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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

August 9, 2009

The Eucharistic feedings continue for a third week in a row. Elijah is at his wit’s end. After having killed the false prophets of Baal, King Ahab and Jezebel are determined to kill him so he flees into a desert and finds rest under a broom tree on his way. Exhausted, he prays that the Lord take his life rather than to endure the misery his ministry has brought him, but an angel wakes him, feeds him twice, and prepares him for the forty-day journey to Mount Horeb. It is on this mountain that Elijah will hear the voice of the Lord, not in storms or winds or earthquakes, but in a quiet voice that emerges in the silence.

In John’s Gospel, we get a deepening of the significance of the Eucharist through the words of Jesus. We are immediately returned to the context of the Israelites in the desert who grumbled even when they received quail and bread from heaven. Elijah’s story also echoes the importance of God’s desire to feed us. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that he is the bread from heaven, which understandably raises the objections of the Jewish leaders. The leaders believe that Jesus has incredible teachings and deeds, but they find problems with his claim of the source of his spiritual nourishment.

Jesus instructs them about his relationship to the Father as the Sent One. He is the Eternal Word. Therefore, everyone is to learn and listen to God and they will be drawn to Jesus. Jesus is the one who will nourish, but not in the way their ancestors were nourished. He is the living bread that leads a person to cherish all of life and he will give that person eternal life.

If we are to learn and listen to God, we are to pay attention to Jesus’ style of teaching. God will draw a person to Jesus and the person will let him or herself to be taught. Listening to God through Jesus is essential, and we are not very good listeners. We might want to ask ourselves, “How can I embrace all that is happening to me and Jesus during our Eucharist at Mass?” If we begin to take in the whole reality of Jesus, we will see that he is our living bread who came down to heaven to offer us eternal life. Believing that Jesus really want to nourish us daily is the way to eternal life. Do we really believe?

Let’s end with Paul’s words in Ephesians 4: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to god for a fragrant aroma.” Let us watch and listen to Jesus’ life this week. Let us give ourselves some space so that we can listen and hear what the Lord of the Universe would like to give us as nourishing words.

Quote for the Week

Be prepared at all times for the gifts of God and be ready always for new ones - for God is a thousand times more ready to give than we are to receive. – Meister Eckhart

Themes for this Week’s Masses

Poor Moses again! After leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into their desert wanderings, the Lord does not allow him to enter the Promised Land. Instead, he prepares Joshua for the task of reminding the people that it is the Lord who is leading them into the battles with the nations that occupy the Promised Land. The Lord leads Moses up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo where he shows him the bounty of the land. It is here that Moses dies and the people hold a great vigil for the man who had known God face to face. Joshua takes over as Moses’ appointed one and leads the people safely through the Jordan River, which remains dry as long as the Ark of the Covenant is held by priests. They cross into Jericho on dry land and ready themselves to overtake the Canaanites and the other nations that set up camp. In front of all the people, Joshua reminds them that the Lord God is responsible for their success and favor.

Right after Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration, Jesus continues to teach about the Kingdom of Heaven with a collection of sayings. He includes in the kingdom those who are insignificant and of no account, like a small child. He speaks of the saving significance of making peace with one’s brother and provides a structure of reconciling one’s grievances following it up with a parable about repaying debts and forgiving the other person. Jesus leaves Galilee for Judea and is met by Pharisees who test him about the lawfulness of divorce. He proves his worth in knowledge by placing the question in the context of how humans make laws to satisfy their situations, but that a person, if he or she is able, also ought to make decisions for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.

Saints of the Week

You may remember that last week Pope Sixtus was martyred with seven deacons and companions. Deacon Lawrence, celebrated on Monday, is one of those deacons who were killed four days later by burning. Legend has it that when he was burned on one side, he instructed his persecutors to flip him over to finish the job. He, like Pope Sixtus, is mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer.

Clare of Assisi is honored on Tuesday for becoming the founder of the women’s religious order of Franciscans. Inspired by the preaching of Francis, she left home on Palm Sunday in 1212 to begin a life of radical poverty even to the extent of not wearing shoes (becoming discalced). Other women followed, including her mother and sisters.

On Wednesday, Jane Frances de Chantal is remembered as the founder of the Visitation Sisters who lived in austerity in convents dedicated to working with the poor and the sick. She founded the order after seeking pastoral counseling for her great grief from Francis de Sales when her husband of nobility died.

Thursday commemorates the lives of Pontian, pope, and Hippolytus, priest. Hippolytus is credited for composing a prayer upon which the Second Eucharistic Prayer is based and Pontian became pope in 230 and was persecuted under Maximinus in 235. Hippolytus, a schismatic who claimed to be pope, reconciled with the church and was subsequently martyred.

Friday is the day the church remembers Franciscan Maximilian Mary Kolbe of Poland. He devoted his life to preaching the gospel and encouraging devotions to Mary. As World War Two broke out, Kolbe helped many refugees, including Jews, but was later arrested and sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. After a prisoner escaped, the guards seeking retaliation randomly chose ten men to die. Maximilian offered to take the place of a young father. He is remembered for his selfless sacrifice.

On Saturday, we memorialize The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast honors two aspects of Mary’s existence: it celebrates the happy departure of Mary from this temporal life; and it honors the assumption of her body into heaven. It is the principal feast of the Blessed Virgin and it is a holy day of obligation. Mary’s Assumption was formally proclaimed by Pius XII in 1950 after the Council of Ephesus in 431 proclaimed her as Mother of God. Her Dormition was celebrated in the Eastern churches by the 6th century while the Latin Church began its devotions around 650.

Jesuit Vows

First (perpetual) vows will take place on Saturday, August 15th for the New York, Maryland and New England provinces. In the New England province, vovendus (the one who is approved to profess vows) Dan Corrou, n.S.J. will vow perpetual poverty, chastity and obedience with a promise to enter the Society forever before the Consecrated Host during a Mass on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. This feast is the principal feast honoring Mary and ushers in an octave (eight-day) period of prayer that concludes with a liturgy honoring the Queenship of Mary. Jesuits take vows on this date because Ignatius and his early companions made vows as laymen in front of the Blessed Sacrament that had just been consecrated by Blessed Fr. Peter Faber, the first priest of the Jesuits. Vows were taken at Montmartre at the Chapel of St. Denis outside of Paris in 1534 where the companions were studying.

Book Recommendations

I heartily recommend What Happened at Vatican II by John W. O’Malley, S.J., a Distinguished Professor of History at Georgetown University as good summer reading. O’Malley takes us through the meanderings and maneuverings of the four periods of the Second Vatican Council that was surprisingly called by the aged but affable Pope John XXIII. With remarkable style and grace, O’Malley relates a complex story of conflicts and surprises among bishops, cardinals, popes and periti (experts) set on the world stage like no preceding church council. Who would expect a book on Vatican II to be a page-turner, but it is. While the book describes great meaning to the dialogues of the proceedings, it leaves us wondering “What if?” Please do read this. It will greatly expand your knowledge of our contemporary church and the forces that continue to shape it.

If you can excuse the sometimes-vulgar language of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, I recommend this as light summer reading as well. The story centers on an obese boy from the Dominican Republic who lives in New York City and strives to become a man like other Dominicans. Vignettes are developed about various family and friends who were important to Oscar’s life in a way that you will find yourself becoming sympathetic to their motivations and actions. I found myself rooting for Oscar to straighten out his life so that he might find some self-acceptance. This Pulitzer Prize winner is an enjoyable read.

I already read What Jesus Meant by Gary Wills this week. It is a fresh reading of the Gospels in which Jesus is portrayed as one who taught a radical way of life and no political platform in his preaching about the kingdom of heaven that is off into the future, but also one that is brought into this life. Wills writes about Jesus’ thoughts on power, the wealthy and on religion itself. With his clear style of writing, Wills vivifies the gospels that challenges the long-held assumptions and conclusions that Christians have been taught over the centuries. His presentation on the empty tomb and resurrection would cause many to reflect more deeply on what really occurred. Yes, I recommend this book – at only 142 pages – even though Wills paints a view of Jesus conflated from the four Gospels into one portrait.

The Gospel According to Paul by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, S.J. is also a worthy book to read in light of the Year of St. Paul that just concluded. Cardinal Martini often gave lectures to the youth of Milan and compiled his essays into theological and devotional books. This work on St. Paul places his life next to the events of Christ’s and then asks the reader how he or she is to live similarly. Martini examines our Christian lives in the contexts of our ongoing conversion and our call to be an apostle as our vocation.

Here’s My Heart, Here’s My Hand by William Barry, S.J. is also a very fine summer book. It centers on prayer as a conscious relationship with God and the effects of engaging more fully into the relationship. Broken into four sections, the first part deals with coming to understand more about God in prayer; the second examines the ways we come to know whether the response to our prayer is God’s voice or from the evil spirits; the third unpacks various ways that we can learn to live more prayerfully in our contemporary world with the great sin and evil that beset us; the fourth section ponders God’s creation and what God is calling forth in us; and the final section centers on the ways in which we are changed by our relationship with God.

Anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus

August 7th is the anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus following its suppression in 1773. During this period, Jesuits were not allowed to function as a religious order priest except in Russia under the aegis of Catherine the Great. As you will recall the American Revolution and the French Revolution occurred creating massive changes in the social structures in Europe and the New World. The Age of Enlightenment was ushered in. In the newly restored Society, the Jesuit Order adopted a more conservative approach in its governance to ensure that it would no longer fall out of favor with Rome and the governments of Europe.

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