Sunday, October 23, 2016

Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 30, 2016

First Reading Commentary
The opening verse describes the unfathomable immensity of Almighty God.  Compared to Him, the unknown vastness of the universe is like a grain or drop of morning dew.  This verse actually doesn't do Him justice but there are no words in any language, nor is there any reachable level of human thought to properly define the boundlessness of our Creator.  Since we are incapable of visiting this level of spirituality, the rest of the Reading is all the more incredible - but true.  He loves all things, spares all things; He is a lover of all souls, and therefore rebukes and warns us of our sins.  Why would this incomprehensible Being whose power is indescribable care one iota about us?  Why does He want to share in our joys and feel our pains?  Why does He listen to our prayers?  Why does He desire an intimate, deep, personal relationship with each and every one of us?  These are questions that even the most gifted theologians and philosophers cannot finitely answer; but then again we are reflecting on the infinite Most High.  The proof of the pudding, though, is when He made His uncontainable Self containable in the womb of a Virgin; when He walked among us, taught us, healed us of our infirmities, suffered and died for us; rose from the dead, ascended into heaven and opened the eternal gates in order to fulfill His longing and our longing to spend eternity together.  And for as long as we remain in this valley of tears, He gives us a taste of heaven by leaving us a memorial of His Love - His precious Body and Blood.  If we were capable of comprehending all of this, our hearts would explode.
Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul's words here give you the sense that this prayer of his extends far beyond the Thessalonians.  Can you hear him in heaven praying for us using these very same words? 
There's a story about Saint Francis of Assisi, in which the authenticity of it has been debated, but makes a point regardless.  The story goes that he asked one of his brother Friars to accompany him into town to preach.  When they arrived in town, they quietly walked all through the town and then Saint Francis said to his brother Friar, "We're finished, let's go back."  His brother Friar said to him, "I thought you said we were going to preach."  And Saint Francis replied, "We just did."  Faith in action speaks louder than shouting from the highest mountaintops and manifests itself in many ways. 
How do others perceive us?  Even without mentioning our Lord, do we conduct ourselves in such a way that others would be able to deduce that we are Christians?  The joy that flows from a strong faith reveals itself naturally because of God's grace and could leave the most indifferent of souls asking themselves, "What do they have that I don't have?"  Faith is not a part time job to earn extra credit in heaven.  True faith envelops us and dictates our way of life and is not easily alarmed or shaken.
Gospel Commentary
As devout Christians we are well-represented by Zacchaeus.  He was a little man.  In the grand scheme of things, how often do we consider ourselves to be insignificant?  Part of this may be credited to some level of humility but there's always that inner self-demoralizing voice that asks, "How is it possible that I matter to God?"  The answer is simple but not necessarily understandable: We are sinners which bewilderingly qualifies us as recipients of Christ's love.  It is in our inner house that He dwells so that He may stay with us always.  Through prayer and silence we may visit that inner house to be with our Lord where that self-demoralizing voice is overpowered by the Voice that says: "Salvation has come to this house." 
As qualifiers of salvation, we are indeed descendants of Abraham.  While Jesus may never require us to literally give up half of our possessions, He does ask for detachment from them. 
"The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."  For Christians this is a most comforting verse because the word "was" is past tense.  In salvation history there was a time when we were among the lost, but through Baptism and by surrendering our lives to Christ's care and accepting His gift of salvation we can now joyfully look ahead without ever having to look back.  But the push forward should be an ongoing process of spiritual growth. 


Sunday, October 16, 2016

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 23, 2016

First Reading Commentary
Father Richard Ho Lung, founder of the Missionaries of the Poor, a religious Order headquartered in Kingston, Jamaica which serves the poor and the socially rejected, testified: "The poor possess a joy that is pure and highly contagious, for it doesn't come from material comfort and prosperity but from the very gift of being alive each day." 
This kind of joy is counter-cultural.  By worldly standards, joy or happiness is more often than not based on social recognition and material comfort.  Why is it, then, while giving aid, "good Samaritans" often notice that impoverished, struggling souls seemingly do not struggle at all when it comes to being deeply connected to the Lord; and thus possess a joy, which, for the secularist is inexplicable?  Certainly those who possess material wealth are called by the Almighty to offer a better quality of life to those who materially have little to nothing.  But when given the opportunity to work first hand with the poor, most likely and perhaps unexpectedly the giver of aid will, in turn, receive an inestimable gift from the one who is in need.  It's not unusual but often unforeseen when a helping hand is extended and in a twist the one needing help ends up offering something of great spiritual value to the one offering help. 
This Reading states that "the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds" and "does not rest till it reaches its goal, nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds".  Even the person with the largest bank account on planet earth can be lowly if he or she recognizes that their real treasure lies elsewhere.  Our own relationship with God begins by our personal invitation to Him to be Lord of our life.  Unfortunately, our own will could also diminish this intimate union because of other preoccupations.  One valuable lesson to be learned from many of those rejected by society is that God is all that really matters and dependence on Him is the only thing in this life that is infallibly reliable; and we have the power to make that bond permanent.  As for reliance on material wealth, blessed Job spoke those very familiar words: "The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away" (Job 1:21).
Second Reading Commentary
Like many of Saint Paul's writings, he is expressing ministerial experiences that are strikingly similar to Christ's experience as Man.  Specifically here, no one comes to his defense; he has been deserted; and he forgives those who are responsible.  Complete confidence and trust in our Lord would seem to be the key to Paul's existence.  He proclaims: "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."  This is by no means boasting; rather, he is giving witness to the fact that he was able to do everything because of Christ dwelling in him and working through him. 
This life is not a bed of roses, nor did Jesus ever promise that it would be.  But what Saint Paul and all the saints have discovered is that being defeated is not an option when abandoning one's own will and submitting wholeheartedly to the will of Almighty God.  Paul is confident that the crown of righteousness awaits him, and the Lord will safely bring him to His heavenly Kingdom.  And since the word "Saint" now precedes his name, his confidence in an eternal reward has been fully realized. 
When slowly and meditatively reading Paul's letters, his heart becomes accessible; and what is revealed there is that this man was an unstoppable warrior for Christ; and when taking into consideration the crosses he had to bear in his Christian life, while still willing to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, one can unmistakably conclude that this man possessed true inner peace and joy.
Gospel Commentary
What exactly is wrong with the prayer of the Pharisee?  He thanks God that he is not greedy, dishonest and adulterous.  Surely there's nothing wrong with giving glory and praise to God for giving him the strength and wisdom to avoid these sins.  The Pharisee is simply giving credit where credit is due. 
In the life of the Church, Vespers or Evening Prayer is designed to give thanks to God for the blessings of the day as stated by Saint Basil: "We give thanks for what has been given us, or what we have done well during this day." 
Here's where the trouble starts: The Pharisee says, "I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income."  On the surface there's really nothing wrong with that either but the intent of his heart is the root of the problem.  He's really bragging by proclaiming that he fasts and tithes.  He gives credit to God for his avoidance of three specific sins and also acknowledges his good deeds but sets himself apart from the tax collector.  In a sense he is saying: "Lord, here is what I do for You; aren't You impressed with me? - because You and I both know that this tax collector doesn't fast and tithe and surely he is greedy, dishonest and adulterous."  There is only one judgment Seat and the Pharisee seems to think that there's enough room for God and himself to sit on it.  And so, the Pharisee not only judges the tax collector but also fails to do what the tax collector succeeds in doing: acknowledging his own sinfulness. 
Once again, in the life of the Church, what follows Vespers, a few hours later, is Compline or Night Prayer which is prayed just before retiring to bed.  One of elements of Night Prayer is an examination of conscience.  Here is where we acknowledge our failings of the day and express sorrow for them.  Humility in part consists of admitting that we have failed God and each other.  Any unwillingness to do this or make it a standard practice will eventually allow pride to creep into our lives and then it becomes even more difficult to admit our shortcomings; and if we can't be honest with ourselves, who are we going to be honest with? 


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Twenty-Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 16, 2016

First Reading Commentary
We're all familiar with battles whether they influence us personally or our faith or our country or perhaps even have a worldly impact. The hands of Moses raised speaks to the human heart and says: "Lord, I offer this trial up to You - I trust You."  The Polish words which appear on the Divine Mercy image are: Jezu, Ufam Tobie (Jesus, I Trust in You). 
A rare television interview with then, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, aired on September 5, 2003.  He was asked his opinion of the root causes of the priestly abuse crisis.  What Cardinal Ratzinger identified as a specific element is a weakness of faith.  He said: "I think the essential point is the weakness of faith, because only if I am really in confidence personally with the Lord; if the Lord is for me, not an idea, but the Person of my deepest friendship; if I know personally the Lord and be in contact of love everyday in the Lord, if for me, faith is the reality.  It is the ground of my life; it is a most sure reality, and not some possibility - in this case, if I am really convinced and really in contact of love with the Lord, the Lord will help me in these temptations and I can even win what seems impossible." 
As human beings, we're weak enough as it is, but to make little to no effort to draw closer to our Lord Who loves us beyond our capacity to understand, then that can certainly make us a target for unthinkable evil.  But as Aaron and Hur supported Moses, so are we here for each other living out the Christian ideal. 
Jesus came to us through Mary; and it's not a bad idea to return the favor.  Simeon was in ecstasy when Jesus was presented to him in the temple through the arms of Mary.  John the Baptist leaped in the womb of his mother Elizabeth when the Presence of Jesus was detected in the womb of Mary.  At the wedding feast of Cana water was miraculously changed into wine by Jesus at the request of Mary.  Saint Alphonsus Liguori said: "Just as the vine in flower puts to flight serpents, so does the name of Mary force back the legions of hell." 
God's love is immense but not intrusive; He cannot force Himself upon us because that wouldn't be a loving act.  Evil's desire for us is usually done through means of deception and in some cases is compelling.  And perhaps this is why Scripture is so adamant about the dangers of being lukewarm.  Saint Paul instructs: "Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer" (Romans 12:11-12).  And an even more powerful and apocalyptic passage in Scripture on the topic of being lukewarm is: "Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will begin to vomit you out of My Mouth" (Revelation 3:16).  Buts arms raised in prayer daily is our initiative and drive to stay intimately close to our Lord.
Second Reading Commentary
Prayer and doing the work of the Lord is certainly a great way to stay close to Him.  But perhaps the most critical time for prayer is when you don't feel like it.  Jesus has done so much for us; why shouldn't we be inconvenienced for Him, especially when considering something as serious as the health of the soul?  Skipping prayer time is a natural, human desire to avoid inconvenience.  Passing on God's sustaining Presence and words, however, could leave one open for something far less desirable even when the mind is duped into believing that a particular temptation would be time well spent and perhaps more fun. 
Saint Paul promotes the value of Scripture which, of course, in his day would have been the Old Testament.  There's no reason to think, however, that Paul is suggesting that Scripture alone would suffice.  Elsewhere Paul is quite clear about what else is a key ingredient: "Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught" (2 Thessalonians 2:15) – and - Paul also refers to the Church as the pillar and foundation of truth (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15).  A healthy, balanced spiritual diet, then, is Scripture and Tradition as it is revealed and interpreted by the Christ-given authority of the Church.
Gospel Commentary
Praying constantly for the same need can be frustrating.  It's not that God doesn't hear us the first time, or the second time, or the hundredth time.  Our Lord has every intention of answering our prayers.  Knowing that He loves us beyond comprehension, patience and faithfulness are needed, believing that God's time is better than our time.  Certainly Saint Monica could attest to this as she prayed seventeen years for the conversion of her son.  And how were her prayers finally answered?  The Church was given the great Saint Augustine.  Certainly there has to be some discernment on our part when praying for the same need over and over; but surely praying for someone's conversion is a worthy prayer.  Jesus' parable about the need to pray always is pertinent for each and every one of us.  Saint Thérèse of Lisieux once said that no more than three minutes ever went by without her thinking of God.  Even a passing thought of God is prayer because it's a constant reminder of our invitation to Him to be ever-present in our lives.  While praying seventeen years for someone's conversion might seem exhausting, in addition to the importance of the prayer itself, the person offering the prayer is also strengthening their personal union with the Lord.  Even on the busiest of busy days, pausing frequently to acknowledge God's Presence is a beautiful prayer and takes only a matter of seconds to do. 
In the final verse Jesus asks the question: "When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?"  This question can be applied not only to Christ's Second Coming but also to our own personal last breath.  Prayer requires faith which produces an ever-growing love and knowledge of Jesus.  To pray often is to seek a stronger bond of love as well as a greater desire to know Him very intimately.  When the Son of Man comes will He find faith?  When applied to our own final heartbeat, perhaps a more personal way of asking this question is: When I meet the Son of Man face-to-Face, will I already be well-acquainted with Him?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 9, 2016

First Reading Commentary
Naaman was well respected by his servants.  He was a general of the army of the king of Syria but unfortunately had leprosy.  A letter was sent from the king of Syria to the king of Israel requesting that Naaman pay a visit to the prophet Elisha to be healed of his leprosy.  Naaman went to Elisha's house but Elisha sent a messenger to him telling him to plunge into the Jordan seven times.  Naaman, at first was angry because Elisha did not personally greet him but Naaman's servants convinced him to follow the instructions given by the messenger.  After these events is where this Reading begins. 
Saint Ambrose relates plunging seven times into the Jordan as a signification of baptism in which we are cleansed from the seven capital sins.  This miracle was to have great significance as it prefigures the call of the Gentiles to the blessings of the Messiah.  Christ confirms this in Saint Luke's Gospel when He says: "There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them were cleansed but Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4:27).  To Naaman's credit, he recognized Elisha's God as the One true God. 
Elisha refused to accept any gifts offered by Naaman.  The holiness of Almighty God is made apparent by Elisha's detachment from temporal possessions.  Acceptance of gifts by the prophets was not uncommon but Elisha wanted to show Naaman that God's grace cannot be purchased. 
Two mule-loads of earth would be used to make bricks and thus build an altar so that Naaman may worship God according to the Almighty's precepts.  This Reading teaches us that all nations and races are invited to God's salvation.
Second Reading Commentary
The opening words: "Remember Jesus Christ" really captures a marvelous understanding of human nature.  As much as we would like to have our Lord and Savior glued to our hearts and minds perpetually, it is in moments of friction and chaos, moments such as these that often lead to sin because we allow ourselves to be swayed by the whirlwind of the moment and thus take our focus and thoughts off Jesus.  Saint Paul shares with us such moments as these in an even more severe way by his description of being chained and treated like a prisoner.  But Paul, through perseverance and the grace of God is able to find communion with Christ; and what he writes in the opening verse is strikingly similar to Christ's experience as Man.  Paul, even in chains and imprisoned proclaims that the Gospel continues to spread because the Word of God is not chained and is able to persevere even through a suffering vessel; but also our Lord's power is not limited to one instrument. 
The closing verses are possibly extracted from an ancient Christian hymn.  When dying to passions Christians are crucified and die with Christ.  With Christ they are buried and from the waters of baptism arise with Him and are clothed with Him.  By wearing the garment of Christ a faithful Christian's life is also designed to be strikingly similar to that of Jesus: Proclaiming the Gospel either by word or deed, the sufferings endured both emotional and physical, and in a sense, depending on the severity of suffering, a Christian can be imprisoned either literally or by means of an incapacitating illness; while bearing it all with the faith in knowing that eternal salvation is awaiting them through Christ Jesus.  This is the design but as we all know, not always the reality.  Saint Paul and all the saints are ideal examples of overcoming adversity by finding a mystical intimacy with Christ in times of calamity.
Gospel Commentary
Like the First Reading, this Gospel shows that the blessings of the Almighty are not limited to the Jewish people.  Jesus is obeying the Mosaic Law in His approach to dealing with these ten lepers as it written in the Pentateuch: "This is the rite of the leper, when he is to be cleansed, he shall be brought to the priest" (Leviticus 14:2). 
In this story and in the Law one can sense a foreshadowing of the Sacrament of Reconciliation as leprosy represents the uncleanness of sin and a priest is required to be once again declared clean.  In defense of our Catholic faith, this story would seem to suggest that to be washed clean of our sins, Christ and a priest are required; it's not that Christ alone isn't sufficient, but the evidence certainly intimates that this is the way our Redeemer architected the process of reconciliation.  This is made even more apparent in Saint John's Gospel (cf. John 20:22-23).  The mercy of God to all His creation is revealed here. 
Christ's message of salvation was first revealed to His own people but not accepted by them.  This is represented by the other nine lepers who were cured but did not return to offer gratitude to the Messiah.  The only one to return to offer gratitude is a Samaritan, representing the Gentiles who are the extension of Christ's saving grace; and the Samaritan's gratitude symbolizes the acceptance of Christ as the Messiah by the Gentiles.  The Church's official teaching is that salvation is universal.  The Catechism teaches that all are implicated in Adam's sin, and so, as one man's trespass led to the condemnation of all, so one Man's [Christ] act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all (cf. CCC 402). 
As Catholics, we have to be careful not to become part of the group of nine who never returned to offer gratitude.  In the pre-Conciliar Church it was a common practice to remain in the church building after Mass to offer thanksgiving in private, even if only for a few moments.  And of course, the Finger of God on our Church has brought forth so many extraordinary examples of sanctity, like Saint Louis de Montfort, who would remain in deep prayer after Mass for a couple of hours. 
Jesus is our Savior and our Food Who will sustain us and carry us into eternal life.  The Eucharist is a great, selfless gift given by Christ to His Church.  But repetition can lead to a disposition that is something less than edifying; which is why Catholics have to be on guard to avoid having the daily or weekly reception of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ become something that is taken for granted.  "Jesus, Master!  Have pity on us!" 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time - October 2, 2016

First Reading Commentary
This Reading is a reminder that the question which arises in suffering, "Where is God?" is nothing new.  A lot of attention has been given to the darkness that Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced, and that darkness is evidenced not only in this Reading but in many other places of Scripture, most especially in the Book of Psalms.  It's difficult to discern what God is saying to us in the midst of a world of sin, violence and immorality.  In our day of rampant secularism, however, we need to ask ourselves, "Where do I place God in my life?"  Hopefully He is the Center of it.  The darkness that is experienced by saintly individuals like Mother Teresa and John of the Cross intimately connects them with Jesus and His cry of: "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?"  This type of darkness is shrouded in mystery because no one really has the complete explanation as to why it occurs or why it is necessary.  The darkness we experience as a body of people is our perception that God doesn't seem to manifest Himself in our highly secularized culture.  This type of darkness is perhaps the result of our collective actions, or lack thereof as a society.  Certainly, most of the time our hands seemed tied and we're not quite sure what to do.  But much of the culture today believes that truth comes to us through FOX, CNN and MSNBC.  We live in a culture where prayer is not allowed in schools; bibles are not welcome in the workplace.  Efforts are being made to take the words "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance.  The Ten Commandments are being removed from public offices and buildings.  Souls created by God in the womb are returning to Him quickly because their bodies are being destroyed by abortion.  These are only a few examples and certainly, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, there are other issues and concerns that weigh heavy on your heart and mind.  All this is occurring and yet we only need to look as far as our wallets and purses to find on our nation's currency the words: "In God We Trust".  Really? 

Every pope of our modern day has spoken about the duty of every Christian to evangelize.  The first step to evangelization, however, is to realize that it can't be done without God.  A gaze at the Cross will be a vivid reminder of our current state of affairs; but more importantly the Cross is where victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat.  As many homilists have said over the centuries: "Come to the Cross!" 

Our Lord assures Habakkuk that His response to all this folly will surely come.  What is meant by this is speculative but most scholars are inclined to believe that this is a reference to the Second Coming of Christ.  A hint about our Lord's Second Coming in a Reading that was written before His Incarnation is a reassuring sign of hope; regardless of what our human eyes see, our spiritual eyes need to be opened in order to see that our God still has everything under control.  What, then, is our course of action?  The answer is in the final verse by being among the just by remaining faithful.  Faithfulness keeps us in prayer; and prayer, as Padre Pio used to say, opens God's Heart and gives God permission to do with us as He wills.  God's way is the only way.

Second Reading Commentary
"Stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands."  Most likely this imposition of hands is the ordination of Timothy.  Notice the qualifications for leadership that Saint Paul expresses here: Love, self-control, and bearing hardships.  This isn't exactly in accordance with what is usually seen by leaders who oppress their people.  When things get a little heated, instead of bearing hardships, these dictatorial-type leaders usually demonstrate that spirit of cowardice and flee. 
Ever notice that following one's own design and turning away from biblical precepts eventually leads to everything going haywire?  God, however, is not just a bunch of rules and regulations; He loves us beyond human understanding.  The rules He has given to us are for our own good. 

The "gift of God" which Saint Paul writes about is grace.  Our Lord supplies us with grace which arms us for what He calls us to do.  He supplies the grace to also bear whatever sufferings may come.  Perhaps a more fulfilling way to express it is to say that in every moment of this life, grace is sufficient.  Unfortunately, fallen humanity doesn't always cooperate with this gift from God.  The gift of grace is difficult to understand because it's not something that is concrete or physical; but grace is a gift that is always ready for use.  In the case of ordination, grace is, as one anonymous writer puts it, the supernatural fitness received for the worthy exercise of the sacred ministry.  And borrowing this definition for a more generic use, it can be said that grace is the supernatural fitness received for the worthy exercise of living a holy life.

Gospel Commentary
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that faith is an entirely free gift from God but we can lose this priceless gift.  To live, grow and persevere in faith until the end, we must nourish it with the Word of God (cf. CCC 162). 

Why does Jesus use the example of a mustard seed?  Saint John Chrysostom explains: "Christ compares faith to a grain of mustard seed because, though the grain is small, it is nevertheless stronger than most herbs."  Mulberry trees, once they start dropping berries, are very messy.  Life can be messy; there are many things to contend with.  In Saint Matthew's Gospel the mulberry tree is replaced with a mountain.  A mountain can be translated to mean a large obstacle.  "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed," you will never be overwhelmed by any obstacles.  If you have faith, then you already know that God's judgment will come as He assures Habakkuk of this in the First Reading.  And if you have faith in that, then what must follow is trust in God's time for this to occur. 
Not included in this Gospel, just before these verses, Jesus instructs His apostles about forgiveness.  Forgiveness isn't always as easy for us as it is for God and it may be the reason that prompted the apostles to ask Jesus to increase their faith.  Very strictly or severely speaking, the point of the parable is to show that we are the unprofitable servants.  There's really nothing we can do or offer to God that is worthy of the eternal reward that awaits us.  The Master, our Creator has the right to assign us to any task He wishes.  We belong entirely to Him.  He is the Master of our gifts and talents.  We do, however, have free will which means the choice could be made to abuse or distort the gifts He has given us.  Even though He is our Creator and Lord, He does not interfere with our liberty. 
Saint Augustine taught that if our Lord produces us in holy desires, if He works us in meritorious actions, gives us virtuous inclinations and supernatural gifts, He sets to our account the good use we make of them; and in crowning our merits, He crowns His own gifts.  Dom Augustin Calmet adds: "Though we are unprofitable to Him, our serving Him is not unprofitable to us; for He is pleased to give, by His grace, a value to our good works.  Without His assistance, we can neither undertake nor finish anything to please Him."  Our faith, then, is a complete trust in His design for our life. 
How many actually believe that if we commanded a tree to be uprooted it would actually obey that command before our very eyes?  Probably no one or maybe very few!  Regardless of the size of the seed of one's faith, what plagues humanity is the seed of doubt that is planted within us as a result of original sin.  Without that seed of doubt, what Jesus says about the tree obeying us is most likely literally true.  Scripture offers a very short prayer to deal with doubt: "I do believe, Lord; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24).


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 25, 2016

First Reading Commentary
The ancient languages translate "the complacent in Zion" more severely.  The Syriac is translated as "the despisers of Zion" and the Hebrew translates as "those who hate Zion". 
The tragedy which this Reading deals with is the rich neglecting the poor.  The collapse of Joseph is a reference to the sufferings of humanity which these idle rich seem to have no share in, nor any desire to lessen.  The collapse of Joseph may also be referring to a moral collapse among the Israelites which these men, some of whom may be priests, have no concern with. 
The scene this Reading paints is not all that foreign to our modern day.  Complacency and moral decadence are not strangers to our culture.  One can be materially rich and one can be spiritually rich.  Both forms of riches are gifts from God.  The Almighty calls each of us not to hoard but to share the gifts He has entrusted to us, both material and spiritual.
Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul begins this Reading by listing the qualities necessary for living a Christian life.  Saint John Chrysostom points out that the title "man of God" is not to be taken lightly; it is one of the highest titles and commendations that can be given to any man.  Paul is addressing Timothy by this title.  In the Old Testament Samuel, Elijah and Elisha were also addressed by this title. 
"Compete well for the faith" literally from the Greek means to "fight the good fight" or more precisely "strive a good strife".  Paul mentions Christ Jesus as the One "Who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession".  This actually has two possible meanings and it's not known for certain which meaning Paul is using.  First, it could mean Christ's confession before Pilate that He was a King but not of this world.  In other words, He is the Son of God.  The other meaning is that Christ taught and suffered under the reign of Pontius Pilate who was the governor of Judea. 
"The appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ" is laid out in the Greek text as the day that will be desirable for Christians who have preserved their baptismal innocence; but terrible, in the extreme, for all who have lived in constant neglect of their Christian duties.  Eternal life is a free gift because there is nothing we can do in this life that is worthy enough for so valuable a prize.  In this life, however, Christians have a moral mandate which is best preserved by following the example and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Gospel Commentary
The following words are translated from the Latin text of the Book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) and offers precise directives about cultivating a charitable and humble heart: "Son, do not defraud the poor of alms, and do not turn away your eyes from the poor.  Do not despise the hungry soul; and do not provoke the poor in his want.  Do not afflict the heart of the needy, and defer not to give to him that is in distress.  Do not reject the petition of the afflicted; and do not turn away your face from the needy.  Deliver him that suffers wrong out of the hand of the proud; and do not be fainthearted in your soul.  In judging be merciful to the fatherless as a father, and as a husband to their mother.  And you shall be as the obedient son of the Most High, and He will have mercy on you more than a mother" (Ecclesiasticus 4:1-4, 9-11). 
It's relatively easy to make the connection between this Gospel and the First Reading from the Prophet Amos.  The parable that Jesus uses here is found only in Saint Luke's Gospel.  Abraham's authority is presented here to show the mindset of Moses; for Moses, the Law and the Prophets are not and cannot be in opposition to Abraham. 
A very ancient theory suggests that this parable is a true story because of the use of names for character portrayals.  Our Lord did not do this in any of His other parables.  Saint Luke is not teaching that the poor are closer friends of God than the rich but the lesson asks a question: In this life, what are you doing with the gifts the Lord gave you?  Being poor or rich is not the issue as Saint Ambrose explains: "A man may be reserved and modest in the midst of riches and honors, as he may be proud and avaricious in the obscurity of a poor and wretched life." 
The rich man, in torment, begs that Lazarus be sent to warn his five brothers for fear that they too will end up tormented.  The rich man and his brother obviously do not understand what it takes to be a companion of Abraham who is the ideal friend of God.  Abraham replies that they have Moses and the prophets.  To a Jew there is nothing more authoritative than the Law and the Prophets which teaches charity to the less fortunate.  Therefore, the moral of the parable is that when it comes to the duty of charity, Jesus is in full accord with the Law and the Prophets. 
As Catholics, the lesson here is that the obligations which are to be learned concerning charity are not likely to come from a friend or relative rising from the dead or by any other miraculous means; but only from Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church. 


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 18, 2016

First Reading Commentary
"When will the new moon be over?"  The new moon is the beginning of a Jewish festival; and at the end of that festival is when those who lent money at unusually high rates of interest would demand their payment.  In the Gospel there's evidence of this when Jesus ejected the traders from the temple (cf. Luke 19:45-48). 
What is occurring in this Reading is the exploitation of the weak by the strong, and the poor being taken advantage of by the rich.  Crooked business dealings, questionable politics and other forms of unrighteousness are still a reality in today's society. 
God has revealed to us that He is the same always.  It is humanity that makes all the changes - it is human beings that invent ways to help themselves at the expense of others; and are somehow arrogant enough to think that God will go along for the ride.  The trouble nowadays is there are a handful of corrupt and immoral things which have been occurring for so long that it has almost become acceptable – a mindset or normal way of life for our society.  The immorality of it all is seldom questioned.  The last verse plainly states how God looks upon it: "Never will I forget a thing they have done!" 
Where do we as Christ's followers fit in to all of this?  Certainly not as finger pointers!  Each of us has the duty of examining our own consciences.  While corruption and immorality may begin with its perpetrators, its advancement often comes by means of good people doing nothing.

Second Reading Commentary
Here Saint Paul urges us to pray for each other and more specifically for those in public office whose decisions could have a direct bearing on the tranquility and quality of our lives.  What has been a concern for so long in other nations is now a concern in the United States – freedom of religion – in which the precepts of faith are being marginalized by the federal government.  One such issue is the sanctity of life, and the killing of such life, and religious organizations having to provide the funding for this immorality.    
In Saint Paul's day, Christianity was at a young age and he was concerned about false teachings creeping in.  He tries to assure all that God wishes everyone to be saved but it is crucial to come to the knowledge of the truth and stay away from those who were spreading false doctrine.  Paul's claims to the truth are supported by his appointment from Christ Himself to be a preacher and apostle. 
In this letter Paul's final wishes are for prayer while avoiding anger and arguments.  In other words, pray for each other because we're all in this together as the Mystical Body of Christ.
Gospel Commentary
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the following lesson: "Every practice that reduces persons to nothing more than a means of profit enslaves man, leads to idolizing money and contributes to the spread of atheism" (CCC 2424).  It's sad that the caution flag Jesus has waived so often throughout this 'Journey Narrative' is still pertinent today.  It simply means that the lessons taught by our Redeemer still have not been fully acted upon some two-thousand years later. 
Jesus' native language was Aramaic.  The word "mammon" is an Aramaic word which means "something confided" or "deposited".  In this Gospel mammon is clearly the mammon of iniquity.  In the parable there is a steward who manages the estate of a rich man; but is accused, with good reason, of mismanagement and thus is removed from his position.  The steward doesn't know where to turn because he is not strong enough for manual labor and he is too ashamed to beg.  Unfortunately, he's not too ashamed to steal.  He calls upon his master's debtors and falsifies their contracts.  In doing so, he has cheated his master even further.  The master then commends this corrupt steward for his prudence. 
"For the children of this world are more prudent in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light."  This can be a difficult statement to understand.  The master and the steward represent those who live by the ideals of this world.  Therefore, the master commends the steward for such a worldly - looking out for number one - type of solution.  The children of light live by the ideals of the world to come.  Although our Lord is not actually recommending the behavioral tendencies of the children of this world who ingeniously invent schemes for their temporal advantage, He would seem to be suggesting that the children of light need to consider themselves stewards for God by being prudent about the concerns of eternity.  In other words, stewards of God need to conduct their affairs fully aware that they will have to render an account to their Master because as stewards of God much has been given therefore much will be required. 
"You cannot serve God and mammon."  Jesus concludes this Gospel with that statement to show that serving Him faithfully and properly is not possible if attached to worldly possessions.  There's no harm in having temporal riches, but if there is anything among those temporal goods that absolutely, positively cannot be parted with, that possession, then, is an attachment and is incompatible with serving Christ because the attachment becomes an idol.