Lectio

The days are evil

Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret…

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Occasion: Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the Epistle, Ephesians 5:15-20.

Reading

Brothers and sisters:
Watch carefully how you live,
not as foolish persons but as wise,
making the most of the opportunity,
because the days are evil.
Therefore, do not continue in ignorance,
but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.
And do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery,
but be filled with the Spirit,
addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,
singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts,
giving thanks always and for everything
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.

Stand-Out Words and Phrases

the days are evil, debauchery, giving thanks always and for everything

Reflection

“The days are evil.”

St. Paul wrote these words roughly two thousand years ago in reference to the culture of the Roman Empire, but they seem to hold in every age. The Church seems darkened by a shadow of evil, and while many of the clergy have been forthright about it, some of the more influential ones can’t be bothered even to name it as evil. Perhaps, when they read this passage, they hear the same thing I once heard one homilist state: that St. Paul is “just telling us to relax.”

I beg to differ. “Telling us to relax” has led to a sanctuary darkened by yet more smoke. Bishops and cardinals appointed by Pope St. John Paul II himself not only knew of this darkness, they hid it or embraced it. Tell me again how we should relax in the face of this evil.

It would be worth our while to review some of the verses that precede today’s reading:

Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.

“Expose them.” Those who fight to expose the misdeeds of clergy do us all a favor in bringing their works of darkness into the light. To the contrary, certain bishops threatened such people — including fellow clergy — with legal action, or referred to them in internal correspondence as “squealers”. It is not at all unreasonable to demand that McCarrick’s close associates, whose careers the current Pope has favored, speak a little more honestly about the gravity of his debauchery.

Is there hope in this, or should one give up on the Church, possibly on Christianity itself, and join the swelling ranks of the Nones who actually desire spirituality?

I would answer no, and point to the following signs of hope.

  1. Unlike previous scandals, McCarrick was not exposed by the media. The Church itself exposed McCarrick to shame and announced the problem. This is an enormous improvement over fifteen years ago, when the Boston Globe began its series of articles on the scandals in the Boston archdiocese. Instead we have learned that at least one prominent media publication had at least one opportunity to expose him, and elected not to do so.
  2. The Church’s history shows repeatedly that She rises from scandal to renewed life. Things have been worse in the past! Yet God’s light triumphs over darkness. St. Paul himself frequently battled those who wanted to reduce Christianity to a flavor of Judaism, and at one point told the Corinthians in regards to an open, unrepentant adulterer to “purge the evil” from their midst. (Would that we had more bishops who felt this way, rather than in the thrall of a false sense of mercy that hesitates even to name evil for what it is.) Similarly, Dominican Laity can take inspiration from one of their own, St. Catherine of Siena, who had no qualms taking clergy to task for their misbehavior.
  3. Much of the despair is accompanied by the recitation of rumors regarding the situation in American seminaries. I’d like to address this from personal experience. I spent the better part of a decade trying to find my vocation in consecrated life or diocesan ministry, and never quite succeeded. I visited abbeys, priories, houses of formation, and inner-city missions, and managed to do rather well academically in one year at one of the largest seminaries in the nation. Eventually I found my vocation in a wife and children, in a manner that I had never really expected.

    That seminary seems to have a bad reputation among many orthodox or conservative Catholics, perhaps because a 2003 book named it as having an open, “dominant culture” of unchastity. In the year and a half that I attended, I never once saw any of the activities the book describes as routine. If they were there, they certainly weren’t open. To the contrary, one of my most vivid memories is that of the formation director pointing out to us that, twenty years after he was told not to worry about celibacy because it would be removed as a requirement “any day now,” it was still a requirement. He related that he and many of his classmates had to struggle with poor formation on both celibacy and developing a prayer life, a mistake the seminary had no intention of repeating. Many of his classmates had left priesthood because on that account, and he concluded along these lines: “Get serious or get out.”

    Near as I could tell, most of us were glad to hear the seminary would take this seriously. I heard of only one exception, and even that through the rumor mill. If true, I know he didn’t make it to ordination, not at our seminary anyway. (Then again, neither did I.)

The days are evil: they always are. What is St. Paul’s suggestion to us who live in evil days? The same as a good priest’s suggestion to me after I left seminary: pray! Address one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; to sing and play to the Lord in our hearts; to thank God always and for everything. No matter how dark the world is, Christ’s light is still there, waiting to shine on us if we but turn to it — and the Hours, the “official prayer” of the Church, make this readily available.

Occasion: Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Mass During the Day)

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the reading from Luke  1:39-56.

Reading

During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

And Mary said:

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

Stand-Out Words

Leapt in her womb, who am I, Blessed are you, lifted up

Meditation

“In all the troubles of life, Mary’s power as the Mother of Christ is the most far-reaching.”
— Pope Leo XIII

I had EWTN on while I was writing this reflection, and the above quote, paraphrased as it is, just happened to flash across the screen. Perfect timing!

These days, the Catholic Church is often criticized as being discriminatory to women. One need only look at how we cherish Mary. No man will ever be raised to the heights of which she has been raised. Her veneration throughout history has surpassed that of all other saints, and is second only to God. As the Lady of the Immaculate Conception, she is patron saint of the United States.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus shows us how to accept Mary. At the wedding at Cana, she intercedes on the behalf of the wedding party when they run out of wine, but she also adds, “Do whatever He tells you.” As He hung on the cross, Jesus entrusted the care of His mother to St. John, but He also entrusted St. John and all of us to her motherly care. As the centuries unfold, Jesus continues to teach us that the easiest way to Him is through His Blessed Mother.

Nothing definite is known about the death of Mary. Whether or not she experienced death at all is even debated, but that she was assumed body and soul into Heaven seems to be the more important point. It is an old belief accepted by both the Eastern and Western Churches. Pope Pius XII dogmatically defined the Assumption in 1950, specifically referencing verses in Genesis and the First Letter to the Corinthians in his writings.

What does this all mean for us? It is the promise made to all of us if we follow Mary’s example. She followed God’s plan for her, despite any fear or uncertainty. We are taught that if we are faithful, our bodies will rise again on the Last Day, and we too will spend eternity with God and Mary, body and soul.

One more about the Church’s place for Mary: Our God, the Holy Trinity, is loved and exalted above all things and all people. Some of our Lord’s feasts may be transferred to the nearest Sunday, including that of His Ascension into Heaven. However, for His Blessed Mother, Her Solemnities as Mary, the Mother of God, of Her Assumption, and of the Immaculate Conception do not move. If her Assumption falls on Tuesday, then we better be at Mass on Tuesday!

~ Joseph Cook

Hurry Up and Wait

Occasion: Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the reading from Romans 8:26-27

Reading

Brothers and sisters:
The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness;
for we do not know how to pray as we ought,
but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
And the one who searches hearts
knows what is the intention of the Spirit,
because he intercedes for the holy ones
according to God’s will.

Stand-Out Words

weakness, intercedes, intention of the Spirit, God’s will

Reflection

This short reading seems very appropriate for me at this time. During the last few days, I have had a few people ask for prayers. The past week has been trying for me in particular. For one, I had a job application turned down. There have also been a few personal issues that my family has been facing and they really came to head this past week.

We all know how to simply ask God for something we want. “Lord, please help me get this job.” “God, please help me get this promotion.” “Please, Lord, heal my sister.” What about when we have multiple issues? What about the times when it seems there is one major thing after another and there is a domino effect and it all just comes crashing down on top of us? In those times, ever stop formally making the specific request and just crying out, “Lord, HELP!?”

I felt like that the other day. It felt like I had been praying forever for these certain intentions and things seemed to only be getting worse. One morning on the way to work, I spoke to God a bit more casually than I normally do. “Lord, where are you? Things are past desperate, and I need your help, PLEASE!”

Later that day, I actually got some good news. Not a total resolution, but a ray of hope pointing in one direction. My mother and I were discussing all this, and I felt that I had been disrespectful to God. She pointed out that even the saints lost patience and were fearful because they did not always understand God’s will, or if He was even listening. St. Therese of Lisieux wrote, “While I do not have the joy of faith, I am trying to carry out its works at least.”

Another point St. Paul makes in this reading is that we may not always know what to pray for. We may think we know our needs, but the Holy Spirit truly does know them, and intercedes on our behalf. Maybe this is what it means to just tell God, “Here is the issue, Lord, and I place it in Your hands!”

I know God does everything at the right time and in His own way. I do not always feel it, and sometimes I wonder if I can wait as long as He can, but I know He does it. Knowing and feeling are two different things.

Sometimes, knowing is all we have. For now, at least, I
feel like I can keep stepping a little bit longer.

(Written by Joseph Cook, posted by Rusty Tisdale)

Learn to listen

So often in this world we are in love with the sound of our own voice… We have forgotten how to stop and “listen” to God.

Occasion: Fifteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the Gospel, Matthew 13:1-23.

Reading

On that day, Jesus went out of the house and sat down by the sea.
Such large crowds gathered around him
that he got into a boat and sat down,
and the whole crowd stood along the shore.
And he spoke to them at length in parables, saying:
“A sower went out to sow.
And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path,
and birds came and ate it up.
Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil.
It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep,
and when the sun rose it was scorched,
and it withered for lack of roots.
Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.
But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit,
a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

The disciples approached him and said,
“Why do you speak to them in parables?”
He said to them in reply,
“Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven
has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted.
To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich;
from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because
they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears,
they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their hearts and be converted,
and I heal them.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see,
and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people
longed to see what you see but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

“Hear then the parable of the sower.
The seed sown on the path is the one
who hears the word of the kingdom without understanding it,
and the evil one comes and steals away
what was sown in his heart.
The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.
But the seed sown on rich soil
is the one who hears the word and understands it,
who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Stand-Out Words

ate it up, lack of roots, choked it, produced fruit, not understand, hear the word

Reflection

Many things have been written, many homilies delivered about these particular scripture passages. That can make it difficult to write about this, but I am going to try.

What struck me the most is Christ speaks of hearing the word, not reading the Word. Don’t get me wrong, reading is important and we must read God’s word. But Christ emphasizes that we must “hear” his word, in order to bear fruit. It is a great blessing in the Catholic Church that so much is read aloud to us, somewhere around 20% to 25% of the mass is scripture. The Church has a beautiful 3 year cycle of scripture for us to be able to hear. To hear God’s word and to let it take root in our hearts, isn’t always easy. The person reading the scripture passages may be difficult to understand, or soft spoken, or boring but that does not matter. What matters is that we listen, that I listen to the word of God.

God is always trying to teach me to listen. I love to talk and so often, I’m certain, I’ve missed the opportunity to learn, to bear fruit, simply because I was talking, instead of listening. So often in this world we are in love with the sound of our own voice, that what we have to say is so much more valuable and better that what others have to say, that our education is more or we’ve read more than the person next to us, what could they possibly have to teach me. We have forgotten how to stop and “listen” to God. God always speaks from scripture, but sometimes He speaks to us from our “enemy/co-worker” in the cubicle next to us, sometimes He speaks to us in the “angel/old man” on the subway ride home, and sometimes he speaks to us from our “brother/sister” we don’t understand.

Let us learn to listen, so that one day we will bear fruit for God, whether it be a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

Life in the flesh or life in the Spirit?

Do we live according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit? and how could we discern this?

Occasion: Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time

You can find the full readings here. This Lectio is based on the Epistle, Romans 8:9, 11-13.

Reading

Brothers and sisters:
You are not in the flesh;
on the contrary, you are in the spirit,
if only the Spirit of God dwells in you.
Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,
the one who raised Christ from the dead
will give life to your mortal bodies also,
through his Spirit that dwells in you.
Consequently, brothers and sisters,
we are not debtors to the flesh,
to live according to the flesh.
For if you live according to the flesh, you will die,
but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body,
you will live.

Stand-out words

flesh, Spirit, dwells, debtors

Reflection

This excerpt comes from St. Paul’s exposition in Romans of the relationship between law, sin, and grace. These include the passages where St. Paul points out that sin was at work in the world before God gave Moses the Law; that we were dead because of sin; that sin is only accounted in the presence of Law; that the Law cannot give life, only grace can; that the flesh is hostile to God and concerns itself with death; that those who life in the flesh cannot please God. It would be a mistake to think too deeply of it without keeping that context in mind.

So, how do we live? Do we live according to the flesh, or according to the spirit? Do we seek out rules to follow, identifying a metric of “acceptability” by barely meeting the minimum standards for some distant, lawyerly judge? or do we offer our bodies as a spiritual sacrifice, looking for opportunities to receive and share God’s grace, to please the one with whose complete self-giving we have fallen desperately in love?

And how could we discern this, anyway? While St. Paul does not provide precise guidelines here, he offers a few in the Epistle to the Galatians. Inasmuch as the two treat of similar themes, it seems reasonable to reproduce that here: Continue reading “Life in the flesh or life in the Spirit?”

Hell

If there were such a thing as a loneliness that could no longer be penetrated and transformed by the word of another…

[This excerpt should be read after this one.]

If there were such a thing as a loneliness that could no longer be penetrated and transformed by the word of another; if a state of abandonment were to arise that was so deep that no “You” could reach into it anymore, then we should have real, total loneliness and dreadfulness, what theology calls “hell”. It denotes a loneliness that the word love can no longer penetrate and that therefore indicates the exposed nature of existence in itself.

In truth—one thing is certain: there exists a night into whose solitude no voice reaches; there is a door into which we can only walk alone—the door of death. In the last analysis all the fear in the world is fear of this loneliness. From this point of view, it is possible to understand why the Old Testament has only one word for hell and death, the word sheol; it regards them as ultimately identical. Death is absolute loneliness. But the loneliness into which love can no longer advance is—hell.

Christ strode through the gate of our final loneliness; in his passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment. Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he. Hell is thereby overcome or, to be more accurate, death, which was previously hell, is hell no longer. Neither is the same any longer because there is life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it. Now only deliberate self-enclosure is hell or, as the Bible calls it, the second death.

The door of death stands open since life—love—has dwelt in death.

— Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity, II.II.3