Sunday, August 28, 2016

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 4, 2016

First Reading Commentary
In this Reading the roadway is being paved which will eventually lead to the revelation that the Holy Spirit is the Third Person in the Blessed Trinity. 
How much is known about God?  What can we expect from Him?  What are His plans for each of us?  There are many questions concerning God.  Throughout the course of salvation history some of those answers have already been divulged by God Whose perfect Wisdom willed to clothe Himself in flesh and unveil that He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; "and thus were the paths of those on earth made straight". 
"The corruptible body burdens the soul" and certainly the mind can be considered part of the body.  This is the classic battle that occurs within each of us.  Even the desire to know more about God than what His infallible will has already revealed is a battle that is of the flesh - not the soul.  The flesh burdens itself with labor, ailments, curiosity or the need to know, as well as other worries and anxieties while the soul is burdened because of its longing to rest forever in the Arms of the Creator.  In other words, for the soul, God is all that matters.  As Christians, we hope to achieve at least a partial truce so that the body is more in harmony with the soul.  At the resurrection, the body and soul will be in perfect harmony because a glorified body will be joined with the soul and the battle will forever cease.
Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul met and by the power of the Holy Spirit converted Onesimus to Christianity while imprisoned.  Onesimus was a slave who had run away from his master, Philemon, a Christian of Colossae.  Paul convinced Onesimus to return to Philemon with this letter hoping to minimize or eliminate his probable punishment for desertion.  According to the law of that time Onesimus could possibly face crucifixion.  Paul appeals to Philemon's charity which Paul must have previously witnessed first hand.  Paul does seem to hint, however, that as an apostle of Christ, he has the right to force a charitable attitude towards Onesimus but he doesn't wish to do that if it is not necessary; Paul would rather rely on the decency of Philemon.  It would seem that Paul is suggesting that Philemon's temporary loss of Onesimus was the result of Divine Providence.  Now the door has been opened to Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a brother instead of a slave. 
This Reading appeals to us as Christians to remind us that we're all brothers and sisters in the Lord, called to serve one another with a charitable heart.
Gospel Commentary
Harsh words from our Savior would seem to be quite common in the "Journey Narrative".  Jesus is talking about hating those who are closest to us.  There's really no way to tip-toe around this because the ancient languages translate to mean exactly that.  This is definitely an eye opener and something that should indeed attract attention because true discipleship is serious business. 
First of all, Christians believe that Jesus is God and God is Love and Love is incapable of hating; nor would He ever command His followers to hate anyone else.  Hate is a human emotion, though, and whenever it rears its ugly head, it should only be directed at sin, that is, hate the sin but love the sinner. 
When examining these shocking words from our Redeemer, and comparing it to the parable He uses in this Gospel, it becomes clearer what Jesus is talking about.  Christ is looking for complete self-abandonment from His followers.  Counting the cost is the moral of the parable.  What is the cost of walking away from true discipleship? 
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Christ is the Center of all Christian life; and the bond with Him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social (cf. CCC 1618).  If Christians are to follow the Model and His devotion to the Kingdom of God, detachment which grows out of complete self-surrender is vital.  Christ is very clear about what His disciples’ disposition must be in order to properly follow Him.  As disciples, we must ask ourselves if we fit Christ's qualifications for discipleship; and if we don't, are we willing to do what it takes to make the cut? 
The intention of the heart is very important.  As sinful human beings, more than likely all of us will from time-to-time fail miserably at our efforts of complete self-abandonment and total devotion to our Lord.  But when we fail, is it because we fearfully abandoned our heart's desire or is it because our hearts were never really in it?  The former requires penance while the latter not only requires penance but a major re-evaluation of what's really important. 
It's impossible to be dealing with matters of God and not be dealing with Love.  In a strange twist, hate as it is used in this Gospel can be adequately substituted with love.  Love for parents, spouse, children, friends and each other demands a great deal of sacrifice and self-abandonment.  True love always puts the needs of others before our own; and when it is done for others, it is done for Christ. 


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 28, 2016

First Reading Commentary
The dictionary defines "humble" as: Marked by meekness or modesty in behavior, attitude, or spirit; not arrogant or prideful.  To apply this to the spiritual life is to understand that God is the Master and we are the servants.  To be humble is to be aware of one's own nothingness.  Saint John the Baptist said: "He [Jesus] must increase but I must decrease" (John 3:30).  And Jesus Himself said: "Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).  
The ultimate act of humility, however, came from God Himself when He clothed Himself in flesh, made Himself subject to human parents and to His own divine decrees.  He became not only a Servant but a suffering Servant.  He Who is Supreme over all creation subjected Himself to His creation. 
Not seeking that which is sublime or too lofty is by no means suggesting that God is to be avoided.  Certainly the Almighty is far beyond what human beings are able to fully comprehend but it is immensely beneficial to seek what He has revealed about Himself - His love, compassion, mercy, and understanding - while applying what is received from Him to our daily interactions with each other. 
One does have to be on guard, however, and avoid false humility which is nothing more than trying to disguise self-love by downplaying the wonderful gifts that God gives.  Humility is truth.  False humility knows the truth but deep down credits oneself more than God but isn't quite bold enough to say that. 
Second Reading Commentary
This Reading makes a comparison between the Old Covenant and the New and Everlasting Covenant.  Mount Sinai is depicted here to represent the Old Covenant which Moses ascended to receive the commands of God because he was the mediator between God and His people.  Moses was their mediator because after hearing the Voice of God the Israelites were frightened and "begged that no further message be addressed to them". 
Mount Zion, which signifies the Church triumphant or heaven, is the New and Everlasting Covenant established by the Blood of Christ resulting in an eternal dwelling of "countless angels in festal gathering, the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and the spirits of the just made perfect". 
In the Old Covenant, all the sacrifices offered to God still could not spare the people from everlasting death.  In the New Covenant, God Incarnate sacrificed Himself so that He could descend to the regions of death and defeat death forevermore.  In the Old Covenant there was an air of apprehension among the people of God.  In the New, Christ has forever established the family of God.
Gospel Commentary
Jesus is dining with one of the leading Pharisees.  He tells a parable which very cleverly compares the level of humility found at this banquet to another type of banquet.  When reading the guest list from this other type of banquet it becomes clear that Jesus is speaking of the heavenly banquet. 
The Pharisee is actually practicing the religious law of hospitality, but is doing so with the intent of promoting his own prestige.  From what is known about the Pharisees, it can be reasoned that if there was to be a heavenly banquet, the Pharisees would automatically consider themselves invited.  This disposition of self-aggrandizement, however, could result in exclusion instead of inclusion. 
Not inviting friends or relatives but only "the poor, the crippled, the lame" and "the blind" is not meant to be interpreted literally; there's a lesson here that is offered by our Savior concerning the level of charity that should consume the human heart.  In other words, "the poor, the crippled, the lame" and "the blind" are not likely able to pay back that which is given to them; therefore charitable works are to be done without expecting anything in return.  Charity should be approached with the mindset that those in need are also children of God.  Even the Pharisees of this day and age - those who exalt themselves - have a place in a Christian's house of charity. 
Consider the charity and love of our Blessed Mother.  She watched the Son she brought into this world agonize and die on the Cross; and in those waning moments of her Son's agony, plus the agony from the sword that has pierced her soul, her Divine Son informs her that she in all her perfect purity was to become the Mother of sinful humanity, the very ones responsible for her Son's Sacrifice.  Seemingly this would have been an excellent opportunity to begin grumbling; but instead she embraces this vocation and lovingly shows her spiritual children the best path to the Way, the Truth and the Life. 
Dom Louis Rouvier, in his "Journal de Mai" writes: "Never did this sweet Virgin conceive the slightest feelings of animosity towards anyone.  And yet, who has been put to a more severe test than she?  Nevertheless, neither hatred nor resentment ever found its way into her heart."  If you're thinking that our Blessed Mother had an advantage by being conceived without sin, remember that our Lord commands us to love our enemies and love our neighbor.  If He commands it, you can bet He has provided the grace to do it. 
Certainly Jesus is a sign of contradiction.  On the surface, dining with a Pharisee while at the same time living a life of complete and loving self-abandonment seems incompatible and controversial.  But aren't devout Christians signs of contradiction by worldly standards?  As loyal disciples of Jesus, the Christian eyes are fixed on Him, striving to be Him to all those who need His compassion, love, charity and mercy.  In a sense, then, these warriors for Christ are representatives of heaven, proclaiming the way of the Lord to a culture that is at odds with the Christian lifestyle.
One of the relatable benefits of the Incarnation is that we can put a Face and a Body on our God Who entered into humanity through a Woman.  In the midst of trying to contemplate countless celestial mysteries, our Lord's humanness is something we can at least intellectually conceive and also are quite familiar with from our own life's experiences in the natural order. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 21, 2016

First Reading Commentary
Multiple names of places in Scripture often create confusion for readers.  With that in mind, perhaps it's best to begin by giving these cities a modern day location.  Tarshish is the name of a port in what is now known as Spain; Put and Lud are in North Africa; Mosoch is in Italy; attempts to pinpoint Tubal are inconclusive but many scholars place it in Asia Minor; and lastly, Javan is in Greece. 
While it may be helpful to know where these places are, the message of this Reading is not limited only to these locales.  This Reading is a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah Whose saving grace will flow not only to the people of Israel and these aforementioned cities but also "nations of every language". 
Isaiah prophesies that our Lord "will set a sign among" the nations.  According to Saint Jerome, that sign is actually two different things: the Cross, which Christ left to enlighten us, and the Gospel, which has the power of working miracles.  Saint Jerome adds that people of all nations shall be converted and brought by angels to the Church. 
Among the nations Christ will call some men to be ordained priests although in the royal sense, all will bear the title of priest.  "Brothers and sisters from all the nations" being brought "as an offering to the Lord" is a clear prophecy about the Sacrament of Baptism.  After receiving that sacrament, there follows the gift of being children that God can claim as belonging to Him. 
In this Reading the word "fugitives" is designed to express a division among God's people, a division that sadly still exists today and is likely to continue until the end of time.  Nevertheless, as children of the Father, disciples of the Son and willing hands for the Spirit, a shared calling among Christ's disciples is to bring a sense of unity to this division and work towards becoming truly one in the Body of Christ.  Jesus prayed: "I am in the world no more, but these are in the world as I come to You.  O Father most holy, protect them with Your Name which You have given Me that they may be one, even as We are One" (John 17:11).
Second Reading Commentary
Trials have been a part of humanity's existence since the fall of Adam and Eve.  The question, "Why me, Lord?" has probably been asked for thousands of years in countless languages.  The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews is not suggesting that God is up in heaven, looking down and tossing lightning bolts at those who need to be disciplined.  There have been a select few, however, who have been called to share in the Passion of Christ by bearing His physical Wounds, but again, there have been very few, and not for reasons of personal punishment.  Many of the trials faced today are because of the diversity among human beings: race, color, religion, political affiliation, etc. 
While all these human philosophies and individual idiosyncrasies are beneath the dignity of God, His unfathomable love moved Him to clothe Himself in flesh and live among His creation.  He experienced for Himself the pain and suffering that sin causes.  His Resurrection, though, has brought forth a hope for eternal joy that is beyond the wildest of dreams. 
This Reading pleads for a strengthening of "drooping hands" and "weak knees".  Trials are not sent from God but allowed by God because our Lord knows that in these trials lies an opportunity for spiritual growth and the strengthening of intimacy and reliance on the suffering Servant.  Saint Paul writes that he willingly boasts of his weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon him.  He continues: "For when I am powerless, it is then that I am strong" (see 2 Corinthians 12:9-10).  Additionally from Saint Paul are the instructions: "Bear all things, believe - in all things, hope - in all things, endure all things" (1 Corinthians 13:7). 
The challenge is to wholeheartedly believe what Saint Paul taught, while seeking to find a common ground among the diversity, trusting that the good will be revealed beyond the trial.
Gospel Commentary
"Lord, will only a few people be saved?"  It must have taken tremendous courage to ask that question for fear of what the answer might be.  Jesus, however, is a Teacher; and even if the answer is not what everyone wants to hear, for certain He will offer instructions and guidance on how to be among the saved. 
In the parable that Jesus uses in this Gospel, unquestionably He is referring to Himself when He speaks about "the Master of the house".  Remember, throughout this 'Journey Narrative' the overall theme is to stay focused on the things of heaven.  Jesus encourages striving to "enter through the narrow gate".  The gate could indeed be narrow when taking into consideration the success rate of all the things in today's culture that could tempt or detract attention away from our Lord and our eternal destiny. 
Jesus warns that some "will not be strong enough" to enter.  This has nothing to do with physical strength, but instead the strength of one's spiritual life.  When driving a car headed for a particular destination, staying focused results in not getting lost.  The same is true with the spiritual life.  Making time for daily prayer is the key to staying focused on the things of heaven and overcoming adversity. 
Whenever Jesus teaches in a somewhat cautionary tone, almost always He is offering guidance to avoid luke-warmness.  Instead of receiving His words fearfully, instead think about the incredible love He is offering and His desire for intimacy with His disciples.  His tone, then, is not so much a scare tactic; instead it is a plea to stay focused on the Source of all that really matters.  Only Jesus knows fully the love of the Father and His cautionary tone speaks to us and says: "Don't miss out on this!"  Jesus is not the One Who keeps us outside of the gate; only we can do that to ourselves.  Our Lord's salvation has always been available to all, but unfortunately, not all will accept His gracious invitation.  By faithfully staying close to the Truth, that which is false becomes a locked gate that cannot be entered into; nor is entering into it desirable.  At worse, its entrance way is narrow because of temptation.  But when faithful to the Truth, the gate belonging to the Master of the house is opened wide. 
If your parish follows the Church's prescribed verse before the proclamation of the Gospel, found there is the reminder of how we are saved: Alleluia, alleluia, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, says the Lord; no one comes to the Father, except through Me.  Alleluia, alleluia.


Sunday, August 7, 2016

Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 14, 2016

First Reading Commentary
If you'd like, go back to the beginning of this chapter to get a clearer reason as to why Jeremiah's death was sought.  It's only three verses but in summary Jeremiah had spoken the words revealed to Him by God - words which were not favorable to King Zedekiah's city because Jeremiah prophesied that it would be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon. 
By following the example of Saint John the Baptist, all Scripture both the Old and New Testament must be read while pointing towards the Lamb of God.  Jeremiah prefigures our Redeemer as he speaks God's truth but is falsely accused.  The people wanted to kill Jeremiah; and King Zedekiah, much like what the Gospels tell us about Pontius Pilate when dealing with Jesus, leaves Jeremiah's fate in the hands of the people. 
Being thrown into the cistern prefigures Christ descending to the dead; and being drawn out of the cistern foreshadows our Savior's Resurrection. 
Interestingly, the statement of there being "no more food in the city" translates a little differently in the Hebrew text, the Latin Vulgate and the Septuagint (LXX).  The word "food" literally translates in all three of these ancient texts as "bread".  We can be a little prophetic ourselves and see bread as a prefigurement of the Bread of Life and view Christ's burial into the tomb with the same uncertainty of our own fate as the apostles surely experienced and conclude that having "no more [bread] in the city" means that as a result of His death, He Who called Himself the Bread of Life was no longer with us.  Thankfully, that fear and uncertainty would last only three days.
Second Reading Commentary
What the author of the Letter to the Hebrews really instructs us to do is to get rid of everything that hinders us from living a life of virtue.  The imagery used here is that of being in a stadium.  The word "race" used in this text translates better as "contest" in the ancient Greek text.  You have to kind of place yourself in an ancient Olympic games setting.  The custom of the athletes of those days was to strip themselves of their garments; otherwise it would hinder their athletic performance.  Likewise, being on Christ's team means that we must strip ourselves of sin and all that would get in the way of living a Christ-centered life.  And yes we are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses" – retired athletes, one might say, because they have already competed and were given their prize; and now they cheer us on.  Of course, these witnesses are none other than the saints. 
This text tells us that Jesus endured "opposition from sinners".  We are sinners but that which attacks us is not always what others do to us or the circumstances of life – sometimes it is having to deal with our own weaknesses and being able to push aside quickly our own concupiscence which is a scar that was inflicted upon us by original sin. 
Contemplating the Face of the Captain of our team and the glory He enjoys by enduring far more than He asks of His team players is our strength.  And He has promised that we will never have to take on more than we can handle. 
Getting away from the stadium imagery, what we endure in this life is ephemeral and what we gain is eternal.  Jesus, under the familiar title of "Sign of contradiction" is the cure for despair and faintheartedness.  Christ is not really our leader in the traditional sense but much more – Moses, for example, was a leader.  Christ is the Author and Finisher of our faith.  He is the One Who delivered faith to us and He is the One Who will bring our faith to its final perfection.
Gospel Commentary
What hovers around the beginning of this text are many conjectures as to what Jesus really means by "fire".  Saint Luke may be recalling, as he frequently did, the prophecy of Malachi in which the prophet foresees the coming of the angel of the Lord like a refining fire separating good from evil (cf. Malachi 3:2-3).  This theory conforms well with the preceding seven verses leading up to this Gospel text which deals with discrimination, that is, the fulfillment or non-fulfillment of the will of God.  The fulfillment of God's will and the role of Jesus may explain the next verse about His baptism and His anguish. 
Using Saint Mark's Gospel (10:38-39) as a comparison, baptism as it is used here would seem to mean the Passion.  What does Jesus mean by being anguished or "hemmed in", as the Latin Vulgate translates, until this baptism is accomplished?  It may be an echo of what comes to us from the mystical soul of Saint John the Evangelist and his Gospel.  Jesus said: "And I, if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all things to Myself" (John 12:32).  Saint John in the next verse goes on to explain that Jesus by this statement was signifying what sort of death He would undergo.  And the confinement of being nailed to the Cross may partially explain the hemming in or "being pressed" as the Greek text translates; this is the anguish that Jesus feels until He will say: "It is consummated" (John 19:30).  Jesus endured an unimaginable amount of physical suffering but the anguish He expresses surely is not only caused by physical suffering, but also the pain of waiting until the evil that has been done by man's fall from grace will be undone by His salvific act.  Another possibility for the source of our Lord's anguish is His foreknowledge that some would accept His teaching and some would not. 
With Jesus possessing a love that is unfathomable, one can only imagine the grief that is endured by noncompliance.  Many of us are familiar with the broken heartedness caused by giving love that was not returned.  Even in our limited-conditional capacity to love, that pain of having our hearts broken is difficult enough to bear; but when considering a love that is infinite, that pain can only be imagined and our imagery will fall far short of the reality.  In fact, as is often taught in devotionals, Jesus didn't die from Crucifixion but from a broken Heart.  
Jesus proclaims that He came to bring not peace but division.  Saint Luke suggests this in his earlier writings with the prophecy of Simeon: "Behold, this Child is set for the ruin and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted" (Luke 2:34).  Thus "come to establish peace on earth" must not be thought of as a purpose but instead a consequence.  Surely at this point also resting in the back of Saint Luke's mind are three previous verses: "To enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; to direct our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:79) – "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will" (Luke 2:14) – "And He [Jesus] said to the woman: 'Your faith has saved you; go in peace'" (Luke 7:50). 
Sadly, this division of which our Lord speaks has afflicted many of our own households.  There are some cases where one spouse of the household is a devout follower of Jesus while the other spouse is lukewarm or even an agnostic.  And many parents know the pain of having their children grow up and leave the Church.  And there can also be a division of members in a household when one doesn't adhere to the same faith as another.  This form of suffering like all suffering will find its purpose in prayer and acceptance by being coworkers with Jesus in the work of redemption.