A former teacher of mine described the process how printers were paid in Tibet before the printing press had arrived. The printers would make the block engravings of a text as was standard. The person who commissioned the engravings would then pay the engraver in gold flakes. The amount of gold flakes paid to the engraver would depend on the depth of the cuts in the engraved blocks. For the patron of the engraving would pour gold flakes into the engraved block, and how ever many gold flakes it took to fill in the engravings was the payment for the blocks. The assumption is that deeper engravings would last longer. I bring up this story because today is the memorial of St. Jerome.
St Jerome lived in the 4th century, and held important roles in the Church, like being the secretary to the Pope. His most well-known contribution to the Church is his translation of the books of the Bible into Latin, a work known as the Vulgate. The Vulgate would become the standard Latin version of the Bible in western Christendom. In order to translate the Bible, Jerome had to master Greek and Hebrew, a labor that took time to accomplish. When we hear or read the Gospel, we probably do not call to mind to all the people it took for the words of Jesus and our sacred stories to reach us. Scholars, like St. Jerome, dedicated their lives to the transference of the message of Jesus to be carried with accurate translations and meaningful commentaries.
Like the Tibetan engravers mentioned above, St. Jerome produced the Vulgate that was the Biblical translations for centuries of Christians. Each word he wrote contained something more precious to us than gold: the Word of God. There is nothing we could do to repay Jerome and other scholars like him who guide the Church in understanding divine revelation. Let us pray that God gives us the grace for gratitude for all who communicate the word of God.
Take a moment to experience a moment of gratitude for all those people who have relayed the word of God to us.
Feasts of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael
Do I believe angels exist?
I found myself on my Spiritual Exercises Retreat pondering that question. One of the early meditations in St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises retreat includes a meditation on the fall of the Angels. I had not really thought about angels, or my personal belief in them. Angels were always a comforting thought to me as a child. However, I rarely found myself praying to my guardian angel as an adult as I once did as a child. A simple meditation in the Exercises was actually challenging for because it forced me to examine what was the extent of my faith to believe in creatures which I cannot see normally.
What helped my belief in angels was to think about my belief in God to be truly omnipotent and wholly good. If angels did exist, God would be the only type of being capable to create an angel, and the only being that would delight in the creation of another type of being. For Catholics, we believe that God created angels to be his servants, and to share in the providential care for the world. The stories of the angels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael are stories which demonstrate moments when God relied upon another to fulfill part of his plan.
The existence of angels reveals something about God’s care for all creation. God invites other beings to care for creation as He does. God so delights in creation that God created creatures to care for it and one another. The angels are one type of creature that cares for creation, but human beings are invited similarly. God relies upon us, and works through us to care for the people and the earth. Let us pray through the intercession of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael that we live out of the same grace God has given to them, that is the grace to join God in his care for creation.
When is a moment you cared for another person and creation? How did you see yourself being an instrument for God’s care of that person or thing.
Our Gospel reading is one of the few readings were Jesus is not present as an active character. He is only referenced to, and not even by name. Instead, we readers hear about Jesus from the perspective of Herod the Tetrarch. The Roman imperial authorities endorsed Herod’s reign after his father’s, Herod the Great, death. From his palace, Herod the Tetrarch appears confused about the reports he was receiving from his court and agents.
The news about Jesus eventually reaches Herod’s ears. Instead of dropping what he was doing and leaving the palace, Herod stays put. His curiosity about Jesus does not lead him to the edge of his door to go out to see Jesus. His wonder is not echoed in his actions. He stays at a safe distance from Jesus who travels out to people, and sends his disciples to do likewise.
Herod is not so different from us at times. We have a fascination about Jesus and what he is doing in our world, and in our lives. We would rather stay put than come close to the Lord. Maybe we are worried that the lives we are living Jesus would be disapproving. Maybe we think the Lord likes us better when he cannot see our imperfections up close. Our pride can prevent us from even thinking we need Jesus’ help. Whatever our rationalization process in our hearts, we all struggle to go to the Lord. When we meet the Lord—in a quiet moment, in a quick prayer, or in a face of another—the Lord is already waiting for us to come to share ourselves.
When have you struggled to share something with God? What was it like to share with God after the struggle?
Today is the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul. Vincent was born in the year of 1581 in France. While he was a gifted teacher, he is most well-known for his mission of charity to the poor in France. His mission to the poor was not only to distribute alms, but also to preach retreats to the poor. Vincent invited others into his mission when he founded the Congregation of Priests of the Mission, commonly known as the Vincentians, the Ladies of Charity, and the Daughters of Charity with St. Louise de Marillac. Vincent died in the year 1660.
One fact I did not know about Vincent was that he was once a slave. After his ordination, he was captured while traveling from Marseilles and sold into slavery in Tunisia in Africa. He escaped after two years. Without having any concrete evidence, I think there is a connection between Vincent’s time as a slave and his focus on the poor after his escape. His time as a slave could have shown the hardships the poor suffer. His time where he was not looked at and avoided made him turn his attention to those treated similarly when he was in his home culture.
As we pray with St. Vincent today, let us pray with the difficult moments in our lives when we felt forgotten or in need of help. The connection with the moments when we needed the helping hand, the gift of money to make ends meet, or the listening ear in turn helps us to give what we received. We ask the Lord to reconnect us with those moments in our life so that, like St. Vincent, we may turn our gaze to the poor. Pope Francis reminded the Church, “We need to be good to people who cannot pay us back” in order to see a different world. Let us pray for that grace.
Is there a moment in your life that has made you more compassionate?
“My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”
Early family dynamics and experiences are often the most formative factors in a person’s personality. The shared experience over time with family members, whether parents or siblings, provides the basis for the closest (and often must frustrating, too) relationships in a person’s life. When Jesus in the Gospel utters the quoted line above, it should give some pause about what he means to be part of his family.
His “family” is not related to him through blood. They are united together through something else, which to Jesus is deeper than physical characteristics. His family is united together by a shared desire to live for God in the world. They are the people transformed by the revelation of God through the Hebrew Scriptures and now in the Word of God, Jesus. They live with integrity in that their convictions are echoed in their actions. Instead of the shared experience of growing up together, Jesus’ family shares the experience of laboring for God in the world.
The power of a shared desire can unite apparent dissimilar people. Different starting points in life, challenges, and experiences do not have to keep people apart. A shared desire to serve the Lord can soften our sharp edges of division within society and the Church at times. Let us pray we can recognize the good desires in others to serve God, and that we may have great desires to serve God also.
Who is someone you are close to because of a shared desire to serve God?
What do you put on your lampstands?
Social media provides us many platforms with which we can share our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. We publish ourselves, or at least a version of ourselves we want the world to see. When we peruse Facebook or Twitter, we look to see into the lives of others. Social media is neither good or bad because it is only a tool, which is good or bad based on the way in which it is used. The online platforms we use is the modern-day lampstand which is referenced in our Gospel reading today. (If you do not use social media, think about the ways you share is going on in your life.)
Take a second to think about what “lights” you have shared on social media. The “lights” might be specifically moments in your faith life or request for prayers. A light might be a social justice cause that lacks appropriate action and willingness within our communities to solve. A light might be thoughtfully engaging the comments of another with mercy and truth.
With a great sharing tool like social media, we are able to recognize the ways we have used it well and not. Let us pray that we bring the light of our Christian lives to the lampstands in our world.
Go back through your social media posts or feeds through the day. Where did you feel you brought a light from your life? Where did you participate in the darkness or negative culture present in social media?
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.”
One of my college theology professors once said that the work of religion was about smashing idols in order to open ourselves to a fuller sense of the Mystery of God. When he mentioned idols, he was not referencing any particular physical representation of other deities, like the golden calf in the Exodus story. He was neither referring to ridding ourselves of artistic representations of God or icons in our Christian tradition. The idols about which we need to be concerned are the small conceptions of God that fail to capture who God really is. An idol could center on any attribute of God. We might have an idol in the place of God’s love that makes us believe sin causes God to stop loving us. Idols are more comfortable versions of God that stay us from seeking the living God beyond our conceptions. The Gospel story today tells us of another idol we might have in the place of God’s justice.
Jesus’ parable about the landowner challenges our sense of justice. The full-day’s workers have a rightful complaint against the landowner. They worked the field longer and assumedly performed more of the farm maintenance than the late hires. The full-day workers deserve more recompense if the landowner cared only about levels of production. To the surprise of the full-day workers (and to us readers), the landowner rewards the late hires with the same reward. They did not earn the full day’s salary, yet the landowner proceeded to give it to them anyway. If the landowner was truly interested in production alone, he would have rewarded the full-day workers more handsomely than the late hires. The parable hints that divine justice, the justice of God’s reign, is not equivalent to our normal economic sense of just rewards. For if the landowner symbolizes God, God prizes that others have joined in the task of laboring for the world rather than the number of assignments they complete. To paraphrase St. Teresa of Calcutta, God desires faithfulness not success.
The landowner parable shatters a narrow conception of divine justice. An idol that can be latent in all of us who take our faith lives seriously is the idea that God will reward us more for what we do now in our lives than others. The idol is hard to remove because on the surface it seems to be a truism about divine justice, but this idol also keeps our attention focused on ourselves. We are the ones who profit from this idol of God’s justice. God invites us to turn our gaze away from ourselves, and to look at others with His tender gaze. We are called to adopt God’s concern for all His people to be one with Him, and to go out to the places and people who need a sense of God’s presence and peace. When we hold onto idols of the god we have fashioned, we are prevented from moving our focus off ourselves and onto others.
Let us pray that God might free of us from any idols that we might allow to become obstacles to our joining the living God at labor in the world today.
When have I felt like an idol was smashed into my life? What did I learn about God in the process or the event?
Memorial of Saint Martha
Today, the Church celebrates the feast day of St. Martha. The lectionary provides two options for Gospel readings. The first is from the Gospel of Luke, probably the more well-known passage, and the second is from the Gospel of John. In Luke, we see Martha as busily taking care of Jesus and his companions while Mary, Martha’s sister, sits at the feet of Jesus. The second passage depicts Mary after the death of her brother, Lazarus. She states her trust in Jesus, “Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.” Between the two passages, we see the portrait of a complex woman of faith.
In one story, she appears to be a busy body who focuses on the details but misses the point of her service: to be with Jesus. She starts to get frustrated that no one, especially her sister, is helping her with the task she feels is important. We can imagine Jesus reading her face to understand that Martha was upset, and speaking to her as he did. Jesus offers her advice without denigrating her work. Her anxiety and worries from the love from which originally acted.
She proclaims Jesus to be the long-awaited Messiah. Even some of the Apostles do not have as bold as a statement of faith in the Gospel stories. Especially at the loss of her brother, she would have just cause to reject or distrust Jesus. She grieves while knowing the Lord hears her cry of pain. While the details might trouble her in one story, she clearly recognizes who and what is important in another scene.
Martha demonstrates to us that our personal friendship with Jesus will have a similar dynamic. We might become detached from the initial spirit of generosity or love that moved to us act. We will need to be reminded by others or God in prayer that the work of our lives is meant to unite us to God. Also, our discipleship is marked by the moments of trust in Jesus where we would have great reason to doubt. Our Christian discipleship is never clear from one story like Martha’s depiction in the Gospels.
How do you identify with Martha? When are moments you need to reminded about the point behind your work? When did you experience the Lord filling you with faith when you were going through a time of pain or suffering?
I have a unique question to begin our reflection today: who is the teacher you remember most from either grade school, high school, or college?
How much is this person memorable to you for what she taught or who he or she was? What stories do you remember this person sharing?
I suspect what makes the teacher memorable is not what he or she taught you about the subject you were studying at the time. Rather, who the person was is the largest impression in your memory. What stories this teacher shared that illuminated some part of your life’s journey then or now is what you truly cherish. The subject material in school is important, but it serves as a very convenient means to teach other life lessons that are not contained in textbooks. Life lessons stemming from pain, loss, failure, true joy, faith, hope, and love are usually embedded in the stories we tell.
Jesus understood the power of a story to convey his points. I think that is why the Word of God is a person about whom stories are told. We Christians do not have as our primary sacred documents logical arguments or a collection of esoteric sayings. We have stories where Jesus shares his life in order that we may let our guard down to let God enter our story. Logical arguments do not always touch to the level of the heart where a story may reach.
Since Jesus reminds us the power of stories today, take a moment to reflect on the biblical story that speaks to you most. What is it about the story that speaks to you? What does the story remind you about Jesus and the path of discipleship? How has that biblical story become part of your life story?
The oldest faith formation classroom is on the lap of a grandparent. Grandparents bind the extended family together through more than holiday celebrations or gift-giving to spoil their grandchildren. They are the models of later adult life. They are the wisdom figures in the room. They are often the first catechists with the parents for a new grandchild.
Jesus himself had grandparents. Today, the Church celebrates the feast day of Sts. Joachim and Anne. They are the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and are the grandparents of Jesus. They are not explicitly mentioned in the canonical Gospels. The names of “Joachim” and “Anne” have come to us through non-canonical Christian Scripture.
Although they are not mentioned in Scripture, we can come to know them through our imagination. In the Spiritual Exercises retreat, Ignatius advocates for a similar method to come to know Jesus during the hidden years of his life (from the Presentation in the Temple to his Baptism) which are not mentioned in the canonical Gospels. What is not written down, we have the freedom to imagine what the unmentioned years and even persons were like.
We can imagine Jesus sitting on the lap of Joachim or Anne when Mary and Joseph came to visit. We can see Joachim and Anne delighting in how Jesus played on the floor, or spoke his first words. Jesus playing reminds Joachim and Anne of when Mary was a little girl. Our imagination may continue to paint pictures of Joachim and Anne where they are no longer obscure figures in Salvation History. We can come to understand how they are essential characters who shape Mary into becoming the mother of God. We can dream how they even might have shaped Jesus.
How did or do your grandparents shape you?