“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

The Bread of Life Discourse ends today (Jn 6:60-69) as Jesus gets the response above from His disciples (not just the general public).  “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.”

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It strikes me that the core of so many of the problems the Church is currently facing within its own ranks has to do with lack of faith in or seriousness about that which caused Jesus to lose so many of His most engaged followers: the Eucharist.  If one really believes that Jesus offers Himself body, blood, soul, and divinity in Holy Communion, how could that person: not enter the Catholic Church, stay away from Mass, leave the Catholic Church, or, most pertinent to these times, betray the faithful?

At least the honest disciples in today’s reading walked away.  Judas did not (Jn 6:70-71 — sadly these verses did not make the lectionary), waiting to do his “shuffle” at the Last Supper in order to betray the Lord (Jn 13:27).

It is time for the Judases, the dishonest members of the hierarchy, to return to their former way of life, i.e.,  pre-ministry, rather than staying on and continuing to betray the Lord by betraying His Church, harming and scandalizing the People of God.

Paul, today (Eph 5:21-32), speaks of the proper disposition of the husband (the priest’s “bride” is the Church):

Husbands, love your wives,
even as Christ loved the church
and handed himself over for her to sanctify her,
cleansing her by the bath of water with the word,
that he might present to himself the church in splendor,
without spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
that she might be holy and without blemish.

How did Christ love the Church?  He died so that it might be born from His side.  This is the proper disposition of the priest to that which is entrusted to him by virtue of his ordination.

Even the first reading, from Joshua (Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b), gives us a word that needs to be taken to heart (by all of us) in these days:

Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.

Authentic service to God, for the ordained man, means caring for His flock above all.

As for the rest of us, prayer and penance is a must.  Not only for those involved in the most egregious sins of which we have come to learn, but for ourselves, as well.  “Physician, heal thyself” (Lk 4:23).  Reform starts at home.  Remember, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Pray for priests, bishops, and the pope, that all will do the right thing in the eyes of Christ and for the sake of His Body, the Church.

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“Go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax.”

In today’s gospel (Mt 17:22-27), Peter and Jesus are approached by the collectors of the temple tax (“the annual contribution every Jew has to make for the upkeep of the temple” [The Navarre Bible: St Matthew, 2e, (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1991), 159]), asking the Lord and the leader of the apostles why they don’t pay this tax.  Jesus argues against the need to do so (He is the Son of God, after all, not a foreigner), but in order to avoid offense (to those who don’t realize His true Personhood), He instructs the son of Jonah on how to go about paying the collectors.

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Peter was certainly a good fisherman — it is how he used to make his living.  But why have him go through this rather elaborate and time-consuming process to make a simple payment?  It is not an insignificant amount, but Judas most certainly would have been able to provide from their common purse the amount to fulfill the payment (even though he was dipping and would have been reluctant to part with it).  So what’s going on?

Leiva-Merikakis, in his massive three volume commentary on Matthew (a must-have for scholars and lovers of Matthew), provides this spiritual (analogical) insight:

In this episode, at the level of its deepest symbolism, we have seen Jesus instructing Peter, his chief apostle, on the dynamics of the Paschal Mystery in a new and surprising manner.  Peter is to go to the Sea of Galilee — the place of danger and death — and, with the hook of his obedient faith, catch from the turbulent waters of the Passion the “first fish that comes up [άναβάγντα]” in Resurrection: the great ΙΧΘΥΣ ([Ichthys or “fish” in Greek whose letters are an acronym for] “Jesus Christ God’s Son Savior”), “the first to rise from the dead” (Acts 26:23), who brings in his blessed mouth, source of absolute truth, the precious gift of salvation and the joy of participating with him in God’s very life of freedom and love.  (Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, Volume II (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2003), 600)

“Humanae Vitae” at 50

Highlights from the encyclical “Of Human Life” promulgated fifty years ago today.  Do you think Blessed Paul VI was prescient?

17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

18. It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a “sign of contradiction.” She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.

Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.

20. The teaching of the Church regarding the proper regulation of birth is a promulgation of the law of God Himself. And yet there is no doubt that to many it will appear not merely difficult but even impossible to observe. Now it is true that like all good things which are outstanding for their nobility and for the benefits which they confer on men, so this law demands from individual men and women, from families and from human society, a resolute purpose and great endurance. Indeed it cannot be observed unless God comes to their help with the grace by which the goodwill of men is sustained and strengthened. But to those who consider this matter diligently it will indeed be evident that this endurance enhances man’s dignity and confers benefits on human society.

I encourage you to read the entire document (it is not very long).  A nicely done article from yesterday regarding HV‘s context (historical) and reception (hysterical) can be found here.

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Blessed Paul VI will be canonized October 14th, due in no small measure, undoubtedly, to this encyclical and the terrible suffering he endured because of defending the truth in it.

“O my people, what have I done to you, or how have I wearied you? Answer me!”

This is the Lord’s plea through His prophet Micah (6:1-4, 6-8).  For all that He has done for His people, Yahweh must deal with an obstinate and disobedient flock.

Not much has changed in the intervening millennia.  Today, more and more, it is not even a matter of questioning or ignoring God — would there be at least belief!  That there even is a God (or “higher power” or “something out there” ) is placed into question or outright dismissed entirely.  The ongoing push for expulsion of Christianity from the public square (it has already been accomplished in the public schools) is a reason for dismay and for concern (pray for religious freedom!).

The remedy comes at the end of the reading:

You have been told, O man, what is good,
and what the LORD requires of you:
Only to do the right and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God.

Easier said than done.  What have we been “told”?  What does the Lord “require”?  We have the Scriptures, Tradition, and the Magisterium?  But the number who know what is authentically taught by the Church continues to decrease.

What is “right”?  What is “goodness”?  With the dictatorship of moral relativism, this is an open question (at best — for some the poles have switched: good is now evil and evil is good) to the lukewarm, the easily swayed, the poorly catechized, the doubter, the unbeliever.  “Walk humbly”?  Humility is not treated as the safeguard of the virtues (the “gem casket” as St. Basil the Great put it) especially with our political leaders or in the swamp of social media.

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Visit of the Queen of Sheba to King Solomon  (detail), by Edward Poynter, 1890.

At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation
and condemn it. (from today’s Gospel: Mt 12:38-42)

When will we heed the warnings and get right with God?

“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD.”

Through Jeremiah (23:1-6), God warns the religious leaders that they will come to a bad end for not being faithful teachers and guides to His people.  The Lord himself says that He will gather up the lost remnant of the flock and provide faithful shepherds, promising a “righteous shoot”  to “reign and govern wisely” and to “do what is just and right in the land.”

In the gospel (Mk 6:30-34) we find out who that promised shepherd is: Jesus!

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things. (v. 34)

As bad as the Old Testament religious leaders could be, they did not have an exemplar like Jesus.  What a wonderful gift it is to be able to look to Christ and His Church for the authentic Way.  There are many wonderful priests today that are entirely faithful in their teaching and in their conduct.  Do not tire of thanking them for what they do and who they are while encouraging them in their opus Dei.

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But for those who “mislead and scatter the flock” by their “evil deeds” may they sincerely repent and have a firm purpose of amendment.  For those guilty of civil crimes, may they confess immediately and may the proper authorities be informed.  For those who have committed grave sins against the Church and its members, may they confess completely. express true contrition, and accept the appropriate penance, that is, the necessary measures taken for the good of their souls and the souls of those whom they have sinned against or who could be targets in the future.  Many lives have been grievously damaged by the sins of those to whom we should look to as examples of holy living (pray for them!).  Grave scandal has been caused to the indefectibly holy Church because of the behavior of far too many of its all too defectible members, particularly in the sexual realm.

Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones. (Eph 5:3)

A different sort of harm, potentially affecting many more in the Church, comes from the ordained who are unfaithful to Church teaching, conveying error and/or not confronting sin, thus misleading and scattering the flock.  They would do well to remember Jesus’ words regarding the children (of God):

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe [in me] to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. (Mk 9:42; see also Mt 18:6)

Pray for our bishops and priests (and deacons) that they may emulate in every way the Good Shepherd.  Implore the Lord, through the intercession of the many wonderful priest saints, that men of good character being called to the priesthood will follow that summons and find true happiness in this life and the next.

And let us not forget the important role of religious sisters and brothers.  Here, too, may the faithful orders find that the only crisis in vocations is how to accommodate the multitudes wishing to pursue religious life.

“O LORD, remember how faithfully and wholeheartedly I conducted myself in your presence, doing what was pleasing to you!”

These words of Judah’s King Hezekiah in today’s first reading (Is 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8) come at the news that he was mortally ill and then told by Isaiah to put his “house in order” because he would not recover.  Hezekiah was one of the few truly good kings of the Old Testament.  He could say the words above with confidence because he was a great religious reformer.

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Hezekiah, King of Judah, painter unknown, 17th century

It is worth reflecting on these words and our own mortality.  How truly confident are we that we could say these same words in the face of death?  Can we say honestly, at any moment, that our spiritual house is “in order”?  We may or may not receive sufficient warning.

Regular examination of conscience and Confession is essential for “cleaning house.”  The “medicine box” of the Confessional is a great gift to be taken advantage of often (monthly, at least, is recommended) so that we can grow closer to the Lord by clearing out the dross and receiving the fortification (i.e., graces) required to live the Great Commandment (Mt 26:36-40) and avoid future sinful behavior.  In fact, a General Confession might be in order.

It is wise to remember these words of Jesus:

Stay awake, you know neither the day nor the hour. (Mt 25:13)

so that we will hear these words of Jesus:

Well done, my good and faithful servant…Come, share your master’s joy. (Mt 25:23)

Who knows?  Being able to sincerely say these words of Hezekiah could add fifteen years to our lives as the Lord granted to the king.

“Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm!”

This sentiment is what the Lord conveyed to Isaiah (7:1-9) about the impending fate of Ephraim due to its “mischief.”

I’m reminded of the words of Revelation, as relevant in our day as ever:

I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot.  I wish you were either cold or hot.  So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (3:15-16)

(The Douay-Rheims and some other Bible versions use “vomit” instead of “spit” for increased effect.  I like that word better here.)

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A weak-kneed, wobbly, spineless faith that is only adhered to when it is easy, when it goes nicely along with the culture (happening less and less, though), but which is hidden or abandoned entirely when challenged is no faith at all.   Witness the next sentence in Revelation:

For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. (v. 17)

Does this not capture the prevalent attitude today?  “I did it my way — things are going pretty well for me.”  Those thinking this way inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth (Mt 23:27) — wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked in their souls.

As it has been said, only dead fish swim with the stream.

God’s warning is Isaiah must be heeded today more than ever.  Stand firm in the Faith!  Swim against the currents of a decadent society!  Especially when it is hard.

Remember: if we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything..  And what sort of Christian example is that?  Is it worth endangering our immortal souls and the souls of those we influence?  We pray thy kingdom come (Mt 6:10).  What are we doing to advance that cause?  Or are we militating against it?  Let us always be on the side of the Lord, never denying Him or betraying Him.