Pentecost Sunday, May 31
John 20: 19-23
Pentecostes (literally “fiftieth”) is the Greek word for the Israelite feast of Weeks. The feast of Weeks was called “Fiftieth” because it occurred seven weeks, fifty days, after the feast of Passover. Originally an agricultural feast that celebrated the end of the grain harvest, Pentecost eventually came to be a feast of celebrating the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. There are many similarities between this event on Sinai and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples.
The second reading for this feast of Pentecost taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (5: 16-25), lists for us the gifts of the Holy Spirit that come to the Church on Pentecost. These gifts are listed as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This second reading concludes saying: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.” The presence of these gifts in our lives is indicative of our being followers of the Spirit of God.
Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, points out a couple of interesting things about these gifts of the Spirit and how we can tell if they are authentic or not. First of all, no one has merited such gifts, and since each community member’s gift comes from the same source, the Spirit of God, no one is above or inferior to the other. There is certainly a great diversity of gifts in the members of the Christian community, but all of these gifts in all of their diversity come from the same God and are given through the agency of the Spirit. Some manifestation of the Spirit is given to each member of the Community. Any claim by any member, therefore, that any one particular gift is a fuller manifestation of the Spirit than some other gifts is out of the question. Thus, any and all arrogance that would claim that certain gifts are superior to others is simply false. We all receive and we are all equal. The Spirit favors no one.
Paul also tells us that any gift that is truly from the Spirit, a gift which is an authentic manifestation of the Spirit, must in some way benefit others. The Spirit’s gifts are not given for our own personal self-gratification or status in the community, but they are all given for the common good.
It would be well for us to keep these two criteria for the authenticity of the Spirit’s gifts in mind on this feast of Pentecost. These gifts are not for us personally, but for all the community. There is no room for ego trips, for thinking my gifts are greater than yours. All are from the same Spirit and all are to be used for the common good, for everyone else. Am I looking at my God-given gifts and talents in this way?
Monday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time, June 1
Mark 12: 1-12
The Liturgical Year now reverts to Ordinary Time in the Ninth Week with the Gospel from St. Mark and the Parable of the Vineyard.
I guess the point of this parable from a practical point of view could be that we are to make good use of the things we have been given by God, including the gifts of the Spirit that we spoke of yesterday on the feast of Pentecost. The owner of the vineyard in today’s parable turned the vineyard over to the tenants in pretty good shape. He had planted a hedge around it, dug out a wine press and built a tower before he leased it out. Everything was ready to go for a profitable season for the tenants and the owner.
But the tenants were influenced by those false gods we have mentioned before in these homilies. They got greedy and wanted all the profits for themselves. Their final end was not what they had intended when the owner finally returned.
The parable is really about Israel, but we can make ourselves the tenants too. We have all been given the necessary gifts to produce the harvest our Creator wanted. Let’s ask ourselves whether or not we are using our gifts as Jesus intended for his purpose of loving and helping others. Or have we become greedy and keeping all the rewards of these gifts for ourselves? Are we being diverted by the false gods of this world?
Tuesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time, June 2
Mark 12: 13-17
Today’s Gospel parable is concerned with the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus by asking him if it is lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not. Jesus responds with that wonderful answer we have all heard so many times: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” Notice that the Roman coin the Pharisees gave Jesus to look at was stamped with Caesar’s image and Jesus told them to give Caesar his due.
I think this is a good opportunity for us to remember that our Creator stamped each one of us with his own image and likeness when he created us. We belong to Jesus and we are obliged to give him his due. Are we giving Jesus his due in our daily lives? Or is the teeter-totter of life tipped in the direction of the world and all its images?
Wednesday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time, June 3
St. Charles Lwanga and Companions
The Martyrs of Uganda, whose feast we celebrate today, were disciples of the Society of Missionaries of Africa, better known as the White Fathers. I thought as I read the name White Fathers of an incident that happened when I was in the eighth grade. Sister put a poster on the class room’s bulletin board about the White Fathers. It was a vocational poster asking people to consider joining their group. It was that poster that got me thinking about becoming a priest. When I went to the seminary it was to the Franciscans and not to the White Fathers. But it was their poster that inspired my thinking in that direction. Anyhow, it was the custom of these missionaries, because of their scarcity, to build up communities of converts in their missions who in turn would go out from there to evangelize other converts the White Fathers themselves could not reach.
One of these converts was named Joseph Mkasa. The King of the tribe where he was working was named Mwanga and he was a violent and bad-tempered man. Joseph objected when he heard that Mwanga had killed a Protestant missionary. Mwanga didn’t take too kindly to the criticism and killed Joseph too. It was then that Charles Lwanga took over the leadership of the Christian community at Mwanga’s court and tried to keep the young men and boys out of Mwanga’s hands. Finally Mwanga separated the Christians from the rest of the people, took them on a long march to a place where he intended to execute them all. They reached this place of execution, Namugongo, on June 3, 1886, and there all of them were burned to death. They numbered 22 in all and they were all later canonized as the Catholic Martyrs of Uganda.
Holy Martyrs of Uganda, pray for us.
Thursday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time, June 4
Mark 12: 28-34
Today’s Gospel selection presents Mark’s story of the scribe who asks Jesus which is the first of all of the Commandments. Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear O Israel! The Lord our God is God alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus combined the two objects of our love into one Commandment that we have come to call the Great Commandment. “There is no other Commandment greater than these.”
There is an old rabbi-disciple story that exemplifies this point: “An old rabbi asked a disciple, “How can you tell when night is over and day has begun?” The disciple thought a moment and said, “Could it be when you see an animal in the distance and can tell if it is a lamb or a dog?” “No,” answered the rabbi, “think again!” The disciple did, but to no avail. The rabbi then said, “It’s when you can look into the face of another and see if it’s your sister or brother. If you can’t see this, it’s still night.”
Jesus has told us in the Scriptures, “Whatever you do for the least of my brothers or sisters, you do for me.” What is it that is keeping me from seeing a brother or sister in the faces of the people I meet?
Friday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time, June 5
Mark 12: 35-37
Today’s Gospel selection at first glace is kind of difficult to figure out. Jesus is not denying that the Messiah is David’s descendant, but is rather saying the Messiah transcends merely human descent. The word Jesus uses in this Gospel for Lord is the Greek word Kyrios. This word appears 700 times in the New Testament and usually refers to Jesus Christ as God incarnate. But when the title “Lord” is applied to the Messiah, it signifies the divine nature of Christ. So Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel that Jesus, the Messiah, is not only the Son of David but also the Son of God. He is not just David’s descendant but David’s Lord as well.
What has happened, what is it in my life, that tells me Jesus is really divine? What encounters with Jesus point to this fact?
Saturday of the Ninth Week in Ordinary Time, June 6
Mark 12: 38-44
Today’s Gospel contains the parable sometimes called the Widow’s Mite. This same parable also appears in Luke’s Gospel (21: 1-4). It is the story of the widow going to the temple where the rich people were putting their offerings into the treasury. The widow approached and put in only two small coins which were all she had. The widow offered her whole livelihood, whereas the rich people were giving only from their excess. It is a beautiful story that can be applied to the virtue of poverty. The woman’s detachment from material possessions and her dependence on God (her poverty) for her support leads to her blessedness.
How are we doing with our practice of the virtue of poverty, of showing our dependence on and surrender to Jesus rather than depending on material things? Are our material possessions and our desire for more of the same getting in the way of our depending on God? Are these things more important to us than God’s help?