Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 26th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Kings.

The Book of Kings is one of the historical books of the Bible, describing people, events and circumstances that contributed to the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David. The Kingdom of David is important because it was the means that God used to unite the tribes of the Israelites into a single people. Strengthened by their unity, the Israelites could better accomplish their mission, which was to invite the world into a relationship with the one, true God.

The Kingdom of David was subverted from its beginning by pride and idolatry, yet despite human folly, God’s plan would be accomplished. God’s plan was fulfilled when the Christ-child was born into a remnant of the family of King David. Thus God came into the world. The Kingdom of David would fail to bring the world to God and so God would come into the world in Christ.

Throughout the history of the Kingdom of David, God would send prophets to the Israelites to remind them of their unique mission. Two of the greatest of these prophets were Elijah and Elisha. Both men were forces to be reckoned with, great wonderworkers and today’s scripture details how the prophet Elisha was summoned by God to mission.

Elisha abandons everything the world considers to be important- his family and wealth- for the sake of his mission. His focus on what the Lord wants him to do will be singular. He risks poverty and loneliness, trusting that God will provide for what he lacks. Heroic efforts always necessitate heroic commitment and true prophets are God’s heroes and no one becomes a hero without risk and sacrifice. Where an act of faith in God is accompanied by risk and sacrifice you have the possibility of a hero and the potential for a saint.

The heroism of Elijah and Elisha, indeed of all the biblical prophets endures in the Church in those men and women who eschew family and wealth for the sake of the Church’s mission. These men and women can be found in what are called religious orders, communities like the Benedictines, Franciscans and Dominicans. Without the witness of the prophets, the Israelites languished in mediocrity and lost a sense of God’s purpose for their lives. Without the witness of men and women religious, the Church falters and fails in its mission.

The Church is not merely a secular corporation or a nation state, whose goals can be accomplished by only by salaried employees and bureaucrats. God advances the mission of the Church through the efforts of men and women willing to take great risks and make great sacrifices. Inasmuch as the Church’s communities of prophets, men and women who accept a religious life of risk and sacrifice, fade and diminish, so also will the Church. As the Church fades and diminishes, so also does the love of Christ that the Church bears into a loveless world.

The mission of the Church by necessity requires heroes- men and women of risk and sacrifice. The age of God’s heroes did not end with Elijah or Elisha, but even now is the age of heroes. Who are God’s heroes right now? Who will be God’s heroes for his Church? Who is God calling into mission- into risk and sacrifice? Is it you? Remember: It is not just you who choose your mission- it is God who has chosen a mission for you.

In the Church’s second reading for today the Apostle Paul offers a distinction between a way of life which is given direction by the flesh in contrast with a way of life given direction by the spirit.

This might seem confusing. St. Paul is using the categories of “flesh” and “spirit” to indicate the difference between a way of life that is directed by God’s purpose as contrasted with a way of life that is directed by self-interested or self-indulgent purposes.

A self-interested or self-indulgent way of life tends towards conflict, antagonism and violence, whereas a truly spiritual life, one that is intentionally directed towards God’s purpose tends toward love- and by love St. Paul means willing, or desiring, the greatest good for other people.

St. Paul muses that if only we could love one another as Christ has commanded us to love, then most of the laws that become so necessary to reign in our selfish ambitions and desires, laws that can so quickly become stifling and oppressive would fall away. Loving as Christ loves opens up for us the possibility of true freedom, for freedom is not getting to do what we want, but doing what is good.

Love for the Christian is not merely an emotional experience or the fulfillment of a personal desire. Love is an act of the will, and it is willing for another person what is really and truly good. This good is not by necessity what the person wants, or even what you prefer to give, but it is what is good, it is the good that God wants.

Love reduced to emotional need or affectation will inevitably lead to antagonism and conflict. It becomes an exercise in self-interest and self indulgence. Love expressed as willing what it is truly good for other people is the manner in which God in Christ loves us and it is the way in which Christ commands us to love one another.

Christ the Lord has some words of advice for his disciples as they go out into a culture on mission. Remember, the purpose of the Church is missionary. The Church is not merely a faith-based clubhouse or an institution that we matriculate through and use to fulfill our personal goals. The Church is a missionary endeavor. The mission of the Church is to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite people to share his unique way of life. Through the Church people meet the Lord Jesus and from the Church people receive from him the gifts he wants people to enjoy.

Christ’s advice to us as we go out into our neighborhood and introduce people to Christ is this:

Number One: Accept people’s hesitancy, even opposition, with an attitude of kindness. Do not threaten those who refuse our invitation. As Pope Benedict aptly said the Church proposes, it does not impose. We seek freedom to live our unique way of life, but our way of life must be freely chosen, it cannot be imposed on people by force or threats.

Number Two: Mission will always entail sacrifice and risk as well as an attitude of trust in God to provide what we need. You cannot, as a disciple, postpone your mission until you have everything figured out. We might have plans, but Christ’s plan takes precedence. What Christ asks of us is never all that easy, and at times outcomes may be uncertain, but as I said earlier, without risk and sacrifice there cannot be heroes and Christ wants us to be his heroes- he wants us to be his saints.

Number Three: Mission necessitates that we have a broader understanding of family than one that is limited to merely our own relatives. The Gospel expands our sense of family to include people in our lives who are not related to us, different than us, and people who we may not of our own desire want to know or become friends with.

The Church cannot by her essential nature simply be limited to those people with whom we are related, or those people whom we feel comfortable with, or those people that we prefer to associate with. Christ makes the Church his family and chooses those whom he wants to be in his household. The Church is not a sect or a club. The Church is not simply an expression of nationality or ethnicity. The Church is the people Christ has chosen, not only those people that we have chosen.

The Church is not just ours to make into whatever we want, it is a gift that we receive from Christ and this gift is a mission- a mission to introduce people to Jesus Christ and share with people the gifts that Christ wants all people to enjoy!

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Wednesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time (June 22nd, 2016)

Today’s first scripture for Mass is yet another excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Kings. Yesterday, we heard about the tribulations of King Hezekiah, one of the few rulers of the Israelites who was actually a virtuous king, a man of competence and character.

Today we learn about another of the good kings of the Israelites, a man by the name of Josiah. Josiah initiated a reform of the Israelites priesthood that expressed itself in a purification of Israelite worship. The dictates of the Law of Moses regarding Israelite worship were strictly applied, reverence to pagan gods and goddesses was forbidden and worship was centralized at the temple of Jerusalem. It was also likely that during the reign of Josiah that what we know as the Old Testament book called Deuteronomy was compiled, a book which would serve as an important point of reference for Josiah’s religious reforms.

Josiah’s concern about worship highlights that in order for there to be culture, there must also be a cult. What people worship, what a community esteems as their ultimate concern, will shape and influence politics, economics, literature and the arts, indeed all the aspects of civilization that we call culture.

Josiah knew that many of the Israelites were insincere in their worship. They were playing games with Israelite religion and using it, not as a way of honoring God, but as means to advance their own agendas and causes. Further, despite professing faith in the one, true God, they were at the same time worshiping false gods- the gods of wealth, pleasure, power and honors. The worship of these false gods had seeped into the public worship of the temple, symptomatic of the soul sickness of the Israelites. The one true God had been displaced in his own house by gods of wealth, pleasure, power and honors.

Has the one true God been displaced in our own lives by false gods?

Christ the Lord warns us to beware of false prophets. A prophet speaks God’s word of truth. A false prophet will speak his or her own word and elevate that word to having divine authority. How does one distinguish a true prophet from a false prophet?

Our reference point is Christ. A true prophet will bear witness to the Lord Jesus in words and in actions. They will introduce you to the Lord Jesus and present themselves as his servant. They will propose, not impose. They will offer an invitation, not a threat. They will introduce you to Christ, and they will not stand in his way. And the true prophet will do for you what Christ does- will for you what is the highest and most important good.

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Tuesday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time (June 21st, 2016)

Today’s first scripture is an excerpt from the Book of Kings. As I have mentioned, the Book of Kings, along with the books of Samuel and Chronicles detail the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David. The Kingdom of David was the means that God used to unite the disparate and fractious tribes of the Israelites into one people. The purpose of this unity was so that the Israelites could better accomplish their mission, which was to bear witness to the world the reality of the one, true God and show forth their relationship with the one, true God through the unique way of life.

The Kingdom of David was subverted from the beginning by irascible and wicked desires for wealth, pleasure, power and honors. These things were elevated to divine status, becoming the ultimate concern of the Israelites. While the attainment of wealth, pleasure, power and honors are considered by the worldly to be what it means to be successful, the rapacious desire for these things and the elevation of these things to be gods brought about the destruction of the Kingdom of David.

Most of the kings and queens remembered in the historical books of the Bible were mediocre or wicked. Few were faithful to God. Hezekiah, the king mentioned today, was one of the few rulers of the Israelites who was a rare example of fidelity and virtue amongst the mediocre and wicked.

Hezekiah is facing the imminent invasion what was one of the most brutal armies of the ancient world- the armies of Assyria. He turns to the prophets for counsel, and they assure him that the armies of Assyria will be defeated, not by the armies of the Israelites, but through divine intervention. The Israelites cannot save themselves. God will save his people.

The Israelites would be rescued and the Kingdom of David would receive a reprieve from destruction. The people would have the opportunity to repent, but would they?

The words of the prophets to Hezekiah are ominous in this regard. Eventually, only a remnant of the Kingdom of David would remain. The Kingdom of David would fall and the Israelites would be driven from the lands of their ancestors.

Yet, from this remnant, a new hope and new possibilities would arise for the Israelites. God will use what is small to create something great.

Hezekiah is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew as one of the ancestors of the Lord Jesus. It is Christ who is the new hope who would arise from the tiny remains of the once great Kingdom of David. In appearance, Christ seems to be only one man, a small thing, but it is Christ, who to the world appeared to be insignificant, who will re-create Israel and enliven the Israelites with new possibilities.

Christ the Lord has three pieces of advice for us today. The first is to be careful about our presentation of the faith to others, especially the great mysteries of our Faith- the Sacraments. Many will not be prepared to receive the faith in its fullness and if our efforts to share the faith with others are not prudent and carefully measured by what an individual can and is willing to receive, the end result can be disastrous. If we are imprudent in our intentions and methods, it would be like throwing sacraments to dogs, or valuable treasures to swine. Nothing good will come of it.

The second piece of advice is to treat others as we would like to be treated. If we want to be forgiven, we should forgive. If we desire mercy, we should be merciful. If we want to be cared for, we should care for others. If we want justice, then we have to be just ourselves. How we treat others returns to us. We should not expect kindness if we are ourselves unkind.

Finally, Christ insists we seek the mysterious “narrow gate” as our route of access to God. This gate is Christ himself and the way of life that he gives to us.

The way to God is not something that we make up out of our ideas or opinions or feelings, this would be the wide and broad way that Christ insists leads only to destruction. It would also seem to us to be an easier way and it is- but it cannot save and it cannot redeem. Rather than taking us to God it traps us in our own ego, and once imprisoned in the ego, the route of access to God is blocked, obstructed.

Christ and his way of life are more difficult, but he takes us where we need to go. He is the privileged route of access to God and his way sanctifies, heals and redeems.

We could choose another way other than Christ, but Christ the Lord insists that we should not have any illusions about the end result of such a decision. Christ wants us to flourish. He wants us to share his divine life. He wants us all to be saved. But is this what we want? We must make a decision.

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Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (June 12th, 2016)

The Church’s first scripture for Sunday Mass today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of 2 Samuel.

The Book of Samuel is one of the most remarkable books in the Bible. It details the rise and fall of the Kingdom of David, providing details about the Israelite Kingdom ruled by David and his successors. Because it deals with real people and real events, the Book of Kings can be rightly described as a history book. But more than a history book it is also a brilliant work of literature, a study in human character and desire. But more than a history book or a work of literature it is also a magnificent theological statement, presenting the truth that God is not merely a distant, cosmological force, but an active and interested presence in all of human affairs- religious, yes, but also politics, economics, art, indeed all of culture.

(If you like “Game of Thrones” you will like the Old Testament Book of Kings).

Today’s excerpt from the Book of Samuel presents a dramatic confrontation between King David and the prophet Nathan. David had committed adultery and, to cover up his crime and because he desired to marry another man’s wife, a woman by the name of Bathsheba, he had the woman’s husband murdered in an elaborate scheme. The man he had betrayed and murdered had been a trusted advisor and loyal friend.

Through his actions, David had indicated that he had succumbed to the great temptation that afflicts all men and woman of worldly power- this temptation is to act as if you are accountable to no one for your actions and exempt from any standard of justice other than the standard you create for yourself. David the King’s actions demonstrated that he believed that he was accountable to only himself- not the law, not the prophets, not even God!

And Nathan sets David right. He confronts David, exposes his treachery and then places a kind of curse upon him and his house. The violence and treachery he had inflicted on the man he murdered would be visited upon his own family. In the prophet Nathan’s words “the sword shall never leave your house”.

Overcome with guilt, David repents of his crime and his sin. Nathan assures David that God is merciful, but that David, because of his treachery, will have to endure troubling consequences for his actions, and only through enduring these consequences can the wrong he has done be set right.

The lesson?

Worldly power is dangerous and easily gives way to destruction if we succumb to the same temptation that afflicted David the King. If we come to believe we are accountable to no one but ourselves, if morality becomes merely an exercise in self-interest, if we come to believe that we are above the law, and not even answerable to God, our arrogance will give rise to destruction- if not only for ourselves but also for others.

God is not mocked and his creation bends in accord with his justice. We can break his commandments, but we cannot evade the consequences of our defiance. We may, in the immediacy, receive some benefit from breaking God’s commandments, but in the long term, God’s justice prevails.

David the King’s treachery would haunt his family for generations. In fact, in the great drama of the Book of Kings, it is David’s treachery against an innocent man that is the beginning of the fall of his Kingdom.

Our second reading for today is an excerpt from a New Testament book, St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.

In this text, St. Paul testifies that he has been delivered from something that he call “the law” and his deliverance from this “law’ has made possible a new kind of life- a way of life that he describes as a relationship with Jesus Christ.

It is through this new way of life that St. Paul has been given the opportunity to become ever more and more like Christ, and through this opportunity his life has been given a meaning and purpose that he had not dared dream was possible. St. Paul declares that what he describes has changed his life for the better and that what he has received is God’s greatest gift.

The “law” that St. Paul has been delivered from is his former way of life. St. Paul had been a violent man, whose zeal for the righteousness of his causes had made him cruel. His cause had been the destruction of the Church. Yes, in his former life, St. Paul had been a persecutor of the Church. He had hated Christ and hated Christians, but Jesus Christ intervened in his life in an extraordinary way. The life of meaning and purpose that Jesus Christ gave St. Paul was a life of friendship with Christians. Christ had given St. Paul a new way of life called the Church.

It is the purpose of the Church to introduce people to Jesus Christ and invite people to share friendship with Christ in the Church. Once people know Christ, and come to love him, and are then willing to serve him, then they receive the extraordinary gift of becoming like Christ. If fact, this is the point, the purpose, of the Church- to help people become ever more like Jesus Christ. Of course, this will not happen if we construe the purpose of the Church to be that of a clubhouse or institution, or if evade the invitation to know Christ as a friend, to love him and to serve him. Stop thinking of the Church as a thing that you manage and control. Start thinking about the Church as a way of life that gives meaning and purpose to your life.

If you are a Christian, your mission is to share with others what Christ has given to you. What Christ gives you is a unique way of life called the Church. If you are a Christian, your mission is to become like Christ yourself, so that you can help others to become like Christ too!

Today’s Gospel presents an extraordinary scene in which Christ demonstrates that what he desires most of all for those who have sinned is that they repent and find in him the gift of forgiveness and with that forgiveness, a second chance and a gift of peace.

The Gospel presents a contrast between a Pharisee and a woman who is described as a “sinner”, a designation that likely denotes that the woman was a prostitute.

Pharisees were members of a religious movement that emphasized keeping the commandments of God will meticulous and intense zeal. This particular Pharisee in the story, a man named Simon, evidently believes that his zeal for keeping God’s commandments makes him morally superior than others, especially those people, like the woman, who evidently do not keep God’s commandments.

It seems that Simon the Pharisee has divided the world into those who keep the commandments and those who don’t. In his estimation there are commandment keepers and commandment breakers and it is to his credit that he is a commandment keeper. As for those who are commandment breakers, Simon only has contempt. Note that Simon thinks that commandment breakers are so repellent to him that merely touching one is to be contaminated by their sin!

Christ sees through the pretense of Simon’s apparent virtue. Simon knows the commandments of God, he even observes them, but he doesn’t know the God who gave the commandments or the purpose for which he gave them.

God gave us the commandments as a means of rescuing us from misery, the misery we impose on ourselves when we act contrary to God’s will for our lives. Following the commandments leads to human flourishing and that is what God wants for us all- he wants us to flourish.

But what about those people who break the commandments? What does God want for them?

Simon thinks God wants commandment breakers shunned. Christ, who is God, reveals shunning sinners to be precisely what (he) God doesn’t want. God wants sinners to repent, to be forgiven, to be restored. If this happens, he wants sinners to experience mercy, not scorn.

God in Christ rejoices that the woman who is a sinner has repented. Simon, who is zealous in his concern for keeping God’s commandments, should too.

Today’s Gospel evokes the meaning of Pope Francis’ words when he referred to the Church as a “field hospital”. Sin wounds us and what those wounds need is healing. In a world in which there is not only such resistance, but also ignorance of God’s commandments, the walking wounded are all around us.

For some, the wounds of sin are so catastrophic, that they seem to be not only the walking wounded, but like unto the walking dead!

If the walking wounded come to the Church, come to field hospital, will they meet in us the scorn of Simon or the healing power of Christ?

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Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time (June 9th, 2016)

For the past few days we have heard proclaimed as the first scripture for daily Mass an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Kings.

The Book of Kings describes the rise and fall of Kingdom of David. In one respect it is a history book, in another it is a commentary on the sheer folly of the pursuit of wealth, pleasure, power and honors, and in another respect it is a theological statement regarding how God works in the world, bringing even that which resists him to act in accord with his will and purposes.

We have been listening to the proclamation of a particular section of the Book of Kings, which includes the story of the one of the most important of the Israelites prophets- Elijah.

Elijah ministers to the Lord in the aftermath of a great catastrophe. The death of David’s son Solomon is the precursor to a bitter civil war, the result of which is that the Kingdom of David is divided in two, with one kingdom comprising the northern territories and the other the south.

The story of Elijah takes place in the northern kingdom, during the reign of Ahab and Jezebel. Both Ahab and Jezebel were idolaters and their dissipated lives of privilege and self-interest brought misery upon the Israelites. Elijah publically excoriated both Ahab and Jezebel, warning them that God is not mocked, and that their actions would lead to their own destruction. Ahab and Jezebel, insulated by their power and privilege, would not listen. The king and queen believed that they were answerable to no one- not God, not the prophets, not the law.

As a result of the king and queen’s stubborn refusal to repent, the blessing of the Lord is withdrawn from the land and a terrible drought, followed by a famine overtakes the northern kingdom. The king and queen, with all their worldly wealth and power, cannot compel the land to bring forth the harvest or the clouds to bring forth rain. They will not invite the poor to dine at their table. But Elijah, who is God’s servant, can and he does.

In today’s scripture it is the power of Elijah the prophet, not the power of Ahab the king that lifts a curse from the land delivers the Israelites from drought and famine.

The lesson? Trust in the Lord and not in worldly princes. If you make idols of your rulers, your politics, your causes and ideologies; if you think that worldly wealth and power exempts you from keeping the commandments of God then be warned- God is not mocked and the end result of idolatry is inevitably misery.

Christ the Lord summons his disciples to a righteousness greater than that of the scribes and Pharisees. Not knowing whom the scribes and Pharisees are, Christ’s words in this respect may not be all that clear.

Think of the scribes and custodians and commentators on the Sacred Texts of the Israelites, what we call the Bible. The Sacred Texts were privileged as a source for knowing God’s will, and the scribes would dedicate their lives to discerning what the Sacred Texts meant to tell the Israelites concerning what God wanted for his people. An imperfect point of reference to our own experience is to think of the scribes as those university professors who make a career out of the study of theology or the Bible.

The Pharisees were a movement that arose after the catastrophic events of 587 BC, when the city of Jerusalem was sacked and the Temple was destroyed. The Pharisees proposed that the unique Israelite way of life, it’s religion and culture, could still be maintained without king or land of temple. How? They proposed a strict understanding of who was or wasn’t an Israelite and insisted that a code of ritual purity, one that would have been meticulously applied to Israelite’s priestly clan, be extended in all its severity to all Israelites. Only those Israelites who conformed to what the Pharisees construed as the right standard were true Israelites. An imperfect point of reference for the Pharisees in our own time might be those who insist that the laity of the Church be “clericalized”, replacing the priests, rather than assisting the laity in realizing their own unique spirituality and vocation.

The contemporary version of a Pharisee is pre-occupied with getting the laity to do the things that priests are expected to do- lobbying for their position in sacristy and sanctuary.

Christ the Lord insists that his expectations for his own disciples would not be the kinds of expectations that the scribes and Pharisees expected from themselves or others.

Sadly, for many of the scribes and Pharisees, their way of life had become an argument to be won, rather than a life of service to God, being faithful was more about accuracy, than it was about virtue. Holiness was an appearance, rather than reality. Faith was a burden that was imposed, rather than an act of saving grace.

Christ then insists that a day of reckoning is coming for the scribes and Pharisees, a day when they will be held accountable for their acrimonious and divisive debates, their harshness, and lack of receptivity to Christ’s revelation.

Christ warns them, that his arrival in their lives is an offer of grace, a privileged moment of mercy- opportunity to forgive, seek forgiveness and be forgiven. The time was now to repent, not later.

As it was for the scribes and the Pharisees, so it is for us.

Christ comes now, not later. He comes into our own lives, in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments and in the bodies of the poor and with his revelation, comes an opportunity to repent, to forgive, seek forgiveness and be forgiven. Will we take the second chance Christ offers? Some of the scribes and Pharisees accepted Christ’s offer of grace. Will we?

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Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time (February 9th, 2016)

King Solomon fulfilled a dream that his father King David had- building the Lord a magnificent temple that would become the center of Israelite culture. Solomon spared no expense and the temple he built was breathtaking to behold.

In today’s account from the Book of Kings, Solomon considers the wonders of his great temple, appreciating its beauty, but also recognizing that human beings need temples, God does not.

Temples help us to understand what our relationship with God is all about. At their best, they will tell us the story of who God reveals himself to be and what he asks us to do. Faith is not just expressed in words, in texts or in documents, or manifested only in ideas or feelings, but it is meant to be displayed to us in art and in architecture, and through these forms we come to know what it is that we believe about God and why.

God blesses the efforts of humanity to praise him with works of beauty, seeing in them genuine acts of love and service, but he does not need what we create to be who he is. Our prayers, our praise, our worship does not make God greater than he already is. We need God to be who we are. God does not need us.

Understanding this is helpful lest we come to think that our efforts to honor God become something dark and twisted- attempts to control or manipulate God, rather than to know, love and to serve him.

The Church worships in sacred spaces that are properly understood as temple. The worship of the Church is temple worship and our sanctuaries are sacred to us, not simply because they are grand and magnificently decorated, but because within them the divine life and presence of the Lord Jesus dwells and invites us to communion with him.

Our temples are important and through their beauty tell us the great story of our faith in Christ. Everything in our temples is supposed to direct our attention towards God in Christ, who he is, what he has done for us, and what he wants us to do. The Church’s temples are for Christ, about Christ, and because of Christ and this is why the focal point, the sacred center, is the Eucharistic Mystery, the Altar where this Holy Mystery is offered and the Tabernacle where this Holy Mystery endures.

It is from the Altar that the Lord Jesus gives his divine life to us and it is from the Tabernacle that he manifests to us that his divine life is always present to his Church as a source of solace for the sick and as a privileged encounter with the presence of Christ, who sustains us in our prayer and who is worthy of our adoration.

In his Gospel Christ the Lord is in conflict with the Pharisees.

The precise nature of this conflict is complicated, and the Gospel tries to help us understand the reasons that Christ and the Pharisees are at odds with one another. The argument seems to be about how the Law of Moses, which included rather stringent laws regarding ritual purity were meant to be appropriated by the people. The Pharisees seem to be rigorists in regards to these particular Laws, using their absolute adherence to them as a sign of personal piety. Christ seems to be saying that their rigorous interpretations of the ritual purity laws are distracting people from Laws of greater importance- the 10 Commandments and demands of charity, mercy and love of God and neighbor.

Piety is a good thing. Religious practices help us to grow in relationship with the Lord. But if our piety and religious practices become a means, as it seemed to for the Pharisees, of circumventing our responsibility to live in accord with God’s commandments, or used as a way of evading the demand of love and mercy, then our piety and religious practices have been corrupted. Once corrupted, they cease to bear spiritual fruit, and for ourselves and to others, they become blocks that prevent access to Christ rather than bridges that lead people to him.

Christ fears that this corruption has overtaken the Pharisees and as such he calls them to conversion.

Christ calls all of us to conversion as well.

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Memorial of Saint Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs (February 6th, 2016)

The Old Testament Book of Kings testifies that the wisdom of King Solomon, the son of David, was so renowned he was acclaimed as the wisest of kings by the great rulers of his age and that the world beat a path to his palace door to seek his counsel.

Today’s scripture, an excerpt from the Book of Kings, indicates that King Solomon’s wisdom was not merely a natural gift, but a supernatural grace- a divine gift bestowed in answer to the king’s prayer.

As such, this particular text can be understood by the Church’s faithful as a lesson in regards to our prayers of petition- that our prayers of petition should be accompanied by discernment. What is it precisely that I ask the Lord to do? Am I asking for a good that transcends self-interest? Does my prayer of petition open myself to the receptivity that is willing to accept what the Lord want’s to give?

The Lord Jesus insists that we turn to the Lord in our needs and deliver to him our requests, but he also insists that prayer culminates in our willingness to accept what God wants for us, even if what God seems to desire for us exceeds our ability to fully understand.   “Your will be done”. “Be it done to me according to your word”. These challenging statements of resolute faith in God, all made in the face of the difficult and unexpected, are precisely where all petitionary prayer is fulfilled.

Solomon’s greatest wisdom was manifest in his willingness to ask for and accept a good higher than worldly attainments or preoccupations.

However, as the story of King Solomon continues, we will discover that even the wisest of earthly kings will falter. Worldliness will overtake Solomon and his wisdom will fail. Higher than wisdom is fidelity to God, and when our faithfulness to God is compromised, all gifts, natural or supernatural, are threatened. Wisdom is a great gift, but greater still is the gift of faith, and it to ask the Lord for faith that endures is to ask for a good higher than wisdom and to ask for the gift of faith in God and for fidelity to his commandments is wisdom’s truest and most perfect expression.

Christ’s lament in his Gospel that the Israelites languish like sheep without shepherds is an evocation of Old Testament prophecy, particularly the spiritual vision of the prophet Ezekiel, who foresaw that the Lord would reveal himself to the Israelites as their “shepherd” and by this is meant that after the ruinous failures of so many kings, prophets and priests, the Lord God would come himself and be the guardian and guide of the Israelites.

Christ is the Lord is God, who reveals himself as the shepherd of his people. He is our guardian and our guide. The kings and priests and prophets of this world may fail us and falter in their mission, but Christ the Lord our Shepherd never will. Through the dark and shadows he leads us, on our part we must be willing to follow him and allow him to take us where he needs us to go.

As we are Christians, it is our hope that whatever path we must travel in this life, whatever way the Lord insists that we go, he has gone that way before us, he is with us all along the way, and in the end of our life’s journey, he is there to welcome us into his heavenly home.

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