Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time
(August 24, 2008) Mt. 16: 13-20
If you are interested in the Scriptures, and I certainly hope you are, it is almost a necessity to have a Concordance. A Concordance is a book containing all the words in the Bible and where and how often they appear in the Bible. This makes it very easy to find the particular quotes we may be looking for. And sometimes the Concordance can indicate other important facets of the Scriptures to us also. For example, my Concordance tells me that the word church appears 114 times in the Bible but only 2 times is it found in all four of the Gospels and both of these times are in Matthew’s Gospel: 16:18 and 18:17. The word church appears, then, 112 times in the other books of the New Testament, mainly in the Acts of the Apostles and the various Letters of Paul and others. From this information, we can deduct that Jesus never really founded the Church during his lifetime. Rather, it was the intention of Jesus to found a Church but its actual coming happened after the resurrection of Jesus.
The Gospel passage assigned to be read on this Twenty-First Sunday of the year tells us much about this post-resurrection church of the Lord Jesus. First of all, it tells us that this Church is Christ’s Church. “On this rock I will build my Church. It also tells us that Peter is the Rock upon which this Church is to be built, and this Church will be made up of a group of people who, like Peter, confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
This Gospel also tells us that this Church of Jesus will last forever and that nothing will overcome it.
So, our Gospel for this morning tells us that our Christian Church is founded by Christ; that he founded it upon the rock who is Peter and his successors, that this Church is the People of God, and that it will be with us for all time.
This Gospel, in just a few verses, is loaded with information about the Church. We often think of the Church as an institution, its hierarchy, power, wealth, etc. But the Church is more than an institution. The Church is us who follow the risen Christ and thus make his way, truth, life and values always present in the world. We are the “little rocks” of the Church today and as such we have a very important job to do. The Gospel for today suggests that we get to it.
Monday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
(August 25, 2008) Mt. 23: 13-22
Jesus is really after the scribes and Pharisees in our Gospel selected to be read today: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.”
Regarding religion, the Pharisees missed the boat and they were trying to have everyone else miss it too. Religion to them was a list of rules. St. Augustine, for one, had a different idea. He said something like: Love God at all times and then do whatever you want. Our love of God sets us free. God is not a God of hurt and terror and fear for us just waiting for us to break the rules. Our God is a God of love. And if we really, truly love him, we can do as we want. My obedience to his precept and commandments will happen and I will find the joy and happiness I am seeking. Jesus, increase my love for you and for your word.
Tuesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
(August 26, 2008) Mt. 23: 23-26
Jesus hasn’t let up on the Pharisees since yesterday’s Gospel but continues on in today’s Gospel. The people of Jesus’ time were accustomed to use a piece of cloth to strain out unwanted objects such as flies and other bugs from what they were going to drink. But then they would swallow, according to Jesus, a whole filthy camel in one bite. I believe these words of Jesus are meant to point out the inconsistency of the Pharisees. If they are going to strain flies and bugs out of their wine before they drink it, they should also properly clean and prepare camel meat before eating it. The Pharisees, it seems, paid close attention to the little things and ignored the more important things of life.
Are we sometimes inconsistent in our love of Jesus and of one another? Do I, for example, go to Mass religiously on Sunday and sometimes during the week and then treat my family or friends in a very uncharitable manner? Do I say the rosary umpteen times a day and then gossip about the lady that lives next door to me? Do I fervently pray the Lord’s Prayer while I am harboring a ton of resentments? These are just a few examples of inconsistency and they give us the idea of what we are looking for here. Is there any of this going on in my life? What are my inconsistencies?
Wednesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
(August 27, 2008) Memorial of St. Monica
Today’s Memorial of St. Monica and tomorrow’s Memorial of St. Augustine go together. I thought of just writing one homily and putting the days Wednesday and Thursday at the top of it. But, on second thought, I’ll keep the days separate with two shorter homilies. St. Monica and St. Augustine, of course, are Mother and Son and one cannot separate them to any great extent.
St. Monica, the Mother, was born in the year 330 in Africa. She was married to a man named Patricius and had three children by him. One of them, Augustine, went off the deep end, as we say. He had little if anything to do with Jesus but lived life as he preferred to live it. Needless to say, this caused great concern on the part of Monica who loved her son dearly and wanted what was best for him. But she didn’t nag him about his way of life. She rather prayed and prayed and prayed and then she prayed some more. For 17 years, she begged the Lord for Augustine’s conversion and constantly begged others to pray for him too. Finally her prayers were answered. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose in 387 and went on to become a priest, Bishop, and one of the truly great minds of the Church whose writings are widely read even to our own day. St. Monica died the same year as Augustine’s conversion, 387. It is almost as if her life’s work was complete with that happening.
St. Monica, pray for us.
Thursday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
(August 28, 2008) Memorial of St. Augustine
Today, then, we celebrate the Memorial of St. Monica’s son, St. Augustine of Hippo. Yesterday, we spoke of his conversion after many years of awful living and after many years of prayers by his mother, Monica. He too was born in Africa in the year 354. After his conversion he went on to become a priest and was then chosen to be Bishop of Hippo. For 34 years he guided his people with many sermons and writings. He died in 430.
Augustine was a very intelligent man and many of his writings, as we indicated above, are still avidly read today. Perhaps the most popular of his writings is his Confessions which many have read and reflected upon in a personal way. I know this has been the case with myself. I would like to include here a favorite portion of one of his writings in his Confessions. I like this writing because it surely applies to me also. He wrote:
“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ancient, ever new, late have I loved you. You were with 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.”
St. Augustine, pray for us.
Friday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
(August 29, 2008) Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist
The beheading of St. John the Baptist is recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels. John had confronted Herod with the fact that Herod’s taking his brother’s wife, Herodias, as his own wife after he divorced his first wife, was unlawful. For this Herod had John thrown into prison. At a celebration of Herod’s birthday, he had invited many people and then proceeded to drink a little too much wine and became boisterous. When his daughter, Salome, performed a dance for the party people, Herod was so delighted that he made the rash promise to her that he would give her whatever she asked for. After asking her mother, Herodias, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. And so it happened.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote about this happening, stating that Herod performed this act, “lest the great influence John had over the people …. might raise a rebellion. So Herod thought it best to put him to death.” Herod regretted what he had promised Salome but rather than humiliate himself by admitting his error, he went ahead with it. Maybe we can ask ourselves on this Feast of the Martyrdom of St. John Baptist whether pride is contributing to any wrongdoing in my own life.
Saturday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary Time
(August 30, 2008) Mt. 25: 14-30
Today’s Gospel selection gives us the opportunity to reflect on the talents God has given us and will someday return and settle account with us. I am privileged to be an alcoholic priest with many years in recovery thanks to God and the 12 Steps of AA. As such, I hear many 5th Steps wherein the alcoholic admits to God, to himself, and to another human being the exact nature of his wrongs. It is a confession Step in preparation for the 6th and 7th Steps where we become ready and humbly ask God to remove our character defects and shortcomings that are blocking us from a closer relationship with Him whom we absolutely need for quality sobriety. At the conclusion of the 5th Step, I ask them to give a list of their gifts and talents, their personal assets. Sadly, sometimes they haven’t made such a list. They were too concerned with what was wrong with them to consider what is right with themselves.
Many of us are the same way. We are not very good at telling ourselves how good we are but we are experts at telling ourselves how rotten we are. Let us ask ourselves when was the last time we made a list of our gifts and talents? It is not bragging to do so. We didn’t earn them or deserve them. They are God’s gifts to us and as such should be acknowledged by us. They are also God’s will for us. How would I fare if the Lord came today and asked for an accounting of how well I have used them?