Saturday, June 1, 2024

Gospel Reflection Mark 11:27-33

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus (again) confounds the religious leaders of the day with a simple question. By asking them about the origin of John’s baptism, Jesus lays their souls bare: they do not care about the truth of God. They are more concerned with legalistic and political exercises under the pretense of piety than anything else. This is the markedly inward turn of sin manifest, huddled together looking at each other - ostensibly a mirror - instead of on their knees looking to God of heaven and earth. 

The chief priests, scribes, and elders are concerned with earthly authority, rank, and order. In this process, hard-baked over many years, they have become numb to ultimate Authority. The ancient Latin root of authority is ‘author’ or ‘originator’. Even more specifically, ‘’master’ or ‘leader’. Jesus spoke in the very person of God. Although shocking to many, there was no doubt He was claiming divine prerogative for Himself. The Lord knew full well that His interlocutors were numb and unable to hear anything outside their echo chamber. Seen in this light, the question Jesus asks is a merciful way of trying once again to show the religious leaders they are missing something profound. 

Friday, May 31, 2024

Gospel Reflection Luke 1:39-56

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After her great ‘yes’ to God, we read that Mary set out in haste to visit her older cousin Elizabeth in the hill country. We can feel the excitement of Our Lady as she travels to share what the Lord has chosen for her to do. As the two co-conspirators in the divine rescue plan meet, Elizabeth bursts forth in praise. The Lord Himself has come into her home! 

Elizabeth then says something very profound and instructive for us, a great summary of the Christian faith. “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” This is the very essence of what we believe, the entire basis of the confession we make every Sunday at Mass. We believe what the Lord tells us because it is the Lord who is telling us. This belief is not simply an intellectual assent, but an entire re-orientation of life around divinely revealed truth. The Blessed Virgin and St. Elizabeth show us the way. God speaks and they respond with humility and obedience. May it be so for us this great feast day and each day forward. 

Holy Mary, Mother of God, Pray for us!

St. Elizabeth, Pray for us! 

Thursday, May 30, 2024

Gospel Reflection Mark 10:46-52

Today’s Gospel recounts the story of Bartimaeus. The idea of blindness has strong spiritual connotations. If we are blind, we cannot ‘see’ the pain and error of our sinful ways nor can we behold the truth of God. In another setting, Jesus chastises the Pharisees for being blind guides. They do not know where they are going yet confidently lead others. We are meant to see glimpses of ourselves in the Pharisees, and they should serve as an apt warning sign. Spiritual blindness is a grave danger.

We encounter Bartimaeus in a sorry state. Not only is he unable to see, but he is begging. He has put himself at the mercy of others. Lest we look down our noses at the beggar, we must remember ourselves in the same state. We are all beggars. Our sinfulness places us in the worst state imaginable. We cast about futility in many directions for sustenance. Nothing in this world can nourish. Bartimaeus realizes his state. He knows only the grace of the Son of David can help him. Even though people try to fervently deter him, Bartimaeus throws himself at the mercy of God with abandon.

What all of us sinners need, those of us who are ‘blind’, is to ‘see’ Jesus. Thus, it is instructive that at the end of the passage today, Jesus says, “Go your way; your faith has saved you.” Bartimaeus asks to receive sight, but he gets so much more than being able to see colors, shapes, and movement. My speculation is the first thing he sees with his eyes is the face of Jesus, while at the same time, his faith has brought him before the face of God in friendship. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Daily Gospel Reflection Mark 10:32-45

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Christianity is profoundly paradoxical, and this is just one more example of that. Jesus raises paradox to the highest possible pitch.

Paradoxes have a long history, usually relegated to scholars of logic and mathematics. In the context of our faith, a paradox is a proposition or set of conjunctive propositions that seem contradictory but are simultaneously true. When we think about paradox, we have the notion of holding two competing notions in our minds at once. Returning to the reading today, Jesus’ claim of being the Son of Man, His most frequent self-attribution, is a claim to divinity. Yet, he also claims to be a servant. 

The tempting move here is to try and resolve the tension. The rationalist, Pythagorean instinct within us moves in this direction. I submit that we should refrain from trying to resolve the competing polarities. Instead, we should quiet our minds until they are taken up and deeper into the mystery of God. Throughout salvation history, God shows us in vivid colors what Hamlet tells the ever-pragmatic Horatio: there are more things in heaven and earth than we can dream of in our philosophy. 

Paradoxes make us uncomfortable because they illuminate the boundaries of our finitude. Yet, in approaching these limits we realize more who we are before God, and we are brought to true humility. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Gospel Reflection Mark 10:28-31

In today’s Gospel, St. Peter says to Jesus what every baptized Christian should say “We have given up everything and followed you.” This is a stark juxtaposition from the scene we read about yesterday where the rich man cannot bring himself to part with his many possessions to follow Jesus. 

Life in Christ, participating in the abundance of the life He gives now and in the age to come, necessarily implies a cost. Not just a one-time transaction, but daily installments. To receive, we must give. We must give of ourselves. The choice of whether we will bring the sacrifice of Cain or the sacrifice of Abel stands before us each morning. 

We must give. This might be best understood in the context of divine love, which is itself the infinite gift of being. To receive the love of God, we must give love away. The goodness and blessings God pours into our lives are meant to be shared. But we are hoarders! Trying to hoard the love of God is like hoarding possessions; the one hoarding ends up being possessed. The more we try to dam the flow of divine love in us, the more parched we become. 

From a spiritual standpoint, when things, relationships, or circumstances own us, they come to define us. In turn, they create a barrier between us and God. The more we put our effort, energy, time, and focus into these things, however good they are, the higher the wall becomes until we can no longer see the Lord. Finite, contingent, and passing things are not bad in the strict sense. It is good to love our families and communities, for example. But these things cannot be the highest good. Although we experience love within them and from them, they are not the source of love. Jesus calls us to Himself as the source. When we drink deeply from His well, we can enjoy the abundant goods downstream and simultaneously contribute to their goodness.

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 15:21-28

There is some potential for scandal in today’s Gospel reading. We seem to get a different picture of Jesus than the loving, welcoming, compassionate, healing Savior that we encounter in other places in the Gospels. What parent could not identify in profound sympathy with the anguish of this woman who is simply trying to do whatever it takes for her daughter to be well? Yet Jesus and His disciples rebuff her several times. It looks like Jesus is not even living up to the teachings of loving His neighbor or blessing His enemies (Canaanites and Israelites having nothing less than a contentious history). Our neighbor, as we learn in the parable of the Good Samaritan, is everyone. Jew, Samaritan, and Gentile. I believe that these passages ask us to take a closer look. If we do, a profound outpouring of divine grace appears. 

We learn that Jesus withdrew to Tyre and Sidon. This was a pagan gentile territory. I think a fair presupposition for Jesus’ perfect life and ministry is that nothing happens by accident. More precisely, it is not a random act that brings Jesus to gentile territory on several occasions. He is doing the perfect will of the Father. 

If we hearken to the Old Testament, we learn that God chose Israel to be an instrument of His grace to the world. No Old Testament prophet says this better than Isaiah. Isaiah 49:6 says “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Importantly, this verse refers to the Servant of the Lord. The Servant here was understood by the earliest Christians, who were all Jewish, to not simply reference Israel in the abstract but a particular individual. Jesus the Messiah. Today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah tells of the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD and become His servants will be brought to the Holy Mountain. This reading is best understood in an eschatological sense, coming to perfection at the consummation of the present Age but asymptotically approaching until that time by the power of the Incarnation. 

Christ being present in a Gentile territory is momentous because it represents an important step in the Gentiles being grafted into the tree of Israel. Yes, Jesus is in Tyre and Sidon for a reason. He is the light to those nations. The light is present there, His illumination is a harbinger. Still, why does it not seem to shine brightly on everyone there in this passage, especially the anxious woman? 

We can easily lose sight of the fact that Jesus did many things for the sake of posterity. It seems reasonable to think that He desired future generations, those who would receive the faith handed down from the Apostles, to know about the faith of this Canaanite woman. Further, St. Augustine famously said that God wants us to persist in prayer, for our own sake. The way I understand this is that God may will to answer our prayer in the affirmative, but He wills to answer not the first but the 1,501st. If we couple these two ideas together, the passage now leaps off the page. 

What we see in the Canaanite woman, much like the gentile Syro-Phoenician woman, is that she persists in her faith. She is undeterred despite the rebukes. She continues to plead with the Lord and His disciples. We can perhaps surmise that she has run out of options. With no place to turn, she turns to the Jewish holy man who has reportedly done many signs and wonders. Or, it could be that she had a thirst for God. She knows something dark has come over her daughter that is beyond any natural cure. The spiritual/physical condition befalling the daughter can only be healed by light. Somehow, the mother knows this. We certainly resonate with the deep love she has for her daughter. What truly loving parent, we think, would not do everything for their child? Such a thought can only come from a position of love. God is love and the love any creature has, if it is indeed the agape love of willing the good of the other, originates in God. 

The petitions from the Canaanite woman betray a desire for the living God. She provides an example for all everyone by asking the Lord to have pity on her, to help her, and that merely the scraps from the table are sufficient. This could be a model prayer in itself. The woman knows that she is not owed anything from God. No creature has a claim on the Creator. She therefore humbly asks the Lord for grace. Grace in the most common parlance is unmerited favor. 

Still, why does Jesus rebuke the woman? First, to test the genuineness of her faith. There are many times in the Bible where we see tests of faith. For our sake, God wants to burn away the dross from our souls until the pure metal of refined faith remains. The Lord desires our hearts, minds, and the totality of our being. When we go to Him in prayer, it seems fair that He would want to know if we really desire Him above all else. Is it God we really want for Himself, or do we want Him simply as a means to an end? I think we see that the woman sought the Lord out of a pure heart, as evidenced by her humility. 

Secondly, perhaps knowing the woman’s faith was genuine, Jesus' verbal rebuke redounds to the benefit of those in the audience and for the sake of all who would learn of the account afterward. It was a teaching moment. There may even be times that parents have done this with their children. We take an extra second when they are asking or telling us something to peer into their soul. The way that we ask a question can communicate a great deal to the other person. Jesus relays the chronology of His mission. He first comes to the lost sheep of Israel. During this time there are brief, though significant, interludes into Samaritan and Gentile territory. The Apostles will then later take the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit to the ends of the earth, baptizing all nations. The light is Christ, carried by His followers. Thus, Christ is very much present to the Gentiles, even after His ascension.

One might think that in this passage Jesus calls the woman a dog, which is a perjorative reference to Gentiles. However, the context does not fit well with this interpretation. He is not just letting her know that Jews think Gentiles are dogs. I think the Lord is intimating the potential for risk in taking something good, like the wonderful grace of healing, and providing it in such a way that it would be trampled underfoot, abused, or taken for granted would be profane (think about Jesus opponents accusing Him of casting out demons by the prince of demons). The woman responds that the food scraps are sufficient and have great value; which we might understand as follows: there is nothing wasted in the giving of grace. Isaiah 55 tells us that God’s word does not return void. This must be true of anything done by the divine Word, Jesus Christ. There is no wasted divine action. On some level, the woman realizes that only a word from the Lord will heal her daughter. Even a scrap of grace is enough to get us through the hardest of times. In another place, Jesus warns against casting pearls before swine. There are certain situations where a hostile or unholy audience will try to trample upon or defame the grace of God. We must be wise to this. Yet, the woman in today’s passage clearly shows where the lines of delineation are between genuine, persistent faith and folly. 

Let us recognize the great example of faith, persistence, and love that the Canaanite woman exhibits and seek to emulate this in our own lives. May we receive God’s grace with humility and seek to share it with others. And may we be vigilant in our prayers for God to help those in most need of His mercy. 


Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Gospel Reflection Matthew 8:28-34

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus casts two demons into swine that careen off a cliff. The unclean is cast out into the unclean, and then into the deep abyss. Pigs root around in the mud and muck. They consume everything and anything, increasing their size indiscriminately until properly fattened for slaughter.  Where there is muck, sin, and debasement, demons flock and gather. Evil spirits gravitate toward their natural abode. In the process, they seek to turn men into pigs. They drive men into filth and thicken them up for the butcher. 

What we see in the passage is that God comes among us to put things into their proper order and place. Demons have no place among the children of God, who are in fact children of the light. The right place for man is with God, enjoying the Creator who is blessed forever. Jesus faces down the savage facade of the demons and sends them on their way. He makes clean the spiritual house of the demon-possessed men and restores them to their right minds. From here, they can begin a new life. For these men, the pig trough will never look as appetizing again as it once did. May it be so for us as we reflect on our own faith and conversion. 

Instead of welcoming Jesus as the healer and one who restores order, the people of Gadarene town want to cast Him away. I suspect many cities and towns today would react the same way if Jesus walked among us. Many would not want their lives disrupted. They are too happy to just walk around the savage demons blocking the road or take a long way around to maintain the status quo. Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom of God and banish the power of the evil one. He came because the way things are is not how they should be. Again, how easy it is to fall into the trap of becoming like swine, wallowing in our filth instead of letting the Lord clean us.