9th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday

grapevine

In today’s Gospel Our Lord invites us to imagine a group of men given the opportunity of a lifetime, both professionally and personally: not only a good place to live, but a great way to make a living. Imagine a business at a good location, with an abundant clientele, a great lease, and the job of making a lot of people happy (the vineyard is for producing wine, with throughout Scripture symbolizes joy). If that weren’t enough, the men running the business also have a wonderful place to live and a great landlord. Any outside observer would say that professionally and personally the owner has been very good to his tenants, even going beyond what a tenant would expect or deserve.

All the owner asks in return is a share of the joy that he hoped the tenants would produce. This is where the mystery of sin enters: mystery in the sense of sin, ultimately, following no logic but its own, a twisted logic that bends everything around it and denies greater truths eventually at its own expense. The tenants start beating up the people coming to collect the owner’s fair share and leaving him empty handed. There’s no remorse: gradually they start killing them too. And the owner shows a kindness that the tenants, to any outside observer, do not deserve. He keeps giving them opportunities until one day he gives them the greatest and most definitive opportunity: he sends the heir himself, a reminder that he is the owner and they are the tenants, and an extension of his very self. In their twisted logic they convince themselves that by eliminating the heir any trace of ownership will die with the owner, and he’ll also stop bothering them (the son was the last one he could send, as the parable narrates). The chief priests, scribes, and elders pronounce judgment on this “theoretical” case and their own words condemn what they themselves are doing.

Our Lord is the cornerstone. You can’t even speak of having a structure, having a building, without a cornerstone–it joins two walls together. Many “tenants” who’ve received so much kindness, personally and professionally, from God want to monopolize the joy they could give to God hand others, and as a result impoverish any joy they could really give. They deny something fundamental, something structural: that the owner and his heir are what make their life possible, whether they acknowledge it or not, and eventually second chances (and third, and fourth, etc.) are exhausted and mercy has to give way to justice. Let’s contemplate today the kindness of God in our lives and ask him to help us to see how we can work with him to bring joy to him, to others, and to ourselves.

Readings: Tobit 1:3, 2:1a–8; Psalm 112:1b–6; Mark 12:1–12.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity

We always start our prayers by making the Sign of the Cross to remind us of the greatest mystery of our faith: the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. It is not a mystery as seen on TV where CSI checks a crime scene, fingerprints and DNA evidence, witnesses: it’s something so big that it doesn’t fit into our head. We couldn’t have ever figured out on our own that God was Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God revealed Himself to us as the Holy Trinity. Jesus came and said he was God’s Son, and that meant God was his Father. And Jesus promised to send his Spirit after he ascended into Heaven, so the Holy Spirit was God as well. This is something so mysterious that we believe it because Our Lord taught it to us and we believe in him.

Toward the end of today’s Gospel Our Lord tells the disciples to go out and baptize everyone in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. On the day of our baptism a priest or deacon poured water on our head three times, and each time he poured it he said I baptize you in the name of the Father … and of the Son … and of the Holy Spirit. And in that moment what St. Paul describes in the Second Reading today happened: we received the Holy Spirit who made us into adopted sons and daughters of God. And so whenever we start our prayers, we remember this day of our baptism by making the Sign of the Cross and remembering the Holy Trinity and how God came into our hearts through our baptism.

So when we pray this week, as we make the Sign of the Cross, let’s thank each Person of the Most Holy Trinity for wanting to come and be in our hearts and show us God as He truly is. Thank God the Father for creating us and revealing himself to Israel as the One True God. Thank God the Son for obeying his Heavenly Father and coming down and becoming man to show us that God was Our Father and to enable us to become his adopted children. Thank the Holy Spirit for transforming us into God’s adopted children and for bringing the Holy Trinity into our hearts and helping us to understand and live this great mystery of our faith.

Readings: Deuteronomy 4:32–34, 39–40; Psalm 33:4–6, 9, 18–20, 22; Romans 8:14–17; Matthew 28:16–20.

8th Week in Ordinary Time, Saturday, Year I

In today’s Gospel the chief priests, scribes, and elders try to throw their weight around, but Our Lord asks them a simple question that shows where their real center of gravity lies. They try to corner him with the question akin to “Who do you think you are doing these things?”, and he responds by asking them who they though John was. He’s not intimidated by their position, influence, or even their threats. Even when someone is in authority over us there is a level of dignity that no position or influence can take away, and that dignity is shaped by our conformity to the truth and to the just thing to do. They have a bankrupt position on their side; Jesus has the truth, and the truth is what sets us free.

From their narrow-minded interest in self-preservation they have a dilemma with no good outcome: to acknowledge that John’s work came from God, which would be to acknowledge that’s John’s testimony to Jesus before his death shows from where Jesus’ own work and authority comes, making their question to Our Lord pointless, or to acknowledge that John’s work did not come from God, which in the sphere of public opinion would be political suicide (maybe material suicide too). Although the passage doesn’t spell it out it’s likely that they thought John was just another effective political player. John sacrificed his life in the defense of an uncomfortable truth; the chief priests, scribes, and elders fear the consequences of publicly acknowledging what they believe to be true, and that shows their true center of gravity. As a result they choose to appear ignorant before the crowds in order to ensure their safety, and at the same time show that self-preservation is their greatest truth.

What’s our attitude before uncomfortable truths? Do we play them close to the vest so as not to get burned? Our Lord has promised that the truth will set us free. Let’s not be afraid of seeking the truth or testifying to it, especially when it means our discomfort or the discomfort of others in order to achieve a greater good.

Readings: Sirach 51:12c–20; Psalm 19:8–11; Mark 11:27–33.

8th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday, Year I

In today’s Gospel it may seem that Our Lord is expressing his frustration with a fig tree that doesn’t satisfy his hunger, much like you’d kick a vending machine that took your money and didn’t give you anything, but Jesus is expressing something to keep in mind in the events that follow: if the Creator finds something in his creation that does not produce fruits, in the end it will never produce fruit again and ultimately be fruitless in any meaningful way. The First Reading recalls the godly ancestors of Israel’s past, and how their glory lives on through their progeny: they have produced fruit, and their fruit has endured in the holy generations that have descended from them, just as Our Lord has asked the disciples to do (cf. John 15:16). At the same time who can forget Our Lord’s chilling words about Judas, “It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Mk 14;21).

It is Jesus’ actions that communicate this truth in today’s Gospel, not so much his words. When Jesus enters the Temple and drives out the money changers and other merchants, if we cast the scene like a movie, we could also see the story cutting back to the fig tree withering even as Jesus is driving out those who are in his Father’s house seeking their own interests instead of the interests of God. Their activity maybe profitable, may be a shortcut to get from point A to point B, but, in the eyes of God, something fruitless and ultimately leading to a fruitless life in the things that matter. Our Lord was doing the right thing, driving out those who’d not come to the Temple for the right reasons, in contrast to the chief priests and scribes who were plotting to kill him and concerning themselves with public relations instead of ensuring the Temple area was treated as a house of God.

The verdict Jesus pronounces using the fig tree today is not a verdict that we’d hear until the end of our earthly life, but it is a reminder to consider what fruits our lives are producing. Let’s ask Our Lord to help us seek to bear fruits that are pleasing to him, and ultimately to make our entire life fruitful.

Readings: Sirach 44:1, 9–13; Psalm 149:1b–6a, 9b; Mark 11:11–26.

8th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday, Year I

James and John in today’s Gospel are on a different wavelength than Our Lord: Jesus has just told them of his impending Passion, Death, and Resurrection, and all they are thinking of is the glory and the share of the glory they’ll receive. Jesus warns them that they are not on the Christian wavelength of glory: it is through the Cross that we achieve the only glory that matters–serving and pleasing God in gratitude for all he has done for us.

James and John are on the wavelength of ambition; Jesus is on the wavelength of service. In the exercise of authority it is very easy to switch from one to the other, usually in the direction of ambition, which is driven by self-interest either to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of others. James and John’s ambition provokes an immediate reaction from the other disciples: they know ambition when they see it and see their ambitions being infringed upon as well. When Jesus asks James and John whether they are prepared to receive the same baptism as him, and drink the same chalice, he is asking them whether they’re ready to suffer. In the end they will, to their credit: James was beheaded, as the Acts of the Apostles recalls, and John was exiled and imprisoned and, according to tradition, miraculously survived an attempt to execute him. But Jesus also touches on the key to not switching from the wavelength of service to ambition: recognizing that if you seek any place or path for your life, it should be out of a desire to serve, and, ultimately, you don’t have a right to it. Even Jesus himself takes the place and the path willed by the Father, and he does so as an example to us.

Let’s strive today to seek the place and path for our lives where we can best serve others, not just ourselves.

Readings: Sirach 36:1, 4–5a, 10–17; Psalm 79:8–9, 11, 13; Mark 10:32–45.