Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/071810.shtml

This week’s readings present that hardest of ideas: that the good man is rewarded. It is the hardest, because it is what we are taught from childhood, and it’s what we want to believe the most. It’s what we think Christianity is. But it is also the idea we see the most betrayed, the one that hurts the most when we feel God is not living up to His bargain.

The first reading and the psalm reinforce this idea. Abraham is rewarded for being a good host to God with a son despite his old age, and the psalm intones “He who does justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” If we are good, and we do everything we are supposed to, follow all the rules, things will turn out well for us.

But this isn’t the message of the Church. In the second reading Paul rejoices in his sufferings, filling up in his own body what was lacking in Christ’s afflictions. He rejoices in pain, not for any personal reward, but because it is “in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me,” as part of bringing the mystery of God fully to those he is teaching. And the mystery is odd, because it is that Christ is in us, the Church, and that we should better ourselves so that we are more perfect in Christ, that we should work towards perfection when perfection is already inside of us.

In the Gospel, Martha wants what every good person wants: consolation that she is doing what is right. But Jesus gives that to Mary who is only sitting with Him. The psalm we read lists action after action that one must do to live in the presence of the Lord: slander not with the tongue, harm not your fellow man, accept no bribe against the innocent. But it is not Martha, who is doing everything right who is in the presence of God, but Mary who is uplifted. Of all God’s teachings, this is sometimes the hardest one to accept. It is not about what we are doing, but why we are doing it.

The gospel reading is rich, and many things can be learned from it. But this is one: we should not miss God where He is. We must do justice, work to build His kingdom, and do everything we see in the example of Abraham, the psalmist, and Martha. But we are not jumping hoops for God to give us treats. Abraham is uplifted because he saw God in the stranger. The psalmist treats others with the dignity given to them by God. Paul admonishes his brothers and sisters because they hold Christ within themselves. Martha is humbled because in all her good works she misses the Messiah when He is right before her eyes.

The goodness of Abraham and the psalmist come from love of God, while Martha looked for a reward. In the psalm, the just may be in the presence of the Lord but even the Lord suffered agony on the cross. Goodness is rewarded by God, yes, but goodness also involves suffering and usually much of it. Our consolation is that Christ is in us, always with us, and before us in the faces of those we serve. We must sit with Mary while we serve with Martha.

We are anxious about many things. But there is need of only one thing. To love God first, and to act from that love in the world, doing what God has commanded and Christ has shown us.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/071110.shtml

“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

There is no mystery about salvation. The theme of today’s readings is that we already know what we must do. In the first reading Moses teases the Israelites, because the directions to salvation are not in the sky or across the sea, they are not out of reach or unknowable. The opposite, because all they must do is heed the voice of the Lord and keep his commandments written in this book of the law, a book they can read and understand.

Paul makes it even more obvious, because not only have we been told exactly what we must do, but Christ Jesus came as a human and showed it to us. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, because he was a human who lived without sin.

In the gospel we ask with the scholar, “who is our neighbor?” Even though we know what we must do, we are afraid because to give all of ourselves seems too much. We want Jesus to tell us that no, we must only do this much and no more for eternal life. But everyone is our neighbor. There are no limits on our mercy or love. And that is terrifying.

We all want to believe that we are like the Good Samaritan in the Gospel. We want to believe that we are that good. But we aren’t. We are more like the victim, who has been robbed and beaten and is in need of mercy. The psalmist says “Turn to the Lord in your need, and you will live.” God has come to save us, and we must accept his tenderness.

The fact that Jesus as human was without sin, and conquered all his human failings is scary, because that means our failings are conquerable. Sin is so comfortable sometimes, because we know we are bad, we know in what ways we fail, and we know who we are. But “See, you lowly ones, and be glad;/ you who seek God, may your hearts revive!/ for the Lord hears the poor,/ and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.” God has come to save us, and with his spirit in us no sin is too great, and no act of love too much.

As Christians, we must accept the mercy God has shown us, and go to do likewise to all our neighbors, every man and woman we meet. We must love our God with all our selves, and follow his commands in little things so that we might follow him in large things. Through God all things are possible. With him there is freedom. Let us be healed, take up our mat and follow him who has saved us, to go and do likewise for others.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/070410.shtml

Today’s readings were of victory. Paul speaks to the heart of this when he speaks about the world being crucified to him, and him to the world because of the cross of Jesus Christ. Through baptism and confirmation, our acceptance of Jesus Christ, we take part in the victory over sin. Even now, we have won. On the cross Jesus defeated death and won for us eternal life, and as we cling to him we remember that we have won.

Sometimes we forget that. The devil in this world tempts us with our failings, and torments us to think that God does not love us. When we fall, we forget that Christ’s forgiveness is available. We forget that God calls us each by name, and that once we said “Blessed be God who refused me not my prayer or his kindness!” We are tempted to throw away salvation because we forget who God is, because we feel alone, because we are not worthy.

That is why this victory is to be shared. In the gospel, Jesus sends his disciples out two by two, that each might support the other. We are to share in the victory of the gospel, and spread the good news of that victory with everyone, those who have not heard it and also those who have. Because even Peter once knew Jesus was God, and forgot who He is.

This is why displays of piety are important. As we walk in this world and not of it, we must not be ashamed to show what we believe. To wear a cross, or medal, or shirts that point to God is to affirm our belief in Christ, and affirm that belief with others who see them and believe. We must remind each other that we are not alone in faith, and more than just once a week on Sunday.

The first reading tells us to rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her. She is the Church, and all those who love her, who have mourned over her, will find comfort in her. This is because Jesus has spread prosperity over it; because we in the Church share the victory with each other. Each member of the Church has found tragedy in his or her life, and sometimes vast people of the Church have brought tragedy to others. But the Church is the people of Christ, brothers and sisters in the Lord, those who names have been written in heaven. We struggle and must comfort and support each other because we know who awaits us, we know what God has asked of us. Though we sometimes see defeat, we know that God is good, all the time.

So let us not be distracted by the victories the world proclaims. On tv, in songs and movies, we hear a much different story. The world proclaims that all is lawful; that sin does not exist, that it is all personal perspective. For this the Church was formed, to support each other in the victory we have heard, that “Christ died so we might have eternal life.”

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to the Mass Readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/062710.shtml

“For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.”

The Catechism tells us that we are ensouled bodies, and embodied souls. As Christians, this is the difference between the things we want, and the things we want. We want to be holy, but we also want to get drunk, or be unchaste, to hoard our money so we have nice things. We have desires that pull us in two directions. Under the law with the Ten Commandments, we punished giving in to our earthly desires with earthly punishments; but threat of punishment is not effective for salvation.

When we live by the Spirit, and align our bodily desires with it, we find where God is calling us in our lives. We find forgiveness for our sins. As He lives in us, and we let Him grow in us, we find freedom in love. Love is what changes our desires from selfish ones of the flesh, into holy works of mercy. You have heard it said that it is faith, and not works, which leads to salvation. But with love of God there is no difference between the two: our works are in our faith, and our faith is in our works. This is how we live body and soul entwined.

This change is shown in the first reading. Elisha is called by God, but is pulled back by his old life. But when he lets himself be called, Elisha earthly desires are inspired by his spiritual desires, and he is set free to take care of his people by giving his oxen to eat. If we are still of the flesh, we cannot sacrifice our lives for Jesus. “It is in dying that we are set free, and in rising that we inherit eternal life.”

It is not easy. The cross is where our desires come into conflict, and our cross is always with us. Can we accept this? The people of the Samaritan village would not welcome Jesus knowing He was headed to Jerusalem. Can we welcome Him into our hearts knowing He brings us to the cross? This is our challenge, but our faith tells us that Christ is with us through every challenge. The psalmist says “You are my inheritance, O Lord.” With faith, we can say:

“Therefore my heart is glad and my soul rejoices,/ my body, too abides in confidence/ because you will not abandon my soul to the netherworld, nor will you suffer your faithful one to undergo corruption.”