Sunday, February 23, 2014

Saturday of the 6th Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - February 22, 2014

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter

February 22, 2014         8:30am

As I said at the beginning of Mass, today is called the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter.
In public places in the ancient world, only the powerful had a chair to sit in.
For example, there were public buildings that were called basilicas.
These buildings were used for trials and other kinds of judicial proceedings and the judge had a chair.
Then, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire in the year 313, these basilicas became places for Christian worship.
The chair upon which the judge sat became the seat or chair of the bishop.
It was a symbol of his authority.
Our word “cathedral” is from the Latin word “cathedra” which means chair, and that is why our cathedrals have a special chair for the bishop.
The chair designates the authority of the bishop.
St. Peter never had such a chair, but we project this long tradition back to him to recognize his leadership in the early Church.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says to Simon: “From now on, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.”
The word that we translate as “Peter” also meant “rock,” and that is why Jesus says, “upon this rock I will build my church.”
In the same way, the word “rock” as rock also had two meanings.
It meant a foundation upon which something could be built.
And it also meant a stumbling block over which someone might trip.
It seems possible that in applying this word to Peter, Jesus has both senses of the word in mind.
Peter has his shortcomings that could be stumbling blocks.
However, in the long run he deals with these and gives himself fully to the Lord and to tending God’s flock.
This is how he is our foundation.

I suggest that in this way, Peter is a model for all of us.
We also need to admit and deal with our shortcomings, and, as we do this, give of ourselves as fully as possible to the Lord and to God’s work on this earth.

That will be a firm foundation for our lives.

Friday of the 6th Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - February 21, 2014

Friday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time

February 21, 2014         8:30am

Today’s first reading is probably the most famous passage in the Letter of James.
James is dealing with an issue that was to become somewhat fiery.
Martin Luther relied heavily on some of Paul’s thinking and insisted that faith alone brings salvation.
Luther insisted that any emphasis on good works in relation to salvation is against the teaching of Paul.
James, as we heard, insists on the importance of good works.
He says, “I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.
Faith without works is useless.”

Today we would say that these two viewpoints, Paul and James, are reconcilable.
Paul was insisting on faith as trust in God, but without denying that faith must show itself in good works.
James is insisting that faith must involve care and service of one another, and is not just believing in a list of truths.
I think we can see that Paul and James are not really contradicting one another.
And this insight has led to a lot on ecumenical harmony today between Catholics and Lutherans.

All of this leads me to think of Pope Francis’ interview with the Italian journalist who is a non-believer, probably an agnostic.
Pope Francis said to him: “We meet together in doing good.”  
Minimally, Pope Francis is saying that we believers and non-believers can find oneness in doing good for others.
Beyond that, he may also be saying that there might be an implicit faith, an anonymous faith in some non-believers that in fact leads them to do maybe the same good things we do.
Maybe that implicit faith can become explicit and alive by our doing good together.
And maybe as a final point, we who are believers must beware not to make faith just a matter or ritual or of believing a list of truths.

If we tend our relationships well and care for those in need, all based on our faith in the Lord and on the strength we get from the sacraments, then we create an environment that is conducive and leads to faith.

Tuesday of the 6th Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - February 18, 2014

Tuesday of the 6th Week in Ordinary Time

February 18, 2014   8:30am

Our first readings beginning with yesterday’s Mass are from the Letter of Saint James.
In these opening verses, James talks of perseverance.
Yesterday, he says: “Let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete.”
Today James says: “Blessed is he who perseveres in temptation.”

Perseverance may not be an easy trait in our culture.
We are used to instant gratification, quick results, and easy solutions.
To persevere means putting up with some stuff we don’t like.
It means hanging in there to accomplish something.
All of this can be difficult in our culture.

But, this kind of perseverance is needed for us to become whole and holy persons, as James says.
As I see it, we need perseverance for two reasons.

First, we change and grow slowly.
That is simply a fact of human life.
We may, for example, want to get hold of our habit of talking about others or our impatience or whatever the habit may be.
But we have to keep working on it and allowing the Lord to work in us for us to grow out of that and most often that takes a long time.

We also need perseverance because sometimes we are acting out of past experiences that we may not even know are influencing us.
It may take time to discern, for example, past hurts that have affected us and affected how we view and react to things.
Sometimes we need the wise counsel of another to even be aware of this.
And then we need time to grow through this.

So, perseverance is a virtue that James lifts up in this opening chapter of his letter and it is a virtue that we definitely need in our culture today.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Tuesday of the 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - February 11, 2014

Tuesday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time
Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes
February 11, 2014         6:30am

I recently came across a study that has caught my attention.

This study of college students was done by two psychologists, Eileen Kennedy-Moore and Mark Lowenthal.
It shows that by identifying their own acts of kindness for one week, the college students experienced a significant increase in their feelings of happiness.
From this study, the authors make a recommendation.
They propose a family dinner time ritual of going around the table and having each person name one act of kindness they did that day.
The authors write, “There are many standards in the world that your child may or may not meet.
“But kindness is always within one’s reach and there are numerous opportunities every day to demonstrate it.”

Beneath today’s gospel Jesus is reminding us that the heart of his teaching is his commandment to love one another as he has loved us.
Our faith needs to be expressed in acts of kindness and charity.
Today Jesus challenges rituals and actions that have become empty of meaning.
On the one hand, He calls us to “do this in memory of me” – he calls us to remember and celebrate and receive him in the ritual of the Mass.
But on the other hand, he calls us to live what we do in the ritual, and that means to live as he lived, giving of ourselves in simple, maybe unrecognized acts of kindness and charity and self-sacrifice for the good of others.

To go back to where we began, to the study of the college students, this is where true, deep, enduring happiness can be found.

Monday of the 5th Week of Ordinary Time, Cycle A - February 10, 2014

Monday of the 5th Week in Ordinary Time
Memorial of Saint Scholastica
February 10, 2014         8:30am

Our Catholic theology says that God is present here in a church building and in our liturgy in three principal ways.

First, Jesus is present in the Word.
This is similar to God’s presence on the tablets of the Ten Commandments that were kept in the Ark of the Covenant.
They were God’s Word to the Old Testament people.   
We heard about this in our first reading.
We believe that God is present and comes to us in the Word that we usually call Scripture.

Second, we believe that Jesus is present in the Eucharist.
This sacrament is the center of all the sacraments and is the visible, concrete way that Jesus is present and comes to us, both in the tabernacle or in the reception of Holy Communion.
It is hard not to see a connection between our tabernacle for the reservation of the Eucharist and the Ark in which the Ten Commandments were reserved in the Jewish temple. 

And third, we believe that God is present in us, God’s people.
In fact, the proclamation of the Word and then our reception of the Eucharist make God present in us.
This goes beyond the ancient Jewish belief.
Jesus himself says this: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst.”
This is the fundamental reason why we reverence one another with some gesture of peace during Mass.

So, God’s presence makes this space sacred and makes us sacred as well.

Today’s first reading about the temple and the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred space for our ancestors in faith, leads me to reflect on this today.