Friday, July 25, 2014

Feast of Saint James, apostle

(II Corinthians 4:7-15; Matthew 20:20-28)

In an old television drama the father of a teenage basketball player comes in a room bragging about his son’s performance the night before. “Twenty-seven points,” he gloats, “How about that kid of mine?”  Nobody seems interested in listening to him, however.  His son hogged the ball, and the team lost.  In the gospel today the mother of James and John sounds a bit like this proud father as she recommends her sons to Jesus.

Jesus does not chastise the brothers for desiring higher offices.  He does not call their ambition a sin or tell them that they should be ashamed.  What concerns him is the possibility that the brothers seek the positions to call attention to themselves.  Jesus advises the twelve that leaders are not to take advantage of their followers.  He puts himself as an example: as he – the Son of Man destined to judge the world – does not seek his own welfare but the good of all, so must they, his disciples, follow suit.

James learned the lesson well. He became the first of Jesus’ twelve apostles to give witness to their master with his life.  Today we honor him both by our prayers and, more importantly, by our imitation of his sacrifice that gives glory to Jesus.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Thursday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 2:1-3.7-8.12-13; Matthew 13:10-17)

The storyteller is a very popular motif of New Mexican sculpture.  The image is usually an indigenous woman with children clinging to her from every side.  Her mouth is open as she relates a tale of her youth.  Curiously, however, the children are not paying much attention to the storyteller’s words.  Rather they seem more intent on frolicking. In today’s gospel Jesus has similarly just told a large crowd a story that is called a parable.  The people likewise did not heed what he was saying.

The disciples now question Jesus about why he uses parables if the people are not going to catch his meaning.  He answers that the people do not understand his parables not because the stories are inscrutable but because the people themselves do not appreciate who is speaking to them.  From all Jesus has done among them – his multiple healings and expulsions of devils – they should realize that he is the one whom God has sent into the world.  Not believing in him, his parables become no more for them than cartoons of our culture for children to watch on Saturday morning.

Parables are rich in meaning.  Like the deposits of gas and oil beneath the earth’s surface they can be mined again and again for high yields of truth.  But to take full advantage of them we must recognize that their source, Jesus, is not like any other storyteller.  No, he is the Son of God sent to us to reveal the wisdom that yields eternal life.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Jeremiah 1:1.4-10; Matthew 13:1-9)

The woman was confused about what to say.  Her granddaughter had just confessed that she wanted to move in with her boyfriend.  Then the younger asked her grandmother whether she would disown her if she did such a thing.  Such a scene of conflicting values is reminiscent of the era of the prophet Jeremiah who is featured in the first reading today.

Jeremiah lives in the southern kingdom of Judah in the seventh and sixth centuries before Christ.  The time of his calling as a prophet, which today’s reading reports, is particularly jaded.  Manasseh, the nation’s king, has allowed the presence of Assyrian idols in the Temple area.  Now God commissions the young Jeremiah to speak his truth to the people.  It would be a tough assignment for a seasoned prophet.  It is no wonder then that Jeremiah tries to shy away from the challenge. 

Not only young people are living together outside marriage.  Elders as well, whether to avoid the emotional or the legal entanglements of marriage, are opting for the sinful relationship.  We certainly should not show approval for the practice.  In fact, we should express our concern –with as much prayerful care as prophetic boldness – that the couple is offending our Creator and Redeemer. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene

(Micah 7:14-15.18-20; John 20:1-2.11-18)

When George Harrison sang, “I really want to see you, Lord,” he struck a deep chord within many of us.  We want to see Jesus risen from the dead, verify that our faith is not a pipedream, and know that he is worth the efforts we make to believe.  We are not unlike Mary Magdalene in today’s gospel.

When Mary realizes that it is Jesus she is talking to, she wants to hold onto him.  She is evidently thinking that Jesus, returned to life, will be like he was before – the teacher who lifted his disciples from the trivialities of life to know God’s rich purpose for them.  Jesus must correct her.  The meaning of his resurrection is not a mere physical reunion with his friends, but a spiritual presence to the whole world through his ascension and sending forth of the Spirit.  Then he bestows on Mary the privilege of being the first to announce this message.

We should not dwell long on the desire to see Jesus but prepare ourselves to announce to others the message he gave Mary.  Of course, it may be useless to use words, at least at first, but let us preach with our actions.  Our joy, peace, and charity signal to those who know us that what we believe about Jesus having risen and ascended for our salvation is true.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Micah 6:1-4.6-8; Matthew 12:38-42)

Most Christians are aware of the judgment scene toward the end of Matthew’s gospel.  In the story Jesus foretells how he will come at the end of time to judge the peoples of the earth.  In the reading from the prophet Micah today we find an Old Testament counterpart to that memorable scene.

God appears in the trial as both plaintiff and judge.  He has a case against the people of Israel.  Although He has freed them from slavery and given them His Law as their guide, they have been anything but loyal.  They have ignored His commandments and, like young men lusting after whores, have joined themselves to other gods.  Now facing powerful enemies, they come back to God for assistance.  They propose paying their indemnity with sacrifices – animals, oil stocks, or (how could they ever imagine this?) their own children.  But God exacts neither blood nor material.  He only pleads that Israel be just, good, and humble.

As simple as it sounds, the rectitude that God seeks becomes a monumental task in a world with so many diversions.  Fortunately, we have Christ as our model and strength.  Grounding our lives in his teaching and coming to his table for nourishment, we can feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and visit the sick and imprisoned.  In short, we can prepare ourselves to enter God’s kingdom.