Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Twenty First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

“Praise the Lord all you nations;
Glorify him, all you peoples!
For steadfast is his kindness toward us,
And the fidelity of the Lord endures forever

Do we believe the lines above? In the first reading, the Lord speaks through Isaiah and prophecies about the time when Israel will be broken, and the Israelites scattered as fugitives throughout the world. If we were the Israelites, and had lost the Promised Land promised to us by God, could we still say “steadfast is his kindness toward us, and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever?” Can we say that after someone we love has been killed, or we have been crippled by disease? Can we praise God when we are at our lowest?

That is what the readings are about today. When the Israelites are scattered, they make brothers and sisters of the strange nations of the world because they can still praise God as Good News when they have lost everything. They keep their faith when they have nothing else, because they can preach with the faith of Abraham; the faith that proclaims the promise and the victory of God even in defeat.

It is easy to be gracious when we are winning. When we make lots of money it is easy to tithe. It is easy to love when we are loved back in return. It is harder to love under discipline. When we were young and punished for our mistakes, we didn’t run to hug our parents. We sulked and ranted and wailed because we thought it was unfair. Why would we give love when we receive none in return?

But we are called not to be children any more. We experience pain, and must learn to love it as discipline for our love. Jesus says we must strive to enter through the narrow gate, and many will not have the strength for it. We will learn the strength necessary through suffering, “that what is lame may not be disjointed but healed.”

And our strength will move mountains. The faith that suffers willingly is the faith that will convert the stranger. Martyrs are the greatest evidence of things unseen because they endure the ultimate price with the love of God on their lips. The God whom you will not abandon under pain of death must be a magnificent God.

We are called to be martyrs, because we will all suffer. It is not enough to love Jesus only in the good times. Jesus clearly says he does not know those people, even when they tell him “we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” We cannot assume salvation, because salvation does not assume us. Many are called but few are chosen.

Let us be strong. Let us encourage each other in faith. It is inevitable that we become discouraged, but let us take courage in the fact that He is our God, and we are His people. Always and forever. Let us be confident in the victory that Jesus has already won for us, and proclaim it to the nations even in the depths of our poverty, of wealth, of spirit, of peace. Because that is the faith which will move hearts, which will bring brothers and sisters out of the nations as clean vessels for God. Who, in turn, will preach the kindness and fidelity of the Lord to the world, until we make a prophecy of the psalm:

Praise the Lord all you nations;
Glorify him, all you peoples!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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The Assumption of Mary is a belief that exists only in the oral tradition of the Church. The Church teaches that when Mary died a natural death, her body did not remain on earth but was taken up to Heaven. Mary, alone of all the followers of Jesus, did not have to wait for his second coming to be risen, but had the special honor of rising immediately upon her death. Why?

The Church is often criticized for giving too much devotion to Mary. A feast in her honor for something that is not even in Scripture seems too much. But this criticism doesn’t strike accurately at how Catholics devote themselves to Mary. Because one, she does deserve the devotion we give her, and two, all that she is points to God and His saving grace.

In the first reading, Mary is linked with the ark of the covenant from the Old Testament. This is because Mary is the ark of the New Testament. The old ark held the staff of Aarron, manna from the desert, and the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. The ark held signs of the authority, the bread of life, and the law of the Israelites. Jesus is all of those in his person. The reason why Catholics fight so hard to defend the doctrine of Mary’s sinlessness, is because she must be perfect to hold Jesus. People died just by touching the ark in the old covenant, and that just held wood and rocks. Mary held the Messiah, and was a stainless vessel.

Mary is also described as a queen, by the crown she wears in 1st reading, and by the words of the Psalm. Her cousin Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, calls her blessed among women. In response, Mary says that “from this day all generations will call me blessed.” Clearly Scripture gives Mary as much honor as we do today. But this is only because all the honor we give to her she gives to God.

The 1st reading says “A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun.” Mary is just that, a sign of the favor of God. All generations will call her blessed, because she believed that what was spoken to her by God would be fulfilled. To her would the Christ be born. She trusted in God’s fidelity, and after his birth she followed Christ in his ministry faithfully. And because of who she was, the mother of God and perfect disciple, God assumed her body into Heaven to reign as Queen of Heaven.

She is a sign to us of God’s promise that will be fulfilled. Christ has been raised from the dead, and he will come back to raise us at his coming because he raised Mary. Those who have faith, who believe what has been spoken to us, will find our reward.

Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.” These are the lines we remember Mary by, because for all the favor bestowed upon her, she remembers that it is God’s favor and not hers. She remembers that there is an infinite gulf between God and human, and though she sits as Queen of Heaven it is Jesus who is the Authority, the Bread of Life, and the Law.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

“Brothers and sisters: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for, and evidence of things unseen.”

The words above are central Scripture and our lives. But what does it mean to have faith? What is the reward of faith? What good does it do us?

Abraham is the example of faith. God told him that his descendants would receive the promised land as an inheritance, that those descendants would be as numerous as the stars, and that He would be their God. These things Abraham would never see come to pass, but he wandered decades without children and followed God because he had faith that God would keep His promise. And God gave him a son in his old age. And when God demanded that Abraham sacrifice Isaac, Abraham did as he was told because he had faith that somehow God would keep his promise, that Abraham would have descendants through Isaac as numerous as the stars. And Isaac was spared.

Though is sounds like a paradox, Abraham’s faith is the realization, the making real, of what he hoped for. Abraham has faith because God will grant him a son. Abraham’s faith is the effect of God granting him a son. Having faith is more than just being assured that something will come to pass, it is responding as if what will come to pass is already true. And because of faith, other people have evidence that something is true, when everything else says otherwise.

In the story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, it’s odd that Isaac is so passive to the process. But perhaps that is because of Abraham’s faith; Abraham has faith that God will grant him descendants through this son, because his future descendants are as true as the knife in his hand. And his faith is proof for Isaac of the promise. How faith can be proof of something that is unknowable and yet to happen is a great mystery, only realized as proof after what will be has come to pass. But in the present moment, before faith has become fact, is where God invites us to believe, even though that belief seems foolish and ridiculous.

The readings today all emphasize that in Scripture, those who believed in God when it seemed outlandish to do so were well rewarded. When the Israelites painted their doors with blood during Passover their children were spared. Abraham was blessed with a son when that seemed impossible. We are called to wait for Christ’s return faithfully, to follow the teachings He left us. He has promised those who do so will be well rewarded.

But faith is not believing because of reward, faith is living the victory yet to be won. To have faith, is live the victory of Christ as evidence of His coming. Which is weird, because in our sins we fail all the time.

Having faith is living in conflict like there is no conflict. We struggle between good and evil, but by faith we know good has already won. We stand over Isaac with a knife, though we know the children he brings into the world will be more numerous than the stars. We sin, yes, but with faith, the faith of Abraham, we know His kingdom is already here.

We are poor proof of the victory. It’s because we lie to ourselves that we haven’t won, that we are losing, or don’t care about winning and losing, or have already lost. We need to have faith. We need to have faith in the victory, like Abraham believed in the victory as he tied his son on the altar. We cannot see how we, of all people, can win, but with Christ inside us all things are possible.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

“Teach us to number our days aright,/ that we may gain wisdom of heart.”

In the readings today, we hear repeated the mantra: our lives are short, and death could happen at any time. And if we die, for what purpose is the work we have done?

Qoheleth says that there is no purpose; when we die, all that we have worked for we must leave to someone else who has not worked for it. All the effort we give, will eventually be for someone else. Even to worry about it is useless, because the outcome won’t change. Qoheleth calls this vanity.

In the Gospel Jesus tells a story about a man who will work hard so that he can spend his remaining years in peace, saying to himself: “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!” But as soon as he speaks he dies. Now all those years of work have been wasted.

Both these readings serve to reinforce the idea that our wealth can never be in the world. Either it can be taken away from us, or we will have to surrender it to someone else. Instead, Paul tells us that as we have been raised in Christ, we should seek what is above. All that is earthly will fade, and when Christ comes those things will be meaningless.

The readings last week taught us to pray the Our Father in poverty, but to be rich in the Holy Spirit. Our wealth should be in the new world, the one we have inherited through Christ. For he is the one who has labored and died, and we are the ones who have inherited what he worked for.

Psalm 90 tells us: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” We only live for a short time. Death is real, and all things end. We will die, and the world will die, and only those things transformed by Christ will last. And we don’t know when either of those things will happen. All we have is this moment to choose Christ, and every moment we don’t or we turn away from him we waste in foolishness.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Link to Mass Readings:

“The Lord hears the cry of the poor.” That is what we are taught by these readings, and it is sometimes the hardest lesson to learn. When Jesus is explaining the Our Father, he asks “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg?” We interpret this as the Lord will answer our prayers, giving us what we ask for; but Jesus makes it clear that we are to pray a certain way, and for certain things.

Remember, this is the same Christ who told us to “let the dead bury the dead.” When we follow God, we are to follow him completely, turning neither to the left nor the right of the narrow way. So Jesus asks us to pray for these four things only: for God to establish his kingdom on earth, to not starve, that God forgives our sins, and not to be subjected to the final test. When we are to pray, we are to pray for holiness, in poverty.

Our model of what God wants from us is in Jesus. He stripped himself of material things to preach the gospel, because wealth does not lead to holiness. He kept friends by his side, but those who suffered and died like Lazarus he did not move to prevent their suffering though he loved them. Rather, he raised Lazarus because his illness was meant to be “for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” The Lord hears the cry of the poor, and Jesus teaches us to pray from a place of poverty. The Our Father reminds us that it is about God, and not us, and we should not have distractions from him.

Jesus does not teach us pray for the avoidance of suffering. When Abraham exclaims to God: “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty, so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike!” God relents. But Abraham is only able to bargain down to ten innocent people. If there are less than ten innocent people in Sodom then yes, the innocent will suffer alike with the guilty. And that is a reality we understand in the history of the world, when so many innocents suffer because of the actions of the guilty.

Christ raised us from the dead, when we were buried in our transgressions. He has given us life, a life that is in this world but not of it. Our prayers should be for the Holy Spirit, for those things that lead us to God. The hard lesson is that prayer is not for promotions, or presents, or safety, or less suffering. But the purpose is to be drawn closer to the God who Is.

I don’t know where this leaves miracles. They are unexpected manifestations of God’s power, which break the rules of the world. They are proof of God’s mercy. Jesus performed miracles because of the faith of those he saved, and if that is an indication it means that miracles favor those who cling closely to God. God hears the cry of the poor. “Lord, on the day I cried for help, you answered me.”