Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 391

I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.

The "methods" of the Lord continually astound the powers of the Earth for they are deeply committed to a serious misunderstanding of life. Nor could proper education make any difference with them. Rooted as they are in fear and the drive to dominate, they cannot be brought to an understanding of the Lord's ways by rational persuasion or powerful demonstration. Even the most astonishing revelation in human history, the Resurrection of the Crucified Son of God, they dismiss. To their minds it never happened.

We should not be surprised then that the wise and the learned cannot see what is shown to the childlike. So long as they crave power, security, wealth, recognition, luxury and pleasure they are blind.
Today's gospel follows two stories. The first concerns John the Baptist, the cousin of the Lord who will be executed. The second recalls Jesus' curse of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. These three cities had failed to recognize the hour of their visitation and would remain in darkness.

The Baptist had recognized something in Jesus but he wasn't too sure what. He had sent his disciples to ask, "Are you the Messiah?" and Jesus had replied with a reassuring message:
Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
Scripture has assured us, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." We can say with equal assurance, "Faith in the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." because they are essentially the same thing. Holy fear and faith are the willingness to acknowledge God's continual presence in our daily life. No one can know how to live in this world who lacks faith in Jesus.
Our Holy Father urges us in his apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate to pray for the gift of discernment.
166. How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil? The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. It is a gift which we must implore. If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift, and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment.
167. The gift of discernment has become all the more necessary today, since contemporary life offers immense possibilities for action and distraction, and the world presents all of them as valid and good.... Without the wisdom of discernment, we can easily become prey to every passing trend.
The "wise and the learned" -- even in the Church! -- dismiss Pope Francis' teaching as nonsense, an invitation to foolishness.
But the childlike accept the Lord's guidance. They put their hands in the hand of the man from Galilee and trust him to guide them through these profoundly confusing times.

Tuesday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time

For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Sodom,
it would have remained until this day.
But I tell you, it will be more tolerable
for the land of Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Only recently I heard again on public radio that common misconception: the Old Testament God is arbitrary and vengeful; the New Testament God is loving and merciful. People use this trope to say they know the Bible, only to prove they don't. How do they deal with Jesus' severe condemnations of  Chorazin and Bethsaida? They've not heard those passages.
As a chaplain I watch patients return to the hospital repeatedly for alcohol detox. They suffer a severe punishment for what they hoped might be momentary relief. It wasn't even that but they thought, "It will be different this time."
If they're willing to hear anything I might remind them, "Freedom is a jealous God."
Like a jealous spouse, freedom demands continual attention. I must pay attention when I drive in heavy traffic; a moment of distraction can be fatal. So long as I remain alert and focused I have a reasonable expectation -- but no guarantee -- of arriving safely at my destination.
If I care about someone and want to remain a friend, I speak the truth to him. A single distortion or careless half-truth might haunt both of us for a long time to come. As someone has said, "If you tell the truth it becomes part of your past. If you tell a lie, it becomes part of your future."
If life demands so much continual awareness and personal integrity; and punishes sins so severely, we should not be surprised that the Lord who wants only good for us demands our attention.
In today's first reading King Ahaz is sorely distracted by an enormous Babylonian army surrounding Jerusalem. They have already demolished innumerable villages and towns; they are preparing to siege the city, breach the walls, and murder every citizen. Common sense says he should surrender and hope for mercy from a merciless enemy. There is little time left when the Prophet Isaiah confronts Ahaz with counsel from God, "Take care you remain tranquil and do not fear; let not your courage fail."
Even in that desperate moment a jealous God demands faith.
Some people regard religion and faith as pleasant pastimes; stories, songs and rituals to entertain children and relax adults. But when there's work to do, when the wolf is at the door, they put religion aside in favor of more practical chores.
Our long memory reminds us we cannot risk ignoring God. Hard times test our faith in God as they test marital fidelity and parental responsibility. The individual is tempted to forget everything and everyone in his struggle to survive. But the faithful spouse would not want to survive at the cost of losing the beloved; a good parent does not abandon the child.
Hard experience has told us we cannot be faithful to our family without fidelity to God. You shall not bow down to any other god, for the LORD—“Jealous” is his name—is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)
In one of her visions Julian of Norwich saw the Lord holding what appeared to be a hazelnut in his hand. "Julian," he said, "Do you know what this is?"
"No, Lord." She replied. "What is it?"
"It's the universe which I hold in the palm of my hand."
Julian reflected on that and realized that the Lord holds us in existence by his loving gaze. Should he look away we would cease to exist; we would never have been.
We too are a jealous people, needing and wanting the Lord's continual, endless love. By his attentive, unrelenting mercy we live with the freedom of the children of God.

Monday of the Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 389

Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.

The call for justice in our scriptures -- both old and new testaments -- have a curious, immediate urgency; and yet they are hundreds of years old. Always there is the threat of judgment and apocalyptic doom but we grow old listening to these warnings. Saint Peter addressed this dilemma when he wrote:

Know this first of all, that in the last days scoffers will come [to] scoff, living according to their own desires and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? From the time when our ancestors fell asleep, everything has remained as it was from the beginning of creation.” They deliberately ignore the fact that the heavens existed of old and earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God; through these the world that then existed was destroyed, deluged with water. The present heavens and earth have been reserved by the same word for fire, kept for the day of judgment and of destruction of the godless.
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar and the elements will be dissolved by fire, and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.
Saint Peter's first reply is to the scoffers. He reminds them that the world is sustained solely by the will of God. it was lifted out of water and could be instantly deluged with water if God so wills it. If scoffers exist it is only by the sufferance of God. 
Secondly, he reminds the faithful, God's merciful justice is not delayed; it may come "today," although we don't know what a day is by God's reckoning.
With the time we have, Christians practice an impatient patience. We hear the orphan's plea and respond immediately and to the best of our ability. We ignore the contempt of those who do not hear the plea; or, pursuing their own self-interests, create the cruel situation. We want to help; we try to do the right thing.
We also feel a certain helplessness because our own interests are somehow built on the backs of the oppressed. Anyone who keeps money in a bank has an investment in mutual funds which are entangled with every kind of industry, including the world's largest, oldest industry, weaponry. The money you and I handle today is the same fluid that supported slavery at one time, and still lubricates the black markets of drugs, weapons, piracy and human trafficking. Jesus advised his opponents to "render unto Caesar...," knowing how uncomfortable the righteous are with those unsavory investments.
We can never wash ourselves clean of the world's taint. 
Even as the Lord calls us out of the world he comes to live here with us. As he walks with us, he reminds us that Freedom is a jealous God: 
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
We fix our eyes on him as we carry the crosses he assigns to each one; and we listen to his voice as we walk the road to Calvary and Easter. He never said it should be easy, nor can we boast of any certain certainty, but we can always delight in his company. 

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will in accord with his favor that he set forth in him as a plan for the fullness of times, to sum up all things in Christ, in heaven and on earth.

This poetic song in Saint Paul's Letter to the Ephesians is like a jawbreaker. If you begin one in the morning, you might finish late in the day; but Saint Paul promises with this song a lifetime of sweet delight, continual reflection and endless revelation.

😇We should first notice its references to the Holy Trinity. The word trinity had not yet been invented when Saint Paul wrote this letter but it's clear that he will praise the Father who has blessed us in the Son with every Spiritual blessing in the heavens
It's hard to fathom the inclusiveness of "every spiritual blessing;" but as we meet many people in the Church of different national, denominational, ethnic, racial and language groups, and innumerable saints of past centuries in their all-but-forgotten cultural settings, we come to appreciate its depth and breadth. There is something for everyone in Christ Jesus.
😇The Apostle says we  were chosen "before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him." Pope Francis's explicit intention in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exultate is to remind us of the "call to holiness in today's world." He cites God's invitation to Abraham, "Walk before me and be blameless." 
During crises people sometimes ask, "Where is God?" Our response should be, "Here I am." We are God's representatives and spokespeople in this troubled world; but we do far less speaking than presenting by our holy way of life. (As Saint Francis never said, "Preach always and when necessary, use words.") Whether we're at home or at work, in school or the shopping center, on the highway or the movie theater, we are to be holy and without blemish before him.
Without blemish refers to the sacrificial lamb, prized for its beauty and tenderness, which devout Jews offered as a paschal sacrifice. It recalls Jesus' teaching that we should be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Like Jesus, the innocent lamb trusted completely in the human until the moment she was slaughtered. 
There will be days when we must speak the simple truth to powerful, threatening authorities. We should never suppose those days are over and will never return; that would suppose the Holy Spirit has abandoned the world to its doom! But even in the United States today, as factions scream at each other, each party rallying its base with hate speech, we can be as innocent as lambs. 

😇Lest you suppose this exhortation is beyond your ability, let me tell you that your priest sees that innocence in the faces of the Catholic congregation every Sunday. Like sleeping children, men and women in worship radiate attractive beauty. Perhaps because they're not using them for any particular purpose, their faces take on a soft, fleshy vulnerability, an openness and availability to grace. I am sure Abraham and Sarah looked exactly like that as God said, "Walk before me and be blameless." The innocence of Adam and Eve is restored when we worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
😇If you are distressed by the tumult of our time, and wondering where will this end, Saint Paul assures us, "In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ..." God has a plan, a destiny for each of us. An entirely secular mindset sees no future; it cannot recognize a purpose to anything. Why do birds have wings? You and I know they're meant to fly, but the strictly secular mind dismisses teleology.  "They figured out how to fly with their wings but there was no plan for them to fly." "We may be going somewhere," they might say, "but there is no plan."
But faith recognizes God's hand in human affairs, even in chaotic, troubled times. How often do we make plans only to realize God had a different, better plan? And we're glad our plans didn't work out! It doesn't take great personal holiness to recognize that, only a modicum of modesty. "Man proposes," as they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, "and God disposes."

😇"...for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the Beloved." During the Mass we experience firsthand the glory and grace of God's presence, and we realize the Holy Spirit has brought us together even as the Lord Jesus presents us to His Father. We can practically hear the flutter of angel wings as they cry out, "Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts." In fact we take up the cry also!

😇"In him we have redemption by his blood, the forgiveness of transgressions, in accord with the riches of his grace that he lavished upon us. " This redemption and forgiveness are practically byproducts of God's intentions. The Lord has appeared among us to bring us into the Father's presence, especially through the Eucharist, and that obviously requires that we be purified as Aaron and his sons were purified before they could offer the sacrifice. As we eat his flesh and drink his blood we are purified by his blood, and our sins are forgiven. This is required if we are to be  holy and without blemish before him.
These blessings he has lavished upon us.

The song continues! It's a jawbreaker. It's an inexhaustible stream; we cannot drink it dry.
Everyone will draw from it what she needs to hear. I find great reassurance in knowing that, by eating our daily bread, we are made holy and without blemish before him.

Saturday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 388

In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, with the train of his garment filling the temple. 
Seraphim were stationed above; each of them had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet, and with two they hovered aloft.
They cried one to the other, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” 
At the sound of that cry, the frame of the door shook and the house was filled with smoke.

The above verses from Isaiah 6 are among the most important in all of the scriptures and the liturgical history of the Church. Isaiah's vision of God enthroned in majesty with the hovering angels crying Holy, Holy, Holy left him in a perpetual state of astonishment that shows throughout his book. Everywhere he looked from the city to the countryside, from Solomon's spectacular temple to the meanest hovel he saw the majestic presence -- the shekina -- of God.  

The Evangelists would pick up that thread as they described Jesus, despite his rather ordinary appearance in Galilee and his humiliating death in Jerusalem. They didn't see the shame; they saw the glory. 
Twelve centuries later Saint Francis saw a seraph angel bearing the living image of Jesus when he received the stigmata. The "seraphic saint's" spirituality is laced with astonishment at both the glory and the humility of God. The entire universe cannot contain God and yet he is confined within the womb of Mary, the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea , and the Holy Eucharist. "Look at the humility of God!" he urged his disciples. 
The crucifix which stands above every altar in every Catholic Church replicates the "high and lofty throne" on which Isaiah saw the Lord seated. The church's apse (sanctuary) is the temple's Holy of Holies. We see our God seated on his throne as we kneel before him and we too cry out, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts
It is good to contemplate Isaiah's vision in this twenty-first century, when many people say they are astonished by the stars in the sky and the depths of the sea. Many are more often rapt by the wonders man has wrought. The heights and depths and breadth of our universe are amazing. As is the horror of sin. 
But more astounding is the Mercy of God which -- we hope, pray and believe -- will overcome the world and all its wretchedness. On that day every evil deed and every blessed act will be revealed and reconciled and perfected in God's presence. That amazement is beyond the wonder of the universe. It surpasses all human comprehension and many would flat out deny it. But we expect it and, with all creation, are standing tiptoe in readiness for its coming. 

Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 387

But beware of men, 
for they will hand you over to courts 
and scourge you in their synagogues, 
and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake 
as a witness before them and the pagans.

In Saint Matthew's tenth chapter we hear Jesus' teaching his disciples how to approach their missionary work. "Beware of men!" he says. Since the day Jesus died the world has tried to tell his missionaries what they really mean. 
"If Jesus is God he couldn't die on a cross," they said, "he only appeared to die." 
No, we say. He died; we saw it. There was no pretense. 
"Then it only seemed like he was raised up!" 
No, we say, he was raised up. We saw it. 
"He was resuscitated? "
No, he was resurrected! 
"These are just beautiful myths; isn't that right? You use myths to teach good morals."
No, they are historical facts. He lived, died and was raised. We saw it. 

Beware of those opinions, prejudices and beliefs that would alter, amend and finally dismiss the Gospel. Eve committed her original sin when she added "or even touch it" to the word of God. When she did that she effectively invited the Serpent to add his lie to hers, "You certainly will not die." 
This struggle to announce the Gospel resembles the challenges many people face as they speak out against tyranny. Everyone must speak her own truth despite the contrary voices, insinuating suggestions, and flat-out contradictions of those around her. Sometimes authorities oppress because they want everyone to be happy, or agreeable, or work like a team, or project an image of solidarity. Sometimes their aims are more cynical; they would have us hide their deceit. There will always be powerful forces that would make us conform to the way things have always been, are, and always will be.
Jesus warns us about the "men" who will hand you over to courts, and scourge you in their synagogues. If disciples of Jesus cannot agree with popular interpretations of the Gospel, "men" will resort to stronger measures. Although prisons are built for liars and thieves, "men" don't mind using them for those who speak an inconvenient truth
Saint Augustine reminded us, "It always takes courage to speak the truth." And so we pray daily for that Spirit of Jesus which speaks the truth when convenient and inconvenient, in every circumstance. 

Thursday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.

Any reflection on this verse from the Gospel of Saint Matthew must begin with a contemplation of the "cost you have received." If my spirit is willing and God's Spirit moves within my willingness I should come out with a decision that is practical, desirable and satisfying.
History plays its part. I remember a visiting priest at Saint Denis Church (Louisville, Kentucky) when I was a boy. He urged the congregation to "Give till it hurts!" I remember my parents deciding to do so. I can't say they did so with any apparent glee, but glee wasn't their manner in most respects. It was more like a privilege which they willingly undertook. And they didn't mind telling us it was the right thing to do.
I realize that if I give without cost, I am simply taking up a tradition much older than myself. Many generations of generous people have taught me the faith I enjoy today.
That tradition of many generations begins with that "ur-gift" which God could not afford to give. I am thinking of my homily blog of Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Easter. Abraham's "Sacrifice of Isaac" would make no sense if it were not a "type" which foreshadowed the sacrifice of God's only beloved son.
The Christian life anchored in John 3:16 -- "For God so loved the world..." -- is a life of sacrifice. But it is also a way in which the saints run with ever increasing enthusiasm. What feels like ought, should and have-to to the Pharisee is greeted with delight by the one who has contemplated -- that is to say, fully experienced -- the superabundant mercy of God.
This instruction -- "without cost you are to give" -- accompanies the way of life Jesus describes for his missionaries. As they travel to foreign countries by foot and galley, their provisions will be spent before they arrive. They will rely on the natives for sustenance; eating their food, sleeping in their homes, and accommodating themselves to very different cultures. They will "freely receive" from their hosts even as they freely give the Good News of Jesus Christ. If there is hardship at first, it will pass as their gospel is welcomed. If their gospel is welcomed. 
Some of that welcome will depend upon how well they honor and respect their hosts. If the missionaries believes their own culture is superior to to this strange one, the welcome might wear thin pretty soon. If they delight in the kindness of their hosts and forget their familiar homeland, their welcome will be prolonged. That ability to enter another culture and discover its charm without reluctance or nostalgia for the past, without counting the cost, is the missionary's "death to self." 
Living with future shock in a culture that is less and less familiar, many Christians find themselves already living in a foreign land. The Lord has sent many of us to this new time and this same place, with the careful instruction, "Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give."