Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 9
John 6: 41-51
Jesus said to them, “Stop murmuring among yourselves.” This murmuring spoken of in today’s Gospel is one of the most common negative human practices we can come up with! It is called by many other names such as muttering, grumbling, complaining, moaning. In the seminary we called it “bitching” or “griping.” When someone told you to “quit bitching,” you didn’t have to ask him what he was talking about. In our Gospel chosen to be read on this Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus is speaking to the Jewish people and to all of us. There are instances in the Scriptures where the disciples themselves are caught murmuring, e.g., when Jesus told them that his flesh was the bread of life for the world, they murmured about this (John 6:61) and some of the disciples left him and followed him no more.
Generally speaking, I guess there are two ways at looking at or reacting to the various situations we encounter in life: positively or negatively. For the most part, we are encouraged to look at things positively, which produces more happiness and contentment than the negative approach or negative reaction to things. To always be a positive person is easier said than done – as we have seen in the antitheses of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount not too awfully long ago. If someone up and hits me for no good reason at all, I can react positively by turning the other cheek as it says in the Gospel, or negatively by slugging him back. Or if someone steals my jacket, I can react positively by giving him the tie that matches the jacket or negatively by grabbing it back from him and telling him what a no-good thief he is in the process. Jesus, in the various antitheses, seems to recommend the positive way of reacting.
We also speak of these positive and negative reactions to things as being either optimistic or pessimistic. The optimist is a positive person while the pessimist is a negative person. This mentioning of optimist and pessimist reminds me of an old story you have probably read many times, but it is relevant to what we are speaking about today. The story is about two twin brothers, one of whom was an incorrigible optimist and the other an incorrigible pessimist. For the little optimist everything in life was just simply wonderful – and for the pessimist everything in life was a horrendous mess. This, of course, drove Mom and Dad absolutely up a wall: everything was just great all the time for one of their sons while the other was always down and depressed at how terrible the world was. They finally went to their local friendly psychiatrist to see if there was anything at all they could do to straighten out this problem.
The psychiatrist thought he had a remedy for them and asked them when the boys’ birthday was coming up. They told him that that event was going to happen in just a couple of weeks. The psychiatrist then told the parents that on their birthday they were to put the two boys in their own separate rooms and give them their birthday presents. To the little pessimist they were to go out and buy the nicest, most expensive, beautiful toys they could find and give them to him for his birthday. Surely this would lift up his spirits. For the little optimist they were to go out to their local friendly farmer and get the biggest box of horse manure they could carry. This was his birthday present and would surely bring him down a bit at receiving this stuff as a present on his birthday. The twins would be balanced off and everything would be fine.
So they tried it. After a while they looked in on the little pessimist with all the wonderful toys and there was something wrong with every one of them: wrong color, axels were bent, and on and on. All bad. Then they looked in on the little optimist with the box of horse manure and he was having a ball. He was throwing it up in the air and jumping with joy, happy as a lark! Then he said to his Mom and Dad, “You can’t fool me! With all this horse manure around here there has to be a pony someplace!!
Let’s take the time today to look honestly at ourselves concerning the murmuring that goes on from time to time in our own lives. Do we consider ourselves optimists or pessimists or a little of both? Do we do a lot of complaining about the persons, places and things of our lives? Has anyone reminded us to “stop bitching” lately? Do we like this attitude in our lives or would we rather have it gone? How would we prefer to be? This whole idea of murmuring is a big part of our lives and something to think about.
Monday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Aug. 10
Feast of St. Lawrence
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Lawrence, a Deacon and Saint of the very early Church, perhaps more recognized in Rome than in our country. St. Lawrence was one of the seven deacons of the Church of Rome who were in charge of giving help to the poor and needy. The Prefect of Rome put two and two together and got six in thinking that because Lawrence was in charge of the Church treasury, he had access to a great deal of money. He demanded that Lawrence turn the money from the treasury over to him. At a time set for doing this, Lawrence showed up with a large group of poor and sick people and said to the Prefect, “This is the Church’s treasure.”
The Prefect didn’t think this was too funny and condemned Lawrence to a martyr’s death in the year 238. Constantine the Great later built a Basilica dedicated to St. Lawrence and it is yet today one of the seven pilgrimage churches of Rome. It has been named St. Lawrence outside the Walls and is situated beside Campo Verono, Rome’s largest cemetery.
St. Lawrence, pray to us.
Tuesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Aug. 11
Feast of St. Clare of Assisi
Today, August 11, the Church celebrates the Feast of one of the major exemplars of the Franciscan life in the world. St. Clare of Assisi was a close friend of St. Francis of Assisi and the two helped one another to promote the Franciscan Charism that is so much a part of the spirituality of the Catholic Church today. It is impossible to do justice to this great saint’s life in this short amount of space.
St. Clare, when she was a young girl, heard Francis of Assisi preach and her heart burned with a great desire to imitate Francis and to live the poor and humble life of the Gospel. One evening she ran away from home and gave herself to God. Francis cut her hair and gave her a rough brown habit to wear. Clare went on to become the Foundress of an Order of nuns now referred to as the “Poor Clares.” Her sister, St. Agnes, joined her as well as other young women from the surrounding area who wished to live the Gospel life. They lived without money, without property, wore no shoes, ate no meat, lived in a poor house, and observed silence most of the time. They were truly Brides of Jesus and very happy people. Their life continues yet today in almost the identical way it did in the thirteenth century. There are many Poor Clare monasteries throughout the world and indeed they are paradoxes to the life of the world today showing us all where to find true joy, happiness and peace.
St. Clare of Assisi, pray for us.
Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Aug. 12
Mt. 18: 15-20
One of the facts of life is that human beings living together are going to hurt one another. That said, you are probably thinking to yourselves: so what else is new? That is the understatement of the year! In the Gospel read for today’s Liturgy, Jesus recognizes this fact of life and gave the early Christians a process for reconciliation. The process itself as given in today’s Gospel has gone its merry way. But the idea behind it has not. We still do hurt one another, even unintentionally, in one way or another, on a daily basis. And mostly, it seems, we hurt the ones we dearly love – to paraphrase the words of an old song. And when we unfortunately do hurt someone, we are not to ride off into the sunset and just forget all about it. When this hurt happens we are to make an amends to one another for the harm done. How we do this is pretty much up to us, but do it we must.
The 12 Steps of Spirituality consider making amends so important that there are 2 Steps set aside for this purpose. Step Eight tells us we are to make a list of those we have harmed so we don’t miss anyone. Step Nine tells us to take the list and go and make direct amends, up front and in person, to those we have harmed. I was taught to make an amends in the following way: I truly regret it if I have hurt you in anyway. Will you please forgive me. I was taught to use the word regret rather than the word sorry and to make sure that the ball ended up in the other person’s court as in the above words of amendis.
Let us reflect on this idea of making amends today in view of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel. Do I owe an amends to someone I have hurt or harmed in some way? If the answer to this question is yes, let’s get to doing it!
Thursday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Aug. 13
Mt. 18: 21 – 19: 1
In today’s Gospel, Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Yesterday we spoke of the obligation we have to initiate the reconciliation process with someone we have harmed or hurt in any way. We said that when this happens, we don’t just ride off into the sunset and forget about it. We must reconcile with those we hurt.
Today’s Gospel asks about reconciliation, but from a different point of view: How often should I forgive someone who hurts me time after time and reconciles each and every time? Is there some limit to what I am to forgive when it happens time and again? This is the question Peter asks Jesus, “How often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” And Jesus answered Peter, “I say to you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” In biblical language, seven is a perfect number signifying here an endless number of times. There is no limit! If someone does something to me, hurts me, 150 times and makes an amends 150 times, I am to forgive him/her 150 times. This might get to be a little tedious after a while, but so what! Mine not to reason why, mine only to forgive. For me to refuse to reconcile with someone who is making an amends to me for having hurt me is the height of self-righteousness. And if there is one thing I despise, it is that.
Let’s get it through our heads once and for all that we are no better than anyone else in this world. I have probably done the same thing a thousand times the person is making amends for doing. Who am I not to forgive this same fault in others? Let us take the time to reflect on all of this today. When you come right down to it, reconciliation is what makes this world go round in the right direction.
Friday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Aug. 14
Memorial of St. Maximillian Kolbe
Today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Maximillian Kolbe, a Conventual Franciscan Friar like myself. This Memorial today kind of hits home. Maximillian died a martyr’s death at the German prison camp of Auschwitz in 1941. I was 10 years old at that time. St. Maximillian Kolbe was born in Poland in 1894. Later on he became a Conventual Franciscan Friar and was ordained a priest in Rome in 1918. Max studied at our Collegio Serafico on Via San Teodoro in Rome, the same Collegio I was to study theology in for four years from 1954 to 1958. His room was on the second floor and had been turned into a chapel. It was in this chapel that we practiced saying Mass before our time of ordination to the priesthood.
St. Maximillian loved the Blessed Virgin Mary. I believe it is safe to say that she was in his every thought. He established a sodality called the Militia of Mary Immaculate and promoted its growth throughout the world. In 1941 he gave up his life in the prison camp by volunteering to die in place of another man with a family who had been chosen for execution. Greater love than this no one has!
St. Maximillian Kolbe, pray for us.
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Aug. 15, Luke 1: 39-56.
The Feast of the Assumption is not a Holy Day of Obligation in the U.S.A.
The Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrates the fact that Mary the Mother of Jesus was a very special woman in the economy of salvation history and consequently received the very special privilege of being assumed body and soul into heaven at the end of her earthly life. Whether Mary actually died a temporal death or not is still a matter of theological discussion, as death is one of the wages of sin and Mary was also privileged to be preserved from all stain of sin from the first moment of her conception. I believe most theologians are of the opinion that Mary did die a temporal death because her Divine Son, Jesus, did so.
Mary’s life, after the Annunciation, was all about Jesus. She was truly a faithful disciple of Jesus. She belonged to Jesus all the way. Her “fiat” (“be it done to me”) bound her forever in surrender to her Son Jesus. She was his Mother and quite literally gave him to the world, to you and to me.
This feast of the Assumption of Mary reminds us that we too, like Mary, can be faithful disciples of her Son. We too can belong entirely to him and because we do belong to him we too can give him and his abundant life to others just as Mary did. We have received this gift of life and we can give it to others by living the way Jesus wants us to live. Mary was privileged to be the Mother of Jesus. You and I are privileged to be his sons and daughters through adoption. Let us pray that we may be worthy of such a calling.