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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Prayer: John Paul II

Do not be afraid to give your time to Christ! Time given to Christ is never time lost, but is rather time gained, so that our relationships and indeed our whole life may become more profoundly human.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Prayer: Theophan the Recluse

The atmosphere of the soul is not purified until a small spiritual flame is kindled in the soul. This flame is the work of the grace of God; not a special grace, but one common to all.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Scripture: The Birth of John the Baptist

John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels and the Qur'an. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River. Some scholars maintain that he was influenced by the semi-ascetic Essenes, who expected anapocalypse and practiced rituals corresponding strongly with baptism, although there is no direct evidence to substantiate this. John is regarded as a prophet in Christianity, Islam, the Bahá'í Faith, and Mandaeism.
Most biblical scholars agree that John baptized Jesus at "Bethany beyond the Jordan", by wading into the water with Jesus from the eastern bank. John the Baptist is also mentioned by Jewish historian Josephus, in Aramaic Matthew, in the Pseudo-Clementine literature, and in the Qur'an. Accounts of John in the New Testament appear compatible with the account in Josephus. There are no other historical accounts of John the Baptist from around the period of his lifetime.
According to the New Testament, John anticipated a messianic figure who would be greater than himself, and Jesus was the one whose coming John foretold. Christians commonly refer to John as the precursor or forerunner of Jesus, since John announces Jesus' coming. John is also identified with the prophet Elijah. Some of Jesus' early followers had previously been followers of John. Some scholars have further speculated that Jesus was himself a disciple of John for some period of time, but this view is disputed.

Old Testament prophecy

John the Baptist, by Andrea del Sarto, 1528

John the Baptist, by Juan de Juanes, c. 1560
Christians believe that John the Baptist had a specific role ordained by God as forerunner or precursor of Jesus, who was the foretold Messiah. The New Testament Gospels speak of this role. In Luke 1:17 the role of John is referred to as being "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." In Luke 1:76 as "...thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways" and in Luke 1:77 as being "To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins."
There are several passages within the Old Testament which are interpreted by Christians as being prophetic of John the Baptist in this role. These include a passage in the Book of Malachi 3:1 that refers to a prophet who would prepare the way of the Lord:
"Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts." — Malachi 3:1
and also at the end of the next chapter in Malachi 4:5-6 where it says,
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."
The Jews of Jesus' day expected Elijah to come before the Messiah; indeed, some modern Jews continue to await Elijah's coming as well, as in the Cup of Elijah the Prophet in the Passover Seder. This is why the disciples ask Jesus in Matthew 17:10, 'Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?.' The disciples are then told by Jesus that Elijah came in the person of John the Baptist,
"Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist". — Matthew 17:11-13
(see also 11.14: "...if you are willing to believe their message, John is Elijah, whose coming was predicted.")
These passages are applied to John in the Synoptic Gospels. But where Matthew specifically identifies John the Baptist as Elijah (11.14, 17.13), the gospels of Mark and Luke do not actually make that identification, and the Gospel of John states that John the Baptist denied that he was Elijah. Thus there was apparently a shift in eschatological beliefs. (Where Matthew evidently believed that the final judgment was imminent, later authors would have been forced to concede that that "great and terrible day" had not been so imminent after all):
"Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ." They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." — John 1:19-21

Gospel narrative

John the Baptist (right) with child Jesus, painting by Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo

The Preaching of St. John the Baptist by Pieter Bruegel the Elder
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            All four canonical Gospels record John the Baptist's ministry, as does the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews. They depict him as proclaiming Christ's arrival. In the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), Jesus is baptized by John.
There is no mention of a family relationship between John and Jesus in the other Gospels, and the scholar Raymond E. Brown has described it as "of dubious historicity". Géza Vermes has called it "artificial and undoubtedly Luke's creation". On the basis of the account in Luke, the Catholic calendar placed the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist on June 24, six months before Christmas.
The many similarities between the Gospel of Luke story of the birth of John and the Old Testament account of the birth of Samuel have led scholars to suggest that Luke's account of the annunciation and birth of Jesus are modeled on that of Samuel.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 1, 2013
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Psalm 68; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14

We know when Jesus tells a good story because its message stays with us days after it is told. In Luke’s Gospel, he tells a parable of a wedding banquet host and the behavior of the invited guests who scramble to take the best seats at the table of honor. It is easy to imagine many biblical Middle Easterners jockeying to get there first to claim the prize because occupying open space is a virtue in this culture. Some cultures will form queues and single-file lines, but the Middle Eastern mentality is one that is more likened to swarming. You know this is you navigate the streets in an automobile. It is akin to the full saying that Jesuits like to make: “Get what you want first before all the selfish people take it.”

We like one of the points Jesus makes and we dismiss the other. That is not fair to him. As he is speaking about what it means to be humble, we side with the person who takes the lower seat and is brought to a higher place of prestige and honor while secretly laughing at the person who gets displaced from his seat of honor. God’s justice, we figure, will work in our favor if we act well and the self-serving, arrogant people will be unceremoniously displaced from the places they have usurped for themselves. We say in private conversations, “They will be brought to the low place they rightfully deserve.”

The point we do not like is when he tells the host to invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind because they cannot repay you for your generosity. He tells them not to invite friends, relatives, and wealthy neighbors who will invite you back in repayment. We run into all sorts of problems with this because sometimes we just want to invite people with whom we feel comfortable and familiar and we want to share an easy relaxed time. Other times it is to honor a birthday, anniversary, and significant milestone. We also want to associate with people from a common background, class, social, or educational level, and we do not want to be with people we do not like, whose behavior is uncouth, uncultured, or dysfunctional, whose political views are contrary to ours, or those people who try to make us feel uncomfortable even when we are doing good for them.

The message of Jesus puts us in a quandary because we want to be able to love them, and it makes us question what it means to be a brother or sister to someone who has made different life-choices from us or to whom life has dealt an unfortunate hand. We do not mind serving them or being generous to them or giving them food, but we always think of them as ‘them,’ and ‘not us.’ Having grown up with a sister with profound mental retardation, I was always accustomed to seeing others curiously stare at her and hearing comments like, “Your family would be better off if you sent her to a place that could care for her.” Of course, we do not want anyone to have a glaring disability, but what type of society are we when we choose not to care for our lesser fortunate brothers and sisters?

The major point Jesus makes concerns humility and while we think we know what it is, we tend not to hit the mark with it. For all intents and purposes, humility means that you know who you are and you act consistent with that reality. Sometimes we have an elevated impression of a quality or attribute, like intelligence, artistic ability, or career capability and we think we deserve a promotion, applause, or some honor for what we can do. Sometimes we think we mean more to someone than we actually do. Just think of the mess we endure at weddings when someone is not selected as ring bearer or maid of honor or those uncomfortable family events when a relative is not invited because she is a curmudgeon and she really does not see the way people will merely tolerate her because she is family. We have the same disrespect at work when a meeting is held and we are miffed because we are not invited and we are at a certain rank.

Of course, we know those people who are prideful and arrogant and we do not like their behavior, but we also have people who pridefully and arrogantly showcase their humility, like the woman who insists that she be the last one to receive the Eucharist because she is not worthy or the man who makes a big deal out of letting everyone else go through the buffet line before he takes his food in case the food runs out and someone else is deprived. Sadly, that is not humility, but the person is working out of a different need.

Humility means that you know who you are as you stand before God and others. Just be yourself and be kind to others. Accept those who approach you – even if they are blind, lame, crippled, or poor. You may have quite a bit to gain just by being civil. All that Jesus wants from you is to do your best. It does not have to be the very best, but it must be your own best. We have much to juggle in life and we cannot perfect all our skills, and the best we can do is to keep our hearts and minds open to new experiences that bring grace.

We need input from others to help us see more clearly who we are because they will help us see the illusions we hold about ourselves. We also need to stand before Jesus and ask him for help in assessing our gifts and qualities. Both your loved ones and Jesus will help you with tender care because they do not mean to destroy you but to encourage and build you up. Once we see who we are, it is easier for us to have compassion upon others and this is the time we begin to help Jesus create God’s kingdom. Learn about who you are and let yourself be loved as you are and you will find yourself like the person in Sirach, the first reading, as one who is loved more than a giver of gifts. This love will transform your life.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: Paul in First Thessalonians comforts those in the early church who have seen their loved ones die before Jesus returns again for them. He asks them to hold on as Jesus will unite both the living and the dead. He tells them that the Lord will come again in his own time just as quickly as labor pains spring upon a very pregnant woman. Therefore, we must be alert and stay sober as we patiently await the Lord’s advent. In Colossians, Paul rejoices when he learns the people hear the word of God and place their hope in him alone. From the very beginning, Paul prays incessantly for the Colossian community blessing them with all spiritual wisdom so they may be delivered from the power of darkness. The great Colossians hymn is sung placing Jesus as the head of the Church and the image of the invisible God. Because of what he did for us, we were able to be reconciled to God and made heirs and children to the promises of God.

Gospel: Jesus opens the scroll in the synagogue, reads it, and declares it fulfilled in their hearing. He tells them that no prophet has been accepted in his native town and that there is historical precedent for great biblical figures working miracles outside of Israel. When Jesus returned to Capernaum, he went into a synagogue where a man with an unclean spirit yelled out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” He sent the spirit out of the man. He then healed Peter’s mother-in-law and then townspeople from all over began to bring their sick and diseased people to him for healing. As people pressed in on Jesus from every side, he got into a boat to teach them. While there, he called Simon Peter and asked him to fish in a new spot. When Simon Peter realized the great catch of fish, he realized the power of Jesus and told him to depart from him because he is a sinful man. The disciples of John begin to notice a difference in the way the disciples of Jesus behave themselves with regard to dietary laws. He tells them that they cannot fast because Jesus is with them as a representative of God. There will come a time when he is taken from them and they cannot feast.  Jesus, with his disciples, was passing through a field of grain and was eating the heads of the grain. The Pharisees questioned why they were eating on the Sabbath and Jesus recalled the actions of David and his army when they were hungry. The Pharisees were silenced and stymied.

Saints of the Week

September 3: Gregory the Great (540-604) was the chief magistrate in Rome and resigned to become a monk. He was the papal ambassador to Constantinople, abbot, and pope. His charity and fair justice won the hearts of many. He protected Jews and synthesized Christian wisdom. He described the duties of bishops and promoted beautiful liturgies that often incorporated chants the bear his name.

September 7: Stephen Pongracz (priest), Melchior Grodziecki (priest), and Mark Krizevcanin (canon) of the Society of Jesus were martyred in 1619 when they would not deny their faith in Slovakia. They were chaplains to Hungarian Catholic troops, which raised the ire of Calvinists who opposed the Emperor. They were brutally murdered through a lengthy process that most Calvinists and Protestants opposed.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Sep 1, 1907. The Buffalo Mission was dissolved and its members were sent to the New York and Missouri Provinces and the California Mission.
·      Sep 2, 1792. In Paris, ten ex-Jesuits were massacred for refusing to take the Constitutional oath. Also in Paris seven other fathers were put to death by the Republicans, among them Frs. Peter and Robert Guerin du Rocher.
·      Sep 3, 1566. Queen Elizabeth visited Oxford and heard the 26-year-old Edmund Campion speak. He was to meet her again as a prisoner, brought to hear her offer of honors or death.
·      Sep 4, 1760. At Para, Brazil, 150 men of the Society were shipped as prisoners, reaching Lisbon on December 2. They were at once exiled to Italy and landed at Civita Vecchia on January 17, 1761.
·      Sep 5, 1758. The French Parliament issued a decree condemning Fr. Busembaum's Medulla Theologiae Moralis.
·      Sep 6, 1666. The Great Fire of London broke out on this date. There is not much the Jesuits have not been blamed for, and this was no exception. It was said to be the work of Papists and Jesuits. King Charles II banished all the fathers from England.
·      Sep 7, 1773. King Louis XV wrote to Clement XIV, expressing his heartfelt joy at the suppression of the Society.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Prayer: Augustine of Hippo

You are the Body of Christ. In you and through you the work of the incarnation must go forward. You are meant to incarnate in your lives the theme of your adoration – you are to be taken, blessed, broken, and distributed, that you may be the means of grace and vehicles of eternal charity.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Spirituality: Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises, p. 235

I will ponder with great affection how much God our Lord has done for me, and how much he has given me of what he possesses, and finally, how much, as far as he can, the same Lord desires to give himself to me according to his divine decrees.

Then I will reflect upon myself, and consider, according to all reason and justice, what I ought to offer the Divine Majesty, that is, all I possess and myself with it.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Prayer: Augustine of Hippo

O God, there is a joy that is granted to those who worship you for your own sake and for whom you yourself are joy. This is the happy life – to rejoice over you and because of you.