Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 23
John 6: 60-69
Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Nowhere in Scripture that I know of does Jesus force anyone to do anything. He has given all of us a free will and he respects that. Yet, the words quoted above from the Gospel for this Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time have to be among the saddest words Jesus says in Scripture. And at sometime in our lives he says the same words to all of us, “Do you also want to leave?” In last week’s Gospel, Jesus says just the opposite. He gives us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink and tells us his flesh is true food and his blood true drink. Then he says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” He wants us to eat his flesh and drink his blood for our spiritual nourishment and growth and remain in him and he in us. This is the desire of Jesus: unity and not separation. In John 15:4, in the parable of the vine and the branches, he says the same thing: “Remain in me, as I remain in you.” Remaining in God is an important concept in Scripture. What do those words really mean?
The word remain comes from the Greek MENO which means to abide, to stay, to be preserved, to remain in an intimate relationship with someone. It can further mean to continue in the same state or condition. There is a sense of permanency in the word MENO. If we remain we do not fluctuate, go in and out of a relationship or condition.
The Latin word for remain is maneo, manere. It means the same as the meanings given above. When we put re in front of it (remanere and our English word remain), it means to stay, continue, abide again or once more – and again and again and again.
Human beings today tend to move around, to move into and out of various relationships, conditions, situations in life, and so on. The present generation moves around a lot and very easily. New York in the morning for breakfast and Rome in the evening for dinner is not exceptional today. The days of being born and dying in the same town or village without ever leaving that town or village are over.
And unfortunately we do the same thing in our spiritual lives. People used to more or less be born into a religion and stay there the rest of their lives. Not so today. One day we pray, the next we do not. One Sunday we go to Mass, the next we do not. One day we love our husbands or wives or children dearly and tell them so, the next day our relationships are like World War III. One day I am best friends with Susie Brown and the next day I can’t stand her. You get the idea.
God in the Gospels is reminding us not to do this with him. He wants us to remain with him, in him, so he can remain with us and in us. And to accomplish this remaining, this permanency, he gives us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink. He gives us himself, his very being, to become part of us. How beautiful, how sublime. What a gift we have in the Eucharist!
Today, as we read this Gospel from John, let us resolve once again to remain with Jesus, to abide with him, and to let him and his way, truth and life, his values, remain and abide with us and influence our every thought and action. Let us stop this up and down, in and out, yes and no with our God. Let us truly remain with him, listen to him and do his will.
Monday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time, Aug. 24
St. Bartholomew, Apostle
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Apostle Bartholomew. About all we know about him is that he was born in Cana and is one of the Twelve Apostles. The name Bartholomew means “son of Tolomai”. Scripture scholars believe he is the same as the Nathaniel mentioned in St. John’s Gospel for the feast where John tells us Nathaniel was from Cana and that Jesus referred to him as an “Israelite incapable of deceit.” Tradition tells us he preached in Armenia where he was flayed and beheaded. There is a rather gory statue of Bartholomew holding his skin in the Basilica of St. Paul outside the Walls in Rome. The reported Gospel of Bartholomew is apocryphal.
St. Bartholomew, pray for us.
The Gospel for today (John 1: 45-51) speaks of the great gifts given to Nathaniel or Bartholomew and hopefully the Apostle used them all well. Remember, we are the Apostles of our modern Church and we, too, have all been given tremendous and wonderful gifts by our heavenly Father. Today let us be aware of them and resolve to use them as best we can for love of God and our neighbor.
Tuesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time, Aug. 25
Mt. 23: 23-26
In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, we are introduced to some of the “woes” listed in his Gospel. There are seven of them altogether and today’s Gospel selection gives us numbers 4 and 5. In these seven “woes,” the religious leaders of the times are called hypocrites by Jesus. This is a name that originally referred to an actor, one who put on a mask and pretended to be someone he/she was not. I refer to them as “phonies.”
This hypocrisy or being phony is something we all get involved in occasionally. Sooner or later we discover how stupid it is to pretend to be what we are not and we stop it. But it sure is tempting from time to time to try and impress others into believing just how great I am. I used to be really good at this. If you could do something, I could do it better. Stupid and immature behavior! I was reminded by a wise man one time to knock it off. He told me: Howard, why don’t you start worrying about who you are and what you can do and forget about who you are not and what you cannot do. Good advice – and today I still try and follow it. How about you?
Wednesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time, Aug. 26
Mt. 23: 27-32
Today’s Gospel passage from St. Matthew continues the subject of the “woes” and gives us numbers 6 and 7. The personal application is the same as for yesterday’s homily and there is no need to repeat it. For today’s homily, however, we can take a look at one particular “woe” to see how graphic the Lord’s descriptions of hypocrisy are. The 6th woe is a good example of this.
The ancient Jews buried their dead in tombs above the ground and not under the ground as we are accustomed to do for the most part today. They painted these tombs white to make them look nice and also to make them more visible so the Jews could avoid walking into them and in so doing become unclean. Inside, of course, they were full of rotting flesh.
This is a description of how we are when we get off on a self-righteous kick where we come down on someone else who has committed some wrong as though we have never done anything wrong and are absolutely perfect. You know, like Immaculate Conception move over! Self-righteousness stinks just like the white-washed tombs on the inside.
Jesus, help me to realize that we are all sinners and we all need your mercy and grace. And in this realization, give us the awareness to love and help our neighbor all the more.
Thursday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time, Aug. 27
Memorial of St. Monica
Every year at this time the Church celebrates the Memorials of Saints Monica and Augustine on consecutive days, Aug. 27 and 28. They are, of course, mother and son. It is almost impossible for me to think of Monica without thinking of Augustine or vice versa.
Monica was born in Africa in the year 331. She married a man named Patricius and they had a number of children, including Augustine. One thing men will never understand, I believe, is the great and deep love of a mother for her children. From time to time, in trying to help an alcoholic situation in a family, I warn against enabling the alcoholic. But when I try to get a mother to stop enabling a child, I am, for the most part, whistling in the wind. They just don’t hear you!
Augustine, as we will see in tomorrow’s homily, went off on his own way and shunned the Lord Jesus Monica loved so very much. She prayed and prayed for years for him to regain his senses and finally her prayers were answered. Her son became a remarkable scholar and Saint whose works and writings are read widely yet today. Monica never gave up. Let this feast of St. Monica remind all of us of the undying love of our own mothers for each of us. I pulled some good ones in my lifetime going my own way into alcoholism and the whole nine yards. But I know my Mom’s fingers never stopped going around that rosary she always had in her hand with prayers for my wellbeing. I hope I can see high enough if I do get to the Kingdom to be able to see her in the place God reserves for all mothers.
St. Monica, pray for us.
Friday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time, Aug. 28
Memorial of St. Augustine
As indicated above, today the Church celebrates the Memorial of St. Augustine. Augustine was born in Africa in 354, the son of St. Monica whose feast we celebrated yesterday. Augustine was a brilliant person and, as we see so often, brilliance often leads to an exaggerated self-sufficiency that sent Augustine off on a wild goose chase seeking the truth. Sometimes we are too smart for our own good, especially when we shove God out of the picture in the process. Augustine spent many years of his life like the Prodigal Son in St. Luke’s Gospel where “he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation” (Luke 15: 13), in wicked living and false beliefs.
Augustine’s conversion to a new life that included Christ is attributed to the years of prayers by his mother. Augustine was finally baptized, became a priest, a Bishop, and a famous Catholic writer. His Confessions of St. Augustine is still a very popular book today. I would like to quote one of his prayers found in the Confessions for the reflection of all of us on his feast day:
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you; now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” Augustine died in 430.
St. Augustine, pray for us.
Saturday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time, Aug. 29
Martyrdom of St. John Baptist
We are all familiar with the story told in today’s Gospel from St. Mark (6: 17-29). It tells of Herod getting into his cups at his birthday party and, being delighted with a dance performed by his daughter, he promised to give her whatever she wished for. Her mother persuaded her to ask for the head of John the Baptist whom Herod had in prison and whom she resented greatly. And so it happened. A gory story!
John the Baptist, of course, was the last of the Prophets and the forerunner of the Messiah. He did his job and he did it well and to the fullest. When I read this story, one of the first things that comes to my mind is frustration. It seems to me John should have been the most frustrated guy in the world. Kind of like Job. He did all the right things yet he wound up holding the short end of the stick. I wonder if all martyrs were frustrated? Our present Pope, Benedict XVI, writes of the unquestioning acceptance of God’s will by John as he lay in prison. Acceptance is, of course, the remedy for frustration and nowhere do we read of John being in a “why me mood.”
Sometimes we do all the right things too and yet things don’t go the way we had hoped they would. This has happened to all of us. How do we react when this happens? Do we get down in the dumps feeling sorry for ourselves and blaming God for what has happened? Or can we accept the reality of the situation? Can we accept the bad as well as the good in our lives with a word of thanks to God even for the bad? It certainly isn’t easy to do this but it does equal acceptance and that, as we said, is the remedy for frustration.
Lord, help us to be an accepting people.
St. John the Baptist, pray for us.