4th Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19  ¾  1 Corinthians 12:31—13:13  ¾  Luke 4:21-30

               In the year of Our Lord 1273, Saint Thomas Aquinas recognized God calling him to a standard far higher than the one he had set for himself.  In that year on December 6th, as St. Thomas was celebrating Mass, he had a mystical vision.  After that vision he rarely spoke for the rest of his life.  He never described exactly what the vision was.  But it was because of that vision that he stopped his work on the greatest project of his career:  an encyclopedia of Catholic theology that he had begun seven years earlier. 
               We still have the more than 3000 pages that he did write for this encyclopedia.  These pages contain some of the greatest explanations of the Catholic Faith ever composed, so the Church has great reason to regret St. Thomas abruptly ending his work.  But when he was urged by his scribe to continue, he simply replied, “All that I have written is like straw, compared to the things that have been revealed to me.”
               At the end of his life, Saint Thomas was able to set aside this work of his, which he’d already written 3000 pages of.  He recognized that all his work was nothing compared to the life of God in heaven.  I’d imagine that there are few of us here who, at the end of our lives, would be willing to set aside the great projects of our lives in this way.
               Especially in our society, we set goals for ourselves, we do our best to accomplish them, and if we don’t, we often ask what’s wrong with ourselves.  Parents often fault with themselves over mistakes made by their grown children.  When investments are made for one’s future that later dissolve, it’s easy for a person to feel as if their own personal value has dissolved.  It can be easy to forget that the only fact that finally has meaning in our lives is the fact that we are loved, not the fact of what we accomplish.  Work can be a great good, but love is an even better good, and our lives as Christians are supposed
to dedicated to pursuing this “greatest good”.
               Sometimes “love” is made into something abstract or shapeless, but our Scripture readings this Sunday lead us to see God’s love as something very concrete.  Every one of us as a baptized Christian needs to be able to “see” this love as the goal of our lives.  Those who have entered into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony have a special calling to live out this love.
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               Most often, we experience love in the midst of a family.  Yet whether we consider the family we grew up in, the families we may have chosen and created through marriage, or any other relationship as well, love among human beings is often very fragile.
               It was the same in the life of Saint Thomas Aquinas.  He grew up as a member of nobility, and before he was even born, his family made great plans for him.  Over time they made clear to Thomas that he was going to become the abbot of the local Benedictine monastery, which happened to be one of the most important monasteries in Europe, because it had been founded by St. Benedict himself almost 700 years earlier.  This monastery still stands today, just a few hours south of Rome—monks live there today just as they did in the thirteenth century, and the sixth century.  Being educated at this monastery was something like going to Harvard, and becoming a member of this particular Benedictine order was like joining an elite corps of individuals in European society.
               And so it was a little upsetting to Thomas’ family when he decided to act against his family’s long-held plans.  He decided instead to join the Dominican order.  The Dominicans had been founded by Saint Dominic less than thirty years before, and the order’s members never lived in same residence, but rather begged for food and shelter as they wandered and preached throughout Europe.  At this early point in their history, the Dominicans were seen more as a cult by many in European society.  Thomas’ family was not about to let their son join this “group.”  They kidnapped him.  They threw him in one of the towers of the family castle for over two years, refusing to release him unless he gave up associating with the Dominicans.
At this point in his life Thomas surely wondered who it was who really loved him.  If Thomas’ family had succeeded in their plans, the Church throughout history would have lost one of its greatest thinkers.  Fortunately, his family finally gave in to the grace of God, realizing that Thomas was not going to live according to their standards.  Thomas could have rejected his family at this point, but he didn’t.  He even gave thanks for the opportunity that his captivity had offered him:  during those years he memorized most of the Bible, growing deeper in love with the God who had called him to share the love of God with others through the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
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               This “love of God” is what we hear about in the readings of today’s Mass.  According to the world, there are many types of love.  According to the world, every person is free to love as he or she sees fit.  But Christ and His Church teach us that there is only one real type of love, and that only this “real love” is strong enough to bind two persons together, whether in marriage, or in the union between a human soul and God.
               To live in real love is to always love by God’s standards:  that is, to seek to understand what He wants for us, and then to be willing to do what it takes to make that a reality.  This is difficult because we can so often fool ourselves into thinking that God’s Will and our own so conveniently match up together.  Only in consistent prayer can a person ask over and over if something is God’s will.  The more important a decision in a person’s life, the more times God should be asked in prayer.  The more important a decision in a person’s life, the more one should even do some sort of penance (such as fasting) in order to purify one’s own mind and heart of selfish wants and desires, to clear them out so that God’s Word can be recognized and received.
               Only in a heart prepared before-hand to receive God’s Word can one find the strength to actually carry out His Will.  At times this can mean doing what is unpopular with others—as Saint Thomas did, as Our Lord did in today’s gospel passage, as Our Lord did on the Cross—and in this, only the Love of God is strong enough to sustain us.

3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Third Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Nehemiah 8:2-4,5-6,8-10  +  1 Corinthians 12:12-30  +  Luke 1:1-4; 4:14-21
January 24, 2010

Laws (or rules, if you want to call them that), are placed on our shoulders by lots of different people:  our boss at work, teachers at school, parents at home, politicians in our civil government, and… even our Church herselfAll of them place laws on our shoulders.  And we learn early in life that, to get along, to be part of the group, we have to “follow the rules.”
               For example, if a student signs up for a class, he has to accept the teacher’s rules for all sorts of things:  conduct in the classroom, a certain format for writing a paper, and participating in class discussion.  Or to use another example:  if a man accepts the call to be a priest, he accepts the obligation to pray the Liturgy of the Hours five times a day; he accepts the decision not to enter into the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony; and he also accepts the Church’s law that says that priests cannot run for any sort of political office.
               Other laws are broader in scope.  Traffic laws, for example, affect anyone who lives, or drives, or even walks, in that area.  If you’re going to drive, you learn that (unless perhaps you’re driving an emergency vehicle) when you pass a speed limit sign, you know that you either have to follow it, or face a punishment.  Or to use a different example:  those who earn income are taxed by the government.  Every wage-earner in our nation (and our state) pays taxes in order to enjoy certain privileges that government is supposed to provide.  Or, that wage-earner will suffer punishment.
               In all these cases, a person has a choice.  It’s as if he’s come to a fork in a road, and has to ask himself, “Do I want to be part of this group, or not?  Do I want to go to the right, follow the rules, and avoid punishment; or do I want to go to the left, and break the rules, and risk punishment.”
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This isn’t the only sort of decision a person has to make, though.  One of the more difficult decisions is set before a person when he’s given two different messages by two different groups.  Let me give some examples.  In the setting of school, students are taught both by parents, and teachers.  It’s just a fact, that students learn best when parents reinforce, rather than contradict, what teachers tell their children (presuming that what teachers teach is true).
               Or, to use an opposite example, if children see their parents breaking a law—whether a traffic law, or a law of the Church—then… children become confused, because they’re being taught two opposite things by two different sources of authority.  It’s like the child suddenly finds himself at a fork in the road, where the law says he should walk in one direction, and his parents’ example says that he should walk in a different direction.
               All too often, because children instinctively understand that their parents are their first teachers in life, the children will—very reasonably—say to themselves, “Why should we obey civil laws, or care about going to Church, when our parents have taught us that the Church and the State don’t deserve our obedience?”
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So there are two different types of “forks in the road” that we face in life:  first, the decision between following a rule, or not following a rule; staying with the group, or breaking our relationship with the group.
               The second fork in the road is harder to figure out:  it’s when each fork of the road has a different authority standing down along its path, calling us down its road.  This situation is harder to figure out, because both of the authorities—we thought—are supposed to be leading us in the same direction,  But instead, we find them forcing us to break one relationship or the other, no matter which choice we make.
               The secular culture that surrounds us has a very simple solution to this problem, by telling us that this isn’t a problem at all.  Within this culture are countless voices telling us that what Christian culture calls a vice, is in fact a virtue!  Here’s how you solve this problem:  you tell every single person to blaze his own path; you teach every single person to be his own person, by deciding for himself or herself what is wrong for him or her.  So, when two different authorities lay out two different paths, they’re really just presenting two options to be considered:  one of them might be accepted, or they might both be rejected and a third path followed.  There really are no such things as “authorities” here, just “voices” to be considered.
               Now of course, if a five-year old child decides to follow “his own path”, the consequences are going to follow pretty quickly:  he’s going to be dragged—kicking and screaming, if necessary—back along the wrong path until the right path is reached again.  And the same consequences will be administered again and again to the child, until he begins to recognize his mother’s voice as authoritative:  which is to say, until he conforms.
               But what happens when the child is nineteen and attending college, hours away from his mother?  Or maybe instead… attending bars next to the campus?  If it’s only an authority that is outside of the child who is telling him which path to follow, then all the child has to do is distance himself from that voice, and he will no longer have to listen to a voice telling him he’s headed in the wrong direction.
               On the other hand, if parents instill into their children an internal voice, then their children will carry that voice with them, no matter how far from home they might travel.  Fortunately for parents, God has designed human nature with just this plan in mind, so that parents don’t have to nag their children, or constantly watch over their shoulders, or tether their children to a 25-mile radius from home.  God’s design of human nature includes this… something called a “conscience”.
               The human conscience is NOT a moral Baskin-Robbins.  Nor is it morality’s version of Cox cable, where you can keep punching the remote until you hear what you want.  There is only one flavor, one channel, one voice that speaks within the human conscience, and that is the Word of God:  the voice of God the Son.  It’s true, the human conscience can be ignored, it can be confused, and it can be drowned out by other voices.  But it cannot be extinguished.
               Maybe this analogy would be better:  the human conscience is like a radio receiver.  Just as Jesus says the Way to Heaven is a narrow path, we can imagine that God broadcasts His voice on a very specific, very narrow frequency.  You have to tune your conscience very carefully and specifically to find God’s voice, but once you do, God speaks on a crystal-clear channel, with a signal that has higher definition than anything this world is broadcasting.  And the message has far more meaning, and brings far greater peace into our lives.

2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]

The Second Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Isaiah 62:1-5  +  1 Corinthians 12:4-11  +  John 2:1-12

               In the year of our Lord 1070, a twenty-year old woman named Margaret became the queen of Scotland, when she was united in Holy Matrimony to Malcolm, the king of Scotland.  As she grew in her role as queen, she grew to be a saint.
               Margaret grew up in luxury (at least as much luxury as the eleventh century could offer), as the daughter of one of the princesses of Hungary and one of the princes of what today we call England.  When William the Conqueror came barreling through their family’s lands, Margaret’s family was forced to go into exile.  They royal family was shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland, then a separate kingdom from their own.  King Malcolm, practicing one of the corporal works of mercy, offered shelter to the homeless.  He also fell in love with Princess Margaret, and the two were soon married.
               As we enter again into the Season of Ordinary Time, we
hear in the Gospel about the event that we now call “The
Second Luminous Mystery of the Rosary”.  The “Luminous Mysteries” all shed light on “who Jesus is”.  The feast we celebrated last Sunday—the Baptism of the Lord—is the “First Luminous Mystery”.  But today in the Gospel, the Mystery of that wedding (at Cana in Galilee) sheds light on “who Jesus is” in a unique way.  The mystery of that wedding sheds light on the Mystery of Holy Matrimony.  And the mystery of that wedding sheds light on what our daily lives as Christians are supposed to look like.
               Malcolm, king of Scotland, and his queen, (Saint) Margaret, are a testimony to what God calls married people to.  At the heart of marriage, there has to be the virtue of humility (just as humility is at the heart of every Christian vocation).  All the other virtues of married life blossom out of the soil of humility.  But for married people, one of the first virtues that has to flower in the seedbed of humility is the virtue of trust.
               Because of his trust of his queen, Malcolm did not worry about having a chancellor, someone to take care of questions that arose within the kingdom.  Malcolm left all domestic policy to her, and foreign policy, he often sought her advice.
               But the trust they shared in each other overflowed into their family’s life, as well.  Margaret and Malcolm had six sons and two daughters.  Margaret personally supervised their religious instruction and their other studies.  And yet, though very much caught up in the affairs of her household and country, she remained detached from the world.
               Margaret put her Catholic Faith first because she was willing to allow God to work in her life.  In the eleventh century, of course, Scotland—like all of Europe—was a Catholic land, and as queen and mother Margaret taught the Catholic Faith by example, and by word.  She had regular times for prayer and reading Scripture.  She ate sparingly, and slept little, in order to have time for devotions.  She was always surrounded by beggars in public and never refused them.  During the seasons of Advent and Lent, Queen Margaret and King Malcolm together, on their knees, served meals to the poor and orphans.
               This miracle—the first miracle that Jesus chose to perform in public—tells us many important things.  Every detail tells us something.  For example, the fact that there were six ceremonial water jars, each holding about 25 gallons, tells us that Jesus produced 125 gallons of wine for the wedding guests.  And this in turn tells us that this… was a Catholic wedding.
               It also tells us something else:  that Jesus was not a Southern Baptist.  If Jesus had been a Southern Baptist, and actually believed that drinking alcohol—in and of itself—is immoral, his first public miracle would not have been to turn water into wine at a wedding.  If he had believed that, his first miracle probably would have been to turn 125 gallons of wine into water.  But that’s not what Jesus chose to do.
               However, besides teaching us something about morality, there’s a much deeper Tradition revealed in this gospel passage, and this is a Tradition with a capital “T”.  That is the fact that Jesus transformed marriage into one of the seven sacraments that He gave His Church.
               As the first of the signs of His glory, this miracle points to the divinization of man.  What is merely natural and of this earth (water) becomes something more, something richer and deeper.  We are not told how exactly Jesus works this miracle:  He does not wave a wand, or say a magic formula.  Nor can we know exactly how God’s grace is at work in our lives.  But if we heed our Blessed Mother’s words, and do whatever Jesus tells us, God will work miracles in our lives.

The parish I serve

<b>The parish I serve</b>
St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Colwich, Kansas (Diocese of Wichita)