Friday, October 9, 2015

Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Joel 1:13-15.2:1-2; Luke 11:15-26)

The “Crucifixion” by the Spanish painter Velazquez merits meditation. It shows an almost nude Christ with arms outstretched.  He does not appear to be hanging so much as presiding in a supreme act of sacrifice. His long hair drapes half his face as if the painter wants to show that Christ’s humanity hides his divinity.  But his divinity shines through in the brilliance of Christ’s skin which contrasts with the totally dark background.  The painting expresses what the prophet Joel in the first reading warns Judah to prepare for.  This is “the day of the Lord.”

Velazquez may have taken his theme from any of the four gospels. Matthew, Mark, and Luke have the sky darken as Jesus dies on Calvary.  This accords with the darkness and gloom that Joel foresees.  The first three evangelists indicate – as John does in a unique way – that the cross presents the moment of judgment for the world.  Those who recognize Jesus as the Son of God by the sheer graciousness of his death are saved.  Those who cannot distinguish Jesus’ goodness from the darkness of the world are doomed. 

Of course, recognition here implies willingness to conform to his ways. Jesus is, after all, our teacher, our elder brother, and our hope.  Not following him would be like not following the instructions of the pilot of a rescue ship when we are drowning in the sea.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Thursday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Malachi 3:13-20b; Luke 11:5-13)

Why do some people have difficulty asking God for help? Perhaps they do not want to feel foolish should God not grant what they ask. Or maybe they like to consider themselves as not owing God any favors. Or perhaps they just don’t think God cares enough to help.  In the gospel today Jesus provides two images to free us from these errant ideas about God.

First, Jesus suggests that God may be considered a friend to whom we may go with little as well as big problems. That is, we might ask God for a loaf of bread just as well to heal our mother’s cancer.  But, Jesus indicates, God is better than a friend because He will assist us not just to avoid the embarrassment of denying someone He knows. No, God is like a father – the second image – who grants what we need because He deeply loves us. That is, God seeks only what is good for us.

There is a difference between God’s friendship and every other friendship or, for that matter, God’s Fatherhood and any other fatherhood.  God bestows on friends and children alike the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is intangible yet it is the best gift of all.  Possessing the Spirit, we are charged joy, love, and wisdom.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

(Jonah 4:1-11; Luke 11:1-4)

It is said that the rosary became popular centuries ago as an alternative way to pray for those who were unable to read.  Readers would recite the psalms which number one hundred fifty.  Non-readers would say as many “Hail Mary’s” in the then full rosary of fifteen decades.  But why has the devotion still such strength that it is said very often when people gather in homes to pray?  The answer has to do with how repetitive prayer focuses people attention.  We do not pray the rosary concentrating on every word.  Rather we focus especially on Mary recognizing her as our mother since she is the physical mother of Jesus, our brother.  We ask her to reinforce our prayers to God for assistance.

Today the Church celebrates Our Lady of the Rosary.  The Dominican pope St. Pius V established the feast after the combined Catholic navies defeated ascending Ottoman Empire in the Battle of Lepanto.  Pius had led a rosary procession asking the Virgin Mother’s intercession before God on behalf of his sailors. 

In today’s gospel Jesus teaches his disciples to pray.  He shows them how to say the “Our Father,” a prayer that is not lost in the rosary.  Indeed, when we pray the rosary, we begin every section with that appeal to God.  We know that God hears our petitions and will come to assist us.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Memorial of St. Bruno, priest

(Jonah 3:1-10; Luke 10:38-42)

Today the Church remembers St. Bruno.  He was born in the eleventh century – a time of notorious corruption among the clergy.  Many parish priests had concubines.  Monks were living lives of leisure more worried about who was abbot than about praying to the Lord.  Bruno did something about the cancer.  He formed an order of monks with a stringent rule.  The monks would live basically as hermits eating alone and coming together only three times a day for prayer.  We can see Jesus approving this way of life in today’s gospel.

The two sisters Mary and Martha welcome Jesus into their home.  Mary sits and listens to Jesus while Martha busies herself with household chores.  After a while, Martha begins to fret: “Why isn’t Mary helping her with the housework?” she says aloud.  Jesus must correct her.  Mary realizes the significance of Jesus’ coming.  He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  Not attending to him in order to do daily chores is like cleaning the basement when the pope is sitting in the parlor.

“There is a time for everything,” the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us.  There is certainly much time to fulfill daily duties.  But there is also a time when we must set those chores aside to give thanks and praise.  Once in a while we may be tempted to miss Sunday mass in order to cook, clean, or study.  That is committing Martha’s mistake.  We attend to him first and allow everything else fall in its proper place.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Monday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time

(Jonah 1:1-2:2.11; Luke 10:25-37)

A few years ago a leading Catholic university removed the crucifixes from its classrooms.  Having a multi-ethnic student body, the university administration reasoned that the crucifixes might offend students of other religious traditions.  One Muslim student, however, was bothered by the removal.  After all, he asked, what kind of guest would he be if he could not respect the symbols and artifacts of his hosts’ religion?  Eventually after a public outcry, the crucifixes returned to the classrooms.

The Book of the Prophet Jonah similarly testifies to people from other religious traditions showing greater sensibility to God than the Jewish prophet.  Jonah, the Jew, is disgusted with the Lord for his parallel love of other peoples.  He flees when God commands him to preach in the city of Nineveh, Israel’s captors.  In his flight the heathen sailors on the ship that transports Jonah show more regard for the Lord than he.  They pray to God for help and shudder to think that their act of appeasement may not please God.

We find Jesus making a similar point in the gospel.  He describes the Samaritan who comes to the aid of the dying stranger as giving God greater witness than the priest and Levite who would not touch him.  We are wise to recognize the Holy Spirit working among different peoples and religions just as surely as it lavishes graces upon us.