Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the sabbath day. He stood up to read and was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.
Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They also asked, “Is this not the son of Joseph?” He said to them, “Surely you will quote me this proverb, ‘Physician, cure yourself,’ and say, ‘Do here in your native place the things that we heard were done in Capernaum.’” And he said, “Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. Indeed, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the sky was closed for three and a half years and a severe famine spread over the entire land. It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon. Again, there were many lepers in Israel during the time of Elisha the prophet; yet not one of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong. But he passed through the midst of them and went away.
Reflection on the gospel reading: We begin today our readings from the gospel of Luke. Luke will carry us through the weekdays of the remainder of the liturgical year.
The passage we read today has a number of attributes with relevance to the whole gospel of Luke. Luke, for instance, uses geography in his narrative to make a theological point. While the other three gospels have Jesus going in every direction to this town and that town, Luke sets Jesus on a single, unwavering course southward, starting in Nazareth and moving in a continuous trek toward Jerusalem. In Luke, movement toward Jerusalem is movement toward God and the fulfillment of God’s plan. Today’s gospel places Jesus in Nazareth at the start of his ministry as Luke starts him on his path toward Jerusalem where he will suffer his passion and death and be raised on the third day.
The tradition of the synagogue was for an adult male to read on the sabbath a passage of the scripture, and Jesus fulfills this custom when he reads a passage from Isaiah that addresses the mission of the messiah. It comes, however, from the lips of Jesus who reads the passage as a statement about who Jesus is, that is, as a sort of messianic manifesto. Moreover, the passage sets the tone for the whole gospel of Luke because Luke’s reading of the life of Jesus is about glad tidings to the poor, liberty for captives, healing, liberation, and the establishment of God’s kingdom. The passage from Isaiah is both a vision of what is to come in Luke’s gospel and the pattern of our own lives as persons who follow the Lord.
It is interesting to note that Luke commences and ends the ministry of Jesus in violence. At the end of the passage from today’s gospel, the townspeople want to kill Jesus for what he says and does. Of course, the outcome of Jesus’ ministry is just such a fate.
Saint of the day: Irish by birth, Aidan was a monk at Iona, Ireland. His name means, “fire.” Aidan studied under Saint Senan at Inish Cathay. He was bishop of Clogher by Ware and Lynch. He resigned the see to became a monk at Iona in about 630. He evangelized Northumbria, England as a bishop at the behest of his friend the king, Saint Oswald of Northumbria. Once when pagans attacked Oswald’s forces at Bambrough, they piled wood around the city walls to burn it; Aidan prayed for help, and a change in wind blew the smoke and flames over the pagan army.
Recognized for his knowledge of the Bible, his eloquent preaching, his personal holiness, simple life, scholarship, and charity, he was said to be a miracle worker. He trained Saint Boswell. He also founded the Lindisfarne monastery that became not only a religious standard bearer, but a great storehouse of European literature and learning during the dark ages. Saint Bede is lavish in his praise of the episcopal rule of Aidan. Aidan died August 31, 651 at Bamborough of natural causes; the young Saint Cuthbert, a shepherd in the fields at the time, saw Aidan’s soul rise to heaven as a shaft of light. He is buried at Lindisfarne.
Spiritual reading: It overflows, and it is like a furnace, this love of God, who in the banquet of regenerating grace gives unceasingly . . . his own flesh to be eaten, and his own precious blood to be drunk by them who are his own children and the heirs of the kingdom he has promised. (Thomas Aquinas)
Gospel reading of the day:
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
When the Pharisees with some scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. For the Pharisees and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders. And on coming from the marketplace they do not eat without purifying themselves. And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, “Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?” He responded, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written:
This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”
He summoned the crowd again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.
“From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: After our weeks of detour into the gospel of John, we have returned to our cycle of Sunday readings from the gospel of Mark. In the passage the Church gives us today, we have an example of religious authorities placing moral value on a hygienic practice and condemning Jesus’ disciples as religiously unclean for their failure to adhere to practices which have their origins among human beings.
Such customs, of course, abound in religious practice. Born in the tradition of human cultures, practiced widely among adherents to a tradition, and eventually codified in religious legislation, such norms often become a way to distinguish “true believers” from those deemed less faithful. The Catholic tradition, like any faith, has many such practices: for instance, Catholics abstaining from meat on Friday in Lent and the hour’s fast before Holy Communion are two traditions which can be spiritually meaningful but don’t per se make a true believer.
Jesus taught that outward appearances and inward dispositions need to match each other. In other passages in the gospels, he addresses the hypocrisy of believers who put on outward shows of respectability and even holiness while they inwardly lack love and integrity. Here in this passage, Jesus does something similar, if opposite: Jesus calls the scribes and pharisees on their attempt to make breaches of custom into sins. What defiles a human being is not the breach of custom: what defiles a person is the evil that comes from our hearts.
Christ calls out to us to live authentic lives. For Jesus, what’s important, is what comes from the heart. Jesus doesn’t sweat the minutia; Jesus cares about the deep down things, about the things that go on where we really live.
Spiritual reading: Now when we have received our Lord (in the Eucharist) and have him in our body, let us not then let him alone and get us forth about other things . . . but let all our business be about him. Let us by devout prayer talk to him, by devout meditation talk with him. (Saint Thomas More)
Gospel reading of the day:
Herod was the one who had John the Baptist arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, whom he had married. John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” Herodias harbored a grudge against him and wanted to kill him but was unable to do so. Herod feared John, knowing him to be a righteous and holy man, and kept him in custody. When he heard him speak he was very much perplexed, yet he liked to listen to him. She had an opportunity one day when Herod, on his birthday, gave a banquet for his courtiers, his military officers, and the leading men of Galilee. Herodias’ own daughter came in and performed a dance that delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.” He even swore many things to her, “I will grant you whatever you ask of me, even to half of my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried back to the king’s presence and made her request, “I want you to give me at once on a platter the head of John the Baptist.” The king was deeply distressed, but because of his oaths and the guests he did not wish to break his word to her. So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders to bring back his head. He went off and beheaded him in the prison. He brought in the head on a platter and gave it to the girl. The girl in turn gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
Reflection on the gospel reading: About John, of course, Jesus said that no greater man had been born of woman. And in John, whose passion we recall today, we see the typology of the life of the Lord, a Lord whose sandals’ thongs John said he was not fit to loosen. As an angel does with Jesus’ birth, an angel announces John’s birth. While the Lord is born miraculously to a virgin, John is born miraculously to an older woman. The pattern of Jesus’ ministry to announce the inbreaking of the kingdom of God mirrors the pattern of John’s ministry to announce repentance to Israel. And John’s unjust murder, the subject of today’s reading and feast, prefigures our Lord’s unjust murder. Of course, there are many elements in our lives that cannot fit the outlines of the narratives of either Jesus or John, but we can choose to live as they lived, close to the call we, like they, receive from the Father, lives lived out empowered by the grace of the Holy Spirit of God.
Saint of the day: Shortly after he had baptized Jesus, John the Baptist began to denounce Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee. Herod had divorced his own wife and taken Herodias, the wife of his half- brother Philip and also his own niece. John the Baptist declared, “It is not lawful for you to have her,” so Herod threw him into prison.
Not only did Herod fear John and his disciples, he also knew him to be a righteous man, so he did not kill him. Herodias determined to bring about John’s death. From prison John followed Jesus’ ministry, and sent messengers to question him (Luke 7:19-29). One day Herod gave a fine banquet to celebrate his birthday. His entire court was present as well as other powerful and influential Palestinians. Herodias’s daughter Salome so pleased Herod when she danced to entertain the company that he promised her whatever she would ask–even half of his kingdom. Salome asked her mother for counsel and was told to request the head of the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12).
Because of his pride Herod, though deeply sorry, could not decline the request; thus, as Saint Augustine says, “an oath rashly taken was criminally kept.” He sent a soldier of the guard to behead John in prison. Thus, the “voice crying in the wilderness” was silenced. The head was placed on a platter and taken to Salome, who gave it to her mother.
When John’s disciples heard what had happened, they took away his body and laid it in a tomb, probably at Sebaste in Samaria, where he was venerated in the 4th century. His tomb was desecrated by Julian the Apostate. John’s relics are claimed by many places, but it is unlikely that they are authentic. His cultus is ancient in both the East and West, because intercession to Saint John was believed to the coming of Christ in the soul, just as it was in history. There are a vast number of medieval churches in England dedicated to Saint John. He is the patron of the Knights Hospitallers, whose principal work was to guard the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem and protect pilgrims
Prayer the Church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth;
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tower,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world-transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted Manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
(“Prayer” by George Herbert)
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise ones replied, ‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’ While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: We live in the already but not yet, the time when the kingdom of God already has broken into human history but a time when it is not fulfilled among us. The parable we read today certainly reflects our need to remain vigilant and prepared for the Bridegroom’s coming at the end-of-time. But we do well to remember that the Bridegroom is also here among us right now. He is with us, before us, behind us, in us, beneath us, above us, on our right, on our left; in our lying down, our sitting down, our arising; in the heart of everyone who thinks of us, speaks of us, sees us, and hears us. He is everywhere we turn, in the outstretched hand, the broken body, the growl of an empty stomach. Are we like the wise virgins prepared to encounter him everywhere he appears in our day-to-day lives? Or are we like the foolish ones who do not lay aside time to cultivate a discerning heart ready to understand the Bridegroom’s presence in all the ways he manifests himself to us as we make our way in our journey?
Saint of the day: Augustine, one of the most influential thinkers in the entire history of the Church, was born at Tagaste, North Africa, on November 13, 354. His father, Patricius, a city official was not a Christian, though his mother, Monica, was a woman of strong Christian faith. (She eventually led her husband to be baptized, and he died in about 371.)
Though Augustine received a Christian upbringing, he led a wild life as a youth and young man. Augustine gives an account of his spiritual development in the first nine Books of the Confessions, a work that has engrossed readers for 1,600 years and are as fresh and immediate today as when they were written.
As a nineteen-year old student at Carthage, he espoused the Manichaean heresy, a form of Gnosticism founded in Persia in the late third century, which claimed to be a religion of reason as contrasted with Christianity, a religion of faith. Manichaeism aimed to synthesize all known religions. Its basic dualistic tenet espoused two equal and opposed Principles (“gods”) in the universe: Good (Light/Spirit) and Evil (Darkness/Matter).
After nearly ten years as a Manichaean, Augustine, who taught in Milan, visited Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, became a regular attendant at his preaching, and through his influence became convinced that Catholic teachings are true, and that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. Still, he found himself conflicted between his desire for spiritual truth and physical release.
An interview with Simplicianus, spiritual father of St. Ambrose, who told Augustine the story of the conversion of the celebrated neo-Platonic rhetorician, Victorinus, and later, a chance visit by a Christian, Ponticianus, who told him of other conversions, led Augustine to a crisis:
I was greatly disturbed in spirit, angry at myself with a turbulent indignation because I had not entered thy will and covenant, O my God, while all my bones cried out to me to enter, extolling it to the skies. The way therein is not by ships or chariots or feet–indeed it was not as far as I had come from the house to the place where we were seated. For to go along that road and indeed to reach the goal is nothing else but the will to go. But it must be a strong and single will, not staggering and swaying about this way and that–a changeable, twisting, fluctuating will, wrestling with itself while one part falls as another rises. (Confessions, Book VIII.8.19)
I was … weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which–coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, “Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it.” Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. …
So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostle’s book [Paul’s letter to the Romans] when I had left there. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof.”[Romans 13:13] I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away. (Confessions, Book IX.29)
Augustine was thirty-three when he was moved to act on his convictions in that garden at Milan in September 386. A few weeks later, during the autumn “vintage” holiday, Augustine, resigned his professorship at Milan, resolving to devote himself to the pursuit of true philosophy, now inseparable from Christianity. After a vacation at Cassisiacum, Augustine returned to Milan with Monica, Adeodatus (his son) , and his friends, where the new converts were baptized. Soon after, while preparing to return to North Africa with her sons and grandson, Monica died at Ostia, near Rome. (A moving account of her final days is found in Confessions Book IX, 8-12)
Augustine returned to Africa in August 388, and, with the objective of living a life of poverty and prayer, he sold his property and gave the proceeds to the poor. Although he did not think of becoming a priest, during a visit to Hippo, as he was praying in the church, people suddenly gathered around him and persuaded the bishop of Hippo, Valerius, to ordain Augustine. He was ordained in 391, and in Tagaste, established a monastery, and preached against Manichaeism with great success. When he was forty-two, he became coadjutor bishop of Hippo, where he was bishop for 34 years.
During his years as bishop, Augustine combated the Manichaean heresy, strongly affirming free will and expounding on the problem of evil; he struggled against the Donatist heresy that attacked the divine institution and hierarchical nature of the Church. In later years, he would confront the Pelagian heresy that denied the doctrine of original sin and the effects of grace; and the heresy of Arianism, which denied that the Son is of the same substance as the Father.
Augustine died August 28, 430 at the age of seventy-five. His perennial contribution to and influence on Catholic doctrine and thought and on Christian belief and piety is incalculable, and his many theological and philosophical works, especially the Confessions and The City of God have continued to captivate and inspire mankind for more than the better part of two millenniums.
Spiritual reading: For you, O highest and nearest, most hidden and most present, have no parts greater and smaller. You are wholly everywhere, yet nowhere. (Confessions by Augustine of Hippo)
Gospel reading of the day:
Jesus said to his disciples: “Stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent servant, whom the master has put in charge of his household to distribute to them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master on his arrival finds doing so. Amen, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is long delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and eat and drink with drunkards, the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: Our readings from the gospel of Matthew are coming to a close. They continue for a couple of more days, and then on Monday, we move on to read and reflect on the gospel of Luke. But today, Friday, and Saturday, we have certain selected Matthean passages from Jesus’ sermon about the last things.
The reading today overtly suggests that the Lord is coming at a time we cannot know; the subtext is that the wise policy is to live our lives in anticipation of the day and hour of the Lord’s return, a time that is hidden from us. There are different ways to learn from this passage. Of course, we can understand this reading in the context of the Lord’s second coming at the end of time, but isn’t one of the lessons of Christian life that the Lord is ever at hand. Living our lives in anticipation of Jesus’ return is not just living for the end. It is also living for the moment, for we know from our experience that the Lord is in our midst at every instant. Lives lived in gentleness, kindness, and mercy are lives lived not to encounter the Lord at some remote hour but to open ourselves to find him right here, right now.
Saint of the day: In 331 or 332 Monica was born at Tagaste, in what is modern day Algeria, into a dedicated Christian family of good social standing. As a young woman, she married Patritius, a non-Christian, who was a modest landowner and a city counselor in Tagaste. Monica sought to live her ideal of a Christian wife and mother with courage of soul, warmth of faith, strength of hope, keenness of intellect, constancy of prayer and meditation on the Holy Scripture, together with a sensible approach to the ups and downs of family life. She succeeded in bringing about the conversion to Christ of both her husband and Augustine, “the son of so many tears,” at whose baptism she was present with a heart brimful of joy. On her way back to Africa with Augustine and his friends, she died at Ostia on the Tiber outside Rome some time in the month of October 385. She was 55-years-old. It was about two weeks before her death that mother and son experienced the rapture of the “ecstasy of Ostia,” in which “for one brief moment, with a sweep of their hearts, they reached up to Wisdom, the Maker of all things, and left with him the first fruits of their spirits.” In the 12th century, her liturgical celebration was fixed for May 4, kept by the Augustinians until 1998. The Universal Church, however, keeps her feast on August 27, the day before her son’s feast day. St. Monica’s remains are venerated in the church of St. Augustine, Rome.
Gospel reading of the day:
Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth. Even so, on the outside you appear righteous, but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the memorials of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have joined them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ Thus you bear witness against yourselves that you are the children of those who murdered the prophets; now fill up what your ancestors measured out!”
Reflection on the gospel reading: In today’s gospel, Jesus continues his withering critique of the hypocrisy of believers. He observes that many of us who confess our faith make right appearances on the outside, that we are “whitewashed,” but on the inside, we are corrupt, that is, “full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.” Again, Jesus says we congratulate ourselves that we would not have done the wrong things that people did in earlier ages, even as we prepare to do similar things in our own time.
Saint of the day: Blessed Thomas Percy was a English martyr, born in 1528. Earl of Northumberland from 1537, Thomas initially enjoyed an excellent relationship with Queen Elizabeth I (r. 1558-1603). Thomas also served Queen Mary (r. 1542-1587). Queen Elizabeth bestowed the Order of the Garter on him in 1563. He then became involved in the Rising of the North and fled to Scotland but was sold to Queen Elizabeth for two thousand pounds. For three years he languished in a prison, refusing fervently to abjure his faith in return for his freedom. Thomas was finally beheaded at York.
Spiritual reading: Let’s resolve to take action. Even if our activities be modest, that doesn’t matter. But let our decision to make the divine graces visible be more energetic and more loving – let our lives be not be spent merely in tempest. (Joy Out of Sorrow, Mother Marie des Douleurs)
Gospel reading of the day:
Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. But these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: Jesus clearly was concerned about human authenticity; hypocrisy repelled him. In today’s passage, he condemns the devout of his day for their petty preoccupation with the demands of ritual and law even as they failed at introspection, compassion, and faithfulness. It is worth noting that Jesus does not condemn a heartfelt attention to the rigors of religious practice. But what he does ask of us is that whatever our external practices, we pay the greatest heed to the demands of justice, love, and integrity.
Saint of the day: At his coronation as king of France, Louis bound himself by oath to behave as God’s anointed, as the father of his people and feudal lord of the King of Peace. Other kings had done the same, of course. Louis was different in that he actually interpreted his kingly duties in the light of faith. After the violence of two previous reigns, he brought peace and justice.
He was crowned king at 12, at his father’s death. His mother, Blanche of Castile, ruled during his minority. When he was 19, (and his bride 12) he was married to Marguerite of Provence. It was a loving marriage, despite her arrogant and restless nature. They had 10 children.
Louis “took the cross” for a Crusade when he was 30. His army took Damietta on the Nile but not long after, weakened by dysentery and without support, they were surrounded and captured. Louis obtained the release of the army by giving up the city of Damietta in addition to paying a ransom. He stayed in Syria four years.
He is admired as a crusader, but perhaps he deserves greater credit for his extending justice in civil administration. He drew up regulations for his officials which became the first of a series of reform laws. He replaced trial by battle with a form of examination of witnesses and encouraged the beginning of using written records in court.
Louis was devoted to his people, founding hospitals, visiting the sick and, like his patron St. Francis, caring even for people with leprosy. (He is one of the patrons of the Secular Franciscan Order.) Louis united France—lords and townsfolk, peasants and priests and knights—by the force of his personality and holiness. For many years the nation was at peace.
Every day Louis had 13 special guests from among the poor to eat with him, and a large number of poor were served meals near his palace. During Advent and Lent, all who presented themselves were given a meal, and Louis often served them in person. He kept lists of needy people, whom he regularly relieved, in every province of his dominion.
Disturbed by new Muslim advances in Syria, he led another crusade in 1267, at the age of 41. His crusade was diverted to Tunis for his brother’s sake. The army was decimated by disease within a month, and Louis himself died on foreign soil at the age of 44. Within three decades, the church recognized Louis was a saint.
Spiritual reading: This vision of the supreme Being also stirs up in the soul a love corresponding and proportionate to its object, for it teaches us to love everything which receives existence from the supreme Being. It likewise teaches us to love everything which has being, that is, every creature, rational and non-rational, with the supreme Being’s own love. It teaches us to love rational creatures, especially those we know are loved and cherished by him. When the soul sees the supreme Being stoop down lovingly toward creatures, it does the same. (St. Angela of Foligno)
Gospel reading of the day:
Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Here is a true child of Israel. There is no duplicity in him.” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” And he said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: We celebrate the feast of Batholomew, Apostle. The notion that Batholomew and Nathaniel are the same apostle is a relatively late development in Christianity, traced to the ninth century. Whether or not Batholomew and Nathaniel were the same person, the gospel passage that the Church gives us to read today does permit some observations about Jesus and the reaction of people to him.
Over and over again throughout the gospels, we see that Jesus excited interest in people. In an age without telephone, television, radio, or Internet, news had to travel by word of mouth, and the scene that the gospel presents to us today well must have been how news about Jesus traveled in the towns and villages where Jesus preached.
Philip tells Nathaniel that Jesus is the son of Joseph of Nazareth and wonders whether Jesus might be the one foretold in the Law and the Prophets. Nathaniel, without having met Jesus, expresses a bias against Jesus because of the place where Jesus grew up. We know such reactions to people are common even in our time: it requires no explanation to understand Nathaniel’s line of reasoning.
But even so, when Nathaniel encounters Jesus, he is impressed. Jesus says a few words that, while mysterious to us, were quite compelling to Nathaniel. In an instant, Nathaniel is won over.
Jesus had a short ministry. But in a brief period of time, he stirred sufficient conviction in a small group of followers that they dedicated the rest of their lives to talking about what they had heard, what they had seen with their eyes, what they looked upon and touched with their hands concerning the Word of life. Who Jesus was must have been quite compelling to people who were disposed to hear his message and believe in his signs, and doubtless, given the interest he stirred, a chance encounter with him frequently was all the evidence someone needed to rearrange their entire lives. Such was the power of the man then even as now. We too can pray ever more deeply to hear, see, and touch the mystery given to us in the preaching that has come down to us from the apostles, that it enliven in us prodigies of faith, hope, and love.
Saint of the day: The name “Bartholomew” appears in the New Testament only on lists of the names of the twelve apostles. This list normally is given as six pairs, and the third pair in each of the synoptic gospels is “Philip and Bartholomew.” John gives no list of the Twelve, but refers to more of them individually than the Synoptics. He does not name Bartholomew, but early in his account (John 1:43-50) he tells of the call to discipleship of a Nathaniel who is often supposed to be the same person. The reasoning is as follows: John’s Nathanael is introduced as one of the earliest followers of Jesus, and in terms which suggest that he became one of the Twelve. He is clearly not the same as Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip, Thomas, Judas Iscariot, Judas (not Iscariot, also called Lebbaeus or Thaddeus), all of whom John names separately. He is not Matthew, whose call is described differently (M 9:9). This leaves Bartholomew, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon Zelotes. Of these, Bartholomew is the leading candidate for two reasons:
(1) “Bar-tholomew” is a patronymic, meaning “son of Tolmai (or Talmai).” It is therefore likely that he had another name. “Nathanael son of Tolmai” seems more likely than “Nathanael also called James (or Simon).”
(2) Nathanael is introduced in John’s narrative as a friend of Philip. Since Bartholomew is paired with Philip on three of our four lists of Apostles, it seems likely that they were associated.
We have no certain information about Bartholomew’s later life. Some writers, including the historian Eusebius of Caesarea, say that he preached in India. The majority tradition, with varying details, is that Bartholomew preached in Armenia, and was finally skinned alive and beheaded to Albanus or Albanopolis (now Derbent) on the Caspian Sea. His emblem in art is a flaying knife. The flayed Bartholomew can be seen in Michelangelo’s Sistine painting of the Last Judgment. He is holding his skin. The face on the skin is generally considered to be a self-portrait of Michelangelo.
Spiritual reading: One thing is certain, whoever honestly wants to love God already loves him. (The Need and Blessing of Prayer by Karl Rahner, S.J.)
Gospel reading of the day:
Many of Jesus’ disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: We have taken a detour for the last several weeks from our trek through Mark’s gospel as we reflected on John’s account of the feeding of the multitudes and the discourse on the bread of life. Today’s gospel finishes this excursis: we take up next week with where we left off in Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry.
Throughout the last few weeks, Jesus has spoken about feeding on his body and drinking his blood. Through this uncompromising metaphor, he has called us to radically commit ourselves to his values, vision, and way of life. We who believe in the Eucharist cannot fail to see intimations of the Eucharist in this passage and how it summons us to recognize the Eucharist’s influences on our acceptance of Christ’s call. The Eucharist is at once the possibility of our commitment and its seal. But what I would like to address is the failure to commit, which is the theme of a part of today’s gospel passage.
All of us fail more or less frequently to live as Jesus has called us to live. As today’s gospel account suggests, some of us simply abandon our companionship with Jesus and go our own way no longer to walk with the Lord. Since this is possible for all of us, it is worth some thought about how this choice can occur.
We all know that human beings are capable of things that are so awful that these acts make a radical statement about who we are and how we are in relationship with God. I think such clear cut choices are relatively rare. But the Church long has defined another, less serious kind of sin as venial. The Church has suggested that such sins do not result in a complete separation from God. We all know that venial sin is very common: it’s the stuff of our day-to-day transactions with one another.
Let me make a case why we ought not to be cavalier about such little sins. Imagine, if you will, that two best friends live next door to each other. They love each others’ company and spend many happy hours with one another from day-to-day. They can’t imagine their lives without the other.
One of the friends receives a wonderful job offer in another city, and the friend moves away. For a while, the two friends are on the phone with each other every day. Nothing has changed except that they don’t live next door to one another. Then one day, one of the friends comes home, weary at the end of a day of work: there’s a meal to prepare, laundry to be done, kids to be put in bed. The friend thinks of calling, but says, “To heck with it: I am too tired tonight; I’ll call tomorrow.” There’s nothing fatal in the decision: it’s a small action with little consequence in the great scheme of things.
The relationship continues, but with time, the calls become less frequent. For a while, they are once a week. Then they are once a month. There’s no big decision: no fundamental choice. But the relationship is slowing down as the choices about what is immediate and important less and less include the relationship. Finally, the relationship slips to a Christmas card once a year in December. Then comes a time when the one friend is on a trip elsewhere and the flight lays over in the city of the other friend. The friend who is traveling thinks about making a call but then decides, “Who cares. It isn’t worth the trouble.” Their friendship has ebbed away from hundreds of small decisions. It’s death by a thousand cuts. Not a single one of the cuts of itself is fatal, but their cumulative effect is to destroy the relationship.
It’s important to think about how important things die. It usually happens little bit by little bit. When the disciples walked away from Jesus, as today’s gospel records, it seems unlikely to me that it was a sudden decision that came over them in a wave. It probably was the accumulation of numerous decisions made over a long period of time.
This is why we are called to make a radical commitment. It is why we should pray that we can persevere until the end. It is too easy to let a thousand things come up during the course of a day and ease us away from the kind of commitment that Jesus asks of us, the kind of commitment that will allow us to remain his till the end.
Spiritual reading: You are afraid that your love for God is not true love, that you do not love God at all. Well, I urge you be quite at peace on this point . . . . . If the soul longs for nothing else than to love its God then don’t worry and be quite sure that this heart possesses everything, that it possesses God himself. (Letters by Padre [St.] Pio)
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’ As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’ You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. Call no one on earth your father; you have but one Father in heaven. Do not be called ‘Master’; you have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: None among us is perfect, and all of us fail in some way or other. Jesus in today’s gospel reflects on some of the brokenness he observed in the human condition. For instance, there are among us people who are powerful and lay down rules that they enforce on people who are less powerful; even so, these same powerful people do not follow the rules they want others to follow: that is, they are hypocrites. There are people who make great shows about why they are special, but their outward signs of respectability do not match their interior realities: that is, they are inauthentic. There are people who want to occupy privileged places of honor and be held in special esteem: that is, they are haughty. Our Lord disliked all of it: phoniness, guile, conceit. Instead, he called us to humility: a willingness to be counted as of little consequence, a deep honesty about all that is good and bad about ourselves, and a sense of right proportion about our place among the hosts of people who surround us and of whom God is especially fond.
Saint of the day: John Wall was born to a wealthy Catholic family in 1620 near Preston, Lancashire, England. He studied in Douai, and entered the Roman College on November 5, 1641, using the name John Marsh. Ordained December 3, 1645, he joined the Friars Minor in Rome on January 1, 1651, taking the name Joachim of Saint Anne. Vicar and novice-master at Douai, he joined the Worcester mission in 1656 where he served for over 20 years, using several aliases, and living as a fugitive. Arrested in connection with the Titus Oates Plot in December 1678, he was acquitted of participation in the plot but was martyred for the crime of priesthood. One of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, he was hanged, drawn, and quartered on August 22, 1679 near Redhill, Corcester, England and buried at Saint Oswald’s church.
Spiritual reading: Because our natures pose and point toward You, our loves revolve about You as the planets swing upon the sun, and all suns sing together in their gravitational worlds. (The Collect Poems by Fr. Thomas Merton)