Sunday, October 11 – 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time Although our observance of Sunday takes liturgical precedence, today is the Feast of Saint Pope John XXIII. The date was selected because it marked the beginning of the Second Vatican Council, called by John XXIII, in 1962. Although we know him as a man whose simple, gentle style attracted the attention of the world, he was a force to be reckoned with. He served in several diplomatic posts in Bulgaria, Turkey and France. He was responsible for saving the lives of many Jews during the Second World War, and was given the title “Righteous Among the Nations” by the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, that submitted an extensive dossier of his efforts on behalf of the Jewish people to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. The selection of the name “John” upon his election as Pope is somewhat prescient, and tells us a great deal about him. “I choose John… a name sweet to us because it is the name of our father, dear to me because it is the name of the humble parish church where I was baptized, the solemn name of numberless cathedrals scattered throughout the world, including our own basilica (St. John Lateran), Twenty-two Johns of indisputable legitimacy have been Pope, and almost all had a brief pontificate. We have preferred to hide the smallness of our name behind the magnificent succession of Roman Popes.” One of the most moving tributes to him was paid by President Lyndon Johnson, who bestowed upon him, posthumously, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award for a civilian. President Johnson’s citation reads: “He was a man of simple origins, of simple faith, of simple charity. In this exalted office he was still a gentle pastor… He proudly respected the dignity of man… His goodness reached across temporal boundaries to warm the hearts of men of all nations and of all faiths.” Good Pope John, pray for us.
Monday, October 12 –Monday of the 28th Week in OT In the Gospel today Jesus tells his disciples that at the judgment, the “Queen of the South” will rise with the children of the present generation and will condemn them. The Queen of the South referred to Africa, often the land of Cush and Ethiopia. Kush was a Nubian territory in the southern region of the Nile. Together with Ethiopia, the land was mysterious and foreboding. In the first Book of Kings, chapter ten, we read that the Queen of the South went to King Solomon seeking answers to her questions. In the Gospel story, her daring and curiosity about the wisdom of Solomon stands in judgment of the people of Jesus’ own nation. It is an example of a major theme in Luke’s Gospel: the universal call to salvation even for those outside the Jewish tradition. “There is something greater than Solomon here,” Jesus testifies. Those words have always intrigued me. They invite us to expand our religious horizons beyond the limitations of our human understanding and ideas about salvation, and embrace the wisdom of God. As the Psalmist reminds us: “Who is like the Lord, our God, who looks upon the heavens and the earth below. He raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor.” (113:6-7)
Tuesday, October 13 – Tuesday of the 28th Week in OT One day, while on sabbatical I went to a favorite café in the modern Jewish section of Jerusalem. I took my falafel sandwich to a small table and opened a book to read, when a young, observant Jew came into the restaurant. I knew he was observant because the tassels (tzitzit) of his prayer shawl (tallit) were visible on the corners of his sweater. After receiving his order, he went to a table in another corner of the shop. Before eating, he went to a sink and proceeded to wash his hands using the required two-handled cup. When he returned to his table, he opened his prayer book and prayed a blessing. I think about that day as we hear the Gospel story of Pharisee’s amazement that Jesus did not observed the ritual washing required before eating. What follows is Jesus taking the Pharisees to task for being more concerned with external rituals than with the internal state of their souls. Please understand that I am not making a judgment about the young man – his motives seemed to be pure. There are many “externals” we observe in our religious practices: things that we are required to do and things that we ourselves choose to do that are visible to the eye. The challenge is, of course, to have those practices come from a pure heart, from what lies deep within. How might we do that? Jesus provides a way when he tells the Pharisees: “As to what is within, give alms, and behold, everything will be clean for you.” Saint John Chrysostom expresses a similar though when he told his listeners that one path to repentance, to a clean heart, is the way of almsgiving, a way “Whose power is great and far-reaching.” A classic spiritual and theological principle tells us that repeated acts of virtue lead to virtue being not only the work of our hands, but the way of our hearts. As the psalmist reminds us: “A broken and a contrite heart contrite and humble O God, you will not despise.” (51:17)
Wednesday, October 14 – Wednesday of the 28th Week in OT In our Responsorial today we read: “Blessed is the man who … delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night.” (1:1-2) Whenever I hear those words I think of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof singing: “If I were rich I’d have the time that I lack to sit in the synagogue and pray, and maybe have a seat by the eastern wall. I’d discuss the holy books with the learned men several hours every day. That would be the sweetest thing of all.” In his Apostolic Constitution (Divino Afflatu) on reform of the Roman Breviary, Pope Saint Pius X, quoting Saint Basil, called the Psalms “The voice of the Church.” Saint Athanasius offers this: “The Psalms seem to me to be like a mirror, in which the person using them can see himself, and the stirring of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions.” Saint Pius X poses this question in his Apostolic Constitution: “Who could fail to be moved by those many passages in the psalms which set forth so profoundly the infinite majesty of God, his omnipotence, his justice and goodness and clemency, too deep for words, and all the other infinite qualities of his that deserve our praise?” Is it any wonder we proclaim: “Blessed is the man who … delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night.” (1:1-2)
Thursday, October 15 – Saint Theresa of Jesus I have to admit that for a long time I felt intimidated by the likes of Saint Theresa of Jesus and other mystics of her ilk. I had an image of Saint Theresa of Avila that placed her high above the things of earth, beyond the reach of “ordinary” people like me. Reading her writings only made things more complicated. The words of Psalm 139 expressed my feelings well: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high. I cannot attain to it.” (139:6) That idea began to change when I became the chaplain to the Carmelite nuns in Elysburg, while serving as Catholic Chaplain at Bloomsburg University. One day, one of the nuns gave me a prayer card showing Theresa dancing before her sisters. The image caught me off guard. I began to think: if Theresa can dance, maybe there is more to her than this “high above the heavens” image I have carried with me all these years. In time, I came to discover that mystics are not those who have their heads in the clouds. Mystics are those who have their feet planted firmly on the ground, sensing the deepest longings of the human heart; a longing shared by each of God’s children no matter what their state in life. Words I once heard Father Henri Nouwen speak at a retreat come to mind: “What is most intimate, is most universal.” If I were to summarize her contribution to the spiritual tradition of our Church, I would use the words humility and humor. Her devotion, while intense, was never stern or dour. One of her prayers is one of my favorites: “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, O Lord deliver us.” Her humility was founded on the truth of her dignity as a daughter of God and her belief that Jesus is to be found in the everyday nature of things. “If our work is in the kitchen, the Lord walks among the pots and pans.” For Theresa, true holiness is not in far off places, true holiness is near at hand.
Friday, October 16 – Friday of the 28th Week in OT; Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque Today, Canada, our neighbors to the North, celebrates the Memorial of Saint Margaret d‘Youville (1701-1771). She was married to a less than virtuous husband with whom she had six children. Four of her children died. She endured a difficult and lonely life. Those hardships did not stop her from showing great kindness to the poor and the sick, living the corporal works of mercy strengthened by her fervent and trusting prayer. When her husband died, she gathered together a group of like-minded caring women in Montreal who cared for poor and sick women. As is often the case, the work of Margaret and her companions was misunderstood. They were often ridiculed by their neighbors, who referred to them as the “Grey Nuns,” because of the color of their simple dress, but also a demeaning reference to her husband, because the French word for “grey” can also mean “tipsy.” Margaret embraced the name, and with ecclesiastical permission founded the “Sisters of Charity of the General Hospital.” She preferred to keep the name “Grey Nuns” in a spirit of humility, recalling the insults leveled upon them by their critics. Their work expanded and included care of African slaves, prostitutes, orphans, and the mentally challenged. She and her sisters were also responsible founding hospitals and schools. If people were living in despair, the Grey Nuns were there to offer Christ’s compassion and care. At her beatification in 1959, Pope John XXIII called her “The Mother of Universal Charity.” When she was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1990, she became the first native Canadian to be named a saint. She stands as a model of those who, despite great hardship, are called to rise above trial, and embrace a life of dedicated charity. Her own words provide us with insight and renewed hope when we face trials and setbacks: “We need crosses in order to reach heaven.”
Saturday, October 17 – Saint Ignatius of Antioch In his Letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul prays: “May the eyes of our hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among his holy ones…” In the seven Letters he wrote to the Churches in Asia Minor, to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and to the Church in Rome, Ignatius of Antioch implored his readers to remain faithful to the truth of the Christian faith they had received. He reflected the spirit of Saint Paul, encouraging believers to remember the dignity of their call and the richness of the inheritance they had received. Pope Emeritus Benedict says that “No Church Father has expressed the longing for union with Christ and for life with him with the intensity of Ignatius.” Benedict calls that longing “A mysticism of unity.” (Holiness is Always in Season. Pages 254-255) Ignatius believed that unity with Christ was most fully achieved when we are united with his suffering and death. In what are perhaps his most quoted words he says: “Permit me to imitate my suffering God… I am God’s wheat and I shall be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become the pure bread of Christ.” Sunday, October 18 – Twenty-Ninth Sunday in OT For the next two Sundays, Jesus will teach not in his usual format, using parables and stories, but rather, by directly challenging the religious leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees. Jesus viewed the teachings and practices of these two groups as a distortion of the true nature of religion, distortions that continue to this very day in various forms. His words are direct and to the point and are in response to questions posed to him by the religious leaders: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” And “Which commandment in the law is the greatest?” These questions were posed not to better understand Jesus, but in an effort to entrap Jesus. As his passion draws near, Jesus has no time for niceties. His words confirm the truth he has been preaching all throughout his ministry. From today until the end of the liturgical year we will read from the First Letter of Saint Paul to the Thessalonians. Many scholars believe this is the earliest of the writings in the New Testament. When Paul wrote this letter the return of Jesus was thought o be imminent, and so we will hear a certain urgency in his words. The Prayer after Communion echoes the urgency of Jesus’ and Paul’s message: “Grant, O Lord, we pray, that benefitting from participation in heavenly things, we may be helped by what you give in this present age and prepared for the gifts that are eternal.”
Monday, October 19 – Saints John deBrebeuf, Isaac Jogues and Companions In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a parable in response to a request that he settle a dispute over inheritance. Jesus will not be drawn into the argument. Rather, he takes the high ground; he sees the bigger picture and teaches a lesson about avoiding greed in its many forms. This is especially when the desire for material possessions is seen as the means to a secure future. Jesus words are stern, foreboding: “You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you, and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong? Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasures for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.” How might we respond to the challenge of Jesus’ message? How do we keep right perspective? How do we keep our eyes fixed on what is from above? We are right to be thankful for the blessings we can hold in our hands. At the end of each day when we count those blessings, we might also utter the words of Psalm 130: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchman for the morning, more than watchman for the morning.” (130:5-6)
Tuesday, October 20 -Saint Paul of the Cross Words today from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians have been close to my heart during this time of pandemic when the world is turned upside down and comfortable, familiar routines a thing of the past; when days are long and nights are lonely; when I feel isolated from family and friends; when I long to see the faces of those who come to Mass to worship. “You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones, and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.” (2:19-20) How could anyone not be moved by Paul’s reassuring words? Today is the feast of Saint Paul of the Cross (1694-1775), mystic and founder of the Passionist Order. In addition to the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Passionists take a vow to preserve the memory of Christ’s passion in their preaching and good works. Meditation on the Passion of Christ led Paul and his followers, not inward, but outward in direct service by living the corporal works of mercy. In times of distress, how profound are Paul’s words: “Place your hopes in the mercy of God and the merits of our Redeemer; say often looking at the crucifix: There are centered all my hopes.” Wednesday, October 21 – Wednesday of the 29th Week in OT “When you’re weary and you can’t sleep, count your blessings instead of sheep.” Words of a song penned by Irving Berlin and made famous in the movie “White Christmas, sung by Bing Crosby. I admit it is a sentimental favorite. But Jesus puts a different spin on things in today’s parable of the steward. He tells us: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” (Luke 12:48) The blessings we count might lull us to sleep, but they are also a call to action, a call to responsibility, a call to good stewardship, a call to charity. I am often drawn to a question Saint Paul poses in his First Letter to the Corinthians: “What do you possess that you have not received?” (4:7) All is gift. What is given is intended to be shared. That is why Jesus tells us to be prepared, to be alert. Often in unexpected, unanticipated ways, an outstretched hand will come our way seeking a share in the blessings.
Thursday, October 22 – St. John Paul II Paul’s words to the Ephesians in our first readings today were beautifully captured by John Foley in his song, “Dwelling Place.” “I fall on my knees, to the Father of Jesus, The Lord who has shown us, the glory of God. May he in his love give us strength for our living, The strength of his spirit the glory of God. May Christ find a dwelling place of faith in our hearts, May our lives be rooted in love.” When I hear those words, I have a mental image of Jesus falling to his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane in prayer to his Father. In Luke’s account, we are told that “An angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening him.” (22:43) In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, we are told that after Satan left him, “angels came and attended him.” (4:11) It was in Jesus’ rejection of Satan, and in his embracing of the Father’s will, that he found a dwelling place in the heart of his Father - an intimacy to which he invites us: “On that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you are in Me, and I am in you.” (John 14:11)
Friday, October 23 – Friday of the 29th Week in OT The Adorers of the Blood of Christ are a religious community of women who have served on our diocese for many years as teachers, campus ministers, pastoral care workers, and even as housekeepers to the several Bishops. In 1992, five American sisters were ministering to the poor in Liberia during a time of civil war and unrest. On October 20th and 23rd, the five sisters were martyred. It would be good to remember their names: Barbara Ann Mutra, Shirley Kolmer and her cousin Mary Joel Kolmer, Agnes Mueller, and Kathleen McGuire. Pope John Paul II called them “martyrs of charity.” We call their share in the suffering of Christ today and are inspired by the way in which they powerfully embodied the teaching of their community’s constitution, calling the sisters to be “A living image of that divine charity with which Christ’s blood was shed, and of which it was and is a sign, expression, measure and pledge.” Their story is beautifully recounted by Robert Ellsberg in his book Blessed Among Us and in the October edition of “Give us This Day,” page 230. Today we say, “Barbara Ann, Shirley, Mary Joel, Agnes and Kathleen, Adorers all, pray for us.”
Saturday, October 24 – Saint Anthony Mary Claret Saint Anthony Mary Claret (1807-1870): Bishop, Founder of Religious Communities, Missionary, Author and Publisher, Chaplain to Royalty. Of all of his titles and the many great works attributed to him in his life and ministry, the thing that most attracted my attention was “Patron of Weavers!” It seems that while serving as the Archbishop of Santiago in Cuba he had extra time on his hand and so he worked as a weaver and designer of textiles. As I think about, such an avocation makes perfect sense. Many of his assignments were concerned with putting order into chaos, developing strategic plans to assure the future of ministries in a wide range of apostolates, forming family-owned farms to provide security for poor families and designing structures to support parish and institutional outreach. Like the fabrics he designed and wove, the ministry of Anthony produced a design of the church reflecting the compassion of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the inspiration at the core of his spirituality. I am reminded of another title of Mary as the “Undoer of Knots.” Knots represent among other things the chaos in society, problems for which there seems to be no solutions, deep hurts and divisions within families, depression and addiction run rampant in our world. As Anthony Claret wove a tapestry of harmony and beauty by his loving, pastoral ministry, Mary as the “Undoer of Knots,” by her gracious intercession, untangles the web of mistrust and confusion that disturbs our peace and robs us of our joy and hope.