Memorial of St. Callistus I, Pope and Martyr
Again, the prophet Joel places before us the sobering contrast between those who become a wasteland through injustice and the Lord’s dwelling on Zion which not only enjoys flowing waters, but even drips with wine and new milk. (Jl 4:18) As I consider how this week has gone, I can ask if it seems more like the desert of Egypt and Edom, or like the rich land of the Lord’s Jerusalem. The result of contemplating the Word of the Lord this week should be the joy of the just in which the Psalm today urges us to partake. The joy that comes from bearing the fruits of repentance, charity, and mercy is the grace we have asked for this week. As we turn towards the future, let us ask the Lord to help us once more be faithful brothers and sisters to Him by hearing the Word of God and observing it.
Friday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
There is no way around the words of the prophet Joel. In a way we have been prepared for this message all week, from the Sunday Gospel’s words concerning the wicked tenants, to the preaching of Jonah, to the words of Malachi. When we fall into sin, into lack of charity, into a disregard for the justice which our Lord and our neighbor require, then we must bear the fruit of repentance. We must turn away from those deeds which cut into the relationship which we hope to have the Lord. If not, then the rotten fruit of sin is its own punishment. The Psalmist sees this quite clearly. “The nations are sunk in the pit they have made; in the snare they set, their foot is caught.” (Psalm 9:16)
In contrast, Christ gives us hope that repentance itself will render good fruit. If we turn away from the divided house of sin, if we determine not to be scattered, then we have the opportunity to gather with Him. “But if it is by the finger of God that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Lk 11:20) Let us have Christ enthroned in our hearts as King, so that there may be no place for injustice in our hearts.
Memorial of Bl. John Beyzym, Priest
One of the consequences of truly accepting that God is our Father is to accept even our enemies as our brothers. Another consequence is that we accept as our brothers even those whom we would be tempted to ignore. Those who do not necessarily have others upon whom they can make demands of financial support, medical support, educational support, etc., and yet who still have desperate need of money, doctors and schools. We may be tempted to remain ignorant of such people because they do not ask us personally or directly, or because they may live very far away from us. But it is the nature of charity to seek out the beloved. If we do not know any such persons in our lives yet, perhaps we could take the example of Bl. John Beyzym (1850-1912).
This Polish Jesuit as a seminarian served others in the region of the seminary when cholera was spreading from village to village. As a young priest he not only ministered as a priest and taught classes, he also took care of the sick at his school. From the age of 29 he asked he religious superiors to send him to work with lepers. Sent to Madagascar at 40, he was the first there to set up his home among those suffering from leprosy. In addition to caring for their wounds, even when those wounds were incurable, he also would also travel and send fundraising letters back to Poland to beg food for them. One Jesuit noted that his efforts to provide food for the sick reduced the number of deaths from 57 a week to 5 a year.
For 22 years, Beyzym labored in Madagascar for those suffering from leprosy until his death at the age of 62. Beyzym once wrote, “One’s country is where the greater service of God and help of the souls is found. It does not matter where you live: at the equator or at the North Pole. What really matters is to die in the service of the Lord Jesus…” That is a grace. To seek out our brothers in need, to serve Jesus in serving them, to do so faithfully not just in the short term but over the course of years… for that we need the grace of the Lord. Does such a grace seem beyond our capacity to receive? “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Lk 11:9) In our prayers this day, let us ask the Lord to help us bear the fruit of perseverance in charity like Bl. John.
Memorial of St. John XXIII, Pope
One of the sad effects of original sin is a disordered desire for others to receive their just deserts. The prophet Jonah displays this. “Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry that God did not carry out the evil he threatened against Nineveh.” (Jon 4:1) Nineveh was a city not only of general wicked activity, but the capital of an empire which would exile the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Israel. Jonah sees the Ninevites as enemies, those whom he opposes and whom God should oppose as well. But the Lord does not oppose them, nor does He treat them as enemies. He accepts their repentance and has mercy, treating them as His children.
‘I knew it,’ says Jonah. “I knew that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, rich in clemency, loath to punish.” (Jon 4:2) Jonah did not want to preach because he knew there was a possible reconciliation with those whom he wanted justly punished. “But the LORD asked, ‘Have you reason to be angry?’” (Jon 4:4) The Lord works with Jonah, to show him that he should value mercy over retribution. Why? Perhaps for the same reason Jesus teaches us to pray in the manner that He does… because God is Our Father. And if he is truly Our Father, then we should treat one another as children of that same Father.
St. John XXIII (1881-1963) did this over and over again in life: as a priest, as a medic and chaplain during WWI, as a papal diplomat granting visas to escaping Jews in WWII, and as the pope who urged the world to peace and reconciliation (in a particularly urgent way during the Cuban missile crisis). His life shows us the disorder involved in Jonah sitting outside Nineveh watching and waiting for the Lord to destroy it. May such disorder not be found in us. Let us pray for the fruit of peace in our lives and in our world. Let us be insistent on this petition by truly treating even our worst enemies as beloved children of God.
Tuesday of the Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Just as the first audience of yesterday’s parable would have been taken aback by the example of a merciful Samaritan (the Samaritans were normally viewed by ancient Hebrews as schismatic worshipers of God and so as enemies), so today’s reading from Jonah would have been quite counter-intuitive to its first hearers. Nineveh was the capital of ancient Assyria, the empire which conquered the Kingdom of Israel and exiled its inhabitants, thus creating the first Jewish diaspora. To imagine that at the first cry of a Hebrew prophet, the capital of such an empire would completely repent of its evil-doing is, to say the least, hard for one to imagine. And yet, such is the image which the first reading places before us this day. It impresses upon us that even through a reluctant prophet, God can work amazing deeds. How does this allow us to better understand today’s Gospel?
Do we not sympathize with Martha? She does seem to be the reasonable one in the house that day. Since a guest has come, a lot of things need to get ready, and she cannot do it all by herself. Yet, her sister, rather than helping to serve Christ who has come to visit, simply sits at His feet and listens as He speaks. Mary seems to Martha (and to many of us) to have chosen not the better part, but the wrong part. In the face of all of our expectations and assumptions fly the words of Christ: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” (Lk 10:41-42) Though counter-intuitive, the words are true. Let us allow these words of our Lord to sink into our hearts. Let us repeat them throughout the day. May they work in us a change of heart. What am I anxious about today? What would it look like for me to surrender those worries to the Lord? Listen to the Lord. Ask Him about the one thing necessary. Let Him give you that peace needed to bear the good fruit He wants you to bear.
Memorial of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman
Almost without exception, what follows the first reading in our liturgy is a responsorial psalm. Today, however, what is used is not a psalm, but the prayer which Jonah prays while in the belly of the fish. The response which we all hear and then repeat gives us an ancient and profitable way to understand what comes next in the Gospel. We pray, “You will rescue my life from the pit, O Lord.” (Jon 2:7) As we repeat these words, we are invited to make our own the prayer of one in need, one whose hope of rescue is to be found in the Lord. How does this help us contemplate anew the parable of the Good Samaritan?
From the earliest records of Christian commentary on this parable going back to the homilies of Origen (d. 253), the parable has been interpreted as a reflection on Christ’s saving action. While often today we primarily think about how we ourselves might be the Good Samaritan, early Christians began their reflections on the parable by praising Christ as their Good Samaritan. We, too, can imagine ourselves as this man in need, left wounded by the robbers, passed by others, approached by the kind stranger. We, too, can imagine the caring sting of the wine poured upon the wounds, the merciful soothing oil used by the stranger, and finally the place of care in which He has placed us until He returns. It was thorough meditation on this parable thus understood that contributed to the heroic charity for which Christianity has been known since its beginnings. Once we have contemplated in specific detail Christ’s mercy in our lives, then we can understand what it means to “Go and do likewise.” (Lk 10:37) Then, too, our example may bear good fruit in the souls of our age who like the soul of Bl. John Henry Newman, even 12 years before his conversion (celebrated today), yearn to experience such mercy in the Inn Christ has set up for our cure.
The images used by the prophet Isaiah and by the Lord in today’s Gospel, provide us with an abundance for reflection. The prophet compares the people of Israel to a vineyard planted by the Lord which does not produce the proper fruit. Christ also gives a parable of a vineyard. In this parable, however, the hearers are compared to violent and avaricious tenants, who rather than give the fruits of the harvest to the emissaries of the owner, choose to murder the emissaries and even the owner’s son.
The Word of the Lord today makes us ask ourselves, are we producing good fruit? If we compare the work of the Lord’s grace in our lives to the image of Isaiah’s vineyard, we see how tirelessly He labors for us so that we might bring forth fruit. “My friend had a vineyard on a fertile hillside; he spaded it, cleared it of stones, and planted the choicest vines; within it he built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine press.” (Is 5:1-2) Let the question of the Lord resound in your heart as you think about the blessings you have enjoyed. “What more could be done for my vineyard that I did not do?” (Is 5:4)
This week we desire to produce fruit worthy of the Kingdom as the Lord exhorts us. What does that fruit look like? We will spend each day reflecting on how we may make a proper return to the Lord for what He has done for us. Perhaps, though, in summary we may consider the counsel of St. Paul to the Philippians. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8) May the Lord in His mercy grant us to put into action the good and worthy, just, pure and lovely fruit he gives us to meditate upon this week.
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.