17th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday, Year II

In today’s readings we’re reminded of a problem that has haunted us and philosophers since the Fall of Adam and Eve: the problem of evil in the world. Everyone perceives that the world is not exactly as it should be. Jeremiah in today’s First Reading laments seeing his society wounded, good people suffering as a result of it, and an apparent absence of God. Every believer struggles with this in his or her own life. Our Lord teaches us in today’s Gospel of evildoers and “all who cause others to sin”: a source not only of sorrow, but of temptation. Why be good when being evil seems so alluring and “everyone’s” doing it?

Jeremiah questions whether the Lord is present at all anymore in the face of such misery, but Our Lord gives the response in today’s Gospel, and not just in words. He is present, teaching, leading, and sanctifying, even though many do not realize it because they don’t believe in him. He also teaches us that the Lord is perfectly aware of the wheat and the weeds in the world, and when he doesn’t act it is often to prevent a greater evil by violating the freedom to be good or to be evil of everyone involved. The moment of Judgment will come for the good and the evil, and it will be just. The good will have built on their freedom and become truly free; the evil, weighed down by their vice, will be enslaved by it forever and suffer for their deeds.

While acknowledging the evil in the world, let’s focus on doing good and being good. Evil will not have the last word.

Readings: Jeremiah 14:17–22; Psalm 79:8–9, 11, 13; Matthew 13:36–43. See also 17th Week in Ordinary Time, Tuesday.

St. James the Apostle (2)

St. Paul’s description in today’s First Reading, “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels,” summarizes perfectly the fragility and power of the Apostles. In today’s Gospel we see James and John trying to achieve lasting power. Their weakness is ambition. In Matthew’s account they don’t even request it personally, they ask their mother to request it; what does that say for their power? Our Lord teaches them that their true source of power will be the chalice of suffering.

We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that if we just had a little more status, a little more help, and little more organization, we’d be unstoppable in achieving our goals. James wanted authority and wanted to be able to fulminate towns; instead he received martyrdom at the hands of Herod. He fulfilled his vocation and we commemorate him more today for being a faithful witness of the Gospel than for having authority and power.

Every Christian bears a treasure, but in order to preserve it and use it for the purpose for which it was intended he must be aware of his own fragility and weakness. Let’s not focus on eliminating our weakness; instead let’s focus on glorifying God through the treasures he has entrusted to us, just as St. James did.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 4:7–15; Psalm 126:1b–6; Matthew 20:20–28. See also St. James the Apostle.

17th Week in Ordinary Time, Sunday, Cycle C

In today’s First Reading Abraham gives us an example of perseverance in prayer and teaches us how we should pray. It should not be a vending machine attitude, but one that seeks to understand God instead: “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty?” It should be persistent, but respectful. As in the Gospel, Hallowed be the Name of Our Father in Heaven. Not making demands. Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Abraham seeks to understand more and more the depth of God’s justice: 50 just souls, 45, 30, etc. Not haggling or making deals. In the end his prayer is heard, and God does justice for even fewer than Abraham dared to ask.

Our Lord teaches us his prayer in today’s Gospel to help us remember how to pray and for what we should pray. When we pray we must always seek to know God more deeply. Jesus, especially on the Cross, continues that conversation with God that Abraham had so long ago by showing us how far God in his justice and mercy is willing to go for us. We try to be the happy beneficiaries of Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians: “… that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” (Eph 3:17-19). As  we go deeper in prayer, we come to understand that God is a God of justice, but one of love and mercy as well. So we strive to be just, and to show mercy as a way of expressing our appreciation for the mercy shown to us every day.

Often it is that perseverance in prayer that helps us understand ourselves and our motivations for which we are praying.  Our Lord gives the example of the friend showing up in the middle of the night and nagging for some bread to feed a friend who has come late from a journey. The friend at the doorstep was not just persisting for himself. He was persisting on behalf of someone else. Our prayer must be for others as well as for ourselves. Jesus tells us that the friend in bed does it due to the persistence: he does it to get his friend off his porch. He gives that example to show how much more God answers our prayers when we persist, because we can ask a million times and God never stops loving us. He always listens to our prayers.

We pray for what we want, and God in the end always gives us what we really need, even when it is not necessarily what we wanted. When that becomes hard to accept, the recipe for accepting and thanking God is to see how others have benefited as well from us not getting exactly what we want. Many times when we see the needs of others we realize that those things we thought we couldn’t live without are not that important after all. At other times we pray for the right things in the right way, but our prayers don’t seem to be answered. In those moments we have to ask God to help us see the bigger picture: someone out there needs the suffering we endure when our prayers are not answered, and God does reward us in those moments.

I invite you to make the resolution today in a moment of silence to ask the Holy Spirit to help you identify the one intention that is nearest and dearest to your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you explore your motivations for asking for that intention, and don’t be afraid to change it if that is what God is calling you to do and you know it will benefit others. Remember that Jesus teaches us that everyone who asks will receive, and everyone who seeks will find. When we keep that in mind, we will always persevere in our prayer.

Readings: Genesis 18:20–32; Psalm 138:1–3, 6–8; Colossians 2:12–14; Luke 11:1–13. See also First Week of Lent, Tuesday and Thursday; 27th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday; and 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday.

16th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year II

In today’s Gospel Our Lord teaches us that evil will be present in the world until the last days of Judgement, when its fruits are measured. Since evil festers in peoples’ hearts, it is not always seen on the surface. Things may seem to be okay, even normal, but, just as good is at work in the world, like the wheat, trying to grow into something good, evil is at work doing the opposite, preying on the good in parasitic way to serve nothing other than itself, like a weed.

Jeremiah’s in today’s First Reading is sent to the Temple itself to warn Israel that they are being weeds, not wheat, in the sight of the Lord. They’re counting on the Lord to never abandon them, but the Lord is warning them that he’ll do exactly that if they do not amend their ways. This warning reminds us that while we live on this earth we can become wheat, not matter how long we’ve been weeds,or vice versa. Our Lord doesn’t just help believers to become wheat; through our testimony, and his, of an upright and moral life and the difference between right and wrong, without sophisms, we help everyone to go beyond appearances and examine the forces in this world that are truly good and truly evil.

Jeremiah today warns us that we can appear observant while still being a weed. Ask Our Lord today to help you go beyond appearances, deep into the roots of your soul, and become a source of good fruit again if you’ve strayed.

Readings: Jeremiah 7:1–11; Psalm 84:3–6a, 8a, 11; Matthew 13:24–30.

16th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year II

Today’s First Reading from Jeremiah shows that a prophecy, being the Word of God, not only speaks to its first listeners, but to all its listeners. Jeremiah describes a future Jerusalem shepherded by good and holy leaders, and a future where the Ark of the Covenant would lose the prominence it had among the Israelites. Why mention the Ark? First, because in that moment of its history the Israelites were in danger of idolatrizing the Ark and the Temple as a guarantee that the Lord would be with them and defend them whether they were pleasing to him or not (he wouldn’t). Second, because the Ark was the core of their belief in the Lord being among them and the Lord interacting with them; drawing close to the Ark meant drawing close to the Lord, which is why it was kept in the heart of the Temple.

In a future renewed Jerusalem the Lord wouldn’t use an Ark; he would use all of Jerusalem as his throne, not just the top of the Ark, known as the mercy seat where the glory of the Lord used to rest while appearing to Moses. As the Ark was to Israel now the entire city of Jerusalem would be, a more majestic and imposing presence of the Lord amidst his People. The Church has been described in the Book of Revelation as the Heavenly Jerusalem. Even as Jeremiah was describing a renewed and restored Jerusalem he was also describing the Church, guided by good and holy pastors, and the Mystical Body of Christ, a presence of the Lord amidst his people unprecedented in salvation history.

The Lord has committed himself to us unconditionally. Let’s respond in kind.

Readings: Jeremiah 3:14–17; Jeremiah 31:10–12d, 13; Matthew 13:18–23. See also 24th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday and 16th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday.