pharaoh's daughter,
"Shall I go and call one of the Hebrew women
to nurse the child for you?"
"Yes, do so," she answered.

So the maiden went and called the child's own mother.
Pharaoh's daughter said to her,
"Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will repay you."
The woman therefore took the child and nursed it.
When the child grew, she brought him to Pharaoh's daughter,
who adopted him as her son and called him Moses;
for she said, "I drew him out of the water."

On one occasion, after Moses had grown up,
when he visited his kinsmen and witnessed their forced labor,
he saw an Egyptian striking a Hebrew, one of his own kinsmen.

Looking about and seeing no one,
he slew the Egyptian and hid him in the sand.
The next day he went out again, and now two Hebrews were fighting!
So he asked the culprit,
"Why are you striking your fellow Hebrew?"
But the culprit replied,
"Who has appointed you ruler and judge over us?
Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?"
Then Moses became afraid and thought,
"The affair must certainly be known."
Pharaoh, too, heard of the affair and sought to put Moses to death.
But Moses fled from him and stayed in the land of Midian. 

Matthew 11:20-24
Jesus began to reproach the towns
where most of his mighty deeds had been done,
since they had not repented.

"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!
For if the mighty deeds done in your midst
had been done in Tyre and Sidon,
they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.

But I tell you, it will be more tolerable
for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.
And as for you, Capernaum:
Will you be exalted to heaven?
You will go down to the netherworld.
For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom,
it would have remained until this day.
But I tell you, it will be more tolerable
for the land of Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for you."

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

There are some remarkable parallels between the story of Moses and the story of Jesus. At the time Moses was born, Pharaoh had commanded that every boy born to the Hebrews should be thrown into the river, but the girls would be allowed to live (Exodus 1:22) But when Moses’ mother gave birth she hid her child for three months, then put him in a wicker basket, and hid it among the reeds on the bank of the Nile. Her daughter watched, and when Pharaoh’s daughter saved the infant and brought him to the palace, the girl and her mother went to the palace when the girl was a servant, and the mother the wet-nurse of her own child.
(Exodus 2:1-15)

After the Magi left Bethlehem, an angel appeared to Joseph and told him to flee with the child and his mother to Egypt, where they stayed until the death of Herod, so that the prophesy would be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.” (Matthew 2:13-15)

When they came of age, both Moses and Jesus were saviors of the people and mediators of the covenant between God and his people. But the people rebelled against them. The people made an idol of bronze and worshipped it while Moses was receiving the commandments from God on Mount Sinai. The leaders of the people had Jesus arrested and put to death on Mount Calvary. (Deuteronomy 5; Luke 22:23-30)

Without exaggerating our own part in the analogy, each one of us has been called by God to play a unique role in the plan of salvation. Today, let us spend some time asking for God to fulfill that role to the best of our ability. He will surely grant us the graces we need; but then, it will be up to us to accept and cooperate with His gift.

To be a Christian is not simply to believe with one’s mind, but also to become a doer of the word, even if that leads to the path of persecution, and even the possibility of martyrdom.
US Conference of Catholic Bishops: The Challenge of Peace.

Lily Of The Mohawks

The Feast of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, the patroness of ecology and the environment: A holy person for our day and its challenges and opportunities.

Kateri Tekakwitha, daughter of a Christian Algonquin and a non-Christian Mohawk, was named to this patronage even before her final naming as a Saint. (To achieve Sainthood, one more miracle must be accredited to her intercession.)

Kateri, the first “blessed” of Native American ethnicity, was baptized after several years of instructions by French Jesuits. Orphaned by smallpox at age four, she lived with the tribe of her father near present-day Auriesville, New York. Tribe members shunned her after her conversion and refused her food when, in compliance with the Sabbath, she did no work on Sundays. Her life became so uncomfortable and even dangerous that she eventually fled to St. Francis Mission in Canada and tried to found an order for Native Americans. Though unable to do so, she remained a virgin and showed a deep concern for others and their needs.

She is sometimes pictured with the Cross in one hand and a turtle and evergreen tree in the other. It is said that she carried a home-made cross with her when working so that she could recall Jesus and pray to Him frequently. She also practiced severe austerity including self-whipping and placing thorns in her bed as penances and spent hours in prayer barefooted in the cold Canadian forest. It is believed that these practices were largely responsible for her early death at age 24 in 1680.

We know that our world faces serious environmental and ecological issues today. Scientific studies about carbon footprints, the urgency and causes of climate change, whether there can truly be “clean,” coal plants, etc. often conflict with one another. However, it is clear that problems are significant even as we may disagree about the best solutions.

Care of the Earth and its gifts have been on the Roman Catholic “agenda” for some time “We are concerned about the negative consequences for humanity and for all creation resulting from the degradation of some basic natural resources such as water, air, and land, brought about by an economic and technological progress which does not recognize and take into account its limits,” Declaration on the Environment by Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople, 2002.

Further, they declare, “A solution at the economic and technological level can be found only if we undergo, in the most radical way, an inner change of heart, which can lead to a change in lifestyle and of unsustainable patterns of consumption and production. A genuine conversion in Christ will enable us to change the way we think and act.”

A “change of heart,” to sustain our attention and ongoing commitment to values and actions that will result in sustainability and ecological healing. A change of heart to continue to show us the adventure in re-cycling and re-using. A change of heart to motivate our dedication to a reduced use of natural resources and to our search for local and global solutions to these challenges.

Blessed Kateri is just the person we need at this time. May we be blessed by her with the passion to make the critical individual and collective changes essential for responsible stewardship of the natural gifts with which we have been entrusted.

Maryanne Rouse
College of Business Administration
Creighton University

Monday, July 13, 2009

I Have Not Come To Bring Peace, But The Sword!

Exodus 1:8-14, 22
A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt.
He said to his subjects, "Look how numerous and powerful
the people of the children of Israel are growing, more so than we ourselves!
Come, let us deal shrewdly with them to stop their increase;
otherwise, in time of war they too may join our enemies
to fight against us, and so leave our country."
Accordingly, taskmasters were set over the children of Israel
to oppress them with forced labor.
Thus they had to build for Pharaoh
the supply cities of Pithom and Raamses.
Yet the more they were oppressed,
the more they multiplied and spread.
The Egyptians, then, dreaded the children of Israel
and reduced them to cruel slavery,
making life bitter for them with hard work in mortar and brick
and all kinds of field work—the whole cruel fate of slaves.
Pharaoh then commanded all his subjects,
"Throw into the river every boy that is born to the Hebrews,
but you may let all the girls live."

Matthew 10:34 – 11:1
Jesus said to his Apostles:
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth.
I have come to bring not peace but the sword.
For I have come to set
a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one's enemies will be those of his household.
"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,
and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
and whoever does not take up his cross
and follow after me is not worthy of me.
Whoever finds his life will lose it,
and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
"Whoever receives you receives me,
and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.
Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet
will receive a prophet's reward,
and whoever receives a righteous man
because he is righteous
will receive a righteous man's reward.
And whoever gives only a cup of cold water
to one of these little ones to drink
because he is a disciple–
amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward."

When Jesus finished giving these commands to his Twelve disciples,
he went away from that place to teach and to preach in their towns.

+++    +++    +++    +++

During his recent trip abroad for the G-8 summit, President Obama visited the city of Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, then and now the see city of the Patriarch of the East. Saint John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople once had this to say about the purpose of the President’s visit, to seek peace among nations. “More than anything, this is peace: when the disease is removed; when the cancer is cut away.”

At Christmastide, we celebrate the birth of Jesus in scripture and in song. “Joy to the world”, “Peace on earth, good will to me”, “Glad tidings of comfort and joy”. But in today’s Gospel, the Savior speaks in a very different tone, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword.” Surely, the Prince of Peace has not come to encourage violence and oppression, which burdens the powerless until all resistance has vanished. Throughout the history of the world, there have been nations that conquer and absorb smaller and weaker nations to build their own hegemony (political domination over other nations). And we cannot forget that similar situations exist in families, when parents exaggerate the notion of “spare the rod, spoil the child”, or a husband bullies his wife, or a wife belittles her husband.

Yet, there is an even more terrible statement in today’s gospel. In our translation, it reads, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” The Revised Standard Version (Catholic edition) comes much closer to the meaning of the Greek original: “Anyone who prefers father or mother to me is not worthy of me.” The English word “prefer” derives from the Latin praeferre “to place ahead of”. We ought not place other people ahead of Christ. That would not be fair to them. For one thing, it would be too much of a burden for them to bear.

Jesus then reminds the disciples of the cost of following in his footsteps: If your goal in life is centered on yourself, you run the risk of losing eternal life: but if you lose your life for the sake of the gospel, you will gain eternal life.

And finally, a more day to day lesson of the rewards of discipleship: Welcome prophets because they are prophets; welcome righteous persons because they are righteous; be generous to children and to the poor (‘little ones’ has a double meaning) and you will be richly rewarded , because you are a follower of Jesus. Your path might not lead to martyrdom, but there is no way to get to the gates of the Heavenly Kingdom except by following in His footsteps.