Saturday, September 30, 2023
Friday, September 29, 2023
The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith. The witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition. Who are they? St. Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit;’ if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel:’ from what they are, ‘spirit,’ from what they do, ‘angel’” (St. Augustine, En. in Ps. 103, 1, 15: PL 37, 1348). With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word” (Mt 18:10; Ps 103:20). As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendour of their glory bears witness. ~Catechism of the Catholic Church #328–330
Wednesday, September 27, 2023
"If God is the center of your life, no words are necessary. Your mere presence will touch hearts."
"We should strive to keep our hearts open to the sufferings and wretchedness of other people, and pray continually that God may grant us that spirit of compassion which is truly the spirit of God."
"Let us allow God to act; He brings things to completion when we least expect it."
Tuesday, September 26, 2023
Sunday, September 24, 2023
25th SUNDAY in OT-A
(Is 55.6-9; Phil 1.20c-24.27a; Mt 20.1-16a)
24 September 2023
We are struck from the outset in today’s gospel by the love for his vineyard of this “landowner” or, literally, this “master of the house” (oikodespotês). The protagonist of the parable is portrayed as reflecting God as Lord of his “house”, which is simultaneously each soul, the Church, and the whole cosmos. The whole universe, in fact, is God’s personal domain, and over it he exercises authority by right of ownership and covenanted love. Scaling this cosmic relationship down to human size, Isaiah says that “the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel”, and that the inhabitants of Judah are “his beloved plantation” (5:7). The preferential love of God for his people clearly forms the background of this parable, which we find only in the Gospel of Matthew.
The landowner’s passion for his vineyard emerges gradually in the narrative. Although the owner is clearly in full control of the situation (finding workers, determining wages, and so on), he is also the character in the parable who expends the most physical and psychological effort. He does so, in fact, more than all the workers together! We see the master of the house quitting his bed long before dawn, before everyone else, and he continues on his feet until the last moment in the story.
Five times the text refers to the owner going out to find workers: he goes out at the first, third, sixth, ninth and eleventh hours of the day. Every timed, remarkably, he goes out in person instead of sending servants, as one would expect. His repeated action of “going out” insistently demonstrates not only his willingness to provide an adequate number of workers for the cultivation and harvesting of his vineyard, but more importantly his sustained efforts reveal his passion for an all-encompassing “universality”: he goes to great lengths so as not to exclude anyone from his project. He seems fixated on not excluding any potential job-seeker from the enterprise of his vineyard, and on not depriving anyone from the enjoyment of a closer relationship with himself as lord of the vineyard.
But the end of the parable suddenly throws us listeners into disarray: we are seriously perplexed as to what the actual central concern of this enterprising landowner might be. Through all his arduous, day-long endeavor, is he primarily concerned that his vineyard should produce the highest possible yield? Or is he, rather, consumed with the mysterious desire of testing and altering the hidden motivations of the hearts of everyone he meets and hires? Who is he really, we want to know—this man who exerts himself so much, working simultaneously on the physical and the metaphysical planes? In the fullness of the parable’s meaning surely he has to be Christ our Lord, who came to our world from his Kingdom of glory in order to involve as many people as possible in his great work of redemption! But what exactly is the “change” he is aiming for in people’s hearts?
The protagonist’s actions of going out, calling, hiring and sending are truly transformative events for the workers. For all of them, the point of convergence, where they all meet as struggling human beings, is the vineyard of the owner, which I suggest represents the Promised Land of God’s Heart. By mysteriously converging on that one blessed spot after answering the Master’s call, all who come together from the four corners of the world find there the true destiny of their lives. The enterprise offered them rescues them out of economic need, personal isolation, social insignificance and lack of existential identity.
The call then introduces them into new possibilities of community, lasting meaning and self-discovery through their new relationship with this task, this master and these companions. Where one might have expected a boring, mundane conclusion, however, with wages conventionally distributed in proportion to the number of hours worked, we are confronted instead with the shock of an apparent injustice, leading to a disgruntled revolt on the part of those who have worked the longest.
Then a rather extraordinary reversal takes place. In the midst of loud grudges and complaints about enduring toil and sweat in the heat of the day, the real work, the deep work of the heart, begins as day is cooling into evening and the tools of manual labor have been put away. First had come the long and tiring physical labor of picking grapes, undertaken by the hired workers; now begins the even harder labor of converting their hearts, undertaken by the Lord of the vineyard.
The human needs of the workers, driving them to seek work, have handed them over to the wise authority and inventive capacity of the Lord. Their dependence on him has put them at the mercy of his ever creative and re-creative love. In this moment of weariness and relaxation after work at the end of the day, while waiting for their remuneration, the workers are more vulnerable than ever and, therefore, more subliminally available to the Word of Truth.
Angry grumbling erupts when those who started working at the beginning of the day see that everyone, even those who worked only one or two hours, is now receiving the same agreed pay of only one denarius, in our translation watered down to “the usual daily wage”. Greatly scandalized, they realize that, as the Lord says through Isaiah, My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways! Therefore, in order to make his thoughts of absolute generosity pierce into the hearts of these angry people, the master of the vineyard confronts them with two penetrating questions that probe the workers’ motives: Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious [the original says, Do you have an evil eye] because I am good?
The Lord seems to want to raise one and all to a new status, to transform everyone into a new community of grace, to gather them all up, without exclusion, into a “vineyard” or “kingdom” where no one will lack anything, where the only law in force will be that of universal generosity, following the pattern of the heart of their Master and King. The Lord insists that it is his right to establish such a kingdom, based on his divine freedom to do as he will as Lord and Master of all things. What a paradox to the worldly: that the Lord, the hardest-working character of all in the story, is also the most generous and all-embracing!
Indeed, between the lines we can read the spiritual law that says that only those who aspire to enjoy the divine freedom of their Master can become citizens of such a kingdom. Such is the basis of citizenship here, the only “passport” that gains admittance. The unfreedom of envy and distrust is the greatest obstacle in this society, the only thing that excludes anybody, for it blocks the free flow of grace and love that is the very nourishment and life of all the dwellers in this Kingdom.
But this freedom of spirit can be purchased only at a great price, nothing less than the death of my old begrudging self, as St Paul states: For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Only those who can utter these words with Paul from the heart will be able to embrace with joy the criteria and actions of the Lord of the vineyard; only those who are interiorly free—free from the morbid compulsions of jealousy, competitiveness and entitlement—will be able to cooperate wholeheartedly with Christ in the redemption of the world, will be able to be transformed at last, by the work of the Father’s re-creating love, from mere grasping mercenaries into true and beloved sons and daughters, joyful citizens of the Kingdom of God.
In conclusion, let’s make no mistake about it, brothers and sisters. This parable, at the deepest level, is not mainly about our simple moral alteration from self-centered, envious persons into altruistic, generous ones. Because it is a parable about the Kingdom, the story can at bottom symbolize only one thing: the Father’s gift to us of his beloved Son. In other words, it is a Eucharistic parable. The Master of the House of the Church cannot give any of his workers either more or less than the one denarius, because the single, indivisible, denarius he has promised represents nothing other than Jesus himself.
As we experience daily at this altar, the Father loves us so much that he will not give us less than Jesus; but neither can he give us more than Jesus, because even God has nothing more precious than Jesus to give! As Paul puts it so sharply to the Romans: [God]—who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all—how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (8:32) So, what madness takes hold of us now and then that we could ever hope for more than the best God has to give?
Saturday, September 23, 2023
Thursday, September 21, 2023
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
An unlikely beginning
The lay apostle
“The honor of being called Christians”
Monday, September 18, 2023
Today’s Gospel also speaks to us of service. It shows us two servants who have much to teach us: the servant of the centurion whom Jesus cures and the centurion himself, who serves the Emperor. The words used by the centurion to dissuade Jesus from coming to his house are remarkable, and often the very opposite of our own: “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof” (7:6); I did not presume to come to you” (7:7); “I also am a man set under authority” (7:8). Jesus marvels at these words. He is struck by the centurion’s great humility, by his meekness. (…) Given his troubles, the centurion might have been anxious and could have demanded to be heard, making his authority felt. He could have insisted and even forced Jesus to come to his house. Instead, he was modest, unassuming and meek; he did not raise his voice or make a fuss. He acted, perhaps without even being aware of it, like God himself, who is “meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:29). For God, who is love, out of love is ever ready to serve us. He is patient, kind and always there for us; he suffers for our mistakes and seeks the way to help us improve. These are the characteristics of Christian service; meek and humble, it imitates God by serving others: by welcoming them with patient love and unflagging sympathy, by making them feel welcome and at home in the ecclesial community, where the greatest are not those who command but those who serve (cf. Lk 22:26). (Pope Francis — Jubilee of Deacons, 29 May 2016)
Sunday, September 17, 2023
To even begin to understand this morning’s parable, we really have to do the math. The sum the debtor owes the king, blandly translated as “a huge amount,” is in the original Greek an astounding 10,000 talents. A single talent was worth about 6,000 denarii. A whole day’s work was required to earn just one denarius. So, 6,000 denarii or one talent amounts to at least 20 years of hard daily labor. To repay the 10,000 talents in the parable, the servant would have to work for about 200,000 years! It is this absolutely impossible debt that is forgiven by the compassionate king in today’s Gospel. It is absurd for the servant to say that he will “pay back everything.” As a day laborer, he had no hope of ever repaying such a debt. It’s ridiculous, and he knows it. And so does the king, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Deeply moved by the servant’s pleading, feeling this pity even in his very guts, the king forgives him the entire gigantic loan.
We can well imagine the astonishment of the crowd as Jesus told this parable, their jaws dropping. What is he talking about? This doesn’t make any sense. Well, that’s the point – it makes no sense at all, it’s way beyond good sense. It’s all about the too-muchness of grace, the mad, extravagant excess of God’s tenderness and mercy, which are far beyond our understanding. It is all about love. The preposterous amount of the forgiven debt clearly points to the incomprehensibility of God’s mercy. The tragedy is that the conniving servant who had the sense to fall on his face before the king and beg for mercy, doesn’t have the sense to remain in that interior posture of deep gratitude and indebtedness. Forgiven so extravagantly, he comes away not humbled and grateful but suddenly entitled and unwilling to forgive a debt only a fraction of the size of the one he owed. He grabs his coworker and chokes him, “demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’” This part of the story always makes me cringe. I think it’s supposed to.
In the kingdom that Jesus is trying to bring about, it’s never about what we’re entitled to; it’s about noticing with awe and gratitude all we have received. For “nothing that we have to forgive can even faintly or even remotely compare with all we have been given and forgiven, for we have been forgiven a debt beyond all paying.” That’s why “How many times?” is simply the wrong question. God’s mercy is beyond calculation. And as God delights in forgiving us, we are invited to go and do likewise, over and over again. Mindful of the flood of mercy that is incessantly available to us, we are expected to love as God loves. It’s beautiful, the ideal, we’ve heard it a million times, but it can break you down when you know you’ve been hurt or mistreated. So hard. But Jesus expects it of us, even demands that as his followers we will have a mercy-filled hearts like his own. The harsh words at the conclusion of the Gospel make this very clear: “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you? Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.” From your heart. God in Christ has a wounded, pitying heart, a heart of mercy, misericordia. We are called to have hearts like this, hearts like God’s heart. I may think this is way beyond my ability, Jesus does not.
Sad to say, but grudge-nurturing ran in my family- there was always someone who wasn’t talking to someone else for some reason; certain families you couldn’t visit, long-standing vendettas were always in the air; the tragic-comedy of it all was that oftentimes people had even forgotten the reasons or how it even began. I used to think I was way beyond all that, but I notice that deep inside there’s a part of me that wants to throttle people who have hurt me and demand repayment.
So writing off debts is not my first impulse. I can’t seem to do get the hang of it. Of course not. And again, that’s probably the point. It is impossible for us, but not for God. And it is our friendship with the poor Christ that will transform us. It is only this love for the person of Christ that can “undermine the (fearsome) tyranny of self,” and knowing that we are loved by him beyond all telling; only this love can erode resentment. Only Jesus can wean me away from my tendency to endlessly nurse a grudge and withhold mercy. For it is not in my own “power not to feel or to forget an offense.”
Jesus appeals to us, even demands that we be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and the pure gift of who he longs to be for us. Only mindfulness of the gift and the giver can transform our hearts, so that injury can flip into compassion, forgiveness and even prayer for those have offended us. It takes doing and redoing- perhaps that’s part of what the seventy times seven means.
Make no mistake, writing off our debts, endlessly forgiving us, cost God very much, even his own Son’s battered body and the last drop of his most precious blood. Jesus is the 10,000 talents, one lump sum, up front, paid in full on our behalf. And he’s so blinded by his love for us, he doesn’t think twice. He thinks we’re worth it. If we dare to let this sink in and try to love and forgive like he does, the kingdom can happen, and the breadth of God’s beauty and real presence will become more real, and really present. Sharing this Eucharist together seventy times seven times, we are learning how to love as God loves.
Friday, September 15, 2023
Mother and disciple
For all of us, Mary is the Mother of her Son, our Lord, Jesus. But she is also a Disciple of the Master, the one who can help us better than anyone else to grow in her Son’s School. More than anyone else, she knew how to remain faithful in this School, to the point that she remained “standing” at the foot of the Cross. This fidelity caused her to suffer an interior martyrdom: “And you yourself a sword will pierce”, Simeon had foretold (Lk 2:35).