Thursday, August 21, 2014

Memorial of St. Pius X, pope

(Ezekiel 36:23-28; Matthew 22:1-14)

Although a scourge to intellectuals of his time, St. Pius X was greatly loved by most Catholics.  He was the son of a cobbler born in 1835 and elected pope in 1904. As pope, he kept the welfare of the people utmost in mind.  He encouraged Catholics to receive Holy Communion regularly and gave permission for children to receive the sacrament.  But this does not mean he was a lax pastor.  No he insisted on adequate catechesis for everyone.  This emphasis may be seen reflected in the gospel today.

Jesus’ parable is quite disturbing for many people.  “Why is the poor man thrown out of the banquet just because he wasn’t wearing the right clothes?” they ask.  The explanation is that the wedding garment was not unusual or expensive clothing.  In fact, it could be was provided by the host if necessary.  The man refused to wear it and thus insulted the host by eating his food without really participating in the nuptial festivity.  The wedding garment is usually taken as a baptismal garment and the story compared to one receiving Holy Communion without bothering to be baptized.

Many of the customs of the Church have ancient roots, and we should respect them.  Sometimes adherence to tradition is required as in the case of Baptism before Communion. By preserving the traditions we show ourselves in solidarity with Christians from times past -- all the way back to Jesus.  This does not mean that there is no room for innovation in the Church but that traditions have valued significance.

WednesdayAugust 20, 2014

Memorial of Saint Bernard, abbot and Doctor of the Church

(Ezekiel 34:1-11; Matthew 20:1-16)

King Louis XIV of France, the Sun King, was once in the country hunting with falcons.  Two peasants were watching the royal party, one of whom was quite taken up with the regalia and the other very sober about it.  When the king stopped his horse to perch a falcon on his gloved hand, the first peasant remarked how magnificent the scene was.  The second only commented that at least the king’s hand was occupied so that being it wasn’t taking anything out of his pockets.  In today’s reading from Ezekiel the prophet chastises kings who similarly abuse their offices by taking tribute from the people and ignoring their needs.

In ancient times especially the king was considered the shepherd of his people.  As we think of pastors taking care of the spiritual needs of their congregations, kings and, derivatively, princes were responsible for the temporal needs of their citizens.  The people exchanged their work for a roof over their heads, food on the table, and protection from enemies.  In the reading Ezekiel excoriates the leaders of Israel for abusing the rights of taxation and leading the people astray. So, Ezekiel claims, the Lord Himself will take control over the people to lead them rightly.  This prophecy is fulfilled in the coming of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Certainly civil leaders are owed deference, respect, and loyalty.  We obey the laws they make in acknowledgement that God has appointed them to lead the people in temporal matters.  Citizenship is a virtue that when widely cultivated leads to peace and justice in society.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 28:1-10; Matthew 19:23-30)

Warren Buffet, a very rich man, holds a seminar every year for businesspersons in Omaha, his hometown.   People from all over the world flock to the city to hear his pearls of financial wisdom.  While there, they go to Gorat’s Steakhouse, Buffet’s favorite restaurant, and eat his supposedly favorite meal, T-bone steak and hash browns.  They will do most anything -- rational or irrational -- to become rich like Mr. Buffet.  Both readings today testify that these devotees are taking a perilous course.

Both Ezekiel and Jesus relate the wisdom from ancient times.  Wealth may glitter, but it is not the gold that humans should seek.  More likely than bringing one peace, it makes the person haughty and contentious, far from, not close to, the Lord.  It is better to seek the Kingdom of God by living honest, humble lives of service.

But perhaps the current generation is better characterized by consumption than by wealth.  Young people want to make a lot of money so that they may spend it on all sorts of comforts and conveniences.  It leads to the same downfall as the quest for accumulation of wealth.  Choosing another option, we should use our resources to become wiser and to assist others in the development of spirit.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time

(Ezekiel 24:15-23; Matthew 19:16-22)

A forty-three year old husband and father died recently.  He was vacationing at a lake with his family when he jumped in the water, came up once briefly and then went under never to surface alive again.  Of course, the family was devastated not knowing what happened until an autopsy revealed that he had an undiagnosed brain tumor which evidently caused him to pass out in the water.  This Wednesday the family will hold a memorial service for the man at which friends will gather to offer condolences and to recall why the dead man was loved so well.  Such a service seems necessary to dispel some of the grief of the sudden loss.  It is exactly what is denied in the first reading today.

The Lord tells the prophet Ezekiel not to mourn his recently dead wife as a sign to Judah that the nation will not be permitted to mourn their loved in the upcoming combat.  He does not will the nation harm but recognizes that war often leaves people so desperate that they do not have time to bury their dead.  God wants the people to repent of sinful ways by turning to Him as their Savior.  Only by following His ways will they know consolation and peace.

The prophetic message will often sound harsh to us who have grown accustomed to thinking the perfect society is where everyone “lives and lets live.”  But God has made us for something greater than that.  He calls us to be His people – to love Him as our Father and to love one another as sisters and brothers. Here is where happiness resides. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

(Revelation 11:19a.12:1-6a.10ab; I Corinthians 15:20-27; Luke 1:39-56)

Fr. Raymond E. Brown, perhaps the best biblical scholar of his time, was very concerned about ecumenical relations.  He often reassured Protestants worrying that the Catholic Church was making excessive claims about Mary.  He proposed that the Church, at least in the cases of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, declared about Mary what Scripture proposes for all true followers of Christ albeit in a privileged way.  For example, the Church’s doctrine that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven is essentially what all the faithful will experience at the end of time.  The reading from First Corinthians gives testimony to this.  Christ was raised as the first fruits of God’s redemption.  The “proper order” that St. Paul mentions would have Mary, the mother of Christ, being glorified after him but before other women and men.

Our bodies’ destiny for eternal glory gives added reason for us to treat them well.  St. Paul in the same letter to the Corinthians presents the primary reason.  They are temples of the Holy Spirit that must not be profaned by lewd conduct.  Capitulating to sexual desire is what he has in mind here. We might supplement his concern for proper regard for the body with avoidance of excessive food and drink.  A few years ago a report was made telling of how people use their overweight friends as permission for them to pile on the pounds.  Of course, the resolution of this problem is not to cut ties with fat people but to model for others healthy eating habits. 

One more thing, if we want to develop virtue by emulating our friends, we might make friends with the saints, especially Mary.  In today’s gospel she visits her relative Elizabeth not only as a swift and certain response to the word of God but also as a show of support for of a woman with an unexpected pregnancy.  She also praises God for all the good that has happened to her.  Finally, she announces the good news of salvation.  Could anyone imagine a better person to have as a friend?