Monthly Archives: August 2019

God doesn’t demonize

We’re reading Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians and the Gospel of Matthew this week at Mass. Paul’s letter was written about the year 55 AD, 20 years or so after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew was written about the year 85 AD, some 40 years later.

Paul’s letters illustrate his practice of going first into Jewish synagogues to preach the gospel. Before his conversion to Christianity, he went to the synagogues as a Pharisee to pursue and arrest Christians. Now members of the Pharisaic movement sharply confront him..

The Gospel of Matthew reflects this same confrontation. Matthew’s gospel was written at a highpoint of Jewish-Christian controversy, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.  Passages from the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel would lead you to think that the Pharisees were Jesus’ fiercest enemies.

In reality, a number of Pharisees, like Nicodemus and Paul himself, became his most important followers, The Pharisees were certainly antagonistic to Jesus in his lifetime; he was angry with them for their blindness to him and his message, but he didn’t see them as mortal, eternal enemies.

We have to read the scriptures with an eye on the time they were written; It helps us understand the hot rhetoric we hear in Matthew’s reading for today.

What lesson can we learn from learn from readings like these? Don’t demonize your enemies. God doesn’t do that and neither should we.

That’s an important lesson to remember today as we look at the Muslim world. Jesus didn’t demonize people; he turned to the thief on the cross, he told the story of a prodigal son, he received back the disciples who abandoned him.,

When we bring the bread and wine to the altar at Mass, we bring to God all of creation, not just a part of it. “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation,” we say. All creation is God’s creation. He wishes to bless it and see it at peace and harmony. God wishes us to see things as he see them.

God doesn’t demonize.

From a Wedding to “Deep Time”

From a family wedding last weekend where the bride and groom gave us a love story, a cousin of mine took me to Washington, DC, to visit the “Deep Time” exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. It’s been a panoramic few days.

The wedding itself, in the words of our Irish visitors, was “grand.” Young kids and old people, two big families and their friends were there. They were all at the Mass in church and then ate and danced through the night and then most came back the next day for a splendid brunch in a garden filled with flowers and a new litter of dogs. A celebration.

It lasted almost as long as the Marriage Feast of Cana, I think. The words used about that feast could be said for this one:

”But you shall be called ‘ My delight’ and your land ‘espoused’

for the Lord delights in you and makes your land his spouse.” (Isaiah 62)

The land stretched out at the “Deep Time” exhibit, which takes you back 4.5 billion years to the origin of our earth

Deep Time Exhibit, Smithsonian

The exhibit itself is an attempt to foster the broad thinking we need to face the future by understanding the past. It’s hard to think big. That applies to both the world of science as well as the world of religion, but we need big thinking today.

One wonderful presentation at the exhibit asks you to see how you are connected with 4.5 billion years ago. We just didn’t happen. 

And doesn’t it go beyond that? Science only goes so far.

Readings for the 21st Week of the Year

AUGUST 26 Mon Weekday

1 Thes 1:1-5, 8b-10/Mt 23:13-22 

27 Tue Saint Monica Memorial

1 Thes 2:1-8/Mt 23:23-26 

28 Wed Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Memorial 1 Thes 2:9-13/Mt 23:27-32

29 Thu The Passion of Saint John the Baptist

Memorial 1 Thes 3:7-13 (428)/Mk 6:17-29)

30 Fri Weekday

1 Thes 4:1-8/Mt 25:1-13 

31 Sat Weekday 1 Thes 4:9-11/Mt 25:14-30

SEPTEMBER 1 

WENTY-SECOND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29/Heb 12:18-1

A Family Wedding

I’m in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, today for a family wedding. My cousin Christine Gaddis is marrying Kevin Mahoney in Christ Our Light Church at 2 PM. Here’s my homily.

Christine and Kevin, thanks for giving us a love story today. We need love stories today. There’s so much violence in life, so much political and economic uncertainty. We need love stories.

You chose your first reading from a beautiful love story, the Book of Ruth:. 

But Ruth said, “Do not press me to go back and abandon you!

Wherever you go I will go,

wherever you lodge I will lodge.

Your people shall be my people

and your God, my God.

Where you die I will die,

and there be buried.

May the LORD do thus to me, and more, if even death separates me from you!”  (Ruth 1, 1-17)

In the present arrangement of our bible, the Book of Ruth is squeezed in between the Book of Judges and the Book of Kings, two books describing difficult times in Jewish history. The Book of Judges describes a period when everyone’s looking out for themselves, everyone’s on their own.  The Book of Kings describes a time when kings were fighting for control over people and politics ruled the day.   

I imagine the original compilers of our Bible saying to one another “We need a love story to break up the concentration of me, me, me. We need a love story that says life’s not about controlling others. So they put a love story, the Book of Ruth, where it is. 

That may be it. 

However it is, we can’t help being moved by the language of love, the forever language, the daring language, the godlike language that we hear today.   

And here you are two lawyers, who know the cautious language of law and deal so much with the careful steps we need for an orderly society–  here you are saying to one another, “I take you for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part. 

The language of Ruth, the language of love, the language of God. 

Love is the language of God. We’re made in the image of God. Whether we know it or not, we aspire to be like God. And you recognize that as you come to make your vows to one another here, where the signs of God are so strong, where God who inspires you to make this commitment of love is present.  

We ask God’s blessing for you.

You come too with your family and friends. We’re here to share your happiness, we promise you our support and our prayers, and we thank you for giving us a love story today.

Praying the Psalms

The psalms are prayers that never get old. Here’s Pius X, whose feast day is August 20, commenting on the psalms:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

“The psalms are like a garden containing the fruits of all the other books of the Bible. Saints like Athanasius and Augustine recognized these powerful prayers. ‘The psalms seem to me to be like a mirror, in which the person using them can see himself, and the stirrings of his own heart; he can recite them against the background of his own emotions.”

Augustine says in his Confessions: “How I wept when I heard your hymns and canticles, being deeply moved by the sweet singing of your Church. Those voices flowed into my ears, truth filtered into my heart, and from my heart surged waves of devotion. Tears ran down, and I was happy in my tears. “

Pius X continues:  “Indeed, who could fail to be moved by those many passages in the psalms which set forth so profoundly the infinite majesty of God, his omnipotence, his justice and goodness and clemency, too deep for words, and all the other infinite qualities of his that deserve our praise?

Who could fail to be roused to the same emotions by the prayers of thanksgiving to God for blessings received, by the petitions, so humble and confident, for blessings still awaited, by the cries of a soul in sorrow for sin committed? Who would not be fired with love as he looks on the likeness of Christ, the redeemer, here so lovingly foretold? His was the voice Augustine heard in every psalm, the voice of praise, of suffering, of joyful expectation, of present distress.”

The Book of Judges

Most of this week the OT readings are from the Book of Judges, which recalls the time when the Israelites, after being led by Moses and then by Joshua,  take possession of the Land of Canaan, the Promised Land.  

It’s not vacant land. The Canaanites who lived there before still live there, strongly entrenched. Instead of establishing themselves according to the commands of God, the Israelites decide to fit in. They split into isolated households rather than living as a united people, They begin to intermarry with the Canaanites and even set up altars to Baal, the Canaanite god. 

This is a time of religious and political disorder. One of the worst times in Jewish history. On Thursday of this week we hear how Jephthah kills his own daughter because of a vow he made to God. Not an easy story to make any sense of. Hard to make sense of anything in this age.

God raises up leaders, judges, but they’re not powerful enough to give the community the direction it needs. 

Gideon– his story is told this week– is an example of the kind of leader the judges were. He’s a lonely farmer expecting an invasion by the Midianites, a tribe of nomads who periodically raided the land of Canaan. He’s busy trying to save some wheat from his fields before they come, and probably hide. 

The angel of the Lord appears and calls him a “Champion of Israel,” but Gideon wants no part in championing Israel. He’s a man who’s lost faith in the promises of God. He has no big dreams or ambition to do anything except save himself. Even when God gives him a sign, one sign isn’t enough. Gideon wants no part in it.

“Go with the strength you have.”  That’s what the angel says to Gideon at a time when he and so many others have lost their trust in God’s promises. The strength you have, not the strength you would like to have, or the strength you once had. Go with the strength you have.

That was God’s command in the time of the Judges. Is it God’s command to us now?  

Readings for the 20th Week of the Year

AUGUST 19 Mon Weekday [Saint John Eudes, Priest]

Jgs 2:11-19/Mt 19:16-22 

20 Tue Saint Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church

Memorial Jgs 6:11-24a/Mt 19:23-30 

21 Wed Saint Pius X, Pope Memorial

Jgs 9:6-15/Mt 20:1-16 

22 Thu The Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Memorial Jgs 11:29-39a/Mt 22:1-14 (422)

23 Fri Weekday [Saint Rose of Lima, Virgin]

Ru 1:1, 3-6, 14b-16, 22/Mt 22:34-40 (423)

24 Sat Saint Bartholomew, Apostle Feast

Rv 21:9b-14/Jn 1:45-51 

25 SUN TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Is 66:18-21/Heb 12:5-7, 11-13/Lk 13:22-30 (123) Pss I