“Behold a faithful and prudent steward, whom the Lord set over His whole household.”
Behold Saint Joseph, patron of the universal Church, guardian of Your whole Body, prince of the priesthood of the faithful – not immaculate, not sinless, but righteous all the same. He was the first to bring You to Your Father’s house, ransoming You from the Father to humanity so that You could ransom humanity for the Father. Fulfilling the precepts of the Old Law sacrifices, he presaged those of the New. This is why he could only lose You here, in the presence of the Father where You desire all of us to lose ourselves. The singular lapse of his constant watch occurred in the one place You – and we – would always be safe.
Years later, You would give Your servant Peter “the keys to the kingdom of heaven,” setting him up as the steward of your royal house on earth, the one who could be trusted even in frailty to guide and guard the new and eternal Israel of the Church. And in doing so it was as if You were saying, “Be for my sheep what Joseph was for the Shepherd; be the protector, be the guardian, be the father that even I needed on earth. Be, son of Jonah, a faithful one whom the members of my Body can be obedient to, just as the Head of the Body was obedient to a faithful son of David.” May Saint Joseph, in his turn, protect and guide his successors and all the members of Your Body in integrity and righteousness, and may Your Church remain a royal priesthood entire.
“He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.”
Fifty-fourth in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Amos 6:1a, 4-7; 1 Timothy 6;11-16; Luke 16:19-31
“Compete well for the faith,” Saint Paul writes to his disciple and fellow bishop Timothy in our Second Reading. It may seem an odd turn of phrase; those of us enjoying relatively comfortable lives full of first-world problems don’t often think of our religious faith as something for which we have to compete (Greek agonizein, from agon, conflict or contest – and from which we get the word “agony”). And yet, we know instinctively that we have to fight for the things we believe in sometimes, especially when confronted with people – and maybe desires – that push against those beliefs that we hold to be of prime importance. We do this in our families, in our careers, in our politics, and in many other areas of this world that we know passes away. Why should it be any different for what we believe about our eternal life? And what does it say about our beliefs when we let them get knotted up by our inaction? Continue reading
Fiftieth in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Wisdom 9:13-18b; Philemon 1:9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33
In the 1970s Mother Teresa – today enrolled in the ranks of the Saints by Pope Francis – was asked in an interview about the poorest country she had ever visited. She said, “I have been to many countries and seen much poverty and suffering. Everywhere I go people tell me of their hardships and struggles, and ask for help, and I give what I can. But of all the countries I have been to, the poorest one I have been to is America.” When asked why, she replied, “Because America suffers most from the poverty of loneliness.” Her words, sadly enough, seem more true today than they did 40 years ago. There’s always a void we just can’t seem to fill. We know just enough to know that the solution lies outside ourselves. But for all the goods we accumulate, for all the knowledge we gain, for all the like-minded “Friends” and “Followers” we have, somehow it’s never enough. For all our reaching out, we’re still stuck inside ourselves.
Forty-first in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading: Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37
One of the most ancient and persistent Christian heresies (Greek hairesis, taking by the hand, take into power) is Gnosticism. It didn’t start with Christianity – it had been around for a few hundred years – but it did creep its way in, resulting in some of the apocryphal Gospels of the 2nd century A.D. (like Thomas) that some people tend to love more than the authentic ones. In brief, the Gnostic approach teaches that the physical world and its Creator God are false, evil, something that needs to be escaped, and that the path to escape the lie and find the truth lies in a secret knowledge (in Greek, gnosis) that is revealed to a select and worthy few – in this case, which Jesus passed on to His disciples, including Mary Magdalene, in secret. The most definitive refutation of Gnosticism was set down by Saint Irenaeus of Lyons around the year A.D. 180 (if you’ve never seen or heard of Against Heresies, it’s a great resource for what constitutes authentic Christianity – which is by far less complicated than Gnosticism!). But this philosophy that sees the physical as too irredeemable and the way to God as too mysterious has always been incompatible with the Judeo-Christian tradition – and, ultimately, with being “merciful like the Father.” Continue reading
Fortieth in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Readings: Isaiah 66:10-14c; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
This time of year I think of my home parish in Hyde Park, Boston’s southernmost neighborhood. Its cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1880, the Feast of the Most Precious Blood that year. That feast no longer exists in our liturgical calendar, but it does live on in both the name and the mission of the parish 136 years later. Through His redeeming Blood we are all constantly called to be “a kingdom and priests for God” – or, as the parish’s first pastor once put it, “to edify men by leading exemplary lives.” What does that mean, though – to lead an exemplary life? What does it mean to make of our very selves a pattern that other people should imitate?
Thirty-ninth in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles
Readings: Acts 12:1-11; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 17-18; Matthew 16:13-19
At the end of the 18th century, when Napoleon captured Rome, he famously remarked to one of the representatives of Pope Pius VII, Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, that he intended to destroy the Catholic Church. This Cardinal simply replied, “In 1800 years we clergy have failed to destroy the Church. Do you really think you’ll be able to do it?” And this quip does manage to capture, in its dark whimsy, an attitude with which even the most devout can view the organizational aspect of the mystical Body. We’ve seen these flawed men countless times tripping all over themselves and each other to the seeming detriment of their congregations. Some can be overly legalistic in their application of Church teaching. Some flippantly disregard any authority, including their own. And many are guilty of any and every misstep in between. We may even wonder sometimes just what third-rate theology school this weekend’s homilist kept falling asleep in for 8 years. And for some who have a tenuous relationship with the Church at best, it is due in no small part to the fact that the bedside manner of some pastors leaves much to be desired.
Yet we put up with them, ultimately for two reasons. First, these flawed men are no more flawed than the rest of us. The Church is “the sinless one made up of sinners,” and our priests’ every ignorant misstep can be – and should be! – an occasion of compassion on our parts, for they remind us of our own. And second, and perhaps more to the point today: it’s because He wanted it this way. He actually wanted flawed and fallen men overseeing His Church on earth, sinners governing sinners – sinners called to something much more, but sinners nonetheless. He wanted them too, these men upon whom He sets His seal to act in His person, to be ordinary people leading extraordinary lives. After all, at its very beginnings He put in charge an uneducated coward and an overeducated murderer – two very flawed witnesses of the Gospel whose martyrdom we celebrate today, two unlikely evangelists who would become what Bishop Robert Barron calls “the Church’s indispensable men.” Continue reading
Thirty-fourth in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Solemnity of Jesus’ Most Sacred Heart
Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-16; Romans 5b-11; Luke 15:3-7
It’s amazing to see the Church’s feasts reinforce each other, how they help us through worship and celebration to understand the great truths of our faith on both the mystical and the personal levels, to see salvation at work in both universal and daily life. For example, the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist is contemplated in all its institutional mystery and cosmic dynamism on Holy Thursday and recognized as a most intimate and loving gift in the recent feast of Christ’s Most Holy Body and Blood. The great and central mystery of the Incarnation, whose grandeur is celebrated at Christmas and Epiphany and whose promise of hope is contemplated at Easter and Ascension Day, is also recognized in a practical and relatable way on two feasts. One of those is the both old and new Feast of Divine Mercy; the other is today, as we celebrate the very Heart of God. Continue reading
Thirty-second in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (Trinity Sunday)
Readings: Proverbs 8:22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
The Internet is a very self-interested place. Well, just about any medium is, whether social or not. We tend to be very protective and possessive of our words, whether expressing a carefully researched and documented thesis or spouting our opinion on the latest bit of news. I think it’s reasonable to say that a strong bond exists between the words someone speaks and the speaker of those words. Those words are part of us, and they are bound to us insofar as they express us. Now think about this, if you will. Continue reading
Thirty-first in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Readings: Acts 2:1-11; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13; John 20:19-23
“If Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin the spirit is alive because of righteousness.” With these words in his letter to the Church at Rome, Saint Paul encapsulates all our hope. We have already seen how Christ dwells with us in a spiritual way through the Redemption afforded by His Resurrection and Ascension. We’ve even seen how He dwells with us in a physical way, through the Sacrament of the Eucharist where we literally take Him into ourselves. But it is through the events of today – the great feast of Pentecost – that Christ dwells with us in a psychological way too, empowering our intellect and strengthening our will through the Advocate He promised to send. It is through the Holy Spirit that we truly live as people of hope, engaging our daily realities through mental processes enhanced by supernatural grace. Continue reading
Thirtieth in a series of reflections on Mass readings during the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy
Seventh Sunday of Easter
Readings: Acts 7:55-60; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20; John 17:20-26
In my office at work I have on the wall a series of steps meant to help with facing disappointment, and I’ve given these steps to some co-workers in the past. One of the steps is “Refer to God all problems requiring divine intervention;” the step that immediately follows that one is “Recognize that all problems require divine intervention.” In a way, that’s the message we have been slowly receiving as we make our way through these readings, especially in the last several weeks. We have seen the mystery of God’s unfathomable generosity and compassion. We have glimpsed the renewal that is our heavenly calling. We have struggled with its application in daily earthly living. We have to live as if God is the only One in control, because He is. But now, as the Easter season draws to its close, we must take a moment to face the consequences for doing so – and for failing to do so. Continue reading