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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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[29] Third Sunday of Lent

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Readings: Exodus 20:1-17 / Psalm 19 / 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 / John 2:13-25

Our first reading from Exodus has the presentation of the Decalogue, and so I would like to present some of my reflections on the Ten Commandments that I usually share with those taking formal religious instructions.  I will also speak to the catechetical over the Scriptural listing, as the incarnation of Christ has abrogated the prohibition against graven images.  Christ is the human face of God.  He is the revelation of our heavenly Father.

The first commandment reminds us that ours is a jealous God; there is no other before him. He is the one and only! He does not want us wasting our lives on false gods or empty superstitions. Even though there may not be many traditional worshipers of idols cast in stone or bronze, or of figures from nature like the sun or animals, this prohibition is still violated. We see this in dangerous occult toys, like tarot cards and Ouija boards. These things are hazardous to our souls because they sidestep God’s dominion over us and his will for us. They might even invite spiritual evil to penetrate our lives. This commandment also condemns sacrilege whereby persons, places, or things sacred to God are defiled. Even interest in the popular horoscopes can sometimes escalate beyond simple curiosity and become habitual false guides. God wants us to follow him alone.

The second commandment urges us to treat God’s name respectfully. This necessarily prohibits blasphemy, making false oaths in God’s name, and cursing.

The third commandment tells us to make the Sabbath day holy. For Christians, this obligation is transferred to Sunday. (It is interesting that most Protestant religions accept at least this one precept or legislation of the Roman Catholic Church. Otherwise, along with our Jewish brethren, they would respect it on Saturday.)  We sanctify this day by prayer, worship, avoiding unnecessary work, rest, and joy. Therefore, something like failing to participate at Mass on Sunday is not merely a violation of the laws of the Church, but in a very direct manner, an infringement upon this commandment to give God his due.

The fourth commandment exhorts us to respect our parents by loving and helping them, especially when they are in need. While young and under their immediate authority, children must obey their parents. Reciprocally, parents must give a Catholic education to the children entrusted to them. Their spiritual and material welfare is essentially in their hands. The parents may extend or endow school teachers and others with something of their own authority. This commandment speaks to us in a less direct way about authority in general. All just authority comes from God. We are called to obey spiritual and civil authorities when they make legitimate demands. However, if there is a conflict between the laws of human beings and those of God, God comes first.

The fifth commandment prohibits us from either harming our own bodies or those of others. This commandment expands beyond murder or suicide to the various partial degradations: including such things as mutilation, striking another, harmful drugs, drunkenness, and carelessly taking risks with our lives. Abortion is a direct violation of this commandment. Our right to choose should never be deemed a higher priority than another person’s right to life.

The sixth commandment, taken alone, forbids all external sins against chastity. Once sexual activity is condoned outside marriage, as in fornication, it is logically difficult to confine afterwards, as in adultery. The premise is already adopted. Some fifty percent of the couples who live together prior to marriage eventually get divorced. The seed for failure is already planted. Sin is a mighty poor preparation for the nuptial sacrament. Considered with the ninth commandment, all interior sins against chastity are likewise condemned. The human sexual powers are given for the propagation of children and for the fidelity of a man and woman in marriage. Outside of marriage, it is a great evil to exercise these powers, which are not simply expressions of our flesh, but of our very persons— who we are! Inside marriage, these powers must not be distorted in their purpose or in the motivation of two people in love drawn to union. Lust, even in marriage, is a sin and degradation to what it means to be truly human. It re-categorizes the beloved from a personal subject to an impersonal object. Instead of self-sacrifice and surrender— thinking of the other’s needs and happiness— we selfishly treat the other as a disposable thing with which we can seek our own gratification. If the beloved is no more than an object, then the stage is set for adultery because objects are interchangeable. This is the antithesis of the Gospel. Marriage is called to be a permanent union. Adultery is a gross violation of that permanent union which is to reflect the fidelity between Christ and his bride, the Church. The adulterer plays the role of Satan who would lure us away from our divine groom and from the wedding banquet of heaven.

The seventh commandment rejects stealing and dealing unjustly with another. Even if we accept stolen goods, we have broken this commandment. All sorts of things fall under this heading: idling, charging unfair interest, not paying debts, not giving a just salary, and stealing someone’s good name. Restitution is demanded in cases where we have stolen or damaged the goods of others. This last matter draws this commandment to the eighth.

The eighth commandment would have us be a people of truth and good will. We are not to lie or to slander others. If we stumble into this sin, then we need to repair the damage caused by our falsehoods.

The ninth commandment, as mentioned under the sixth, requires us to be mindful of our thoughts. To occupy ourselves with sexual fantasies regarding others, not only breaks down our will in reference to actions, but degrades the one whom we are imagining. This is destructive to the dignity of the person who is reduced to an impersonal object in obscene films and other pornography.

The tenth commandment, like the ninth, reminds us that God wants our conversion, both in external action and in our internal disposition. To be open to the grace of his presence, we must free ourselves from within, of those persons or things which we might covet before God. In actuality, we might not commit a sin against justice, but we might “want” to do it. Even this needs to be weaned away. We need to reach a point in our spiritual life where we do not WANT to steal from or to hurt another.

God establishes his law with his people.  Fidelity to the commandments realizes the covenant with God.  Disobedience is more than breaking rules; it severs a saving relationship with the Lord.  The full revelation of God and the expansion of his covenant relationship, as the apostle Paul says in the second reading, are in Christ Crucified.  The Gospel gives us the shocking scene where Jesus whips the money-changers out of the temple and upsets their tables.  He complains that the temple which is a place for worship and sacrifice has been made into a marketplace or even worse, a den of thieves.  When asked by what authority he casts them out, he in return challenges them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  They mistakenly think he is referencing the building around them when he really means his body.  Long before, the actual tablets of the law and the ark had been lost.  Jesus is the new covenant but he is not made at home in the Jewish temple.  Within seventy years the temple will be demolished by the Romans.  Two thousand years later it is still gone, all but the retaining or wailing wall.  Jesus was crucified but the temple of his body rose from the tomb.  As mentioned last week, Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.  We are all called as believers to be obedient to Jesus and to enter into his temple, the Mystical Body.

  • Are there certain commandments that we routinely violate?
  • Do we give God his due in daily prayer, Mass participation and witness?
  • Do we follow the commandments mechanically or within Christ’s command to love?
  • While expressed negatively, how might you make the commandments into positive statements?
  • Do we respect the new temples of the Lord: Christ present in us by grace, in our homes by holiness, in our tabernacles as sacrament, in the Scriptures as the living Word, and in the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ?

[26] Second Sunday of Lent

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Readings:  Gen. 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 / Ps. 116 / Romans 8:31b-34 / Mk. 9:2-10

An important traditional demarcation of the ancient Jews from their pagan neighbors was the repugnance they felt toward human sacrifice.  Rather, they offered the grains of the field or animals like goats, sheep, bulls and birds.  However, more recent archeological evidence shows that the early Jews did at one time offer the oblation of human beings.  The remnant texts that point to such behavior are the testing of Abraham and the story of Jephthah’s daughter. The story of Jephthah’s daughter can be found in Judges 11:29-40.  Like our passage today, it is deeply disturbing.  The Hebrew general pledges that the first who steps out the door of his home, he will sacrifice. He immediately laments his pledge because out steps his young daughter. She requests a short time to mourn her virginity and then we are told he did as he promised. Unlike the story of Abraham and Isaac, it appears that God does not stay his hand. The young girl had courage and her father kept his promise to God; but as Christians, we are aware that some promises should not be made. The child mourns that she will never know the joys of being a wife and mother. It is a poignant and terrible story.

Just as the story of Abraham and Isaac prefigures God’s surrender of his Son; the story of Jephthah’s daughter is connected to the Virgin Mary.  Mary gives herself to perpetual virginity and undergoes a vicarious martyrdom in witnessing the passion and death of her Son. Jephthah was a great Jewish general. He was successful against tremendous odds. He was victorious not because of his oath, but in spite of it. As St. John Chrysostom would tell us, his repugnant act would move the Jews to renounce all such blood-oaths from that time forward. Regarded as a testing of Abraham’s faith, a messenger from heaven intervenes and God directly prohibits the sacrifice of Isaac.  This would plainly show that God does not delight in such sacrifices.

Abraham certainly did not comprehend the command to sacrifice Isaac.  It seemed to violate providence, itself.  The patriarch was elderly and his son was the child of promise from which he was supposed to generate many descendants.  He did not understand but he remained faithful.  It is that element and not the shocking act that we should fully reflect upon.  God stays the hand of Abraham but he would not spare his own Son, the child promised from the dawn of creation.  Our heavenly Father did not directly will that his Son should be tortured and murdered; but he did desire faithfulness.  Jesus is faithful to his mission unto the Cross.  Abraham substitutes the oblation of a ram.  When God spared us (signified by Isaac), Jesus substitutes himself for us as the divine Lamb of God.  The sacrifice is no longer a ram caught in the briars but a Savior crowned with thorns.

The sacrifice of human beings by the pagans would be regarded by the early Christian community as a feeding the bloodlust of demons. We might think that we are morally better and enlightened, but over a million unborn children are aborted in the United States annually.  Many ministers regard this as a return of the demonic sacrifices of old.  Are we feeding demons the blood of our children?

The responsorial speaks to our conviction as believers during the season of Lent: “O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your handmaid; you have loosed my bonds. To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.” Catholics readily make the connection between Christ as the suffering servant and Mary who declares herself as “the handmaid of the Lord.”  Jesus offers his life that we might be released from the bonds of Satan.  Our Lord will pay the price of his life to set us free.  Mother and Son will meet on Calvary.  The sacrifice of Jesus will do what all prior oblations failed to do— make true and lasting atonement for sin.

The second reading reiterates today’s theme:  “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”  Paul is speaking about the gift of hope that comes with faith.  The victory over sin and death has already been won.

The Gospel reading gives us the scene of the Transfiguration.  Our Lord is dressed in dazzling white and beside him stands Elijah and Moses.  This signifies that Jesus is the fulfillment of the LAW and the PROPHETS.  The transformation in Jesus might be interpreted as a sign of things to come, notably the resurrection.  Lest it should be misunderstood, Jesus tells his three apostles not to speak about what they have seen until “the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”  We are told that they questioned what was meant by “rising from the dead.”  The apostles really could not get their heads around our Lord’s prophesies about his passion and death.

There is an important but sometimes overlooked element to the reading that we today should take to heart.  The heavenly Father’s voice beckons from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”  Jesus is the ultimate term for salvation.  It is his sacrifice that is saving.  Given that he buys us back with his own life, we belong to him.  If that be the case, then it must be realized with faith and an abiding obedience.

  • What sacrifices have you made in your life to realize your discipleship?
  • Do you appreciate that every Mass is a re-presentation of the oblation of Calvary?
  • Have you placed limits on your faith and what you would do in response to God’s calling?
  • How have you died for Christ and others, brushing aside selfishness?
  • Do you listen and obey God’s Son or have you substituted other authorities?
  • Do you put a premium upon human life, both in and out of the womb?

[77] Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Readings: Leviticus 13:1-2, 44-46 / Psalm 32 / 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1 / Mark 1:40-45

The Levitical law about lepers was intended to protect the community from contagion; however, the individual sufferer was both physically ostracized and stigmatized as one who was punished by God.  The leper lost everything:  his place in the community, his job, his family, etc.  Indeed, failure to abide by the regulations about proximity could result in his execution.  By appearance and by proclamation, “Unclean, unclean!” he announced his coming into the local vicinity.  Sometimes the healthy villagers or families had locations where food was left for the afflicted.  Later, those suffering from leprosy would also ring a bell, particularly if they had trouble speaking.  Just as the Jewish priest passed sentence for the expulsion, if cleansed a similar process of washing and examination might allow a (former) leper to return to his family and community.  Lepers often traveled alone although some gathered for companionship or formed their own colonies.  Most were intensely afraid of any association with them.

The situation with leprosy reminds me of what was encountered by those afflicted with AIDs in the early 1980’s.  As a priest working at a hospice in Washington, DC, I quickly saw the cancer patients outnumbered by those dying from AIDs.  There were few drugs to treat it back then and the disease quickly killed its victims.  Many of the patients I visited were young men in their 20’s.  Certain rigid fundamentalists asserted that it was God’s condemnation upon the homosexual community.  Even children and others who contracted the disease through blood transfusions were vilified and segregated.  The virus was found in all the fluids of the body, even sweat and tears.  I recall one young man who wept when I anointed him with the holy oil.  Everyone who approached him was dressed up like an astronaut and wore rubber gloves.  Much to the chagrin of the staff I insisted on applying the oil with my bare hand.  When I asked the poor man why he cried, he responded, “Father, everyone is afraid to come near me.  You are the first person to actually touch me with his bare hand in over a year.”  I was summoned to another dying patient by his parents.  As I approached the door, a young man stood before me and angrily shouted, “I am George and I am his boyfriend!  What do you think about that?  He was angry and wanted a fight.  I was not going to give it to him.  I replied, “My name is Father Joe and I am so sorry about the situation.  I have come to bring the mercy and healing of Jesus, not to debate.”  I prayed with him and the poor man’s parents.  I gave him the Last Rights.  Upset at the situation and anger at the Church seemed to disappear.  This was the real face of the Church.  Jesus did not put conditions on his love.  Our Lord said that he came not for the righteous but for sinners.  He did not shy away from others but deliberately went out to the poor, the sick, the sinners and the marginalized.  How could I or any priest do any differently?  St. Paul said in the second reading today, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”  This was the manner in which we bring salvation to others.  When family and friends learned of my hospice ministry, I was assigned my own plate, fork, spoon and a cup (with my name on it).  Because of my ministerial association with modern-day lepers, many became afraid to immediately relate with me.  Fortunately, such a hysterical response has long since subsided; but it is nothing that I will ever forget.  I took comfort from the Scriptures, knowing that our Lord was condemned and spurned because of his outreach to God’s alienated people.

The responsorial exhorts, “Blessed is he whose fault is taken away, whose sin is covered… ‘I confess my faults to the LORD.’”  We are all sick.  We are all sinners.  Nevertheless, we often look down upon others as less or as more afflicted than ourselves.  Believers are always tempted to be like the self-righteous Pharisee, seeking to justify ourselves as better than others or at least not as sinful as someone else.  But sin is sin, no matter if great or small.  We are all broken and need healing.  The Church, like Christ, does not close her doors to those afflicted by sin.  Yes, we have strong views about right and wrong.  We should never compromise our moral truths.  But likewise, we should appreciate that we have all fallen short.  We live in a messy world.  We invite God’s grace to forgive and to transform us.  This process begins in the here-and-now but for some it will not be complete until the purification in the life to come.  As vehicles or prophets of grace, we need to open the doors of the faith to all who are searching for meaning and reconciliation with God.  This is a hallmark of Pope Francis’ notion of accompaniment.

The leper in the Gospel takes a terrible chance, as does our Lord.  He approaches Jesus and begs to be healed.  This “approach” itself is forbidden by their law.  Our Lord is not worried about such things.  We read, “Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, ‘I do will it.  Be made clean.’” The Scriptures are deliberate here.  Our Lord “touched” the untouchable leper.  He made himself unclean in the sight of the religious leadership.  This is a whole magnitude more serious than eating and drinking with tax collectors.  Even the religious leadership would partake of Matthew’s food and hospitality, although without sitting at the same table with him and other condemned sinners.  The leper was absolutely off limits.  Jesus tells the man to show himself to the Jewish priest.  This is the same process we read about in the first reading.  This man is not merely physically healed, but this act of mercy restores him socially to his community and family.  It is no wonder that he could not keep secret about this great blessing in his life.  However, word of the event causes the crowds to balloon.  Such intervention would also further harden the hearts of those who oppose Jesus.  They are more concerned about rules and their standing in the Jewish community than about the plight of the poor and hurting.

  • Are there people with whom we refuse to associate?
  • Have we ever felt abandoned or rejected?
  • Are we ever afraid to become involved or to witness Christ to others?
  • Have we belittled others through stereotypes and bigotry?

 

[74] Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7 / Psalm 147 / 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23 / Mark 1:29-39

Job speaks of life as “drudgery” or as a battle to survive.  Like “hirelings” we must work to live and to put food on the table.  This is not our true home and we are wayfarers in a foreign land.  We are a “slave” to the mortal condition, longing for leisure and comfort from our toil.  One might summarize his remarks thusly:  life is hard and life is short. When he speaks about the lack of hope and that he “shall not see happiness again,” he is speaking about the fleeting joy or satisfaction this world offers.  Job is not spurning God but he does indicate that there is something about the mystery of pain that remains unintelligible.  Any of us who have endured loss or grown old or know sickness and pain can add our voices to the truth of what Job says.  We get older and know that there are more days behind us than before us.  We appreciate that our bodies fail us and there are some ailments from which we will not recover.  Pain becomes the constant companion to many of us.  While as Christians we trust that the Lord can restore all that the world takes away, the world will not let go of us until it has killed us.

The Book of Job is not a testament to despair, but rather is a witness of faith against the harsh truth of existence in the mortal world.  I am reminded of St. Teresa of Avila and her appraisal as a Christian of hardship. She was on her way back to the convent during a torrential storm.  She tumbles down an embankment into a pool of mud.  Dragging herself out, she looks up to heaven with this address to the Almighty:  “If this is how you treat your friends, it is no wonder that you have so few of them!” Perpetually in conversation with God, her assessment is no affront to the deity, but is a tenacious expression of an existential truth in facing the mystery of suffering.

Visitors to his home attempt to convince Job that his dire plight must be a punishment for some crime or sin.  The Jews saw this view as safeguarding God’s goodness and divine justice.  Suffering is perceived as self-inflicted or as the price for sin.  That assessment also feeds into our notion of original sin.  God as the creator is good and in no way can be the source of evil.  Sin is the consequence of our violation of freedom— a transgression of the moral law— and is an offense against God, the divine lawgiver.  It follows that God as the just judge rewards good and punishes evil.  This reckoning of the moral order would have us interpret suffering as “justified evil.”  However, the story of Job, while not invalidating this stance, shows that it is overly simplistic.

Pope John Paul II writes in Salvifici Doloris that Job is “the story of this just man, who without any fault of his own is tried by innumerable sufferings… loses his possessions, his sons and daughters, and finally he himself is afflicted by a grave sickness.” Job honestly reflects upon his life and upon the good he has done.  He can see no grounds upon which he deserves the punishment that comes to him.  “In the end, God himself reproves Job’s friends for their accusations and recognizes that Job is not guilty. His suffering is the suffering of someone who is innocent and it must be accepted as a mystery, which the individual is unable to penetrate completely by his own intelligence.”  The notion of an innocent victim will find its prime paradigm in Jesus Christ.  The setting for the testing of Job is one that emerges from the devil’s provocation.  “And if the Lord consents to test Job with suffering, he does it to demonstrate the latter’s righteousness.”  Francis Bacon once wrote, “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.”

While life can be hard and suffering comes to all, we are admonished not to despair.  The psalm tells us, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  The Church realizes this promise by extending the message and mission of Jesus.  Our souls are healed and we know forgiveness.  One day we will be restored, body and spirit.  While we live in a world where some seem to suffer more than their lot, we are also told that “The LORD sustains the lowly; the wicked he casts to the ground.”  The innocent might sometimes suffer and the wicked may appear to flourish.  But God sees everything, and the innocent will be gifted with mercy while evil doers will merit justice.  The early Jews largely defined divine reward as wealth, power, property and children in this world.  The question of Job and suffering would move them to consider life after death.  There has to be an existence where the scales are balanced in favor of the innocent.

Most eulogies celebrate life and leave unspoken certain truths that make us fearful.  We selectively remember someone as fun to be around or who knew how to have a good time or who did not make too many demands upon us.  Nothing is said about a general lack of charity or a failure to sacrifice for others or one too self-preoccupied to worry about anyone else.  We extract a list of secular virtues that would make one well-remembered in this world but still largely unknown in the next. We mention his favorite food, that he was a fan for the local football team, and that his dog will miss him.  “We will never forget him.  He will always remain in our memories.” That is what we tell ourselves. Of course, life goes on and a short time later most would have put him out of mind.  His name will go unspoken.  Photos will be filed away in an album that will one day be opened by relatives not yet born.  They will look at his picture and wonder, who is that?  People of faith tend to focus on the positive.  They figure that we might as well imagine he is in heaven so as not to distress his family and friends.  After all, if he is in hell, who among us  will know until we are dead?  Catholics might pray for his soul as one in purgatory, but are fearful of asking others to pray with them since it means that judgment after death is real.  We are attracted to Christ as the Divine Mercy, but not so much to the Lord as Divine Justice.  Nevertheless, they are both truthful assessments about his identity. Love is stronger than death.  Love is forever and in Christ it has conquered the grave.  God will love us forever and thus he gives us a share in his life.  This is the great consolation for believers.  But we must not forget that just as the beatific vision and the joy of the saints is eternal, so is hell-fire.

St. Paul tells the Corinthians, “To the weak I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” The Christian kerygma is one that challenges basic Jewish presumptions about social position reflecting divine favor.  The apostle is literally saying that he is making himself a slave for others.  He is fulfilling the summons of Christ to take up the cross in following him.  That is fundamental to the sacrifices made by priests and religious to celibacy, poverty and obedience.  They embrace for the kingdom that which is traditionally regarded as punishment or curse.  The Christian meaning of suffering would forever be associated with the Paschal Mystery of Christ.  If we die with Christ then we can live with him.  We offer ourselves as grafted to the crucified Savior.  We take all the struggle, sickness, pain, loss, and hurt we experience and make them redemptive in the Lord.  Catholicism emphasizes that even the dark things of life can come to God’s glory.

It was this message about suffering that was a hallmark in the witness of the late Mother Teresa.  It was also a truth about which her critics despised and maligned her.  Those who saw no value in pain hated Mother Teresa.  They are the same voices that speak in favor of abortion and euthanasia, today.

Turning to the Gospel, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. Later, we are told that “the whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.”  Everyone he healed would get sick and die.  All his miracles and healings pointed to the lasting healing of the soul, in the forgiveness of sins.  He will give us a share in his Easter mystery.  Jesus is the revelation of the Father, the face of God.  When our Lord acts, it is always to heal and to liberate.  All who suffer can find solidarity in Christ.

  • When we cannot escape pain, do we become frustrated and angry?
  • Have we ever embraced suffering and discomfort as mortification and penance?
  • How do we take up our crosses in following Jesus?
  • Can we add our struggle to the passion of Jesus as an offering to the Father?
  • Do we place our hopes in what this world offers or in the kingdom of Christ?
  • If we should die today, are we prepared for judgment?
  • Have we experienced cases where the wicked flourished and the innocent suffered?
  • While we believe that the scales of justice will be balanced in the world to come, what is our obligation to building up the kingdom in the here-and-now?

 

[71] Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

This homily will not be preached Sunday as it will be replaced by the message for the Cardinal’s Appeal…

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Readings: 1 Deuteronomy 18:15-20 / Psalm 95 / 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 / Mark 1:21-28

Moses tells his people that prophets like him will be taken from their number and will lead them.  If we are to properly understand what he is saying, then we must look to the prior verses not included here against false worship and divination.  We read: “Let there not be found among you anyone who causes their son or daughter to pass through the fire, or practices divination, or is a soothsayer, augur, or sorcerer, or who casts spells, consults ghosts and spirits, or seeks oracles from the dead” (verses 10-11). Moses is emphasizing several important points:

  • They must not corrupt their faith with the worship of other or false gods.
  • They do not have to look outside of themselves as the chosen people for prophets (God speaks to them through their own).
  • They trust the providence of God and do not seek forbidden knowledge.

Echoing the commandments, any violation of these points is condemned as an abomination before the Lord.  Fearful of any direct confrontation with almighty God, the people will be guided by the Lord through his intermediaries.

This pattern is still pursued today in the Christian community.  The new People of God or the Church is called by God and given shepherds who govern and speak in Christ’s name, empowered to extend the ministry or work of Jesus.  The Mass is our great worship where the sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented in an unbloody manner at our altars.  The bishops in union with the Pope constitute the authentic teaching authority of the Church.  We are anointed at baptism into a nation of prophets.  It is that commission that makes us missionary disciples.  Outside the Catholic community, there is no guarantee to any message proclaimed and no assured efficacy to divine mysteries or sacraments.  Catholic Christians, like their Hebrew counterparts of long ago, are warned to steer clear of false worship and the occult.

True religion signifies the end of magic.  Judaism (a natural religion) and Catholic Christianity (a supernatural religion) are both instigated by the same one true God.  We are forbidden to engage in voodoo, oriental mysticism, new age religion, naturalist religion, and conventional witchcraft or Satanism.  Divination of the future is interpreted as a distrust of God’s will for us.  Black magic or spells is condemned because one invokes the demonic spirits.  Similarly necromancy is condemned; an important admonishment when there is a new fascination with ghost hunting.  Christians are warned to avoid Quiji boards, tarot cards, palm readers, and séances.  All of it violates the first commandment of the Decalogue.

The Canaanites worshipped Molech, a false deity judged by the fathers of the Church as a bloodthirsty demon.  Indeed, sometimes his name is still mentioned in Christian circles in regard to the sins of abortion and infanticide. Molech demanded child sacrifice.  Heated with fire, the idol was a bronze statue into which the victims were thrown. The pagans believed that favors and special protection could be merited by such sacrifices.  Might the abortion of millions of children constitute the return of the demon Molech’s reign?  Just another name for Satan, it may be that the devil hides his thirst for human blood behind the semantics employed to disguise the true nature of abortion.  Consciences are numbed to the terrible truth that we are murdering our children.  There is no pro-Choice or pro-abortion Christianity.  Such opposition to the Gospel of Life is not only immoral but renounces the Christ and the God of Abraham.  It assumes the mantle of idolatry. The responsorial psalm also speaks of the need to replace rebellion with fidelity and idolatry with right worship.  Our minds must be opened and our hearts softened to the truth. We are admonished, “Harden not your hearts as at Mariah….” God’s people of old turned away as faithless, fearful and selfish. People today are also tempted away from true faith.  They are afraid to take responsibility for their actions, even parenthood.  They give preeminence to their own wants, even over the needs of others, as with the dignity of persons and the sanctity of life.

The second reading mentions some of the fears or anxieties that can afflict us. While they should be an occasion for heightened fidelity, the opposite is what often occurs.  People forget the goodness that God has shown them. Others get angry or doubt when God does not answer their prayers as they would like.  They wrongly postulate prayer as a demand instead of as a humble request.  It is just such a situation that led people of old astray.  St. Paul urges that believers should be “free of anxieties,” as the concerns of the world might distract us from the Lord and from his service.

The Gospel chronicles our Lord’s visit to the synagogue in Capernaum. He encounters someone possessed by a demon.  Jesus immediately rebukes him, “Quiet! Come out of him!” The “unclean spirit” makes a loud cry and leaves.  The onlookers are amazed both at his power and that he speaks with authority.  As prophets, we can invoke this same authority and power in casting out the demon that secretly devours the lives of our children in abortion.  As prophets, we can proclaim that Jesus is Lord and invite others into the Catholic community of faith.  We are summoned to speak the truth about justice and charity to an oppressive and selfish world.

  • Do we place confidence in the Lord who calls us to take up our crosses and to follow him?
  • Are we prophets— faithful, courageous and strong in proclaiming the truth?
  • Have we been the voice for the voiceless, especially the marginalized and the unborn?
  • Do we avoid the occult and any “false gods” that would compromise our witness?
  • How have we sought to bring the light of Christ against the darkness or demonic in the world?

[68] Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Jonah 3:1-5, 10 / Psalm 25 / 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 / Mark 1:14-20

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Jonah has barely begun his cry of prophetic warning when the people of Nineveh repent and all of them “great and small put on sackcloth.”  Why is there such an immediate reaction? It may be that they had heard the prior story of the prophet Jonah.  The reputation of Nineveh as a wicked city is so severe, that Jonah seeks to flee his divine summons.  Trying to flee by sea, God brings forth a great storm and acknowledging his fault, Jonah has the sailors throw him into the sea.  What we learn here is that the failure of Jonah to be the prophet he has been called to be will result in the death or destruction of others.  He will be held accountable.  Jonah calls upon the Lord and he is swallowed by a great fish.  Later, he is spat upon the shore to continue the mission given him.  Jesus would speak about this as the one sign given in his own regard.  The water symbolizes death and the big fish represents the tomb.  Just as the sea and fish could not destroy Jonah, so too would the sea and the tomb not be able to contain Jesus.  God shows his power.  The people of Nineveh, either out of fear or love of the Lord, would change their ways.  Similarly, after Christ’s victory over death, the apostles would go out to the nations and many would come to repent and to believe.

We are told that the citizens of Nineveh put on sackcloth.  Sackcloth and ashes were signs of humiliation and repentance.  As a coarse material made from goat’s hair, sackcloth was uncomfortable to wear.  Symbolizing desolation or dying to self, many Christian believers would later employ it as a tool for penance.  We would have to die to our old ways and life so as to be reborn and to live for Christ.  Here in the story of Jonah, sackcloth and ashes served as a public sign of repentance before God.  We were told that they even went to the extreme of placing sackcloth on their animals.  They hoped that God might look down upon them, and seeing this incredible expression of contrition and remorse, grant them mercy from the impending judgment.  Of course, God can read our hearts and would not be fooled.  The outward sign rendered by the people of Nineveh worked because the external sackcloth and ashes signified an inward change or disposition.  They were truly sorry for their sins.  We read: “When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” Similarly, we as Christians should know that as long as there is breath in our bodies, there is no sin that God cannot forgive.  All that is required is a contrite heart and a firm purpose of amendment.

The psalm brings to this theme of repentance and mercy another important component— the change of one’s life.  We read: “Teach me your ways, O Lord. Good and upright is the LORD; thus he shows sinners the way.” Left to ourselves and we do not really know how to be good.  God gives us guidance by his commands.  Without God we would be uncertain as to right and wrong.  Strip the commandments about honoring God from the Decalogue and the remaining laws would become capricious.  If there is no God and judgment, then why follow the rules?  If there is no life beyond the grave, then why sacrifice for others? Love of God for some and fear of God for others is what marks the path between virtue and vice. The second reading emphasizes the shortness of life and thus infers the gravity of the coming judgment.  This world is “passing away,” now is the appointed time.

The Gospel reading has Jesus taking up the cry of John the Baptizer, “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” The message of Jonah is now extended to the whole world.  Our Lord calls the apostles to himself because they will be his voice to the nations.  Simon, Andrew, James and John are summoned.  They all immediately leave their nets and our Lord tells them that they will be made into “fishers of men.”  Jonah is thrown into the sea, not simply as bait for a big fish but that the citizens of Nineveh would repent and believe.  Our Lord would make himself the bait in his paschal mystery to draw all men and women to himself.  The apostle Paul would literally speak about the resurrection of Christ as “the hook” of Christianity.  The center of the Christian kerygma is the person of Jesus.  He is the kingdom of God breaking into our world.  The calling of the apostles as “fishers of men” is often associated with the need for priestly vocations.  However, every one of us has been called in baptism as a “missionary disciple.”  Evangelism is not solely the responsibility of bishops, priests, deacons and a few Catholic lay evangelists.  It is an obligation for all who claim to be Christian.  Given this as the situation, the following points are essential:

  • We need a living personal and communal relationship with Jesus.
  • We need a faith informed by Scripture and the teaching Church.
  • We need an apostolate of service that expresses genuine charity for others.
  • We need to be regularly nurtured and healed by the sacraments.
  • We need prayer for spiritual life just as breathing gives physical life.

Why is all this essential?  While almighty God can use broken instruments and even wicked people, to bring about his providence; the truth is that he rarely does so. It is hard to impossible to give what you do not have.  If you do not know where to throw the net or if there is no bait for the hook, it is doubtful that you will catch anything.  The fisherman or –woman, who never makes a catch, may also go hungry.  The faith like love is only real when it is shared or given away.  We must possess Christ if we would give him to others.  We may all be sinners, but when the wounded are contrite, God can bring his healing to us and to all whom we meet.

  • Are the five elements here realized in your life?
  • Can you list any people who are believers because of how God has used you?
  • As a sign of Jonah, how have you died so as to rise in the Lord?
  • Have you promoted or supported vocations to the priesthood?

[65] Second Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Samuel 3:3-10, 19 / Psalm 40 / 1 Cor. 6:13-15, 17-20 / John 1:35-42

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The first reading can be divided into three segments: (1) the triple call of Samuel; (2) God reveals his presence in response to Samuel’s readiness; and (3) Samuel would proclaim what he had heard, “…not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” (The liturgical selection skips where he informs Eli of God’s message.) We find this same pattern in our vocation as believers.  Three times Samuel is called and he fails to recognize that the source is not Eli but almighty God.  Eli has to assist him and tells him to respond, on the fourth time, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.” Every Christian believer is summoned to be a prophet and that requires that we too might discern the voice of God.  Against the loud noise of the world, that divine voice might come across as a whisper.  As such we must be attentive and listen closely.  Also, like Samuel we might get confused between the call of God and that of men.  We need to know the difference lest we find ourselves seduced by the world and listening to the wrong voices.  These voices appeal to selfishness and sin.  What do they tell us? “If it feels good then do it.  You owe nothing to anyone.  No one can tell you what to do.  Life is short so always make yourself number one.  Get what you can no matter who it hurts.” The voice of God by contrast is barely audible.  What does God say? “Love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends.  If you desire perfection than sell all you have, give to the poor and then follow me.  Forgive all wrongs. Love those who hate you.”  I suspect that many of us sometimes listen to the wrong voices.  But ours is a jealous God and he does not want to share us.

Note also that Samuel kept going back to sleep.  Our Lord speaks about such sleep as the weakness of a fallen nature.  “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” As prophets we are beckoned as sentinels or watchmen for the Lord.  We are called to be awake so as to hear the Lord and to be attentive when he comes.  God reveals his presence to Samuel.  As prophets who await the second coming, we also discern the presence of God. We draw others to the presence and saving activity of Christ in the proclaimed Word and in the sacraments, especially the Eucharist.  What we receive from the Lord, we must share with others.  As Christians, formed within the body of Christ by the saving truths of Scripture and Tradition, we must proclaim our faith and values to others both inside and outside the Church.  As the second reading reminds us, we “are not [our] own, [we] have been purchased at a price,” and while in the flesh or the body mimic the angels in glorifying God.

The psalm reiterates our divine calling. God takes the initiative and sows the seed of faith within us.  God places the “new song” upon our lips, giving us his mind and the words to say.  God is the one who opens our ears so that we might hear and obey him. God has planted his “law within [our] hearts.”  All this must be appreciated in the context of gift.  It is not enough to encounter God.  Rather, we must have a relationship with him.  We cannot speak his Good News if we do not know him.  Of course, faith is about more than knowing the catechism. God wants our hearts.  Any who would be counted a disciple must love the Lord.  This is what transforms fidelity from an arduous and reluctant duty to an eager and joyous service.  We should not grumble in our fidelity, rather it should by an expression of adamant praise.

Just as Eli alerted Samuel to the calling and presence of God. John the Baptizer points Jesus out to his disciples as “the Lamb of God.” They immediately follow him. Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus, telling him, “We have found the Messiah.” When Jesus asks as to what they are seeking, they merely ask where he is staying. Jesus responds, “Come, and you will see.” Our Lord gives the same summons to you and me.  We are invited into the story of Jesus, the very story of salvation.  He wants us to walk with him and to listen to him.  He reveals himself in the Scriptures, the teachings of the Church and in the quiet whisper we hear at prayer. A whisper is a quiet or breathy way of talking.  Breathing is intimately connected to life.  Stop breathing and you die.  The breath of God brings forth creation itself in the book of Genesis.  The breath of Christ makes possible forgiveness, healing and eternal life.  Note that in the liturgy the priest breathes into the chalice as the wine will be transformed into the saving blood or presence of Christ.  The whisper of God is literally God breathing his life into us.

Notice in the Gospel reading that Jesus immediately gives Simon a new name, Cephas or Peter or Rock.  While it says something singular about this apostle, we can also infer something about ourselves. Any who would respond to the calling of God are not left unchanged.  This is a truth we see again and again in Scripture. One of the most striking examples is Moses when he comes down the mountain after conversing with the Almighty: “As Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, he did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while he spoke with the LORD. When Aaron, then, and the other Israelites saw Moses and noticed how radiant the skin of his face had become, they were afraid to come near him” (Exodus 34:29-30). Particularly in our faith and baptism we are born again—no longer just creatures of God but adopted sons and daughters to the Father, temples of the Holy Spirit, filled with sanctifying grace and transformed into the likeness of Christ.

  • Do we take time each day to pray and quietly listen for the Lord?
  • Have we made our lives too busy for God to reach us?
  • Are we truly prophets of the Lord or do we belong to the world?
  • Do we take guidance from our pastors and other faithful believers?
  • When was the last time that we witnessed for Christ and his Church?
  • Do we see our obedience to the commandments as a joy or as a burden?