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.