SUNDAY of the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time

Our Gospel selection for this Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year tells us that the followers of Jesus are to make a commitment to him that does not permit any distractions or detours. This, I believe, is the point of today’s Gospel.

Volunteer work is a praiseworthy and demanding thing. All of us, I imagine, get into this at one time or another in our lives. We know how demanding it can be, even though we are “volunteers.” It requires a great deal of generosity on our part as well as a good deal of time and effort. Volunteering is a great thing. But it is not necessarily the same as discipleship. Volunteering for something always contains the option to “sit this one out.” Discipleship does not have this option. It is not volunteer work which we perform on our own terms and at our own convenience. Discipleship goes further than that. There is no “sitting this one out.” Discipleship is not showing up to do something today and then being gone tomorrow.

The Gospel today is about discipleship and about helping people go into this discipleship with their eyes open, knowing what we are getting into and being prepared for it and prepared to do it. We are going to be asked to make a commitment to do it. If we look up the word commitment in the dictionary, we see that it is a pledge, a promise, something that we are obligated to do. There is that idea of obligation, we must do it. There is no choice or option, no “sitting this one out.” And as we said above, this is different from volunteering.

The Gospel for this Sunday begins by telling us: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Rather strong words! The word “hate” used by Luke here does not carry with it the same meaning we usually attach to the word in everyday usage. Luke is not implying any animosity toward the members of our families, but rather a certain detachment from them at times. It is OK to love and cherish and serve our families, but not to the exclusion of Christ. There is the rub, as they say, of discipleship. Hating our family here means that we are to love Jesus first and foremost, above family and even above self. And in loving Jesus first and foremost, we are also at the same time loving our families as we ought. This is one of the elements of discipleship.

Then in today’s Gospel two parables define discipleship even further. We are to enter discipleship with a clear head and knowing what it is going to cost. And we are entering into this for the long run; not just when things are going great, not just for this week or that week, not for a year and a day, but for always. Discipleship is going to cost everything that we have. In the second parable, the king made peace with the commander of the superior army rather than fight him and surely lose. This same wisdom and foresight is required of Jesus’ disciples.

Christian discipleship, following Christ, then, is not a temporary or voluntary option; it is a demanding, total, lifelong commitment or obligation; impossible except for the help and strength given to us by Jesus.

Jesus, help us to be your worthy disciples.

Fr. Howard

Monday of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time

In today’s Gospel the topic of the observance of the Sabbath once again is the topic of discussion. As we have said before, this is one of the main points of contention between Jesus and the Pharisees and perhaps the greatest reason for their wanting to do away with Jesus. They just could not tolerate the break Jesus proposed with their tradition and they began to take steps to get rid of him. They were enraged with him, as the Gospel tells us.

The Christian Sabbath, Sunday, has always been regarded as a day of rest from work, a day dedicated to contemplating the goodness of God and thanking him for his gifts to us. I believe it is also a day when families should do something together.

We seem to be such a busy people and this busyness interferes with our doing things together as a family. I get this idea from my own childhood. We used to begin Sunday going to Mass as a family. Then home to a special breakfast, like bacon and eggs. We never had that for breakfast except on Sundays. Then, often we would climb into the car and go for a visit with my grandparents. They lived about an hour and a half away from us. If we didn’t go to visit with them, we would find something else to do together before the special Sunday dinner — if only playing catch or a round of golf or whatever. I think that even our religious communities who pray and eat together everyday should have something special planned for Sundays to do together as a community.

Sunday, like all the days of the week, are God’s gifts to us. Sunday is a special gift of rest, refreshment and family. Let us not turn away from this gift we have been given.

Fr. Howard

TUESDAY of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time

We notice often in the Scriptures how Jesus went off alone to pray before the important events in his ministry. In today’s Gospel, he spent the whole night in prayer before he called his disciples to himself and chose Twelve, whom he named Apostles. They were going to be special to him and his work of redemption. After he had named his Apostles, he came down the mountain with them and stood on a level stretch of ground with them. Then he began the Sermon on the Plain, which will be the subject of tomorrow’s Gospel.

Both the calling of his Apostles and the Sermon on the Plain were important events in Jesus’ ministry. He preceded them with prayer. This practice of a time of prayer before important doings was and still is part of our life as Franciscans. Eight days of retreat preceded our religious profession of vows and ordination to the priesthood. Becoming Pastor of a parish has a special time of prayer associated with it. We remember that in the Middle Ages the knights spent the whole night in prayer before being knighted.

For those choosing the married state, there should be a special time of prayer set aside for the couple before the wedding day. This could easily be arranged with the Pastor. I think couples should pray before the birth of a child, before beginning a new job, and before other events important to them as husband and wife.

Prayer should be a part of everyone’s life, inviting God’s blessing on the important things we get involved in. It is the closest we are going to get to a guarantee of success and happiness.

Fr. Howard

WEDNESDAY of the 23rd Week of Ordinary Time
Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary

We read the following in Isaiah 43:1: “But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, and formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine.”

These words, I believe, are meant for all of us. We have all been redeemed by Jesus. We are all important to him. He has called us all by name. Our names are important. They identify us, they speak of our uniqueness, they bring to mind our boundaries and our goodness. There will never be another “me” or “you.” We are special and we belong to the Lord. We are his!

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary. One source says the name Mary, coming from the Hebrew, means “The Beautiful.” The old Latin Breviary tells us “the honored name of the Virgin Mary is said to mean “the star of the sea.” The latter name for Mary also appears in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. Whatever its origin, this name means for all of us “the Blessed Mother of God.” She is pure and holy and with her Son in heaven, interceding for us. She is unique.

This feast dates back to the year 1683. In that year, Vienna was besieged by an army of 550,000 Turkish invaders and threatened all of Europe. John Sobieski, the King of Poland, came to the assistance of Vienna with a much smaller army. After attending Mass, he said to his troops, “Let us march with confidence under the protection of Heaven and with the aid of the Most Holy Virgin.” When the Turks saw the army of King John, they were struck with fear and fled the scene.

Following this victory, in the fall of 1683, Pope Innocent XI ordered that the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary be celebrated each year in the universal Church in memory of this victory. The purpose of the feast was to remind the faithful to pray on this day, through the intercession of Mary, for all the necessities of the Church and to give thanks to God for his gracious protection and numberless mercies.

Let us follow the wishes of the Holy Father today on this feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary. Let us pray for the Church and all its various needs and for God’s countless blessings on all of us.

Fr. Howard

THURSDAY of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time
Feast of St. John Chrysostom

Today the Church celebrates the feast of a Saint who lived in the very early Church, St. John Chrysostom. He is called Chrysostom (golden-mouthed) because of his eloquence in preaching. John was born c. 344 in Antioch and died in Pythius in 407.

In 374 he began to live the life of a hermit in the mountains near Antioch but was forced to abandon that choice because of poor health. He returned to Antioch where he was ordained a priest. In 398 he was chosen Bishop of Constantinople. For one reason or another, John acquired a number of enemies in high places who falsely accused him and he was sent into exile. But even in his many sufferings, he managed to find peace and happiness — an example for us all.

St. John Chrysostom, pray for us.

Fr. Howard

FRIDAY of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time

For Christians everywhere the Cross is a powerful symbol of their faith. It is seen often in the Sign of the Cross, made by Christians before prayer. The Way of the Cross is a popular devotion in the Church commemorating the Passion of the Lord. On Good Friday the faithful venerate the Cross in a special segment of the Liturgy for that day. The crucifix is seen in Churches, classrooms, Catholic hospitals, suspended on chains around our necks, on the walls of the rooms in our homes. The Cross is literally everywhere.

The feast we celebrate today had is beginnings with the miraculous discovery of the true Cross of Christ on September 14, 326, by St. Helen, the mother of Constantine. The cross is the instrument of our salvation representing the sacrifice of Christ for our redemption and reconciliation with the Father.

Lord, dying you destroyed our death; rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory. We read these words in one of the Prefaces of the Mass. Let us rejoice and give thanks on the feast of this symbol of our salvation.

Fr. Howard

SATURDAY of the 23rd Week in Ordinary Time

Today’s Gospel selection begins by speaking of a very sorrowful scene: Mary, the Mother of Jesus, together with her sister and Mary Magdalene, standing at the foot of the cross of Jesus. Simeon had long ago foretold that a sword of sorrow would pierce Mary’s heart as the Mother of Jesus. How true these words were, as we can only imagine the sorrow in her heart in the scene portrayed in the Gospel today. Traditionally, there are seven sorrows of the Blessed Virgin: the prophecy of Simeon in the Temple, the flight into Egypt with the Child, losing the Child Jesus in the Temple, meeting Jesus on the way to Calvary, the crucifixion and death of Jesus, taking Jesus down from the cross, laying the body of Jesus in the tomb.

One of the saddest funerals I have ever presided for was the funeral of a teen-age boy, killed in an automobile accident. His mother’s heart was seemingly broken and she moaned and wept throughout the entire service. There was just no way to help her sorrow, nothing to say or do but to pray for her. A mother’s burden and sorrow is sometimes difficult even to imagine. And so it must have been with Mary as she stood beneath the cross of her dying Son.

Let us pray today, as we commemorate the many sorrows of Mary, for all mothers who have to undergo the sorrow and pain of the death of their child.

Fr. Howard

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