Monday, June 23, 2008

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A cycle

Reading 1. Jeremiah 20: 10-13
Reading II. Romans 5: 12-15
Gospel. Matthew 10:26-33 (Fear no one).

It was not unusual in olden days for Kings and Princes to kill bearers of bad news. It was as if the messenger was himself responsible for the bad news. The prophet Jeremiah was such a messenger. His preaching or prophecy was that the Kingdom of Judah would be destroyed and its people would be led away as captives by their powerful enemies. And it was all because they had turned their backs on God.

Even today no one likes to hear bad news. Of all the prophets of the Old Testament Jeremiah has become most identified with bad news. The word, “jeremiad” comes from his name and means an extended prediction of impending doom. We don’t call them prophets anymore but our world is full of Jeremiahs. Cartoons used to depict shabbily dressed men carrying placards on street corners urging people to change their ways because the end of the world was coming. Today, we have global warming gurus also preaching disaster unless we mend our ways. Asteroids falling toward the earth, gigantic earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions are some of the themes of our most popular movies.

Jeremiah turned to the Lord when he was surrounded by danger and that is also the point of today’s gospel reading from St. Matthew. Jesus tells his Apostles to “fear no one.” These words, which the late Pope John Paul II used constantly, are not mere “pie in the sky.” The late Pope used them to help bring down the mighty Soviet empire in Russia and liberate 100 million people in Eastern Europe.

Today’s gospel account picks up right after last week’s account of the calling of the twelve Apostles. In effect, Jesus was calling them to be bearers of “good news,” not “bad news.” In another place He told them “as the Father sent Me, so I also send you.” They are to continue His work. The words spoken, the healings, the miracles, all these they can do also if they have faith and are not afraid. He tells them not to keep secret what they will learn and not to be timid.

What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.

We must understand that even though the Apostles have a special place in the Church, whenever Jesus speaks to them, He is also speaking to us. He gave the Apostles a mission but we are all called upon to continue it and play our part. But we all have different parts to play. We can’t all be Pope John Paul II, or Pope Benedict, or Mother Teresa. Thank God, He’s spared us from such an aweful responsibility. Most of us won’t be able to perform great deeds of healing except the little acts of healing we perform every day in our own families and communities.

These good works that we do are essential not only for our loved ones, but also for ourselves. But speaking of good works, what are we to make of today’s second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans? Actually, ever since we re-entered Ordinary time about a month ago we have been going through this famous letter. In this letter St. Paul’s discussion of “justification by faith” has been the source of much controversy in theological circles. It certainly was at the center of the Protestant Reformation and remains today a divisive element between Catholics and Protestants.

Part of the problem today is the words or language used by Paul. Words like sin, justification, and transgression all seem foreign to our modern ears. What is Paul talking about, when he talks about sin and death entering the world? It doesn’t take an especially perceptive person to see that there is something wrong in our world. If we don’t want to call it sin or evil, we can call it pain, suffering, unhappiness, whatever. Where did it come from?

For Paul the problems of the world were so pervasive that he viewed them like powers or kingdoms that threaten us in the same way that powerful forces threatened Israel in the time of Jeremiah. These forces threatened to overwhelm the people of God and enslave it just as people today can become enslaved to anger, violence, jealously, greed, lying, or any of the many addictions that our society holds out to us as substitutes for God.

Paul saw that this evil was part of our human nature and that it had existed from the very beginning. At one point, the Lord had provided the Israelites with the Law in order to show them the way to happiness but the Hebrew Scriptures are nothing if not a chronicle of the many ways in which God’s people continually turned their backs on the Lord. We were meant for happiness but something has gone wrong. We were meant to live forever, but now we must all face death. This is why Paul places so much emphasis on the Resurrection of Jesus.

God has sent His only Son to overcome death for us. It’s as if the impregnable fortress of an invincible enemy had been overcome by a mighty warrior. Now, if we believe in Him and are not afraid, all we have to do is complete the work. Today, our gospel ends with these famous words,

Everyone who acknowledges me before others
I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.
But whoever denies me before others,
I will deny before my heavenly Father.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time
A cycle

Reading 1. Exodus 19: 2-6a
Reading II. Romans 5: 6-11
Gospel. Matthew 9:36—10:8 (the harvest is abundant).

Today is Father’s day and coincidentally the readings all deal with a calling to a special vocation or mission. In the first reading from the Book of Exodus the Lord instructs Moses to tell the people that if they hearken to the voice of the Lord and keep His covenant, they shall be “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.” Not just the priests but the whole nation of Israel is being called to do the work of the Lord.

Today’s gospel reading starts with the end of the 9th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. This chapter is full of incredible works. By this time crowds are following Jesus and everywhere He turns there is work to do. He heals a paralyzed man after forgiving his sins. “Take up your pallet and walk.” Then He brings the daughter of Jairus, called by Matthew a ruler, back from the dead. On the way to the girl’s house a woman suffering from a hemorrhage is healed by just touching His cloak. After He left the house of Jairus, two blind men follow Jesus begging for their sight. He cures them also.

Matthew who had himself been called to follow Jesus in the midst of these miracles indicates that these extraordinary events he describes were just the tip of the iceberg.

And Jesus was going about all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every kind of disease and infirmity.

At this point today’s gospel begins. The reading tells us that,

At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved
With pity for them
Because they were troubled and abandoned,
Like sheep without a shepherd.

There was so much work to be done. Wherever He turned there were people in need of physical or spiritual healing. At this point in the narrative Jesus summoned twelve of his disciples and deputized them. Matthew gives us their names and a little information about them. Scholars tell us that the number twelve is important since it reminds us of the 12 tribes of Israel. In other words, just as the twelve tribes signified the whole people or nation of Israel, the twelve Apostles signify the whole Church.

In the first reading the Lord said that Israel would be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation. In the same way Jesus makes it very clear throughout the gospels that we are all to share in the work of healing.

Today, everyone here in church is here for a reason. Most of us are feeling some pain or anxiety either for ourselves or for our loved ones. Aren’t we like the crowds that followed Jesus? Outside the Church there are millions who also feel troubled and abandoned. Just read Anne Landers or Dear Abby to see how much people need healing.

Typically, these modern day gurus advise people to see a counselor, as if there were enough counsellors to go around for all of us. Other people turn to drugs, legal or illegal, to cure their pain. Some of the most widely prescribed drugs are designed to counter depression and produce happiness. Even our wealthy and powerful and famous citizens have not escaped the epidemic of unhappiness. What’s going on?

Today is Father’s day. Is there any more difficult job than the one faced by fathers today? On this day society pays lip service to fathers but on every other day they are mocked and vilified. Comic strips, TV shows, and even commercials portray fathers as inept bumblers. More seriously, the very concept of Fatherhood has been attacked. Statistics show an alarming percentage of children being born without fathers. Everywhere we see men abandoning, and abusing their children, and even urging that they be aborted.

In every walk of life sacrifice is necessary to be successful. The best athletes are the ones who practice the longest and hardest. The best businessmen or women are those that pay the most attention to their clients. A father must give up a lot for his children but our Lord tells us that if we give up our life, we will find it. Let’s pray today that fathers will deny themselves, and take up their cross, and do their work.

Here is a little prayer for fathers:

Our Father in Heaven, we thank you for all the fathers on earth who,
Like St. Joseph, accept the responsibility to care for and love their children.
May you strengthen them with the kindness, patience and wisdom they need
To encourage and guide their children.
May they be supported by a steadfast wife, a caring family and good friends.
Most of all, may they know that you and you alone are the source of all that is
Good and truly valuable in this world.

The words Jesus addressed to His first Apostles are addressed to all of us, “Without cost you have received, without cost you are to give.”