Saturday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone!
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength. (Dt 6:4-5)
Although God works through us and through many of His creatures, His Providence is most clearly seen when He accomplishes for us what is beyond us. The children of Israel were taught to love this most famous of Mosaic preachings which we hear proclaimed in the first reading today. Know by its opening word in Hebrew, the Shema continues to be one of the most favored prayers of the Chosen People. The call still resounds to hear, and to rejoice in hearing that only the most loving Lord is the one whom we will worship and love as God. The Lord who protects and guides us, who cares for us each and every day, who is the cause of our joy if we but attend to His good works.
This is why Jesus calls his disciples to self-denial. So that there might be room in their hearts for faith in God, room in their lives for God’s action. In today’s Gospel, the apostles are sincerely confused about why they could not cure the possessed child. Perhaps it was because they thought that they could cure the boy, that is to say, they thought they could do so on their own, without relying on faith in the Lord who is the the one at work in us. (Phil 2:13) Today let us hear once again the great call to faith and love, and let us confidently trust that the Lord will supply all that we need to do the good deeds He commands.
Memorial of Saint Clare, Virgin
Moses reminds the people of the singular blessings they have received, and tells them that because of all God has done for them it makes perfect sense for them to know the Lord and out of gratitude and love for Him to keep His commandments. As we reflect on the workings of Divine Providence in the world around us and in our daily lives, let us be especially attentive to those who remind us God’s works, those who tell us to count our blessings. Then we will be able to see that the self-denial and loss to which Christ exhorts us (Mt 16:24-25) truly leads to finding the most blessed life which He prepares for us.
St. Clare of Assisi understood this perhaps the best. Having been inspired by the preaching of St. Francis, she decided at the age of 18 to follow Christ as a religious sister. Later she was able to live that life with other sisters in a most thorough observance of the poverty which Christ lived and which St. Francis preached. When the pope came to Assisi in 1228 for the canonization of St. Francis, he tried to convince St. Clare that her observance of poverty was ‘too much’, even offering to release her from her vow of poverty. Her response? “I do not desire to be released from the obligation of following Jesus Christ.” When we are tempted to either impatience or self-indulgence, let us ask St. Clare to pray for us, that we might have the same desire to follow Christ who denied Himself and laid down His life for our sake.
Feast of Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr
“Lavishly he gives to the poor…” (Ps 112:9)
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Lawrence, who is often portrayed as the patron saint of stand up comics, but who we ought to remember just as much for his heroic generosity before his martyrdom. St. Paul makes bold claims about the Lord’s love for a cheerful giver and the abundance He bestows on those who sow bountifully. Our Lord makes even greater claims upon us not merely to sow something external to ourselves, but speaking primarily about Himself He says, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat.” (Jn 12:24) How is it that we can avoid remaining just a grain of wheat? How can we pursue the promise of a bountiful harvest?
Lawrence was one of seven main deacons in Rome in the year 258. When the Emperor ordered that Christian clergy be executed in August of that year, the pope and four deacons were martyred, leaving Lawrence to care for the Church in Rome. Authorities came to Lawrence and demanded that he give up the supposed wealth of the Christians. Lawrence agreed to deliver all the Church’s treasure in three days, once he had had a chance to gather it all. Over the next three days, he gathered together all those in the city whom the Church supported in their poverty or sickness. When the Roman authorities came to collect their money, Lawrence showed them the people he had gathered saying, “Behold the treasure of the Church!” Infuriated, the Romans martyred Lawrence by burning him slowly on a large gridiron. The saint is said to have told his executioners after a time on the gridiron, “You can turn me over now, I’m done on this side.”
St. Lawrence held nothing back. In life, he dedicated himself to relieving the needs of the poor in Rome. He truly saw them as far more valuable than any other treasure to be amassed, and sought to use every means he could to help them. Let us ask ourselves, do we treasure those in need as much as our Provident Lord? May St. Lawrence pray for us, that we too may be witnesses to God’s love.
Wednesday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
The Lord had promised the Land to the children of Israel, but at the first sight of the intimidating inhabitants, the Israelites despaired of ever living there. Again, this despair is quite irrational given the workings of Providence which the Israelites had seen up until then. Irrational despair leads to inaction, and here in the book of Numbers it proves to be its own punishment. Rather than inhabiting the Promised Land, the children of Israel will wander away from their future home for generations, preferring the desert to confidence in the Lord.
In contrast to this, we have the example of the Canaanite woman. She perseveres in her trust in Christ even when he challenges her confidence. It is through His challenge that the greatness of her faith, the faith of a Canaanite, is made evident to the disciples. It is her trust in the care of Jesus, even when it appeared that He would not help, that allows for others to see the power of Christ at work in those who believe in Him. Today, let us pray for such trust in God’s love for us, even when life calls for a remarkable perseverance in that trust. Then we will not only leave room for the workings of Divine Providence in our lives, but will be witnesses of God’s love to the world.
Memorial of St. Dominic, Priest
“Is it through Moses alone that the LORD speaks? Does he not speak through us also?” (Nm 12:2) The question of Aaron and Miriam is a question which arises in the hearts of anyone who becomes dissatisfied with, or challenged by, someone in a position of authority or responsibility. After wandering through the desert, after being implicated in the idolatry of the golden calf, it is understandable that they would be worn out and jealous of the one who had pointed out their faults. Sometimes we question our leaders, particularly in the Church, because they challenge us. At other times, they are like St. Peter in the Gospel today, both over-confident and weak. Presuming that he has sufficient faith, Peter climbs out of the boat onto the sea. Allowing fear to distract him from his focus on Christ, he then begins to fall into the water. Sometimes we question our leaders because they have noticeable faults.
God’s Providence does not preclude the members of the Church from encouraging one another to examine their intentions and actions to see if they conform to God’s ways. On the contrary, the Spirit often guides us to do so. However, we should always see if the criticism we offer to others really comes from God or not. Aaron and Miriam did not critique Moses because they were led to do so by the Lord. Rather, they allowed fatigue and bruised pride to blind them to how the Lord was already at work in their brother. Jesus does not condemn Peter to the waves simply because his faith is not strong enough yet. Rather, He reaches out to Peter and lifts him up.
St. Dominic (d. 1221) saw scandalous living by certain bishops and priests of his day. He also saw the scandalous division caused by the Albigensian schismatics who sought to ‘purify’ the Church by merely disowning hierarchy altogether. The Lord worked beautifully in St. Dominic by leading him to lead a life of poverty as an example to Church leaders, and to work ceaselessly for unity between all the members of the Church as an example to the Albigensians. Let us trust that the Lord is already at work in the shepherds He gives us, and when we notice weaknesses in them, let us cooperate with our Provident God in helping our brothers rather than condemning them.
Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
The children of Israel in today’s first reading had a rather selective memory. Not content with the miraculous manna given to them as food from the Lord who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt, they dwell with nostalgia on the menu they had back in the land of servitude. “We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt, and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.” (Nm 11:5) Yet, they do not remember the suffering endured, nor how the Lord had delivered them from the hands of their persecutors. In the face of their complaints, Moses asked to have his life taken in order to be freed from dealing with ‘such distress.’ (Nm 11:15)
Faced with the hungry masses which had followed Christ into the wilderness, the disciples also wanted simply to be rid of them, to have the crowds go back to the villages. But Christ shows how He is the Provident Lord. He will take care of the hunger of His People. He pities them when He sees them hungry. He gives those who follow Him the means of serving even the most basic needs of their neighbor. Today, let us be grateful to God who in His Providence has met our most basic needs, who has fed us, who has given us to drink, to be clothed, housed, and who will never cease in His love to take care of us. Let us also seek to cooperate consciously with Him as we attend to the needs of our brothers and sisters.
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
The prophet Daniel describes for us his visions of the Lord as King with myriads of angelic hosts ministering to Him, and the Son of Man receiving kingship from the Lord. How are we to understand this kingship? One aspect of the Lord’s reign are the marvels of Divine Providence: how it is that the Lord orders all things according to His infinite wisdom and disposes them according to His infinite love.
Christ allows a choice few of His disciples to see Him transfigured and shining with glorious light as a means of strengthening them to bear the events of the Passion. Immediately before the Transfiguration, we read of Jesus’ explanation of the demands of following Him: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16:24) The three apostles were meant to treasure the vision as a guarantee that Christ was the Son of God, and that despite all that they were to see Him suffer, death would not triumph over Him. Thus, they would have courage to face similar sufferings, knowing that they were not worthy to be compared with the glory to come, a glory of which they were given a foretaste in the Transfiguration.
Christian trust in Divine Providence takes this very grace as its foundation. The Lord has made great promises to us, and has given each of us cause to trust Him. Like Peter, James and John we will face trials in life which will challenge our trust that God is guiding all things to His good ends. What we are called to meditate on in today’s Gospel is the strength that comes from Christ’s reassurance that all things have been handed over to Him by the Father, (Mt 11:27) that He is the Son of Man whose kingship shall not be destroyed. (Dn 7:14)
This week let us savor the manifold ways in which God in His Providence takes care of us. Let us take the readings as incessant reminders that the Lord guides all things for our good out of His great love for us.