Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

March 6, 2011 Deuteronomy 11:18, 26-28; Romans 3:21-25, 28; Matthew 7:21-27

The words we hear today are the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, and rightly so, they speak of matters of the last judgment. Two unsettling questions arise from the readings. The first is, "how do we know we are on the right path to salvation?" This question originates in the words of Moses to the Israelites as they are asked to accept God's commandments. Following them brings life; hearing them but not abiding by them brings curses and destruction. These two ways form the basis of Wisdom literature. To Moses, following God's laws means one's obedience has to come from one's heart. It shows one's fidelity to the spirit of the laws through one's entire being rather than a minimalistic approach.

The second question is "what does it take to enter into heaven?" God is cast as the judge with Jesus as the legal advocate. Merely saying that one has faith in Jesus is not enough to satisfy the entrance requirement. Jesus will stand at the door when you knock and declare he doesn't know you if you have not fulfilled the social justice that is linked with faith. No one can emerge triumphant from the last judgment on merely the basis of words or the strength of one's spiritual power. Faith must produce active justice.

Matthew always connects ethics with his belief about the last days. He sees the church as a body of sinners and saints that will be sorted out in the eventual end-times. His position warns against the presumption that Christians can carry when they assume they are going to heaven merely because they attend church services. (This argument stands in contrast to Paul's and John's beliefs.) For Matthew, salvation is not necessarily assured. Only a person whose life is marked by love and justice will inherit eternal life.

Matthew's use of the parable about a wise man who built his house of rock that can endure the storms illustrates his point. Listening and hearing are key features of discipleship. However, it is not enough. Hearing and the doing the word is the solid foundation. We have to put the words of Jesus into action by choosing to interpret God's will through the lens of a justice built on love for neighbor. At the conclusion of his Sermon, Jesus wants people to hear all his words and enact them as the wisdom of life. Incorporating this radical new teaching into one's actions will prove that you know Jesus. He will recognize you during the last days.

Paul reminds us in Romans that we are all sinners and are deprived of God's glory. We receive it as a grace from God. Our righteousness depends upon the righteousness of God, which is a free gift already accomplished by Christ. For Paul, belief is enough because our salvation is ultimately worked out by God. We know that God will accomplish in us the transformation we need to live justly and well. The law has its rightful place in the world. Our justification is free from the constrictions of the law and is freely offered by God's grace. While faith alone is enough for Paul, he knows that the integrity of one's faith will bring about God's justice on earth. They are inseparable.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: The Book of Tobit begins in Ordinary Time but is interrupted by Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season. In the days following Ash Wednesday, the themes of fasting and abstinence are introduced. Deuteronomy tells us that we have a choice of life or death, blessing or curse, and that God's Law and wisdom will keep us on the path of life. Isaiah declares the virtues and customs of fasting that will please the Lord. This involves great works of mercy and social justice. The works we do will shine a light on our faith.

Gospel: To complete this portion of Ordinary Time, Jesus tells a stinging parable to the religious authorities about their hardness of heart in hearing God's word. The Pharisees were sent to snare Jesus in a trap, but Jesus skillfully maneuvers his way past their logic. After Ash Wednesday, Jesus declares to his friends that he must die and that the cost of discipleship is to deny one's life for the sake of the cross. He also tells them they have no need of fasting while he is with them, but the time will come when they will fast. He then calls Levi the tax collector into his closest circle of friends as an illustration of the surprising logic of the kingdom of heaven.

Saints of the Week

Monday: Perpetua and Felicity (d. 203) were catechumens arrested during a North African persecution. Perpetua, a young noblewoman, and Felicity, her pregnant slave, were baptized while under arrest and they refused to renounce their faith. Felicity was to be released because she was pregnant but she delivered her child prematurely days before her execution. Both were beheaded and sent among wild beasts.

Tuesday: John of God (1495-1550) was a Portuguese mercenary soldier who squandered his youth on less than respectable endeavors. At age forty, he reformed his life and formed the Order of Brothers Hospitallers to take care of the sick and the poor.

Wednesday: Ash Wednesday - Today is the end of the carnival season and the beginning of days of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving in commemoration of the last days of Jesus in his earthly life. Forty days of Lent leads to Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum when Jesus goes through his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

This Week in Jesuit History

• Mar 6, 1643. Arnauld, the Jansenist, published his famous tract against Frequent Communion. Fifteen French bishops gave it their approval, whereas the Jesuit fathers at once exposed the dangers in it.
• Mar 7, 1581. The Fifth General Congregation of the Society bound the professors of the Society to adhere to the doctrine of St Thomas Aquinas.
• Mar 8, 1773. At Centi, in the diocese of Bologna, Cardinal Malvezzi paid a surprise visit to the Jesuit house, demanding to inspect their accounting books.
• Mar 9, 1764. In France, all Jesuits who refused to abjure the Society were ordered by Parliament to leave the realm within a month. Out of 4,000 members only five priests, two scholastics, and eight brothers took the required oath; the others were driven into exile.
• Mar 10, 1615. The martyrdom in Glasgow, Scotland, of St John Ogilvie.
• Mar 11, 1848. In Naples, Italy, during the 1848 revolution, 114 Jesuits, after much suffering, were put into carts and driven ignominiously out of the city and the kingdom.
• Mar 12, 1622. Pope Gregory XV canonized Sts Ignatius, Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila, and Philip Neri.

New Zealand

Please continue your prayers for the people of Christchurch, New Zealand who have begun to bury their dead. The death toll is already at 150. They continue to search for hundreds of missing people.

Friends from the Portland, Maine area were in Christchurch on the day of the earthquake and have described their experiences in a Portland Press Herald news article.

Revolutions and Uprisings

Many people in North Africa, the Middle East, and within Arab nations continue to demonstrate their disapproval with monarchies and dictatorships. They push for needed social, political, and economic reforms. Let's continue to pray for their safety as they express pent-up frustrations and push for new policies and structures that will assure them greater reverence and dignity.

Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, and Lent

The carnival season is coming to an end. It has been a lengthy season that began nine weeks ago at the conclusion on the Christmas season. Carnival stands for "carne" (meat) and "vale" (goodbye) when the faithful ones say goodbye to meat. They put it away for the season as they ready for the fasting, prayer, and almsgiving of Lent.

Mardi Gras has developed into a great day of frivolity and revelry and is largely seen by the general public as independent of Ash Wednesday and Lent. For us Christians, the partying carries a measured, respectful tone because of the deeper meaning of the penitential season that begins the following day. It becomes, not a last gasp day of partying, but a day to bid farewell to those ordinary blessings in our lives that we take for granted.