Monday, October 31, 2016

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time - November 6, 2016

First Reading Commentary
As we're just a few weeks away from the start of the Advent Season this Reading, although written before the birth of Christ, contains Christian ideals: namely, being a disciple of the Lord at all costs and the belief in the resurrection.  Hopefully none of us will ever be put to death because of our faith but even putting aside the fact that these men were about to be martyred, this Reading offers a lesson about how to become instruments of the Almighty by abandoning our ways and embracing His ways.  As these men express a belief in being raised from the dead and living forever, they probably have no idea that God has used them to prophesy the coming of Christ.  Most likely they are expecting their resurrection to come from the workings of the One Creator God and are clueless to the fact that they are prophesying about what will later be revealed as the Triune God; and the second Person of the Triune God would reveal Himself through the Incarnation and as Man He would destroy death forever; and through Him is the hope of resurrection for all. 
It is only those who have lived after Christ's Resurrection and those of us who are currently living our earthly existence that can fully appreciate the magnitude of the statements made by these men in this Reading.  God's words today can still be heard through the voice of others.  Has anyone ever said anything to you that was an answer to a prayer?  Has anyone ever been at the right place and the right time whose presence turned your tough situation into a pleasant memory?  Have you ever said anything to someone which turned out to be an answer to their prayer?  Chances are the answer is yes to all three questions even if you don't recall or were not apprised by the other party that you were an answer to their prayer. 
It's easy to get caught up in our busy lives and completely miss the workings of God.  But these are the kinds of things that God does through us when we simply say yes to Him.  Occasionally, spoken words seem to be insignificant for the moment; and then somewhere down the road those words have extraordinary relevance.  Frequently reflecting on the Power within us can all the more enrich our spiritual life.  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet a prophet?  If so, look in a mirror or look at the person sitting next to you at Mass.
Second Reading Commentary
The human heart bears a tremendous burden.  Sacred Scripture tells us that God judges by the heart alone (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7).  In this Reading, Saint Paul's prayer for us is that our Lord will encourage our hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word. 
In the oldest Catholic translation of Scripture in English, the Douay-Rheims version, the word "heart" or a derivative of it appears there 1,067 times.  What an interesting piece of apparatus God has given us in the human heart!  It is capable of expressing a mixed bag of emotions.  Quite often the battle between good and evil takes place within our own hearts.  The human heart has more to it than we can fully comprehend; and because of this its importance can never be underestimated.  Why else would God want permission from us to take complete possession of it?  When God holds our hearts in the Palm of His Hand so much good can from it - the impossible becomes very possible.  But when the door of the heart is slammed shut, leaving God on the outside, it is capable of concocting unspeakable evils.  Prejudices, dislikes, pure hatred and harboring anger are negative forces that could dwell within our hearts because in our human weakness we find it very difficult to let our Lord be its Master.  There is always that part of us that desires to be our own boss.  And even when we attempt to let God take charge, the serpent is always there whispering in our ears that what our Lord promises simply isn't true.  Cultivating a humble heart will breed sympathy and understanding for one another's weaknesses. 
Prayer is the best defense against the one who is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  May we continue to pray for a complete conversion of our hearts: "Iesu, mitis et humilis Corde, fac cor nostrum secundum Cor tuum" – (Jesus, meek and humble of Heart, make our hearts like unto Thine).
Gospel Commentary
It's quite obvious that the Sadducees are attempting to make a complete mockery of Jesus.  They are asking Him to teach how multiple marriages will fare in the resurrected state even though the Sadducees have no belief in a resurrection. 
As Christians, we are able to look beyond the horizons of earthly existence and know perfection is waiting for us even though the meaning of perfection in an eternal state is indecipherable: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard: neither has it entered into the heart of man, what things God has prepared for those that love Him" (1 Corinthians 2:9). 
What Jesus makes clear, though, is that conjugal love will not exist in the resurrected life.  In heaven we will find out and perhaps be downright shocked by how limited and conditional is the love we offer in this world.  Married love, creating a new family, love for our children and love for parents is just about the fullest extent of love that human beings can currently comprehend.  Does anyone really understand the kind of love that would make Love Himself die to save all of humanity - past, present and future?  In the sacred bond of married life, considering the elimination of conjugal love in the afterlife right now might seem disappointing because we don't understand how unflawed and beautiful Love is in heaven which is also coupled with an equal inexplicability of how limited the love is we currently share. 
Our faith and our hope can imaginatively transport us to something better but our imaginations cannot conjure up the infinite reality of God's love.  In heaven, our royal priesthood will be exercised in unmarred proficiency as we offer worship, praise and adoration to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit for all eternity. 
In Saint John's Gospel Jesus says: "The Father and I are One" (John 10:30).  It is this transforming union of God and humanity that so few experience in the here and now but most assuredly all who love God will experience in the hereafter. 

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!"