Today’s readings remind us to put God first. In the first reading, we read of Abraham experiencing a theophany of the Blessed Trinity. Three men appeared before him (Matthew 28:19). Abraham immediately treated these men with respect and made them feel at home. Similarly, we too much make God feel at home in our being. God will not force Himself on us. He waits for us to invite him (Revelation 3:20). This is why many atheists feel fruatrated that they do not have proof of God’s existence. This is because they do not invite God to come in and show His wonders in their lives. We who believe must be like Abraham who asked the three men not to pass him by. This phrase inspired the Protestant- Gospel hymn, “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” We must ask God not to pass us by and must welcome Him into our daily lives. If we do this, we will live in the presence of the Lord as the responsorial Psalm states. We will be blameless and just. Truth will be in the heart and the tongue will not lie. We must not harm our fellow man nor take reproach, as the Psalm states. God will be with the one who is honest.
In the second reading, St. Paul reminds us that we must suffer and must admonish and teach everyone. We have been given the task to evangelize and bring to completion the mystery that has been hidden for ages. This evangelization is not only for the bishops or successors of the Apostles. Nor is it solely for priests and deacons. This work is for all Catholics. St. Paul also says he us “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church.” What does this mean? How can Christ “lack?” St. Paul is not saying that Christ is lacking anything. His redeptive act on the cross was sufficing. What St. Paul means is our participating in the suffering of Christ. Christ suffered for all, but He did not suffer for us individually as seperate persons. We have to put that part in as individuals in the body of Christ. This is why our sufferings are united to that of Christ’s (1 Peter 4:13).
Lastly in the Gospel, we read of Martha whose sister is Mary. Martha is left to do the housework because Mary goes to listen to Christ preach. Naturally, Martha protested to Jesus about this saying it was not fair that Mary left her to do all the work. Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Here Jesus is telling Martha and us today that the Gospel is more important than anything else. We must stop what we are doing to attend to the things of the Lord. Work, school, house chores etc are important in our day to day lives, but the things of God trump these. This is why we must set aside time to go to Mass, pray and study the Word of God and teachings of the Church. The things of God are first (Proverbs 3:6). This is how we fulfill the Commandment we read about last week: To love God will all our hearts, minds, soul, and strength. God is number one and must be number one in our lives. May Jesus be praised!
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Today’s readings touch on the Commandments and mercy.
The first readings tells us of Moses reminding the people to turn to the Lord and keep His commandments. Humanity is always falling away from God’s way. The Hebrews were no stranger to this behavior (Exodus 32:9). Despite witnessing God in action via miracles and other supernatural phenomenon, they turned away and sinned (Psalm 107:24, Psalm 95:9). Moses reminds them that God’s law is in them and in us today in 2016 (Jeremiah 31:31-35). This is the Natural Law.
Recently in the United States, we have witnessed many horrific events. From mass shootings throughout the states which seem to be a common thing now, to the recent attack in Dallas against the police. America seems out of control. People are protesting all over after cops shot and killed several individuals. The divisions are more and more apparent. These things are happening because Americans are falling away from God. They need to return to the Lord. America is a nation which prides itself as being “Under God,” yet the nation allows laws and practices that are contrary to Him. Abortion laws are protected as if they were sacred. Any criticism against them turns into an accusation of misogyny for the one offering the criticism. If one defends the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, one is “against women.” Similarly, the idea of marriage has been distorted as being an “anything goes” scenario. Once again, anyone who defends the natural union between one man and one women is accused of being a bigot or on the “wrong side of history.” Moreover, America has gotten so lost that there is confusion on what gender is and what bathroom one should use. I can go on and on, but I believe you get the point especially if you are an American reading this.
It is no surprise to me why we are seeing so much evil in America. America is pushing God away. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). God only blesses a nation that sticks with Him (Psalm 33:12, 2 Chronicles 7:14). He gave us His law, we must follow it. These laws or Commandments are not rules meant to oppress. If one studies them well, one will see that these rules are meant to control fallen human nature. These laws are not in the sky or sea, as Moses said. They are not far from us. These laws are in us. We are hardwired to have a conscience. We must turn to God in our need as the first option for the responsorial Psalm states. God is our constant help. We must seek Him and ask for mercy. Only God can help us now, not politicians or leaders in secular governments (Psalm 121:2, Psalm 146:3). This is why as we are afflicted in pain with the loss of so many lives in America, we must seek God and ask Him to rebuild our cities and save America and the whole world. The United States is not the only nation falling away from God. We must seek the Lord’s words which are Spirit and life, as the second option for the responsorial Psalm states. God’s law is indeed perfect. Who knows us better than our maker (Jeremiah 1:5)? His precepts are right. They are not meant to oppress us, but to allow us to truly use our freedom as we ought.
We follow these laws in Christ who is the image of the invisible God, as we read in the second reading (John 14:7). Everything was created for Jesus Christ. All things visible and invisible; all things in this universe and whatever realms may exist belong to Christ. All were created for Him and through Him (John 1:3). He existed before all that exists and it is He who is the invisible head of the Catholic Church (John 1:1). The Pope is the visible head and vicar of Christ, but he does not replace Christ (CCC 885,936). The Catholic Church belongs to Jesus, not anyone else. We can only find peace in Christ Jesus through the blood of His cross. This blood we receive in the Holy Eucharist at Mass.
Lastly in the Gospel, we read of the scholar of the law who asked Jesus what we must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus using the Socratic method simply asks him, “What is written in the law?” The man replies, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” The Commandments given to Moses are summed up in these two simple but profound commandments. First, we must love God above all things. This love must be expressed in our being which includes the heart, soul, our strength, and mind. This makes sense because God is our creator. Our bodies may have formed in the womb of a human female after conception via male sperm, but God decides if we are to exist or not (Isaiah 66:2). God is the only who knits us and plans our lives (Psalm 139:13).
Furthermore, we must love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This neighbor is everyone around us: relative, co-worker, stranger and so on. Those of us who have trouble loving others is because we do not love ourselves. God implicitly showed some psychology in this commandment. Psychologists often state that those who hate others do so because they do not love themselves. People who do not love themselves do not understand what it means to love others. Since they do not understand, they cannot express it. We must be loving of all people, including those who dislike and hate us (Matthew 5:43-48). This does not make us weak, but strong because we did not let the hate and negativity affect us. When people come to you and trash you, mock you, harass you, gossip behind your back, this is because these people do not love themselves. People will tear others apart in order to use what they tore apart to build up in themselves what they lack. We must bear with one another (Colossians 3:13, Ephesians 4:2). No one is perfect and each one of us has his or her temperament which often gets the best of us.
Lastly, Jesus tells us in the Gospel the parable of the Samaritan. A man is attacked by robbers and left for dead. A priest of the Jewish faith passed by and ignored the man who was attacked. Similarly, a Levite passed by. These individuals gave their lives to preach and live by the law of God, but ignored this victim (Leviticus 21, Leviticus 8-10). They did not love their neighbor as they loved themselves. However, a Samaritan came by and stopped. The Samaritans were considered by the Jews of the time as people of a “lower class.” This was because they mixed with other cultures (non-Jews) and were lax in their practice of the law. Since the Samaritans were not expected to follow the law, the fact that the Samaritan in Jesus’ story stopped to help is significant. Jesus is showing in the story how those who study the law become so rigid with the letter of the law that they forget to practice the spirit of the law (Matthew 6:5, Mark 2:27). We must not become like this. This is why Pope Francis has been stressing for Catholics to practice the spirit of the law and not become like the rigid priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Those who have been attacking the Pope and his writings on mercy are behaving like the priest and Levite who saw the law as something they had to learn mechanically without processing the spirit behind them. The rules of the Catholic Church, the teachings of the Church etc, exist to serve us, not for us to serve them (Mark 2:27). This does not mean that we can water down or pick and choose what we want, I must make that clear. What this means is that we must meet people where they are at, as Pope Francis has constantly reminded us. When we see a Protestant or Muslim, we should not see a “heretic.” When we see a gay person, we should not see a “sodomite.” When we see a Jew, we should not see a “perfidious person.” When we see an atheist, agnostic or indifferent person, we should not see a “heathen.” Instead, we should see a victim who was robbed by Satan and stop to help him or her (John 10:10). The Church must be a field hospital, as the Holy Father has stated. This is how we love our neighbor. We must be merciful to others. Let us pray for this world which is falling apart. While we pray, let us put the law of God into practice by reminding the world to love God with, mind, body, heart and soul; and love neighbor as one loves him or herself. May Jesus Christ be praised!
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Today’s readings have many metaphors the convey a wealth of meanings.
In the first reading, we read a description of Jerusalem and how important ‘she’ is. Jerusalem is described in a feminine sense. She is a mother to all with breasts that feed all. This imagery is a foreshadowing of the Catholic Church. The Church will be a mother to all. God will gather all into this Church and comfort them “as a mother comforts her child” (2 Corinthians 1:3). This does not mean that God is a ‘mother’ or a ‘woman.’ Isaiah wanted to use language readers could understand in order to convey the message of how much God cares for His people which can be compared to the care between a mother and her child (Psalms 17:8, 57:1, 91:4, Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34). I think it is safe to say that there is no bond greater than that of a mother and child. This is why we “cry out to God with joy” like a child cries out when he or she sees his or her mother as the responsorial Psalm states. As children of God, we must shout joyfully to God and praise His name. We all believe in God because we have seen His promises at work. In our lives, we have encountered God in many ways. We see “how tremendous” are God’s deeds because we have experienced them daily. This is why we worship and sing praises to God and call others to see the works of God (Psalm 66:5). While we may not see miracles like the crossing of the Red Sea even as described in the Psalm with “He has changed the sea into dry land; through the river they passed on foot,” we experience other kinds of miracles that increase our faith and love (Exodus 14). These experiences we must share with others, but in a humble and loving way. We must not boast, as the second reading tells us, except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that we must not boast but only in Christ. This boast is not an “in-your-face” kind of boast as in a sporting event when a rival fan over celebrates a victory while mocking fans of another team. Rather, this boasting is humble. It is a boast like that of a father who leaves the hospital telling everyone he had a little boy or girl. This kind of boasting is not meant to be arrogant or offend, but to convey joy. Similarly, we must convey this kind of boasting with our faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 1:31, Romans 5:11). It must not offend others or make others feel less. This is why Pope Francis has spoken out many times against triumphalism. We must not go around with an attitude like we are better than other religious people just because we are Catholic. Unfortunately, some who call themselves ‘traditionalists’ tend to do this. They go about calling Protestants or Muslims heretics as if the word did not convey negative connotations which defeat the purpose of evangelization. A true evangelist invites others to the faith, not bash others with it (Luke 14:13, Matthew 22:9). Moreover, St. Paul reminds us that circumcision has no meaning. In the old covenant, it was used to mark Jewish males as belonging to God (Genesis 17:10-14). It is no longer needed. We are marked by Christ via the Sacraments with an indelible seal. This is the “new creation.” He then says that he bears the marks of Jesus. Some interpret this as the stigmata, or the literal marks of Jesus’ after being crucified. However, scholars state that St. Paul is referring to the marks he received while being imprisoned and harassed for preaching Christ (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). These marks show that He is a “slave” to Christ (Romans 1:1). St. Thomas Aquinas had this commentary to make:
For stigmata are, strictly speaking, certain marks branded on one with a hot iron; as when a slave is marked on the face by his master, so that no one else will claim him, but quietly let him remain with the master whose marks he bears. And this is the way the Apostle says he bears the marks of the Lord, branded, as it were, as a slave of Christ; and this, because he bore the marks of Christ’s passion, suffering many tribulations in his body for Him, according to the saying of 1 Peter (2:21): “Christ suffered for us, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps”; “Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor 4: 10). Source – http://dhspriory.org/thomas/SSGalatians.htm#65
We too must suffer for our faith. However, these marks on our bodies and minds will serve to bear much fruit.
In the Gospel, we read of Jesus sending out seventy-two disciples in pairs. He reminds them that He is sending them as “lambs among wolves.” This means that evangelization is not easy. We will be met with opposition, mockery and even worse. Jesus tells them to carry no money back, no sack, no sandals and greet no one along the way. This shows detachment from the world. Life is not about material goods (Matthew 6:19-21). When Jesus says not to greet anyone, He is not encouraging rudeness or anti-social behavior. Instead, He is saying that we must be focused on spreading the Gospel. Many times we may run into neighbors or friends when we go out to run an errand and get side-tracked with small talk. When we are going out to spread the Gospel, we must avoid this. We must be focused on the task at hand. St. Francis of Assisi used this Gospel to send his friars out to preach.
Moreover, Jesus instructs these pairs on how to deal with the people. If they welcome them, then these pairs should enjoy what the families offer (1 Corinthians 10:27). If not, then they must shake the dust off their feet as a sign that they do not want part of what these people offer (Matthew 7:6). In today’s world, there is so much going on that is oppressing Christianity. We must “shake it off,” not as singer Taylor Swift sings but as Christ says. We must have no part of the dust that this world offers and must shake it off of our feet (Ephesians 5:11). Whenever we encounter stubborn people who are closed minded such as atheists, we must not get into shouting matches with them. If they do not want to hear us, then we must move on. We did our part. It is not God’s part to soften their hearts and open their minds to the truth (Ezekiel 36:26, Romans 9:18). God is on our side. Jesus saw Satan get kicked out of heaven. The demons fear Him and will fear us because we go in His name (Mark 16:17-18). Nothing will harm us as Christ said. We must go out there and spread the truth especially in this day where so many errors are taking hold of society. Let us fight the good fight. Remember, we have already won in Christ Jesus. May Jesus Christ be praised!