Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 126

Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

The Gospel of Saint Luke is rich with stories and teachings about meals; they are invariably pleasant gatherings of people sharing food, values and camaraderie.

There are no potluck dinners in the Gospel of Luke. The host provided all the food and drink and there was always enough.

(I take exception to those "explainers" who say that, when Jesus fed the 5000, the crowd actually became willing to share what they already had; it only seemed like a miracle. That interpretation misses the point altogether.)

There could be nothing worse than planning a party, inviting the guests, welcoming them to the table and running out of food and drink. You'll recall the crisis at Cana when Mary whispered to Jesus, "They have no wine." I don't remember ever attending a dinner when they ran out of food. Even in my childhood, scraping as we were to make ends meet for an ever-growing family, there was enough food.

Jesus uses this custom of the host's munificence to speak of God's extraordinary generosity, and of our own charitable practices. We should not invite people to dinner expecting to be invited back in return. That's not generosity; it's only an economical way for comfortable people to share their comfort. There's no harm in it, but don't call it generosity. Rather, the Christian invites and hosts the needy who cannot afford to play that game.

When the Catholic contemplates this mystery of generosity we think of communion. Communion is that spirit which draws people together and binds them in community. There is mutuality in that spirit. Some people would call it synergy, as they generate more willingness, enthusiasm and joy than they would have separately.

But Jesus will remind us that communion, which begins in his Sacred Heart, must also begin in my flinty heart. I should not wait for an invitation to be kind to others. Communion begins when I open my heart to receive whoever will enter.

This is more than risky; it's practically guaranteed there will be disappointment, hurt and betrayal. That's what the crucifixion means; and that's why the crucifix is placed front and center of every Catholic Church. 

When we see the blood and water pouring from Jesus' wounds, we know the Lord has exhausted his infinite resources in love for us. 

Inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind to dinner is a simple gesture, a way to display the generosity of God, with all its attendant risks. 

Memorial of Saint Monica

Lectionary: 430

Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.
Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God.

Yesterday we heard Saint Paul explain the mystery of the cross as a scandal to the pious and nonsense to the worldly wise, today's selection immediately follows that passage as the Apostle considers our place in God's plan. 
"Let's face it, people! You are not exactly the creme de la creme! You're not even the pick of the litter!" he might have said in Americanese. 
We often reflect on the sorry bunch of disciples that Jesus elected to follow him  -- fishermen, tax collectors, subversives -- and on his humble origins among the poor and the outcast. 
The Old Testament reveals God's predilection for the weaker and the seconds. He preferred Abel the shepherd over Cain the hunter, and Jacob the momma's boy over Esau, daddy's favorite. David was the least promising of all Jesse's sons. 
The religious might prefer the traditional elite and the wise would certainly choose the stronger and smarter, but God often prefers the world's overlooked. There is logic to this, of course -- thus to show God's glory!
How fitting it was that Saint Paul should arrive in Rome as a prisoner in chains! There was no triumphal entry for the Gospel. During the first decades of the twentieth century, the founders of American Pentecostalism travelled by rail -- that is, by box car and tie rod! -- to spread the good news. 
It's easy to be discouraged by the failures of the Church. We are way too human for most tastes. Even our best efforts to market our product end in disaster, as when the successful preacher is found in bed with his assistant's wife. 
But schooled in the cross we continue undaunted. Our faith is deeper than our wisdom; our conviction, firmer than our piety. 

Here is a second thought; it came to me with the word place. In our sacred liturgy we find our place in God's sight. Through baptism and eucharist, especially, we know where we belong, despite any misgivings about our putative worthiness. 
When I grew up, the oldest of ten children, I had a very definite place at the table. With Dad at the head of the table and Mom at the other end, I was placed halfway between. With my long arms I could move bowls and platter and pitchers from one end to the other better than anyone! That was my place and it went unchallenged, like Dad's and Mom's. Everyone else also had his and her place at the table. 

There is great comfort in knowing one's place, even if it's the lowest

Friday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 429

For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified,
a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

This passage from 1st Corinthians is the key to the cross. It opens to an understanding of Jesus' mission and to ours. 

Saint Paul addresses two different cultures: Jews and Greeks, the religious and the secular. Religious speak of signs and power. They are emotionally vulnerable and subject to the painful experiences of scandal. They despise sacrilege and weakness; and worship power. 

The wise speak of knowledge and understanding; they disdain foolishness. They are persuaded by reasonable arguments that make sense. 

Neither is particularly open to the unexpected. Religious have their formulas and rituals and are willing to welcome only that which flows within their traditional understanding. 

The wise cannot accept prima facie something that fails to explain itself. They want to know where this is going and will walk away if they suspect it's going nowhere. You'll recall the Athenians who walked away from Saint Paul when he spoke of Jesus' resurrection. They had followed him up to a point. Remembering the martyrdom of Socrates, they might have been willing to accept Jesus' crucifixion. But Socrates was not raised up and they saw no possibility for Jesus' revival. 

Even the fact that certain reputable people had seen the risen Lord did not sway them. As far as they were concerned, "Men don't rise from the dead and that's that!" 

Jesus' cross, then, is a scandal to religious. We Catholics are used to seeing a naked man on a cross; it's there in every Catholic church. We have to be reminded of how grotesque it is, that the Son of the Most High God is described with that image. We are sensitive about the sacrilegious and yet fail to notice the sacrilege of that brutal murder. When we introduce the curious to our faith we will probably fail to prepare them for that horrible image. 

We're equally nonplussed by those who doubt the resurrection. Christians accept the testimony of the eyewitnesses who saw him raised up. Without their testimony we have no faith. If "the wise" refuse to accept that testimony we might try to explain the resurrection. We'll remind them that larvae become butterflies and fetuses become babies. Such explanations might help but they won't persuade. Only grace can do that. 

We find in the cross of Jesus, the power of God and the wisdom of God. It is beyond human comprehension and it reminds us continually that our comprehension is feeble. Eye has not seen, ear has not heard what God has ready for those who love him! 
The mystery of the cross will always challenge our habitual ways of thinking. Every culture from the monastery to Wall Street will occasionally take issue with the cross and be confounded. (Hopefully, the monastery will be more open to the challenge but Wall Street needs it more.) 

The cross teaches us to "be still and know that I am God, supreme among the nations, supreme on the earth." 

Thursday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 428 you who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy,

The New Testament uses the word Christian only three times. Perhaps the followers of the way avoided the word because it had been coined by strangers as a word of contempt. The authors of the gospels and letters preferred disciples, friends and saints. In Saint Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians he describes his recent converts as sanctified and "called to be holy." 

This is not a static expression like blessed chalices, rosaries and churches. The holy ones is a dynamic description, fluid with movement and endless potential.  The Church readily adopted the language of Leviticus, the holiness code of the Torah. The Lord had said through Moses, "You shall be holy as I am holy." 

Saint Paul was delighted and amazed with the holiness he found in his Corinthian friends. There is irony here because Corinthians were famous for their sexual liberties. A port city with a daily influx of sailors is rife with red light districts. The Holy Ones of this ancient congregation were markedly different from their fellow citizens. 

In today's gospel, Jesus gives another clue about the life of the holy ones. They are awake and alert, ready to do good and avoid evil. They are ready at every hour to greet the master of the house. 

It doesn't take much imagination to know what erodes our readiness. Alcohol, recreational drugs, sexual liberty, obsessions, anxieties, overwork, etc. 

However, maintaining one's alertness is not so easy. After a few hours of high alertness even the well-prepared are apt to take a break. Ever since 9/11 we have tried to maintain a constant alert against terrorism. We fuel this alertness with imaginative preparations about where and when the enemy might strike -- only to find that he has struck again where and when we were not prepared! 

Our Lord's coming is infinitely more delightful. He comes in gifted moments as when we make generous sacrifices for our loved ones. As gratifying, too, are those little victories when we pass up the opportunity to do evil. We should celebrate these received graces with gratitude: "Thank you, God, that at least on this occasion I chose to do the right thing!" 

More challenging are the corners which might be cut: the time saved that should not have been saved; the opportunity missed because "I'll make up for it tomorrow." 

The faithful use the daily examen to study the hours of each day. What did the Holy Spirit want me to do, and did I do it. Was the Holy Spirit prompting me to speak when I kept silent, or -- more likely -- urging me to silence when I spoke out? 

I met a woman on the airplane once who told me she was studying motivation. "Wow!" I said. "That's incredibly important! How do we maintain our motivation?" She hadn't a clue. She was studying marketing or something, how to get people to use their computers to accomplish chores. She had not considered the spiritual dimensions of motivation. 

If it depended upon us, we would be in deep trouble. Fortunately, our God is with us, ever drawing us with love most delightful and with threats most dire to,
“Stay awake!For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.

Feast of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle

Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom.

Recently I came across a speech by the religious philosopher John Macmurray concerning Jesus’ “revolution”: It’s entitled “Ye are my friends,” and reads in part:

Copernicus made a revolution in human knowledge merely by shifting the center of the solar system from the earth to the sun. The world revolution of the Christians came when Jesus discovered the true center of human life.
“Not servants but friends” is the proclamation of the revolution. The keyword of the Christian gospel is not service but friendship. Of late, I believe, we have been thinking too much in terms of service—service of God and of the world.
There is nothing distinctively Christian about that. It is the natural way of religious thought when it becomes practical. Socrates called himself the servant of Apollo. Christ's revolution consisted, like that of Copernicus, precisely in denying the “Natural” point of view and substituting friendship for service.
“But surely,” you will say, “we are called as Christians to serve Christ and to serve the world.” No, we are called to be the friends of Christ and the friends of men.

 Today’s gospel and Macmurray’s citation, “Ye are my friends,” both come from the Gospel of Saint John. The philosopher, a Veteran of the trenches of the First World War, reacted against traditional ideas of servitude. He witnessed the wholesale slaughter of millions of men at the behest of incompetent leaders, chosen only by their aristocratic birth as kings and emperors. The "Great War" marked the end of their authority; a new age of human equality had arrived. There would be no slave or free, no citizen or alien, no male nor female, but all could be friends with equal standing.

Does the Enlightenment also reflect on our religion? Can we speak of equality between God and the human creature? Can a candle be likened to the Sun; or a breath, to a hurricane?

Created in God’s own image, we enjoy being. Although it began in time and God’s being began in eternity, the human being may attain eternity if she is willing to step out of herself into friendship with God. Jesus described the process as dying to oneself, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it .“

I might be only a mirror in the bright light of God’s love, but I can shine brightly, even blindingly, as the sun shines.

In today’s first reading we hear the apostles described as the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem.:

The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation,
on which were inscribed the twelve names
of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb.

These leaders of the early church were the “friends of Jesus.” They had known him personally and, as their voice goes out to all the earth, we too become friends of Jesus.

We often refer to one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord; we are also friends. Therein is our freedom. We can disagree; we can feud; but we continually come back to our Communion, which is the Presence of God among us.

Tuesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 426

We ask you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.

Although we sometimes describe the Day of the Lord as dies irae, dies illa (“a day of wrath, a day of doom”), for the people of God it will be a day of vindication. On That Day the Lord will set things right. He will reward his faithful people within sight of all those who sneered at them.

The challenge for Christians is believing it will come despite our not knowing when. Impatient as we are -- an impatience sometimes intensified by actual persecution -- we’d like to know when. The scriptures often indicate it will be soon with expressions like “a time, times and half a time;” and yet it doesn’t happen.
I suspect that Saint Paul’s warning is more about those who are curious than those who are anxious. Some people are “shaken out of their minds” by spirits and oral statements and phony missives from him. Why do they need to get so upset?

They might not be suffering injustice; they might be frankly comfortable with the way things are going. Perhaps they're saying, "Let's do this now while I'm on top!" 

The worst are those biblical cryptologists who think that God has, for no particular reason, coded the end time into certain obscure passages of the Bible. “Otherwise,” they say, “why would writings that are two thousand years old, written in far distant lands by long dead people, with philosophical premises completely alien to our own and cultural nuances we cannot imagine, that have been copied and recopied hundreds of times -- be so hard to understand?”
Or perhaps they're just curious, an honest human emotion. Some people just want to know when the second coming is going to happen. 

If we needed to know when the last day is coming we would be told. The scriptures only tell us, “This is the final hour!” In that same passage from 1 John,  we are reassured, “you have the anointing that comes from the holy one, and you all have knowledge.” 

You already know what you need to know for salvation. As Jesus said to Thomas, "Have I been with you so long and you still ask, 'Show me the Father? Who has seen me has seen the Father!" 
Can I hope in God's promise while in this darkness of waiting? Can I continue to live honestly, accepting what I need and no more; giving what I can afford and then some – without knowing when this contest will end?

Memorial of the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, as is fitting, because your faith flourishes ever more, and the love of every one of you for one another grows ever greater.
Accordingly, we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God regarding your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and the afflictions you endure.

Saint Paul begins his Second Letter to the Thessalonians talking about how he thanks “God always for you.” He crows about their flourishing faith and “the love of every one of you for one another.” He assures them he boasts about them "in the churches of God regarding your endurance and faith,” especially the “persecutions and afflictions” they suffered.

He is like a proud father of a family when he thinks about these first Christians. They have excelled beyond all expectations. If he ever had any misgivings about going abroad and announcing the Gospel to strangers in faraway places, their generosity, joy and courageous fidelity have cleared them away.

He can claim a kind of ownership in their accomplishment because he was the first missionary to bring the gospel to them. Whatever conflict he met in that encounter, and every weariness or discouragement, have been completely erased because the Thessalonians have accepted the faith with such manifest enthusiasm.

He can claim a kind of ownership also because he knows the same Holy Spirit in his heart. As Saint Augustine would say many years later, “For you I am your bishop; with you I am your brother.”

Thinking of Mary and her Coronation as the Queen of Heaven we feel the same pride and joy. She is our mother and sister, a poor Galilean woman whom God has exalted above the heavens. He has lifted her out of obscurity and poverty and made her to shine brightly for all the world to see and admire.

If an athlete from our hometown wins Olympic gold we naturally take pride in the accomplishment. Most of us will discover ways we know the champion. We’ll say things like, “I knew his father in school.” or “I’ve seen her at the grocery store.” The city of Louisville beamed with pride a few months ago as we celebrated the funeral of our native son, Muhammad Ali. Many people said, “I knew him when he was Cassius Clay!”

There may be some purists who say we shouldn’t take such pride in a neighbor’s accomplishment but they’re invariably outvoted by the rest of us. When we praise Mary we praise the God who created her.

Nor do we mind saying, “I know her! She’s a friend of mine!” We have only to point to the rosaries in our pockets to prove our friendship with her. She leads us daily through her joyful, luminous, sorrowful and glorious mysteries to know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Hurray for Mary, our Mother and Queen, our sister and friend. Your are the ideal of our aspirations and the solace of our disappointments.