July 31, 2017 – Monday in the 17th Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Ignatius of Loyola (October 23, 1491 – July 31, 1556)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Exodus 32:15-24, 30-35 – Psalm 106 – Matthew 13:31 – 35

“Lord, let your light so shine among men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

The story of the Israelites journey to the Promised Land is the perennial story of our own lives. Lives that vacillate from faithfulness to selfishness and back & forth. We at one time know the mercy & love of God in our lives and realize how much God has lifted us and exalted us – and then we get cocky and turn to go our own way. Maybe we don’t make an actual “Golden Calf” but we do turn away from our God towards “fancies” of our own choosing. When Moses comes down the mountain after his encounter with God with his face aglow and hears the noise the Israelites are making he realizes that they have turned away from God’s love and presence in their lives and fashioned strange gods. Discouraged, Moses symbolically breaks the two tablets of the covenant to let the people see how far they have wandered off the path. It’s important for us to see that we’re not just reading a story about people of a long-ago-era that has no relevance to us. It’s also the story of our own lives. In today’s liturgy, the church also gives us Matthew’s Gospel with the images of the mustard seed & the measure of yeast to help us see how quickly God’s wondering love can grow (back) in our lives. And it’s important to know that it’s not of our doing but by God’s grace. The Israelites wandered in and out of God’s favor and are a “type” for us to use in making our own journey to the Kingdom. We should all pause and take stock of our lives to see what kind of “Golden Calves” we have fashioned for ourselves rather than letting God fashion our Earthen Vessels to hold the treasures of His love and Mercy. We all need to ask ourselves in what ways have we wandered off the path to the Kingdom, even when it looks like God is writing straight with crooked lines? Today’s Holy Gospel gives us the image of the mustard seed in terms of our faith. Maybe some of us need to squint to see the mustard-sized seed of faith in our lives that can be fanned into something wonderful of God. Amen!

July 29, 2017 – Saturday in the 16th Week of the Church Year

Saint for he day: Martha (sister of Mary & Lazarus) 1st Century

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Exodus 24:3-8 – Psalm 50 – John 1:19-27 or Luke 10:39-42

Today the Church gives us a choice of Gospels for the “memorial” of St. Martha: the resurrection of Lazarus (John 11) or the “Martha, Martha” dinner story from Luke. These two choices of Gospel readings show us the two sides of today’s saint, Martha: her heart-felt concern over the death of her brother, Lazarus –“Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died.” (John 11:21) And her upset in being left to do all the work for a dinner party for Jesus: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving?” (Luke 10:40)

 Maybe it’s important for us to understand both sides of these feelings: the real pain and loss when a close family member dies; and the “call to service” which is key in Jesus preaching throughout the Gospels. Once again, it’s not a question of “either or” but, rather, a matter of “both and.” All of us must develop an ability to “hear” what Jesus says to us about His resurrection and how it applies to all of us. Martha is able to make a profound act of faith in the closing of the John Gospel: “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God…” (John 11:27) The secret to her ability to make this statement of faith must have come to her while she was busy preparing the meal for Jesus. The Benedictine model comes to mind: “Ora et Labora” – “Prayer and labor.” This made me think of the German sisters who did the cooking at our House of Studies when I first entered the Dominicans. They always traced a cross on the bottom of a loaf of bread before beginning to slice it. A simple reminder to acknowledge a prayer even in the simplest act of slicing bread. St. Therese of Lisieux said, “Stopping to pick up a pin on the floor out of love can convert a soul.” I make my own correlation to that statement and say, “when you toss a scrape of paper into the waste basket – and miss – and don’t go over to pick it up you’ll never become a saint.”   When you read the stories of “saints” you have to see that most started out as simple people – often not enjoying any kind of notoriety. They usually had an edge on being helpful in the most common areas of life often doing the simplest of tasks. Their secret seems to have been their ability to see Christ in the people that they were trying to help. Martha, in fixing a meal for Jesus is told, “not to worry” and her serving Jesus allowed her to be able to make that statement of faith, at the close of today’s Holy Gospel, “I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God…” (John 11:27)

I think today’s commemoration of St. Martha is packed with hidden secrets about becoming a saint if we just look a little deeper. Amen!

July 28, 2016 – Friday in the 16th Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Leopold Mandic (May 12, 1886 – July 30, 1942)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Exodus 20:1-17 – Psalm 19 – Matthew 13:18 – 23

“The Law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul;” (Psalm 19:7)

I think today’s Responsorial Psalm tries to make more palatable the reading from Exodus with all its “do’s and do not’s.” By and large, we tend to be a people who don’t like anybody telling us what we can and cannot do with our lives. Whenever anybody draws a line that we shouldn’t cross we become like little children and try to test how far we can go. What we have to remember is that the Lord God brought the Chosen People out of slavery and into the Promised Land. But we can’t forget that they wandered around in circles for 40 years! That gave them plenty of time to experience all kinds of lifestyles and spiritualities which pulled them this way and that. They needed some guidelines in their lives that would allow them to see the presence of God in their lives. They were no longer to be a people wandering with no guidelines that ordered their lives. In some ways they had to shake off all the superfluous ways that they had picked up along the way and get back to a notion of their being One God, the Almighty who desired only one thing: that the people would know and recognize Him as Lord of All. Today’s Responsorial Psalm which began this reflection might be a way for us to more easily see what the Lord is looking for in our lives. God isn’t looking for “robot believers” who only follow out of fear. He’s looking for believers who desire to follow a God who promises to lead us through this world – a kind of desert – on to the way that leads to heaven. Then we come to today’s Holy Gospel with the parable of the sower and the seed which helps us to see that our God is a gracious God who pores out His Grace and Love to all with the condition that we do our best to make that grace grow in our lives. It’s almost as if we’re standing there with our arms outstretched to catch some of that grace that’s freely given. But we can’t forget that it’s up to us to allow that grace to grow in our lives. We have to make a place for that seed of His Love to grow and flourish as we make our way through life. We can’t just sit there with that seed of His Love at our feet and do nothing to gather it and make a place for it to grow. We can’t be so hardened in our way of looking at life that God can’t find a way to continue His blessings. Remember how many times we’ve heard the phrase, “Harden not your hearts!” Then we have to do our best to keep on the straight path and not be swayed off the way by the allurements of this world. If we don’t cultivate the gift of grace that God gives us we’ll never be able to make that journey to the Kingdom. We have to remember that Jesus didn’t tell us a whole lot about keeping laws. He mostly spoke about how we are to love one another as He has loved us. Remember the words of St. Catherine of Siena, “It’s Heaven all the way to Heaven!” Amen!

JULY 27, 2017 – Thursday in the 16th Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day: Antonio Lucci (August 2, 1682 – July 25, 1752)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Exodus 19:1-2, 9-11, 16-20 – Daniel 3:52, …56 – Matthew 13:10-17

“See, I have God for my help. The Lord sustains my soul. I will sacrifice to you with willing heart, and praise your name, O Lord, for it is good.” (Today’s ‘Entrance Antiphon’ from Psalm54)

 When I recently visited one of the friars in my Province who was very near death he said to me, “Daniel, God is playing hid & seek with me.” When I mentioned this to my friend, Roc O’Connor, SJ, he said, “Maybe HE (the friar) is playing hide and seek with God!”

Today’s Gospel is a “hide and seek” kind of reading. So, too, is the reading from Exodus. God doesn’t often reveal His presence in direct & open ways but does it in a way that requires each of us to come to Him through our own limited ways. It’s back to the post resurrection Gospels where Jesus is not at first recognized but only after we are (truly) with Him for a part of the journey. I am reminded of the Elijah encounter on Mt. Horeb where God is not in the earthquake, fire or tornado but in the still, gentle breeze. The huge stadium revival is a good place to first meet Jesus but we must not play hid & seek with Him but be willing to get out on the road – walking hand in hand with Him and with our fellows & let Him meet us there. Sometimes we want God to do more for us without getting our feet dirty walking along with path to heaven. I pray for friars in my province who are closer to the end of their journey that they might gently be aware of God’s precious and healing love and begin to see Jesus welcoming them into the Kingdom. Amen!

July 26, 2017 – Wednesday in the 16th Week of the Church Year

Saints for the day: Joachim & Anne (1st Century)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Exodus 16: 1-5, 9-15 – Psalm 78 – Matthew 13:1-9

“Blessed be the one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (cf. Eph 4:6)

 Today’s saints – Joachim and Anne – the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary don’t get much reference in the Holy Scriptures and we don’t know very much about them. All you have to do is let your mind wander and wonder how they must have felt when they learned that there daughter was chosen to be the Mother of God! It’s interesting that we are in the middle of hearing how the Israelite community responded to their being chosen as the people of God. In this, we are all being reminded that God can touch our lives in all kinds of different ways and He will never run out of ways of inviting us to follow the path of God.

We are also hearing the story of the exodus of the Israelites who received the “call” and began following in God’s way – which wasn’t easy either. And we can certainly see similar results in the examples of the disciples and early followers of Jesus. In all these cases people begin with enthusiasm to hear God’s/Jesus’ call and very soon after – like the seeds fallen on the wayside – they forget what God has done in their lives and begin to go back to their “fleshpots” in the captivity of … whoever was their previous oppressors.

I don’t think we have to spend too much time trying to see the similarities in all of these cases even when we add in our own situations. If we are honest about how we follow the Lord we will see that we stumble and wander on and off the path. We easily forget how God has blessed us and turn back to ways that short-circuit our journey. So, when we look at this Gospel – again a repeat of a familiar story – we need to see that we are all the parts of that story at various times in our life and our journey. We are almost never totally one or the other of the seed examples but often slide from one to the other. And we are the soil, too!

In the Gospels Peter swears he will never leave the Lord. But he quickly forgets. What we have to remember is the fact that Jesus calls him (and us, too) back … over and over again: “Do you love me…do you love me … do you love me?”

And Jesus is counting on our ability to let his forgiving grace flow through us so that he can build his church upon our weak, broken spirit – over and over, again and again. Amen!

July 25, 2017 – Tuesday in the 16th Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day: James the Apostle (died 44)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

2 Corinthians 4:7-15 – Psalm 126 – Matthew 20:20-28

“They drank the chalice of the Lord, and became the friends of God.” (Today’s ‘Communion Antiphon)

What does it mean to say, “We can…” drink the cup of suffering that Jesus offers? Tertilian says, “The Blood of Martyrs is the seed of the Church.” We really know very little about the Church.” We really know very little about the Apostles & even their names are inter mixed in various sources. Yet they are the foundations of our faith. When Jesus is asked to give these “sons of thunder” places of importance in the Kingdom He responds, “it is not mine to give … but the Father’s.’ He then goes on to say what apostleship is really about. To serve. So we look deeper at what “to serve” means. The words of Jesus tell us that to serve means that we can’t “lord it over” others. If there is even a hint of self-service we have missed the point. And this is the crux: it is very hard to serve (or love) completely free of any ulterior motives. As we journey toward the Kingdom – in this imperfect world – our love & service will always be limited & imperfect. It’s only when we absent-mindedly put our desires for success aside that we later find that something great happened when we didn’t even know what was going on. This is not something that we can plan for or organize.   No committee or educational degree can guarantee this to happen. It is rooted in love & happens spontaneously when we lay down our lives for another. If I only love those who love me – or can give me what I want – what good is that? Our prayer, then, is to take the cup that Jesus offers right now. Trusting that it will enable us to seek to serve rather than to be served. Amen!

July 24, 2017 – Monday in the 16th Week of the Church Year

Saint for the day:   Charbel Makhlouf (May 8, 1818 – December 24, 1898)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Exodus 14:5-18 – Pslam 15 – Matthew 12:38-42

Today’s reading from Exodus is one of my favorites and it follows the story of Moses and the Burning Bush when God tells him, “I AM.”

Now the Israelites have begun their journey out of Egypt and into the Promised Land and they are up against their first hurdle: the edge of the Red Sea. And, of course, they do what all of us would (and do) do: they complain and say they would have been better off staying in Egypt as slaves rather than be our here in the desert to parish from hunger and thirst.

Then Moses, himself, shakes his fist at God for letting this happen after he had trusted that the Lord would be with them on their journey. The response of God is another one of my favorite lines in Scripture and one that I have often used in retreats and sermons: “…Have no fear; stand firm; and you will see how the lord your God will do the fighting for you. The Egyptians (or whatever enemy is after you) you will not see. The Lord will do the fighting for you. You only have to stand firm.”

Isn’t this the key to all our problems? We’re so often a “moving target” – running here and there. Chasing after this or that – it’s no wonder that God can’t help us. He can’t catch up with us. Then we also make the choice to go back forgetting the Burning Bush experience: “My name is ‘I AM’” I’m ­ with you always. I’m not, “I WAS” or “I WILL BE” but “I AM!”

This is the moment of salvation. A “Be Here Now” moment. We can’t go back and undo what has already happened and we have no control over what will be, so all we’re left with is this “I AMness” of God.

But remember: even though God splits the Red Sea into dry land (a marvelous miracle) we’re not there yet. We still have to continue our journey to the Promised Land and there will always be more stumbling blocks along the way. Maybe if we all took Psalm 27 as our motto we’d be better off: “One think I ask of the Lord and this I seek to dwell in the House of the Lord all the days of my life.” Amen!

Guest Post – Fr. Isaiah Mary, the Hong Kong Pages, “The Exotic Jesus”

Fr. Isaiah Mary goes on mission to Hong Kong once a year with the St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society.  He is happy to offer his reflections about his and Tricia Bølle’s trip this past spring.  This series will run from July through August.  We hope you enjoy!

 

The Exotic Jesus

In Hong Kong, you are you allowed talk about politics and religion in polite company. Tricia, myself, and a mutual friend found ourselves proselytizing and entire coffee shop by having a really loud Bible study. And people looked up, smiled, and one person actually eavesdropped for a while.  (In a few weeks, I’ll tell you about one of my person superheroes that live in this blessed Isle.)

Now, the reason is kinda funky.  Yet, it makes a lot of sense.

In San Francisco, what are the trendy things that occupy us?  New Age, yoga, food habits, Buddhism, Hinduism, and in some ways, Islam.  By San Francisco standards, these are exotic, and new, and trendy.  In Hong Kong, they already have Buddhism and Hinduism.  Lucky Dragons and Money Cats are all over the streets.  What they do not have is Jesus.  Not really.  The exotic thing for the Hongkongese is the very thing we take as granted, namely, Jesus.  Fascinating.

The very story of Jesus is not truly understood.  Ha!  Then again, even for us in a Christian country, we don’t know the story of Jesus, though we think we do.

 

So here is the story, the Christian story, your story, my story, the Jesus Story: God became a human being, lived in a lower class neighborhood, and had many, many friends.  He healed the sick, performed amazing acts, demonstrated the absolute quickest, surest way to flourishing.  Yet, He also warned us that this way would not curtail suffering or humiliation, but rather, opened a door to it.  He also founded, not a set of books, but a community of people who believed that the way of life He had exemplified is true, good, and beautiful.  What He said threatened many people and they killed Him for it.  Yet—and here’s the twist in the story—they killed Him, but He didn’t stay dead.  After three days, He rose from the dead, and demonstrated a way to die to our own self-centeredness, our self-woundedness, our own ignorance and silliness, in order to live a life of honor, truth, and flourishing.

Christ is risen!  Truly, He is Risen!

And this means something. If Christ really didn’t die and rise from the tomb, we are the grandest fools of all human history.  Christ has risen from the dead.  That means something.  That means that we too can rise from our mortality. That there is something beyond the grave.  That what Jesus said, what Jesus did, means something to you, right here, right now, wherever you are reading this text.  Jesus rose from the dead.  And that means something.  It means that whatever struggle that we are going through right now—from a papercut to cancer—has been vanquished by a person that (physically, spiritually, and literally) died for you, personally, by name.

Christ is risen!  Truly, He is Risen!

Because truly, do we live as a Risen People? St Augustine proclaimed, “We are an Easter people and ‘Alleluia’ is our song!”  Is this at all true?

In many ways, this is paradigmatically exotic.  How much more strange can the Resurrection be? How much more unique?  Amazing?  Mind-bending?  Sure, granted, seeing images of deities with blue skin and ten arms is strange.  But compared to seeing a man who died the way Jesus died, and is walking around with holes in His hands and feet and offering you the adventure of rising from the grave?

Is that not exotic?

Hongkongers see the figure of Jesus as strange and fascinating simply because no one has heard the Gospel message.  The growing joke in San Francisco is that if a person is doing yoga, or something we would consider trendy, everyone would know about it because they cannot stop talking about it.  Just the same way, a Christian in Hong Kong can talk about Jesus, Mary, the Sacraments and the Church because it is exotic, trendy and—by Hong Kong standards—strange.  But Jesus rising from the dead? If that ain’t strange, then strange don’t exist!

May this be a time where we look at the oddness and awesomeness of the Resurrection and offer the strange, the beautiful, and the True, to all we encounter this week.

You are invited to be part of the mission!  St. Francis Xavier Lay Missionary Society is a Catholic non-profit organization dedicated to evangelize to young adults in Asia.  You can give financially via Paypal at www.laymissionary.org, giving a monthly or one-time gift of $50 or more; we are an IRS recognized 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.  Our EIN is:  46-2993509.

 

July 23, 2017 – 16th Sunday of the Church Year

 

Scripture readings for today’s Liturgy:Wisdom 12:13, 16-19 – Psalm 86 – Romans 8:26-27 – Matthew 13:24-43

“You Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in kindness to all who call upon you.” (Today’s ‘Responsorial Psalm 86)

 Three images of Heaven: the wheat and weeds; the mustard seed; & the leaven & dough. Jesus gives His followers three different choices in ways that they might come to understand the desire that God has for all people to come into the kingdom of Heaven. This invitation is given to all the people who have not always been faithful to the covenant – who have been committed at one time and fickle at another (wheat & weeds); to the poor and insignificant of the world – the little people (the mustard seed) and those “rolling in dough” the ones who are puffed up (the leaven) and think they have already “made it on their own “ and that are still needing God’s kneading to add that little extra push to make it all work.

As is usually the case, we are, at various times in our lives in one or another of those images. We commit to follow Jesus and then drift away. We have periods when we think ourselves too insignificant to be of any worth in the larger picture of   Salvation history and – the category where most of us spend the greater part of our journey – self-reliant and comfortable being a “pancake” when God would have us be a huge, delicious Bundt Cake! The choice is always there and God doesn’t force His presence on us. “Life is a banquet and most poor sob’s are starving to death!” (Auntie Mame) Amen?

July 22, 2017 – Saturday in the 15th Week of the Church Year

Feast & Saint for the day: Mary Magdalene (died c. 63)

Scripture Readings for today’s Liturgy:

Song of Songs 3:1-4b or 2 Cor 5:14-17; Psalm 63; John 20:1-2, 11-18

“Let us sing to the Lord; he has covered himself in glory.” (Today’s Responsorial verse.)

 For Moses the “Glory of the Lord” was perceived in the burning bush and, later by the “pillar of cloud” by day and the “pillar of fire” by night as the Israelites were on their journey to the Promised Land. For St. Mary Magdalene it was “Resurrection Glory” that so covered Jesus making it difficult for her to recognize Him. Two very different kinds of “Glory” that can make it difficult for some of us to see and recognize Jesus – or the presence of God – when He’s right in front of us. For Mary Magdalene the turning point was when she was called by name. That was the thing that pulled her out of her sorrow and loss and prompted her to grab on to Jesus in order to keep His presence near. There’s an old “Gospel Hymn” floating through my mind right now: I heard the Lord, call my name listen close, you’ll hear the same.” If we listen closely – like Mary Magdalene – we’ll find out that the calling of our name is what sends us out as Apostles. Remember, the word, “Apostle” means “One who is sent [out].” Mary Magdalene is given the honor of being the “Apostle to the Apostles” – the first “preacher” of the Resurrection. That’s why she is the patroness of the Dominican Order – the “Order of Preachers.” How did she acquire this title? From her “perfect love” that casts out all fear. (1 John 4:18) But it wasn’t the kind of love that you hold on to – just for yourself – but, rather, a kind of love that you run with as you go out to share the joy that you have discovered. Jesus tells her, “Don’t cling to me … but go and tell…” By virtue of our baptism we are anointed as “priest, prophet and king and our lips and ears – and all our senses – are opened in order that we can proclaim the Lord’s goodness to all whom we encounter on our journey to the Kingdom.

St. Mary Magdalene pray for us that we will recognize the presence of Jesus in our lives and hear Him calling us by name. Amen!