• By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
    Matt. 13:1-9

    The third and last section of the Book of Isaiah is the source of the first reading.

    This reading was composed when pious Jews easily could have become disillusioned and uncertain in their devotion to God. For decades, Jews exiled in Babylon, the capital and center of the once-powerful Babylonian Empire, longed to leave the pagan environment of this great city — located coincidentally in present-day Iraq — and return to their own homeland.

    At last, as ancient political fortunes changed, these Jews were allowed to go back to their ancestors’ homes. Upon returning, however, they found no “land flowing with milk and honey.” Life was hard. Difficulties were many. For so long they had dreamed of leaving Babylon for security, order and peace in the Jewish land, yet they instead found destitution and misery. God had spared them, but for what?

    Certainly, many were angry with God. Also, most probably the author of this third section of Isaiah was one of several, or even many, prophets who reminded them that God’s work must be their own. God had freed them, but they had to create a society of justice and prosperity.

    St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. Written to the Christians of Rome about two generations after Jesus, Paul refers to their “sufferings.” The legal and political systems in the empire were turning against Christianity. It was a time on the very threshold of persecution.

    The law aside, the culture of the Roman Empire in the first century A.D. stood directly opposite the values of the Gospel.

    The apostle consoled and challenged the Roman Christians. He reminded them that sin ultimately enslaves humans, demeaning them and robbing them of freedom. Sin disorders creation itself, so creation “groans” in agony.

    Jesus is the redeemer. He gives true freedom to people. This freedom opens the way to peace and eternal life, despite any hostility or chaos all around.

    St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the familiar parable of the farmer who sows seed in different places, some conducive to growth, others not. Similar passages occur in Mark and in Luke. It is in the synoptic tradition.

    A great crowd awaited Jesus. As are people everywhere, at any time, these people thirsted for the truth and insight that only God gives.

    Almost certainly, everyone was a Galilean, and therefore of rural backgrounds and circumstances. The imagery of a farmer, and the sowing of seed, was easily understood.

    Agriculture still often is a game of chance. It was all the more so when Jesus preached in Galilee. Hot days easily scorched seeds that fell on shallow soil. Birds and pests were everywhere. Weeds suddenly appeared. Here and there was good soil, able to receive the seeds and produce a yield.

    The message is clear. God sows the seeds in our heart. We must be humble enough to receive God’s word. As an aside, here again in the Gospels the disciples had privileged access to Jesus. They question the Lord about the technique of speaking in parables. Jesus explains that parables assist in understanding great mysteries. Jesus explains this parable. He prepares them for their future role.

    Reflection

    A saint once said that Christians should pray as if salvation depended solely upon God and live as if salvation depended solely upon their own virtue.

    The first step to being redeemed is to be humble enough to admit the need for God. The second step is to be humble enough to live according to God’s word, not by personal human instincts or hunches.

    We all are in the story of this parable. We may rely only upon ourselves. If so, we are not truly free. Humble turning to God alone frees us, alone produces reward.

    Posted on July 12, 2017, to:

  • By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
    Matthew 10:37-42

    This weekend’s first reading is from the first of two books in the Bible that bear a name suggesting that they are about the kings of Israel. Kings are mentioned, but from a very particular view. Kings were judged on how well they led the people to abide by the covenant, to love God and to obey God. Nothing else in life was as important.

    The prophets were very important, as they taught the people to follow God. This reading is about Elisha, who visits a household in which lives a wealthy woman. She receives him. She has no children, but the prophet assures her she will bear a child. It would be by divine power.

    St. Paul encouraged and challenged the Christians of Rome. He reminded them that to live with Christ also meant dying with Christ, and then they would rise with Christ. Death is inevitable for all human beings, but it had an especially fearful context for Christians in Rome. Christianity was a crime. Death was the penalty, and unless the Christian was a citizen — as was Paul — and few were citizens, executions were agonizing, brutally so.

    The Gospel reading from Matthew begins quite solemnly. Indeed, it can be puzzling. Jesus says that if anyone loves father or mother more than the Lord, they are not worthy to be a disciple. He says that the true disciple must also carry a cross.

    Put these verses in the context in which they were written. Families were divided, maybe often, when a member converted to Christianity. Anyone convicted of being a Christian literally had to carry her or his cross and be crucified as was Jesus.

    When the first Christians heard these words, they knew very well that persons considered very dear, for self-survival, might desert them, and that crucifixion was the preferred way of getting rid of anyone who broke the law.

    Paul’s reassurance said that such terrible consequences were worth the price of being with the Lord forever. Indeed, he himself proved the point. He was martyred, but as a citizen, he was entitled to be executed without pain.

    Reflection

    A line in the musical “Oklahoma!” says, “everything’s up-to-date in Kansas City!” Well, in the first decades of Christianity, everything was up-to-date in Rome, more than in any other place on earth. It was a glittering city, with every opportunity and comfort the human heart could desire. In a word, it was impossible, however, to enjoy all the wonders and pleasures of Rome while being true to the Gospel.

    As if this were not enough, professing Christianity was a capital crime. Roman justice operated on the hunch, as does American justice today, that the death penalty deterred others from committing similar crimes; namely becoming Christian and living the Christian life.

    The example of countless martyrs proved the folly of this hunch. Still, the temptation to forsake the Lord was heightened by the aspect of dying for the crime of Christianity, and executions were horrifying in the Roman system. Crucifixion was not the only way “criminals” were killed in agony and horror.

    As had the prophets of old, Paul insisted that living in obedience to God was the only thing that mattered, and its reward humbled all the glories and the pleasures of mere human existence, even if this existence occurred in Rome, the very crown of human life at the time.

    The readings call us to reality. Win the lottery. Receive $300 million dollars. Will it subtract one week from an aging life? Will it erase the pain of grief? Will it give a sense of purpose to life? It will not.

    Only the spiritual rewards endure. The world will pass away.

    Posted on June 27, 2017, to:

  • By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time
    Matthew 10:26-33

    The Book of Jeremiah supplies this weekend’s first reading. Jeremiah wrote at a time when life was hard for God’s chosen people.

    Only briefly was life good for God’s people. Their nation was unified under one ruler for a relatively short period of time, comparatively speaking. There was only one golden age, namely the years of the reign of David and then the time of the rule of David’s son, Solomon.

    After Solomon, the country divided. Weakened, often at odds with each other, the two resulting kingdoms never attained the level of prosperity and contentment that the single nation had known under David and his son. Moreover, dismembered and quarrelling among themselves, the two Hebrew states were attractive prey for ambitious neighbors.

    All this was bad enough. For prophets such as Jeremiah, the worst aspect was that the people had grown sluggish in their obedience to the commandments and in their reverence for God. The prophets saw in this deflation in religious enthusiasm the principal threat to the future security of the people.

    In other words, the people had brought bad times upon themselves.

    This reading from Jeremiah reflects the sad state of affairs. It calls the people back to God. Only in being faithful to God will they regain security.

    St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans supplies the second reading. A verse read on this weekend, namely Romans 5:12, is one of the few biblical texts about which the church infallibly and formally has spoken. The teaching of this verse is simple. Humans themselves brought sin and evil into the world via the sin of Adam. Jesus, and Jesus alone, brought salvation, repairing the damage inflicted by human sin.

    Matthew’s Gospel provides the last reading. To understand any Gospel text, it helps to recall that the Gospels were not written at the time of Jesus. None of them is a diary of the Lord’s days on earth, written each day as the life of Jesus unfolded.

    Rather, they are recollections of Jesus, all written many years after Jesus by persons who either knew the Lord, or who had information from others who literally had heard Jesus or had met Jesus.

    Therefore, the context surrounding the writing of each Gospel is important. It is not as if an evangelist invented what was written and put his fiction forward as the teaching of Christ. Rather, each holy writer applied what Jesus taught to events of the day in which the Gospel was written.

    Key to understanding this weekend’s reading is knowledge of the peril facing the early Christians. The culture thought them to be fools, and even worse. This is why the law turned against them, and they faced persecution as a result.

    So, in this text the Lord encourages the apostles, bracing them for what they will encounter. At a time when Christians, and so many others, were accorded no respect, it must have been most uplifting to know that God treasured every hair on their heads.

    Reflection

    Times have changed since the first Christians faced the hostility of their neighbors and of the mighty Roman Empire. Then again, times have not changed. Thankfully, Christians today, at least in this country, have no reason to fear that the police will suddenly break down their doors to arrest them for the crime of Christianity, but the culture in which we live is boldly hostile to many of the basic ideals of the Gospel.

    These readings speak to us. Just as Jeremiah warned his contemporaries that turning away from God is the doorway to disaster, certainly to eternal death, Paul reminds us that Jesus alone is the source of life and joy.

    The Lord encouraged the apostles. He encourages us to be strong. The reward will be great.

    Posted on June 21, 2017, to:

  • Msgr. Owen Campion

    Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ
    John 6:51-58

    This weekend the church celebrates the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, perhaps better known by its Latin translation, “Corpus Christi.”

    The first reading is from the Book of Deuteronomy, one of the first five books of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy recalls the passage of the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land. Moses is the central figure in this book, in the Pentateuch, and in the list of ancient Hebrew prophets. He is the principal figure in this weekend’s reading.

    To understand this book, and indeed to grasp the plight of the Hebrews as they fled from slavery in Egypt, across the Sinai Peninsula and eventually to the Promised Land, it is necessary to realize how bleak and sterile the Sinai was — and still is, for that matter.

    The fleeing Hebrews virtually were helpless. They faced death from starvation, as well as from thirst. Food and water were in short supply at best.

    Through Moses, God supplied. As a result, the people lived. They did not starve. Eventually, they arrived at the Promised Land.

    St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians supplies the second reading. Along with the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, First Corinthians provides the New Testament records of the institution of the Eucharist.

    The presence of this record in First Corinthians indicates how important the Eucharist was in early Christianity. The similarity among all the accounts shows how carefully the first Christians wished to repeat the Last Supper.

    St. John’s Gospel is the source of the last reading, and it is powerful and eloquent. Jesus states: “I am the living bread come down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he shall live forever; the bread I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world”.

    Jesus used no symbolic phrases, no vague illusions. The biblical texts are clear. He said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven,” directly and exactly. It is a simple, straightforward declaratory sentence. Not surprisingly, the first Christians, as does Catholic teaching today, remembered the Lord’s words as literal.

    Reflection

    Few Americans die of starvation, despite the chronic poverty endured by many, but millions around the world literally starve. It is a plight that the desperate Hebrews feared as they traveled across the Sinai Peninsula, as recalled by Deuteronomy, the source of the first reading.

    They were completely at the mercy of an unknown and very unforgiving land. They had no way out. They could help themselves very little. Without food and water, without any direction as to where to go, they were facing death itself.

    God supplied them with food and water, pointing them on the right path to the Promised Land. God gave them life.

    Even if we experience material plenty, we all are in circumstances similar to those confronted by the ancient Hebrews. Today, as humans have been in any time, we are lost in our own stark and sterile Sinai Peninsulas created by sin and human limitation.

    Perhaps the worst danger is that so often assume that we know where we are, where we should go with our lives, and that we have more control that we actually have.

    In fact, we too are at the mercy of harsh, even deadly conditions surrounding us. In the spiritual sense we all are vulnerable to the eternal death created by sin.

    Here, God enters the picture. He gives us Jesus, the son of God. The Lord gives us the Eucharist. As the early Christians so firmly believed, the Eucharist is not merely a symbol. The Eucharist is the Lord’s “body, blood, soul and divinity.” In the Eucharist, we intimately connect with Jesus, unite with Jesus. Jesus gives us life.

    Posted on June 13, 2017, to:

  • By Msgr. Owen Campion

    Feast of the Holy Trinity
    John 3:16-18

    This weekend the church celebrates the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. “The Trinity” is the scholarly, theological term to describe the most intimate detail of the reality of God.

    In the first reading, from the Book of Exodus, the church begins its lesson for us today by reminding us about God, and about ourselves as God’s creatures.

    For Jews, the Exodus, or flight from slavery in Egypt, was the most defining moment in their long history as a people. After wandering across the forbidding Sinai Peninsula, they not only survived but found a land of prosperity, peace and security. It was a difficult trip, to say the least. Without God’s mercy, the Hebrews would not have completed this journey. He guided them because he loved them.

    The first reading reports another important aspect of life on this trip. Communication existed between God and the people — but through Moses. Divine love continues, allowing us to communicate with God. God reaches out to us. God listens to us.

    For the second reading the church presents Paul’s Second Epistle to the Corinthians.

    The Christians of Corinth quarreled and plotted among themselves. They sinned. Considering their surroundings, it is not difficult to realize why they so often were wayward. Corinth was known throughout the Mediterranean world of the first century A.D. as a virtual cesspool of vice and licentiousness, brimming with greed and selfishness.

    The apostle urged the Christian Corinthians to rely on Jesus and the strength given through and in Jesus, of the Holy Spirit.

    Finally, the church presents, from St. John’s Gospel, the story of the Lord’s instructing Nicodemus, an important figure in Jewish life in Jerusalem.

    Jesus explains that the messiah’s words are not just the opinions of a mere mortal. The Messiah is from God. The Son is one with the Father. Therefore, to hear the Son is to hear the Father.

    Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Father sent the son into the world of space and time, to be with humanity and to redeem humanity. Eternal life awaits the faithful. God is merciful and forgiving. God loves humankind. Despite all their sins, and weaknesses, God loves humans and wills that they live forever.

    Jesus is the perfect intermediary between God and humanity. One of us in the Incarnation, Jesus came as the very personification of God’s love.

    Reflection

    Catholics believe in what the phrase “Holy Trinity” defines, but it does not evoke a sense of what so powerfully it expresses. It hardly is only an academic, scholarly phrase. It reveals God.

    First, the term tells us of God’s immense love for us. The Holy Trinity, while not unreasonable in the philosophical sense, never would have known by mere humans as the result of their deduction alone. It had to be revealed. The Lord revealed the Trinity to us, so that we might understand in human terms the most intimate aspect of the life of the divinity.

    Secondly, so much of Catholic teaching rests on the belief that God has created every human, and all humans, in the divine image and likeness. This is more than the matter of nice words. We indeed are in God’s image and likeness.

    As such, we are out of kilter if we fail to love God. We are not in accord with our nature, our ultimate spiritual DNA, if we set ourselves apart from the human community and certainly if we do not love others.

    All three readings for this feast bear in common the message that God loves us. Long ago, the great theologians saw love as the essence of divine life. It is the kernel of the life of the Trinity. This feast calls us to see that love is of God.

    Posted on June 6, 2017, to: