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.


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time - September 11, 2016

First Reading Commentary
Mercy is the focus of this weekend’s Readings.  It would seem that Moses was able to make God change His Mind about blazing up His wrath against His people.  But wait a minute - isn't the will of Almighty God infallible and, therefore, unchangeable?  Isn't God the same yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever?  What can we, then, rely on from our Lord if everything He has revealed to us is subject to change?  There are quite a few cases in Scripture where God seems to have changed His Mind. 
First, from a prophetic standpoint, Moses is seen as a figure of Christ, a merciful mediator who saves his people.  Secondly, God is the Creator and sometimes He creates circumstances in the lives of His people which give them the opportunity to respond like God fearing/loving people.  The same is true with the temptations He allows; these too offer the opportunity for a response likened to Christ's response in the desert when He rejected Satan and all his temptations.  Rejection of temptations along with mercifulness and forgiveness are characteristics of the children of God.  Our success in these exercises moves us to a closer union with our Lord. 
In this Reading, God opens the door for Moses to respond to Him with love, mercy and concern for his fellow human beings.  Another lesson that can be taken from this Reading is the power of intercessory prayer as in this Reading Moses intercedes for the people of Israel. 
If God is all-knowing and His Divine will infallible, why is prayer necessary or why is there a need to intercede for others?  The bulk of that answer is a mystery and solely relies on faith, which requires no explanations.  Jesus prayed, therefore, perhaps a more puzzling question is: Why does God Himself need to pray? 
For human beings, relationships grow through dialogue - talking and listening.  Through this give-and-take friendships and relationships form, trust increases and love grows.  Our relationship with our Lord is also approached with these very same "human" conditions. 
The Catechism teaches us about the intimate relationship of Moses with God as we read: "From this intimacy with the faithful God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, Moses drew strength and determination for his intercession" (CCC 2577).  
Jesus not only showed us Who He is as God, but His Human Nature also taught us by word and deed what we need to be as human beings.  In our faith, trust is also given to our Blessed Mother and the saints to be powerful intercessors for us as we are called to be for each other.  The offering of Christ's Body and Blood appeases the wrath of our heavenly Father Who thus has mercy on His children who continue to this very day to make molten calves in the form of material wealth, power, addictions, etc.
Second Reading Commentary
Saint Paul writes that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners".  Are there any among us, then, who are unqualified for salvation?  In this brief Reading Paul summarizes his life for us.  He basically outlines it in this way: Here's what I used to be - here's what I've become.  What I used to be was because of ignorance - what I've become is because of the abundant grace, mercy and love of God. 
How many of us have a story to tell?  At what point in life did grace, mercy and love overcome our ignorance?  There are some who have been devout Christians their whole life - and thank God for them.  There have been enough published conversion stories, however, to be convinced that a great deal of us have walked in Saint Paul's shoes of rebellion.  And now that we walk with Christ, perhaps some of us are now waiting for grace, mercy and love to abound in the lives of others we know.  Our Christian example is a great tool in helping someone along the way, but unfortunately human weakness desires to know how successful that example is.  The truth is it's not our example; it is Christ dwelling in us Who works through us.  Fortunately, our Lord's patience immensely outweighs our patience or lack thereof; and our time is not necessarily God's time; and while it's possible to never witness a single conversion, what we don't know and can't comprehend is the deluge of grace, mercy and love that could arrive at the last breath of life.  To Him be honor and glory forever!
Gospel Commentary
Families that live in areas which are prone to hurricanes and/or tornadoes quite often have a place of safe haven either in the home or outside of the home that they can go to when such weather extremes threaten their well-being.  What man would secure himself in that safe haven without first making sure that every member of his household was present?  And even if he should enter the safe haven prematurely but find someone missing, he would certainly go back out to find the missing family member.  Even though the threat still awaits them, there is a level of joy when every member of the household is accounted for. 
What's the difference in value between an old, tarnished quarter and a brand new, lustrous quarter?  There is no difference; they're both worth twenty-five cents.  In God's Eyes we are each loved equally by Him even though some of us have been caught in the storms of life and have not found the safe haven of our Lord's Sacred Heart and perhaps are more tarnished by sin than others.  The condition of the soul, however, should be a personal concern as damaged goods need to be repaired.  Henry Nouwen (1932-1996), a Catholic priest and author of over thirty books, who also spent time as a missionary in Latin American countries working with the handicapped, once said: "We are all handicapped; some are more visibly handicapped than others." 
In all three parables told by Jesus in this Gospel, that which was lost has been found.  It would be improper to think that this Gospel is aimed only at those who are not serving the Lord or not walking with Him.  Every one of us is a sinner; therefore, every one of us needs to repent. 
When reflecting on the parable of the prodigal son, certainly the father represents our Lord Who runs out to embrace His wayward children who desire to come back to Him.  Notice the love that comes from our Lord; He embraces the penitent even before the confession of sin.  Perhaps less obvious but still evident though, is that our Lord is also represented by the younger son who haphazardly disperses his father's estate.  Christ very freely offers the riches of His Father's Kingdom to each and every one of us regardless of how undeserved we are.  The older son in the parable is placed there as a caution to us.  He's the one who thought his father's forgiving and receptive attitude towards his younger brother was very unfair.  As our Lord tells us, there is rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents. 
Curiosity might make one wonder how many souls there are in heaven who lived corruptible and immoral lives.  To those of us who make every effort to follow the path of our Lord, it's tempting to consider this unfair.  Saint Paul, however, asks the question: "Who has ever given Him [the Lord] anything so as to deserve return?" (Romans 11:35).  Also, in that same letter are the words: "As sin reigned through death, grace may reign by way of justice leading to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 5:21). 
In life, perhaps there's that someone who always plucks your last nerve.  The depths of God's mercy are so unfathomable that it's difficult to understand because it's not always so easy for us to forgive.  The Sacrament of Penance is where we can find the Father embracing His child, welcoming him/her back home.  There is always hope even to the most hardened of sinners.  There is a saying: "Saints have a past and sinners have a future."  Someday we will all meet our Lord face-to-Face.  He may wish to celebrate a feast because what was once lost has been found; or He may say: "You are here with Me always; everything I have is yours."  One scenario is not better than the other.  In either case, there is cause for rejoicing!