• Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
    Matthew 6:24-34

    For its first reading this weekend, the church presents a rather short selection from the final part of the Book of Isaiah.

    By the time this passage was written, the Jews, long trapped in exile in Babylon, had returned home. The conquest of Babylonia by Persia and the resulting collapse of the Babylonian empire enabled them to go home.

    It was a bittersweet return, however, additionally so since few of the exiles, if any, were old enough to remember the homeland. But their parents and grandparents surely had told them about it. Everything was good, so they longed to leave Babylon and rediscover pride in their own identity. In a way, they thought that, indeed, they were going to the Promised Land.

    The bubble burst when they actually arrived. The homeland was desolate. Life was miserable. The prophets had to cope with the people’s great disappointment, bewilderment and anger with God. The reading reasserts God’s promise to protect and sustain the Chosen People.

    St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is the source of the second reading. In the first century A.D., Corinth was Las Vegas and New York City rolled into one. Converts to Christianity lived in Corinth but, assuming from Paul’s two letters, they constantly were lured away from the Gospel.

    Evidently and not surprisingly, pagans mocked and tantalized the Christians, leading these Christians to ask themselves if living chastely and keeping the quest for material gain in check made any sense at all. Paul had to fortify their faith and resolve.

    The third reading, from St. Matthew’s Gospel, is part of a rather long discourse given by the Lord to his disciples about life. It is not startling, but simple logic. He says that no one can serve two masters, and true followers must choose to serve only God.

    Probably no time in history, anywhere, were people utterly without material concern. If it is not the task of making a living, or of maintaining a constant and fulfilling relationship, it is a question of health.

    For Jews at the time of Jesus, things were extraordinarily bad. The temptation was to enter a “dog-eat-dog” world just to survive. Hanging over everything was the Roman occupation, with its hedonism, materialism and vicious injustice. The temptation was to join them if you could not beat them, and no one beat the Romans.

    Understandably, the Jews questioned their traditional beliefs. Where was God, their protector, in all this?  Whatever did their status as Chosen People mean? Many were tempted to answer these questions by saying God was not there, that being God’s people meant nothing.

    Jesus is quite frank in this reading. Not so much condemning the things of the world — certainly not the necessities of life — Jesus instead reminds the audience that for genuine disciples only attention to God and to God’s will suffice.

    God must be the only master. Jesus then reassures the disciples: Worry not about incidentals, but be concerned about what actually is important. Judge by God’s standards, not by the world’s.

    Reflection 

    In three days the church will call us to observe Ash Wednesday and to begin Lent. Lent, this ancient season of penance and renewal so identified with the Catholic faith, is a liturgical opportunity for every believer to search her or his soul, to reform by rejecting sin and to recommit to the Lord. In this will be new life: So on Easter, if they have taken advantage of Lent, Christians will experience for themselves a revival of life.

    Before any spiritual undertaking in Lent can succeed, we must look at the criteria by which we judge ourselves. Who is our master?  If God is not our master, we are foolish.

    Posted on February 22, 2017, to:

  • By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
    Matthew 5:38-48

    The first reading is from the Book of Leviticus, one of the five books of the Pentateuch, the Torah, the basic revelation by God to the Chosen People.

    This reading reports the day when God spoke to Moses. “I the Lord, your God, am holy,” says God. He continues that no one must hate another, using the term “brother” as if to emphasize the point.

    The reading sets the stage for the message from St. Matthew’s Gospel that will follow as the third reading.

    St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians provides the second reading. A favorite image employed by Paul throughout his writings was that, through faith and in baptism, Christians literally bond with Christ. In Christ, they become heirs to eternal life. In Christ, they receive the Holy Spirit, bringing into their very beings divine grace and strength.

    Having made this point, the Apostle then continues to remind the Corinthian Christians that, ultimately, they are not wise. They may be wise in a worldly sense, but often genuine wisdom comes across as foolishness to the worldly.

    It was a fitting reminder. Corinth was totally immersed in the pagan world of the Roman Empire. Everything seemingly extolled the majesty of the Roman culture. This culture had created the legal system that brought order to human society, a system that still lives, being the basis of law in Western civilization to this day. The very wonders of Roman architecture and art reaffirmed the depth and greatness of human wisdom in the empire.

    Against this backdrop of the splendor of all things Roman and pagan, Paul tells the Corinthians that there is much more.

    St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. The context is the Sermon on the Mount, as Christians long ago came to call this section of the Gospel.

    In the background is the Jewish preoccupation with keeping God’s law. In the Covenant, so basic to Judaism, God called the Jews to obedience. In obeying divine law, they would indeed be God’s people, and God would protect them and bless them.

    Here, in this reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, the Lord sets forth a series of contrasts. He gives a basis for obeying the law, separating truly Christian response to the law, which is love for God and others, from a series of mere maxims and rules.

    Reflection

    God has revealed to us the divine law. It is no set of rules for the sake of rules. Rather, it is the blueprint by which we can live, more fully resembling the perfection and love that dwells in the Holy Trinity. So, the law of God is vitally important.

    In each of the statements of Jesus recorded in this reading from St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus draws a significant comparison. Realizing that God’s law, as revealed to Moses, is of God and cannot be abridged or cancelled, the Lord did not discount the law or belittle it.

    Rather, these words illustrate the fact that the Lord came to fulfill it. What does this mean? Observing God’s law does not mean simply going through motions, as meaningful as the results may be. More profoundly, it means obeying God because of trust in, and love for, God.

    God is love, and at the root of God’s love is love. God lovingly revealed the divine law to us for our benefit. If we respond because of our love for God, to be with God, then we obey fittingly. Then our obedience assumes a wonderfully higher personal meaning.

    The reading finally reveals to us the identity of the Lord. God gave the law. Only God, as lawgiver, can interpret the law. Jesus acts in a divine role by answering questions about the law. He is God.

    Posted on February 14, 2017, to:

  • By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
    Matthew 5:17-37

    The Book of Sirach, the source of this weekend’s first reading, is part of a collection of biblical writings that in their very origin teach an important lesson.

    As various political, economic and individual fortunes changed, collapsed and reversed among God’s people in the decades after the Babylonian captivity, and as new alien empires seized the Holy Land, Jews emigrated from the homeland of their ancestors to other places.

    Understandably, many went to places where opportunities were more plentiful.

    While certainly some of these emigrants not only survived, but possibly did well in their new surroundings, one thing was lacking. They were not living in a society in which all acknowledged the God of Israel. In fact, their adopted culture well could be hostile to the ancient Hebrew tradition.

    So, to record their ancient religious beliefs, and very importantly to pass these beliefs along to oncoming generations, Jewish scholars composed books such as Sirach.

    The essential point in Sirach was that human reason and honoring God are not ideas at odds with each other. Obeying God, logic can prove, is the way to order, peace, justice and reward in human life.

    St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians is the source of the second reading. Paul, who would have been no stranger to this notion of a compatibility between divine revelation and human wisdom, as he was so well trained in Judaism but also exposed to Greek philosophy, added a new dimension to the story. Revelation is of a reality that human knowledge often cannot comprehend.

    He refers to “hidden wisdom” and “mystery”. We as humans simply cannot understand all. In great love, God, therefore, has revealed to us what otherwise we would never know.

    The Gospel reading is from St. Matthew. The Lord expounds on the meaning of several of these rules for life given by God to Moses on Sinai.

    This process reveals two important factors. The first is that God’s law is permanent and unchanging. This is logical. It touches very basic instincts and conditions among humans, all attached deeply and intrinsically to human nature itself, and as such it is not open to qualifications or to changes that humans might wish to make.

    Secondly, here the Lord speaks with authority. He defines and explains the law of Moses. Jews did not regard the law of Moses as merely a set of principles personally composed by Moses. Rather, Moses was the medium through which God revealed the divine law to humanity. God is the author of the divine law. He is the author of the Commandments. He is the lawgiver.

    By defining and making more precise this law, the Lord acts as God. It is an important revelation of the identity of Jesus.

    Reflection

    This weekend looks to the past weeks and feasts as background, and it looks ahead. In both cases it confronts us with the realities of our nature. It places us in relationship with God. It shows us that God loves us with a divine love.

    At Christmas, the Epiphany and at the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River by John the Baptist, the church celebrated the events of salvation achieved for us by Christ, but it also told us about the Lord. It identified the Lord.

    In these readings, the church tells us that to wander away from God’s law and follow our instincts or our limited reasoning is folly. Humans, impaired by original sin, always have trouble understanding this lesson.

    Before too long, the church will lead us into Lent. It will be a time in which we strengthen ourselves to know our limitations and conform ourselves to what we are — human beings. But we are humans destined for eternal life with God, in Jesus.

    Posted on February 7, 2017, to:

  • Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
    Matthew 5:13-16

    The Book of Isaiah’s third section is the source of this first weekend’s reading. Scholars believe that this section was written perhaps in Jerusalem, for the Hebrew remnant that had returned from Babylon.

    This would put this section of Isaiah at a date after the epic Babylonian captivity. As political fortunes turned, the Persian ruler, Cyrus, had overtaken Babylon and his decree allowed the Jewish exiles to return to their homeland after an absence of four generations. Indeed, probably few had ever seen their homeland. Nevertheless, release from Babylon brought utter exhilaration to the exiles. They were free to go home!

    This seemingly wondrous opportunity was bittersweet. When the exiles reached their ancestral homeland they found deprivation and want, conditions worse than anything that they had experienced in Babylon. Imagine the disappointment and anger. But the prophet reaffirmed God’s goodness, calling upon the people themselves to provide for those in need. Then they would experience the fullness of vindication, the fullness of God’s promise to give them life and peace.

    St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians provides the second reading. This epistle was addressed to Christians living in Corinth, then one of the major cities of the Roman Empire. Rich and sophisticated, Corinth was a virtual center of the culture at the time. It also was a cesspool of vice.

    Paul’s message ran directly opposite all that mattered in Corinth. Skeptics scorned him, asking if the Christian Gospel made any sense. The Lord was an obstacle for many. After all, and importantly for so many, the founder of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth, had been legally executed as a common criminal and as a traitor to the empire.

    The Apostle’s proclamation of Jesus in itself put mere human knowledge in its place.

    In response, Paul insisted that he relied upon a source greater and more dependable than human wisdom, namely the Holy Spirit.

    St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading, a collection of two brief statements by Jesus given in highly descriptive and clear imagery.

    In the first statement, Jesus tells the disciples that they are the “salt of the earth.” In the second, the Lord admonishes followers to be the “light of the world.” These images, salt and light, hardly are unknown today, but an ancient aspect of each of them is unknown in this culture.

    At the time of Jesus, salt was precious. Roman soldiers were paid in salt. (“He is not worth his salt.”) “Salary” derives from this practice. Salt also was unrefined. Dust or sand usually mixed with salt. The less the dust and sand, the better the salt.

    Today people are accustomed to seeing bright lights at night, but darkness was a serious obstacle at the time of Jesus. Light, then, was precious in its own sense.

    Jesus urges disciples to uplift the earthly society by being salt and light.

    Reflection

    Gently but deliberately, the church is guiding us onward from its introduction of Jesus of Nazareth as son of the human Mary and Son of God, as well as the Redeemer of the sinful human race, as given at Christmas, Epiphany and the Feast of the Lord’s Baptism. It challenges us to respond to Jesus.

    These readings are clear. Discipleship is no mere lip service. It is the actual and intentional resembling of Christ in our daily lives.

    Matthew makes this clear, however: Believers have a strength upon which to draw as they illuminate the world. It is within the grace of their faith. As disciples, they are precious. Being a disciple is demanding, but it is not impossible.

    Of course, to be pure, worthy and therefore as strong as salt and free of impurities, disciples must rid themselves of sin and fortify their Christian resolve. This is the task of Lent, soon to begin.

    Posted on January 31, 2017, to:

  • Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
    Matthew 5:1-12a

    The first biblical reading this weekend is from Zephaniah. These details are known about this prophet: He was the son of Cushi and a descendant of Hezekiah, presumably King Hezekiah, who reigned as king of Judah, the southern Hebrew kingdom centered on Jerusalem, from 715 B.C. to 687 B.C.

    Royal ancestry is important. If indeed Zephaniah descended from a king, he may more easily have had access to the royal court and consequently more familiarity with the politics of his day.

    Whatever the exact time frame in which this prophecy was written, the plight of the Hebrews, both those in the kingdom of Judah and those in the northern kingdom of Israel, was uncertain. The two kingdoms were insignificant and weak. They were easy prey for their mightier neighbors, and as history unfolded, powerful neighbors repeatedly overran them.

    The prophets, Zephaniah included, saw the peril facing the Chosen People not so much as a result of policies for conquest of hostile neighboring powers, but rather as a consequence of the people’s sin.

    Sin was the root of all problems. If the Chosen People would remain faithful, regardless of whatever, God’s protection would prevail.

    St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians furnishes the next reading this weekend. The reading presents to us a paradox. The weak will be exalted. The mighty will be laid low. This paradox is deep and profound, teaching us a fundamental fact of life, but it runs utterly counter to the human presumption of reality. So we cannot judge our lives or the world by earthly, human standards; but only by Jesus.

    For its last reading, the church this weekend offers us the Gospel of St. Matthew and its presentation of the beatitudes. Among the synoptic Gospels, Luke also has a version of the beatitudes differing only slightly from those given in Matthew. Mark does not include the beatitudes.

    These verses are very reminiscent of the Psalms. This fact seats them very much in the history of God’s people, and in the people’s experiences. It places them in the historical fact of revelation.

    Always strong in the Old Testament was the hope that one day God would lead the people into life in a wonderful kingdom, where God would reign and in which peace, love and justice would prevail. The beatitudes describe what such a kingdom would be. They give the same viewpoint as that of First Corinthians. Without being as direct as First Corinthians, the beatitudes offer us a paradox. In God’s kingdom, reality, not human hunches, abide.

    Reflection

    The readings for this weekend, culminating in the beatitudes, both celebrate the revelation of God to us, bringing us genuine wisdom about life, and challenge us to be strong and active witnesses to Jesus and to the truth of the Gospel.

    Zephaniah builds the case that living without regard for God reaps the whirlwind. Paul adds another lesson. The judgments of the world are inevitably unsure, if not altogether false. If we follow the world’s assessment of things, we at best dance on the edge of the cliff.

    The beatitudes reveal to us the joy and perfection of life with God, and they summon us to do our part in redemption. This summons applies to us personally and collectively. We must accept the Lord, the Son of God, the Redeemer, born of Mary at Christmas, seen as God at the Epiphany, the Savior manifested at the baptism of the Lord.

    Then, beyond ourselves, we are called upon to live the Gospel in our lives, in all that we do.

    Now as we look to the coming of Lent not that long away, the church gently guides us to questioning ourselves. We have learned of Jesus. How do we respond?

    Posted on January 24, 2017, to: