Gospel reading of the day:
Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee. He taught them on the sabbath, and they were astonished at his teaching because he spoke with authority. In the synagogue there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out in a loud voice, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God!” Jesus rebuked him and said, “Be quiet! Come out of him!” Then the demon threw the man down in front of them and came out of him without doing him any harm. They were all amazed and said to one another, “What is there about his word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.” And news of him spread everywhere in the surrounding region.
Reflection on the gospel reading: In yesterday’s gospel, Jesus taught in Nazareth’s synagogue and encountered a mixed reception. In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches in Capernaum’s synagogue and, unlike in Nazareth, “astonishes” the congregation. When Jesus teaches in Capernaum, he does not rely on the authority of the teachers of the law but teaches on his own authority since he enjoys a direct relationship with God. Moreover, he confirms the power of his words through the power of his deeds: even the unclean spirits recognize he is from God and obey his commands. God gives to each of us authority over certain spheres: let us use the power God has entrusted to us as vehicles to witness to something beautiful for God.
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)
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: Margaret Ward was born in Congleton, Cheshire, England. Nothing is known of her early life. Margaret worked a lady’s companion to the Whittle family in London. She and her servant, Blessed John Roche, were arrested for helping Father Richard Watson escape from Bridewell Prison by smuggling him a rope and then helping him once he was outside. Imprisoned, flogged, and tortured, she was offered freedom if she would surrender Father Watson and convert to the Church of England; she declined. She was hanged, drawn, and quartered on August 30, 1588 at Tyburn, London, England.
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)
Luke 14:1, 7-14
On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully.
He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: If we are to live a life in the spirit, one of the questions that we must address is the use of our power. The moral question at the center of this issue is the right use of power, power used to safeguard and increase the dignity of persons made in the image and likeness of God. In today’s gospel, we see Jesus commenting on jockeying for position. The commentary is about higher and lower positions at table, but it reflects many situations in life where people set themselves over others. Jesus witnesses to an order of relationships where we use our power to make ourselves small in order that we may serve others. A life lived in Christ is a life that embraces a radical reversal of social position and the use of power to increase the stations of those less fortunate than ourselves.
Spiritual reading: Where there is great love, there are always great miracles. (Mother Teresa)
Gospel reading of the day:
Jesus told his disciples this parable: “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the one who received two made another two. But the man who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money. After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received two talents also came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents. See, I have made two more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.’ Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground. Here it is back.’ His master said to him in reply, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I did not plant and gather where I did not scatter? Should you not then have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’”
Reflection on the gospel reading: The gospel passage we read today makes very clear that God expects a lot from us. Building up the kingdom, being an elemental part of Christian community, actively participating in creating a just civil society: these are all vocations we have received through our baptism. The implication of this gospel passage is that we must give thought to the gifts that God has given us that we may recognize how we are to give back to the world.
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: Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile. (Mother Teresa)
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: 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 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: 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 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: 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)
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:
Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You lock the Kingdom of heaven before men. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You traverse sea and land to make one convert, and when that happens you make him a child of Gehenna twice as much as yourselves.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who is seated on it.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: Our Lord’s detestation of falseness, his abhorrence of hypocrisy, is apparent in this text. Jesus in this passage does not condemn a group of people. Instead, he condemns a way of thinking that corrupts the true spirit of religion. For Jesus, true religion is a matter of the heart flowing out through our lives and actions into the world; it is a continuous outpouring where our insides and outsides match each other.
Saint of the day: Rose of Lima, the first canonized saint of the New World, has one characteristic of all saints, the suffering of opposition, and another characteristic which is more for admiration than for imitation, excessive practice of mortification.
She was born in 1586 to parents of Spanish descent in Lima, Peru, at a time when South America was in its first century of evangelization. She seems to have taken Catherine of Siena as a model, in spite of the objections and ridicule of parents and friends.
The saints have so great a love of God that what seems bizarre to us, and is indeed sometimes imprudent, is simply a logical carrying out of a conviction that anything that might endanger a loving relationship with God must be rooted out. So, because her beauty was so often admired, Rose used to rub her face with pepper to produce disfiguring blotches. Later, she wore a thick circlet of silver on her head, studded on the inside, like a crown of thorns.
When her parents fell into financial trouble, she worked in the garden all day and sewed all night. Ten years of struggle against her parents began with they tried to make Rose marry. They refused to let her enter a convent, and out of obedience she continued her life of penance and solitude at home as a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic. So deep was her desire to live the life of Christ that she spent most of her time at home in solitude.
During the last few years of her life, Rose set up a room in the house where she cared for homeless children, the elderly, and the sick. This was a beginning of social services in Peru. Though secluded in life and activity, she was brought to the attention of Inquisition interrogators, who could only say that she was influenced by grace.
What might have been a merely eccentric life was transfigured from the inside. If we remember some unusual penances, we should also remember the greatest thing about Rose: a love of God so ardent that it withstood ridicule from without, violent temptation, and lengthy periods of sickness. When she died in 1617 at the age of 31, the city turned out for her funeral. Prominent men took turns carrying her coffin.
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)
Gospel reading of the day:
Jesus passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from. And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Reflection on the gospel reading: At the heart of the passage that we read today lies the question, “How many will be saved?” Jesus, as he so often did, did not answer the question directly. Instead, he addressed the underlying assumptions in the question.
When we read the gospels, we can never lose sight of the fact that Jesus lived in a time and place that had a particular viewpoint. In Jesus’ time and place, the assumption among the people with whom he lived was that they were God’s chosen people. They were a people set apart, a people who knew the rules, a people who had to do a certain set of activities that would guarantee them salvation. Everyone else was just plain out of luck.
Jesus, however, challenges this presupposition. He says that being a member of the “chosen people” does not of itself guarantee a place in the kingdom of God. Moreover, he says that many people who are not among the “chosen,” people who “come from the east and the west and from the north and the south,” will recline at the table of God.
It is easy for all of us to imagine that our membership in some group is the guarantee that we need to be “right,” which may include the implicit suggestion that other people are “wrong.” Jesus in today’s gospel essentially says, “This is not so.”
We too may be tempted to believe that something about us makes us “right” in a way that other people are not. If we are to hear what Jesus says in today’s gospel, we have to let go of this notion. God’s kingdom is not the exclusive property of one people over another people, of one group over another group. It is a place of inclusion, not of exclusion.
Before we speculate on the central question of the gospel passage, “How many will be saved?” we perhaps do well to ask the question, “What exactly does it mean to be saved?” Certainly, in the Catholic tradition, it has meant for a good period of time in Church history to “die in a state of grace” and without mortal sin. But these are cliches that border on meaningless for their overuse. What then does it mean to be saved? Does it not mean to live a life for others? A life that does not close down in and on itself, but instead, an expansive life that frees other people from the bondage of self? A life that so loves that it invites and allows other to love?
Ultimately, we cannot know how many people will be saved, but if the evidence of our lives provides any answer to the question, we perhaps should assume that the answer question is, “Many will be saved.” If our God is a God who will let recline at the table of the kingdom people from north, south, east, and west, perhaps the gospel does directly answer the question: the expansive and all embracing love of God will in the end conquer many hearts.
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)