Monday, August 25, 2014

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 31, 2014

First Reading Commentary
The word “duped” in the Latin Vulgate translates as “deceived” and both words seem to make God appear to be untruthful; but, of course, He Who is the Truth cannot lie.  The Hebrew text translates as “enticed” and perhaps that is the most appropriate word of the three.  Even though “enticed” can have a slightly negative connotation, the idea for the reflective reader is to make it harmonious with “fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones” which delineates God as irresistible.  The Hebrew text approaches this from the point of view of what God is really doing, while the other two translations seem to translate it from the prophet’s perspective -- in other words, what it felt like to be in the prophet’s shoes. 

This Reading is about the suffering that the prophet received by accepting the commission of prophet.  And he is feeling a bit betrayed because God concealed the fact that as a prophet suffering would be unavoidable. 

As everything of the Old Testament points to Jesus, we can enter into our Savior’s fulfillment of this text with the words: “Let this chalice pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39) and “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).  Many of us could look back on at least one event in our life where we felt that God had turned His Back on us; but suffering entered into the world as the result of man’s fall; and nowhere has the pain of sin been experienced more fully than by He Who knew no sin, but became sin for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).

The fire of God burns in every human heart: some are prepared for His intense heat in mystical prayer; the enticing secularist culture as well as the burdens of the daily grind reduces many of us to experiencing only the flickering flames; while others wish the fire could be completely extinguished.  Our Lord’s presence is never truly unknown, even by those who claim He doesn’t exist.  We will try to draw closer to Him, or be indifferent to sharing our life with Him, or waste a lot of energy attempting to escape from Him.  Whatever means is chosen by our God given gift of free will, the creature has infused knowledge that there is a Creator.                  

Second Reading Commentary
Saint John Chrysostom defines the offering of our bodies as a living sacrifice in this way: “Let the eye abstain from sinful looks and glances, and it is a sacrifice; the tongue from speaking ill, and it is a sacrifice.”  And in today’s culture contraception, abortion, and sexual activity outside of marriage could certainly be added to the list of abuses to the body; and with the temptations of our modern world, not surrendering to these temptations can certainly feel like a sacrifice.  Living according to the example taught to us by Jesus Christ and modeled for us by the saints is a sacrifice; but it is a sacrifice that is transforming and brings us closer to God.  And all that is of God is good, pleasing, and perfect. 

To get there, however, we must find the courage to examine our consciences.  Such fears keep many Catholics away from the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and secularism now offers an easy out by suggesting there’s no such thing as sin.  But the saints, in all their diversity, had that one thing in common: they wanted to be very aware of their own darkness in order to expose it to the Light. 

Saint Paul pleads with us not to conform ourselves to this world.  Thus, as lovers of the Lord, we have to ask ourselves if we are in some way conformed to the world.  When the public sins of this day and age lose their shock value, when they fail to produce a jolt to our heart rate, when we become somewhat desensitized to all the atrocities that make headline news, then we have to admit that we have at least some level of conformity to this world.  But all is not lost – Saint Paul teaches us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds.  Walking with Jesus daily has to transform us.  He is the same God Who became like fire burning in the heart of the prophet Jeremiah in the First Reading.  He did it then, and He will do it now, but our gift of free will has to give Jesus permission.  This is surrender -- but we are not handing ourselves over to tyranny -- but humbly placing ourselves before the Feet of Love -- Love that is stronger than sin and death.
Gospel Commentary
It is here in this weekend’s Gospel that our Lord decides to break the news about a mysterious Passion that will occur.  Interestingly, our Lord follows up immediately with the prediction of the Resurrection but the apostles, or at least Peter, can’t seem to get past the Passion part of the prophecy.  Of course, we don’t know for sure what was on the minds of the apostles at this point but one can imagine the disturbed looks they must’ve had which is likely why Peter took Jesus aside to rebuke Him.  Peter was either thinking that there are twelve apostles and they would surely be able to protect Jesus, or he assumed that with all the miracles they witnessed from Jesus, certainly Jesus Himself could easily prevent such a tragedy. 

“Get behind Me, Satan” are shocking words but it seems that our Lord recognizes His adversary at work through Peter.  We at times struggle with understanding the ways of God and this Gospel is a real wake-up call as to how deceptive evil can be because of our lack of understanding God.  Recall 9/11, the tsunami, other disasters and your own personal or family misfortunes -- can you hear yourself asking why God didn’t prevent it?  Can you now hear, “Get behind Me, Satan!”? 

Very few human beings have advanced far enough in the spiritual life to accept whatever may come without complaint.  But those who have trust that misfortune arrived because God allowed it and therefore are confident that just as Jesus rose from His tragedy, likewise God will rise and bring good out of the unfortunate occurrences of their own lives.  But don’t fret if you’re not one of the few -- some of the Church’s greatest saints have been known to have a short fuse.  Intellectually, most of us are on the same page with the mystics of the Church in believing that God will work it all out, but unlike the mystics, our hearts and dispositions just can’t seem to roll with the punches.   

Poor Peter surely thought he was being noble but he was actually speaking words that were contrary to the will of God, the glory of Jesus Christ, the redemption of humanity, and the defeat of Satan.  How awkward would it feel to have to go to Confession and say that you’re guilty of trying to save Jesus from being murdered?  As you can see, we have a long way to go in our quest to discern the ways of God.  Let’s not forget that in last weekend’s Gospel Jesus made Peter the head of the Church and gave him the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.  And now this week, Satan immediately begins his deceptive work on Peter.  This should prompt us to always remember to pray for the pope.  The most comprehensive lesson to be taken from “Get behind Me, Satan” is that Jesus is saying you and I will never know the joy of the resurrection without first experiencing the cross.  Saint Rose of Lima said: “Apart from the cross, there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.” 

Jesus is the Head and we are the body.  Since most of us will find the climb up the spiritual ladder to be a slow and difficult journey, thanks be to God, we can trust in the love and mercy of our Lord and be confident that He understands our weaknesses far better than we do.