Monday, July 6. 2015

Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 28:10-22a; Matthew 9:18-26)

Young men and women from Asia, Africa, and South America are leaving in droves.  They seek opportunity in Europe and North America where jobs will pay ten times as much as they receive at home.  They are not unlike Jacob as he leaves home in today’s first reading.

Jacob has demonstrated self-centeredness as he has just stolen the birthright of his older brother.  Now he is off seeking adventure although, to be sure, an angry Esau provides more than enough motive for him to leave home.  He is also taken up by experience as he describes the site of his dream in a peculiarly contemporary fashion -- “awesome.” And, again like contemporary youth, he is reluctant to commit himself beyond promising allegiance to God if God continues to bless him.  What advice might be given Jacob?

We would tell him that which we have to remind ourselves.  There is much to learn about life.  We have to understand that the world does not revolve around us.  In fact, other people have needs that not only are different from ours but also, at times, demand our attention.  Also, we must take to heart that God remains as the one whose commands are to be heeded.  Pope Benedict XVI tells a story about himself that illustrates this lesson.  Right after being ordained to the priesthood, he returned to his hometown in Bavaria for his first mass.  The townspeople prepared elaborate festivities for their simple faith stood them in awe that one of their own could now turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.  The young Fr. Ratzinger had to remind himself continually as he was receiving royal treatment, “This is not about you, Joseph.  This is not about you.”  

July 3, 2015

Feast of St. Thomas, Apostle

(Ephesians 2:19-22; John 20:24-29)

Like Thomas some of us might question the resurrection of Jesus.  We might speculate that life would be simply neater if death were the end of our existence.  We could then set forth our own goals in life – be they making a million dollars, helping the poor, or raising a family – without having to consider the knottier question of whether we are working for salvation by assenting to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

The gospel today, however, asserts unreservedly that Jesus rose from the dead.  He appears not only to those inclined to believe but to a man who gives no credibility at all to the word of witnesses but insists on touching the wounds of the crucified before acknowledging him as alive.  This skeptical empiricist, of course, then turns into the person who makes the boldest claim of faith in all the gospels.  Thomas’ final words, “My Lord and my God” are always taken to mean that Jesus is not only God’s son, whatever that means, but God himself!

Of course, we can deny the historicity of Jesus’ appearance to Thomas.  We can say that this is just a pious story fabricated to get simple people to believe.  But does not such a stance deny our experience?  There is plenty of evidence to show that people of faith live fuller, happier lives facing hardship with less turmoil and recovering from setback more resiliently.  Likewise, when we call upon the resurrected Jesus, “My Lord and my God,” we experience the assurance of his guiding hand.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Thursday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 22:1b-19; Matthew 9:1-8)

In considering the story of Abraham being called to slay his beloved son Isaac, we cannot help but being horrified by the proposal.  It seems preposterous for God to suggest that anyone take an innocent life because He has written on our hearts an injunction against it.  Natural law tells us that murder is wrong and that murdering one’s own offspring is especially abominable.  We accept the story as revelation but are forced to question, not unlike those who ponder how God might permit a tsunami killing hundreds of thousands of people or a genocidal regime taking a ten times that number, divine benevolence.

Of course, the text says from the beginning that God is testing Abraham.  Tests are by nature hypothetical.  They do not mean everything they say.  In true or false tests, for example, not every statement of the teacher is true.  Does this mean that she lies?  Tests, it should be acknowledged, are at least as much a stimulus to learning as they are a tool of evaluation.  In fact, in the long run students are more likely to recall a wrong answer on a test than a correct one. 

The crucial lesson in Abraham’s test is that he and by extension we must subordinate ourselves to God’s will.  We are not the most important persons even, in our own small universe; He is.  If Abraham is ever to father a truly great nation, he and his descendants must learn that national interest does not trump justice, that one’s leisure should not take preclude the obligation to worship, and that one’s concern for family is not a reason for denying the poor outside one’s door.  Question God’s reasons if we must, but always render Him sovereignty over our lives!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 25:5.8-20a; Matthew 8:28-34)

One should be taken aback when God affirms Sarah’s desire to get rid of Hagar and Ismael.  What, after all, has the slave woman done to deserve banishment?  But Sarah is right to think that if she and Abraham are to parent a great nation, there cannot be competition about religion and bloodline in their home.  Importantly, God promises to care for Abraham’s illegitimate family.  He will not allow the innocent to suffer without mercy.

Building a nation is not the same as building a modern nation state.  All nation states today are conglomerates of peoples and religions.  Racial, ethnic, and religious tolerance must be even surpassed by a spirit of communal cooperation if a modern state is to become a truly wholesome place to live.  Singapore, where a large variety of peoples live together in harmony, models the modern ideal.

In the home, however, a strong sense of religious identity enables children to grow in love of God, neighbor, and self.  We should not be reluctant to insist that adolescents attend mass with us.  When a couple is from different religious traditions, the Church asks the Catholic partner to do what is possible to raise the children as Catholic.  This does not mean that she or he must make an uncompromising demand but that there be a serious discussion of the issue with an attempt to persuade the other about the merits of the Catholic tradition.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

(Genesis 19:15-29; Matthew 8:23-27)

It may seem like the lesson of Sodom is merely one of disgust with homosexual behavior.  Remembering the context of the story, we realize that the angels warn Lot to flee the city before God annihilates it out of outrage from the townsmen’s attempt to violate Lot’s guests.  But as often happens in Genesis, the wisdom is more profound than what first meets the eye.

When the three strangers visited Abraham in the country, he welcomed them like kings.  He gave them water to refresh their skin and a feast to restore their energy.  Now in the city of Sodom, Lot similarly treats two of the same travelers, but his neighbors threaten them.  Indeed, the men of Sodom move to rape the travelers as apparently is their custom.  Their sin is not sexual crime but also violation against the virtue of hospitality.

The men of Sodom, like those of Babel earlier in Genesis, demonstrate the corruption of city-life.  City dwellers collaborate to advance their knowledge, but their progress sometimes sets aside righteous living.  Not feeling accountable to anyone, they try to take advantage of the defenseless.  Their quest for ever more adventure leads the men of Sodom to abuse their guests.  With no antidote for such barbarity God must destroy them completely.  Even in our age the sophisticated are prone to rationalize contempt for life.  Abortion and now so-called homosexual marriage are outrages that similarly call to heaven for remedy.