Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
In a sense, we should all be John the Baptist. John heralded the first coming of Jesus, “by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” Our mission is greater–we need to herald the second coming of Jesus by proclaiming a higher baptism to all the world. But what does this mean? It is easy to confuse John’s preaching with prophets of doom who stand on streetcorners. Yet, the last word of our preaching should never be doom, but hope.
When we proclaim baptism to all the world, we proclaim God’s loving nearness. In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict notes that when Jesus accepts John’s baptism, He “expresses solidarity with men, who have incurred guilt but yearn for righteousness.” The Son of God announced through John that He would not be kept apart from human beings, with all their sins. Through the sacrament of baptism, Jesus likewise makes it clear that He wishes to continue to have solidarity with human beings. The Father continually wants to adopt us as His sons and daughters, and Jesus continually wants to call us His brothers and sisters.
The baptism we proclaim is nothing less than the Trinity drawing us into its love and calling us equals. It is a love that does not ignore sin, but neither is it a love that is put off by sin. God’s love is quite tenacious. And it is expansive. In the first reading, God speaks through Isaiah, telling Israel that “I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” This is likewise our mission–to tell the entire world that God wishes to be near to it. We are to be a sign to everyone we meet that God wants to save them, and wants nothing more than to call them son and daughter, sister and brother.
Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus
In the Johnny Lee song “Looking for Love,” Lee laments how his search for love was always “in all the wrong places.” In many ways, Lee’s song is a short version of Augustine’s Confessions. The two men, though separated by 15 centuries and an ocean, both recognized that they had hearts which did not know how to properly love. Both of them tried to find love “in too many faces,” trying to find “traces of what I’m dreaming of.” It was a long, tiring search for love, one that wore out their imperfect hearts.
The turning point for each likewise came when someone else showed love to them, and taught them how to love. Lee rejoices and asks God to bless the day that “You came knockin’ on my heart’s door/You’re everything I’m looking for.” Once Lee has an experience of true love, he himself learns how to love, and his heart is able to settle down. Augustine, likewise, experiences the love of God, recognizes how poorly his own heart had been at loving, and learns a far greater love than he ever could have imagined.
On the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, John tells us in his first letter that “[in] this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us.” It is hard for us to really know how to love before we have experienced love, and it is impossible for us to love perfectly until we have experienced God’s perfect love. This solemnity celebrates God’s perfect love for us. Jesus has come down to us and shown us divine love in human terms. His Sacred Heart has come knocking on our hearts’ doors, and our search for that perfect love can finally come to an end.
Memorial of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher, Martyrs
God is good, and yet today Paul tells us that God is jealous. Moreover, Paul says that “I am jealous of you with the jealousy of God.” All throughout the Old Testament, God says through His prophets that He wants an exclusive love with Israel, and that He will not tolerate any actions which divide the Israelites hearts. It is right for God to be jealous, because God cares about us, cares about every bit of us, and wants us whole-heartedly. Paul is reiterating this, and telling the Corinthians that God cares very much about their actions, and whether their actions divide their hearts between God and the world.
Today, we celebrate the feast of St. Thomas More, who before he was executed declared “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first.” More understood very clearly God’s jealousy, and how much God cared about what he did in both in the political realm and in the sanctuary of his own conscience. More was a man of integrity through and through, with his private life, his political life, and his faith life all forming one harmony–all guided by his fidelity to God above all. While we may not be called to martyrdom like More, he nonetheless shows us what a life given wholly to our jealously loving God looks like.
Memorial of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious
In the first reading for this feast day of Aloysius Gonzaga, we are reminded that there is no love apart from God’s commandments. Chief among those commandments, as the Gospel reminds us, are love of God and love of neighbor. For Aloysius, this love cost him his life. In the midst of a plague in Rome, Aloysius begged to be allowed to go among the sick and tend to them. Eventually, Aloysius himself contracted the plague, and died on the feast of Corpus Christi. John Paul II called the Eucharist the “school of love,” which truly teaches us how to pour ourselves out for another. Aloysius lived and died with that Eucharistic love.
However, Aloysius himself knew that he did not always have that love. As he himself remarked, “I am a rod of twisted iron. I entered religion [i.e., religious life] to get twisted straight.” Aloysius saw his time in the Jesuits as a time to conform himself to a rule of true love. Any true vocation has the same effect–it brings us outside of ourselves, asks of us things that we would not otherwise do, and teaches us to love those beyond us. In short, any true vocation helps bring us to a true love of God and neighbor. As with Aloysius, we, too, can be “twisted straight” in our states in life to have that same Eucharistic love.
Tuesday of the 11th Week in Ordinary Time
Paul makes a curious remark to the Corinthians to spur them into action–after telling them of the generosity of the Macedonians and reminding them of the gifts they have from God, he says that he wishes to test “the genuineness of [their] love.” He does not wish to see whether or not they have love, but whether or not that love is genuine. This can sound especially odd to modern ears, since we usually assume that all love is genuine love. But Paul knows that there are many kinds of love, and that some love is little more than sentimentality. True love pours itself out in concern for the beloved.
Paul does not want the Corinthians’ love and generosity to just be some momentary feeling of pity, but a constant response to God’s goodness. Jesus does not stop giving them gifts, nor does He limit the sort of gifts that He gives them. As a result, they cannot say “I will help now, but not then,” or “I will help in this way, but not that.” For ourselves, there is no lack of places that need help and genuine loving concern. As often as we are aware of God’s love, we should be asking ourselves how to respond to that love. As often as we receive gifts from God, we should be asking ourselves how to use these gifts in love. Genuine love is not a fashion, but a constant, daily response.
Monday of the 11th Week in Ordinary Time
From time to time, I am asked why I joined the Jesuits so young (I was 19 when I entered). The basic reason I give is that I knew it was the right time. I knew that I wanted to be a Jesuit, so why waste time in my life being not-a-Jesuit? People I know who married unusually young give the same response when asked why they didn’t wait–they knew that they wanted to be married to their spouse, so they wanted to get started being married to that person as soon as they could. Once you know the best place to be, why be elsewhere?
Paul has much the same attitude as he writes to the Corinthians today, urging them that “now is a very acceptable time […] now is the day of salvation.” God does not just call us to do things in any old time. Just as Jesus came “in the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4), at the most appropriate moment, so, too does God call us at particular moments in time. God gives us grace at particular moments for particular tasks, and so we must be attentive to those moments instead of saying “I’ll do it when I do it.” Sometimes, of course, God’s will is indeed for us to wait for the right moment. But when we do know the moment is right, we should strike while the iron is hot–and the grace is being offered.
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
We are so used to having the Eucharist around we can forget how revolutionary it truly is. The first reading today speaks of how the Israelites have received manna, a “food unknown to you and your fathers.” What the manna was for the Israelites, the Eucharist is for us today–something totally unknown to human beings before God gave it to us. Never before in human history had God given Himself to us so fully and completely as God does through the Eucharist.
In Greek mythology, Zeus responded to the evil of humanity by destroying the human race and making a new group until they get it right–except each group was worse than the one before. Christianity certainly does not shy away from acknowledging the evil of humanity, but what is revolutionary is the response we see from God–He sends His Son to us to save us. What’s more, His Son gives us the Eucharist as a pledge of His continued presence, and to make us more like Himself. The Eucharist is the only thing eaten which is totally greater than the one who eats it. With all other food, the eaten becomes like the eater–with the Eucharist, the eater becomes like the eaten.
Thomas Aquinas sees in the Eucharist a concrete fulfillment of Jesus’ words “I am with you always.” Through the Eucharist, Jesus makes good on His pledge to be with us, and in staying with us, makes us more like Himself. Jesus makes it clear in today’s Gospel that He wants us to eat Him, that He wants us to take Him in fully and be made like Him. Our wounded humanity will be made like His perfect humanity, and even be invited to share in His divinity. God sees that we can be more than what we are, and through the Eucharist, makes us into that “more.” No other food in history has ever done that. The Eucharist is truly “food unknown to you and your fathers.” May we never take this Heavenly food for granted.
Saturday in the Octave of Easter
Even though the Apostles had heard that Jesus was risen from multiple sources, “they did not believe.” While we might be inclined to forgive them for not believing such an incredible event, after Jesus first appeared to the Apostles He “rebuked them for their unbelief and their hardness of heart.” Fear of being wrong can prevent us from knowing the truth. Fear and other concerns had kept the Apostles from believing. If their hearts had been more open, they would have been able to believe as Mary Magdalene and the other disciples had.
Every day this week, we have seen a different account of Jesus revealing the Resurrection. We have seen empty tombs, appearances on the road, and entrances through locked doors. We have seen Jesus reveal the Resurrection through the words of others, and we have seen Jesus reveal the Resurrection through appearing directly. The question now stands whether we will have the same hardness of heart as the Apostles, or believe in the truth that Jesus is trying to give us. Like the Apostles, our hearts can be hardened by any number of concerns. We must ask Jesus to open our hearts, so that we can rejoice in the truth of His Resurrection.
Friday in the Octave of Easter
Thankfully, Jesus is patient. We hear in today’s Gospel that “this was now the third time Jesus was revealed to His disciples after being raised from the dead.” Even this does not count Mary Magdalene telling the Apostles about the Resurrection, or Peter and John seeing the tomb for themselves. As with yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus even eats a fish to show them that He is truly risen. Nor will this be the last time that Jesus appears to them after the Resurrection. For 40 days after the Resurrection, Jesus will appear to the disciples, teach them, and help them to grow in their understanding of what has happened.
Jesus was persistent with the first disciples, and He will be persistent with us. On one level, we celebrate the Resurrection, we believe that Jesus was resurrected, and we look forward in hope to our own resurrection. But it is fair to say that none of us fully grasps it. It is an event so far beyond our ordinary experience that we cannot take it in all at once. Moreover, we will never really be done taking in this extraordinary event. Accepting the truth of the Resurrection is the work of the whole Christian life. But Jesus will help us believe. He will come to us as many times as we need, and in as many ways as we need, so that we can believe that He is risen. Jesus is patient, and will always give us faith.
Thursday in the Octave of Easter
Jesus wants to prove to the Apostles that He is not a ghost. We see this concern not just in this passage of Luke’s but in multiple passages throughout the Gospels. Both Jesus and the evangelists want us to know that Jesus still has a physical body. He can still be seen. He can still be touched. And, He can still eat. Everything we can do with our bodies, Jesus can still do with His—except that He is no longer bound by our limitations. Material reality has been glorified and drawn even closer to God than it had been before.
Often, when we think of religious experiences, we think of being lifted out of our bodies, and no longer having the same concerns for the material world. On one level, this makes sense, as Christianity reminds us that life is about more than the material world. But we are also reminded that life is not opposed to the material world. Jesus did not rise from the dead to overcome physical existence, but to glorify it. As we go about our day-to-day lives, then, whatever we are doing, we can ask ourselves whether what we are doing helps to glorify material reality, or just push matter even further away from God.