Sunday, December 4, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent Lectionary: 4

St. John the Baptist appears in the Gospel today. He exhibits self mastery, bravery, and honesty. These are virtues that were especially associated with authentic masculinity. They are not much in evidence today. If these virtues do appear, they are usually feared and reviled. But we need them.

Before St. John the Baptist ever uttered a public word, he devoted himself to years of formation in asceticism. I think that it is likely that he had lived in the desert since he was a young man in his teens: in the desert in silence with God, praying, fasting, and struggling to grow in virtue.

His public mission is in preparation for the manifestation of Jesus. Repentance must come first which consists not in sweet words but in hard deeds. I think that we could do with more of the spirit of St. John the Baptist in the Church and in particular in the seminary. Young men from our culture are not ready to announce the coming of the Lamb of God to others until they have turned a honest eye on themselves and repented.

Advent needs to regain this spirit of St. John the Baptist. We rush to celebrate Christmas in excessive partying without any vigilant watching and waiting for Him. What would St. John the Baptist have to say of our presumption? We need to say it to ourselves first: "Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance."

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Memorial of Saint Francis Xavier, Priest Lectionary: 180

Today we celebrate St. Francis Xavier. He was St. Ignatius of Loyola's friend and companion in the founding of the Society of Jesus. He sets the model for the great line of Jesuit missionaries. He was absolutely convicted of the need to proclaim Jesus Christ everywhere. He's right. Let's leave aside the question of whether it is possible to be saved without Baptism. That brings up a sort of minimalism that runs something like this: "well, since people can theoretically be saved without Baptism, then I am off the hook as far as evangelizing goes." But what about the fullness of the life of grace found in the sacraments and the other channels of grace offered to us through the Church? "Oh, well, that's just too bad for them. I certainly can't be troubled to do anything about it. It would be uncomfortable for me actually to talk about my faith with conviction." St. Francis Xavier wanted everyone to share in everything the Church has to offer.

While in India, he was overcome by the sheer number of people who could be reached, if there were but missionaries to reach them. He went on a rant about wanting to go to the universities of Europe, especially his alma mater, the University of Paris, and shouting out: "You have more learning than charity!" It is a matter of charity, the highest virtue, to evangelize. He wanted the students of Europe to get their noses out of books and get to the mission field! He would not have bought the line, dubiously attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, to preach always and to use words only when necessary.

I think we could use a good dose of St. Francis Xavier's zeal!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Friday of the First Week in Advent Lectionary: 179

"Do you believe that I can do this?"

Jesus asks this question of the two blind men who have asked to be healed. What does their belief have to do with it? Is Jesus suggesting the power of positive thinking? Not at all. He is the one who will heal: Jesus Christ. Do they know who He is?

There is a pattern in the readings that continues in the first weeks of Advent: a prophecy in the first reading followed by its fulfillment in the Gospel. In the first reading today, for example,  Isaiah says, "out of the gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see." In the Gospel, Jesus heals two blind men. These wonders will not be accomplished for their own sake but for a renewal of faith: "When his children shall see the work of my hands in his midst, they shall keep my name holy; they shall reverence the holy one of Jacob, and be in awe of the God of Israel."

When Jesus asks the blind men if they believe that He can heal their blindness, He is asking more than it seems. He is asking if they believe that the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled in Him and that the Holy One of Jacob is before them. It is His identity that He does not want them to spread about. The fact that they are no longer blind would be hard to hide.

Do we have this faith? Not faith that some wonder can be performed but rather faith that Jesus is God with us.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thursday of the First Week in Advent Lectionary: 178

"Jesus said to his disciples: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of heaven."

Wait just a minute here. Didn't St. Paul say yesterday that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved?

So which is it? Both! There is no salvation without calling on the name of the Lord and then doing the will of the Father in the Lord's name. It would be taking the Lord's name in vain to fail to act on His words.

This is what the Church does with Sacred Scripture and Tradition. She interprets revelation authentically for her children so that we are not confused or led astray. Build your house solidly on that rock!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle Lectionary: 684

Why does the Church still rely on preaching? There are so many cooler, hipper ways to communicate: YouTube, Twitter, etc. Preaching, however, is not merely a tool in communications plan. It is rather at the heart of the Christian mission. In the first reading today, St. Paul puts it in terms of salvation:
"For everyone who calls on the Lord's name will be saved. But how can they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in Him in whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?"
The Apostles are those who have been sent to preach salvation in Jesus Christ.

The Church is in the salvation business. That's life or death. Salvation from death comes from Jesus Christ alone. That is why we must know His name and call upon Him. We call upon Him in prayer. In order to pray, we must believe. In order to believe, we must have heard the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Good News must be preached, and the Church sends out her preachers to proclaim the Good News.

That's how it works. That is why preaching is so fundamental.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tuesday of the First Week in Advent Lectionary: 176

Please be reading the Prophet Isaiah this Advent. The Church puts this mighty and beautiful voice before us almost every day of this season. We should take the hint. We live in an age not much moved by prophecy. For the most part, we are too complacent and too lacking in imagination. To the extent that we do awake from the slumber of complacency, we tend to become radicalized and politicized because we have no hope.

Let's listen to Isaiah instead. Today we hear of a just king who will rule a peaceable kingdom drawing all the world to himself. The descriptions seem too good to be true; "the wolf will be the guest of the lamb." These prophecies are childlike in this way. They are full of imagination! Remember that the imagination is a power of your soul so feed it with soul food such as these images found in Isaiah and not the trash of popular culture or worse.  Let your heart be moved with longing and desire for this kingdom and your head be convicted with the certainty of its coming. This is what prophecy can do for us.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday of the First Week in Advent Lectionary: 175

It's Monday morning after Thanksgiving break: "Let us go rejoicing to the house of the Lord." Right?

If you are having trouble with this sentiment, then perhaps the Roman centurion of today's Gospel can help. When Jesus offers to come to his house to heal his servant, the centurion replies: "Lord, I am not worthy." You and I will say the same words just before Holy Communion. The centurion was right, but Jesus healed his servant anyway and praised his faith -- extravagantly.

We have a chance to exhibit even greater faith and to merit and even greater reward. You see, the centurion saw Jesus and believed. Blessed are we who do not see and yet believe. For such faith, Jesus gives Himself as the food of everlasting life. Not bad.

So this morning, count yourself blessed to be here. Mean it when you say that you are not worthy. And the Lord will come under your roof, the very roof of your mouth!