Saturday in the 20th Week of Ordinary Time
The Church is not just something that has sacraments. The Church herself is a sacrament. She is formed by the sacraments given to her by Christ, and made into one great sacrament for all the world to see. A key attribute of a sacrament, though, is that it refers to a reality beyond itself. The scribes and Pharisees that Jesus denounces in today’s gospel, however, do not point to anything greater. They do not strive for goodness that people might recognize God’s goodness, or show people love in order for them to experience God’s love. What they do, they do for themselves.
If we are to avoid the self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus condemns in today’s gospel (cf. Mt. 23:5), we need to point people to God. And as Pope Benedict noted in his 2009 Christmas homily, “God’s sign is His humility. God’s sign is that He makes Himself small; He becomes a child; He lets us touch Him and He asks for our love.” God is worthy of every title, but He sets them aside to come be with us. If we wish to truly show God to other people, this is likewise our mission–to set aside every title, every claim to greatness and strength, and then go to be with others. In being small, we can be a great sacrament of God.
Memorial of St. Louis
For St. Louis, love of God and neighbor was not just a matter of passively receiving them with no objections, but actively working to welcome them into your life. In a letter to his son on how to be king, Louis exhorted his son not to just sit absent-mindedly in church, but to actively listen to God’s voice. In matters of justice, St. Louis told his son to “always side with the poor rather than the rich, until you are certain of the truth.” St. Louis walked the corridors of power long enough to know how people try to flatter and deceive. He could not just passively accept what people told him, but had to actively listen to find the truth, and actively discern to hear God.
The work of St. Louis in medieval France is our work today. People still deceive. There is still injustice. There are still empty words, empty gestures, distracting thoughts–all sorts of things that can keep us from loving God and serving justice. We need to make our thoughts count, our words count, our actions count. And we also need to make our listening count–how we listen to God and how we listen to others, especially the poorest. The more our reception of God and neighbor is not just passive acceptance, but active welcome, the more we can truly be said to love God and neighbor with all our strength.
Feast of St. Bartholomew, Apostle
Bartholomew (also known as Nathaniel) might never have become a saint were it not for Philip. In the gospel for his feast today, upon first hearing of Jesus, he asks “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46) He was effectively insulting Jesus, calling Him a small-town rube. Just another person from the sticks who claims that He’s found religion. But Philip tells Bartholomew to go to Jesus and see for himself. Bartholomew not only likes what he sees, but falls in love with what he sees. He not only falls in love with what he sees, but he eventually dies for what he sees.
All of us have dismissed Jesus or tried to put Him in a box at some point or another. As a general rule, if following Jesus is a way of changing everyone around us but not ourselves, of transforming the whole world but not our own hearts, we have boxed Jesus in. Bartholomew dismissed Jesus at first, but was able to change thanks to Philip’s encouragement. Our friends are often the best ones to help us overcome the limitations of our thinking. We need to grow in how we think about Jesus, just as much as Bartholomew did. We need others to encourage us to grow in our Christian faith. And for that we need our friends.
Memorial of St. Rose of Lima, Virgin
When we hear the gospel for the feast of St. Rose, where Jesus exhorts us to sell everything to get the “pearl of great price,” (Mt. 14:46) what do we think we should do? Jesus does not mean to simply give God the excess–to make do with less, but still hold onto certain things. When Jesus says “sells all” He really does mean “sells all.” Rose of Lima certainly did that. She knew that she was supposed to be the spouse of Jesus, and so she made herself unattractive to any would-be suitors. She invited the poorest into her very home. She endured the mockery of her neighbors. Bride and bridegroom hold nothing back from each other, and so Rose held nothing back from Jesus.
The example of St. Rose of Lima challenges us. Most of us would like to help the poor, but perhaps keep them at arm’s length. Most of us would like to dedicate ourselves to Jesus, but not in a way that others would notice. The thought of giving up control and letting Jesus so totally into our lives can be terrifying. But if Rose gave everything she had and everything she was to Jesus, He certainly responded in kind. She was able to feel very strongly the presence of Jesus as she prayed and tended to the poor. The more we let Jesus into our lives, the more we will experience His presence. But what are we prepared to do for the sake of the love of God? God is prepared to come to us, but we must let Him in fully.
Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Jesus promises us many things. Mary shows us that they will be fulfilled. Jesus promises us that we will be with Him in heaven body and soul. A week ago, Mary showed us through her Assumption that this will happen. Jesus tells the apostles in today’s gospel that they will sit on thrones (cf. Mt. 19:28). Today, with the coronation of Mary, we see what it means to sit on a heavenly throne. Mary is the first fulfillment of all Jesus’ promises.
When we look at Mary, we look at what we might become, what Jesus can make of us. And while the thought of Mary sitting on a throne may strike us as an odd existence for one so humble, notice how she uses her power: to draw people to her Son. Not for gain or power or sowing division. For union and peace. The Queen of Heaven invites us to submit to the Prince of Peace. This is ultimately our destiny: to sit on thrones using our power to encourage one another in union with Jesus. Jesus wants us to be a royal people, and has a royal plan laid out for us. Yet again, Mary shows us that reality with Jesus is better than any fantasy.
Memorial of St. Pius X, Pope
Pius X grew up in abject poverty–sometimes, he would even have to walk to and from school barefoot to save money on shoes. He was under no illusions that everything about the world was sunny and pleasant. So how did he live out Jesus’ command heard in the gospel for his feast, “feed my sheep” (Jn. 21:7)? He increased access to the Eucharist. He lowered the age of first communion to seven, and encouraged people to receive the Eucharist much more regularly. He knew his own limitations, and that he could only give the Church so much on his own. So he gave them Jesus.
Like Pope Pius, we are all too aware of the problems in the world today. We all have some experience of its brokenness. We likewise have some experience of our powerlessness in the face of that brokenness. We want to help, we want to make things better, but sometimes we can’t. Whether it is brokenness we are experiencing in our own lives or witnessing in the lives of those around us, we will eventually come up against our limitations. But we can bring them Jesus. When Pope Francis was concerned about war in Syria, his first reaction was to lead people in prayer before the Eucharist. For both Pope Pius and Pope Francis, their response to Jesus’ command for Peter to “feed my sheep” has been to lead people to Jesus. We may not be able to fix everything, but we can lead people to the One who can–we can lead them to Jesus.
We can safely assume that Jesus did not have an epiphany when speaking with the Canaanite woman in today’s gospel. He not only knew the passage from Isaiah heard in today’s first reading, He famously quoted the final line–”my house shall be a house of prayer for all people” (Is. 56:7) when driving out the money-changers from the Temple. By now, Jesus had even healed the centurion’s servant, praising the faith of the centurion as superior to anyone in Israel. So what was Jesus doing when He questioned her?
By the end of the exchange, Jesus’ questions lead to a marvelous show of faith. What His questions do is serve to draw out from the woman–perhaps for her sake, but certainly for ours–more explicitly the great faith that she possessed. The woman’s faith is one that allows God to work on His own terms, rather than making God submit to her. She was not there to challenge or change Jesus’ mission, but to make herself a part of it in any way that she could. It is a faith that makes her will more like God’s will, and so makes her more like God. Jesus draws out from the Canaanite woman and shows to us an example of a faith that is truly transformative.
How do we have faith like the Canaanite woman? Her faith was partly born from an experience of her own limitations. She saw the torment of her daughter by a demon, she knew that she was powerless to do anything, and so she turned completely to God. St. Augustine had a similar experience when he reflected upon himself and realized that he did not have the strength on his own to live completely the Christian life–he needed the help of Jesus to succeed, and to entrust himself completely to Jesus. If we reflect on our own lives, we can find ourselves in the same weakness that St. Augustine saw, and feel the need to entrust ourselves totally to Jesus. If we can experience that need, we can have the same marvelous faith as the Canaanite woman.
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.