Sunday, August 16 – Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time The Entrance Antiphon for Mass today is from Psalm 84: “Turn your eyes, O God, our shield, and look upon the face of your anointed one; one day within your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” Of course we appreciate the courts of the Lord as a reference to the temple in Jerusalem. Robert Alter (The Book of Psalms. page 299)) offers an alternate translation of “better than a thousand elsewhere.” After studying the Hebrew word (baharti) we translate as elsewhere, he suggests the better translation would be: “Far better one day in Your courts, than a thousand I have chosen.” He also makes reference to other translators who suggest than a thousand in my chamber.” Alter’s “I have chosen” is much more specific than “elsewhere.” The same is true of “In my chamber.” It identifies “elsewhere” as those places, often in the deep recesses of my heart, that are of my own making and not of the Lord’s. The opening verses of Psalm 84 speak of a deep longing, a languishing, for the courts of the Lord. Our Collect today reflects that longing: “O God, who have prepared for those who love you good things which no eye can see, fill our hearts, we pray, with the warmth of your love, so that, loving you in all things and above all things, we may attain your promises, which surpass every human desire…”
Monday, August 17- Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time In today’s Gospel (Matthew 19:16-21), Jesus answers the question of a young man who comes to him asking what he must do to gain eternal life. Jesus instructs him to keep the commandments. The young man assures Jesus that he does indeed keep the commandments, but he has a sense that something is still lacking. Jesus tells him to sell what he has, give it to the poor, and follow him. In that he will have treasure in heaven. The young man, crestfallen, leaves. He is not able to follow Jesus’ instruction because “He had many possessions.” All three synoptic gospels tell this story. Matthew, Mark and Luke provide us with slightly different accounts. I have to say that I have always preferred Mark’s account (10:17-32). Jesus, seeing the man’s struggle and desire for something more, “looked on him with love.” Those words provide me with hope. Even when I hold on to my possessions (be they riches, reputation, good name, good health, certainty) and find it difficult to be completely trusting of the God’s design for me and not my own machinations, Jesus is willing to look on me with love until I have the humility to take the next step in my spiritual journey.
Tuesday, August 18 – Saint Helena Today is the feast of Saint Helena (250-330). She is not on the liturgical calendar of the universal church; but I think she should be! No one has done more to both discover, and to sanctify, those places in the Holy Land that are associated with the life and death of Jesus. She was the mother of Emperor Constantine, who bestowed on her the title “Most Noble Woman of Rome.” In her later years she went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, not an easy journey in those days, in order to retrace the steps of Jesus and to establish churches and shrine for the edification of the faithful. I think it is my love of the Holy Land that attracts me to Saint Helena. Helena’s major finds centered on three caves: the cave of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the cave of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, and the cave on Mount Calvary where she discovered the True Cross and over which the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built. To this day, those three sites are the most visited in, and around Jerusalem. In the fourth century, Saint Ambrose called her a “stabularia” or “good stable maid.” One of the theories about her early life claims that she was the daughter of an innkeeper. There is a certain spiritual symmetry to be found in her being the daughter of an innkeeper and her discovery of the cave where Jesus was born. But it is her discovery of the true cross that is most significant. In one of the four tribunals in Saint Peter’s basilica in Rome, on which the dome of dome of Michelangelo rests, there is a larger than life statue of Helena holding the cross. For Helena, the cross was not simply a relic; it was a call to share in the passion of Christ. She did so by works of great charity. The church historian Eusebius tells us: “Especially abundant were the gifts she bestowed on the naked and unprotected poor. To some she gave money, to others an ample supply of clothing; she liberated some from imprisonment, or from the bitter servitude of the mines; others she delivered from unjust oppression…” Her life reflects those principles Jesus outlines as essential for entry into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 24). Ambrose tells us: “She worshipped not the wood, but the King who hung upon the wood.”
Wednesday, August 19 – Saint John Eudes Saint John Eudes was a noted teacher, preacher and confessor in the seventeenth century. His example is timely for us today. During an outbreak of the plague in 1627 and 1631, he cared for the sick. Eventually, guided by his devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, he formed two religious communities. His love for the clergy led him to a desire for reform. He devoted much of his life to the formation of seminarians. He also worked tirelessly and provided shelters for prostitutes who had a desire to reform their lives. His spirituality is best defined as a recognition that Jesus is the source of all holiness, and Mary is the most appropriate model of the Christian life. In a treatise he wrote on the Heart of Jesus, he tells us: “He belongs to you, but more than that, he longs to be in you, as the head lives and rules in the body. He desires that whatever is in him may live and rule in you: his breath is your breath, his heart is your heart, all the faculties of his soul in the faculties of your soul, so that these words may be fulfilled in you: Glorify God and bear him in your body, that the life of Jesus may be made manifest in you. (1 Corinthians 6:20)
Thursday, August 20 – Saint Bernard Saint Bernard (1090-1153) was the Abbot of the Cistercian Abbey of Clairvaux. Because of his meditations on the sublime nature of God as the source of all light, he was influential in the development of the Gothic style of architecture, which directs the soul heavenward past magnificent arches and walls of glass. Like all good mystics, his wisdom is at one and the same time, sublime, yet also grounded in the reality of our lives. He counsels: “The spiritual life is like living water that springs up from the very depths of our own spiritual experience. In the spiritual life, one has to drink from his or her own well.” I interpret his words this way: there is really no “one size fits all” spirituality. Grace is tailor made to fit our individual personalities, temperaments, and God given talents. There is no such thing as “generic grace;” no one-stop shopping. What God offers is designed for me alone. The challenge of the spiritual life is to receive what God offers lovingly, humbly, without concern for how God graces another. Those concerns often lead to spiritual jealousy and resentment. Gracious, humble acceptance of those things that God places in my hands alone, leads to spiritual peace. Bernard tells us: “The three most important virtues are humility, humility and humility.”
Friday, August 21 – Saint Pius X Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto was elected Pope on August 4, 1903. He ruled as the world was emerging into the modern era. His papacy is usually characterized as a rejection of all things modern, and some of his policies are criticized as being responsible for the church losing influence in the world. That debate will go on for centuries! I have always had a special place in my heart for him, I think because I attended Saint Pius X Seminary for my college studies. The first time I celebrated Mass in Saint Peter’s in Rome was in the early morning hours of September 30, 1978 at the altar-tomb of Saint Pius X. I remember it well. I was traveling in Europe on vacation when I got word that Pope John Paul I had died. I immediately flew to Rome. They were different times as far as security was concerned. I went to Saint Peter’s early, before the church was open to the public, and was ushered past Swiss Guards to the sacristy. I asked to celebrate Mass at the tomb of Pius X. An altar server led me from the sacristy to the altar. When we entered the basilica, I was overwhelmed as we passed by the body of John Paul I lying in state, surrounded by four Swiss guards. No one else was in the church. Celebrating Mass steps away from the tomb of Peter, at the altar of one of his predecessors, with the body of the most recent successor lying in state, filled me with a deep appreciation of the words encircling the dome of Saint Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” As a young boy I remember being told that Pius X changed the age when a child could receive Holy Communion from twelve to seven. However we evaluate his legacy, for me he will always be the Pope who took to heart the words of Jesus: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. (Luke 18:16)
Saturday, August 22 – The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary Although the title of Mary as Queen can be traced back to the earliest centuries, this feast was added to the liturgical calendar by Pope Pius XII in 1954, following the defining of the dogma of Mary’s Assumption on November 1, 1950. It is appropriate that the feast be celebrated on the Octave of the Assumption. I often find inspiration in the prayers of Father Lucien Deiss, composer, scripture scholar and spiritual writer. Writing of Mary as handmaid and queen, he ties Mary’s Queenship with her being both hearer and bearer of the Word. He invites us to pray: “God our Father, we praise you and give you thanks for choosing the Virgin Mary to be the Mother of your Son. In her the Word found a servant; your love makes her a queen. We pray to you: Make us follow her as an example that we might listen to your Word and put it into practice. May we then be able to share the inheritance of eternal joy that you give us through your only Son Jesus Christ, our Savior and our brother.” (Come, Lord Jesus. Page 200)