A Lectio Divina Approach to the Sunday and Weekday Liturgy

 

BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD (Series 12, n. 39)

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time & Weekday 21: August 24-30, 2014 ***

 

 

(N.B. The pastoral tool BREAKING THE BREAD OF THE WORD: A LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY LITURGY includes a prayerful study of the Sunday liturgy of Year A from three perspectives. For reflections on the Sunday liturgy based on the Gospel reading, please scroll up to the “ARCHIVES” above and open Series 3. For reflections based on the Old Testament reading, open Series 6. For reflections based on the Second Reading, open Series 9. Please go to Series 10 - Series 12 for the back issues of the Weekday Lectio. For the Lectio Divina on the liturgy of the past week: August 17-23, 2014, please go to ARCHIVES Series 12 and click on “20th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Weekday 20”.

 

Below is a LECTIO DIVINA APPROACH TO THE SUNDAY - WEEKDAY LITURGY: August 24-30, 2014.)

 

***

 

August 24, 2014: 21st SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Is the Church’s One Foundation”

 

BIBLE READINGS

Is 22:19-23 // Rom 11:33-36 // Mt 16:13-20

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS

 

This Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mt 16:13-20) is situated in cosmopolitan Caesarea Philippi, a city built by Philip the Tetrarch in northern Palestine to give homage to Caesar, the Roman emperor. With regards to the locale and the ensuing dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, Harold Buetow comments: “Caesarea Philippi was a place where many religions met. There was, for example, a great temple of white marble built to the godhead of Caesar that reminded you, even from a distance, of the power and splendor of Rome. And in a large cave beneath a great hill a deep lake, allegedly one of the sources of the Jordan River, was said to be the birthplace of Pan, the great Greek god of nature. In fact, the original name of the town was Panias, and even today its name is Bania. There were, besides, no fewer than fourteen temples dedicated to the worship of the ancient Syrian god Baal. It seems that, for whatever it was that he was about to do, Jesus deliberately chose the backdrop of the splendor of the world’s religions of the time and would invite comparisons. Jesus realized that his days were numbered and he wanted to do something to continue his work. He was now some time on the roads of the earth, and there were all kinds of different opinions about him. He had to know if there was anyone who recognized him for who he was and would be able to carry on after he was gone. He led up to that by first asking what people thought of him. The answers were highly complimentary … Then came the fatal question: But who do you say that I am?

 

In that stage of the dialogue, Jesus does not ask for popular speculation, but the disciples’ own assessment. Peter, assuming the role of spokesman for the group, declares: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”. Simon Peter’s confession of faith is remarkable. He declares not only that Jesus is the “Messiah”, that is, the long-awaited Son of David who ushers in the reign of God. Above all, he avows that Jesus is the “Son of the living God”, that is, the unique representative of God to all people, possessing God’s Spirit and enjoying an exclusive union with the Father. In today’s terms, Jesus as the “Son of the living God” means that he is divine.

 

Indeed, Simon Peter’s confession of faith evokes Jesus’ admiration and blessing. There is an investiture and a “nomination”. Jesus calls Simon and surnames him Peter. Simon is designated as the rock upon which Jesus builds his Church. The stone is Jesus himself, the sole foundation. But Simon is, by the solemn designation of the Lord, the stone solidly set upon the unique foundation. He is the visible “rock” joined to it by the mortar of faith that the Father has given Peter.

  

Concerning the keys to the kingdom of heaven entrusted to Peter, the authors of the Days of the Lord, vol. 4, comment: “It goes without saying that we are not speaking here of a discretionary power but of pastoral power. Such power can be that of a trusted steward only if it is exercised according to the example and in the spirit of the Lord … This Church will know crises, persecutions, and storms, but the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it, because its leader is the Risen One, who has definitively conquered sin and death. Peter underwent martyrdom, and the other apostles have disappeared along with the first disciples and the converts of successive generations. But the Church remains, and the keys given to Peter have been transmitted to his successors. Whatever the concrete exercise of the papal ministry, the development brought to it by Christian reflection and practice, the vicissitudes it has known, this ministry draws its legitimacy from the investiture of Peter, on whom Jesus built his Church.”

 

The following account on the Internet concerning the recently canonized pope John XXIII gives insight into how Jesus continues to guide and build his Church through divinely instituted pastors (cf. Loyola Press Internet Service, James Martin, “My Life with the Saints”).

One night [during retreat], around ten ‘clock, I was exploring the house library, a small, wood-paneled room with the typically motley jumble of old, used, worn and downright ugly furniture that characterizes “Jesuit style”. (In fairness, the little library at Eastern Point has since been spruced up.) Poking through the selves, I came upon a book called Wit and Wisdom of Good Pope John.

  Published in 1964, not long after the pope’s death, the book had torn and yellowed pages. Despite [the assistant novice director’s] warning not to lose myself in books, the temptation to peek inside was irresistible. After a few pages I was hooked: who knew John XXIII was so funny? Of course, not all the stories were laugh-out-loud funny. And I had already heard his famous answer to the journalist who asked innocently, “How many people work in the Vatican?” “About half of them,” said His Holiness.

But the passage that made me laugh in the retreat house (and drew pointed glances from more silent retreatants) was one that placed the pope in a Roman hospital called the Hospital of the Holy Spirit. Shortly after entering the building, he was introduced to the sister who ran the hospital. “Holy Father,” she said, “I am the superior of the Holy Spirit.” “You’re very lucky,” said the pope, delighted. “I’m only the Vicar of Christ!”

It was that somewhat frivolous story that drew me to John XXIII. How wonderful to keep his sense of humor, even while holding a position of such authority, when he could easily have become cold or authoritarian. How wonderful to have a sense of humor at all! A requirement of the Christian life, I think.

It reminded me of a story I had heard from a friend about Fr. Pedro Arrupe, the former superior general of the Jesuits, often called “Father General,” or, more simply, “the General.” Once, Father General was visiting Xavier High School in New York City, which has, since its founding, sponsored a military cadet corps for its boys, a sort of junior ROTC. For his visit, the school’s cadets, in full uniform, lined both sides of the street. When Father General emerged from his car, the phalanx of cadets snapped to attention and saluted crisply. He turned to my friend. “Now,” he said, “I feel like a real general!”

Pope John XXIII had a similarly wry sense of humor, and who couldn’t love a pope who had a sense of humor? Who couldn’t feel affection for a man who was so comfortable with himself that he constantly made jokes about his height (which was short), his ears (which were big), and his weight (which was considerable). When he once met a little boy named Angelo, he exclaimed, “That was my name, too!” And then, conspiratorially, “But then they made me change it!”

For his humor, his openness, his generosity, and his warmth, many people loved him: Good Pope John. But to see John XXIII as a sort of papal Santa Claus is to only partly understand him. An experienced diplomat, a veteran of ecumenical dialogue, and a gifted pastor and bishop, he brought a wealth of experience to the office of pope.…

Soon after finishing the long retreat, I decided that I wanted to know more about Angelo Roncalli than just the few funny stories I had read in the retreat house library. So I slowly made my way through Journal of a Soul and Peter Hebblethwaite’s biography John XXIII: Pope of the Century as a way of getting to know him better. In time, I realized that I was drawn to John XXIII not as much for his wit, or his writings, or his love of the church, or even his accomplishments as for something more basic: his love for God and for other people. The gentle old man seemed to be one of the most loving of all the saints: always a loving son, a loving brother, a loving priest, a loving bishop, and a loving pope. John radiated Christian love. Was it any wonder that so many people were drawn to him?

***

This Sunday’s Old Testament reading (Is 22:18-23) contains an oracle against an abusive steward in the eighth century B.C. royal court of King Hezekiah. Shebna, the majordomo of the palace, was guilty of political maneuvering. He was one of the court officials who had tried to persuade King Hezekiah to revolt against Assyria and send for Egyptian support, which directly opposed the prophet Isaiah’s divine message of non-involvement and total reliance on the Lord. Moreover, Shebna’s penchant for luxury, power and ostentation displeased the Lord who chastised him, saying: “You are a disgrace to your master’s household. The Lord will remove you from office and bring you down from your higher position” (Is 22:18b-19).

 

In place of the social climber Shebna, the Lord God established Eliakim, son of Hilkiah, as successor, clothing him with the former official’s robe and sash to signify the transfer of authority to the newly appointed minister. Moreover, Eliakim would receive “the key of the House of David”, a symbol of the majordomo’s authority to grant or deny admittance to the royal presence. Having received the insignia of power and authority, Eliakim was expected to fulfill dutifully his basic role to be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the house of Judah. Eliakim, however, was another disappointment! He was not able to live up to the call and dignity of his office for he resorted to nepotism, thus loosening the firmly secured peg of office offered him by the Lord. This led to his downfall and his heavily favored family collapsed with him.

 

The following experiences of John Thavis, Catholic News Service (CNS) Rome Bureau Chief concerning Pope Benedict XVI illustrate the latter’s effort to live up to the challenges of his pastoral ministry and his endeavor to be Christ’s trusted steward of faith (cf. Carrie Swearingen’s “PAPA-RAZZI: Following the Man who Follows the Pope” in ST. ANTHONY MESSENGER, July 2008, p. 16).

 

John Thavis found it stunning to see the Pope, during his tour of a Turkish mosque, turn toward Mecca and pray alongside his Muslim host. “In one gesture, he bridged the gap of misunderstanding that had arisen after his Regensburg lecture several months earlier,”  says Thavis. “Of course, Christians and Muslims pray to the same God, so there was nothing really revolutionary about it. But after some media had labeled him ‘the Pope against Islam’, this was a clear illustration that Benedict was not about to play the role of anti-Islamic crusader.”

 

Thavis has been moved by Pope Benedict XVI’s simplicity and clarity when speaking to foreign groups. In May of 2007 the Pope and the press corps took a long bus ride through picturesque hills in central Brazil. “He addressed recovering drug addicts. It was a rousing welcome by a mostly young group of people and, when the Pope ended, they kept chanting his name. When he was getting into the popemobile, his aides telling him they had to hurry up and leave, he suddenly stopped, got out of the vehicle and walked back on the stage. He waved and gave them one last greeting. It was just a small kindness, but it meant so much to these people.” (…)

 

Thavis knew that this Pope would want to make an effort to be more engaging. “And he does. He makes eye contact, is always kind and says a few words to each person he meets. The world had known him as a doctrine enforcer, but that was not on his mind as Pope.” The Pope’s main goal, Thavis explains, is to reawaken a sense of God in society and a deeper faith in Christ and the Catholic Church.

 

***

 

One exemplary servant of the divine saving plan is Saint Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. In today’s Second Reading (Rom 11:33-36), he acknowledges the boundless works of divine providence. Greatly awed by God’s mysterious goodness, Paul exclaims: “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways!”

 

James Weaver comments: “Romans 9-11 constitutes the core of Paul’s letter to the Church at Rome. In these chapters, Paul continues to argue his letter’s main point, that Jews and Gentiles, through the cross of Jesus Christ, stand as equals before God and are united in a single plan of redemption … Scripture bears witness that God’s fidelity to Israel has not wavered. The fact of God’s mercy to the Gentiles does not mean that God’s covenant with Israel has been scrapped. Today’s reading comes from the climactic verses of Rom 9-11. On its own, the main point of the reading is that people can do little more than marvel at the evidence of God’s thought and plans, for a full understanding of God lies well outside human’s grasp. In the context of Romans 9-11, these verses express Paul’s wonder and praise of a God who has chosen to redeem all the world, not just one nation here, or one people there! (…) For Paul, no less extraordinary is the way God has rescued the world from the powers of sin and death through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

 

The following story illustrates the “inscrutable” divine saving plan at work even in modern times and the contribution to it by a faithful servant of the all-knowing God (cf. “The Bishop in Prison” by Archbishop Francis Xavier Van Thuan in CATHOLIC DIGEST, July/August 2011, p. 57-59). Through God’s mysterious ways and power, the incarcerated Bishop Van Thuan was able to loosen the shackles of evil and un-freedom about him.

 

I was in Saigon the week that the Americans left my country. Planes and copters were hauling American troops by the thousands to ships offshore headed for America. Many of the people who had helped the Americans vainly tried to get aboard and away. There was little room, and the rush to escape was destined for American countrymen. I still see the tears and the dust and hear the cries.”

 

A month later I was appointed bishop of Saigon. Barely had I begun my service than the government began to pressure me. I was to instruct my clergy that they may not instruct against government policies. The authorities severely limited us from charitable care for our parishioners. The state would take care of everything. They wanted to interfere in the training of seminarians and reduced the number we could recruit. All this was accompanied by angry threats.

 

I refused to obey them. Within three months, they removed me from office, arrested me, and put me in prison, where I lived for the next 13 years. The last half of that imprisonment, I was in solitary confinement. There I was in a dark cell with no one to talk to other than the six guards, two every eight hours. They were forbidden to converse with me. I knew that I loved God and could continue to do so in jail. My inner life was free. But I also concluded that I have a calling to love my enemies. So I set out to show my guards that I loved them. It wasn’t easy. But gradually I found ways to show my interest in their needs. I asked them about their children, how many, their names, their ages, their health. I showed concern for their wives and parents and, gradually, the burdens of their lives both at the prison and in their neighborhoods. Somehow I was able to establish a relationship with them.

 

After many months I summoned the courage to ask them for a favor. Could they give me a piece of wood, some wire and – holding my breath – a knife that I could keep for a few days? Many days passed, but finally they gave me what I requested. Secretly, I carved a cross with the knife and cut my bar of soap in half, inside of which I hid the cross. Lastly, I twisted the wire into a small chain. I now possessed again the cross and chain of a bishop. I never wore it visibly until my release years later; I am wearing that gift from God here tonight. By the way, I returned the knife.

 

I continued to foster the relationship with the guards. There were some changes, and I had to start over with a new crew of hostile men. Eventually, I made a request. Could I have some bread and wine? My relatives could supply it. So much time passed that I believed they would not help me. Praise God, they arrived one day with a very small bit of wine and bread.

 

So began my Holy Thursdays and Corpus Christis and Easter Sundays to brighten up my daily Good Fridays. Each day I placed a tiny piece of bread and a few drops of wine in the palm of my hand and celebrated Mass. I had no beautiful vestments, no candle light, no polished gold chalice, no lectionary, no sacramentary, no ordo, no altar, no choir or servers, no visible congregation.

 

In faith, of course, I knew the Holy Trinity, the angels and saints, and the Body of Christ on Earth joined me in my cell, lent me their courage, and I offered the Eucharist to praise God and help all people to receive salvation.

 

By the grace of God I was finally let free. Today I work with the Vatican’s Office for Justice and Peace. They like to send me to minister to those who do not like each other. My prison training in loving my enemies is now finding a new audience.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. What is your response to Jesus’ probing question: “But who do you say that I am” (Mt 16:15)? How are you impacted by the keys of the kingdom of heaven promised to Peter?

 

2. What are the practical lessons you can draw from Isaiah’s oracle against undeserving stewards? Do you endeavor to be faithful to the ministry you have received?

 

3. Do you trust fully in God whose judgments and ways are inscrutable? Do you commit yourself to God and give him glory in all the vicissitudes of life?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Almighty God,

all authority comes from you.

It is entrusted to your servants for the good of the Church

and the advent of your kingdom upon earth.

We pray for the Pope and bishops;

cover them with your protection.

Be their light, help and consolation.

Let the “keys to the kingdom of heaven”

be used wisely in accord with your saving plan for all peoples.

How mysterious your thoughts!

How inscrutable your ways!

How deep are the riches of your wisdom and knowledge!

We love your loving design for each of us.

We submit ourselves to it for love of you.

Bless us, merciful God,

and make us instruments of your care

for all peoples and creation.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.    

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

             “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 16:19) // “How unsearchable his ways!” (Rom 11:33)

 

  

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Pray for the Pope and his collaborators that the pastoral power of the keys entrusted to them may be exercised, only and always, according to the example and in the spirit of the Lord Jesus. In your care for the poor, the needy and the marginalized, welcome the difficulties that come your way, trusting in the wisdom of God’s inscrutable ways.

   

***

August 25, 2014: MONDAY – WEEKDAY (21); SAINT LOUIS; SAINT JOSEPH CALASANZ, priest

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Rejects Hypocrisy and Teaches Us to Be Steadfast”

 

BIBLE READINGS

II Thes 1:1-5, 11-12 // Mt 23:13-22

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO 

 

Jesus calls for integrity of heart. When our thoughts, words and actions correspond to our ideals, we have integrity. Jesus confronts the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy and lack of integrity. To shake them up from complacency, he pronounces a series of woes upon them. The “woe” pronouncements manifest his concern for their self-destructive ways and serve as warnings of the unfortunate things to follow unless they change their ways. The scribes and Pharisees have rejected Jesus as Savior and likewise prevent others from entering the kingdom of God through Jesus. They have been zealous missionaries, but because of their false teachings their converts become worse than before. Their ridiculous discussions on what makes an “oath” binding express their perversion and evasion of truth. In an act of love, Jesus Master attempts to tear away their “masks” to bring them back to their senses and avert dire consequences.

 

The following story illustrates the hapless destiny of the fraudulent and hypocrite (cf. Anthony De Mello, Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations, New York: Image Books, 1988, p.132-133).

 

A seeker in search of a Master who would lead him to the path of holiness came to an ashram presided by a Guru who, in addition to having a great reputation for holiness, was also a fraud. But the seeker did not know him.

 

“Before I accept you as my disciple”, said the Guru, “I must test your obedience. There is a river flowing by the ashram that is infested with crocodiles. I want you to wade across the river.”

 

So great was the faith of the young disciple that he did just that. He walked across the river, crying, “All praise to the power of my Guru!” To the Guru’s astonishment, the man walked to the other bank unharmed.

 

This convinced the Guru that he was more of a saint than he himself had imagined, so he decided to give all his disciples a demonstration of his power and thereby enhance his reputation for holiness. He stepped into the river, crying, “All praise to me! All praise to me!”

 

The crocodiles promptly seized him and devoured him.

 

***

 

In the next few days we will hear from Paul’ Second Letter to the Thessalonians. The apostle emphasizes the need for his readers to be steadfast in faith, to work for a living as did Paul and his fellow workers, and to persevere in doing good. Today’s reading (II Thes 1:1-5, 11-12) begins with an address. Together with Silas and Timothy, the apostle Paul addresses the church in Thessalonica. The community of believers is growing in faith and love for one another. Paul and his companions have reason to boast before the other Church communities. The Thessalonians are exemplary in their steadfastness and their faith during persecutions and afflictions. Paul and his companions do not simply “boast”, but they “always pray” for the Thessalonians that the grace of God and the Lord Jesus Christ might assist them to fulfill their desire for goodness and that they may complete their work of faith. In this way, God will be glorified and they in turn will be blessed by God.

 

The following modern day report gives insight into the courage and mettle of the Thessalonians (cf. “Meriam’s Courage” in L’Osservatore Romano, July 25, 2014, p. 1).

 

Pope Francis met Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, the young Christian woman from Sudan who had been condemned to death in her country for apostasy but whose sentence was overturned due to pressure from the international community. On Thursday morning, 24 July, she and her husband Daniel Wani and their two children – Martin, a year and a half, and Maya, born in prison two months ago – were received by the Pope at the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

 

With them was also Italian Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Lapo Pistelli, who had gone to Sudan the day before to complete negotiations and accompany Meriam and her family to Italy, from where they will be then relocated to the United States. Also present at the meeting was Msgr. Yohannis Gaid, the Pope’s private secretary. The heart-warning meeting lasted half an hour. The Pope thanked Meriam and her family for their courageous testimony of perseverance in the faith.

 

And Meriam expressed her gratitude to the Pontiff for his support and comfort in prayer. At the end of the meeting Pope Francis greeted the Italian authorities accompanying Meriam’s family during their stay in Rome. In this encounter the Holy Father wished to demonstrate his care, attention and prayers for all who suffer for their faith, above all for Christians under persecution and those whose religious freedom is being abused.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Do I have sentiments and attitudes that do not build up integrity of heart? Am I guilty of hypocrisy? If so, what do I do to overcome this?

 

2. Are we ready to endure persecution and difficulties for the sake of our faith? Do we seek to glorify the name of the Lord in all things, even in the midst of afflictions?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Lord Jesus,

you love us deeply.

You care for our well-being.

You wish to convert us

from our hypocrisy and evil ways.

Help us to have integrity of heart

and seek true holiness in you.

Live in us that we may live in you.

Teach us to be steadfast in faith

even in trials and persecutions.

Let us be glorified in you, and you in us,

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

     

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

           

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

“Woe to you, blind guides.” (Mt 23:16) // “May the name of our Lord Jesus be glorified in you and you in him.” (II Thes 1: 12)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Today make a conscious effort to unite with Jesus every act of charity that you do, every kind word that you speak, every gracious thought that you think and every compassionate sentiment that you feel. Let the name of the Lord be glorified even in the midst of trial and affliction.

 

***

August 26, 2014: TUESDAY – WEEKDAY (21)

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Calls Us to Greater Authenticity and to Hold Fast to Him”

 

BIBLE READINGS

II Thes 3:6-10 // Mt 22:23-26

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

We continue to listen to Jesus’ “woe” pronouncements that are meant to lead us on the path of authenticity and integrity. He laments the legalism and externalism of the scribes and Pharisees. They are preoccupied with minutiae like paying the tithe on seasoned herbs, but neglect the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice, mercy, and faithfulness. The perversion of their priorities is such that they are virtually straining out the gnat while swallowing the camel. Their concern for external observance is symbolized by vessels that are washed merely on the outside. Inner purity, however, is not obtained by external correctness in religious observance, but by cleaning up our inner dispositions. Sometimes we have moments of hypocrisy when we try to appear what we are not, especially in the area of personal worth. We also tend to have recourse to legalism because it presents the easy way out of our moral obligations. Indeed, trying to be good is more demanding than merely looking good. It is also easier to fulfill religious observances than concern ourselves with works of justice and compassion and to endeavor to translate our faith into action.

 

The following story gives insight into the Christian call for greater authenticity and charity (cf. Anthony De Mello, Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations, New York: Image Books, 1988, p. 33-34).

 

There was once a woman who was religious and devout and filled with love for God. Each morning she would go to church. And on her way children would call out to her, beggars would accost her, but so immersed was she in her devotions that she did not even see them.

 

Now one day she walked down the street in her customary manner and arrived at the church just in time for service. She pushed the door, but it would not open. She pushed it again harder, and found the door was locked.

 

Distressed at the thought that she would miss service for the first time in years, and not knowing what to do, she looked up. And there, right before her face, she found a note pinned to the door.

 

It said, “I’m out there!”

***

 

Today’s First Reading (II The 2:1-3a, 14-17) is composed of admonitions and a prayer for the Thessalonians. The community is disturbed and alarmed by the deceptive news that the day of the Lord has already come. Saint Paul exhorts the Thessalonians not to be easily shaken in their understanding of the Lord’s coming. He reminds them of their vocation to live the Gospel and their destiny to possess the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. He encourages them to stand firm and to hold to the traditions they have received from those whose hearts have been tested by God. Above all, Saint Paul prays that God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ may strengthen them to always do and say what is good. Indeed, eternal glory awaits them if they hold firm to the sacred traditions taught to them.

 

In the following modern day report circulated on the Internet, we can glean the effort of the Catholic Church to hold fast to the sacred traditions we have received and the grace and courage needed to hold on to the values of our faith.

 

Archbishop Coakley’s Statement on Return of Stolen Host to Catholic Church

 

OKLAHOMA CITY (August 21, 2014); Archbishop Coakley announced Thursday that the consecrated Host at the center of a lawsuit filed in Oklahoma County District Court has been returned. An attorney representing the head of the satanic group presented the Host to a Catholic priest Thursday afternoon. The lawsuit sought return of the Host following multiple public statements by the head of the local satanic group that they planned to defile and desecrate the consecrated Host during a satanic “black mass” scheduled next month in Oklahoma City.

 

With the return of the Host and an accompanying signed statement from the satanic group leader that the group no longer possesses a consecrated Host, nor will they use a consecrated Host in their rituals, the archbishop agreed to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice.

 

“I am relieved that we have been able to secure the return of the sacred Host, and that we have prevented its desecration as part of a planned satanic ritual”, said Archbishop Paul Coakley of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City. “I remain concerned about the dark powers this satanic worship invites into our community and the spiritual danger that this poses to all who are involved in it, directly or indirectly.”

 

Archbishop Coakley has made repeated requests for the city’s leaders to cancel the satanic ritual in a publicly funded facility. “I have raised my concerns … and pointed out how deeply offensive this proposed sacrilegious act is to Christians and especially to the more than 250,000 Catholics who live in Oklahoma.

 

On September 21, the day the satanic ritual had been scheduled, the Archbishop invited the Catholic community as well as all Christians and people of good will to join him in prayer for a Eucharistic Holy Hour at 3:00 p.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1901 NW 18, followed by an outdoor Procession and Benediction.

 

“For more than 1 billion Catholics worldwide, the Mass is the most sacred of religious rituals”, the Archbishop said. “It is the center of Catholic worship and celebrates Jesus Christ’s redemption of the world by his death and resurrection. We are grateful for the gift of the Eucharist and pray that this threatened sacrilege will heighten our appreciation and deepen our faith in the Lord’s Eucharistic presence among us.”

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. How do we respond to the Christian call to greater authenticity, interiority and charity?

 

2. Do we hold fast to the sacred traditions that we have received in and through the Church? What are the challenges we meet and how do we respond to them?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO 

 

Jesus Master,

you call us to greater authenticity, interiority and charity.

Help us to purify our inner dispositions.

Grant us honesty and integrity of heart.

Be with us Jesus.

Let your spirit of love shape our life.

May we witness to the world

the beauty of being a true Christian.

May we hold fast to the sacred traditions handed on to us

in and through the Church.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

 “You have neglected the weightier things of the law.” (Mt 23:23) // “Hold fast to the traditions that you were taught.” (II Thes 2:15)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Open your eyes to the people around you today. Thank the Lord for the goodness you see. Beg the Lord for the grace to assist those who are lonely and needy. To help you understand the Church’s sacred traditions, get a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and study it prayerfully.

  

***

 

August 27, 2014: WEDNESDAY – SAINT MONICA

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Teaches Us the Meaning of True Religion and the Value of Labor”

 

BIBLE READINGS

II Thes 3:6-10, 16-18 // Mt 23:27-32

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

In today’s Gospel reading (Mt 23:27-32) Jesus completes his litany of woes against the scribes and Pharisees. To pronounce a “woe” on someone or some groups is to express grief at their sorry state and to warn them of the dire consequences to follow. Indeed, it is terrible for the scribes and Pharisees because on account of their hypocrisy they are like whitewashed tombs that look fine on the outside, but are full of bones and decaying corpses on the inside. So wide is the gap between external appearance and internal reality that Jesus’ opponents may be compared to “whitewashed tombs”, the interior of which is the supreme degree of rottenness and uncleanness. They appear righteous, but inside they are filled with wrongdoing.

 

In the last “woe” that Jesus pronounces against the scribes and Pharisees, he condemns their practice of building fine tombs for the prophets and of decorating the monuments of the righteous. They do not really honor them, but instead perpetuate the violence committed by their ancestors. As descendants of those who have persecuted the prophets, they do not make an effort to renounce their wicked ways. They continue to persecute and shed the blood of the innocent. This final “woe” evokes the violent death that Jesus would suffer on the cross through the instigation of the scribes and Pharisees and of the persecution that the Christian community would endure through the ages.

 

The following story and lesson give insight into the perversion of religion and into the meaning of true religion (cf. Anthony de Mello, Taking Flight: A Book of Story Meditations, New York: Image Books, 1988, p. 73).

 

A Hindu Sage was having The Life of Jesus read to him When he learned how Jesus was rejected by his people in Nazareth, he exclaimed, “a rabbi whose congregation does not want to drive him out of town isn’t a rabbi.”

 

And when he heard how it was the priests who put Jesus to death, he said with a sigh, “It is hard for Satan to mislead the whole world, so he appoints prominent ecclesiastics in different parts of the globe.”

 

The lament of a bishop: “Wherever Jesus went there was a revolution; wherever I go people serve tea!”

 

When a million people follow you, ask yourself where you have gone wrong.

 

***

 

The First Reading (II Thes 3:6-10, 16-18) contains Paul’s admonition to proper conduct while waiting for the Lord and underlines the obligation to work. Paul exercises his apostolic authority to remedy an abuse. To correct a particular abuse, he invokes the authority of Jesus Christ. Some members of the community have refused to work because they believe that the day of the Lord has already come, putting an end to the concerns of everyday living. After putting himself as a model of orderly conduct to be emulated, Paul lays down the terse instruction: “Whoever refuses to work is not allowed to eat.” This principle or work ethic has greatly influenced the monastic rules on the place of work in the monk’s life as well as the modern Christian social teaching on the importance of labor and the dignity of work. Paul’s final instructions also conclude with a prayer: that the Lord of peace may give peace to all, at all times and in every way. The apostle then authenticates the letter with his own hand.

 

The following article illustrates the dignity of work and the beauty of faith (cf. Ula Hoffer, “A Farmer’s Hands” in Country, February/March 2013, p. 53).

 

My husband was a farmer whose hands were coarse and brown after many seasons in the sun wielding rough tools and prickly bales. They were gnarled from injuries incurred while making repairs or handling a frightened or angry animal.

 

His hands were strong from forcing a wrench handle or a crowbar. They were callused from holding the lines to guide the horses back and forth through farm fields. Calluses grew on calluses as those hands tossed endless pitchforks full of hay into the barn loft back before the days of hay balers and elevators.

 

Those hands were firm as they grasped the hand of a friend or neighbor. They were helpful as they pulled a stranded motorist through snowdrifts, plowed the fields of a sick neighbor or dried the dishes after supper.

 

They were gentle as they delivered calves, piglets or lambs, or cared for a small kitten that a cow has stepped on. His hands were awkward as he helped sew buttons on tiny homemade doll clothes late one Christmas Eve, or when turning the pages of his Bible. They were tender as they held a small child close, wiped away tears or reached out to protect a little one from harm.

 

But, to my husband, his hands were weak as he placed them in God’s strong ones and asked to be guided each day.

 

***

 

The life of Saint Monica is an example of how a Christian believer toils for the coming of God’s kingdom (cf. Wikipedia on the Internet).

 

Saint Monica (AD 331-387), also known as Monica of Hippo, was an early Christian saint and the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. She is honored in the Roman Catholic Church where she is remembered and venerated for her outstanding Christian virtues, particularly her suffering caused by the adultery of her husband and a prayerful life dedicated to the reformation of her son, who wrote extensively of her pious acts and life with her in his Confessions. Popular Christian legend recalls Saint Monica to have wept every night for her son Augustine.

 

Because of her name and place of birth, Monica is assumed to have been of Berber origin. She was married early in life to Patricius, who held an official position in Tagaste (present-day Souk Ahras, Algeria). Patricius was a pagan, though like so many of that period, his religion was no more than a name. His temper was violent and he appears to have been of dissolute habits. Consequently Monica’s married life was far from being a happy one, more especially as Patricius’ mother seems to have been of a like disposition with himself. There was, of course, a gulf between husband and wife. Her alms, deeds and her habits of prayer annoyed him, but it was said that he always held her in a sort of reverence. Monica was not the only matron of Tagaste whose married life was unhappy, but, by her sweetness and patience, she was able to exercise a good example amongst the wives and mothers of her native town. They knew that she suffered as they did, and her words and example had a proportionate effect.

 

Monica had three children: Augustine the eldest, Navigius the second, and a daughter, Perpetua. Monica had been unable to secure baptism for her children and she experienced much grief when Augustine fell ill. In her distress she asked Patricius to allow Augustine to be baptized. Patricius agreed, but on the boy’s recovery withdrew his consent.

 

All Monica’s anxiety now centered on Augustine. He was wayward and, as he himself tells us, lazy. He was sent to school at Madaraus. Her husband Patricius subsequently became a Christian. Meanwhile, Augustine had been sent to Carthage to pursue his studies, and here he lived dissolutely. Patricius died very shortly after converting to Christianity and Monica decided not to marry again.

 

At Carthage Augustine had become a Manichean and when on his return home he shared his views regarding Manichaeism, Monica drove him away from her table. However, she is said to have experienced a strange vision that convinced her to reconcile with her son.

 

It was at this time that she went to see a certain holy bishop, whose name is not given, but who consoled her with the now famous words, “the child of tears shall never perish”. Monica followed her wayward son to Rome where he had gone secretly. When she arrived he had already gone to Milan, but she followed him. Here she found St. Ambrose and through him she ultimately had the joy of seeing Augustine convert to Christianity, after seventeen years of resistance.

 

In his book Confessions, Augustine wrote of a peculiar practice of his mother in which she “brought to certain oratories, erected in the memory of the saints, offerings of porridge, bread and wine”. When she moved to Milan, the bishop Ambrose forbade her to use the offering of wine since “it might be an occasion of gluttony for those who were already given to drink”. So Augustine wrote of her: “In place of a basket filled with fruits of the earth, she had learned to bring to the oratories of the martyrs a heart full of purer petitions, and to give all that she could to the poor – so that the communion of the Lord’s body might be rightly celebrated in those places where, after the example of his passion, the martyrs had been sacrificed and crowned” (Confessions 6.2.2).

 

Mother and son spent six months of true peace at Rus Cassisiacum (present-day Cassago Brianza) after which time Augustine was baptized in the church of St. John the Baptist in Milan. Africa claimed them, however, and they set out on their journey, stopping at Civitavecchia and at Ostia. Here death overtook Monica and the finest pages of Augustine’s Confessions were penned as the result of the emotion he then experienced.

 

St. Monica is a patroness of those experiencing difficult marriages and disappointing children, victims of adultery or unfaithfulness, victims of verbal abuse, and the conversion of relatives.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Are we, too, guilty of some blatant hypocrisy that we could be called “whitewashed tombs”?  If so, what can be done about it?

 

2. Do we believe in the dignity and value of work and in the legitimacy of the Apostle Paul’s instruction: “Whoever refuses to work is not allowed to eat”?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Almighty God,

we thank you for the gift of human toil and labor

as a way of preparing for the coming of your kingdom.

Bless the work of our hands.

Make us instruments of your peace.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

.

  

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Woe to you, hypocrites” (Mt 23:27) // “Whoever refuses to work is not allowed to eat.” (II Thes 3:10)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Offer to God your daily labors and the work of your hands. By your kindness and charity, be an instrument of God’s peace to the people around you.

 

***

 

August 28, 2014: THURSDAY – SAINT AUGUSTINE, bishop, doctor of the Church

“JESUS SAVIOR: He Urges Us to Stay Awake and He has Enriched Us with Spiritual Gifts”

 

BIBLE READINGS

I Cor 1:1-9 // Mt 24:42-51

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

For nearly 20 years, Secret Agent Jerry Parr had guarded presidents and vice-presidents, always on the lookout for one pair of crazed, hate-filled eyes; always at the ready. He had to pass target practice every month as a requirement for his job. According to Jerry, prayer was an essential part of his life and job. In a way, Christian discipleship is similar to his job – something requiring watchfulness and constant vigilance.

 

Today’s Gospel reading underlines the need for vigilance and watchfulness in preparation for the coming of Christ. The disciples of Jesus through all times are to keep in mind his urgent admonition, “Stay awake!” The Christian disciples are to be ready to open their hearts to the “essential One” who came to save us, who continually comes in our daily life, and will come again at the end time to restore all things. We must be prepared to welcome the kingdom of glory that he brings to fulfillment. Therefore, we must stay awake! For we do not know on which day our Lord will come.

 

For the Christian disciples, Advent – the time of hopeful waiting – is a year-round season and an ongoing experience. Aelred Rosser asserts: “Every task, every little job, every good word, every kind deed – all of these are the Lord at work in us, enabling us to prepare for his coming – now and finally. Blessed is that servant whom the master finds ready – busily waiting.” Indeed, the life of Christian disciples is dynamically driven by the expectation of the full realization of the kingdom inheritance and the definitive coming of our Lord Jesus. The spirit of Advent expectation helps us to carry out faithfully our task and mission on behalf of the reign of God upon earth. 

 

***

 

In today’s Second Reading (I Cor 1:1-9), Paul’s power-packed greeting to the Corinthians, presents the beauty and dignity of our call to holiness in Jesus Christ. It also delineates the unity that binds all peoples everywhere who worship our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, we belong to Jesus Savior who is “their Lord and ours”. The rest of Paul’s words fills us with hope. As we wait in eager expectation for the ultimate revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are reminded of the wondrous grace God has bestowed upon us in Christ Jesus. In union with Christ, we have become enriched and endowed with every blessing. Moreover, the faithful God will keep us firm to the end and blameless on the day of the Lord.

 

The following story illustrates that God has enriched us in every way and that, as part of a faith community, we are not lacking in any spiritual gift (cf. Susan Orneck, “Air Lift” in GUIDEPOSTS, May 2012, p.65).

 

San Diego to Tampa – a long flight. I was on my way home from a real-estate agent workshop. If only I could relax, I thought as I shifted in my seat. Even a lucky upgrade to first class wasn’t enough to calm me down. My nephew had been diagnosed with melanoma. Jordan was in his early twenties, just starting a career as a songwriter. He faced his disease with incredible courage, believing in God’s plans for his life, whatever they were. Lord, I am so worried about him, I thought.

 

I noticed the man sitting next to me – long hair, ratty T-shirt, headphones and tattoos. He looked like a rocker dude from the seventies. “I’m traveling with my band”, he confirmed as the flight attendant served us a beverage. “Really? My nephew wants to be a songwriter.” He pulled off his headphones and asked me more about Jordan. I talked about his cancer, how much I feared losing him. Usually I was good at keeping my feelings in check. But here, with a complete stranger, I suddenly felt free to share how anxious I was. “I see him fighting so hard”, I said, starting to cry. “Chemotherapy is so difficult. I don’t know where he finds the strength to bear it.”

 

“I had cancer myself a few years ago”, my seatmate said after a moment. “I know how hard it can be.” A tear streaked down his cheek. He grabbed my hand and held it tight. “You can pray for your nephew”, he said. “I’ll pray with you.” A woman spoke up from across the aisle. “I’d like to pray for him too.” “Me too”, said the man behind me. I hadn’t known everyone was listening!

 

The next thing I knew our entire cabin was on its feet and holding hands – including the two flight attendants. I didn’t know anything about leading a prayer circle so I just spoke from the heart about Jordan. For the first time since his diagnosis I didn’t feel so alone in my fear. God was with me 30,000 feet above the earth, and so were these people who were praying – and would continue to pray – for my nephew.

 

Jordan’s cancer went into remission. He is still writing songs. And I am still lifted up by what I learned about the power of prayer.

 

***

The life of Saint Augustine illustrates both the grace of God that has enriched him and his response to the divine grace (cf. Wikipedia on the Internet).

 

Augustine was born in 354 in the municipium of Tagaste (now Souk Ahras, Algeria) in Roman Africa. His father, Patricius, was a pagan and his mother Monica was a Christian. It is assumed that his mother Monica was of Berber origin on the basis of her name, but as his family were honestiores, an upper class of citizens known as honorable men, Augustine’s first language is likely to have been Latin. At the age of 11, he was sent to school at Madaurus (now M’Daourouch), a small Numidian city about 19 miles south of Tagaste. There he became familiar with Latin literature as well as pagan beliefs and practices. His first insight into the nature of sin occurred when he and a number of friends stole fruit they didn’t even want from a neighborhood garden. This echoes nicely with his conversion which also involved a garden later in life.

 

At age 17, through the generosity of fellow citizen Romanianus, Augustine went to Carthage to continue his education in rhetoric. Although raised as a Christian, Augustine left the Church to follow the Manichaean religion, much to the despair of his mother Monica. As a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle for a time, associated with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits with women and urged inexperienced boys, like Augustine, to seek out experiences or to make up stories about experiences in order to gain acceptance and avoid ridicule. It was during this period that he uttered his famous prayer, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.”

 

At a young age, he began an affair with a young woman in Carthage. Possibly because his mother wanted him to marry a person of his class, the woman remained his lover for over thirteen years and gave birth to his son Adeodatus, who was said to have been extremely intelligent. He abandoned her finally on his conversion in 389 when the boy was 17.

 

During the years 373 and 374, Augustine taught grammar in Tagaste. The following year he moved to Carthage to conduct a school of rhetoric and would remain there for the next nine years. Disturbed by the unruly behavior of the students in Carthage, in 383 he moved to establish a school in Rome, where he believed the best and brightest rhetoricians practiced. However, Augustine was disappointed with the Roman schools where he was met with apathy. Once the time came for his students to pay their fees, they simply fled. Manichaean friends introduced him to the prefect of the City of Rome Symmachus, who had been asked to provide a professor of rhetoric for the imperial court of Milan.

 

While still in Carthage, he had begun to move away from Manichaeism, in part because of a disappointing meeting with the Manichaean bishop Faustus of Mileve, a key exponent of Manichaean theology. In Rome he is reported to have completely turned away from Manichaeism and instead embraced Scepticism of the New Academy movement. At Milan his mother pressured him to become a Christian. Augustine’s own studies in Neoplatonism were also leading him in this direction and his friend Simplicianus urged him that way as well. But it would be the bishop of Milan, Ambrose, who had the most influence over Augustine. Like Augustine, Ambrose was a master of rhetoric, but older and more experienced.

 

Ambrose baptized Augustine, along with his son Adeodatus on the Easter Vigil in 387 in Milan. A year later, in 388, Augustine completed his apology “On the Holiness of the Catholic Church”. That year Adeodatus and Augustine returned to Africa, Augustine’s home country, during which trip Augustine’s mother Monica died. Upon their arrival, they began a life of aristocratic leisure at Augustine’s family property. Soon after, Adeodatus, too, passed away. Augustine then sold his patrimony and gave the money to the poor. The only thing he kept was the family house, which he converted into a monastic foundation for himself and a group of friends.

 

He became a famous preacher (more than 350 preserved sermons are believed to be authentic) and was noted for combating the Manichaean religion to which he had formerly adhered. In 395 he was made coadjutor Bishop of Hippo and became full Bishop shortly thereafter, hence the name “Augustine of Hippo”, and gave his property to the Church of Tagaste. He remained in that position until his death in 430.

 

Augustine worked tirelessly in trying to convince the people of Hippo to convert to Christianity. Though he had left the monastery, he continued to lead a monastic life in the Episcopal residence. He left a Rule for his monastery that led to his designation as the “patron saint of regular clergy”.

 

Much of Augustine’s later life was recorded by his friend Possidius, bishop of Calama (present-day Guelma, Algeria), in his Sancti Augustini Vita. Possidius admired Augustine as a man of powerful intellect and a stirring orator who took every opportunity to defend Christianity against its detractors. Possidius also described Augustine’s personal traits in detail, drawing a portrait of a man who ate sparingly, worked tirelessly, despised gossip, shunned the temptations of the flesh, and exercised prudence in the financial stewardship of his See.

 

Augustine was canonized by popular acclaim and later recognized as a Doctor of the Church in 1298 by Pope Boniface VIII. His feast day is 28 August, the day on which he died. He is considered the patron saint of brewers, printers, theologians, those with sore eyes, and a number of cities and dioceses

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. How do we prepare for the Lord’s coming in mystery in the events of our life? How do we prepare for his definitive coming in glory? In word and deed, do we strive to enkindle the faith that the kingdom of God is come? Is our dynamic vigilance a source of inspiration for others? 

 

2. Do we believe that God has bestowed abundant blessings upon us and that in him we have been enriched in every way?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

Loving Father,

we want to prepare for Christ’s coming in glory.

As we wait for his coming

you have enriched us in every way

and filled us with spiritual gifts.

Help us to stay awake

for we do not know which day the Lord will come.

Teach us to use our gifts

with love and creativity.

Bless us and make us faithful servants

who wait for Christ’s glorious return.

He lives and reigns forever and ever.

Amen.  

   

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

“Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.” (Mt 24:42) // “In Christ Jesus you were enriched in every way.” (I Cor 1:5)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO 

 

List three events in your life for which you were prepared and three other events for which you were unprepared. Pray over these events and ask the Lord to strengthen your vigilant expectation for his coming. If possible, help an elderly and/or seriously ill person prepare to receive Jesus at the hour of death. Be grateful to God for having enriched your life in Christ.

 

***

August 29, 2014: FRIDAY – THE PASSION OF SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST

 “JESUS SAVIOR: His Death Is Prefigured in the Passion of John the Baptist and He Is the Wisdom of God”

 

BIBLE READINGS

I Cor 1:17-25 // Mk 6:17-29

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

Today we recall the martyrdom of John the Baptist – his beheading by King Herod, who was tricked into it by his sister-in-law and wife, Herodias. It was made possible by her daughter Salome’s delightful dance that elicited a grandiose oath from the king, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.”  Through the Gospel account, we realize how evil gains increasing momentum in Herod’s soul, inciting him from sensuousness to murder.

 

John the Baptist is the precursor of Christ in birth and death. Saint Bede the Venerable comments: “There is no doubt that blessed John suffered imprisonment and chains as a witness to our Redeemer, whose forerunner he was, and gave his life for him. His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth? Therefore, because John shed his blood for the truth, he surely died for Christ. Through his birth, preaching and baptizing, he bore witness to the coming birth, preaching and baptism of Christ, and by his own suffering he showed that Christ also would suffer …But to endure temporal agonies for the sake of truth was not a heavy burden for such men as John; rather it was easily borne and even desirable, for he knew eternal joy would be his reward.”

 

Our own day is also a time for martyrs. This is verified in the life of Archbishop Romero whose bloodbath is like that of John the Baptist and, above all, of Jesus, the king of martyrs. Fr. Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit theologian based in El Salvador, narrates an incident that led to Romero’s martyrdom. On March 24, 1980 Archbishop Romero was shot to death while celebrating the Mass, the blood of his martyred body mixing with the sacramental body and blood of Christ on the altar of Eucharistic sacrifice.

 

On May 19, 1977 the army went to Aguilares, expelled the three remaining Jesuits, desecrated the church and sacristy, and declared a state of emergency. After a month of the state of emergency, the army simply drove the people out of Aguilares. Archbishop Romero decided to go there at the first opportunity, denounce the atrocities that had been committed, and try to inspire a threatened, terrorized people with hope. ‘You are Christ today, suffering in history,’ he told them. After the Mass we held a procession of the Blessed Sacrament. We processed out into a little square in front of the church to make reparation for the soldiers’ desecration of the sacramental Body of Christ and the living Body of Christ, the murdered ‘campesinos’. Across the square, in front of the town hall, were armed troops, standing there watching us, sullen, arrogant and unfriendly. We were uneasy. In fact, we were afraid. We had no idea what might happen. And we all instinctively turned around and looked at Archbishop Romero, who was bringing up the rear, holding the monstrance. ‘Adelante! (Forward!)’, said Archbishop Romero. And we went right ahead.

 

***

 

Today’s first reading (I Cor 1:17-25) is one of the most beautiful and enigmatic passages in the Sacred Scriptures. The great apostle Paul experiences the living Christ and proclaims him as the crucified Messiah and glorified by God in the Spirit. The paschal event of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection bring to completion the ineffable saving plan of our loving God. The beloved Servant-Son of God assumes our brokenness and sufferings. He identifies himself completely with human weakness so that our own sacrifices may be transformed into saving grace and our sufferings may lead to endless glory. Saint Paul, fully immersed into Christ’s paschal destiny of death and rising, is able to transcend what human reason reveals. He therefore proclaims the weakness of Christ on the cross as the ultimate power of love. Indeed, the almighty and all knowing God has no need for the false security of human strength and the empty trappings of human wisdom. From his personal experience of the saving event centered on Christ, the apostle to the Gentiles thus asserts: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

 

The following article on an elderly Vladivostok parishioner, Emilia Dyachkova by Tatyana Shaposhnikova (cf. Vladivostok Sunrise, January 1, 2009 issue, p. 1-2) illustrates how the Gospel of the crucified Christ continues to work in the suffering members of the Church.

 

“My whole life I’ve been on the move!” says Emilia as she begins to tell her life story. “I don’t remember my mother – she died when I was three – and they shot my dad in 1935. He was Polish and Catholic, so he was branded ‘an enemy of the people’. My two nieces and I were raised by my aunt whose husband also served time. ‘They’ took everything from us, our property, our faith in God, and accused us of spying. There was hunger, and none of us, adults or children, could find work. People were against us, as we were a family of ‘enemies of Soviet power’, but we still had to live with them.” And tears appear in Emilia’s eyes.

 

“When I was 16 they gave me work in the coal mine in Donbasse. Together with the adults I did all my work. Within a month war began, so they closed the mine. Without money and without help it took me several months to walk back to Verbka, the little village where my aunt lived. I walked home already by December, and in May they moved us all to Germany. For three years I worked for a German farmer doing all the dirty work on the farm. The boss treated us well and fed us, and on Sundays we prayed.”

 

“We were freed by American soldiers on the 9th of May of 1945, and already on May 10th they sent us to the transfer point and took us back to Russia. We got back to our village. The house was in ruins, and some of the villagers had been killed and some had died of hunger. We scraped together boards and whatever we could find to make a hut to live in, and we had to work sometimes twelve hours straight on the collective farm without rest” – it was sad for Emilia to remember. “I didn’t have a childhood, and my youth was spent in a different country.”

 

“I got married, but I didn’t live with my husband very long when they took him and shot him because he lived for several years as a prisoner in Germany. And again there was hunger and heavy work on the collective farm. People always looked at us with suspicion – my father was shot; my husband was shot – but in what way were we ‘enemies of the people’?” she asks herself. “We worked honestly, went to church, prayed about love and happiness. It was a difficult time for us, but God helped us. Sometimes there wasn’t enough energy or time for prayer, but we never went to bed without praying.”

 

“When my son finished school, he couldn’t go for higher education because my father and my grandfather were ‘enemies’. My son was very anxious to study further, so he had to travel far away where they wouldn’t know him. He came to the Russian Far East, and enrolled in the University of Vladivostok and graduated, so I came to live with him.” (She doesn’t mention that her son was beaten and brutally murdered by a band of thugs several years ago – perhaps it is too painful to remember.)

 

“Would I have been able to endure everything and still have love for people without God’s help?” she asks. Emilia comes to every Sunday Mass. You can read wisdom, love, and endless hope in her eyes in God’s mercy to herself and her neighbor. And how many such grandmothers there are! They all have wounds from what they have experienced in life, so that any jogging of their memories brings out the hurt and tears. We have something to learn from them – their patience, their resolve, their love of God and neighbor.

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. Are we willing to give witness to Christ even to the point of sacrifice? How does the courageous witnessing of John the Baptist impact our own witnessing in today’s world?

 

2. How does the Pauline passage on the crucified Messiah impact you? Have you experienced that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and that the weakness of God is stronger than human strength? In the spirit of Saint Paul the Apostle, do you endeavor to proclaim Christ crucified?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

God our Father,

you called John the Baptist

to be the herald of your Son’s birth and death.

As he gave his life in witness to truth and justice,

so may we strive to profess our faith in your Gospel.

Help us to show to the world

that your “foolishness” is wiser than human wisdom

and that your “weakness” is stronger than human strength.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the day. Please memorize it.

 

            “Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man.” (Mk 6:20) // “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” (I Cor 1:25)

 

 

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

Inspired by John the Baptist’s life witnessing, endeavor to live fully the Christian virtues in today’s world. Pray that the Christians in the modern world may have the wisdom, courage and strength to proclaim Christ crucified. In any way you can, assist the persecuted Christians in today’s world.

 

***

August 30, 2014: SATURDAY – WEEKDAY (21); BVM ON SATURDAY

 “JESUS SAVIOR: He Wants Us to Be His Enterprising Servants and in Him, God Chooses the Weak of the World”

 

BIBLE READINGS

I Cor 1:26-31 // Mt 25:14-30

 

 

I. BIBLICO-LITURGICAL REFLECTIONS: A Pastoral Tool for the LECTIO

 

           Jesus tells us the story of the master who distributed various amounts of money to three servants before going away on a journey. The Greek word that describes these amounts is “talents”. From this is derived the English term “talent” to describe the natural ability that can be improved by diligent practice. Two servants invested their talents and doubled the amount; the other one dug a hole in the ground and buried the talent entrusted to him by the master. The master returned and demanded a reckoning. The point of the story is not the uncertainty of the time of the Lord’s final coming, but the reckoning that will come and the responsibility expected of us. The Parable of the Talents teaches us not to be complacent and lazy, but to be diligent and enterprising. God want us to be creatively involved in the work of the kingdom. We need to be courageous and trustworthy servants in this time of waiting for the Master’s return.

 

The following testimony of Eli Doroteo of Antipolo City, Philippines, gives insight into the personal implication of today’s Gospel.

 

It is still fresh in my memory the spiritual exercise we had with Sr. Mary Celine, PDDM, during our retreat sometime in April 1999. The exercise was to divide our life into three segments and list in each of the three segments our experiences, most especially the downside in our life. Also, in each of the segments, we had to write God’s graces that helped us through those trials.

 

I was moved to tears when I discovered that in the three segments of my life, God was always present in my life in my MUSIC MINISTRY. In the first and second segments, I was a church choir member that started in Aklan and next in my stint with MIESCOR and in Muntinlupa. In the third segment (and until now), I sing the Responsorial Psalm during the Eucharistic celebrations. I realized that this is my calling – God gifted me with a talent of singing and of serving him in the Church.

 

As indicated in the Gospel of today, each of us has a God-given talent. The more we receive from God, the more we should be responsible to him at the judgment hour. This reminds me of the movie “Spiderman”. Peter’s uncle said, “With great power comes great responsibility”. In capsule form, this is what the Gospel of today is all about. A man who left his precious possessions to his servants represents God in the parable; he is a risk-taker here. This, I think, is God’s way when he calls a person to answer a particular need; he endows the person with a specific charism. The specific charism, when nurtured, becomes his distinctive identity. When exercised to its full potential, the charism becomes the person’s contribution to the Church and becomes his special mission.

 

***

 

In today’s reading (I Cor 1:26-31) Saint Paul, by using the example of the Corinthian community, illustrates the paradox: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom; and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”   Few of the educated class in Corinth, few men of authority, few of the aristocracy, have been called to the Christian faith. Instead, God has called the lowly, the poor, and despised of the world, those who count for nothing – to destroy the pretensions of those who account themselves as something. Christ Jesus is the wisdom of God and through him the Christians possess all that one could ever yearn for: wisdom, justice, holiness and redemption. All this and the gift of faith are due to the merciful goodness of God and his initiative. Therefore, Saint Paul exhorts: “Whoever wants to boast must boast of what the Lord has done.”

 

The following story illustrates how God uses “the weak of this world” to promote his saving plan (cf. “Faith: Source of Hope for Family in Their Loss” in Alive! April 2014, p. 6).

 

An American couple, Robbyn and Josh Blick, have been telling the story of their baby, Zion, on the Internet. And it has touched a lot of hearts.

 

Josh is a Christian pastor in Chicago and the couple have four young sons. It was great news for them to hear last year that no. 5 was on the way. Then, at week 20, they were told that their baby was suffering from Trisomy 18, also called Edwards Syndrome. This is a genetic condition that leads to abnormalities in parts of the body. The survival rate is low due to heart damage, kidney malformations and other internal disorders. The couple responded to the sad news by turning to God and putting all their faith in him. “Our choice is always life and giving him a chance”, said Robbyn.

 

It turned out that baby Zion was a fighter. First doctors said he could die during the pregnancy but he didn’t. That he might die during labor, but he didn’t. After his birth on 11 January, Robbyn was told to prepare for a few minutes with him. But Zion held on and got stronger. Next they were told he might last until morning. But he fought and pulled through.

 

“Then it all started”, said Robbyn. Their boys, the wider family, friends, members of the church poured into the hospital to welcome and hold Zion. Finally the “tiny little miracle”, weighing 4 pounds was ready to go home. “That was one of the biggest joys”, said Robbyn. “Our children prayed every night that we’d bring him home. There was such a joy and such a fullness.”

 

For every minute of the next ten days he was held, loved and cherished. But by day nine he seemed to be losing interest in being fed. Then the family experienced their first scare with him at home: Zion took a big gasp of air and “turned a little bit blue”. His dad grabbed him and rubbed his back, and he recovered quickly. “He hadn’t done that before”, said Robbyn, “I knew in my heart things were getting closer to ending.” The next day, 21 January 2014, Zion was gasping more frequently. Then, “peaceful and perfect”, in his mother’s arms and with his family huddled around him, Zion died.

 

Robbyn and Josh explained to their sons that Zion was with Jesus now, which is “the best place to be”. In his short life he had brought so much love, hope and joy to all around him. Josh told God: “He makes heaven a little closer to my heart. Your love for him reminds me daily now what we are living for. Thank you for sharing him with us.”

 

 

II. POINTS FOR THE EXAMINATION OF THE HEART: A Pastoral Tool for the MEDITATIO

 

1. In this time of vigil for the Lord’s coming at the end time, am I his enterprising servant? Do I endeavor to make the talents I have received bear abundant fruits for the glory of God and the good of the Church? Have I failed to maximize the talents and grace given me by the Lord? 

 

2. Do we believe that God chooses the weak and the lowly for his own saving purpose? Do we put our trust in Christ, the wisdom of God?

 

 

III. PRAYING WITH THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the ORATIO

 

O loving God,

we thank you for enriching us with many talents.

Help us to be enterprising and creative in using them

for your glory and for the sake of your kingdom.

Help us to entrust ourselves totally to Jesus Christ.

In him, you have chosen us – lowly and despised –

for your own saving purpose.

You live and reign, forever and ever.

Amen.

     

 

IV. INTERIORIZATION OF THE WORD: A Pastoral Tool for the CONTEMPLATIO

 

            The following is the bread of the living Word that will nourish us throughout the week. Please memorize it.

 

            “Well done, my good and faithful servant … Come, share your master’s joy.” (Mt 25:21) // “God chose the weak of the world.” (I Cor 1:27)

 

  

V. TOWARDS LIFE TRANSFORMATION: A Pastoral Tool for the ACTIO

 

List five talents you have received from the Lord, which you have utilized fully at the service of the Church and on behalf of the community. Thank the Lord for all these gifts received. List five talents, which you have failed to use wisely for the benefit of all. Beg God’s mercy and pardon for your failure to invest them fully. Be deeply aware of the ways that God is choosing you for his purpose precisely for your poverty and lowliness.

***

 

 

Prepared by Sr. Mary Margaret Tapang  PDDM

 

 

PIAE DISCIPULAE DIVINI MAGISTRI

SISTER DISCIPLES OF THE DIVINE MASTER

60 Sunset Ave., Staten Island, NY 10314

Tel. (718) 494-8597 // (718) 761-2323

Website: WWW.PDDM.US

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