Commenting on the relationship between the Old Testament and the New, St. Augustine waxed poetic: “The New in the Old is concealed; the Old in the New revealed.”* The promise of the Messiah, woven throughout the Old Testament, lays the groundwork for Christ’s coming in the New Testament. No doubt Augustine was borrowing language from Jesus’ admonition to His disciples in the Gospel of Matthew, which we hear at Mass today:
“Therefore do not be afraid of them.
Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed,
nor secret that will not be known.
What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light;
what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
This concealed/revealed language also works its way into the text of the Mass for the Dead (the Requiem Mass). A 13th-century Franciscan, Thomas of Celano, wrote the Dies Irae sequence, describing vividly the end times:
Iudex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet, apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.
When the Judge his seat attaineth,
And each hidden deed arraigneth,
Nothing unavenged remaineth.
These bits of trivia are more than mere brain candy. They should remind us that for centuries, Christians have meditated on, and savoured, the words of Christ. And like sewers with fine thread, many brilliant scholars and artists have woven Christ’s words into the beautiful tapestry of our Catholic intellectual history.
Today let us be grateful for the gift of sacred Scripture, and for our ancestors in faith who devoted their lives to presenting its rich truth creatively and beautifully. As we consider how to reinvigorate the occasional banality of our life of faith, let us consider our tradition with new, fresh eyes.
No doubt the future life of the Church is revealed by sifting through a history that, to many, lies yet concealed.
Friday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Today’s Gospel from Matthew has Jesus explain the trials that His disciples will face when preaching the Good News:
Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues…
When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
So what are the trials Christians face in the western world today? In a lecture he gave at Boston College in 2009, former Superior General of the Dominicans Timothy Radcliffe, OP pointed out that the real enemy to Christian faith is banality. It is the belief that our faith has nothing beautiful, nothing fruitful, to say to the world today. All prose, no poetry.
In a culture that treats Christianity more with polite indifference than outright hostility, it can be easy to turn in ourselves, merely to ‘tend the fire.’ But as Pope Francis reminded us in a March 27th papal audience, “”Following and accompanying Christ, staying with him, demands ‘coming out of ourselves’ … out of a dreary way of living faith that has become a habit, out of the temptation to withdraw into our own plans which end by shutting out God’s creative action.”
For prayer today, consider: where has my vision of faith grown stale, banal, or flabby? What is God’s creative action calling me to consider anew this day?
Memorial of St. Benedict
If you’re like me, you have grown weary of 21st-century spiritual clichés: “So much instant connectivity and technology in 21st-century life…” “Now more than ever we need to get away from all the distractions…” Sure, fine, distractions.But is spiritual distraction really a new phenomenon?
Distractedness and the need to ‘get away’ periodically is not unique to our time and place. Consider how often Jesus needed to escape the crowds to be by himself to pray – and he didn’t even have friends nagging him to play Words with Friends on his iPhone.
Today is the feast of St. Benedict, patriarch of Western monasticism. While we Jesuits fancy ourselves “contemplatives in action,” we claim no corner on balancing work and prayer in our lives.
Benedict of Nursia writes, “Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times, at others, in devout reading.”
Like many great founders of religious movements, Benedict was not content with the state of the Church and world of his time. Born in the town of Nursia, he went to study the humanities in Rome. He found fifth-century Rome in decadent decline, so he headed to the hills. A natural leader of others, Benedict established multiple monastic communities outside of Rome in the early 500s, the most famous of which is in Monte Cassino, about 80 miles southeast of Italy. The rules he laid down to run this monastery would guide Western monasticism for the next fifteen centuries. They became essential for passing on the intellectual and spiritual patrimony of Western Europe at times when the cities were subject to invasions, destruction, plague, and decay.
So today, let us find time to balance our work with prayer – not because we have some uniquely modern obstacle to prayer, but because obligations and distractions have been around as long as humankind. The key is to find balance – a challenge in any century.
May the grace be to follow St. Benedict’s suggestion: “Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.”
St. Benedict of Nursia…pray for us!
Wednesday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
If you want to make a Jesuit laugh, ask him “So, do you pick where you get to work, or does someone decide it for you?” The answer is characteristically Jesuit: “It’s complicated.”
All Christians must discern how best to use God’s gifts and talents to be a sign of the Kingdom of God in the world. Each Jesuit is asked to offer his prayerful input about what type of work God may be calling him to do. But a hallmark of Jesuit life is obedience to the will of God and the needs of the Church. Thus a Jesuit entrusts his gifts and desires to a provincial superior, who stands in the place of Christ for the men in his charge. “You discern,” a provincial might drolly say, “but I decide.”
As mentioned, it’s complicated.
But at its best, this way of missioning men is modeled on Christ’s summoning and sending out of his Twelve disciples, which we read about in today’s Gospel:
Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.
As long as there is disease, illness, and the presence of unclean spirits, Jesus’ healing work will continue. As long as people remain estranged from God, others, and themselves, Jesus’ work to restore humanity to God will continue. And as we have heard in the Gospels on both Sunday and yesterday of this week, “The harvest is abundant, but the laborers are few.”
For prayer today, let us ask the Master of the Harvest to send out many more laborers to serve His Church as Jesuits, with passion and zeal.
St. Ignatius Loyola…Pray for us!
Tuesday in the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
What is something that turns your stomach? Something that makes you feel physically unwell, just from thinking about it? Today, we get an insight into what turned Jesus’ stomach, from the Gospel of Matthew. See if you can catch it:
Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.
You may have missed what gets lost in translation. The Greek verb used for “his heart was moved with pity” is splanchnizomai [say that five time fast!]. The verb comes from the noun splanchnon, which means “inner organs, entrails or viscera.” In other words, the pity that Jesus had for the lost sheep was no superficial “ohhhh, how sad,” followed by a click of the tongue and a return to a nice, easy life. Instead, the compassion Jesus felt for those in need moves him from the inside out. Luke uses the same verb in the story of the Prodigal Son, when the father sees his long-lost son returning to him.
Our faith calls us to see the world’s needs with the eyes of Christ. But tolive as Christians means that, at times, we will feel the pains that Jesus felt in the pit of our stomach. The question, then, is simple: How do I respond?
Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”
Monday of the Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Teaching sophomore religion, I spent many weeks considering Jesus’ healing miracles. Jesus came to heal people in mind, body, and spirit, I would remind my students. “Do you believe that he really did that?” my students would ask. They’d lean in closer and ask again, “I mean,really believe it?”
In today’s Gospel from Matthew, we read two stories of healing: the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years, nested within the story of Jesus bringing to life the official’s daughter. The official begs Jesus,
“My daughter has just died. But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live.” …When Jesus arrived at the official’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd who were making a commotion, he said, “Go away! The girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they ridiculed him.
In so many accounts of Jesus’ healing miracles, a chorus of voices is there to scorn, belittle, and doubt Jesus’ capacity to heal. There are plenty of voices and attitudes in our time that keep us from entrusting our hurts and pains to the living God. Cutting through all the external voices and distractions, we Christians must consider a simple proposition of our faith:
Jesus comes to me to heal me in mind, body, and spirit. Do I believe it? I mean, really believe it?
The poet D.H. Lawrence writes,
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But it is a much more fearful thing to fall out of them.
Save me from that, O God!
Let me never know myself apart from the living God!
Let the grace today be a deepening trust that Jesus comes to heal me – today – in mind, body, and spirit. Where do I need to let Him in?
Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Human relationships are complex – at home with family, or among friends and coworkers. There are certain gifts that we simply cannot get just by asking for them: respect and trust, love and friendship, to name a few. To demand them – “respect me!” “love me!” – only highlights their elusiveness. When we sense their absence, we’d do anything to get them, analyzing where things ran afoul. Some patient reflection and prayer – as opposed to fretting and anxious maneuvering – can go a long way to break us of fear-driven demands or despair.
The same challenges face Christians who seek to evangelize the culture around them. Misunderstanding or scorn from others can lead us to doubt either (a) our own mission or (b) the goodness of those we encounter:
…Into whatever house you enter,
first say, “Peace to this household.”
If a peaceful person lives there,
your peace will rest on him;
but if not, it will return to you.
In today’s Gospel from Luke, Jesus encourages us his 72 disciples to offer the gift of peace to everyone they encounter. He does not expect that his disciples – including us – are already perfect models of peacefulness. But he does ask that we offer the gift, hard though it be. This peace (like love, friendship, trust or respect) can be received or rejected. Any parent, friend, or spouse knows this. But even when it is rejected by others, Jesus tells us, peace returns to us. Put another way, we receive this gift not by demanding it from others; we receive it by first offering it.
In a culture that is indifferent to and skeptical of religious commitments, respect and trust do not come easily. But Christ instructs us to offer these elusive gifts – along with love and peace – knowing that God ultimately sustains us.
As Paul writes confidently in Galatians,
From now on, let no one make troubles for me;
for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit,
brothers and sisters. Amen.
Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter
There are plenty of obstacles to good communication with others. Our own stubbornness need not be one of them.
Prayer is an ever-deepening relationship with God, based on good, regular communication. One obstacle to prayer is that we presume that since God is all-knowing, we need not ask for what we need. We expect that God should just know what we need, and wave His magic wand to grant our wishes. When we don’t hear anything, God feels distant or absent.
But this is to misconstrue Christian prayer. We articulate our needs and desires in prayer not to let God know them – but to make ourselves more aware of our own needs and desires. And when we honestly ask ourselves the question, “What do I need today?” we can sort out the needs from the wants more easily.
Consider today’s gospel reading from John:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.
Until now you have not asked anything in my name;
ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.
When we seek God with a sincere heart, and lay our desires at His feet, we are vulnerable and risk feeling rejected. But, as a wise older friend likes to say, “God always grants us our holy desires – unless He has a better plan in store for us.”
Friday of the Sixth Week of Easter
It’s been said that Christianity-and religion in general – is a soothing opiate for the masses, an escape from the harshness of reality. I wonder which Bible these folks are reading, because the Jesus I’m familiar with is keenly attuned to the human condition. Consider today’s reading from John’s Gospel:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn,
while the world rejoices;
you will grieve, but your grief will become joy.
When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived;
but when she has given birth to a child,
she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy
that a child has been born into the world.
There are many ways that our culture dulls the pain of modern life – all available for a low, low price! But a faith that reminds us that pleasure is fleeting, and which takes seriously the ills of the world, is anything but an escape. Heather King writes, “pleasure is shallow, but joy has pain at its center.” Put another way, there is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday – but our faith reminds us that the sun rises on Easter morning.
Grace: To be with Christ as he faces those who indict Him unjustly. Their indictments say more about their character than Jesus’.
Reflection. GK Chesterton once wrote that man longs for simplicity, but tends toward complexity. So it was with the intentions of earthly powers in Jesus’ day, and so it is with us today. We pray with the Jesus who is feared, reviled, and made a pawn of others’ machinations and impurity of heart. It is easy and comforting to distance ourselves from their actions; but they reflect common responses to unwelcome truths of Jesus’ mission.
Caiphas and the Sanhedrin are the fearful ecclesiastical leaders, who are concerned not with the truth but with quashing the apparent Messiahship of Jesus which threatens their authority. Where do I find this pernicious abuse of power employed to quash unpleasant truths?