“Still Life With Grape Juice And Sandwiches (Xenia)” is David Ligare’s painting. Ligare used to volunteer in a homeless shelter where he served the grape juice and sandwiches depicted in the paintings. The word “Xenia” in the painting’s title refers to the ancient Greek notion of hospitality, which includes the practice providing guests and strangers with baskets full of food. According to Ligare, he produces the paintings to inspire others to serve those strangers among us who are in need.
There will always be grace poured upon us whenever we show our hospitality, especially to strangers. In the first reading today, Abraham opens his tent to three strangers. Sarah, in her old age and wrinkled body, tries to knead dough and make rolls for these guests. Abraham runs with his tired feet to get some curds and milk. Abraham and Sarah try to be hospitable to the strangers. Immediately, they receive grace from the strangers who inform them that in one year’s time, Sarah will have a son.
Let yourself be drawn into exercising hospitality, especially to strangers. Please wait and see what will happen. You might be surprised to find an abundance of grace waiting for you.
Traditionally, life in a monastery emphasized self-control, including restraint from laughter.
One of the earliest monastic orders, Pachom of Egypt, forbade joking. The Rule of St. Benedict advised monks to “prefer moderation in speech and speak no foolish chatter, nothing just to provoke laughter; do not love immoderate or boisterous laughter.” In Benedict’s Ladder of Humility, Step Ten is a restraint against laughter and Step Eleven is a warning against joking. Why? Part of the reason is because “uncontrollable laughter and jokes are not indications of a well-regulated soul and self-mastery.” Moreover, laughter is also vice: when we laugh at someone we might imagine ourselves to be wealthier, smarter, or more virtuous than them.
In the scripture reading today, we hear that Abraham laughs as he said, “can a child be born to a man who is hundred years old?” Later, we will hear that Sarah also laughs because God told her that she will give birth to a son in her old age. Abraham and Sarah laugh because of their feelings of superiority over God. They seem to know better than God about God’s plan. People dislike to be laughed at because laughter is devaluing. Despite Abraham and Sarah’s laughter, God reaffirms his promise for Sarah to bear a son. Moreover, God reassures Abraham that He will maintain His covenant with Isaac as an everlasting pact, to be his God and the God of his descendants.
Perhaps there was a moment when you laugh at God. In the midst your laughter, what do you want to hear back from God? What do you think God is promising and preparing for you?
Justice Clarence Thomas once share his thoughts about our society in saying that it has been transformed into a society based upon victims rather than heroes. Under the culture of “victimhood,” we are living with the practice of blaming circumstances of one’s situation rather taking responsibility for changing things for the better. In Justice Thomas’s view, today’s culture is exalting victims-individuals who are overcome by the sting of oppression, injustice, adversity, neglect, or misfortune. In contrast, under the “heroic” culture, the success as well as failure is the result of one’s own talents, morals, decisions and actions. Accepting personal responsibility for success and failure is liberating and empowering.
Today is the solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, the two prominent apostles of the early church. Both of them refused to play the “victim card” after their terrible failure. Peter accepts personal responsibility for his betrayal of Christ and transforms his failure into heroic deeds by leading the early Church. Similarly, Paul accepts personal responsibility for his wickedness and moved on to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Above all, God made two of them heroes of the Christian faith because they chose to be heroes.
The feast of St. Peter and Paul is a call for each of us to be heroes who have courage to accomplish and achieve something for the kingdom of God. Like Peter and Paul, we have to be open to God’s plan for our life. Peter and Paul had the humility to recognize their failure and to transform their failure into something glorious for the Kingdom. How do you yearn to do something heroic for God? Whatever your feelings or desires are, share them with the Lord now.
In Herectics, G.K. Chesterton wrote, “We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether, in the long run, anything else affects them.” In this passage, Chesterton suggests that if the landlady wants to rent her room to a man who thinks that violence is a way of life, she will think twice to open her room to this man. Similarly, in the context of the “culture of war,” the issue is not whether some people are “abortionists,” or how much money they make in the abortion industry, but the philosophy of the abortionist that makes them that way.
Today is the memorial of St. Irenaeus, one of the first systematic theologians of the Church. In the midst of persecution against Christianity, Irenaeus came to realize that the Church faced a threat even greater than physical persecution; the rise of Gnosticism, one of the earliest heresies in the Church. The Gnostic philosophy says that Jesus had two doctrines: a doctrine fit for the common man which he preached to everyone, and then an advanced teaching, kept secret for the chosen spiritually elite. The Gnostics consider themselves the spiritually elite who have access to the real truth. In opposition to this idea, Irenaeus maintained that the Gospel message is for everyone. He was perhaps the first to speak of the Church as “Catholic” (universal).
A lesson from St. Ireneus is that the main task of the Church is not to “suppress” heresies. Rather, it is the Church’s function to know and proclaim the difference between the truth and the heresies. The crisis in the world and the Church would be much greater if the Church itself refused to talk about heresies and abdicated its functions of pursuing and judging the truth. Otherwise, as Chesterton says in Heretics, we are just creating all the bad novels in the circulating libraries.
Recently, a pro-life activist walked into Google’s headquarters and delivered a compelling speech about abortion. Her speech at Google’s headquarters was part of the Talks at Google series, a program that brings a variety of speakers to the company’s headquarters to discuss their work. It may sound like a joke or perhaps this is something like what Jesus said in today’s Gospel, throwing your pearls before swine. What is the point of talking about abortion in front of a crowd in the Silicon Valley, which is known for harboring a more liberal mindset?
Jesus’ command, not to cast your pearls before swine, does not mean we have to refrain from preaching the Gospel before hostile crowds. Jesus Himself repeatedly dialogues with sinners and tax collectors. This command is similar to what Jesus said to his disciple that “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.” As the disciples of Christ, we must have courage to share the Gospel with everyone, including our enemies. We do not have control on how they respond to the Gospel. We have to move on if some people reject the good news like swine that do not appreciate pearls.
How do you respond to Jesus’ command? Is there any “pearl” that you want to share with people around you? Do you have some fear to share the good news to people around you? Speak to God now about any desire you might be experiencing in your journey of faith, and how you could move forward.
When I was in the Jesuit Novitiate, there was a senior priest who lived with us. One day, the Provincial told him to move to a new mission. It seemed to all of us that the Provincial was asking a lot from this eighty year-old Jesuit. Packing up and moving away from a familiar home to a new place seemed a bit too much. One of my fellow novices compared the situation of our senior priest with his grandfather who was around the same age. He said that his eighty year-old grandfather would definitely have refused to leave even if God had asked him to relocate and move to an unfamiliar place.
In the first reading, we hear that the seventy-five year-old Abraham is to move to an unfamiliar country. Abraham trusts God completely and he does not complaint when he goes off to visit many unfamiliar places. Abraham does not even complaint when for a brief moment God seems to disappear and abandon him after he leaves his home. God reappears with His blessing and promise that God will give to Abraham and all of his descendant all of the land.
Let us pause and reflect. Can you trust God like Abraham did? Or, do you feel that sometimes God has abandoned you. Can you feel God’s presence in your life now? Do you need some assurance and promises from God like what He gave to Abraham? Whatever you need, speak to God directly now.
In Summa Theologiae, Secunda Secundae Partis, St. Thomas Aquinas dealt with a question “whether worldly fear is always evil?” He replied, “Accordingly worldly love is, properly speaking, the love whereby a man trusts in the world as his end, so that worldly love is always evil. Now fear is born of love, since man fears the loss of what he loves…Now worldly fear is that which arises from worldly love as from an evil root, for which reason worldly fear is always evil” (ST. II-II Q. 19, A.3).
In today’s Gospel, Jesus said to his disciples: “Fear no one. … And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul … So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. … Everyone who acknowledges me before others. I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.” Jesus knows that fear is the worst enemy of heroic deeds. As he calls the twelve to be his heroic disciples, he must first deal with their fear.
Indeed, we are living in a world surrounded by a tremendous amount of fear. Let us keep aside the fear of terorrism or security breaches. Some of us are over achievers and the greatest fear of over achievers is failing at anything. We are afraid to fail our family, the world, and ourselves. Some of us are afraid of being rejected by the world. We are afraid that nobody will like us and will not want to be our friends.
Speak to Jesus now about your fears. Ask Jesus directly how through Him, you can overcome those fears? Say what your fear is to Jesus.
Today is the memorial of St. Catherine of Siena. She is a saint, a mystic, and a doctor of the Church. She was born in Siena, Italy in 1347 into a very large family. She died in Rome in 1380. She was canonized in 1461. When Catherine was 16 years old, motivated by a vision of St Dominic, she entered the Third Order of the Dominicans. She dedicated herself to prayer, penance, and works of charity, especially for the benefit of the sick. Due to her prayer and dedication to the poor, her holiness spread across Europe. She became the source of inspiration for many people, including Pope Gregory XI who was living at Avignon, France. Catherine effectively urged the Pope to return to Rome.
In 2010, Pope Benedict gave an audience in which he discussed the basic facts of Catherine of Siena’s life. Pope Benedict wrote, “Like the Sienese saint, every believer feels the need to be conformed with the sentiments of the heart of Christ to love God and his neighbour as Christ himself loves. And, we can all let our hearts be transformed and learn to love like Christ in a familiarity with him that is nourished by prayer, by meditation on the Word of God, by the sacraments, above all, by receiving Holy Communion frequently and with devotion. Catherine also belongs to the throng of Saints devoted to the Eucharist…the Eucharist is an extraordinary gift of love that God continually renews to nourish our journey of faith, to strengthen our hope and to inflame our charity, to make us more and more like him.” (Pope Benedict XVI, General Audience, Paul VI Hall, November 24, 2010)
Let us learn from St Catherine to love Christ and the Church with courage, intensely and sincerely. As she said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
Pope Francis in Lumen Fidei says that the opposite of faith is idolatry, instead of unbelief. Pope Francis explains that faith, by its very nature, demands renouncing the immediate possession which sight seemingly offers. The problem for modern man is that instead of having faith in God it appears better to worship an idol. The idol’s face we can look at directly. We know its origin because it is the work of our own hands. When we choose to worship an idol, there is no risk that we will be called to abandon our security. Pope Francis explains further that idolatry is always about an aimless passing from one lord to another. Once we begin to worship an idol, we begin to set ourselves at the center of reality and worshipping our own accomplishment.
In today’s scripture, we hear that Gamaliel knows that our trust in certain idols will not endure forever. It is only faith in God that endures forever. Faith in God will be fruitful because God will not abandon us. Let’s pause and reflect on whether we put our trust in God all the time, or, perhaps, we do not trust Him in everything. Let us pray for the Holy Spirit to increase our faith. We also hear in today’s scripture that the disciples left the presence of the Sanhedrin rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name of Jesus. Can you share the joy of the apostles because of your faith in Jesus Christ?
Jackie is a 2016 drama about Jackie Kennedy during the days immediately following the assassination of her husband, President John F. Kennedy. Seeing the sorrow that Jackie had to endure, her brother-in-law, Bobby Kennedy, recommended her to speak to a priest. In one of the dialogues between Jackie and the unknown priest, Jackie says, “If there’s a heaven, then there’s your God with all of his empty promises. What kind of God that takes a father from his two little children?” The priest answers, “Our Lord sacrificed His only son.”
Is that true that God really gives us empty promises? In today’s Gospel we hear that the Father wants “whoever who believes in the Son to have eternal life.” Indeed, the reward for faith is beyond our comprehension because it is eternal life. St. Thomas Aquinas says, “For if the Father has given everything he has to the Son, and the Father has eternal life, then he has given to the Son to be eternal life…Whoever believes in the Son has that toward which he tends, that is, the Son, in whom he believes. But the Son is eternal life; therefore, whoever believes in him has eternal life” (Commentaries on the Gospel of John).
At the end of today’s Gospel we hear that “God does not ration his gift of the Spirit.” So, spend some time now in prayer. Ask for help from the Holy Spirit to understand more clearly the love that allows God to sacrifice His Son. Speak to God now about that love. Do you feel the love of God? Are you grateful for that love?