Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle and evangelist

R. Their message goes out through all the earth.
Not a word nor a discourse
whose voice is not heard;
Through all the earth their voice resounds,
and to the ends of the world, their message.
R. Their message goes out through all the earth.

On the feast of Saint Matthew the Church reminds us of our apostolic foundations. We are "one, holy, catholic and apostolic." The word refers to our confidence that the original message of the apostles, the Gospel, has never been lost nor diminished. That the word we preach today is the same throughout the ages. 
In this book, To Change the Church, (March, 2018) Ross Douthat writes of our tradition:
One of the striking aspects of Catholic life is the thread that runs backward through time and culture -- through novels, poetry, essays, devotional literature, and the wider arts -- linking the experience of believers across two thousand years. Of course ideas change, cultures change, and the experience of Catholic culture today is necessarily different from the experience of believers a century or a millennium before. But not entirely so: Read John Henry Newman and Thomas Aquinas and Augustine back to back to back, or read Evelyn Waugh and Dante together, or read Theresa of Avila and then Therese of Lisieux.
In each case the gulf of years and difference in cultural expression does not obscure the fact that they belong to the same tradition, the same story, and that there are ways in which Catholic Christianity really is a time machine: you can step into those worlds, the worlds of Catholic past, find your footing and realize that you are not somewhere altogether alien; that the past is another country but somehow yours; you can in some sense think with the letter writers of the New Testament and the church father scribbling in late antiquity and the medieval monk in the north of England and the Florentine poet and the philosopher-nun dealing with hapless popes and the mystic in Spain and the philosopher-martyr in Henry VIII's court and thence back around to the saints and novelists and polemicists of the modern world. 
page 180-181
I can vouch for that experience, especially as I have read the second selection of our Office of Readings ("Matins') in the Liturgy of the Hours. On every day of the year the breviary offers readings from past centuries. There are writings of second century saints like Ignatius of Antioch and Saint Barnabas, of Thomas A'Kempis and Thomas Aquinas, of Saints Theresa of Avila and Therese Lisieux, and passages from the Documents of the Second Vatican Council. Rarely would I "disagree" with any of them, though I might have to study their intent. More often I am inspired to think new thoughts. Although I have been reading Matins for over forty years, I still find a thought I had not thought before; and wonder what was I thinking when I read this very passage last year. 
The Church remains confident of this apostolic tradition despite centuries of struggle and reform, of changing climates, developing cultures, emerging philosophies, and missionary encounters with hitherto unknown nations. True, groups of Christians have splintered off from the Church; and, no doubt, they took a dollops of the Spirit and pieces of the Truth with them. Many ambitious sects split and flourished briefly before withering for lack of rain, soil or sunshine. Even bad ideas have to run their course and good people can be carried off by them. We continually invite them to return that Jesus' prayer may be fulfilled.  
The apostolic continuity remains. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschl describes in his book, God in Search of Man, a Catholic experience of faith: 
Not the individual man nor a single generation by its own power can erect the bridge that leads to God. Faith is the achievement of ages, an effort accumulated over centuries. Many of its ideas are as the light of a star that left its source centuries ago. Many songs, unfathomable today, are the resonance of voices of bygone times. There is a collective memory of God in the human spirit, and it is this memory of which we partake in our faith.

Memorial of Saints Andrew Kim Tae-gon, Priest, and Paul Chong Ha-sang, and Companions, Martyrs

So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven;
hence, she has shown great love.
But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little."
He said to her, "Your sins are forgiven."
The others at table said to themselves,
"Who is this who even forgives sins?"
But he said to the woman,
"Your faith has saved you; go in peace."

Christians, following the example of our Jewish ancestors, should always hold front-and-center an awareness of our sins. The Mass customarily begins with a penitential rite, and most Protestant communion services follow that tradition. Practicing Catholics enjoy -- like going to the dentist! -- the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Penance/Confession.
In today's passage from Saint Luke, the Lord challenges our reluctance to deal with the mystery of sin and forgiveness. We are represented in this story by Simon the Pharisee. A decent fellow, he probably enjoys his family life, attends synagogue routinely, and pays whatever taxes he can't avoid. He is willing to invite the odd rabbi to dinner, even Jesus, to form his own ideas about the controversial figure. He likes to stay abreast of things but, satisfied with his self-image, expects no personal challenge to his attitudes, style or habits. He is open-minded but wary of change.
When a notorious woman invades his dining room during a polite evening meal, the Pharisee watches to see what happens. Curious, he will not interfere in the show.
So we understand the Pharisee's attitude, but what is Jesus doing in this house? He is consistently critical of Pharisees, and polite society is not his milieu. He frequents the homes of tax collectors and sinners. But we know that Jesus invariably obeys the impulses of the Holy Spirit. He may have been waiting to discover why the Spirit led him here, and what marvels might appear in this sophisticated house of the comfortable. Would this be an occasion to afflict the comfortable or comfort the afflicted? As it turned out, he did both.
This touching story should reassure anyone who hesitates to approach the Sacrament of Penance. No matter how deep my sins cut into my wounded soul, regardless of my grief, remorse and shame, the mercy of Jesus runs infinitely deeper. My sins are like the hole a toddler furiously digs on a sandy beach. With pail and shovel he goes at, thinking he might dig a hole to China! When the tide comes in the water covers the hole, the sand fills it, and the boy's effort is totally erased. Nothing remains but the memory.
Whatever this woman of the gospel has done, we can see that she has been forgiven much. She cannot stop herself from weeping over Jesus, then kissing and wiping his feet.
One of sin's most treacherous characteristics is its insistence that "This cannot be forgiven." Sin would have us believe the Good God cannot and would not forgive anyone; that the Great and Powerful God is too brittle to bend in mercy. That kind of god can only crush its opposition. While it's true that nothing which happens can be undone -- a human act is forever -- it is also true that the Sign of Contradiction transforms even the unspeakably hideous into astonishing beauty. Why else would every Catholic Church feature a crucifix in the front and center of its sanctuary? Why else would we regard the wounds of Jesus as gems of sparkling wonder? They are beautiful in God's eyes, and in ours.
The unwillingness to confess our sins and seek forgiveness exposes an exaggerated ego. It says, "I am so special; I am beyond God's mercy!" 
As one young friend used to say to me, "Build a bridge and get over yourself!" 

In Saint Luke's story, Jesus not only forgives this woman; he learns from her. When the hour comes he will wash the feet of his disciples. I think he was as helpless in that moment to prevent his tears from bathing their feet as the sinful woman was on this occasion. His affection overwhelmed him even as it astonished the apostles. They must know what is about to happen and yet there are no words to explain it, only a prophetic gesture.

John 13:12
“Do you realize what I have done for you?
You call me Master, Lord; and so I am.
I saw you quake with fear as I washed your feet,
though it was I, your friend, was swept away.
For I could do no less than bow and kiss
the battered feet of those who bring good news.

Tell them of my tears with your good news,
of love so ardent it embarrassed you.
Always you must feel the shock of my kiss
when I stooped with bowl and water. I am
a servant before you, to show a way
beyond the farthest travels of your feet.

You must know the beauty of filthy feet,
their familiar stench, mud and slime, the news
of poverty. Their dirty nails claw away
illusions of this world’s pretty dreams. You,
perhaps, will apprehend why I am
helpless on this festive night. I must kiss,

I cannot resist, I feel compelled to kiss
you as a mother sucks her baby’s feet,
a husband holds his hungry bride, I am
sated with desire. This comes as news,
this fatal weakness of your Master. You
shudder, you cringe, you want to push away.

You think there’s got to be another way.
Before this night is done a traitor’s kiss,
one whose feet I washed, a man you thought you
knew, will clear a path. My bleeding feet,
obedient, must follow . Bitter news
accompanies a gracious word. I am

going to my Father; always I am
with you. Tomorrow you will see a way
leading where I go, you must spread the news.
God’s own purity, descending, will kiss
your soul as I have bathed your lovely feet.
Then, with all my soul, I will have loved you

to the end. I am my father’s kiss
sweeping you away from off your feet
with news of great joy, to gladden you.

Wednesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, love is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Today's reading from I Corinthians may be the most popular of all his writings, at least in our time. (Theologians have usually preferred his epistles to the Romans and Galatians.) As Europe built a civilization following the collapse of the Roman Empire; and philosophers, theologians and artists discovered the beauty, dignity and worth of human life they became more fascinated with human love. There is a wildness in the human spirit that does not want to be tamed, disciplined or dominated. In Saint Francis' time troubadours traveled from village to city, from cathedral to castle singing the praises of romantic love. Lovers often found their delight in someone other than the family-approved, church-appointed spouse.
Modern troubadours especially celebrate the paean to love in Romans 13; it's usually heard during a wedding mass. But Saint Paul was certainly not reflecting on erotic or even romantic love when he wrote the passage. It's about that powerful grace which binds the Church together.
Perhaps I've said this before, my own particular credo:
  1. First, unless you belong to a Church don't tell me you love the Lord. The Christian who isolates can love only an idea of the Lord. Without the immediate contact of our sacramental church, the Lord is only a fading memory, sterile and corrupt. 
  2. Second, unless you really love the Lord, you cannot belong to a Church." Anyone who does not love the Lord with her entire mind, soul, body and strength will not be able to endure the challenges, frustrations and disappointments of belonging to a Church.

If you don't belong to a Church you're loving only a god of your imagination, an image or ideal, a theory of what Jesus should be like. It may be a popular image of "God," a shadowy figure who appears on the edges of a secular culture. It may resemble the God of one's religious childhood, a memory of how you once knew the Lord, or of the God your parents or grandparents worshiped.
Some will insist their god is the same as the Biblical god, forgetting that the Bible was written by and belongs to the Church. It's our manual! Inspired reading of the Bible may lead someone back to communion with God's people, but if it doesn't it is not the road less traveled
It's an easy mistake we all make. Just as I often love my impressions of someone until, one day, I suddenly realize "You're not the person I thought I knew." I may be disappointed by the discovery, or elated; but in either case I realize my ideas of this other person were seriously inaccurate. Relationships need frequent retooling, and crises occur often as we rediscover one another; 
So is it with the love of God. Take nothing for granted. 
Saint John insists upon our practicing Church in his First Letter:
Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall. Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Hate is a strong word and we don't use it often in American language, but I would call "hate" anything which forces a member to be absent from the Assembly. Many people "come to the Lord" but then, like the seed planted in thin soil, decide it's easier to love Him at a safe distance from his Body the Church. Membership means too much adjustment, too much new learning, too much opening of one's heart to different kinds of people and new ways of thinking.  My impatience, judgmental attitudes, and indifference to others silently rebuke the pleasant feelings I might generate in prayer; even as daily prayer reminds me that I can be more generous, more patient and less opinionated.
In his fourth chapter, Saint John invites us:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
Like marriage, membership in a real community provides a "reality check" for one's piety. It is a proving ground of the Holy Spirit. As we practice our faith, First Corinthians 13 provides both guidance for the Church, and a checklist for the Examination of one's Conscience.

Tuesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
Now the body is not a single part, but many.

As an educated man the Apostle Paul would have known of the ancient conundrum, "the one and the many." He could probably name the philosophers who had discussed it in Greek, Hebrew, Egyptian and Jewish. Alas, I was an English major and so can only make illiterate references to it. The question has to do with individuality and collectivism. How does one belong to family, neighbors, a company, school, race, or nation? Where do I belong among these groups? Is there anything about me that is not collectively owned by the group, that I can say, "This is me!" Americans pride themselves on their individuality and personal identity but desperately rush to conformity. Why is it that motorcyclists -- incarnations of Walt Whitman's "Song of the Open Road" and "I sing of myself" -- run in packs?   

Saint Paul found a resolution to that question in his doctrine of the Body of Christ. It all began one day as he traveled to Damascus and was  smote by a word from the Lord, "Saul, Saul, Why do you persecute me?" If the young Pharisee thought he was harassing Christians he learned that his opponent was the God who had "baptized into one body... Jews and Greeks, slaves and free persons." They were all "drinking of the one spirit." There was no more separation between these various persons than there could be between the hand and the arm or the foot and the ankle. To attack even one is to attack God himself.
Gradually, under the weight of common sense, our cult of individuality is disintegrating. We breathe the same air and eat the same food and inhabit the same space. We form communities to cultivate health and support groups to talk over our problems. We share germs and viruses, some of them make us better. If our new membership is tribal rather than business, family or church, we realize no one's thought is very original or personal. Social media are rapidly dissolving the barriers we thought kept us apart. 
Saint Paul and his fellow missionaries invited slaves and free, men and women, Greeks and barbarians to be baptized into the Body of Christ. In the Lord and in the House of God, the lost individual would find his meaning and purpose, along with identity, satisfaction and assurance. The Spirit would guide them to that part of the body where each one belongs, as surely as white blood cells search out foreign agents in a human body. There would be difficulties, of course, as the Body is challenged. The Lord himself was crucified! But there would also be that daily awareness of the Resurrection, that "This is where I belong, these are my people, and we serve the Lord together." 
In our time, when so many people struggle to discover who they are; and where and to whom they belong, the Gospel invites them to take your place in the House of God. Baptized, Eucharisted, Confirmed we thank God daily for this safe harbor while the storms rage around us. 

Monday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time

They approached Jesus and strongly urged him to come, saying,
"He deserves to have you do this for him,
for he loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us."

Today's passage from the Gospel of Saint Luke  displays several different kinds of human relationship:
  1. A centurion and his valuable slave
  2. the centurion and the Jewish elders
  3. the elders and Jesus
  4. the centurion's deference to Jesus
  5. Jesus' response to the centurion's message and
  6. Jesus' and the servant.

First, there is slavery. In this twenty-first century we find the very idea repugnant. No one should dare suggest slavery was anything but evil. The United States in particular still suffers the memory of slavery. Not only was our system more barbaric; (American slaves had virtually no rights.) we were the last nation in the western world to give it up. Legally, it persists today only in some African countries. Slavery is an insult to the servant and the master; both are dehumanized by its violence.
And yet, in the gospel accounts of this story, rendered by Luke with similar passages in Matthew and John, the owner seems to have affection for the dying man. Matthew's centurion says he is "suffering dreadfully." Saint John changes the story radically: the centurion is a royal official and the suffering man is his son. What Luke calls "valuable" appears to be great affection between a superior and an inferior. It is so attractive that Jewish elders appeal to Jesus in Luke's account; and in all three accounts Jesus responds.
Secondly, we find our centurion using his connections to save his valuable slave. If anyone wants to defend the Catholic tradition of patron saints, this passage might help. In the Roman Empire, "It's not what you know; it's who you know." Ambitious persons with the necessary skills advanced their careers by courting powerful persons and influential families. This particular centurion, despite his warrior profession, cultivated contacts with the Jewish religion. They said of him, "He loves our nation and he built the synagogue for us." They certainly owed him the favor of appealing to Jesus.
The Protestant dismissal of patron saints ignores that important dimension of human relationships. There is patronage in government, academia, entertainment, churches and business; why should it not appear in our spiritual life? Most employers want to know more about a potential employee than her or his skills. Is he honest, reliable, adaptable? Who has worked with him and can recommend him? Who-you-know still counts for a lot in a technocratic meritocracy. 
Third, the elders come to Jesus. They recognize him as a healer and rabbi. He has a different way of looking at things; he has generated many enemies; his disciples don't exactly recommend him or themselves. But we can work with him. We owe our friend the centurion that much.
Four, the centurion refuses to allow Jesus to enter his house. Combat Veterans understand this. The centurion has killed people and, as a soldier, he knew they were not bad people. He has ravaged villages, women, children and livestock. He has also sent his own soldiers into fatal situations. Sometimes he knew they would never return, and they knew it too, as they looked at him one last time. Could such a man ask a holy man for a favor? He dared not. Even asking the Jewish elders to help was too bold. He could not endure Holiness to enter his house. 
And he understood Jesus' authority like few others. They had never met and would never meet but they understood each other. They were men under authority. 
Sometimes I have invited Veterans who suffer alcoholism and drug addiction to remember their obedience to their officers. The love of God is not very different. 
Five: We must notice Jesus' surprise. He did not expect to find faith, friendship or understanding among gentiles. Growing up in an occupied country, he had been told from his earliest years that Roman soldiers were evil and centurions were demons. Jesus had his own prejudices against Romans and gentiles which he set aside when he met them face to face. There is a lesson here for people like you and me who have strong feelings about people we have never met. 
Finally, Jesus heals the slave whom he never met. He heals although he is not physically present. You and I pray for healing all the time, for ourselves and others. We don't have to see him to believe, as he reminded the Doubting Thomas. 

This gospel shows us the complex web of human relationship in which the Incarnate God lived. This is not a story about "Jesus and me" or "my personal savior." He was a Jew living in a world dominated by gentiles, a man among men and women and children, an authority among many authorities. He could work with people and their systems, with compassion for their scruples. He was never "the lone ranger," an isolated individual. To know Jesus is to know his people, including the Church, the Jews, slaves and other despised persons. To know Jesus is to move as gracefully in this world as he moved among us. 

Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

Like millions of others, Catholic and Protestant, I have been deeply shaken by the continuing scandal of clerical abuse of children and the subsequent, criminal cover-up by bishops. The revelations have finally, perhaps inevitably, reached even the papacy; Pope Francis has been implicated by at least one cardinal.
But it was precisely to shelter us from scandal that this criminal conspiracy was conceived. Knowing that we would be shaken by this horrible story, church authorities colluded with civil authorities to cover it up. Offending priests were transferred from one parish to another, and even to foreign missions, and silence prevailed. We "little ones" continued to live quiet desperation in the blissful confidence that all is right with the Church.
I assume the bishops had no overtly criminal intent. They did not believe children should be molested; they did not intentionally support the pervert priest. In some cases they heard his remorse and believed his declared intention never to do it again. In other cases they trusted the professionals who confidently hoped the offender had been "cured" of his "illness." 
In most cases, like most people, they could not imagine the full, diabolical dimensions of sexual abuse of children. They knew nothing of its immediate horror, its crippling affects on the victim's sexuality, and the lifelong effects of that trauma. It was beyond their imagination and experience. Amid all the celebrations of sexual freedom in a pseudo-liberated society, the terrifying dimensions of this intimate mystery have been dismissed, ignored and often ridiculed. 
Mostly the bishops hoped the cover up would protect the gullible faithful who could not bear to know the truth. But by so doing they also protected themselves. They avoided the sensation of a priest arrested, arraigned, in shackles, on trial and imprisoned, perhaps for life. District attorneys, needing Catholic support to stay in office, were also happy to have the offenders removed -- out of sight, out of mind. Why bother the sheep with matters they don't understand?
Of course some people knew what was going on. There were whispers. When my mother was a girl, she and the other children would play during recess. Occasionally their recreation was cut short. As soon as the priest stepped out of the rectory, Sister rang the bell and the children filed back into class. The children were safe; the convent did what they had to do. Parents knew, the police knew; the bishop knew. They all agreed nothing else could or should be done. His Mass was valid; the Sacrament was efficacious; this too shall pass.

In today's gospel, Peter urged Jesus to suppress his bad feeling about this trip to Jerusalem. Wasn't this a cover up? 
First, we can suppose, the Apostle didn't believe things would turn out so badly. There might be problems in Jerusalem but God will intervene. He will see you through! Just believe! Things are never as bad as they seem!
Secondly, he felt a Big Brotherly concern about the other, lesser disciples. They might be discouraged if they thought the Master himself had misgivings about what might happen. As the Leader and Spokesman of the disciples, Peter felt authorized to protect his little buddies. He was not prepared for what happened next:
"Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."

There is nothing secret about the crucifixion of Jesus. The scandal is deep; bone-deep, soul-shattering deep. As the prophet Zechariah predicted and Jesus foresaw, the sheep were scattered. Saint Mark said, "They all deserted him and fled."
On his way to Calvary Jesus would take no shortcuts. He made salvation easy for no one; he pitied no one's desperate life. To walk with him is to expect disappointment, failure and catastrophe. Like the Gospel, life is hard, even desperate at times. Very often the "little ones" -- like my mother's teachers in the 1930's -- know life is cruel. It's the leaders who think, "This must not be! Not on my watch! I can make it easier; I can save them." when they are only saving themselves.
Saint John tells us when the disciples heard the doctrine of the Eucharist, some were scandalized, "This is too hard. Who can believe it?" Eat my flesh? Drink my blood? Cannibalism? They walked away.
This scandal is similar. Many people will follow their "common sense" as they leave the Church. If the Message of Christ can fail so catastrophically with priests, if bishops can be so obtuse before this horror, why should i expect it to save me?
Watching them leave Jesus asked, "Will you also leave?"
Our brother Peter again spoke for us when he replied, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows

Lectionary: 442/639

Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother
and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas,
and Mary Magdalene.
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved
he said to his mother, "Woman, behold, your son."
Then he said to the disciple,
"Behold, your mother."
And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.

Not many of us are good at sorrow. I usually prefer mad. Something happens I don't like, I get mad, and then resentful, and perhaps depressed. Some people think sorrow is depression and vice versa, but depression is more often an illness with innumerable causes, including success and achievement.
Sadness is probably not helplessness. We can suppose Mary felt helpless as she watched Jesus die but in fact she was right where she was supposed to be, doing precisely the right thing. If she felt helpless she responded well to it. First she had compassion for her Son; then she offered her only begotten Son to the Father even as God was offering His Only Begotten Son for the salvation of the world. 
She certainly didn't endure the "tragedy" with stoic fortitude. Finally she adopted Jesus' beloved disciple -- that is, you and me -- as her child. I have to agree with Saint Augustine that we are sorry replacements for her Jesus but Mary in the Fullness of the Holy Spirit with all the readiness of inspired obedience embraces us. 
But of course she was overwhelmed with sorrow, as any mother would be. As were the women of Jerusalem who stood at a distance, weeping and beating their breasts. As were the absent apostles and disciples, and perhaps Judas if he was still alive. Who would not grieve when a defenseless man is barbarically executed, especially when he has committed no crime and offended no one who should not be offended?
This memorial following the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, reminds us of the virtue of sadness. There are many sad things we cannot prevent and many sad things we should not prevent. Parents watch their children make mistakes and know they must stand aside and let them fail. Children watch their aging parents fade into senescence and wonder if they should let them make those mistakes or risk embarrassing them with unwanted help.
The poet Elizabeth Bishop has a wonderful villanelle poem -- One Art -- about sadness and grief. (The villanelle is an especially appropriate form to celebrate sadness.) I understand it took her thirty-five years to write. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.
As a youth my thinking was influenced by Kahlil Gibran's book The Prophet and his reflections on sadness. To the effect, the measure of your sadness is the measure of your joy. Your life experience and emotional range will be quite flat without an ample measure of both.
Some observers think the public is suffering compassion fatigue. We're overwhelmed with sad stories from every part of the globe; but that's because we're entertained by them. They're like an instant Greek tragedy with all the catharsis. Watching needy people suffer might make a difference except for the commercial break which reminds us of the desperate needs of television sponsors.  
Those who, like Mary, are animated by the Holy Spirit engage more than their voyeuristic sympathies. They open their hearts to others as Mary does to us. Their sadness heals.