Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Feast of Saints Philip and James, Apostles

(I Corinthians 15:1-8; John 14:6-14)

The fact that little is known about most of the apostles hints that they did not follow Jesus to become famous.   The New Testament portrays Peter with depth and refers to James and John in a number of situations.  We also have a feeling for Thomas, but in a negative way -- because of his protestations about belief in the resurrection.  Of course, we associate Judas with the foulest of characters that we have ever known or heard of.  But it is hard to get a sense of what the other apostles are like.

Saints Philip and James are not exceptions to this scarcity of knowledge.  Besides appearance on the lists of apostles, Philip emerges at the beginning of John’s gospel and again toward the end in the passage read in today’s mass.  In chapter one he seems to be on a noble search for the Messiah.  But by chapter 14 he appears to have missed the point of his quest by failing to recognize Jesus as the image of the Father.  In both cases he is given less description than the deacon Philip in the Acts of the Apostles who boldly preaches the gospel.  It is unlikely that this James is “the brother of the Lord” whom the Acts of the Apostles treats as co-leader of the Jerusalem community along with Peter.  He is named on New Testament lists as “son of Alphaeus,” but who is Alphaeus?  A strand of tradition refers to him as “James the Less” which at least removes any pretension from his identity. 

The anonymity of the apostles is instructive for us.  Like them we should not follow Jesus for earthly glory.  Rather we should let go of our desire for notariety in order to serve God.  By praising His name and caring for His people we will receive a much more cherished reward than fame or fortune.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Memorial of Saint Athanasius, bishop and doctor of the Church

(Acts 16:1-11; John 15:26-16:4a)

The four gospels may be called different answers to the question, “Who is Jesus?”  Put simply, Matthew sees Jesus as the definitive teacher; Mark, as the suffering Messiah; Luke, as the gracious prophet; and John, as the kingly Son of God.  It took the genius of St. Athanasius to explain how Jesus might fulfill all of these roles only if he is truly God.  Challenged by a popular idea that Jesus was created by God, and therefore subordinate to the Father, Athanasius corrected the error.  He taught that the Son, born of the Father before time began, shares His divine nature.

In today’s gospel passage Jesus tells his disciples that he will send the Advocate to testify to the Son.  This is the Holy Spirit who moved Athanasius to elucidate how the Father and the Son could be both one and distinct.  Along with the same Spirit the two have existed for all eternity before the creation of time.

The sharing of the divine nature puzzles most of us.  But that fact is not so important.  We have only to accept how Jesus’ natural divinity has made it possible for us to be adopted into God’s family.  Holding on to this belief, we strive to live the love characteristic of God.

Friday, April 29, 2016

Memorial of Saint Catherine of Siena, virgin and doctor of the Church
(Acts 15:22-31; John 15:12-17)

A painting hanging in the Dominican headquarters in Rome shows Jesus and St. Catherine of Siena walking side-by-side.  The two are not talking to each other directly but rather meditating on the words of a book that each one holds.  Catherine’s red-colored book is probably the Book of Gospels with their accounts of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.  Jesus’ white-colored book is likely Catherine’s masterpiece, The Dialogue, a summary of her spirituality.

The painting seems to portray a spiritual relationship between Jesus and Catherine, but neither feels it in that way.  Jesus gave Catherine, as he gives all of us, his body to eat and his blood to drink.  He got inside her to draw her closer to himself.  For her part Catherine did not hesitate to speak of Jesus as her spouse with the most intimate of terms.

Catherine’s love for the Lord was demonstrated with deeds. Although she is rightly considered one of the great Christian mystics, she exhausted herself working for the Church, the Body of Christ.  She is famous for her ministry to the condemned, for her exhortation to the Bishop of Rome to preside at the see’s center, and for her efforts to make peace between warring states. 

Catherine’s life was extraordinary but not inimitable.  We too can and should carry on a dialogue with Jesus.  We should delight in his physical presence to us as we receive his body and blood.  And we should respond to his love by our efforts to bring peace wherever we go.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 15:1-6; John 15:1-8)

A theologian of some repute once challenged Mother Teresa’s famous dictum that the Lord does not ask us to be successful but only to be faithful.  The theologian reasoned that it is a waste of talent and time to go about oblivious to the effects of our actions.  Rather, he would say, it is only prudent to make our efforts as productive as possible. 

As often happens, both sides in this debate have a hand on the truth.  Certainly Jesus calls us to accountability for what we do.  Wasting resources and producing results which harm as much as they help are not the fruits that he looks for.  But some fruit trees, like the tropical mangosteen, take over a dozen years to grow from seed.  Faithfulness on the part of the planter is required if its fruit is to be harvested and enjoyed. Just so, sometimes our best efforts may require years to produce the desired results.

In today’s gospel Jesus prescribes faithfulness as the one indispensable quality to produce any worthwhile fruit.  He calls himself the vine to which we must stay connected.  Apart from him our well-intended actions either devolve into egotism or are finally abandoned.  Both results are like incipient fruit that shrivels when plucked prematurely from the vine.  Staying connected to Jesus, we produce a harvest which benefits people while giving glory to God.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Easter

(Acts 14:19-28; John 14:27-31a)

Abraham Lincoln steered the United States through its most perilous moment.  He is often considered strong as a bull and clear-sighted as an eagle.  In truth he suffered from severe depression that made him consider suicide.  But he refused to allow himself that way out.  He rebounded from his melancholy to think himself through personal difficulties by giving attention to the great challenge of his time.  In the first reading today we see Paul responding to a crisis with similar resiliency.

Paul deeply wants his fellow Jews to believe in Jesus.  He knows that they will find salvation only through him.  He preaches Jesus’ lordship in the synagogues of Asia Minor, but the proclamation is continually rejected.  In today’s reading from Acts he is beaten and left for dead by his compatriots.  But Paul rises from the setback to redirect his message.  If he cannot convince the Jews of Jesus, he surmises that the pagans may heed him.  The beating even becomes a stimulus to work harder among a different group of people.

We too may feel defeated at times.  Perhaps our friends don’t believe in Jesus or are at best lukewarm about their faith.  Still to us Jesus not only is our destiny but our means to attain it.  We must not lose heart.  Rather we will find in Jesus the wisdom to overcome life’s challenges.  We should also meet others with similar convictions to support us along the way.