18th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 55:1-3  +  Romans 8:35,37-39  +  Matthew 14:13-21

               What do you think is the meaning of Jesus feeding a crowd of more than five thousand people with only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish?  Was Jesus simply showing his power to work a miracle—demonstrating his power over material things?  Of course that was a part of it, but this miracle of feeding the five thousand has far more to tell us about Christ than simply this.
               Being compassionate, Jesus was certainly concerned with the physical well-being of the people who had come to hear him preach.  Just how deep Christ’s compassion was is made obvious when we consider again something the first verse of this passage tells us:  Jesus is told about the hunger of the crowds right after he had heard of the death of John the Baptizer, and had withdrawn by boat to a deserted place by himself.  If we were to take time to imagine this, we could very clearly see just how human Christ was, responding in grief and perhaps anger at the death of his own cousin.  He withdrew from others to be by himself.  And yet, even at this point in his life, the needs of others pressed upon him.  His response was that of God himself:  he turned to help those in need.
               We could look at this compassion of Jesus and see in it an example for ourselves.  As Christians, we are called to walk in the footsteps of Christ, to imitate Him—and especially to imitate the sort of self-sacrifice that he shows in this passage, the sort of self-sacrifice that came to full expression in his death on the Cross.  But this passage is not so much about our need to imitate Christ.  We all have our limits.  Very likely, if we experienced the death of a close relative, we’d be little help to others.  None of us can expect to match the depth of Christ’s self-sacrifice.
               But again, that’s not the point of this passage to begin with.  In this event in Christ’s life we don’t see an example for us in the response of Jesus as much as we do in the response of the crowds themselves.  The crowds seek out Jesus, because they know that they are in need.  But what kind of need do they really have?
               Being compassionate, Jesus was certainly concerned with the physical well-being of the people who had come to hear him preach.  But he knew the people in the crowds better than they knew themselves.  Christ had a much deeper concern for their spiritual well-being.  He had reminded them that their ancestors, whom God had fed in the desert by sending bread in the form of manna, had died.  His divine Father, Jesus told them, had sent him to be their spiritual bread which would allow them to live for ever.  If they would eat this bread by accepting him and following his commandments they could enter into God’s eternal kingdom of love.
               In today’s first reading Isaiah says in the name of the Lord, “Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.”  This is the same message which Jesus conveyed to those people gathered near the Sea of Galilee.  He brought his meaning home to them in a concrete way by giving them physical bread to satisfy their bodily hunger.  But at the same time he revealed that he was the spiritual bread which God had sent to bring them eternal life.
               The crowds naturally had a spiritual hunger.  Perhaps many of them were not even aware of this hunger inside of them, inside their souls.  Unfortunately, many of us today as well aren’t even aware of the hunger in our souls.
               Perhaps you’ve read or heard over the past week about the U.S. Congress passing legislation radically changing the welfare system in our country; the president plans to sign this legislation into law.  The mere fact that this law has the support of both houses of Congress and the president says something significant about our general attitude in this country to the idea of helping others to obtain their daily bread.
               On the one had, we realize that there is a need to help those who are truly in need.  But on the other hand, we realize there is a need for people, wherever possible, to work for the bread they eat.  We recognize both of these needs, and as a society we have to try to balance them.  There is disagreement, of course, about whether the balance should lead more towards this side or the other, but we do find some sort of general agreement that there has to be some sort of balance between the two.
               What you’re more likely to find agreement over, though, is the matter of oneself being on welfare.  Ask a crowd of people what sort of welfare should be offered to others, and there will surely be disagreement.  But ask that same crowd whether they themselves would like to be on welfare, and there will be little or no disagreement.  No one likes the idea of being dependent on an other, and most are willing to work as is necessary to feed themselves and their family.
               We like to be independent.  We don’t want to depend on others.  That’s a fair ethic to have when it comes to the material world, since God gave us an intellect, memory, and will in order to be stewards of the material world with Him. But it doesn’t work when it comes to the spiritual life.  We can’t create grace as we do material things.  When it comes to the life of the soul, we are completely dependent upon God.  If we have a hard time accepting the idea of relying on others, we’ll have a hard time understanding how much we need God’s grace in our lives.  Sometimes the best prayer we can offer is simply to cry out to God and tell Him how much we need Him in our lives.
               In other words, we are all dependent upon the welfare given through the Church.  To deny this dependence is to be proud, and results in our starvation.  We are the crowd of people in the gospel passage, hungering spiritually, even if we confuse that hunger for some other type of longing.  When we watch Christ, we see that God never fails to turn to us when we are in need.  If Christ, exhausted in this world by the grief that came with the news of his cousin’s death, would not fail to satisfy the hunger of the crowds, how could he now in heaven be deterred from helping us in our need?  Neither death nor life, trial or distress, hunger or nakedness, danger or the sword can separate us from the love of God.
               None of us can deny that there is often something missing in our lives.  We have to turn our understanding to God, to realize His life as the source of all the good in our lives, and to recognize His life as the fulfillment of all the needs in our lives.  If our first appeal is not to Him, our reliance on others or on ourselves will be in vain.

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
1 Kings 3:5,7-12  +  Romans 8:28-30  +  Matthew 13:44-52

               Ten centuries before Christ, the son of David became the King of Israel.  Solomon was a young man; he realized his lack of experience and his lack of ability to govern Israel.  The Lord told him to ask for any gift, and it would be granted.
               Solomon could have asked for wealth, since after all, with all the wealth in the world he could buy off any kingdom who got in his way.  Or he could have asked for absolute power, since he could then destroy any kingdom which got in his way.  He could have asked for any number of things.  But he asked for wisdom.
               Wisdom is insight into the meaning of all things.  Wisdom shows how everything fits together and has its place.  The Old Testament has seven books which are called the “Wisdom Literature” (which, incidentally, are some of the best books of the Bible for spiritual reading).  The Wisdom of Israel, of our own Jewish heritage, was unlike the wisdom taught by many ancient cultures, and is also unlike the “conventional wisdom” which our society runs according to today.
The Wisdom of Israel isn’t based on self-interest or self-promotion.  It is founded upon nothing and no one other than God Himself.  If God is part of our lives, then even if our life seems a puzzle, we have reason to hope, even when our eyes and ears tell us differently.  It doesn’t matter if we don’t understand every piece of the puzzle.  God teaches us, over time, to move this piece of the puzzle over here, and that piece there; and in time, we can see emerge the picture God has had in His Mind all along.
The wise man doesn’t rely on his own powers.  He is willing to place his hope in an other.
* * * * * * * * * *
               There was an old lady in Scotland who was so poor that the community had to support her, even though her son had left her, gone off to America, and become very wealthy.  The neighbors often whispered to each other, “Why doesn’t John help his old mother?”
               One day a neighbor dropped in and suggested that her son would surely help her if he knew of her need.  Mother-like, she defended her son:  “Oh, John is so thoughtful, but he needs all money.  He provides for me.  He’s a good boy.  See, he writes to me every month the nicest letters.  And with every letter he sends me postcards of scenes and people from America.”
               “Have you saved them?” asked the neighbor.  “Oh sure,” replied the mother, as she reached for her Bible.  “I save all his letters and put the postcards in the Good Book.”
               Between the leaves of the Bible the visitors indeed found these “postcards” with pictures of various scenes from the United States:  there was one with a picture of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, and others had pictures of the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Treasury, and the Lincoln Memorial.  On the other sides of the “postcards” were pictures of people from America, such as Benjamin Franklin, Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Jackson, Alexander Hamilton, and Abraham Lincoln.  Between the leaves of this mother’s bible, these “postcards” were in fact American currency worth hundreds of dollars, more than enough to assist the old woman with her needs.  She had a treasure but did not know it; she had hope but did not seek the object of her hope.
* * * * * * * * * *
               We treasure many things in life, but our lives are so often crowded by the things that WE hope for that we fail to see and realize that God planted a treasure in us from the first moments of our existence:  the human soul.  Unfortunately, the human soul doesn’t appear attractive right off the bat.  It’s not red and shiny, it doesn’t glitter, it doesn’t make a soothing noise that draws us to it.  The greatness of the human soul is its capacity:  that the human soul--- unlike anything that is material such as a car, or gold, or our favorite music--- can be filled with God’s grace.
               St. Augustine cried out to God that our souls are restless, until they rest in Him.  We spend years of our lives hoping and craving for all sorts of material pleasures, and if we were very smart, we would learn from experience after experience over many years that nothing finite can satisfy infinitely.
               If any of you have seen the movie “Shadowlands,” you are familiar with the person of C. S. Lewis, who was a gifted lecturer and writer.  God gave him many gifts.  But the greatest gift he was given in his life was love.  Lewis wrote about how fortunate we Christians are to be given the Holy Spirit’s gift of wisdom, and specifically, to recognize that “creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.  A baby feels hunger,” he says, “[and] there is such a thing as food.  A duckling wants to swim, [and] there is such a thing as water.  Men feel sexual desire, [and] there is such a thing as sex.”  And so, Lewis concludes, “if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
               The human soul is so great because it can be open to receiving God’s grace.  It’s a lot like the greatest things in human life.  The best things in life aren’t simply material things that we can obtain and possess.  The best things in life are those things that we cannot force, things that emerge over time, like a love between two persons which grows into selfless love, or like the life of a child who grows into a mature adult, or even the best sort of human talents which develop over time to show the beauty and spirit of humanity.  I’m sure that as many of you have watched the Olympics over the past several days you’ve been awed by the talents of athletes, and even felt pride when an American athlete wins a gold medal and stands during the National Anthem.  Our pride and admiration is aroused when we see that gold medal, and hear that simple melody, but those things represent years FULL on tireless effort, hours after hours of practice spent perfecting their athletic abilities and their mental concentration.  Olympians don’t just hope that they’re going to receive a medal.  They work tirelessly to allow their gifts to shine through their human weakness.
               The spiritual life requires no less of us than Olympic competition.  God does not simply pour grace into our souls in the same way that we pour gasoline into a car.  We are not machines.  We, as humans created in God’s image, have to consciously CHOOSE to devote ourselves to the development of our souls, day after day, through every hour of the day, whether we’re attending to the needs of family, carrying out the responsibilities of a job, or simply praying on our knees, in order to allow God’s grace to shine through in our lives.
               Everything we do in our lives has to be oriented towards that treasure of grace, that share in God’s life.  When a laborer in his workspace puts up pictures of his spouse and children, he’s seeking to remind himself that his labor isn’t just about getting a job done--- it’s about supporting a family, whom he both loves for their own sake, and whom he sees as a sign of the wider community which he contributes to through his labors.  Wisdom recognizes that the purpose of love is to bring life to an other.
               There was a boy who prayed to God every night for the same thing:  “God,” he prayed, “make me absolutely the best basketball player in the entire world.”  Well, God answered that boy’s wish:  God made him absolutely the best basketball player in the world, and put him on the Olympic Dream Team, and the boy was bored out of his mind.  Absolute power doesn’t only corrupt absolutely, it also bored absolutely.  There is no pleasure to be had in absolute power, absolute wealth, or absolute anything--- unless it’s used for an other.  St. Paul in one of the best known passages of Scripture, preaches that no matter what we do, if we do not do it out of love for an other, it does no good.   God knows this.  God is infinitely powerful, and infinitely knowledgeable.  God had everything possible within Himself, and yet what did He do?  He created the world, giving us a possibility to share in his love.  When we fell, God the Father gave us His Only Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  And to save us from our sins, what did Christ spend His life on in this world?  He did what he makes present here on this altar:  he sacrificed His Life for us, because He was infinitely wise.

The 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A] - 17 JULY 2011

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Wisdom 12:13,16-19  +  Romans 8:26-27  +  Matthew 13:24-43
July 17, 2011

[Nota bene:  no reflections will be posted over the next two weeks.  Father Hoisington will be in Ireland with his family, celebrating his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.]

“Let them grow together until harvest….” [Matthew 13:30]

This parable, like last Sunday’s, is about the Church.  It’s about those who are the children of the kingdom, as opposed to those who are the children of the evil one.  Jesus is very clear in explaining the parable of the Weeds:  the enemy who sows [the weeds] is the devil.  Likewise, Jesus tells us that He who sows good seed is the Son of Man:  that is, Jesus Himself.

But while the elements of the parable are clearly defined─that is, He who sows good seed, the enemy who sows the weeds, the wheat, and the weeds─the meaning of the householder’s words are not so clear.  When his slaves ask if they should pull the weeds, the householder replies, “Let them grow together until harvest….”

Jesus makes us wonder - through this parable - why we find in our own daily life that the children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one live side by side for a long time.  But beneath the surface of this parable, Jesus teaches us something even more profound.
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Throughout Matthew Chapter 13, Jesus used many images from the life of a farmer.  If you have experience with planting and harvesting, you ought to sit down sometime and read, all at once, the whole of Matthew 13.  Last Sunday’s and this Sunday’s gospel passages come from this chapter, and their images cross-pollinate, if you’ll pardon the expression.

Remember that last Sunday you heard of the sower who seemed to sow his seed very indiscriminately.  Some seed fell on a hard path; some on rocky ground; some amidst thorns, and only some on rich soil.  If each of these groups were equal in terms of the seed sown, then the farmer was only getting 25% of the return he could have gotten.  Now either this sower is stupid, or he knows something that we don’t know.

As Jesus explains today’s parable, He identifies the one who sows good seed as the Son of Man: that is, Jesus Himself.  So if the parables from last Sunday and this Sunday are related, and the sower in both parables is the same person, then we can hardly say that the sower in last Sunday’s parable is stupid, even if He did sow 75% of His seed on the path, among thorns, and on rocky ground.

We’re left, then, to consider that this sower – the Son of Man – knows something that we don’t know.  What could it be?  Could it be that the sower wasn’t just sloppy, but deliberate, in sowing seed on the path, on rocky ground, and among thorns?  And could this deliberateness have something to do with allowing the weeds to grow with the wheat until the harvest?

Never underestimate humility.  It’s not that humility itself is powerful, any more than soil – in and of itself – is fruitful.  But humility allows great and powerful things to happen in a human person’s spiritual life.  Humility is the foundation of the spiritual life.  Humility even allows the grace of God to accomplish supernaturally what no soil, no matter how rich, could accomplish naturally.

This is where we have to keep in mind something key about parables.  A parable is like a metaphor:  it uses an image you do know, to teach you something about what you don’t know.  But a metaphor, like a parable, isn’t meant to be exhaustive.  If you push it too far, it breaks down.  Jesus’ parables about the sower tell us certain truths about the spiritual life, but not all of them.  There are some supernatural truths that go beyond the images of Jesus’ parables about sowing in Matthew 13.

Here are two of the spiritual truths that these parables don’t teach us.  Jesus, of course, teaches these truths elsewhere, but not in this chapter of the Bible.  These truths are: first, we are the soil, and we can change.  And second, we are the weeds, and we can change.  It’s so simple, that it bears repeating.  We are the soil, and we can change.  We can change what type of soil we are:  whether we are hard and dry, or softened by God’s grace and ready to receive His Word.  We are the weeds, and we can change.  We can, through God’s grace, change from weeds into wheat.  Obviously, in the natural world, these are not likely to happen, especially the second.  But supernaturally, this sort of change is possible by opening our lives to God’s help.
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When we delve deep into the lives of the saints, we see far more than plaster-of-paris figurines.  We see women and men of flesh and blood, who doubt and sin, struggling to live for God rather than for themselves.  At the same time, there is a great diversity in the paths that saints trod as they journey the path to holiness.

On the one hand, there are saints who we might say “have it easy” as far as the path to holiness goes.  They are baptized as infants, grow up in a home where the Catholic Faith surrounds them day and night, and gradually and continually ascend the mountain of holiness.  One of the clearest examples would be St. Thérèse the Little Flower.[1]

On the other hand, others who eventually become saints spend many of their early years living the Faith very little, if at all, and usually only lukewarmly, at that.  At the very far end of the spectrum would be St. Augustine of Hippo, who was not baptized until the age of 33, and for many years before that lived with his girlfriend and fathered an illegitimate son.  Augustine was the “reluctant saint”, who as he wavered toward giving his life to God, famously prayed, “Give me chastity, O Lord, but not yet….”

Somewhere in between The Little Flower and the Reluctant Saint is St. Teresa of Avila.  Teresa was born into a devout Catholic Family.  Perhaps because her mother died when Teresa was thirteen, Teresa’s father sent her to a convent school when she was sixteen.  Four years later, Teresa entered the Carmelite Convent of the Incarnation in Avila.

Remember that Teresa was living in the first half of the 1500’s.  In many places throughout the world at that time, the Church was weak, lax, and unimpressive.  Teresa’s convent “was large, and not particularly strict.”  When young women entered this convent, they did not enter a community of equals:  the “social and economic distinctions [of their birth families] were carefully preserved.  Some nuns had suites of rooms, with servants and pets, while others had simple cells.”

After a few years in this convent of mixed motives, Teresa herself “settled into a routine [marked by] many compromises with worldliness and vanity.”  This routine of lukewarm Catholicism lasted for almost twenty years of her sixty-seven year life.  Close to the age of forty, she began to allow God to work in her life.[2]

Later in her life, after many years of living an authentic Christian life, Teresa wrote an autobiography at the request of her spiritual director.  In this work, Teresa is very honest about her many weaknesses and mistakes.  She pinpoints four roadblocks that she herself set up on the path of holiness, in order to keep herself from moving forward.  In the next three Sunday’s bulletins, Teresa is going to describe three of these roadblocks in her own words.  One of them, she’ll describe to you now.

Maybe the most simple is inattentiveness to venial sin.  Carelessness about venial sin seems trivial.  It doesn’t seem worth our time and attention.  But saints like Teresa of Avila pinpoint carelessness about venial sin as a serious roadblock to spiritual growth.  And if women and men who have been canonized for their sanctity tell us that this is something to take seriously, we need to give the matter our attention.

On the one hand, St. Teresa of Avila quotes from the Book of Proverbs, where King Solomon observes that “a righteous man falls seven times [a day] yet rises still” [24:16].  That is to say, even the holiest persons living on this earth sin, and need God’s grace in Confession.  But most of these sins are not fully deliberate, and are not a serious roadblock.

On the other hand, St. Teresa is talking about the venial sins that you and I deliberately choose.  She explains:

It seems to me [that] a sin is very deliberate when, for example, [a person] says:  “Lord, You see it, and I know You do not want it, and I understand this; but I want to follow my whim and appetite more than Your will.”  It doesn’t seem to me possible that something like this can be called little, however light the fault; but it’s serious, very serious.[3]

Every journey begins with a single, small step.  This is true of the spiritual life.  Attentiveness to the little things, including little sins, will help you grow closer to God.  Over the next two Saturdays, two different priests will be hear confessions at St. Mark’s from 4:00-5:00 p.m.  Keep them busy.  Even if you have only venial sins to confess, bring them to Jesus, and receive His Divine Mercy.  The grace of Divine Mercy has the power to turn dry, hardened soil into soil that is rich and ready to receive God’s Word.  The grace of Divine Mercy has the power to pulverize rocky ground, and to burn the hardest thorns, in order to clear the ground for God’s Word.  The grace of Divine Mercy has the power to transform weeds into finest wheat, to allow God the Father to enjoy a rich harvest from the good works of your life on this earth.


[1] The Fulfillment of All Desire, page 17.
[2] The Fulfillment of All Desire, pages 18-19.
[3] The Way of Perfection, cp. 41, no. 3, p. 197; quoted in The Fulfillment of All Desire, pages 21-22.

The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A] - 10 JULY 2011

The Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time [A]
Isaiah 55:10-11  ─  Romans 8:18-23  ─  Matthew 13:1-23
July 10, 2011

“‘And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.’” [Matthew 13:4]

Humility is the foundation of the spiritual life.  From the foundation of humility, the Lord God dwells more fully inside us.  The Bible itself and the seven saints to whom we’re listening closely this summer and fall tell us that growth in the spiritual life proceeds according to three stages.  The first stage is called the “purgative way”, where purification takes place.  Jesus’ parable today teaches us about this purgative way.

In this parable, “‘A sower went out to sow.’” Now either this sower is stupid, or he knows something that we don’t know.  If you were driving down 29th Street, and came up behind a farmer driving his tractor and planter, dropping seed for miles onto the asphalt of 29th, you’d be concerned for him;  doesn’t he know he’s wasting his time, energy, and money?

But the sower in Jesus’ parable acts in the same way:  “‘…as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up.’”  Later on in Matthew 13, Jesus explains “the parable of the sower.  The seed sown on the path[,] is the one who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart.”

This is the first of four illustrations that Jesus paints in today’s parable.  The first three illustrations are pictures of the sower laboring in vain, because of the path, rocky ground, and thorns.  Only the fourth illustration describes seed falling on rich soil, producing fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

The first three illustrations show you three things that you must avoid in your spiritual life, in order to have a soul that can be rich soil to produce spiritual fruit.  The first illustrates ignorance; or in other words, not understanding what the Word of God tells us.

To grow in humility, we cannot be ignorant.  To grow in humility requires knowledge of God, and self-knowledge.  Knowledge of God is simple, because God is simple.  God is Love.  But self-knowledge is more complicated.  Self-knowledge has two parts:  knowledge of myself as a fallen person, who has stumbled and fallen into the filth of sin; and knowledge of myself as someone loved by God, who has picked me up, washed me in the Blood of the Lamb, and raised me to the dignity of His own child.

These three forms of knowledge, then – knowledge of God, knowledge of myself as fallen, and knowledge of myself as raised by God – are like three legs of a stool on which I sit.  Without any one of these three, I will fall to the ground.  Without all three, I cannot grow in the virtue of humility.

The saints tell us, both from their own struggles, and from giving spiritual direction to others, how dangerous it is to focus all our attention on only one of these three.  Many Christians, unfortunately, become mired in their knowledge of their sins, and refuse to lift their eyes to God.  Focusing only on “the ugliness and selfishness of the soul…. can produce scrupulosity or despair if the mercy and goodness of God [are] not” looked to, also [The Fulfillment of All Desire, p.186].

Saint Catherine of Siena helps us understand this.  She tells us what God the Father said to her on this point.  This is God the Father speaking to her:

I do not want [the soul] to think about her sins individually, lest her mind be contaminated by the memory of specific ugly sins.  I mean that I do not want her to…think about her sins either in general or specifically without calling to mind the blood and the greatness of my mercy.  Otherwise she will only be confounded.  For if self-knowledge and the thought of sin are not seasoned with remembrance of the blood and hope for mercy, the result is bound to be confusion [The Dialogue,  chapter 66, p.124, quoted in Fulfillment, p. 188].

Saint Catherine lived in the Italian city-state of Siena in the 14th century.  She was a Third Order Dominican who died at the age of 33.  Through her holiness, God brought greater peace of His Church, most especially by bringing the exiled papacy back from France to Rome once again.

In her most famous writing, simply titled The Dialogue, St. Catherine recounts how, on one occasion, the devil tempted her to focus only on the knowledge of her sins.  On another occasion the devil tempted her to focus only on God’s goodness to her.  On both occasions, St. Catherine struck that “holy balance” that grows from humility.

On the first occasion, the devil tried to get Catherine “to believe that her whole life was a delusion [,] and that she was doing her own will, not God’s will.  She replied, ‘I confess to my Creator that my life has been spent wholly in darkness.  But I will hide myself in the wounds of Christ crucified and bathe in his blood, and so my wickedness will be consumed [,] and I will rejoice with desire in my Creator.’”  The devil fled.

But the devil later returned to Catherine, and suggested “that since she had reached such a high stage of union with God[,] and was so perfect and pleasing to Him[,] that she no longer needed to make efforts to [remember] her sins and practice self-denial.”  St. Catherine replied:

“How wretched I am!  John the Baptist…. was made holy in his mother’s womb, yet he did such great penance.  But I have committed so many sins [,] and have not yet even begun to acknowledge it with tears and true contrition, seeing who God is who is offended by me[,] and who I am who offend him!”

St. Catherine’s humility, rooted both in self-knowledge and in knowledge of God, caused the devil to swear:

“Damnable woman!  There is no getting at you!  If I throw you down in confusion    you lift yourself up to mercy!  If I exalt you[,] you throw yourself down” [The Dialogue, chapter 66, p. 125, quoted in Fulfillment, page 189].

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Humility is the foundation of the spiritual life.  Humility will grow inside of you as you rest more in the knowledge of who you are, and who God is.  Here are two concrete examples of allowing this soil of humility to become richer.

The first example concerns our own parish church.  You may be familiar with the devotion to Divine Mercy.  Blessed Pope John Paul II promoted this devotion with great enthusiasm.  He even gave the Second Sunday of Easter the official name of “Divine Mercy Sunday”.  He died in 2005 on the vigil of this Sunday.  Each year, the Gospel on this Sunday is from John 20, where Jesus institutes the Sacrament of Confession.

Many people hesitate to go to Confession, or even actually fear it.  They focus only on their sins, instead of looking at their sins through the “lens” of God’s mercy.  In the confessionals on the west side of our church, I’ve put up pictures of the Divine Mercy:  that is, the image of Jesus with rays of white, red and blue light streaming from His Sacred Heart.  These paper copies of the image are temporary, until we can find either framed copies, or icons of this image.  I’ve purposely put them rather low, so that children especially will see Jesus—in all His mercy—looking on them as they enter the confessional.

The second example is for you in your homes at night.  Before going to sleep, make sure to spend three minutes in prayer:  the first minute, making an examination of conscience over the day that’s just ended; the second minute, expressing sorrow to God for failing to act as His beloved child; and the third minute, giving thanks to God for the love, mercy, pardon and peace that is always, and every day, yours in Christ Jesus.

The 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time [A] - 3 JULY 2011

The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
Zechariah 9:9-10    Romans 8:9, 11-13    Matthew 11:25-30
July 3, 2011

“…for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.” [Matthew 11:25]

Humility is the foundation of the spiritual life.  This was so clearly demonstrated over the past week and a half, as I‘ve been helping the diocese to close the research phase of Father Emil Kapaun’s cause for canonization.  Over two days, other team members and I listened for twelve hours as testimony was read to us.  This testimony was given by those who knew Father Kapaun first-hand:  in Marion County, where he grew up; in the two parishes of the Wichita Diocese that he served as pastor; and in his military service in India, Burma, and finally – of course – in Korea.

In the midst of listening to this testimony from witness after witness, there were two truths about Father Kapaun that became more and more clear.  The first is that all this testimony was from many different people who didn’t necessarily know each other.  They knew Father Kapaun at different times in his life, in different countries of the world, and in very different circumstances:  from a small Kansas farm town, to graduate studies at a university in Washington D.C., to the trenches of Korea.  Yet despite those differences, from his boyhood to his priesthood to his martyrdom, Emil Joseph Kapaun was always the same person:  a person of immense holiness.  And that holiness was rooted in the spiritual soil of humility.

The second truth about Father Kapaun that became crystal clear is that a saint’s humility is humbling to others, and at the same time lifts them up.  This sounds paradoxical, and I’d never experienced it before.  During my life I’ve read a lot of lives of the saints, but none of those books presented this truth as clearly as the testimony about Father Kapaun.  I hope that eventually all this testimony will be published (unfortunately, at this stage in the canonization process, its publication is not permitted).

Personally, as I listened to all the testimony, I had this experience that sounds paradoxical:  on the one hand, I was humbled hearing about Father Kapaun’s many acts of holiness, and felt small in comparison to him.  Yet on the other hand, I felt “elevated” (if I could use that word).  I felt lifted up by Father Kapaun, as I listened to his life being described.  It was as if—what he did, I could just possibly do.  And what made this seem possible was Father Kapaun’s own humility.  You may not think yourself capable of growing in order to imitate Father Kapaun’s great actions, but you know that you can become smaller through humility.  And the testimony makes clear that it was to the extent that he became humble, that Father Kapaun became holy.  Because he was willing to become small, he accomplished actions so great.
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In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus teaches us about humility.  Jesus teaches us that humility is the beginning of all progress in the spiritual life.  That’s different than saying that humility is the first lesson learned by beginners in the spiritual life.  Rather, Jesus is teaching us that humility is the beginning of even the progress made by the most spiritually advanced saints, each day of their lives.  If humility is not our daily companion, we are not on the path that leads to God.

In the portraits of Jesus painted by the four evangelists, Jesus rarely speaks out loud to God the Father.  In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus not only speaks to the Father.  He exclaims to the Father, “‘I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.  Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.”  Jesus exclaiming these words makes it pretty apparent that He wants them understood by His disciples.  He wants these words understood by you and me.  Jesus wants you to understand that these words are meant to be integrated into your life 24/7.  Jesus wants us to become His little ones.

No matter how old you are, no matter how far you have already progressed in the spiritual life, humility is the soil in which you will continue to grow.  If you are a farmer, or even if you garden, you know that as far as growing things from the earth, there’s good soil and there’s bad soil.  There’s soil that’s rich in nutrients and moisture, and then there’s soil that’s dry and depleted of nutrients.

If we want to say that the soil of humility is meant to be rich in spiritual nutrients and moisture, what are we saying?  What makes humility a rich soil?  The saints of the Church teach us that each of us, by himself or herself, can nurture this virtue of humility, and make this soil more rich.  Saint Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite reformer who lived in the sixteenth century, said this about humility:

While we are on this earth nothing is more important to us than humility. . . . In my opinion we shall never completely know ourselves if we don’t strive to know God.  By gazing at His grandeur, we get in touch with our own lowliness… by pondering His humility, we shall see how far we are from being humble.[1]

In these few words, St. Teresa hints at what she explains elsewhere in more detail:  namely, that humility grows by two means:  self-knowledge and knowledge of God.  Self-knowledge has two parts.  Knowledge of God has only one:  knowledge of God as perfect love.  As we grow in our understanding of God as perfect love, we can grow greatly in holiness.  But that growth depends on growth in self-knowledge.

For you as a Christian, self-knowledge has two parts:  on the one hand, knowledge of yourself as a sinner; and on the other hand, knowledge of yourself as created in the Image and likeness of God.  If we don’t grow in both of these at the same time, we’re likely not to grow spiritually.  But if we root our knowledge of our sins in humility, and accept God’s grace, we will grow spiritually.  If we root our knowledge of our vocation to holiness in humility, and accept that we do not deserve God’s grace, we will grow spiritually.  And if we root our knowledge of God as divine Love in humility, and accept God as divine Love, we will grow spiritually even through death, and into eternal life.

[1] The Interior Castle, sect. I, cp. 2, no. 9, p.292;  quoted in The Fulfillment of All Desire, p. 187.

Sacred Heart [A]

The Sacred Heart of Jesus [A]
Deuteronomy 7:6-11  +  1 John 4:7-16  +  Matthew 11:25-30

               Tomorrow we celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the heart of her who was never touched by any sin, but rather is full of grace.  Jesus is sinless, too, of course, sharing in the divinity of His Father.  And so we could speak of and celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Jesus.  But today we are celebrating instead the “Sacred Heart” of Jesus.
               To be “sacred” means “to be set aside for a special purpose.”  What, then, is the purpose of Jesus’ heart?  The heart is obviously a human element of who Jesus is.  It certainly expresses the love of God the Son, for as Saint John the Divine tells us, God is love.  As God, in his divinity, the Son of course has no physical heart—we can say only that the Godhead possesses a heart in a metaphorical sense—but in His humanity Jesus of course possesses a heart, beating within His Body, pumping His life-blood to all its parts.
               What does it mean then to say that Jesus, as human, has a heart?  It means that He is capable of suffering.  To have a heart means to be able to be broken, to be weak, to be vulnerable.  This is the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love:  that He would carry a Cross and die upon it for us, in order to open the gates of Heaven for our darkened, sinful hearts.
               This is the special purpose of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the reason for the Incarnation—this is what Jesus’ heart was set aside for:  that it would be broken, that it would be pierced.  But far be it from us to simply worship the image of the Sacred Heart as an image to be given thanks.  The Sacred Heart is a person to be imitated.
               We do not celebrate the feast of “the Sacred Intellect of Jesus”; nor do we celebrate the feast of “the Sacred Memory.”  We celebrate the “Sacred Heart” because the greatest of the capacities of God (and man) is the capacity to will, to choose, and God’s will always chooses love, because God is love, and because love consists in this:  not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us, and has sent His Son as an offering for our sins.
               The Sacred Heart is a person to be imitated.  The heart pumps blood to the entire body, and as His members we share in that life-blood as we share in the offering for our sins that Christ sacrificed on the Cross and memorialized sacramentally at His Last Supper.  This sacred meal is “set aside”:  its purpose is our sanctification, that our hearts might become more capable of being broken for the salvation of others, and attain to the fullness of God Himself.

The parish I serve

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