32nd Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday

Everyone likes recognition for the work they do; some people even crave it, but Our Lord in today’s Gospel encourages us to be content with the fact that we’ve been able to serve another and perform our duties. There are many people in the world who’ll never get Employee of the Month, but who have done their work well. If that moment of recognition comes, Our Lord tells us what our attitude should be: humility. If recognition is the motivation for our service, it’s no so much service as trying to climb the social or career ladder, and that can lead to a false sense of entitlement that makes us frustrated when we should just be focusing on doing our job.

Sometimes service without recognition is hard. In the First Reading Our Lord reminds us that the souls of the virtuous suffered trials, sometimes apparent disaster, but in the end they were in the hand of God and shined, full of grace and mercy. We shouldn’t worry so much about receiving recognition; in the end Our Lord will give us the recognition we deserve as the good and just God that he is.

Let’s focus today on being useful servants who do their duty and not so much on being Employee of the Month. If we do, maybe we’ll get both. It’s in the Lord’s hands.

Readings: Wisdom 2:23–3:9; Psalm 34:2–3, 16–19; Luke 17:7–10.

Dedication of St. John Lateran

To appreciate the importance of today’s liturgy we have to imagine ourselves at Mass 1800 years ago. We’re in Rome, not our local parish, and not a church, but just another house in the neighborhood. There are no parishes anywhere. Anywhere in the world. Just Christians gathering in houses for Mass. We’re not celebrating by daylight, but by candlelight. The windows are covered so that no one can see what we’re doing, and the door is being guarded to make sure no one catches us by surprise. Roman soldiers smash down the door, and they drag everyone outside at sword point and take you to one of those old statues you see in museums, but it’s all brand new and shiny, with an altar in front of it, and incense burning. And they point to that big stone statue and point their swords at you and say, “worship that, that’s a god, or we’ll hurt you and take away everything you own. And then don’t every celebrate a Mass again. It’s your choice.” You know that’s not right, you know that statue is not God, and you refuse, so they take you away in chains with your family.

That’s not just a story;  it happened to Christians all over the world for almost two hundred years. And we’re celebrating today when it came to an end. Today we’re celebrating the dedication of the first parish in the whole world: St. John Lateran in Rome, which is the parish of the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome. It was dedicated in 324 as the first place where Christians could publicly worship in the West without having to be afraid of losing their property, their family, and their lives, after almost two hundred years of having to get together and worship in secret for fear of getting arrested. That parish became the first parish of the diocese of Rome, and if you go to the big church that’s built there today, you see written on its columns that it is “the mother and head of all the churches of Rome and the world,” which is why we’re celebrating its dedication throughout the world today.

Ezekiel in the First Reading today is having a vision from God symbolizing the importance of that church. Ezekiel was in exile with the Israelites after they had been conquered and their Temple destroyed. In his vision, God shows him a new Temple to come, from which will flow a water that makes all sorts of good things grow and thrive, so that those good things can refresh and heal. That water is the grace of God that has flowed from Christ, to the apostles and their disciples, and to the Church for all of mankind for thousands of years, all over the world. We can’t see grace with our eyes, but we can imagine how pure and clean it is when we imagine that water flowing from the Temple, and how it always has big beautiful fruit trees near it, with medicinal leaves, wherever it flows. That water, like grace, can wipe away anything. It can quench any thirst. It can heal any wound. It can water any plant. But it takes faith to drink it, which is why we learn more about our faith every time we prepare to receive a sacrament, because every sacrament gives us another drink of grace.

Jesus in the Gospel today get’s mad at people in the Temple who are doing things that make his Father’s house more like a mall than a place to worship God. The Jews had to pay Temple taxes with money minted by the Temple – no foreign money was allowed. So the money changers were there to give people money minted by the Temple in exchange for foreign money. The Jews came to sacrifice animals to God, so they sold animals there as well. And all that business was turning the Temple into one big mall. And that hurt God, because people forgot about him. The people in charge of the Temple were angry with Jesus because he did what they didn’t do. So they asked him for a sign, like the prophets used to do, to prove that what he was doing was God’s will.

So, like a prophet, Jesus promised them a sign, a big sign, but one you could only understand if you believed in him: the Resurrection. They didn’t understand it until after the Resurrection, and the disciples didn’t understand it either. Jesus said the sign was “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” They were thinking of that big building, but he was talking about himself. Destroying the temple was his death, and raising it up was his Resurrection. So if Christ was the first temple, if we want to be like Christ, we have to be temples too. So to show that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, we have to drive out everything in our heart that would make it hard for people to see that we’re Christians, to see that we’re temples of the Holy Spirit: we don’t sell out who we are or what we believe for money, we don’t hide who we are for fear of what others will say, and we always put God first, and don’t worship anyone or anything else.

Let’s thank God today for keeping us alive and healthy through his grace, and pray that the water of grace may flow everywhere in the world. Let’s pray for the Church throughout the world, especially in those places were Christians still have to gather and worship in secret for fear of death or arrest. Finally, let’s promise to show everyone that we are temples of the Holy Spirit by living holy lives.

Readings: Ezekiel 47:1–2, 8–9, 12; Psalm 46:2–3, 5–6, 8–9; John 2:13–22.


32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

In today’s readings we see a parallel between the First Reading and the Gospel: the generosity of a widow who shows faith and hope. In the First Reading Elijah asks for a handout while Israel is suffering an extended drought. The widow doesn’t disagree, she simply thinks she’d have to choose between her, her son, or Elijah: one would starve to death for the sake of another, and ultimately as well. Elijah gives her an opportunity in faith to trust in the Lord’s Providence: she’ll be provided for until the drought ends for her generosity. She provides for her son and helps the Lord through helping Elijah and everything works out.

In the Gospel Our Lord is moved by the generosity of a poor widow who gives all she has to the Temple treasury. She sacrifices her livelihood for the sake of giving alms, and no one notices her, because the amount seems so insignificant. It’s not insignificant to her, which is why it is so generous. She’s not doing it for good public relations, as the rich men are doing out of their surplus. She’s not even negotiating like Elijah and the widow in the First Reading. Little does she know that God himself is looking upon her sacrifice with contentment through the eyes of the Son, and making it an example for the disciples to follow.

We all know the expression “give ’til it hurts”; if we put a little of our comfort and livelihood on the line in giving, whether time, talent, or treasure, Our Lord sees and will bless us, even if the world doesn’t. Let’s be generous today in sharing what we have with others, knowing if we take care of others Our Lord will take care of us abundantly.

Readings: 1 Kings 17:10–16; Psalm 146:7–10; Hebrews 9:24–28; Mark 12:38–44. See also 9th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday.

31st Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday

In yesterday‘s Gospel Our Lord gave the example of the dishonest and shrewd steward as an example not to follow. Today he explains why. As a strategy for gaining the things that really matter it is laughable, and it rarely stops at small infractions. When he challenges them to see if dishonest wealth will get them into Heaven (“eternal dwellings”), he in part is ridiculing the thought that that strategy would even work–God can’t be swindled. If you can’t be trusted in small matters, you can’t be trusted in larger ones either: it’s no coincidence that people who swindle others out of something are called confidence men (or con men): they prey on trust to get something to which they’re not entitled.

The bad example from yesterday was helping your boss defraud people (and then defrauding your boss), but there are many things we’d be dishonest in taking, because they don’t belong to us. Using the company car or phone for personal matters. Surfing the Internet or calling friends when we should be working. Goofing off when we should be studying. Giving the love we’ve promised unconditionally to our spouse to another, either in person or through the Internet. Turning the time you should be dedicating to your spouse and children into “me” time. Trust is a fragile thing, and, once lost, it is not easily restored: suspicion will cast a pall over everything we do after our dishonesty comes to light.

Our Lord warns today of the worst price of dishonesty: not just all the people we alienate, but preventing us from reaching those “eternal dwellings” where our true treasure lies. Let’s ask him today to always deal in the currency that will get us there: honesty, fidelity, and loyalty.

Readings: Romans 16:3–9, 16, 22–27; Psalm 145:2–5, 10–11; Luke 16:9–15.

31st Week in Ordinary Time, Friday

In today’s Gospel we see the first part of Our Lord’s teaching on the need to be faithful and honest even in small things. He begins with the negative example of a steward squandering his employer’s property and being put on notice that he’s to be dismissed. The steward doesn’t want to abandon the good life he’s had, and he doesn’t want to become a beggar, so he starts making deals with the very people he and his former employer had been cheating in order to win their favor. When he adjusts the billing for each person it’s because he’s been helping his employer to deceive them all along. Now that the employer is firing him, he’s using that fact to his advantage: his former employer can’t do anything about it without revealing that he too was part of the deception, and by giving his employer’s clients these “discounts” he is winning favor for himself. The soon-to-be former employer can’t help but admire his cunning (probably because the steward learned it from him).

Perhaps a better translation for Jesus’ evaluation of this could be that the children of this world are cleverer in dealing with those of their own kind that those who are not of this kind. He’s not giving us an example to follow, but an example to be on guard against and avoid. The children of the light don’t act this way and shouldn’t.

We’ll consider how they should act in tomorrow’s reflection. For now, let’s examine our dealings with others and see whether we’re more a child of this age (bad) or a child of the light (good).

Readings: Romans 15:14–21; Psalm 98:1–4; Luke 16:1–8.