July 6, 2014 - Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Zechariah 9.9-10
Psalm 145.1-2, 8-9, 10-11, 13-14 Resp. 1
Romans 8.9, 11-13
Matthew 11.25-30

If we are ever lost in reverie, looking up at the sky and thinking how nice it would be to live on a cloud, after a few seconds, perhaps even a minute, we look back at the earth at forget about clouds. Listening to the Gospels should not be like cloud appreciation. We should not hear the words of Jesus and think, “isn’t that such a nice idea”, and then go back to our daily drudgery. Jesus is making us an offer. He is making you an offer. He wants to make your life easier. Jesus says to you, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” Are you tired? Are you exhausted with life? Jesus tells us, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.” This is not a scam. He is not making up fluffy, useless religious sayings. This is real advice, for our benefit, which we ought to take seriously.

Our Lord is meek and humble of heart, and he wants us to learn from him because he sees that we labor and are burdened and we wants to give us rest. Although the labor and burdens of our daily work might be what first comes to our mind, it does not seem that Jesus is offering us rest from those. If he were, his solution seems insufficient. How could it help us to be meek and humble of heart? The meek and humble do not often have less work in this world; indeed they often have more, and more difficult, work.

If Jesus is not promising us rest from our work, he must be referring to other labor and burdens. If we learned to have a heart like Jesus, meek and humble, even though we would still have work to do each day, our load would lightened. The opposite of humility is pride. Pride must be the burden which Jesus is offering us relief from.

The suggestion that pride is weighing us down might offend us at first. A person might not think that they have so much pride, or perhaps they know someone with a great deal of pride who does not seem to be burdened. We should not worry though, for the moment, about other people and their pride. Let us just consider how pride has been burdening us.

Do you spend time worrying about what other people think of you? Are you worried that you have not accomplished enough in this life? Are you upset because someone else has taken credit for your ideas and your work? Do you lie awake at night thinking about how angry you are with someone you cannot forgive? Does it concern you that people misjudge you and misunderstand you? Do you feel like you deserve more material possessions in this life, at least as much as so-and-so has? Are you afraid that you are losing the rat race?

Those are a lot of burdens! Those, and many burdens like them, are the real burdens. If we could be rid of them, life would be much more bearable, no matter what labors we have in this world. “But wait,” you are perhaps saying to yourself, “you do not understand. I have a real grievance with the world. I have been treated unfairly. I have not been given what I deserve.” I do understand though. I do not doubt that every single person here has been treated unfairly and some people have been seriously misused, but I am not the one recommending humility and meekness; Jesus is, and he is the most abused person in the history of the world. Who has been treated as unfairly as he has?

He says that we should learn from him, that we should take his yoke upon us and learn from him. To teach a young ox how to plow, a farmer would yoke it up with an experienced ox. The experienced ox would know what to do and the young ox would be forced to come along and learn. Jesus offers us his credentials, “I am meek and humble of heart.” We need to let Jesus drag us around while we learn from him; we need to do whatever we see him doing.

What did Jesus do when the Samaritans would not let him walk through their town? He walked around. What did Jesus do when the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to trick him with questions? He answered them and taught them. What did Jesus do when they crowned him with thorns and spit on him? He picked up his Cross and carried it to where he would die. What did Jesus do in the end, after all the abuse and torture and completely unfair treatment? He asked the Father to forgive them since they did not know what they were doing.

Does this mean that we should allow others to treat us badly without complaining? Yes. This is just another reason why a religious vocation is better than a secular vocation: those who have vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience are free to lay down all the burdens of pride. Someone like Blessed Mother Teresa can find rest in the midst of exhausting work, terrible living conditions, and cruel accusations. Someone like St. Martin de Porres can go through life being treated like less than a human being.

St. Francis once said the following about perfect joy: “When we come to the monastery, soaked by the rain and frozen by the cold, all soiled with mud and suffering from hunger, and we ring at the gate of the place and the brother porter comes and says angrily: ‘Who are you?’ And we say: ‘We are two of your brothers.’ And he contradicts us, saying: ‘You are not telling the truth. Rather you are two rascals who go around deceiving people and stealing what they give to the poor. Go away’ And he does not open for us, but makes us stand outside in the snow and rain, cold and hungry, until night falls-then if we endure all those insults and cruel rebuffs patiently, without being troubled and without complaining, and if we reflect humbly and charitably that that porter really knows us and that God makes him speak against us, oh, Brother Leo, write that perfect joy is there!”

We who live in the world cannot experience this perfect joy always, the rest that Jesus offers. The world and the people of this world will try to take every advantage of us possible. We who live in the world will have to keep some burdens, so that society can continue to function. We will have to, at times, fight for our rights and the rights of others, but this responsibility should not prevent us from finding rest where we can by being humble and meek: letting others mistreat us, letting others take more than their share, working hard in this world without credit, forgiving those who do not even know that they wronged us.

Will we only hear the Gospel today or will we actually do what Jesus says?

July 5, 2014 - Saturday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Amos 9:11-15
Psalm 85:9-14
Matthew 9:14-17

The prophet Amos, whom we have been reading all week, has some very serious accusations for the Israelites. They have done some terrible things. He also is telling them that because of their crimes they will be punished by God with war and exile. It is a harsh book, but it still ends with comfort. Today, God says, “I will bring about the restoration of my people Israel.” Even in the midst of the accusation and punishment, there is comfort. Because God loves us.

It is a difficult theological problem, trying to consider whether what we suffer is the punishment of God for our sins or simply the random situation of life. On the one hand, God does seem to punish people for their sins throughout the Scriptures, exactly as we see here in the book of Amos, but on the other hand, people do not seem to suffer in proportion to their sins. Even here in the book of Amos, the Israelites are being punished because they afflicted the poor. So the suffering of the poor was not the punishment of God. Moreover, the punishment of God was war and exile. Surely the poor suffered through this punishment as well, the good with the bad.

So if we say that all suffering is punishment from God, we are clearly wrong, but it would also seem to be wrong to say that suffering is never punishment from God. How do we tell the difference? The classic way is to consider all the suffering of other people as simply suffering, deserving our sympathy and not our judgment, and to consider all of our own suffering as punishment, because we know our sins and we know that we deserve it.

Some people consider this method as too harsh. If I consider every sickness, every injury, every setback in my life as a punishment from God, will it be too difficult, or even impossible, to see God as love? If God loves me, why would he cause me to suffer? Then we should remember the reading today. Even before he has carried out his harsh punishment, the Lord is already speaking of restoring his people. The Lord is never out to hurt us. Everything he does is for our own good. If God is ever punishing us for our sins, then his punishment is yet another expression of his love. He loves us and does not want anything other than our good.

July 4, 2014 - Friday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Amos 8:4-6, 9-12
Psalm 119:2, 10, 20, 30, 40, 131
Matthew 9:9-13

In the first reading we hear about people who are consumed with desire. Even during the day of rest, all they can think of is the object of their desire. “When will this feast or Sabbath be over”, they wonder, “so that we can get back to business.” And what business? Their desire for profit is so great that they cheat and steal and lie.

Oh that we would have a desire for God like their desire! The children of this world are always wiser in their ways than the children of the kingdom. If only I could be as motivated to serve God as some people are to make a million dollars. There are people who will sacrifice every good thing for money and fame. How is it then that I find it so difficult to give up mediocre things in order to follow God?

Perhaps this is what Jesus means when he says that he wishes we were hot or cold rather than lukewarm. If we were cold, like these merchants who have a great desire to get back to cheating and stealing, who can barely contain themselves through one day off, then we could turn this desire to something good. Which is easier, to work up a desire that we do not have or to redirect a strong desire in the wrong direction? There are many examples of saints who redirected misguided desires. St. Ignatius was a soldier who loved glory in battle, and he became a soldier of Christ. St. Matthew, as we read in the Gospel today, went from collecting taxes, being so in love with money that he collaborated with the Roman government, to being in love with Jesus Christ.

I do not know if it is easier to redirect a desire or create a desire. The point is to have the right desire. If your desire is weak, the thing is to strengthen it. If you have a strong desire for something inferior to God, consider how you can turn it to him. I need to desire God more, and I need to turn my desires to him. I do not have the strong desire for God that the saints had, but I can take comfort in my desire to have a desire for God. So long as I do not let go of this desire for a desire, there is a chance for me.

July 3, 2014 - Feast of Saint Thomas, Apostle

Ephesians 2:19-22
Psalm 117:1-2
John 20:24-29

St. Thomas the Apostle is remembered primarily for two things: that he was the one who did not believe in the Resurrection, and that he brought Christianity to India. Doubting Thomas is a bit of an unfair reputation. So far as we know, none of the Apostles believed before seeing Jesus except St. John who saw the empty tomb and believed. It is simply that his doubts are recorded in such a powerful fashion as we read today. He immediately believed. He experienced many hardships and went to a faraway land to preach the Gospel. There he was killed for the faith. Many people might have seen the same thing and still doubted. St. Thomas received his faith not by investigation. St. Thomas received his faith from the Father. Before he saw Jesus, God allowed him to doubt for the sake of generations to come, but when he saw Jesus, he received the gift of faith.

Faith is not a human accomplishment. Faith is a gift. Faith is not gritting our teeth and insisting that we will believe. Faith is a gift. Faith is not something we should be proud of as if we were better people than those who do not believe. Faith is something we ought to be grateful for because it is a gift. Faith is something that we ought to ask God for every day. And if we begin to doubt, there are two mistakes we can make: trying to fight the doubts on our own or accepting the doubts as wisdom. If we begin to doubt, we must turn to God and ask for more faith.

We receive knowledge from our parents and the Church. We know about Christianity because of them and the books we read. But faith is something different. If the whole world abandoned Christianity, and it was just you alone with no support, if they all told you that it was pretend, that it was just another story like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny, is there something within you that would still believe? Is there something within you right now that believes in God without consideration of any argument or reason? That is faith. It will not seem strong if we test it ourselves; it will fall apart quickly because God will not defeat our free will. The true test of our faith comes from the outside: persecution, suffering, martyrdom. That is when we find out how strong faith really is.

July 2, 2014 - Wednesday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time

Amos 5.14-15, 21-24
Psalm 50.7, 8-9, 10-11, 12-13, 16bc-17 Resp. 23b
Matthew 8.28-34

What is the point of keeping the trappings of Christianity if the heart is gone? There is no point. We should not celebrate the holy days if we no longer believe in the reason behind them, if they have become merely occasions to get drunk and eat too much. This is what the Lord means when he says, “I hate, I spurn your feasts.” God hates when someone celebrates a feast but denies the meaning. So many today get married because they want a beautiful wedding, but by living together before marriage and rejecting children after marriage, the wedding is empty, like a rotten tree with nothing inside.

We can see that religious holidays without faith are worse than useless when we consider what Christmas is turned into by those who do not care about the birth of Jesus. On the other hand, a religious feast can bring someone back to the faith who is struggling. That is not what is meant here. There is a difference between a person who struggles, and a person who has rejected the faith. If a person has rejected the Gospel, they should not celebrate the holy days. They should not come to the Eucharist. The Church would be better off, not if we got rid of all the sinners, because then we would all have to leave, but if all the people who are not even interested in trying would just leave us alone. If a person is working to destroy the faith by completely ignoring morality and having no interest in repentance and even preaching death and destruction in this culture, yet they attend Mass for social or political reasons, they are a hypocrite. When we sin, we should repent and confess our sins, but if a person does not want to repent, they should stay away until they are converted.

The demons called Jesus the Son of God, but they were his enemies and he treated them as such. The town saw the power of God in their midst and begged him to leave, so he did. When those who choose not to believe leave the Church, it is a blessing for us and for them. Perhaps someday they will change their minds and come back. In the meantime, it does no good to pretend that those who are against us are with us. We should not welcome people into the Church so that they can subvert her mission from within.

June 27, 2014 - Solemnity of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

Deuteronomy 7.6-11
Psalm 103.1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8, 10 Resp. 17
1 John 4.7-16
Matthew 11.25-30

Today we celebrate the preeminent devotion, the greatest devotion of Christianity: the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the Sacred Heart we celebrate the human body of our Savior. The heart deservedly stands as a symbol of the whole body. It is at the center of the body, and the heartbeat is evidence of the life of the body. In the Sacred Heart, we worship the actual organ in the body of our Savior, beating from the time of its formation in the womb of the Blessed Mother, beating while he preached forgiveness and healed the sick, stopped by the Cross, pierced by the lance, begun again at the Resurrection, and still, today, beating in the body seated at the right hand of the Father.

Further, devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus is devotion to the love of Jesus, the twofold love of Jesus: the divine love and his human love. The Sacred Heart is truly symbolic of the love of God which created the world and which redeemed a fallen world, but it also expresses the fully human love which Jesus had for the crowds, for the suffering, for his disciples, particularly for the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” The Sacred Heart loved not only with the love of God, but also was the perfect human heart, loving in right relationship all things.

We are convicted by the Sacred Heart for our lack of love. If it were only a symbol of divine love, the love which created us, so stunning in its infinity, an infinity which is for all but no less infinitely for each, we are by definition incapable of such love, but, since it is also a symbol of Jesus’ human love, we are indicted when we see how much love a human heart is capable of. Consider how, in comparison, we love so little. How small is our love for our families, our friends, and our enemies! How little compassion do we have for the sick, the poor and the suffering!

The love, both human and divine, symbolized by the Sacred Heart is an unrequited love. Through all human history, God has loved humans with an everlasting love, but humans have ignored and insulted this love. There is no greater symbol of the human response to God’s love than the Sacred Heart pierced by a lance. Humans respond with violence against the very symbol of God’s love, as if, unable to repay the love, and refusing to be in debt, they try to destroy the love of God. Yet the lance, rather than destroy the Sacred Heart, only opens it further, pouring forth blood and water in the final symbol of the complete gift.

Jesus invites us today to learn from him, for he is meek and humble of heart. Let us take him up on this generous invitation. If we think that we know anything or have a certain amount of wisdom, but we have not yet learned about love, we are mistaken. We will be truly wise when we are masters of love: the love God has for us, the love we return to God, the love God has for everyone else, the love we have for those whom God loves. All this love is one Love. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.” We will not be masters of love until the beating of our hearts is in perfect sync with the Sacred Heart. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto yours.

June 26, 2014 - Thursday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The stronger the foundation, the more work which is required to build on that foundation. Sand is a weak foundation, so it is easy to dig a few feet into the sand and bury the anchors for the house. Rock is a strong foundation, so it requires a great deal of work to break through even a few feet.

Jesus contrasts the one who listens to his words and acts to the one who listens to his words and does not act. According to the analogy they have both built a house. Indeed, if we consider the analogy further we can understand that the rock is located under the sand. It is not as if the rock were bare rock. Wherever there is sand, there is bedrock underneath, perhaps 100 feet underneath, but it is there.

So the fool listens to the words of Jesus, nods in agreement, smiles even, then goes home and keeps living. Perhaps, occasionally, he tries to act according to the words that he heard, if it is not too hard. The wise man hears the words of Jesus and begins digging. He digs through 100 feet of sand, hits rock, and begins chipping away at the rock. Only then does he build his life.

It sounds like a lot of work. It is a lot of work. Following Christ requires more than a smile and a nod. It is not easy to build a spiritual life that is anchored in the rock, but it is worth it. As Jesus teaches us, when the winds come and the floods rise, the house built on sand will not stand. We are going to have trouble in this world. We must build our faith to withstand the trouble.

If we listen to the words of Jesus and act on them, a faith will be built in us that cannot be blown over, no matter how strong the winds. If we listen to the words of Jesus and act on them, a hope will be built in us that cannot be drowned, no matter how high the waters reach. Unquestionably, the storms are coming. If we play at being Christian, we are building a play house that cannot stand up to anything. If we take Christianity seriously, more seriously than we have ever taken anything, more seriously than we take money, more seriously than we take sports, more seriously than we take

June 25th, 2014 - Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time

2 Kings 22:8-13; 23:1-3
Psalm 119.33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 40 Resp. 33a
Matthew 7.15-20

After many kings who did evil, King Josiah began the work of restoring the temple. When the book of the Law was found during the restoration, he wept and committed himself fully to the Law. He had it read to the people so that they too could follow the Law. King Josiah begins anew the covenant between Israel and the Lord. He rids Israel of the pagan religions and celebrates the Passover of the Lord, that great feast which had not been celebrated for hundreds of years.

So what happened to the great King Josiah, who “turned to the Lord with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might”? He died. He was killed in battle by the Pharaoh of Egypt who took over the country until the Babylonians arrived a decade later. And the sons of Josiah did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. Josiah never really had a chance to make his reforms stick. Too much evil had been done in Judah by the previous generations, and it is not so easy to undo centuries of evil with one good king.

So also in our spiritual lives. One good intention is not enough to undo a lifetime of sin. One good retreat or one good prayer will not change us. Our willingness to sin has made us weak. We confess our sins, but then we return to them. It is not possible to give in to temptation a thousand times and then simply decide to stop sinning, not without grace. God can accomplish anything in us, if we allow him, but allowing him may be dangerous. To purify the Israelites, God sent them into exile for 70 years. Who knows how God will purify us! It probably will not be pleasant or easy. Perhaps we are afraid of life without sin, or of the suffering that will free us from our sins. We would so like to start over fresh, as if none of the past had ever happened, but we cannot, because it did. God forgives our sins, but in order to free us from them, there must be fire, either in this life or the next. If we truly want to be free, we will embrace the fire in this life and allow it to burn away the attachments we have formed. And we can make this fire burn hotter now by fasting and penance, if we wish.

June 24, 2014 - Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

Isaiah 49.1-6
Psalm 139.1b-3, 13-14ab, 14c-15 Resp. 14
Acts 13.22-26
Luke 1.57-66, 80

Today we commemorate the birth of a great prophet, and not just a prophet, but he of whom it was said, “Behold I am sending my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.”

The feast of Christmas, coincidentally, is placed near the winter solstice, near the darkest day of the year. The feast of John the Baptist, symbolically, is placed opposite Christmas, near the summer solstice, the lightest day of the year. In the northern hemisphere, the sun strengthens every day after Christmas and weakens every day after the feast of John the Baptist. This yearly astronomical event is a sign to us of the difference between the two men. John signals the end of something, something decreasing and fading away. When he says that he must decrease, he is not speaking only for himself but for the entire prophetic tradition of Israel. Jesus is causing something new to happen, something increasing.

John the Baptist marks the end of the age of prophecy. He is the last in a long line of the great prophets of Israel: Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and many others. Yet John was greater than all of these former prophets. He was greater than all before him inasmuch as the message he proclaimed was greater than theirs. They proclaimed justice, but he proclaimed the Just One. They proclaimed mercy, but he proclaimed the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

John the Baptist is great because, from his mother’s womb, he was a perfect instrument of God. God planned for him to prepare the way for Jesus. Before he was born, God had dedicated him as a prophet to the nations. His first prophecy took place while he was still inside his mother. Nevertheless, for all of his greatness, the character of John the Baptist in the Gospels is above all humble. He decreased; Jesus increased. He freely told his disciples to follow Jesus. He was never jealous of Jesus.

Thanks be to God for the great gift he sent in John the Baptist, but let us remember the words of Jesus. “The least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.” Every single one of us who are baptized into the Kingdom ought to exceed the humility and obedience of John. Not by our own strength, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) (A)

Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16
Psalm 147.12-13, 14-15, 19-20 Resp. 12a
1 Corinthians 10.16-17
Lauda Sion
John 6.51-58

Manna is a kind of food that appeared on the ground each morning from the time that the Israelites left Egypt until the day that they ate the fruit of the promised land. Manna was free food: the only work was going out each morning to gather it up. Manna was abundant food: it fed 2 million people for forty years. Later generations of Israelites looked back on the time in the desert as a blessed time, depending entirely on providence for survival.

There were three lessons concerning manna. First, no one was to gather more than they needed. Each person was allotted one omer of manna a day, a little less than a gallon. When they went out to gather the manna, some people gathered a lot and others gathered a little, but everyone ended up with one omer per person. Whether this is the result of a miracle or if it means that those with too much shared with those who did not have enough, the lesson for us is the same: we should not take more of this world’s resources than we need. If we have too much, we should share with those who do not have enough to satisfy their needs.

The second lesson of the manna is that it must not be kept overnight. The Israelites had to trust that the manna would be out on the ground again the next morning. Those who tried to keep the manna overnight found that in the morning it was full of worms and smelled terrible. From this rule we should learn not to hoard the riches of this world. True, we are not wandering in the desert with manna appearing on the ground each day. It is very reasonable to save money: to save enough in case of a surprise car repair, to save enough in case you lose your job, but do not hoard money.

Some people collect money and property as if they only wanted to see how much they could have, as if they were competing in a game with the other rich people of this world. I do not refer only to millionaires and billionaires. Consider the very idea of collecting something. It is so acceptable in this culture to say, “I collect hippopotami”, but we Christians should look in horror at the idea of spending time and money, whether on ceramic doodads or unnecessary power tools. We are travelers in this world; pack lightly!

The third lesson of the manna is that on Friday the Israelites gathered enough for two days so that they would not go out on the Sabbath. This is a lesson we ought to take to heart. There is so little respect today for resting on the Lord’s Day. Six days a week have been given us to work; we must rest on the seventh day.

But how should we rest on Sundays? The usual forms of rest in our culture (ball games, shopping, and restaurants) involve someone else serving us. Should we sit home then and watch TV? A proper understanding of Sunday rest begins with what we all must do on Sundays: go to Mass. The point of Sunday is to worship God. Anything else we do is peripheral.

There is an old joke about a man who asked his pastor whether it was okay to smoke while he prayed. His pastor said, “Absolutely not! When you pray you should be completely devoted to prayer.” So the man went to another priest, but he changed his question, “Would it be okay to pray while I smoke?”

We Christians do not begin with a rule, because every rule has loopholes. We begin with the Holy Spirit. Our Sundays should be about praising God. Mass is not something to be fit in around a busy schedule. Mass comes first, everything else can be planned afterward. Those who work on Sunday should insist on having time to go to Mass, and they should take another day to praise God by resting.

Together, the three lessons of the manna teach us that we were not made for survival. The point of our lives cannot be getting through to tomorrow at any cost. We certainly were not made to succeed as the world sees success, with piles of money and stuff. Survival is secondary to praising God. As Moses puts it, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.”

The lessons of the manna were so important, so foundational to the Jewish religion that Moses took one omer of manna and placed it in the Ark of the Covenant, a box covered in gold. The Ark was placed at the center of worship. The Jewish Temple was merely a house for the Ark, and the Ark was a container for the manna. So really, the manna was at the center of Jewish worship, this special bread which God had given to his people.

Do you see where I am going with this? This temple, this church, is really just a house for that box right there. That box is the Ark of the Covenant, which is also called the tabernacle. Within the tabernacle, we place a portion of the bread. It is not ordinary bread that we put in the tabernacle. Indeed, it is not really bread at all. The bread is a symbol, which is to say, we see bread, we taste bread, but the meaning of the bread is something more. What is the something more? It is Jesus Christ, his Body, his Blood, his Soul, and his Divinity.

The bread is a sacrament, which is to say, it does not only symbolize this, but it in reality is Jesus Christ: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. When we receive the symbol of bread, we actually receive Jesus Christ. When we see bread and kneel down in worship, we are actually worshipping Jesus Christ. This is a mystery. It is not clear to us how something can have the accidents of bread, the sight, the smell, the taste of bread, the atoms and molecules of bread, but in reality be the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. It is not clear to us, but that is not important. Jesus did not give us this sacrament and say, “Take and understand; this is my body.” No, he said “Take and eat; this is my body.”

We must believe that the bread is, as the Church tells us, as Jesus told the Church, actually his Body. We must believe that the wine is, as the Church tells us, as Jesus told the Church, actually his Blood. This belief is not a nice addition to our faith. We place the Eucharist at the very center of our worship, because it defines who we are.

Faith in the Eucharist is where we must begin. All other work in the Church is pointless unless we begin with the Eucharist. It is pointless to protest abortion unless the Eucharist is at the center of our work. It is pointless to give food to the hungry unless this food given to us by God is satisfying our hunger. We as a Church are not a gathering of people who like doing good things. We are a gathering of people around the Eucharist. The good things come later.

Christianity without the Eucharist would be like Judaism without manna, just a lot of laws. From the Eucharist we receive our mission from God and the spiritual energy to complete that mission. If we receive the Eucharist with faith in the mystery, and we receive it acknowledging that we want to serve God above all else, confessing every sin we have committed, rejecting any plans to commit sin in the future, then we will be transformed.

Jesus Christ came to earth to give his life for us and to us. He gave his life for us on the Cross. He gives his life to us in the Eucharist. When we receive the Eucharist, we hold the life of God in our hands. We eat the life of God. We become what we eat. Eventually we do not live anymore ourselves, but Christ lives in us. That is what the Eucharist is about.

Update and Status, Especially for Kindle Subscribers

I have not updated this blog in a while and have been rather intermittent for the past year. I began this blog when I had more free time, and my current pastoral responsibilities must always trump blogging, but I do hope to get back on track now. While this may be disappointing for those who use the website, it is of greatest concern to those who subscribe on their Amazon Kindle. So to clarify a few points:

This blog is always available for free at dailyhomilies.org. I have no interest in charging for it. Amazon charges a fee to deliver the blog to the Kindle. This fee is mostly kept by Amazon, and I have no control over it. It would be free on Amazon if I could make it so. I also cannot help anyone cancel a subscription, but it is easy to do and Amazon can help if you wish.

Even when I am not able to keep up daily posts, the archives are an important part of the website. My long term goal is to finish all the homilies for the various cycles. When this is completed, I will release a complete Kindle book. In the meantime, many homilies are available by looking in the current archives.

The reason why I inconsistently update is because a post is not a simple matter of writing a few paragraphs, but requires significant time. I could write a similar size blog post in a few minutes, but a quality homily should come not from me but from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in my reflection on the readings. While I preach at Mass every day, and I am always surprised and grateful to God when wisdom comes out which is not from me, this blog contains not so much homilies as a careful exegesis that provides a foundation for a homily. I do not want to just have "something" for each day, because I want what I do have to be useful for years to come. When the cycle returns to a homily that is in the archives of this site, I read that entry before going to preach. I do not read the homily to the people, but read it to myself as a beginning of what to say. I do not want to post homilies on this site that will not teach me something when I return to them three years later, though I have often had to correct something because of what I had learned in the meantime. Ultimately, I want to have a homily for every possible set of readings, not so that I would just preach the same homilies over and over without any reference to what the parish needs, but to get me started when I am stuck. There used to be many such tools (one of my favorites told which Summa Theologica article to read each Sunday), but they have mostly gone out of date with the new cycles of readings, so I hope to create one for myself, and I am pleased that others find these homilies useful. I am always grateful to those of you who have written me words of encouragement of the years.

I hope that this clarifies the status and purpose of this blog. I apologize to anyone who was expecting or depending on something else. If you would like to email me, my address is fatheradam@rejoice.cc

In Christ,
Father Adam McMillan.

March 22, 2014 - Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

Micah 7:14-15, 18-20
Psalm 103:1-4, 9-12
Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.” This line is kind of funny, but it is an accurate depiction of how we try to bargain with God. If the father is running any kind of responsible household, he will immediately turn down this job application. Not that it is even an application. The son presumes that he is doing something very humble by saying, “treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers”, but it is a very arrogant statement. He is commanding the father to hire him.

The son cannot be hired as a servant. He can only be accepted back as a son. We can never earn our way with God. If he wants servants, he has the angels. We can only be accepted as children of God. A sinner trying to come back to the Father can never make up for their sins, but they will always be a child of God.

The other son is also thinking like a bad servant rather than a son. He has never accepted the mission of the father as his own. The joys of the father should be the joys of the son. The sorrows of the father should be the sorrows of the son. God’s family is different than human families: we are never going to grow up and move out on our own. We need to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Jesus became like us in all ways but sin, so we must become like him in all ways we can. We must become sharers in the divinity of him who shared in our humanity.

All our labors in this world will be useless if we have not first conformed our will to the Father’s will. If we are secretly working for ourselves, we will build up resentment at God. If we want to be saints (and we do want to be saints) then we must give up any idea of progress in this world, any expectation of young goats, and take on the mind of Christ. Accepting our role as sons and daughters of our Father means seeing as God sees and loving what God loves, without jealousy or ambition. We cannot be independent and we cannot be servants. We cannot be anything more or less than children of God.

March 21, 2014 - Friday of the Second Week in Lent

Genesis 37:3-4, 12-13, 17-28
Psalm 105:16-21
Mathew 21:33-43, 45-46

Perhaps you have noticed that this week, we have seen a lot of death and almost-death. Abraham was going to kill Isaac. Yesterday, Lazarus and the rich man both died. Today, Joseph’s brothers were going to kill him, the favorite son of Jacob, and, in the Gospel parable, the landowner’s son is killed. This all culminates tomorrow in the parable of the Prodigal Son whom the father says was dead and is now alive again. This is all symbolic of Jesus, which his prophesy makes clear. Jesus is the beloved son who was sacrificed. Jesus was our brother who we killed because we were jealous of how much our Father loved him.

We know that we will die. Some people live with that knowledge more present to them than others. When we are healthy, we rarely think of death. When we are young, death seems as impossible as growing old. Yet death will come. Death is the universal human experience. We speak different languages; we eat different foods; we live under different governments; but everyone has died or will die. Death is a brick wall that no one can go through. It ends every project, every hope, every plan. Is it impolite to speak about death? If we ignore it, will it go away?

No. We will acknowledge death. We will spend 40 days preparing to die, for we are in the season devoted to death. By fasting and almsgiving we are trying to let go of this world. By prayer we are grasping at the world to come. These days culminate in the Easter Triduum, which begins with the dying and death of Jesus Christ. Death is not the end. The Triduum ends in resurrection.

The master sent servant after servant to collect the harvest, but some they mistreated and others they killed, but the master did not give up on the land. He sent his son and they killed him too. What will the master do? He will raise his son from the dead and continue trying to get the fruit he desires. Nothing will stop the master from getting what he wants. He is relentless. He is unbeatable. The love of God is unstoppable.

March 20, 2014 - Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

Jeremiah 17:5-10
Psalm 1:1-4, 6
Luke 16:19-31

It is not clear to us exactly where the people in the reading are. We are told that Lazarus “was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham.” However, Abraham died a long time ago and, as far as we know, went to Sheol, the place of the dead, like everyone else who died. The rich man is in Sheol, but he is experiencing great sufferings, which was not the usual description of that place. We know that he is not in hell, because we see him worrying about his five brothers, whereas hell is a place of complete selfishness.

Perhaps they are all (Abraham, Lazarus, and the rich man) in Sheol, but Abraham and Lazarus are in the part where they are waiting for Jesus to come and take them to heaven after he dies, while the rich man is in the part for people who will go to hell. In that case, things are only going to get worse for the rich man. If we would go to hell for being rich, we here are all in trouble. All, except the very poorest people in our country, live a life more luxurious than the rich man. True, we do not have servants, but our food is more sumptuous and our clothes are more impressive.

However, Abraham too was a rich man, and he is not suffering. Perhaps we would say that the problem is that the rich man never helped Lazarus. Abraham, however, does not draw the rich man’s attention to this failure, nor to the disrespectful way that the rich man is still treating Lazarus. He calls him “my child” and asks him to remember the difference between the life of Lazarus and his life. The problem seems to be that the rich man never suffered.

Perhaps the rich man was in the section of Sheol for those who would go to heaven when Jesus came and got them, but who needed to suffer first, similar to what purgatory is now. Before any sinner can go to heaven, they need to suffer for their sins, even after being forgiven. Some people suffer in this life; some people suffer in the next. We should take our suffering in this life and avoid it later. Hours spent on our knees in prayer or days of fasting or serving others who we could avoid all sound better than the torments that the rich man was experiencing.

March 19, 2014 - Solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary

2 Samuel 7:4-5, 12-14, 16
Psalm 89:2-5, 27, 29
Romans 4:13, 16-18, 22
Matthew 1:16, 18-21, 24 or Luke 2:41-51

The first understanding that most people have about today’s Gospel is that Joseph thought he had been betrayed by Mary and so decided to divorce her. The list of reasons why this is nonsense is very long, but we can consider the major points today.

When Mary told Joseph she was pregnant, did she tell him about the angel Gabriel? Yes, without a doubt she did. Did he think she was lying? No. The Scripture says that “she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.” Her pregnancy and the manner of conception were both revealed to Joseph at the same time.

Indeed, long-standing tradition tells us that Joseph was a widower who was marrying Mary in order to take care of her as she devoted her life to God. What is without doubt from Mary’s own words in Luke is that her marriage was always intended to be unconsummated. Joseph was not a hot-tempered youth who felt betrayed. The intention of this marriage was always that Joseph would be caring for Mary without being intimate with her.

Now we should be able to see what really happened. Joseph found out that Mary was pregnant through the Holy Spirit with a child who would be called the Son of the Most High God. His response was like Peter’s years later, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Joseph was afraid. He had taken on the great responsibility of caring for this perfect girl, but he had not realized that he would also have to care for God’s own Son. This was too much. Joseph was a righteous man; the fear of God was in him. Joseph is humble: he knows that he is neither capable nor worthy of being the stepfather of Jesus.

His dream now takes on a new meaning. “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home, for it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.” The angel does not disagree that Joseph is unworthy or that he is unable, by himself, to care for Jesus. The angel reminds him that this is a work of the Holy Spirit. There is no reason to be afraid. God will provide. No work is too much, even for us sinful people, if God is accomplishing the work through us. We never need to be afraid of what the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives.

March 18, 2014 - Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

Isaiah 1:10, 16-20
Psalm 50:8-9, 16-17, 21, 23
Matthew 23:1-12

“Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven.” It seems at first glance that we are guilty of letting a human tradition stand in the way of the words of our Lord. It seems that way at second glance too. We cannot say that Jesus was wrong, and we cannot say that Matthew did not faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ really taught.

There are some little tricks that people use to explain this, but they are not satisfactory. True, we call our male parent, “Father”, but Jesus is talking about titles that religious people take on. True, we do not use the exact word that Jesus condemns, since he did not speak English (the word “father” had not even been invented yet), but this seems too legalistic. Jesus is saying that we should not call anyone by the same name that we use for our male parent, no matter what language. True, Jesus says “call no one on earth your father”, and we do not call anyone “Our Father” except God, but why do we come so close to breaking the command?

However, and this is a big however, the use of “Father” as a title for religious leaders goes back as far as the Church herself. The desert monks of the early Church were called “Abba”. St. Paul himself says that “For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” We did not just discover the Gospel of Matthew yesterday. Even St. Jerome, 1600 years ago, struggled to interpret this verse in light of the tradition. It seems strange that this tradition grew up in a Church which always read the Gospels. The people who first started calling a priest or a monk “father” knew what Jesus had said.

One reason why tradition is so essential in the Church is that the members of the early Church understood better the literal meaning of Jesus’ words. They were closer to him culturally and historically. If they, reading this Gospel just as we do every year, did not think it was a contradiction to call religious leaders “Father” who are we to disagree? But if we do keep calling people on earth “Father”, we do so acknowledging our one Father in heaven. Let us “bow our knees before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named.”

March 17, 2014 - Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Daniel 9:4-10
Psalm 79:8-9, 11, 13
Luke 6:36-38

In fairy tales, not the Disney versions but the originals, a common trope is that the king will ask the wicked person for advice on how to punish a wicked person. The wicked person misunderstands who the punishment is for and advises a particularly horrific punishment. Then the king tells the wicked person that they will be punished exactly as they said. There is some poetic justice in how the person is forced to suffer their own sentence. I often wondered why they never realize in time that they have been caught and suggest some very light punishment.

Jesus warns us that we are going to suffer this poetic justice. Hopefully, we hear his words in time to save ourselves. If our King asks me how a sinner should be treated, I am going to say that he should be forgiven if he is even a little bit sorry and then welcomed into heaven. These cannot be mere words: I need to start treating sinners that way since that is how I want to be treated. Jesus tells us that the measure with which we measure will be measured out to us. In other words, we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us, because that is in fact how it will be done unto us.

When we do something wrong, we are usually quick to talk about mitigating circumstances. It is truly a saint who takes absolute responsibility for their own sins. Even if we accept responsibility for our sin, we who fall far short of righteousness quickly begin to explain why it was not really so bad after all, until we are confessing merely that we misheard or misunderstood or were misunderstood: “I am very sorry that you were offended by what I said.” How rare is the person who can say “I’m sorry” without adding soon after “Although, it was not really as bad as you make out.”

So it is that we are very good about making up excuses for ourselves. We should stop that. But, at the very least, we should start using this marvelous talent with other people. Not pretending that bad is good, but making every excuse for the person who has sinned against us. When someone cuts you off in traffic, presume that they are on their way to the hospital. When someone snaps at you, presume they have a very bad headache. When we measure out punishment, what seems like a tiny dose given to another will look enormous when it is directed back at ourselves.

March 16, 2014 - Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 12:1-4
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22
2 Timothy 1:8-10
Matthew 17:1-9

One week into Lent is a tough place to be. We have five weeks left until Easter. Around this time we begin to look longingly at the indulgences that make up our life the rest of the year. It seems as though we ought to be further along than just beginning the second week. At least, I hope this is how you feel. If not, if Lent is going along easily, if you forgot that it was Lent, then you probably are not doing enough for Lent. Lent is only easy if we are already perfect or if we are not doing it. The point of Lent is to die. On Easter, Jesus rose from the dead. If we want to rise with Jesus this Easter, we will need to be dead by then. Lent ought to be killing us: that is how you know it is working.

How glorious it is then that the Church gives us some refreshment today. Not the mistaken refreshment of those who think that Sundays are a day off from Lent, as if Jesus took a day off each week during the 40 days in the desert. No, man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. The readings today, the Word of God, provide our example, encouragement, and refreshment.

We begin with a good example in Abraham who, at the Word of God, left his home and traveled across the whole Middle East. Abraham believed that God would fulfill his promise. We can only begin to imagine the sacrifices he made. It was 25 more years before the promise began to be fulfilled with the birth of Isaac. God has made promises to us also. He promises us that if we leave our lives behind, he will give us far more than anything we ever gave up. We should believe this promise.

After the example we get encouragement and advice. St. Paul tells us, “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” We are not supposed to use our own strength. There is a strength that comes from God and it is stronger than we are. We prayed in the psalm today: “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.” Lent is not a time where we learn to trust in ourselves. If the fasting of Lent or the additional work and prayer we do were done with our own strength, then Lent would make our pride and self-reliance grow. If, instead, we do everything with the strength that comes from God, then our reliance on God will grow, our love for God will grow.

Then we arrive at the refreshment. The Gospel today is the Transfiguration, as it always is on the Second Sunday of Lent. The Transfiguration is such a beautiful image, like an eyewitness account of heaven. All of salvation history is present on the mountain. Moses, who wrote down the Law, was there. Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets, was there. Jesus, son of David, King of Israel, was there. Peter, who was the first pope and wrote two letters of the New Testament, was there. John, who wrote a Gospel and another letter, was there. James, the first apostle to be a martyr was there. God is present: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father speaks; the Son, Jesus, shines forth like the sun; and the Holy Spirit is present as the bright cloud.

The Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” What a wonderful relationship between the Father and the Son. We were supposed to have perfect families like that too, but sin ruined it. Imagine, children, if your parents were perfect. Perhaps I am surprising you, when I warn you that they are not; perhaps you have already figured that out. But if they were perfect, it would be easier to always obey them. And parents, imagine if your children were perfect. How much easier it would be to be their parent! Our families are not perfect, because we are not perfect, but for now, let us just stay on this mountain, and imagine.

Peter was so happy to be on the mountain that he did not even know what to say; he only knew that he wanted to stay there. I wonder whether he interrupted Moses or Elijah, who were conversing with our Lord, with his offer to set up tents. Years later, Peter recalled this moment in a letter, reminding people that he was actually there on the mountain, that he had really heard the Father’s voice say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Life was good, that day, on top of the mountain. It was as close to being in heaven as a person can experience on the earth. If we sit and contemplate that image, of Jesus shining like the sun, surrounded by saints, we can share in that taste of heaven.

We will probably have to wait until heaven to see heaven. When we see Jesus shining like the sun, surrounded by the saints, it will be on the other side of whatever death is out there waiting for us. But we do have a sort of mountain we can visit: right here at Mass. We will not see Moses or Elijah or Peter, James, and John, but we will read about them, and Jesus too. Jesus will be present, not in shining white garments, but hidden under the forms of bread and wine. The apostles spent time with Jesus every day, but his true identity, which was usually hidden, was revealed on the mountain. We can receive the Eucharist every day, and we believe that Jesus’ true identity is hidden in these symbols of bread and wine, which actually are the Body and Blood and Soul and Divinity of our Lord, the same Jesus Christ who was transfigured on the mountain. Indeed, the apostles saw Jesus on that mountain, but we, when we receive the Eucharist, are united to him in our bodies.

When we come here each week, it is like climbing the mountain. The world still exists out there, but we can forget about it for a little while. We should savor this time we spend with God. We cannot set up tents, though. We have to go back into the world. Jesus had to come down from the mountain and go die on the Cross. We have got five more weeks of Lent, and then the rest of life, before heaven.

March 15, 2014 - Saturday of the First Week of Lent

Deuteronomy 26:16-19
Psalm 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8
Matthew 5:43-48

So when Jesus says, “Be perfect”, what does he mean? I suppose he could mean, “be really not so bad after all” or “accept your imperfections as part of who you are”, but I actually think he meant “Be perfect.” My difficulty is that I fail utterly at being perfect, so what then?

Perhaps Jesus, knowing that I will fail to achieve this standard, sets it high anyway to tell me to be satisfied with nothing less. He wants me to be unusual, to do more than the others do. Not a little more, but a lot more. I am not to be satisfied until I am perfect, and, since I am never perfect, I am never allowed to be satisfied with my current level of love; I am never able to say, “I love enough.”

The command to be perfect stands on its own. Even if I am not perfect and have not been perfect and have no reasonable expectation of achieving perfection in the future, I am still commanded to be perfect. The command never goes away. The Pharisees loved to know the limits of commands, where they could stop obeying, but this command is unlimited. Some psychologists would say that this is unhealthy obsession with perfection, that I should learn to love myself just the way I am, but I cannot. I want to love myself just the way I could be.

On the other hand, Jesus might mean this not so much as a command as an offer. These sorts of phrases are always in advertisements. You know: “Live in Florida” or “Be beautiful.” The advertisement is saying, “It is possible to do these things if you take advantage of what I am offering you.” Then Jesus’ words would mean that if we love our neighbor and our enemy, we will become perfect. Love has the power to perfect us.

I know that I will never be as perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect. No matter how perfect I ever become by the grace of God, God will be more perfect. Jesus does not compare our perfection to our Father’s perfection because that is reasonable goal for us, but because we should look at our Father who loves us and want to be just like him. God made the rocks to be rocks and the flowers to be flower, and God made the angels to be angels, but he made humans to be gods, sons and daughters of the Most High.

March 14, 2014 - Friday of the First Week of Lent

Ezekiel 18:21-28
Psalm 130:1-8
Matthew 5:20-26

“If you, O Lord, mark iniquities, who can stand?” We have just repeated this verse several times, but it really does need to be hammered into our heads. We are not good enough; no one is. The world is not divided between the virtuous and the wicked, between the good and the bad. We are all bad. We might not have killed anyone, or committed a crime that would send us to prison. We might be what the world calls “a basically good person”. This does not matter. We know the reality behind the fa├žade we show the world. We not only make mistakes, doing or saying something before thinking about it, but we consciously make bad decisions. We are not perfect and anything less than perfect is not good enough.

The first reading demonstrates the problems we face. The wicked man can easily convert, and his whole life is forgotten in favor of his new attitude. Likewise, the virtuous man can easily fall and do something wicked and his whole life is forgotten because of his sin. These are not two different men but one man. We should each recognize ourselves in these portraits, how easily we go from wickedness to virtue and back. A person can, in the course of an hour, sin and convert and sin again.

Jesus tells us that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. These were people who tried as hard as they could to be good, to follow every law. We are not going to beat the Pharisees at their own game. We need something different. We have something different in humble repentance. In the first reading, the wicked man who repents is saved but the virtuous man who falls is condemned. If we see ourselves as “basically good”, we are going to fall. Pride comes before the fall.

If we acknowledge our wickedness, if we admit that we do not love God as we should and we do not love our neighbors nearly as much as ourselves, we are on the path to repentance. Humility comes before the conversion. The twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are rooted in Christian spirituality. The first step, “We admitted we were powerless—that our lives had become unmanageable”, is not some special status of alcoholics. This is the attitude that we all must have in the face of sin.

March 13, 2014 - Thursday of the First Week of Lent

Esther C:12, 14-16, 23-25
Psalm 138:1-3, 7-8
Matthew 7:7-12

The condition that Jesus sets today for receiving the gifts of God is asking. Ask and it will be given to you. God gives good things to those who ask. Why do we have to ask? The desire has to precede the gift. If we receive a gift that we do not want, we thank the giver politely and then put it on a shelf. The gifts of God are not made for shelves. God is not holding back a gift until we ask for it nicely. His hands are forever extended, ready to give, but he will not shove the gift down our throats.

Jesus speaks of a gift today, not wages. We cannot earn the gift of God, otherwise it would not be a gift. This does not mean, however, that we have nothing to do. We have to prepare ourselves for the gift. If we bought a dress for a woman, not in her size but in the size that she ought to be, she would not be able to receive the gift until she had gotten into shape. This sounds rather offensive and mean-spirited, and so it would be coming from a normal giver, but God has all kinds of gifts for us that will not fit us now. He is anticipating what we can become, not what we are.

When St. Francis prayed that God would show his love, he received the stigmata, the wounds of Christ in his hands and feet. If he had received that gift before his conversion or too soon afterward, it would only have confused him and either increased his pride or discouraged him altogether. Imagine the gifts that God has planned for you that will not fit now. These are not gifts for you alone, but for the whole Church: gifts of healing and prophecy, gifts of suffering and martyrdom, gifts of faith, hope, and love.

We should celebrate whenever we see spiritual progress, wherever we see it. Not only will the praise of God be greater, but we are closer, as a Church, to the next gift. There are amazing gifts just around the next bend, if we will make progress. We stand here, playing with mere toys, afraid to take the next step. We need to start seeking and finding the next foothold in our spiritual life. Our progress, which is measured in love of God and neighbor, is so little, so far.

March 12, 2014 - Wednesday of the First Week of Lent

Jonah 3:1-10
Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19
Luke 11:29-32

No one is beyond the forgiveness of God: not the people of Nineveh who, 3000 years later are still remembered as being particularly cruel, nor King David who killed a trusted soldier in order to cover up the affair with his wife. God will not spurn a humble, contrite heart. There is no sin which God will not forgive. The sins we have committed are not preventing us from being saved, but our defense of sin is. God wants to forgive us, but we hide our sins. No one can hide their sins except from themself. All our sins are being done in full sight of heaven and hell. God wants to forgive us, but we have excuses for why we committed the sin. God wants to forgive us, but we say that what we did is not a sin. God wants to forgive us, but we would rather pretend that we do not need forgiveness.

God is infinitely good. The smallest sin we ever committed is, therefore, an infinite offense. If we understood the enormity of God’s love for us, we would understand why there can never be a small sin. No matter what we have done, whether or not we would be judged by the world as very bad people, we need hearts contrite and humbled.

How will our hardened hearts become contrite, humble hearts? Only God’s grace can do this, but we accept this grace when we repent. Repenting means confessing our sin and committing to never do it again. We are in constant need of repentance because we are constantly failing. We must repent today and every day until we die. The alternative is to accept sin into our life, to stop fighting against evil, to compromise our soul; the alternative is a heart impenitent and proud.

Heaven is full of prostitutes and murderers and drug dealers and thieves and adulterers; the saints, with only one exception, were all sinners with contrite, humble hearts. When we are before the judgment seat of God, we will not need to defend our sins. Indeed, we must not try to defend the indefensible. It will not matter on that day how many sins we committed or what they were. Only our accuser will be concerned with that. It will only matter whether we repented of all of them. We are guilty; our only hope is forgiveness.

March 11, 2014 - Tuesday of the First Week of Lent

Isaiah 55:10-11
Psalm 34:4-7, 16-19
Matthew 6:7-15

Our God is not deaf. He is not asleep. He is not far away from us. Our God is not busy. We have so much difficulty imagining an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, eternal God that we invent difficulties that do not exist. We imagine that God must be too busy running the whole universe to listen to us. God is not like us. He is more attentive to each of us than we are to ourselves. He knows the life history of every mosquito. He knows when a hair falls off our head. We cannot fathom how attentive he is to us.

God does not hear us because we pray to him. He hears every word we speak all day long; he knows every thought we think. We may be tempted to imagine that when we turn to God in prayer, it is like picking up the phone and calling him. Not at all! We are more like a toddler picking up a toy phone and calling our father who is sitting right there watching us. God does not hear us better when we are in church or when our hands are folded or when we are looking up at a particular corner of the ceiling or shouting at the sky.

God is not inattentive, but we are. The difference between when we pray and when we are not praying is not God’s attention to us but our attention to God. Sometimes we wonder whether God is hearing our prayer. This is certain: he is. Our real concern should be with whether we are hearing him. God is with us always, hearing every thought, feeling, and word, but, when we finally turn to him, we act like he does not know us. We think that prayer is all about God, but, paradoxically, it is all about us. When we pray, we are not contending with an absent God but with ourselves: with our selfish, stubborn, obtuse natures.

When we pray, we may use many words or few, we might repeat a prayer or speak freely to God, we may invoke God’s name or ask a Saint to pray for us, we might read the Scriptures or sit in silence hoping to hear the Spirit speak within us, but we should not pile up words, as the Gentiles do, thinking that in their many words they will be heard. We are not trying to be heard; we are trying to hear.

March 10, 2014 - Monday of the First Week of Lent

Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18
Psalm 19:8-10, 15
Matthew 25:31-46

When it comes to saving for retirement, all the financial advisors agree: save early and save often. It would seem that the point of working is to produce a retirement account. As for your IRA or 401K, I cannot say, but for the most important retirement account we have, this advice stands. We have an account in heaven. The interest rate is phenomenal, and the market is never going to crash. There is a kingdom there that has been prepared for us from before the foundation of the world. There is a room there with your name on it, waiting for you to move in. We need to build up that account though; we need to start making deposits. God’s bank tellers are all around us: the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, strangers, the imprisoned, the sick. Whatever we deposit with them is going to be credited to our account.

The Church sets before us the fourteen works of mercy. The seven corporal works and the seven spiritual works. The seven corporal works include the six that Jesus mentions here and, because groups of seven are kind of the thing, adds burying the dead. A good practice this Lent would be to make sure that we do something for all seven. Feed the hungry, whether in person in a soup kitchen or by sending money in the rice bowl or donating to the food shelf. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked, and not only with your cast-off clothing that you wanted to get rid of anyway. Visit those in prison. Welcome the stranger, particularly the homeless, perhaps not into your own home, depending on your circumstances, but into a home. Visit the sick, especially the forgotten people in nursing homes. And bury the dead, come to a funeral, especially of someone who would not have had many people come.

Do these works of mercy generously, not as if only trying to check off a list. Do these works of mercy gladly, not only because people need your help, but because you need to be merciful. Do these works of mercy unreservedly, without too much concern for the worthiness of the recipient: be willing to be taken advantage of. When we arrive at the day of judgment, we do not want to be shocked by how low the balance is in our account. Start saving up now; make regular deposits. Save early and save often.

March 9, 2014 - First Sunday of Lent

Genesis 2:7-9; 3:1-7
Psalm 51:3-6, 12-13, 17
Romans 5:12-19 or 5:12, 17-19
Matthew 4:1-11

In the beginning the world was perfect. God made it. God makes perfect things. Everything was perfect. Adam and Eve were in the garden, and life was very good. You know the story. There was lots of fruit, and they can eat any of them except one. If they eat that fruit, they will die. We might want to ask God why he even made that fruit. God might ask us where we were when he was creating the universe. God does not need to explain himself, and we probably would not understand him if he did. It was completely reasonable for there to be one tree out of a whole garden that was not for eating. Let us not try to pass the blame around here.

Eve was deceived into thinking that she should eat the fruit on the tree that was not for eating. So she ate it. Then she gave some to Adam. He was not deceived. He knew that eating the fruit would lead to death. So why did he eat it? Perhaps, seeing that Eve had eaten the fruit and would therefore die, he decided to throw in his fate with hers and ate as well, the original Romeo and Juliet. Whether he was afraid of life without Eve or afraid for her and what she would suffer, he decided to go with her into sin.

This was a mistake. When we think about all the evil in the world from his time until now, Adam’s romantic gesture seems kind of stupid. God had made the world perfect, and, up to that point, the world was perfect. Through this mistake, death came into the world. It was like throwing a hammer into perfect clockwork. Death was not a punishment by God. The world was no longer perfect. Cain will kill Abel. Even those who are not killed will die as a result of their bodies breaking down. The error having been made, death just comes right into the world.

Adam was supposed to be king of the world, so, when he sinned and let death into the world, “death reigned through him.” Adam was up here in the garden of Eden. When Eve fell, maybe there would have been some way to help her back up, but, when he jumped down after her, there was no chance. Adam and Eve were both down in imperfection now, and so are all their children, including us. It is only logical that, if the parents fall, their children, whom they have after the fall, will be down where their parents are. We all have to live now down in imperfection, because we have no way to get back up to perfection.

“From Adam until Moses” people were killing each other, committing adultery, lying, coveting, stealing, worshiping false gods, and they were unhappy. We were not made to live in imperfection. When God gave Moses the law, people still did all those things, but now they knew what was making them unhappy. The law is like turning on the light in a filthy room: the light cannot clean the room, but at least we know where all those smells are coming from.

We need something then that can get us back up to perfection. No one on earth can because we all are imperfect. Even when God flooded the earth and only Noah and his family came through, the sin came through with them. Even though Noah was a righteous man, he was not perfect. The solution is a perfect man. The solution is Jesus Christ. We see in the Gospel today that he is perfect. Satan gives him three chances to make an error, but Jesus does not fall for any of them.

These were some serious temptations. Jesus “fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry.” There is an understatement. Fasting for forty days is going to make a person very hungry. “Turn these stones into bread.” Jesus knows that he can do it too, but he does what is right and continues fasting. Jesus is standing on top of the tallest tower in Jerusalem. “Throw yourself down; the angels will catch you.” He knew that they would too. He could do it just for the fun of it, or to see if it was true, but he does not. Now Jesus is on top of a very high mountain. “Bow down and worship me and I will give you everything you see,” Satan says. What would you do for a million dollars? What would you do for all the power and riches in the world? Would you worship Satan? I mean if it was a real offer, would you? We worship him for less all the time. We worship him every time we sin. Jesus does not.

Jesus, by his obedience, conquered death and took his rightful place as king of the world. He can now offer the free gift of grace to anyone. Through Adam death entered the world, through Jesus life entered the world, but “the free gift is not like the fall.” If Jesus just brought us back to perfection, just undid the fall, we would sin again, fall again. The solution of God is greater than the mistakes of men. Jesus Christ is going to reign; he will never fall; he is perfect forever. We do not want to reign ourselves; we want to reign through him. He reigns, and, we, by “receiving the abundance of grace and the gift of justice” become united to him. He is the head; we are the body. So long as he is perfect, we get to reign, and he is always going to be perfect. No matter how imperfect we are, he is still perfect. He is like the superstar who can take this ragtag team of nobodies to the championship.

We just need to be united to Jesus. We need to be on his team. This can only be done by Jesus. He is the perfect one, only he can rescue us by his grace and his free gift. We, for our part, have to receive the gift. We have to despise the imperfections around us. We have to despise the imperfections within us. We have to let our desire for perfection rule our lives. Whatever is holding us down here, we will have to give up. Are you dissatisfied with this world? Do you want more out of life? Good! This Lent, we can cut every chain that holds us to this world and cling to Jesus instead. Then, when he rises, we will rise with him.

March 8, 2014 - Saturday After Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:9-14
Psalm 86:1-6
Luke 5:27-32

In the first reading, God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, tells Israel the proper understanding of the Sabbath. The point of the Sabbath is not so much to rest as to, for one day, do the work of God instead of our own work. God tells his people to “honor it by not following your ways, seeking your own interests, or speaking with malice.” This is also a good description of what Lent should be about. The true spirit of Lent, fasting, almsgiving, and prayer, is embodied in this idea of turning our back on our own interests. Of course, most people will still have to work during Lent at a job which serves their own interest. Not everyone can take 40 days of vacation to serve the poor. Still, just because a person cannot do something entirely does not mean they ought not do it partially. We would all greatly benefit if, for the next 40 days we all stopped following our own pursuits and began serving.

How easy it is to follow our own pursuits! Even many who claim to follow God only follow him after serving themselves. Jesus said to Levi, “Follow me.” How easy it would have been for Levi to have cleaned up his work and collected all the money sitting out on the table, first taking care of Levi’s priorities before getting around to Jesus, but, instead of telling Jesus to wait just a minute, without a thought for anything in front of him, “leaving everything behind, he got up and followed him.” The miracle recorded today is that Levi forgot. Levi forgot about the work he was doing. He forgot about the money he had collected. He forgot about whoever was next in line at the customs post. He forgot about his own interest and followed Jesus.

Again, not everyone can drop what they are doing to follow Jesus. Not everyone, but some can. Could you, like Levi, forget everything, leave it all behind and follow Jesus? Perhaps, like the rich young man, you would need to sell everything, close up shop, and then follow Jesus. Perhaps you are already where you belong, and what is left is to wake up every day and follow Jesus by doing your work with great love. The main thing is to follow Jesus, completely abandoned to his will, not doing what seems good in our own mind but having the mind of Christ.

March 7, 2014 - Friday After Ash Wednesday

Isaiah 58:1-9
Psalm 51:3 -- 6:18-19
Matthew 9:14-15

The Gospel today reminds us of the special experience of the disciples of Jesus. They did not need to fast because he was there. If they wanted to pray, they could just go find Jesus and sit at his feet and listen to the words he spoke. In the Gospels, Jesus only appears to us when he is saying or doing something of great importance, but the disciples lived with him every day. They ate dinner with him. They slept wherever he was sleeping.

The fact that the disciples did not fast teaches us about fasting. Fasting is supposed to create a longing within us. This longing is always present, but we usually answer it with food or television or other diversions. This longing is a longing for God. We only answer it with lesser things because it is difficult to know God in this world, but, if God were present as Jesus was present to his disciples, we would never eat when we were not hungry, we would never zone out with television.

If a hungry man cannot get food, perhaps he will chew on bark or something else to pass the time, but, when he has food, he will throw away the bark and begin to eat. So we also, when we get to heaven and live in the presence of God, will throw away whatever we have used to quiet our longing for God. Here and now it is painful to throw these things away, since it is easier to eat a bag of potato chips than to pray for an hour. Still, we force ourselves to fast so that we do not forget what we really want, so that we do not forget what the longing is really for.

As we fast this Lent and rediscover our longing for God, we must be careful to not find a substitute for what we have given up. Particularly if you have given up television or the internet, you may find that you have literally hours of extra time each day. Now is not the time to become an avid reader of novels. Use the time for the other Lenten practices: prayer and almsgiving. Help those in need. Read the Scriptures. Spend some time in Adoration. If our fast is the kind of fast that God loves, it will turn us outward to God and to our neighbor.

March 6, 2014 - Thursday After Ash Wednesday

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1:1-4, 6
Luke 9:22-25

“If anyone wishes to come after me….” How gently does our Savior invite us! Who can hear this offer and refuse? “If anyone wishes to come after me….” I do. What do I need to do? “…they must deny themself and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Here is that Lenten trio again: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer.

“They must deny themself” We do this through fasting, not only from food but also from all of the pacifiers we use to quiet our souls’ longing for God: entertainment and comfort and other pleasures. When we deny ourselves we experience a kind of suffering, but this suffering can be very addictive; it is actually joy.

“Take up their cross daily” Sometimes, when people talk about this verse, they speak of our cross as our suffering. Anything from arthritis to disabilities to other people can be called a cross. This is a half-truth. The central mystery of the cross is not that Jesus suffered and died, but that he suffered and died for us. A cross is not whatever difficulties we have in life. Everyone has difficulties. We take up the daily cross when we embrace suffering in order to assist another, either directly or by offering some suffering to God for them. Indeed any suffering we experience in life can be a cross, but only if we embrace it and offer it. We are most conformed to the cross when the work we do for others is the source of our suffering. Agreeing to help someone we dislike can be a way of the cross; from beginning to end we may be suffering physically or mentally or with wounded pride. Take up such crosses daily.

“Follow me” To follow someone simply means to be with them, wherever they go. Our way of being with God is prayer. Prayer is a conversation we have with God, and, like any good conversation, includes both speaking and listening. As we converse with God, chains will bind our heart to him. Then, no matter where the world goes, we will stay close to him.

Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving can seem cold and theoretical. Jesus is inviting us, in a personal way, to take up these essential spiritual practices. Above all, he is drawing our attention to the fact that he himself has taken them up already. In our Lenten journey, when it is difficult, we should remember that we are coming after Jesus.

March 5, 2014 - Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12-18
Psalm 51:3-6, 12-14, 17
2 Corinthians 5:20 -- 6:2
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Jesus told us to love God above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Love is the heart of Christianity, but our love is weak and disordered. We do not love God with all our heart and soul and strength, so we need to spend time in prayer this Lent. We do not love our neighbors who are created by God, our brothers and sisters, so we need to give away that which we love more than them, our money and our time. We do love ourselves, but we love ourselves in the wrong way; we should love ourselves like parents, with some discipline, having our best interest at heart, but, instead, we love ourselves like bad grandparents, over-indulging ourselves with candies and toys, so we need to start refusing ourselves treats sometimes. Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are good for us, and they should hurt if they are going to work. Our souls complain about being unselfish. Do not give in to the complaints! Our souls warn us that this is too much, too much prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; it will kill us: without selfish indulgence, we will die. Good! Let us die. Let us be nailed to the Cross with our Savior. Then, when Easter comes, he can raise us up.

Our souls are flabby and out of shape. The combined effect of all the sins we commit is puny, scrawny, pathetic souls. We are in serious need of spiritual exercise: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. If we make feeble attempts, we will get feeble results. It is 44 days from now until we celebrate the Easter Triduum, we get 4 days of introduction and then, on Sunday, the 40 days of Lent begin. The lazier we are, spiritually, the rest of the year, the more seriously we should look to these days as a time of intensive effort and training for our soul.

“The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.” If Satan could convince us to not fast at all this Lent, he would. If not, he will try to get us to fast in a silly way, to give up chocolate chip cookies for Lent, and we will eat brownies instead, or, perhaps, we obey the abstinence from meat on Fridays by having a feast of shrimp and lobster. If we are not taken in by any of this, the last temptation comes: “to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” To fast and pray and give alms in order to impress people. If we are going to make this intensive effort, we had better be sure that we are doing it for the right reason. If we fast and tell people about our fasting, if we give to the poor our money or our time and make certain that the world is aware of our generosity, if we pray so that others will see us, all that effort will be wasted. Only our pride will be strengthened; our souls will be weakened further.

Let us pray until we fall head-over-heels in love with God. Let us give away our money and time until we begin to love our neighbors as ourselves. Let us fast until our love for ourselves is no longer self-indulgent. When we look out and see the canyon between us and heaven, we want to move forward, we want to take the leap of faith, but we are afraid, afraid of many things, but especially frightened that we will begin to live a new life and soon fail and be laughed at for ever trying. Lent is our training ground, our opportunity to try out the life of the Saints. If we cannot be perfect all year-round, let us be perfect for forty days straight.

March 2, 2014 - Sunday of the Eighth Week in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 49:14-15
Psalm 62:2-3, 6-9
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Matthew 6:24-34

Trust is the highest regard one person can have for another. I may like somebody, I may even love somebody, but, until I trust somebody, I am holding something back. Trust is fundamental to human relationships, but misplaced trust can be fatal. If I am going to trust someone completely, they need first of all to be competent. I would not trust any four-year-old to drive a car. Second, they must have my best interests at heart. Even if I find someone competent, they have to care about what happens to me and they have to desire for me what is good.

No one but God fits this definition perfectly. No one else is perfectly competent and perfectly desires our good. It would seem like we should all trust God completely out of our own self-interest, yet how rare such trust is! So many people decide instead to trust the god Mammon, money. Why do we trust Mammon? Well, money is competent. It can do 95% of what we need done in life. It can provide food and shelter and clothing and entertainment. Money is like a genie in a lamp: a billion dollars can provide a lot of wishes. Does money have our best interest at heart? Money does not really have anything at heart, but it does obey us. The problem is that money is only as smart as we are. Money cannot take better care of us than the best human mind money can buy, and that is only if we know who to turn to for advice.

So even though God can do anything and money can only do lots of things, and even though God knows what is good for us even when we do not, and even though God loves us and wants to care for us and money does not care about anything, many people still choose to worship money: they praise money, they spend hours each day thinking about how to acquire money, their morality is based on how to get money. At first, it seems like a strange mistake. God is more powerful than money. God is smarter than money. God loves us completely, and money does not love us at all. Why would anyone choose to trust money instead of God?

It could only be stupidity. There is a stupidity in us due to original sin. We would rather have things our way than the best way. Like a child who is upset because, instead of receiving candy for dinner, their parents have made delicious, nutritious dishes, we cannot see past whatever we think we want in order to understand that God will only give us the best.

There is another kind of stupidity in us. We hear everything that Jesus says about how God will provide for us, how God will not leave us to starve. We hear from the Lord that even if our mother forgets us, he will not forget us. We are told not to worry. We believe that Jesus is God. We believe that he would not lie to us or pretend something was true that was not. We believe that God loves us. And then we do a kind of bad logic in our head; we put all this on a shelf called religion and get back to real life. Religion is a silly thing if it does not apply to real life.

Something inside of us says that it is all well and good to believe these things but they are not reliable. When have we ever attempted to rely on them? Trusting in God does not mean that, if I sit home doing nothing, food will appear magically, as if God wanted us to be lazy. Trusting in God does not mean that I can be foolishly wasteful with what I have and expect that God will support my bad habits. But trusting in God does mean something. It means that, if I work hard, according to the abilities that God gave me, and I live my life as God tells us to live, and I consciously rely on God, not having him be a magician in the back of my mind who I forget about until I need something, then I never need to be afraid, I never need to worry.

A person who lives like this, trusting God rather than money, will probably not have many of the so-called nicer things in life, but are giant TVs and granite countertops worth all the worrying? They will probably not end their life with a large balance in their bank account, but it is not as if we can take it with us. They might not ever be able to retire. It is fascinating that in our culture we presume retirement as a kind of right, but, in the Gospel, the only time retirement is mentioned Jesus says, “You fool!”

Jesus is telling us that we have to choose between a life where we live basically for ourselves and a life where we forget ourselves and just live. If we trust in God we need to give up on the American dream: the idea that we will live a life substantially different than what we were born into. If we will trust in God, we see this life as a training ground for the next life rather than looking for a place to rest in this world. We may have joys in life, and that can be good. We may do very well because of some circumstances, and we can thank God for it. The difference is whether our whole life is designed around how to get ahead, or if we just live one day at a time, making plans but not holding on to them, never thinking that we cannot do what is right because of our material needs, never thinking we have arrived somewhere where we earned the right to stop serving our brothers and sisters or to stop serving God.

I want to point out the second reading here. While the other readings were about how we need to trust God, in the second reading St. Paul points out how God trusts us. This is particularly amazing, considering how untrustworthy we are. God could just run the world all by himself, but he lets us cooperate “as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.” This shows that he has destined us for great things. We are like teenagers with our learner’s permit, and God is letting us drive. You let your children drive because you want them to become mature adults with good driving skills. God is getting us ready for real life, which has not begun yet, but it will begin soon.

February 25, 2014 - Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

James 4:1-10
Psalm 55:7-11, 23
Mark 9:30-37

St. James calls us “adulterers”. Why does he feel so free to use such harsh language? Because it is true. The accusation he is making is true of every sinful human being, including St. James himself, I am sure. He called us adulterers because like an adulterer we are unfaithful to our true love. We love God, but we keep stepping out on him. Whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes themself an enemy of God. There is no way to reconcile our love of God with our love of the world. It is adultery.

God is jealous. Like any true lover, he is not willing to have his beloved be unfaithful. So what should we do? We cannot hide our affair with the world from God. He sees all and knows all. Our unfaithfulness is done within his sight. When we go to God to admit our sins, our unfaithfulness, he already knows all about it. He wants us to admit it so that he can forgive us. If we are too proud to admit our inconsistency, then we have no hope. God resists the proud. But if we are humble and put ourselves in God’s hands, he will give us grace.

When we are tempted to sin, giving in never does the least good. Even if our struggle with temptation is painful, especially when our struggle with temptation is painful, we are accomplishing great things. When we resist temptation, we put up a defense against Satan. When we give in to temptation, we welcome the devil right in. And it will be harder the next time, harder to resist, easier for him to get in.

Our relationship with God is never very close if we are unfaithful to him. If I loved him as he loved me, I would never sin; I would never abandon him in search of what only he can offer me. God has come from heaven to earth to be with us. He comes as close as he possibly can, inches away, but these last inches cannot be crossed by him lest he destroy my free will. Is God too far away? The distance between you and God is the arms length that you hold him away at. The only thing stopping God from embracing you totally, is your own will. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

February 24, 2014 - Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

James 3:13-18
Psalm 19:8-10, 15
Mark 9:14-29

St. James speaks today of the humility of wisdom. What is the humility of wisdom? It can be easily seen by looking first at its opposite: the pride of fools. So many people, whether on television or Facebook or among friends, loudly and assuredly speak on topics which they do not understand. Two kinds of people are absolutely sure: someone who after years of study has reached a few limited conclusions and someone who does not know the first thing that they are talking about.

Even when we can be absolutely sure, wisdom still insists on humility. I am sure that it is wrong to kill a baby, whether it has been born or not, and I believe that maturity and study has not made me less confident in this belief but more. Humility will never make me question whether perhaps circumstances can exist where killing a child is a good thing, but humility, the humility of wisdom, does make me cautious. Those who are ignorant of the great evil of killing are not pure evil themselves. There are probably people who work at Planned Parenthood who genuinely, although wrongly, are trying to do good.

Humble wisdom comes from God. The wisdom from heaven is first of all pure since no lie can be a part of wisdom. It is peaceful, not violent even when faced with uncontrollable foolishness. It is gentle, not pushy or sarcastic or mean-spirited or rude. It listens to others, and can be convinced that it was wrong or misunderstood some aspect of the question. It is full of mercy, because we realize that we are sinners in need of mercy. It bears good fruits, spreading truth and righteousness in the world. It is without partiality: it does not favor any conclusion in the search for truth. It is without hypocrisy: there is no hidden agenda.

This kind of wisdom comes only from God. It is a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit. We cannot learn to be wise. We cannot fake such profound wisdom. We would go wrong in one direction or another: being unsure of what is true or being certain of our own opinions. If Christians could work no miracle except to be wise with this gift of the Holy Spirit, that would be convincing to the world. If we would let God give us this gift, letting go of personal opinions and prideful confidence, we would be shining examples to the world.

February 23, 2014 - Sunday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18
Psalm 103:1-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 3:16-23
Matthew 5:38-48

We have been working our way through the Sermon on the Mount these past few weeks. First there were the Beatitudes. Next Jesus said that we are the salt of the earth and light of the world. Then last week, Jesus began teaching the commandments in a new way. Just like today, he says “You have heard it said” and then he names one of the commandments, and then he says “But I say to you” and then he teaches a new way of understanding that commandment. However, there is a crucial difference between last week’s reading and today’s.

Last week Jesus’ teaching had a certain logic to it. Any reasonable person could understand his teaching. “Thou shall not kill” includes not hating our brothers and sisters, not calling them names. “Thou shall not commit adultery” includes not committing the sin mentally, includes pornography and romance novels. Jesus is telling us that the commandments are not about crossing some line. We should not even be walking in the general direction of sin. It is a hard teaching, but when we hear Jesus teach it, something within us knows that he is right, that this is the way that the commandments ought to be understood.

Suddenly, although the format of Jesus’ teaching stays the same, it stops making any sense. “You have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Yes, an important teaching. The punishment should fit the crime, neither unfairly harsh or unfairly gentle. How is Jesus going to expand this teaching? “But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil.” What? That is completely illogical. “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one as well.” Really? “If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand over your cloak as well.” And should we walk around naked then? “Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go for two miles.” When exactly does a person get their own work done then? “Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” Even if we know they are not going to pay us back? Even if we need the money more than they do?

The other teachings are hard, but we wish we could live up to them. These teachings are just foolish. If we followed these teachings, someone could come up to our home and just ask for things until we were naked in the middle of the street. The new teaching is that there is no limit on how much we should let people take advantage of us. Any group of people who tried to follow these teachings would go out of existence pretty quickly. Anyone who followed these teachings would be a fool.

St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, in our second reading today, “If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise, for the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.” St. Paul recommends that we become fools. He wrote in this same letter, a little earlier, the reason: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Let us think then for awhile about this foolishness of God.

When you hear these words from Jesus, do they inspire you? I mean before you think about the practical implications of allowing the world to take complete advantage of you. Do these words have the power to speak to something deep in your heart? Do these words make you want to stand up and live the Gospel without compromise? I hope they do. I hope no one is so cynical that their only reaction is to laugh at the foolishness. Something is dead inside of such a person. Something about these words should make us sad that the world is the way it is, that we cannot live them out.

It is certain that we cannot live these commandments to the letter. Jesus did not let people take advantage of him in every situation. Several times the Gospel tells us that he just walked through the midst of a crowd of people trying to kill him or arrest him. Jesus had a mission to fulfill, and he could not let anyone stand in the way. He would ultimately fulfill these words perfectly, but only when the right time had come.

Here is an understanding: we ought to follow the teachings as far as possible. A father needs to provide for his family, and sometimes that will mean saying no to someone trying to take advantage of him. A mother needs to protect her children, and sometimes that means the opposite of turning the other cheek. But what if we took this commandment as a presumption, saying, “Times will come when my responsibilities in this world will prevent me from following this commandment, but, as far as I am able, I will live according to this teaching.”

This commandment and others like it are the reason why some vocations are higher than others. All of us have vocations, whether to marriage or priesthood or religious life. A vocation is said to be higher when it allows a person to better live out the teachings of Jesus. So religious life is higher than marriage, as St. Paul also affirms, because a Sister or Brother is better able to turn the other cheek, to serve for two miles, to give up any material thing, than a married person. This does not mean that the person is better (there are saints who were married), but a married person is always going to be conflicted between their responsibilities and the teachings of Jesus. A person in religious life is more free to follow Jesus; of course, they may or may not actually follow him.

I point this out not for those of us who know our vocation, who are committed to it; all that is left for us is to live it. I point this out for those young people here today who want to know their vocation, who want to know what God wants them to do with their life. If the words of today’s Gospel speak in a particular way to you, if something in these words makes you happy when you hear them, you should consider whether God is calling you to the kind of life, as a Sister or Brother or Priest, where you can more freely live them out.