Nov 16, 2014

First Friday, October 3, 2014

We, you and I, are fearfully, wonderfully made. What is it that makes us wonderful? It is that we are made in the image and likeness of God. Typically, this is taken by theologians to indicate the faculties of the intellect and will. This is not to exclude other reflections of God's image in man but rather to zero in on the way in which man is most like God: the capacity to love. One cannot choose something or some act of which one is not aware. Specifically, it is impossible to love what is unknown. So the very idea of the possibility of love requires both that something of the object is known and that we are free to choose. As we discuss freedom, it may be helpful to untangle this word and concept from modern misunderstandings.

The liberum arbitrium or free will is what we call the power of choosing or freedom of choice. This liberty consists in two things: libertas a coactione, freedom from external compulsion; and libertas a necessitate, freedom from internal necessity. Free will embraces both of these categories. Theologians, generally, make several distinctions when talking about free will: 1) libertas contradictionis, which is the liberty to act or not to act; 2) libertas specificationis, which is the liberty to specify acts of the same kind; 3) libertas contrarietatis, which is the liberty to choose between contraries: love and hate, good and evil. This third distinction is applicable only to humans in the wayfaring state. It is not applicable to God, to the Saints or to the Angels. It is actually a defect rather than a constitutive part of freedom. God and the heavenly courts are eminently free.

We must always be cautious of this distinction in our minds when we speak about freedom. Freedom must never be confused with license or licentiousness. Libertas is always marked by restraint and moderation, whereas licentia is marked by arbitrariness. The modern idea of freedom is excessively influenced by its confusion with license. Ironically, there is nothing particularly modern about this conception of freedom. Tacitus remarked on it saying, "Licentia quam stulti libertatem vocant." (License, which the foolish call liberty). And John Milton wrote, "None can love freedom heartily but good men; the rest love not freedom but license." Pope St. John Paul II adds: "Finally, true freedom is not advanced in the permissive society, which confuses freedom with license to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does no have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom, such as the elimination of human life by legalized or generally accepted abortion."

Cicero once wrote. "legum servi sumus ut liberi esse possimus." (We are servants of the laws so that we are able to be free). There is, also, a ubiquitous motto, often attributed to St. Augustine, which reads "Cui servire est regnare." (Whom to serve is to reign.) The Anglican Book of Common Prayer makes use of a freer translation: "Whose service is perfect freedom." So, with apologies to Cicero, we Christians would say: Dei servi sumus ut liberi esse possimus. We are servants of God so that we are able to be free. The freedom for which we are searching is not merely a freedom from compulsion but a freedom for choosing what is true, good, and beautiful.

There is much that we simply do not have the power to change, but "even in the most unfavorable outward circumstances we possess within ourselves a space of freedom, that nobody can take away, because God is its source and guarantee." (Jacque Philippe, Interior Freedom) The place of freedom is interior. It is only secondarily concerned with exterior realities. This space is the core of the human heart created to be filled and fulfilled by the presence of God alone. The longing for or presence of anything which is not God or does not lead to God, creates a relationship of slavery because it cannot provide for the deepest desire of the human heart. Licentiousness and vice become their own punishment, robbing the person not only of their strength and freedom in choosing the good, but becoming a compulsion of habit, also robbing them of their relationship with God, the life of grace, and the One who truly satisfies and never passes away.

In our Alleluia verse from Psalm 95 we heard, "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts." This psalme is the traditonal psalm of the invitatory for the breviary. The Latin is nuanced and give wonderful expression to the sentiment: "Utinam hodie vocem eius audiatis, "Nolite obdurare corda vestra." It is more a plea than a statement of what one ought to do is one happens to hear God's voice today. "Oh, if only you would listen to his voice today." What would you hear? You would hear him saying, "harden not your hearts!" In our Gospel, Jesus uses language which sounds rather strong when he chastises several villages: "Woe to you Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! And as for you Capernaum!" These, too, are pleas. If we do not respond with love for the love which God has manifested for us, we risk losing it all. We need to increase this space of interior freedom in our hearts so that, cooperating with grace, we can begin to make a response.

As Jacque Philippe puts it, "We find confinement unbearable, simply because we were created in the image of God, and we have within us an unquenchable need for the absolute and the infinite. That is our greatness and sometimes our misfortune. We have this great thirst for freedom because our most fundamental aspiration is for happiness; and we sense that there is no happiness without love, and no love without freedom. ... man cannot live without loving. The problem is that our love often goes in the wrong direction: we love ourselves, selfishly, and end up frustrated, because only genuine love can fulfill us. Only love, then can satisfy us; and there is no love without freedom. ... Love is neither taken nor bought. There is true love, and therefore happiness, only between people who freely yield possession of the self in order to give themselves to one another."

There. The Cross. This Eucharist. Jesus hands himself over for us. He yields possession in order to give himself to us. In his Sacred Heart, he has made room for our entrance because he consented in freedom that at the last, even his heart should be pierced.

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

As the liturgical year draws to a close, the Church in her wisdom reminds us about the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. The first reading gives us the example of the woman whose value is greater than pearls. Why? Because she brings good things and not evil, all the days of her life. She works with loving hands. She cares for the poor and the needy. For this reason, she will receive a reward for her labors and her works will praise her at the gates of the city.

The woman is an image of the soul. The holy soul, like the good woman, receives a reward for its labors. The holy soul is praised by its works. But, as our Gospel tells us, every soul receives the fruit of its handiwork. The good soul receives praise from the Lord: "Well done, my good and faithful servant. ... Come, share your master's joy." What about the soul which is like the last servant? The Lord speaks the saddest words ever heard to this soul: "You wicked, lazy servant! ... Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth." The responsorial psalm  says: "Blessed are you who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways! For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork." But, how sad the soul who does not walk in the ways of the Lord, because this soul, too, shall eat the fruit of it's handiwork.

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us that eternal life is what begins immediately after death. This life has no end. It will be preceded for each by a particular judgment on the part of Christ, the judge of the living and the dead, and it will be ratified in the final judgment. (207) The particular judgment is a judgment of immediate retribution, which, at the moment of death, each one receives from God in their immortal soul, in relation to their faith and their works. This retribution consists in access to the happiness of heaven, either immediately or after an adequate purification, or it consists in eternal condemnation to hell. (208)

This is the meaning of the words of Jesus: "For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away." Those who walk in the way of the Lord, by his grace, are able to lay down at his feet the good fruit of their lives. And they will receive eternal blessedness and share in the joy of their Master. Those, however, who are before Jesus in the judgment and do not have good fruit, they will lose not only what was given to them but also the joy of the Master. They will share only in the darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.

Brother and sisters, we will have to give an account of our lives before the Lord. We will have to give an account of each moment, each thought, each word, and each action. What will be the fruit of our lives? Will it be good fruit or not? And St. Paul tells us that the day of our judgment, the day of the Lord, will come like a thief in the night. We need to be prepared each and every day because we do not know when the Lord will call us to give an account of our lives.

Remember, Christian soul, that thou hast this day, and every day of thy life:

God to glorify,
Jesus to imitate,
The Blessed Virgin and the Saints to venerate,
The Angels to invoke,
The soul to save,
The body to mortify,
Virtues from God to beseech,
Sins to expiate,
Heaven to gain,
Hell to avoid,
Eternity to consider,
Time well to apply,
Neighbors to edify,
The world to fear
Demons to fight,
Passions to subdue,
Death always to expect
And yourself for judgment to prepare.

Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

Today is the feast of the dedication of the Lateran Basilica. Most people think of St. Peter’s Basilica when they think of Rome and the Pope. However, it is the Lateran Basilica which is the Cathedral of the Pope. The full name of the Lateran Basilica is Archibasilica Sanctissimi Salvatoris et Sanctorum Ioannes Baptista et Evangelista in Laterno which translates as the Archbasilica of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist at the Lateran. The site was first dedicated by Pope Sylvester I in 324 A.D. It was then rededicated to St. John the Baptist at the dedication of a new baptistry in the 10th century by Pope Sergius III and again dedicated to St. John the Evangelist by Pope Lucius II in the 12th century, which is how it received its full name. It may at first seem odd that we are celebrating the feast of the dedication of the Cathedral in Rome.

The prayers of the liturgy and the readings help us to understand the full meaning of this particular feast. The prayers continually reference the people of God as living stones, the temple of grace and the Holy Spirit. St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians writes, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” He says that we are “God’s building” and that our foundation is Jesus Christ. While we do celebrate the dedication of a building, we do so because of the meaning of the visible building which our Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer tells us are types, images or signs of the Church, the Bride of Christ.

The scriptural images of the new heavenly Jerusalem and its temple are less about the descent of a city or building made of stones than it is about the living building of the people of God made perfect, sanctified and glorified by their participation in the death and resurrection of Christ. When Jesus became man in his incarnation, his visible human flesh became the holy place of God’s dwelling among us. His crucified and resurrected flesh communicates this holiness to his people. His humanity is the means by which, through baptism into his death, we, too, become dwelling places of the Most High God. What he is by Divine Nature, we are able to share by participation because he condescended to become a sharer in our human nature. Jesus identifies himself in the Gospel with the temple: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up. ... He was speaking about the temple of his body.”

The physical and visible is not unimportant because it is a sign for us. God, in his Divine Nature, is accessible everywhere and at all times, because the Divine Nature is not material or physical but spiritual and so is not confined to being in any place at all. But the means of our salvation is the very real and physical humanity of Christ. Church buildings have a real impact on us. Their physicality is something that we can experience with the senses. Their architecture and art tell us something about the faith. The beauty and magnificence of church buildings vary. I used to visit regularly the Basilica of St. Mark’s in Venice when I lived in Italy. I still think it one of the most beautiful and breathtaking places of worship I have ever been in. I have also served Holy Mass for Fr. Paul Sullivan in mud huts with tin roofs in aldeas near Comayagua, Honduras. The living stones of those churches had a simplicity and beauty as well. I do think that where we have the means we should build magnificent and beautiful churches that really express the transcendent glory of God, as much as it can be expressed. I also think the people deserve to have the visible reminders and the instruction that proper church buildings can give us. And I think that the beauty of the church building is helpful in encountering God in the contemplation of his presence during prayer and in the celebration of the liturgy.

Still, we are not less than members of the Church or of our parish when we are away from this building, whether we are at work or in our homes. We are members of the body of Christ wherever we might be. But the fullest meaning of being Church has its greatest sign value and most profound reason when we are here, gathered together and participating as one in the worship and sacrifice of our head, Jesus Christ. At the Holy Mass we join our joys and sorrows, our thanksgiving and needs with the prayer of our Most High Priest. And here he makes present his humanity; he himself becomes present here under the visible signs of bread and wine. And when we participate in this prayer by our songs of worship, contemplating the Sacred Scriptures, and especially in taking part in the prayers through our responses and in communion, whether through spiritual communion or sacramental communion, we join our hearts and voices together with all the Angels and Saints.

At the heart of it, this is what this feast is about. The visible building of the Lateran Basilica reminds us that we belong to a communion of the members of the Mystical Body of Christ. The Second Vatican Council taught in Lumen Gentium 4 that the Church is “a people made one with the unity of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” This unity is not simply in intention but is a real visible and physical union, together with our bishop, a successor of the Apostles, and the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. Again the Second Vatican Council in the same document (23) taught that “The Roman Pontiff, as the successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible principle and foundation of unity of both the bishops and of the faithful. The individual bishops, however, are the visible principle and foundation of unity in their particular churches, fashioned after the model of the universal Church, in and from which churches comes into being the one and only Catholic Church. For this reason the individual bishops represent each his own church, but all of them together and with the Pope represent the entire Church in the bond of peace, love and unity.” This is a good feast for us to reflect upon our relationship with the universal church and the manner in which we keep one another, our local bishop, and the Pope in our hearts and our prayers.

Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed - All Souls

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, more commonly known as All Souls, was celebrated this year on Sunday. In the liturgical calendar it follows upon the celebration of the Solemnity of All Saints. Holy Mother Church celebrates the saints because they are further proof of God’s love. They show us that God is capable of taking mere fallible humans from every race and nation and turning them into creatures that shine like the stars because they participate in his own divine life and love. On the very next day, Holy Mother Church presents us with the offering of the Mass for those souls in purgatory who will enjoy such participation but do not currently do so. The liturgy itself takes its readings from the funeral liturgy. The preface to the eucharistic prayer is the preface for the dead. Even when November 2nd falls on a Sunday, as it did this year, this liturgical commemoration takes precedence over the usual Sunday liturgy. And so the singing of the Gloria is omitted on this day. The liturgy celebrated is essentially a memorial Mass for the dead. It is a timely reminder for us of our obligation to pray for the dead and of the traditional doctrine of purgatory.

It is not uncommon today to hear it said that “Funerals are for the living.” After all why should the dead care, really, what music is played or how we remember them? But death does matter and so do the dead. Funerals are precisely about those who have died and the obligations that the living have towards the mortal remains and towards the immortal soul. Funerals are for the living, but only because of their connection with the dead. It is also common to immediately opine that so-and-so are in a better place now (presumably, it is meant that they are assuredly in heaven) and their long suffering is finally at an end. Funerals, we are told, are to be happy affairs where the dead are remembered only in pleasant terms, with a degree of saccharine sentimentality, and all too often in a way which makes the deceased rather unrecognizable to those who knew and loved them. If ever anyone listened to the prayers of the Church on behalf of the dead it must come as a surprise that she begs mercy for their sins. The  prayers for All Souls Day asks God to “look mercifully on your departed servants,” and to “wash away, we pray, in the Blood of Christ, the sins of your departed servants,” and “humbly implores” the Lord that they may be “cleansed by the paschal mysteries.” Holy Mother Church, it seems, has quite a different approach than that of the modern culture, especially in American society.

Our society has emptied out from its memories not only the Christian doctrine of purgatory but also, the very human, and very Christian, notion that we bear any sort of responsibility towards the dead. To quote Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman: “What is the world's religion now? It has taken the brighter side of the Gospel,—its tidings of comfort, its precepts of love; all darker, deeper views of man's condition and prospects being comparatively forgotten. This is the religion natural to a civilized age, and well has Satan dressed and completed it into an idol of the Truth. ... then disappear also, in the creed of the day, those fearful images of Divine wrath with which the Scriptures abound. They are explained away. Every thing is bright and cheerful. Religion is pleasant and easy; benevolence is the chief virtue; intolerance, bigotry, excess of zeal, are the first of sins.” Of course, Blessed Newman was writing in an age where he could still say that the world had taken something of the Gospel. Our world has moved on. In his time, they kept some inklings of the Gospel where kindness and niceties are concerned – we may still find in our churches, regardless of denomination, those who are inclined to this kind of a reduced Christianity. They refuse to make a place for Divine wrath which would be manifest if only they could bear to gaze upon the Holy Cross. In their refusal, they transform heaven into the doctors waiting room, where there is only superficial politeness and boredom. They wish to enter into Heaven without any punishment for their sins. They want to remain unchanged, exactly as they are, defects and all. Just imagine the residents of heaven with all their foibles, or at least the marring effects of their sins upon their souls, spending their time in utter boredom being pleasant and tolerant towards one another. I could hardly imagine a less heavenly image. The radiant Beauty of God, his Divine Majesty, and his transcendent Glory will not allow this to be the case.

St. Catherine of Siena says that the fires which torment the souls in hell is in reality the fire of God’s love, which the obstinate sinner experiences as wrath. St. Augustine says something similar: Hell is where God’s constant and unending love licks at the souls of the damned which refuse to melt. The saint has been purified from every defect, from the stain of every sin, and so becomes radiant with God’s love and shines like the stars. Those who die in God’s friendship, yet with the effects of their sins still upon their souls are as yet incapable of resting in the blazing fire of God’s love. There are parts of their souls which do not yet reflect properly the Beauty, Majesty and Glory of God. The soul when it meets its Creator after death is for the first time fully aware of the depths of their own deformity and the heights of God’s perfections. It is not as if God wishes merely to overlook their imperfections and simply engage in that superficial tolerance and polite pleasantness which the world has come to value. He desires the soul to share as fully as possible in his own gifts. If this is punishment for our faults, it is also a great mercy on God’s behalf. For how could we ever enjoy his presence and be enraptured with his Beauty, if we were at the same time only more aware of our own faults in the brilliant light of the Truth?

Just as the saints intercede for us so that we might one day enjoy the sight of God just as he is, we pray for the holy souls in purgatory – holy because they are in God’s friendship and so destined for heaven. Our prayers are like love letters for the souls of the dead, urging them on in this process of purification. We, in some manner, relieve them of their distress since they have glimpsed the radiance of God and know most intimately their own unworthiness. God has no need of our help in this matter. Our prayers do not increase his generosity or his mercy. But it is his will that we love one another just as his Son has loved us, and love does not cease with death. In our devotions for the dead, our prayers, and other pious acts, we give help to our loved ones, even the souls unknown to us. This act of love also helps our own purification here in this world. The souls in purgatory and ourselves are being made perfect so that we might praise God with the saints forever in the life of the world to come.

Oct 25, 2014

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Our first reading is from the Book of Exodus. The Lord gave to his people Israel the Ten Commandments and lists of lesser laws. In the section we read, the Lord tells them that they should not trouble or oppress foreigners because they themselves were once strangers in a foreign land. They should have mercy on and not wrong widows, orphans and the poor. Why? The Lord had mercy on the Israelites and, therefore, they are to have mercy on others. The Lord has shown them love and, therefore, they are obliged to love others. We, too, are strangers in a foreign land. Heaven is our true home. After our first parents were expelled from the Garden of Eden, all their descendants have been wandering through the world estranged from the Paradise which God intended for humanity.

Jesus tells us in the Gospel that all of the laws and prophets depend on two commandments: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Our first debt of gratitude is to God. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10” We are all sinners. Yes, we are estranged from Paradise because of the sin of our first parents, but we are also strangers to God because of our own sins. God loves us too much to leave us in our sins. He was not obliged to tell us the way out from slavery to sin. But he did even more than this. He loved us too much to leave us to our own devices to see if we might escape. He sent his Son to deliver us by his death and resurrection.

Just as he led Israel through the Red Sea, parting the waves to provide a path to freedom and crushing the pursuing enemy by closing the waters upon them, so too, by the waters of baptism he both parts the waters so that we can pass over to the freedom and grace of the sons of God. Then, he closes the waters upon our sins which pursue us. Much like Israel, we also find ourselves grumbling against the commandments of God and falling back into our previous life, back into our sins. The heavenly Jerusalem is still off in the distance and we wander in the desert of this life. The Israelites had the Ark of the Covenant and the glory of God present in their midst while they journeyed towards Jerusalem. We, too, have the presence of God on our altars and his holy words in our sacred books. For these reasons and more, the case is not that we have loved God and therefore he has loved us back. The contrary is true: God has proved his love for us and therefore we ought to return his love by loving him with all our heart, soul and mind.

But Jesus says the second commandment is like to the first. How can our obligation to love God, which is not merely an external or legal obligation but an interior necessity of the human heart, be compared in any way to an obligation to love our neighbor? First, because if we love God then we must love what he loves. “Beloved, we love God because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 1:19-21)” Second, we who have come to know the love of God have also learned that life not lived in that same love is dreary and leads to no good place. I don’t mean to say that the Catholic life is easy. We certainly struggle in living faithfully the life of virtue. But we have the true words of God to guard to us, to shine the light upon the way so that we can at least see the path that leads to eternal happiness. We have the sacraments to strengthen us, to heal us from every weakness so that it becomes a real possibility to walk that path with the help of grace.

But what does this command to love our neighbor include? Does it mean to simply accept wherever they happen to be? Does it mean to condone the sin in their life? Does it mean that we should put to the side our own Catholic beliefs, or at least not mention them so that we don’t offend anyone? Does it mean that we cannot bring the truth revealed by God into the public sphere? No. G.K. Chesterton remarked about patriotism: “My country, right or wrong,” is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.” A patriot loves his country and so hopes that his compatriots and government will live up to the great ideal and all the things that are best about his country. A patriot is embarrassed when his country falls short of those ideals and works tirelessly to remove those things which are not in keeping with the good that he loves. Similarly, true love for neighbor is incompatible with the idea that while our life might be the better for our relationship with God, for our reception of the holy sacraments and our membership in his Mystical Body, the Holy Catholic Church, perhaps our neighbor is incapable of all these good things. Perhaps the life of virtue, and the undoubted struggles and difficulties that will ensue on account of weakness is too much and really won’t bring happiness to others. Nonsense. If we truly believe that, then neither does our Catholic Faith bring us happiness and freedom. It is not love to leave another in the poverty of unbelief, nor the loneliness of being widowed, nor the abandonment of the orphanage. We, all of us, need God. We desperately need the experience of his love and we just as desperately need to love him back.

I’m not suggesting that we run about beating people with revealed truth or shaking our fingers and wagging our heads as we tell them what is wrong with them or their lives. I am suggesting that we meet each person and see their transcendent dignity: they are made in the image and likeness of God and redeemed by the blood of the Cross. Let us love them, because God loves them even if they don’t know it yet. He isn’t waiting for them to be perfect before he begins to love them – he already loves them just as they are. He also calls them, just as he calls us, to completion and perfection by sharing in his divine life. He wants them to be free from slavery to sin and live forever in paradise with him. We want that for ourselves, we should want it for others too. But it may take some time just loving them where they are at before they are able to receive God’s love and move to where he is calling them to be. And that should be no surprise to us: isn’t that how we are meeting God, too?

Oct 20, 2014

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Last Sunday, we heard Jesus tell the parable of the Wedding Feast. The Pharisees knew that they were those who refused the invitation or those who mistreated and killed the servants of the king. For that reason, the Pharisees went off and plotted how they might entrap Jesus in speech. They don’t go to Jesus themselves. Instead they send their disciples together with the Herodians. These disciples and the Herodians ask Jesus: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” But listen to how they ask him: “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. And you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status. Tell us, then, what is your opinion: Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”

They call him “Teacher,” put they are not his disciples (disciple means student). In reality, they do not care what he is going to say, since they only want to trap him. If he says, “Yes, it is lawful to pay the tribute,” they will accuse him to the people, saying that he is not the Messiah, since he does not wish for Israel to be free from foreign domination. If he says, “No, it is not lawful,” then they will accuse him to Herod and the Romans as an imperial traitor. They are trying desperately to curry favor with Jesus by flattery, hoping that he will let his guard down and take them into his confidence: “we know that you are a truthful man and teach the way of God.” But, knowing their malice, Jesus says, “Show me the coin” and “Whose image is this and whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they reply.

Roman money had an image and an inscription on it, just like our money does. Our quarter of a dollar has the face of George Washington on it. The inscriptions read: “Liberty” and “In God we trust” on the front. And on the back it says, “E pluribus unum” (Out of many people, one). The money for the tribute had the face of Tiberius Caesar on it. And the inscription read, “Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus.” which means Tiberius Caesar Augustus, Son of the Divine Augustus. The Pharisees and the Herodians had seen or heard of the deeds, miracles and teachings of Jesus. All of his works and miracles and even his teachings, had the image of God on them. His deeds and words bore the image of God, because He is the image of the invisible God.

St. Paul writes in his letter the Colossians (1:15-20): “He is the image of the invisible God, the first born  of all creation. For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and in him. And he is before all, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he may hold the primacy: Because in him, it hath well pleased the Father, that all fullness should dwell; And through him to reconcile all things unto himself, making peace through the blood of his cross, both as to the things that are on earth, and the things that are in heaven.”

We are made in the image and likeness of God. God said: Let us make man in our image and likeness ... and God created man in his image ... man and woman he created them. (Gen. 1:26-27) And in our baptism, the image of the only Son of God is sealed in us. We are so united to the Son, that we form only one body and one Spirit with him. All that the Son has, he has offered to the Father in order to redeem us from slavery to sin. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with spiritual blessings in heavenly places, in Christ: As he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in his sight in charity. Who has predestined us unto the adoption of children through Jesus Christ unto himself: according to the purpose of his will: Unto the praise of the glory of his grace, in which he has graced us in his beloved son.” (Eph. 1:1-6)

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, says Jesus. We do have to pay taxes. We should be good citizens. We have to follow the laws, unless those laws are contrary to the truths of God. But now, look at your life. Look into your soul. “Whose image is it?” Is it the image of the approval of the world? Are you more conformed to the image of Caesar, that is the image of this world or is your life conformed to the image of the Only Begotten Son of God? What is the difference between your life and the lives of those who do not belong to Christ and his Church? Jesus also says, “Give to God what belongs to God.” And to God belongs not only my money, my possessions, my loyalty but also and above all: my heart, my mind, my body, my soul. Today there is no longer a Roman Empire nor a Roman Emperor. “Sic transit gloria mundi – Thus passes the glory of the world!” And one day, this world also, will vanish. But God remains forever, his glory is forever! “Give to the Lord, you families of nations, give to the Lord glory and praise; give to the Lord the glory due his name!”

“O God, almighty Father, all glory and honor is yours, for ever and ever.”

Oct 15, 2014

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

“And from the throne came a voice crying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” Then I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, like the voice of many waters and like the voice of mighty thunders, crying, “Alleluia! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Rev 19:5-9)

In our first reading from the prophet Isaiah, God promises to prepare a feast for his people. What sort of feast is it? The Sacred Scriptures, over and over again, use nuptial imagery to describe the relationship between God and his people. “You shall no longer be called Forsaken, and your land shall no more be called Desolate; but you shall be called My delight is in her, and your land Espoused; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. For as a young man marries a virgin, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (Is. 62:4-5) The feast is a wedding feast. The Lord said through the prophet Hosea: “And I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.” (2:19-20).

When God led Israel out of slavery in Egypt, he had them slay a lamb, paint their doorposts with the blood of the lamb using hyssop and then eat the lamb. At the foot of Mt. Sinai, God proposes to them that he would be their God and they would be his own possession, that is, they would belong to each other. The bride in the Song of Songs says, “My Beloved is mine and I am His. (2:16).” God tells Moses to consecrate the people and to tell them to wash their garments, that is adorn themselves for a wedding, and to be ready on the third day (Ex. 19:10). It is in this context that they receive the Ten Commandments and other laws as bridal gifts. Among the laws is to remember the events by which God saved them from slavery and therefore to celebrate the Passover feast and the seven days of unleavened bread as remembrance of their God who had betrothed Himself to them. The Passover includes a number of cups of wine. There is one at the introductory rites, a second at the remembrance of the redemption of Israel from Egypt, a third at the eating of the meal (the cup of blessing), then hymns are sung (Psalms 113-118) and finally a last cup of wine.

Jesus tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a wedding feast that a king prepared for his son. The King is God the Father, Jesus is the Son. In the Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus says to his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Lk 22:15) On the day before he was to suffer, Jesus took bread and giving thanks, said the blessing, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my Body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, said the blessing, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is the chalice of my Blood.” St. Luke tells us that after this cup, Jesus says that he will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes. (Lk. 22:18) But St. Mark tells us that after the cup of blessing, Jesus and the Apostles sang the hymn and then went out to the Mt. of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane. (Mk 14:24-26) If we look back at what we learned from the Old Testament we will see that something is missing. There should be the cup of blessing, then singing of psalms, then another cup. Where is this last cup? What is it that Jesus prays when he enters the Garden of Gethsemane? “Father, if you will, take away this cup from me: yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Lk 22:44) There’s the cup. And where does Jesus drink from the cup? “Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst. Now there was a vessel set there full of vinegar (sour wine). And they (the soldiers), putting a sponge full of vinegar about hyssop, put it to his mouth. Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar said: It is finished. And bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.” (Jn. 19:28-30) On the Cross and at the Supper, Jesus hands over his body for his Bride, the Church. On the Cross, the Supper is brought to completion. The Passover Sacrifice is finished.

Jesus rises on the third day and ascends into heaven where the book of Hebrews tells us that he lives always to make intercession for us (7:25). And how does he appear? St. John writes in the Book of Revelation (5:6): “I saw: and behold in the midst of the throne and of the four living creatures, and in the midst of the ancients, a lamb standing as though it had been slain.” In his resurrected and glorified body, Jesus still bears the open wounds of his crucifixion and death. The last piece missing from this heavenly Wedding Feast of the Lamb is our participation in it.

At every Holy Mass, directly before communion, the priest shows the consecrated host and says: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” In this gift, he offers us the opportunity to partake in the reality now, although hidden under signs, the same reality which is prepared for us in heaven. While we are still here on earth, we taste the mysteries of heaven. This is the sacramental and liturgical foretaste of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

Jesus tells us in our parable today that many will refuse to come to the wedding feast, although the Father will have invited them. Some will come to the feast unprepared, but they will be cast out into the darkness. We must be properly dressed in a wedding garment, the white robes of the Saints, who, in their baptism, have been washed in the blood of the Lamb. We should not refuse the invitation to be consecrated and sanctified, to enter into this intimate encounter with the Lord. But we should be prepared to receive him through confession of our sins and by prayers of affection and devotion. If we truly understood this great mystery, then we would give everything to partake of it. If we really understood the Mass, says St. John Vianney, we would die of joy.

Oct 6, 2014

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

The Old Testament often uses the imagery of the vineyard to describe the people with whom the Lord made a covenant. “The vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the house of Israel: and the man of Judah is his pleasant offshoot.” The image of the vineyard expresses God’s care for Israel. Taking care of a vineyard is time intensive. The field must be cleared, tilled, planted, and watered. The vine must be pruned, trained and protected against pests, mold and bad weather. Psalm 80:8-9 from our Responsorial Psalm speaks about how the Lord established Israel as his vineyard: “A vine from Egypt you transplanted; you drove away the nations and planted it.” What care the Lord took for his people, centuries upon centuries in his plan to save the whole world! And for a time, Israel flourished. The Psalm continues: “It put forth its foliage to the Sea, its shoots as far as the River.” The prophet Hosea (10:1) says: “Israel is a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit.”

But then the prophet continues: “The more his fruit increased the more altars he built; as his country improved he improved his pillars.  Their heart is false; now they must bear their guilt.” The more successful Israel became the more Israel turned to idolatry by building altars and pillars to false gods. Israel gave itself over to every sort of sin. The prophet Jeremiah says: “Yet I planted you a choice vine, wholly of pure seed. How then have you turned degenerate and become a wild vine? Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, says the Lord God (2:21-22).” And so the Lord hands over his precious vineyard to the nations around it, sending his people into exile, as the prophet Ezekiel says: “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem. (15.6)” Israel was supposed to be a light to the nations by their holiness, showing others the beauty of God.

Jesus uses this same imagery in the parable we heard today. Israel is the vineyard, God is the landowner. The servants are the prophets, the tenants are people of Israel, specifically the chief priests and elders. Jesus is the Son whom the land owner sent at the last to obtain his produce.  Jesus will later tell his disciples at the Last Supper: “I am the true vine (John 15:1).” Jesus does what Israel could not do for itself. He is the true vine that bears eternal fruit. Jesus says: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)”

The question we are left with is whether we are bearing fruit or not. The Song of Songs says, “but, my own vineyard I have not kept. (Song of Songs 1:6)” Unless we are joined to Jesus heart and soul, we cannot bear good fruit. Like Israel, we become corrupted by our sins. But the Lord, if we allow him, will  still take care of his vineyard. If we refuse his grace and are unwilling to be transformed to the image of his Son, Jesus tells us that his Father will take us away from the vine. If we accept his grace, it will not be an easy thing to transform our lives: he will prune the branches, literally cleanse and purify us, so that we will bear more good fruit. This process will have its joys certainly, and the peace that comes with following the Lord. But it will also be uncomfortable. Yet, St. Paul tells us not to have anxiety. Trust the Lord and his peace will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. He tells us to meditate on whatever is honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, excellent and praiseworthy. Then he says, not just the feeling of peace, but the God of peace will be with us.

Oct 1, 2014

Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15th

Today we celebrate the Memorial of our Lady of Sorrows. As it happens the memorial, which has a proper Gospel, coincides this year with the reading from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians wherein he writes them concerning the Lord’s Supper. He has just finished chiding them for their behavior when they gathered together. Now he reminds them of what it is that is being done. He rehearses the account of the Last Supper by beginning, “For I received from the Lord what I also handed over to you.” The point is that the Eucharist is not something which the Church or the community or the Apostles came up with. It is something that Jesus instituted and which he commanded the Apostles to continue: “Do this in remembrance of me.” Then St. Paul says something rather shocking, although we have heard it so many times that we may hardly pay attention to it at all: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

Our Gospel relates the presence of the mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross. On the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows it seems appropriate to proclaim this little section. This, of course, must have been the moment of her greatest sorrow. But the coincidence of these two readings: St. Paul’s teaching on the Last Supper and the Gospel account of what transpired between Jesus and his mother at the Cross, help remind us of the connection between the Supper and the Cross. And this connection is an excellent thing to reflect on.

In the upper room, on the day before he was to suffer, Jesus made an irrevocable offering of his body and blood to the Father for the remission of sins. The manner of this offering was as a solemn liturgical, sacramental and ritual sacrifice. In anticipation of his sacrifice upon the cross, he made that sacrifice-to-come present sacramentally under the signs of bread and wine and he made it really present. This is what he commanded his apostles to do as a remembrance of him.
And in order for there to be a sacrifice, there has to be a victim. A mere sign will not do. It would be one thing to ritualize the memory of what was done for us through the use of only symbolic signs, but that would not amount to a sacrifice in the proper and strict sense. In that case we would be offering to God something else than the one true sacrifice of Christ, namely, we would be offering our memory of his sacrifice. Now, that’s not a bad thing at all, but our memory of something is not the thing itself. But as with all ritual and liturgical ceremonies, a sacrifice must be carried out through signs – such is the nature of man – but it will need something greater than simply signs in order also to have the reality itself. This is the nature of sacraments. They are signs which pertain to divine realities and make effective what they signify.

We have reason to believe that such is the nature of the sacrament of the Eucharist. As St. Thomas so beautifully wrote in his hymn Adoro Te Devote: Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur; sed auditu solo tuto creditur. Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius: nil hoc verbo Veritatis verius. “Sight, touch, taste are each in Thee deceived; but by hearing only can it safely be believed. I believe whatever the Son of God has said: Nothing is more true than this word of the Truth Himself.” Only the approach of faith makes sense of our Lord’s demonstrative use of the words: “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood.” Remember, in the Gospel of John chapter 6, our Lord uses increasingly stronger language and repeats the literal sense of his words, even to the point of letting some of his disciples reject his teaching and cease to follow him. He did not let them go away because they misunderstood him, but because they understood him quite well but found the teaching too hard. But in order to have this same one true sacrifice present, the same victim had to be present, which Jesus provided for in the institution of the Eucharist.

Because the Eucharist contains the same Victim and the one who offers is the same: the sacrifice of the cross and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one and the same sacrifice. Here St. Thomas is quite helpful for us to begin to understand the depth of this Sacrament which Christ has left for us. In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas answers the question of whether it was fitting that Christ instituted the sacrifice at the Last Supper (ST III, q.73, a.5): “Firstly, because . . . Christ Himself is contained in the Eucharist sacramentally. Consequently, when Christ was going to leave His disciples in His proper species, He left Himself with them under the sacramental species; as the Emperor's image is set up to be reverenced in his absence. Hence Eusebius says: "Since He was going to withdraw His assumed body from their eyes, and bear it away to the stars, it was needful that on the day of the supper He should consecrate the sacrament of His body and blood for our sakes, in order that what was once offered up for our ransom should be fittingly worshiped in a mystery."

Secondly, because without faith in the Passion there could never be any salvation, according to Romans 3:25: "Whom God hath proposed to be a propitiation, through faith in His blood." It was necessary accordingly that there should be at all times among men something to show forth our Lord's Passion; the chief sacrament of which in the old Law was the Paschal Lamb. Hence the Apostle says (1 Corinthians 5:7): "Christ our Pasch is sacrificed." But its successor under the New Testament is the sacrament of the Eucharist, which is a remembrance of the Passion now past, just as the other was figurative of the Passion to come. And so it was fitting that when the hour of the Passion was come, Christ should institute a new Sacrament after celebrating the old, as Pope Leo I says (Serm. lviii).

Thirdly, because last words, chiefly such as are spoken by departing friends, are committed most deeply to memory; since then especially affection for friends is more enkindled, and the things which affect us most are impressed the deepest in the soul. Consequently, since, as Pope Alexander I says, "among sacrifices there can be none greater than the body and blood of Christ, nor any more powerful oblation"; our Lord instituted this sacrament at His last parting with His disciples, in order that it might be held in the greater veneration. And this is what Augustine says (Respons. ad Januar. i): "In order to commend more earnestly the death of this mystery, our Saviour willed this last act to be fixed in the hearts and memories of the disciples whom He was about to quit for the Passion."

St. Thomas puts it more succinctly in his famous text called O Sacrum Convivium: O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur: recolitur memoria passionis eius, mens impletur gratia, et futurae gloriae nobis pignus datur. O sacred banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his passion is renewed, the soul is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given to us. This only just begins to mark out the wonderful depths of the Eucharist. But until we begin to understand this connection of the Eucharist to passion and death of our Lord, we will miss much of its meaning for us.

And here we turn not only to doctrine and theological expositions of the Catholic faith, but to Mary. Mary is the woman “who kept all these things in her heart.” She knew docility to the Holy Spirit in immaculate receptivity to the Wisdom of God. She contemplated the Annunciation, she was filled with knowledge of sacred scriptures, as the references in the Magnificat demonstrate, She contemplated the Birth and hidden life of her Son. She contemplated him in his ministry to preach the Kingdom of God. She contemplated his healing power and the grace and authority with which he spoke. And she contemplated him from the foot of the Cross. Here, where our Savior suffered, where he consummated the sacrifice which he had offered in the upper room and left for his disciples in the future to perpetuate his sacrifice across the centuries, our Savior had another gift to give us. He gave us Mary for our mother, Mary standing at the foot of the cross – contemplating him in sorrow with a mother’s love. Mary’s knowledge of his sacrifice exceeds that of any other creature, human or angelic.

How many times and with what depth of love did the Mother of God contemplate all these things and especially his death on the cross, when she adored him in the Holy Eucharist at the Sacred Liturgy? Our Lord gave his mother into the keeping of the disciple whom he loved, in whose person we are all indicated, so that, we might contemplate his mysteries together with her who contemplated him from the beginning and has never ceased in her loving contemplation. He gave us to her as to our own mother so that with a mother’s love she might instruct us concerning the affection, tenderness and adoration which we ought to offer to her Son in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Seek the guidance of Mary as you contemplate her Son, hidden in the Eucharist. She will teach you to stand faithfully at the foot of the Cross, offering to him your own sufferings for the sake of the Church, in order to make up in yourself what was lacking to the sufferings of Christ. If we imitate her faith, we too, shall one day contemplate him, not hidden under the veil of the Eucharist but face to face.

Iesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio, Oro fiat illud quod tam sitio; Ut te revelata cernens facie, Visu sim beatus tuae gloriae.

O Jesus, whom veiled I now look upon, I pray grant that for which I so thirst; That seeing Thee with Thy countenance revealed, I may be blessed by the sight of Thy glory.


Sep 28, 2014

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

God manifests his almighty power above all by pardoning and showing mercy. In the Book of Daniel (Dn. 3) we read: “All that you have done to us, O Lord, you have done with true judgment, for we have sinned against you and not obeyed your commandments. But give glory to your name and deal with us according to the bounty of your mercy.” This is the best we can really hope for isn’t it? If we are honest with ourselves, the last thing we want is for God to judge us with strict justice: that is, giving to us precisely what we are due. And yet he has given us a solemn promise through his Son. Better than just the idea that he sent us a message given to his Son to be given to us, God gave us his Son. Jesus is the promise.

The first reading brings out the difficulty in complaining to God about fairness in his judgments. As the Lord tells us through the prophet, it is not he who is unfair to us, but rather we who are unfair to him. Even if we are currently walking in the way of virtue and righteousness, how can we be sure that we will remain in it? Apart from the grace of God, it is impossible for us to please him, to remain steadfast in our good purposes. The moment we begin to rely on ourselves for our righteousness, we lose touch with the grace which makes it possible. That’s why the Psalmist says: “Your ways, O Lord, make known to me; teach me your paths, Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.” We need God to show us the truth about our sinfulness. We need God to be our savior, to save us from the paths that we will inevitably walk without him.

This is the story of Israel, the story of the history of salvation. This is the constant theme of the prophets and of Jesus and of the Catholic Church. Turn to God and be saved. Turn away from your sin and trust in him. Repent and believe. If we say we trust in him, if we profess that we believe: that is an excellent first step. It is a necessary step, one taken, by the way, only through the impulse of grace and not something that we do for ourselves. Believing and trusting in God comes as a result of the reception of his grace. In this reception, a relationship is forged which requires a response on our part. If we fail to respond, then we cannot receive the relationship in full, nor can we live out that relationship with fidelity.

This is the case for the second son of the parable who says “Yes,” but will not go out into the vineyard of his father. It appears that he has responded appropriately but it is in reality only a facade. Whereas, the second son, who fails to respond appropriately and appears to be in open rebellion, then changes his mind (the Greek word means that he repents) and goes into the vineyard. Jesus says likewise, it is not the chief priests and elders who do the Father’s will with their “yes” but do not live fully from that relationship by conforming their hearts, minds and deeds to their affirmation. It is the tax collectors and prostitutes, who having said “no” to the invitation, later change their hearts, minds and deeds. The latter are living by grace upon dependency from their Father in heaven. And so they are entering the kingdom of God.

We may find ourselves in both situations. I sometimes say “yes” but fail to go. I sometimes say “no” and then repenting of my refusal seek the mercy of God. There are two important words for mercy in our Psalm today. “Remember that your compassion, O Lord, and your love are from of old.” The first word for mercy is translated here as compassion. It is a word related to the word for a mother’s womb, with all the associations of affection, tenderness, compassion, pity and mercy. We read in Isaiah (49:15): “Can a woman forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? and if she should forget, yet I will not forget you.”

God’s steadfast love, his covenanted love, arise from who he is. This is the second word for mercy, translated in the psalm as love, but also meaning kindness, loyalty, steadfastness, faithfulness, goodness and mercy. He is the Beautiful One, Goodness Itself. Although we, who are sinners, have merited nothing but to be forgotten, God will never forget us. God has not forgotten us: in Jesus, his Only Begotten Son, the covenant was kept, the promise fulfilled, grace made possible. We are invited to share not just the results of the faithfulness of Jesus. We are invited to share in the relationship of Jesus with his Father. We are given a participation in the Spirit, says St. Paul. And so, St. Paul also exhorts us to be of the same attitude, that is, mind and heart that was in Jesus. The life of grace is offered to us. But it requires us to be conformed to Jesus, the Son who both said “yes” and went. Because of him, God does not remember the sins of our youth, or even of yesterday, nor any of our transgressions. When we make memory here upon the altar of the death and resurrection of our Lord, the Father in his kindness remembers us, because of his goodness, tenderness and sweetness. He has not forgotten us. Let us not forget him.

Sep 14, 2014

Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Today is the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Tradition tells us that, around the year 320 AD, St. Helen of Constantinople found the True Cross, the cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ died. The Empress and her son, Emperor Constantine, had a church built on the site of the discovery, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre. They named the church the basilica of the Resurrection, which was consecrated on the 14th of September. The relics of the True Cross were kept in the basilica. In the beginning of the seventh century, the Persians sacked Jerusalem and they took the sacred relics of the Holy Cross. They were recovered soon after by the Emperor Heraclitus, around 630 AD. Tradition says that the Emperor, sumptuously clothed in the insignia of his rank as emperor, wanted to carry the Cross to its original place on Calvary. But the weight of the cross became more and more unbearable. Other traditions say that an unseen force stopped the Emperor from continuing. Zacariah, the Bishop of Jerusalem, advised the Emperor that, if he wished to carry the Holy Cross, he should take off all the rich clothes and dress so as to imitate the poverty and humilty of Jesus. When Emperor Heraclitus had dressed in poor clothes and barefoot, he was able to carry the Cross the rest of the way to the top of Golgotha.

In the book of Numbers, we heard how the people had complained against God and Moses. And for that reason, seraph serpents were biting the people and many were dying. When they began to repent, the Lord told Moses: "Make a seraph serpent and mount it on a pole, and if any who have been bitten look at it, they will live." The seraph serpents symbolize the sins of the people. Sin bites the soul and causes it to die. The Lord desires to save the sinner. But, as St. Augustine says, "The One who made you without your consent, will not save you without your consent." To look upon our sins and confess that they are sins is to permit the Lord to heal us and save us from our sins. The seraph serpent was also a symbol of how the Lord would save his people on the Holy Cross.

Jesus made the imagery clear when he told Nicodemus: "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. . . For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." Jesus also said in the Gospel according to St. John, chapter 12, verse 32: "When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself." Jesus has redeemed us by means of the Holy Cross, as St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians: "found in human appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross."

A cross was an instrument of punishment for criminals. It was a death designed to be painful and humiliating. Jesus, however, was innocent. He suffered our death, which we have merited by our sins. When I look upon the Cross, I am able to see many things. I see the wounds which my sins have caused. His pierced feet - because I have not walked in the path of righteousness. His pierced hands - because I have extended my hands to grasp what is not correct. His Sacred Head crowned with thorns - because of my pride and my sinful thoughts. His pierced side - from which even the last drop of his Sacred Blood poured out upon the ground because he allowed his heart to be opened so that he might substitute his love for my lack of love. These wounds which I have caused to my Savior are at the same time evidence of my shame and the source of my hope. What sort of Savior do I have? One who is willing to suffer all my just punishments in order to save me from my sins. Are you able to see the love which was crucified there upon the Holy Cross? Countless Saints and mystics had a devotion to the Holy Cross, and the instruments of his death precisely because Love Himself proved the depths of his love for us. Love was crucified for our sake. Like the people in the desert, the only remedy is then to look upon our sins by gazing at the Sinless One who became sin to save us from eternal death. For the sake of his love for us, we venerate even the cruel instrument of his death. In the midst of seeing our sins we must look deeper than merely to remind ourselves of our sins. Christians glory in the Holy Cross, not so as to beat themselves continuously with their own faults but so that they may discover the depth of our Savior's love.

In the words of St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri: "I kiss devoutly the Cross on which Thou didst die for me. I, on account of my sins, deserved to die a miserable death, but Thy death is my hope. Ah, by the merits of Thy most holy death, grant me the grace to die embracing Thy feet and consumed by Thy love. Into Thy hands I commend my soul. I love Thee, O Jesus my love!, more than myself, and I repent with my whole heart of ever having offended Thee. Do not permit me to be separated from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always and then do with me whatever pleases Thee.


Aug 31, 2014

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

The Prophet Jeremiah was sent by God with a message that no one wanted to hear and which Jeremiah did not want to say. When the Lord first chose Jeremiah, he was reluctant. The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Be not afraid … for I am with you to deliver you.” Jeremiah stood in the court of the Lord’s house and prophesied destruction for Jerusalem. A priest, upon hearing it, beat Jeremiah and imprisoned him. The next morning, the priest released him and Jeremiah prophesied again. This time his prophecy of destruction was against the priest. This is why Jeremiah complains that he can’t keep in the words that the Lord has sent him to say. He cannot contain his prophetic mission. Yet, he struggles with his emotions of fear and discouragement. At the same time, Jeremiah is open to the Lord’s movements. There is a mystery involved in choosing what the Lord has chosen without being deprived of interior freedom. So although Jeremiah complains to the Lord, he nevertheless accomplishes his mission and even praises the Lord while he is complaining to him!

Jesus, in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, has just been revealed by Peter’s confession to be the Messiah. Then Jesus immediately declares to his disciples the essential elements of his mission: to suffer, be killed and rise on the third day. The extent of their shock is evident in Peter’s response: “God forbid, Lord!” Jesus is quick to correct Peter’s attitude, precisely because the Son understands what the Father’s will is and why it is important. Jesus chooses what his Father has chosen. He is not forced by some external decree or some unbreakable power such that he is not free. He has chosen this in perfect freedom. But he still experiences real human emotion in regard to his death. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus asks the Father whether the chalice might pass him. St. Luke adds that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down upon the ground (Lk 22:44).” But Jesus also prays, “nevertheless not my will but yours be done (Lk 22:42).” There is no imperfection in his will. He is just as committed to his mission as we heard in today’s Gospel. Just before he goes to the Garden, he will have already made an irrevocable liturgical offering of his body and blood to be given over for the remission of sins. He is not withdrawing his offer in Gethsemane, but acknowledging his emotions and even beginning his suffering for our sake.

What about us? Jesus tells us that we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses, follow after him and even lose our lives. It is an easy thing to follow God’s will when it pleases us, when everything is glorious, attractive and all that we do ends in triumphant success. But Jesus says we must take up our crosses. He will tell Peter after the resurrection, “When you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go (Jn 21:18). Here is the paradox: Jeremiah’s words will later be recognized as the inspired words of a prophet. His words will remind us that God has called us to fulfill his will. And we learn that God’s plan for us is greater than we can possibly imagine, especially when things are difficult. Peter’s death becomes his glory. Jesus’ death saves us from slavery and sin and even conquers death itself. In losing our lives we will save them. Crosses are not merely heavy burdens which can be set down whenever we wish. They are not simply unpleasant but rather irrelevant. Crosses are instruments for the purpose of crucifixion. Death. Unless we are willing to be crucified we will not be glorified. Unless we die to ourselves we will suffer the eternal death.

The very thought of our crucifixion, of dying to ourselves, is fraught with fear and desperation. So, St. Paul “urges” us “by the mercies of God to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice” so that we “may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect (Rom 12:1-2).” It is a really hard thing to do. That is why we prayed that God would place in our hearts the love of his name and nurture in us what is good by deepening our sense of reverence. Having these emotions, whether of uncertainty, fear or discouragement, does not make us unfaithful, but without the grace of God we will be unable to move forward in doing his will. The reality is that we understand all too well how difficult it is to remain faithful to our call to holiness. We know that we are weak and prone to stumble and fall. We stumble often through sin. And our sin makes us stumble all the more. Our sin makes our hearts become selfish. A heart that is self-focused, turned in on itself, will miss the call to holiness that God places in it. We will lose the ability to join the Psalmist in pining and thirsting for God. We become parched, lifeless and arid – but we no longer know it. Like the priest in the Book of Jeremiah, we no longer recognize the truth when we hear it. Even worse, we rationalize and ignore it. We carry on with life, even our religious practice, but we are no longer able to discern God’s will. Our reverence fades and the love of his name dries up in our hearts.

There is a remedy. When Jesus told us to take up our crosses and follow him, he also knew how frail we would be. He knew how often we would stumble and fall to the ground. The question is, are we ready to give up the whole world and hand our life over to him? What good is our spiritual worship if we refuse to let go of our sins? How quickly he will raise us up if only we let him! Jesus is waiting for you. He is waiting for you to choose him above everything else. He is thirsting and pining for you. Will you deny yourself and confess your sins to him?

Should you wish to confess your sins, we have regular confessions here on Saturdays at 3:00pm. I am always available, however, at any other time. You may also inquire at the office for an appointment and you don’t need to tell anyone why you wish to see me. I’m happy as well to meet at any time, even after parish office hours. Now I will leave you with this thought from St. Peter of Joseph Betancur, better known in Guatemala as Santo Hermano Pedro: “Only one soul do you have and if you lose it, what then will you do?”

Aug 17, 2014

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Our Gospel today when it is read often sounds rather harsh. Who is this Jesus in the Gospel who ignores the Canaanite woman and compares her to dogs? It is difficult to reconcile this image with the loving Jesus we see elsewhere in the Gospel. But context and a more careful reading of the passage resolves these issues.

Our Gospel today comes from Matthew 15:21-28. Earlier in the same chapter Jesus has an encounter with the Scribes and Pharisees who came from Jerusalem. They complain to him that his disciples did not follow the tradition of washing their hands before they ate in accordance with the custom of the oral traditions. Jesus replies by showing them that they transgress the Law of God through following a certain interpretation of the oral tradition. He says to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” Their hearts were neither in accord with the Law nor open to receiving the Gospel of Jesus.

Afterward, Jesus instructs his disciples about true defilement of the heart. “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.” The next verse of the Gospel according to St. Matthew begins the section we heard today.

A Canaanite woman cries out to him for mercy, calling him Lord and Son of David. Jesus, who so often reacts with compassion in the Gospel, remains silent and, so it would seem, ignores her. His disciples come to him to beg Jesus to send her away. Perhaps when she received no response from Jesus, she started crying out to them for help. Notice, though, that they don't ask Jesus to help her, they ask him to get rid of her! And Jesus says to them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Let's read that again with an emphasis on “I.” I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Might that emphasized “I” imply something about the disciples? I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but you will be sent out into the whole world. The disciples had heard Jesus quote Isaiah the prophet in the encounter with the Scribes and Pharisees, after which Jesus gave them a teaching about cleanness of heart. But what about our first reading today which is also from Isaiah: “The foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants … their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” And so a Medieval Gloss on the text reads: “He did not answer so that the disciples might ask for her.” Jesus is expanding his teaching on the heart and what is at the heart of true religion.

The woman clearly grasped something of the sort happening either in the exchanges or in the tone, because although Jesus has not spoken to her yet, “she came and did Jesus homage, saying Lord, help me.” Now, at last, Jesus speaks to her, “It is not fair to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Isn't our first reaction to think, “How rude!” Now the term “dogs” is in the original text κυνάρια, which is a diminutive of dog. So it can be understood to mean little dog or even puppy. And if we read the text with a gentle tone rather than as a rebuke, it softens it to the point where it can even suggest a tone that, while testing the woman, almost encourages her to continue. And just so the woman continues: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” She does not contradict his use of the word. She continues to address him as Lord. She even says the children are the masters. She humbles herself and continues to beg for mercy from him. “Then Jesus answered her, 'O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.' And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.”

Now we are in a better position to appreciate the depths of this Gospel passage. We can begin to see the Jesus of compassion that we know so well. Why did Jesus draw out this experience? Certainly, it was important enough that the Apostles remembered it and the Holy Spirit inspired St. Matthew and St. Mark to include it. Jesus knew the hearts of the Scribes and Pharisees in his previous encounter. He knew the hearts of his disciples, and he knew the heart of the woman. He also knew, beforehand, that he would eventually grant to the woman her request. He teaches the disciples that his mercy is for everyone without exception. He elicits faith from the woman and teaches her to come to him in adoration and and to persevere with trust in his ability to free her daughter from her slavery to evil. Through the woman, he teaches his disciples and us to do the same. A Medieval Gloss concludes: “And if the Lord delays the salvation of a soul at the first tears of the supplicating Church, we ought not to despair, or to cease from our prayers, but rather continue them earnestly.” He may, like he did with the Canaanite woman, first elicit faith from us and teach us to humble ourselves in order to open our hearts to the gift of his mercy. He teaches us in this Gospel that we shall obtain His Heart if we cry out to him with persistence. The difficulty isn't in the generosity of the Divine Giver but in the receptivity of the one asking.

The compassion, mercy and love of the Sacred Heart of our Savior cannot resist the misery and supplications of the sinners who worship him, and throwing themselves on his mercy, beg him for help and release from the sins and evil that hold them captive. The sinner, who in humble adoration of his Sacred Heart, begs to be healed never fails to capture his loving Heart. A little book called The Way of Divine Love, which records the visitations of Jesus to Sr. Josefa Menendez of the Society of the Sacred Heart, contains these passages:

“My Heart takes great comfort in forgiving. I have no greater desire, no greater joy, than when I can pardon a soul.”

“I will make known that the measure of My Love and Mercy for fallen souls is limitless. I want to forgive them. It rests Me to forgive. I am ever there, waiting, with boundless love till souls come to Me. Let them come, and not be discouraged. Let them fearlessly throw themselves into My arms!”

“I am Love and desire only love. O, if souls only realized how I wait for them in mercy. I am the Love of all loves, and it is My joy to forgive.”

Our Savior waits with longing to give us his mercy. Like the Canaanite woman we should never cease to beg him for it, since in faith we shall obtain what his Love already wishes to grant us.

Aug 15, 2014

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

I don't know how to be simple about today's feast. It is a feast so profound and so moving that I must say too much rather than too little. Most of what follows is excerpted from a beautiful book written by Hugo Rahner, called Our Lady and the Church. If it's depths pass us by the first time, at least it is an introduction to the deeper mystery of Our Lady. What is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary about? Is it merely a remembrance of some past event, however glorious, that happened to Mary? Why do we celebrate it? In the first place, it is about this glorious event that happened to Mary, the Mother of God. But liturgically and theologically it is more than just that. Liturgically, you will hear in the Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer these words: “For today the Virgin Mother of God was assumed into heaven as the beginning and image of your Church's coming to perfection and a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people...” Today? On this very calendar day? Yes! The prayers of the Church invite us to enter into the mysteries that we celebrate as if they were before our eyes, so that, we can draw from the contemplation of these mysteries the manifold graces that sustain and nurture our faith. They are not merely past events but the wonderful works of the Lord which sanctify us by contemplating them and dispose us to draw fruit from the Sacrament which we receive from the altar.

We heard in our Gospel the story of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. When Mary greets Elizabeth, Elizabeth says that John leaped in her womb and “Whom am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?.” And Mary remained with her about three months. What is being set before our eyes of faith for us to contemplate? Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant. When David first thought to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, David exclaimed, “How shall the ark of the Lord come to me?” In David's time the old ark of the covenant remained for three months in the house of Obededom before David brought it to Jerusalem, leaping before it with joy. The old Ark contained in it three things: the staff of Aaron the High Priest, mana from the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments or the Decalogue – the Ten Words. The New Ark, Mary, contains in her womb the True and Eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ, who is the True Bread come down from heaven, who is the Word of God made flesh. In every way the latter is superior to the former. And this helps us to understand our first reading from the Book of Revelation.

St. John the Evangelist says he saw a vision: “God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of the covenant could be seen in the temple.” Is he speaking about he old ark of the covenant? No. He continues in the next chapter to describe the ark of the covenant which he saw: “ A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth.” The ark, the great sign, is Mary. But it is also the Church. Our Lady is the woman who in herself includes all the mysteries of the Church. This is the reality that explains the tensions of the text, for this mystery of the glory of Mary's body is the beginning of the glory of the Church. The woman is clothed with the sun in her heavenly glory. This refers to Mary as well as to the Church-to-be when it comes into perfection. And yet the woman is in the pains of childbirth. This refers to Mary at the foot of the Cross, for we are baptized into the Death of Christ, and so she becomes our Mother in that place, a title confirmed by the words of our Savior to the beloved disciple: “Behold your Mother.” And it refers to the Church, for by the entrance into her baptismal font, as if into her womb, we are born into new life. The woman has already entered into heaven. This refers to the assumption of Mary's body and to the Church Triumphant, the saints in heaven. And yet the woman is still on the painful journey here fleeing into the desert. This refers to Mary in her motherly concern for her children, for a mother's heart is always with her children wherever they may be and it refers to the Church Militant, to us, still on the pilgrimage of faith. Mary is at once the gracious Queen and the sorrowful Mother. St. Pius X teaches in his encyclical Ad diem illum: “Everyone knows that the great woman of Revelation represents the Virgin Mary, who without blemish gave birth to our Head. But the Apostle continues: 'Being with child, she cried travailing in birth and was in pain to be delivered.' John therefore saw the holy Mother of God, who indeed already possessed eternal beatitude, nevertheless in pain at a mysterious birth. What birth was this? It was indeed our own birth, for we are still in exile and in a state of being born for the perfect love of God and for everlasting happiness. And the woman's pain also symbolizes the Virgin's love, because of which she labors with unceasing prayer from her place in heaven, to fill up the number of the elect.” Just as Christ is the New Adam and Head of his Mystical Body, the Church, so Mary is the New Eve and the most illustrious member of his Mystical Body. She signifies the whole Church in a mysterious way. The blending of images of Mary and Holy Church in this one great sign is understood by countless mystics and the Church Fathers when they comment upon these passages.

St. Ephrem the Syrian writes these lines about the great mystery of Mary: “Mary is saying to Jesus: 'Shall I call Thee my son? Or my brother, my spouse or my Lord? For Thou hast given birth to Thy mother: rebirth through water. But truly I am Thy sister: from the seed of David like Thee. And truly I am Thy mother, for I conceived Thee in my womb. Thy bride I am, for Thou has paid the price with Thy death, Thy daughter in rebirth through Thy baptism. The son of the Most High came and rested with me, and I became His mother. Born of me, He in turn has given me rebirth, for He has clothed His mother with a new garment: He has absorbed His own flesh into Himself, and her He has clothed with the sunshine of Himself.” Can we not say the same thing with her? Is Jesus my Savior, my Lord and God? Yes. As a son of Adam he is also my brother according to our shared humanity. As the New Adam, I can also call him my father for I am reborn in Him. Is he not also my spouse, the beloved of my soul?

Psalm 131:8 of the Septuagint and Vulgate versions says: “Arise, O Lord, into thy resting place: thou and the ark, which thou hast sanctified.” St. Thomas Aquinas interprets this verse of our Lady's Assumption. And the Greek Byzantine Liturgy sings on this Feast: “Come hither, all who love this festival, come let us dance and sing, come let us weave to the Church a garland of song: for today the ark of God's presence has come to rest!” Russian Orthodox theology preserves this insight: “High in heavenly glory stands the Virgin Mother of the human race: she has sanctified the whole world of nature, and in her and through her all things shall be gloriously transformed.” And an ancient Armenian hymn for the Feast of the Assumption says, “Today the choirs of fiery spirits look upon our own nature, made of clay, and tremble.”

The mystery we celebrate today is the mystery of Christ redemptive love and the power and glory of His Cross and Resurrection made perfect in the Blessed Virgin Mary. And it is also our own mystery being brought to perfection in us. It is a sign of sure hope and comfort, a sealing of the promise given to us in Christ. His Paschal Mystery is not just a wonder to our eyes as only a deed that shows the glory of God. It is not just an undertaking done for us, but there is also something done to us, to our nature. The Assumption of Mary body and soul into heaven is a mysterious sign that God can communicate to us, to our nature, His very own life, holiness and glory - not only in the joining of our nature to his divinity in the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity but even to us mere creatures. So we celebrate the Solemnity of the event that took place so long ago and we celebrate the sign of God's intention for us to partake in his eternal blessedness body and soul.

Aug 11, 2014

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Why does Jesus go into the desert and up a mountain to pray alone? The reading about Elijah helps to give us an answer. Elijah had just finished proving that Baal was a false God. Then he had their false religion destroyed along with the false priests and false prophets. The Queen at the time, Jezabel, threatened to kill Elijah. So Elijah, fearing for his life, escaped to the desert. In the desert God sends an Angel to feed him with bread for 40 days and 40 nights. The Angel leads Elijah to the mountain of God. On the mountain Elijah witnesses a fierce wind, an earthquake and fire. God is not in any of these things. Then there was a tiny whispering sound, the whisper of gentle air. And there when Elijah was alone, God revealed himself in the quiet whisper of wind.

In our Gospel last Sunday, Jesus heard about the murder of John the Baptist and withdrew to a deserted place by himself. The crowds followed him and he was moved with compassion when he saw them. He healed the sick and then fed them with bread. When he had taken care of these things, he sent his disciples away and also dismissed the crowds. Afterwards, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone.

Elijah went out into the desert because he was frightened. Jesus goes out into the desert, too. He might have been frightened or sad at the death of his cousin. Or tired from preaching and healing. Or disappointed at being rejected by his own town. He knows that he needs solitude and prayer. God sends an angel to feed Elijah with bread. Jesus is the one who feeds the crowd. An angel leads Elijah to the mountain. Jesus needs no one else to know where he needs to go. Elijah has to be instructed by experience where God may be found. Jesus already knows.

Jesus is true God and true man. As God, he has no need to pray, but as man, he has every need to pray. Did Jesus pray with his disciples? Of course! Did he pray with the crowd? Absolutely! So why does Jesus go into the desert and up a mountain, alone, to pray? The heart needs prayer, both the public and communal type, as well as the private and intimate experience. God made us to take delight in praising him and our hearts remain restless until they rest in him. We need quiet and solitude to answer this need of our hearts. This can be a difficult thing for us to grasp. We are bad at being alone and really bad at being quiet. We fill our lives with the frenzy of almost constant sounds and entertainment: television, movies, radio, internet. We are almost constantly doing, doing, doing. When do we rest from all this? When we drop exhausted into our nightly sleep. I think that we fear being alone. I think we are afraid of being bored. We take our solitude and fill it with the things that numb our loneliness and boredom: Facebook, video games, and other less savory things. Yet have we ever been more lonely? Have these things ever been the source of a rich and meaningful life? None of these things can actually answer to our basic human needs. They accentuate and perpetuate our problems. At the very least, they do not resolve them.

In the hustle and bustle of our daily lives: work, raising children, rushing around, even in the doing of good deeds, prayer becomes an afterthought, and then a memory, and soon no thought at all. If we do not have the habit of withdrawing to a deserted place and remaining in silence alone then it can be incredibly difficult to start. I suggest just a few minutes at first: 5, 10, or 15. Little by little we can begin to detach ourselves from the things which are not God and which, very often, do not lead to God. These superficial things occupy space in our minds, hearts and souls - a space that was intended to be filled with God and God alone.

At first, we can experience a discomfort with quiet and solitude. We may be distracted by all the things we are trying to put aside. Many things will rise up in our thoughts: memories, lists of tasks, temptations and emotions like anger or resentment. Often emotions or needs will rise which tell us we have been looking past or ignoring the more important aspects of our hearts. If we have the habit of numbing ourselves with many things, then the experience of solitude and quiet can even be painful at first. But we will soon discover the deepest need of the human heart and the only answer that adequately responds to it. When we are alone with God, we are not really alone (though it may feel that way). Only God can satisfy our deepest longings. Whatever our experience may be, at the root of all our longings, we will discover that God is never boring, nor are we. The most exciting thing about being human is our relationship with the God who loves us. And Jesus shows us how this relationship is fostered: by being alone with him, not necessarily doing any particular thing or even saying any particular thing, but just being in his presence and resting. His presence in our hearts calms the turbulent waters and gives us peace.

Aug 3, 2014

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

The prophet Isaiah is drawing on the imagery of how The Lord fed his people during the exodus from Egypt. The Lord gave them bread from heaven having all sweetness within it. Every day the Israelites gathered the manna, but just enough for a day. He fed them without price. And he offers more than just bread for the stomach. He offers us eternal bread that satisfies the soul. "I will renew with you the everlasting covenant." If we listen to the prophet Isaiah again, we can hear the Lord pleading and begging with us: "Come! Come! Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life!"

We work so hard and become anxious for all sorts of things that do not last and do not satisfy. The Lord wants to give us for free something that satisfies and lasts forever! "Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?," says the Lord. God is longing to satisfy us with what satisfies forever!

When Jesus sees the crowd, "his heart was moved with pity for them." "Moved with pity." The Greek uses much stronger and richer language. It means to be moved in the innermost depths of the heart. Jesus is disturbed in his soul with his desire to heal and feed his people.

Today, Jesus sees you. He longs and desires to heal and feed you from his altar. Are you hungry? Come! "Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body," says the Lord. Are you thirsty? Come! "Take this, all of you, and drink for it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant," says the Lord.

Come! Eat! Drink! And be satisfied!

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Then he planted a garden in Eden, towards the East, where he placed the man he had formed. And God gave to the man this commandment: "From any tree of the garden you may eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, because on the day which you will have eaten of it, you shall surely die." But there was a serpent who was very clever. And one day he said to the woman, "Did God really forbid you to eat from any of the trees of the garden?" Remember - God only forbid them to eat from one tree. Do you see that the serpent has already lied? The woman responded to the serpent, "No. We may eat the fruit of the trees in the garden, but not of the fruit of the tree which is in the center. God forbid us to eat of it and told us that we may not touch it, because we will die." What? God did not say those words. He never said "Don't touch" but rather "Don't eat." Already the first lie of the devil has confused the truth. And the woman has not told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Now she is ready for the next lie. The serpent said to the woman, "It is not true that you will die. On the contrary, God knows very well that if you eat of the fruit of the tree, your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, for you will know good and evil." And the rest is history.

What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? In Latin the words for wisdom and taste or flavor are related. Wisdom is to know the flavor of God, which is better than merely to know good and bad things. "Taste and see how good The Lord is, " says the Psalmist. And St. Augustine says, "Late have I loved thee, O Beauty ever ancient ever new, late have I loved thee! . . . Thou exhaled perfume and I drew in a breath, and now I am panting and gasping for thee; I tasted thee, and now I am left hungering and thirsting for thee. . ." We need to experience the good savor of God in our hearts.

After the lies of the serpent, the Sacred Scriptures note that the fruit of that tree appeared appetizing, and beautiful to behold and excellent for acquiring wisdom. But it is not possible to take or steal wisdom by the violence of our wills or by disobedience. Wisdom is a gift from God. If, like Solomon, we ask God to grant us this gift, he gives it freely and willingly.

Then we will not see only the appearances, but rather we will know the reality. The world and the devil judge by the appearances of things. They believe themselves to be gods. "What, really, is marriage? What is life