Friday, July 15, 2005

The First Three Months of Benedict XVI: New Pope, New Style

by Sandro Magister

The intelligentsia have turned their backs on him, but the common faithful haven't - they have a greater appreciation for him than was foreseen. Initial signs of a different pontificate
More here

Gospel for July 15, Memorial: St. Bonaventure, Bishop & Doctor of the Church

From: Matthew 12:1-8

The Question of the Sabbath

[1] At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck ears of grain and to eat. [2] But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath." [3] He said to them, "Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him: [4] how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? [5] Or have you not read in the law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are guiltless? [6] I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. [7] And if you had known what this means, `I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. [8] For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."


2. "The Sabbath": this was the day the Jews set aside for worshipping God. God Himself, the originator of the Sabbath (Genesis 2:3), ordered the Jewish people to avoid certain kinds of work on this day (Exodus 20:8-11; 21:13; Deuteronomy 5:14) to leave them free to give more time to God. As time went by, the rabbis complicated this divine precept: by Jesus' time they had extended to 39 the list of kinds of forbidden work.

The Pharisees accuse Jesus' disciples of breaking the Sabbath. In the casuistry of the scribes and the Pharisees, plucking ears of corn was the same as harvesting, and crushing them was the same as milling--types of agricultural work forbidden on the Sabbath.

3-8. Jesus rebuts the Pharisees' accusation by four arguments--the example of David, that of the priests, a correct understanding of the mercy of God and Jesus' own authority over the Sabbath.

The first example which was quite familiar to the people, who were used to listening to the Bible being read, comes from 1 Samuel 21:2-7: David, in flight from the jealousy of King Saul, asks the priest of the shrine of Nob for food for his men; the priest gave them the only bread he had, the holy bread of the Presence; this was the twelve loaves which were placed each week on the golden altar of the sanctuary as a perpetual offering from the twelve tribes of Israel (Leviticus 24:5-9). The second example refers to the priestly ministry to perform the liturgy, priests had to do a number of things on the Sabbath but did not thereby break the law of Sabbath rest (cf. Numbers 28:9). On the other two arguments, see the notes on Matthew 9:13 and Mark 2:26-27, 28.

[The notes on Matthew 9:13 states:
13. Here Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6, keeping the hyperbole of the Semitic style. A more faithful translation would be: "I desire mercy MORE THAN sacrifice". It is not that our Lord does not want the sacrifices we offer Him: He is stressing that every sacrifice should come from the heart, for charity should imbue everything a Christian does--especially his worship of God (see 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Matthew 5:23-24).]

[The notes on Mark 2:26-27, 28 states:
26-27. The bread of the Presence consisted of twelve loaves or cakes placed each morning on the table in the sanctuary, as homage to the Lord from the twelve tribes of Israel (cf. Leviticus 24:5-9). The loaves withdrawn to make room for the fresh ones were reserved to the priests. Abiathar's action anticipates what Christ teaches here. Already in the Old Testament God had established a hierarchy in the
precepts of the Law so that the lesser ones yielded to the main ones.

This explains why a ceremonial precept (such as the one we are discussing) should yield before a precept of the natural law. Similarly, the commandment to keep the Sabbath does not come before the duty to seek basic subsistence. Vatican II uses this passage of the Gospel to underline the value of the human person over and above economic and social development: "The social order and its development must constantly yield to the good of the person, since the order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons and not the other way around, as the Lord suggested when He said that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. The social order requires constant improvement: it must be founded in truth, built on justice, and enlivened by love" ("Gaudium Et Spes", 26).

Finally in this passage Christ teaches God's purpose in instituting the Sabbath: God established it for man's good, to help him rest and devote himself to Divine worship in joy and peace. The Pharisees, through their interpretation of the Law, had turned this day into a source of anguish and scruple due to all the various prescriptions and prohibitions they introduced.

By proclaiming Himself `Lord of the Sabbath', Jesus affirms His divinity and His universal authority. Because He is Lord he has the power to establish other laws, as Yahweh had in the Old Testament.

28. The Sabbath had been established not only for man's rest but also to give glory to God: that is the correct meaning of the __expression "the Sabbath was made for man." Jesus has every right to say He is Lord of the Sabbath, because He is God. Christ restores to the weekly day of rest its full, religious meaning: it is not just a matter of fulfilling a number of legal precepts or of concern for physical well-being: the Sabbath belongs to God; it is one way, suited to human nature, of rendering glory and honor to the Almighty. The Church, from the time of the Apostles onwards, transferred the observance of this precept to the following day, Sunday--the Lord's Day--in celebration of the resurrection of Christ.

"Son of Man": the origin of the messianic meaning of this __expression is to be found particularly in the prophecy of Dan 7:13ff, where Daniel, in a prophetic vision, contemplates `one like the Son of Man' coming down on the clouds of Heaven, who even goes right up to God's throne and is given dominion and glory and royal power over all peoples and nations. This __expression appears 69 times in the Synoptic Gospels; Jesus prefers it to other ways of describing the Messiah--such as Son of David, Messiah, etc.--thereby avoiding the nationalistic overtones those expressions had in Jewish minds at the time (cf. "Introduction to the Gospel According to St. Mark", p. 62 above.]
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland.

Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

From CatholicCulture: You are Weird; God is Odd

The subject line of this email is the title of my new Highlights article, "You are Weird; God is Odd". Frankly, I find myself unable to explain this title, except by the following: yes, the article is about the "weirdness" of Catholics; no, I don't literally believe God to be "odd".

That's the disclaimer! In all seriousness, though, I encourage you to read this article if you've ever felt out of place as a Catholic in today's culture.

And if you haven't ... you might want to read it really carefully.

See the Article: You are Weird; God is Odd

God bless,

Peter Mirus
Vice President, Trinity Communications

Diocese of Tucson to emerge from bankruptcy

Tucson, Jul. 13, 2005 (CNA) - The Diocese of Tucson will emerge from bankruptcy thanks to a reorganization plan that has the archdiocese, insurers and parishes pooling their funds to settle sex-abuse claims up to $22.2 million.

Gospel for July 14, Memorial: Bl. Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin

From: Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus Thanks His Father (Continuation)

(At that time Jesus declared,) [28] "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. [30] For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."

28-30. Our Lord calls everyone to come to Him. We all find things difficult in one way or another. The history of souls bears out the truth of these words of Jesus. Only the Gospel can fully satisfy the thirst for truth and justice which sincere people feel. Only our Lord, our Master--and those to whom He passes on His power--can soothe the sinner by telling him, "Your sins are forgiven" (Matthew 9:2). In this connection Pope Paul VI teaches: "Jesus says now and always, `Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.' His attitude towards us is one of invitation, knowledge and compassion; indeed, it is one of offering, promise, friendship, goodness, remedy of our ailments; He is our comforter; indeed, our nourishment, our bread, giving us energy and life" ("Homily on Corpus Christi", 13 June 1974).

"Come to Me": the Master is addressing the crowds who are following Him, "harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36). The Pharisees weighed them down with an endless series of petty regulations (cf. Acts 15:10), yet they brought no peace to their souls. Jesus tells these people, and us, about the kind of burden He imposes: "Any other burden oppresses and crushes you, but Christ's actually takes weight off you. Any other burden weighs down, but Christ's gives you wings. If you take a bird's wings away, you might seem to be taking weight off it, but the more weight you take off, the more you tie it down to the earth. There it is on the ground, and you wanted to relieve it of a weight; give it back the weight of its wings and you will see how it flies" (St. Augustine, "Sermon" 126).

"All you who go about tormented, afflicted and burdened with the burden of your cares and desires, go forth from them, come to Me and I will refresh you and you shall find for your souls the rest which your desires take from you" (St. John of the Cross, "Ascent of Mount Carmel", Book 1, Chapter 7, 4).

Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland.

Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Another Quiz-Which Theologian Are You?

Priests say they were forced out of ministry

Five of the nine Catholic priests who signed the pro-gay Phoenix Declaration no longer are on active duty in the Phoenix Diocese.

Three of those who have left active duty say they were forced out by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. One other is seriously ill, and the fifth resigned on his own, in part because of philosophical differences with the bishop. They all signed a 2003 declaration endorsing civil rights for gays and lesbians that was endorsed by clergy members from several Christian denominations.

The ousted men are among at least 11 Catholic priests who have left active ministry since Olmsted became bishop in late 2003. Their departures further exacerbate a shortage of priests in the diocese, which has several parish vacancies.

Gospel for Wednesday, 15th Week in Ordinary Time

From: Matthew 11:25-27

Jesus Thanks His Father

[25] At that time Jesus declared, "I thank Thee, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; [26] yea, Father, for such was Thy gracious will. [27] All things have been delivered to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him."


25-26. The wise and understanding of this world, that is, those who rely on their own judgment, cannot accept the revelation which Christ has brought us. Supernatural outlook is always connected with humility. A humble person, who gives himself little importance, sees; a person who is full of self-esteem fails to perceive supernatural things.

27. Here Jesus formally reveals His divinity. Our knowledge of a person shows our intimacy with Him, according to the principle given by St. Paul: "For what person knows a man's thoughts except the spirit of the man which is in him?" (1 Corinthians 2:11). The Son knows the Father by the same knowledge as that by which the Father knows the Son. This identity of knowledge implies oneness of nature; that is to say, Jesus is God just as the Father is God.
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland.

Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Thomas More Law Center To argue For Reversal of $120 Million Jury Verdict Against Pro-Lifers in the “Nuremberg Files” Case

VIA EMAIL from The Thomas More Law Center:
ANN ARBOR, MI — On Tuesday, July 12th, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Portland, Oregon, will hear oral arguments in the so-called “Nuremberg Files” case, which many consider to be one of the most important First Amendment cases in the country. The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor Michigan, represents several pro-life advocates who were hit with a $120 million jury verdict in 1999. The case against the defendants was primarily based on their use of “wanted” posters specifically naming abortion providers.

The Law Center represents six of the fourteen pro-life defendants. The American Catholic Lawyers Association represents the remaining defendants. Edward L. White III, trial counsel with the Thomas More Law Center, will present the argument on behalf of all defendants.

According to White, “We are hopeful the Ninth Circuit will apply the new Supreme Court cases to defendants’ situation. These new cases require the reversal of the jury’s verdict in this case.”

After the 1999 jury verdict, an appeal was taken to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and in 2001 a unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit set aside the verdict and injunction because the defendants’ speech was protected by the First Amendment. The unanimous decision, however, was overturned in 2002 by a sharply divided eleven-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit, who voted six to five in the case, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review their decision.

However, since their initial refusal to grant a review of the case, United States Supreme Court has issued at least two opinions, which the Law Center believes, require a reversal or at least a new trial. The Supreme Court has now made it clear that for a defendant to be found guilty of making a threat, a jury must determine that the defendant made the threat with specific intent to commit violence. In the defendants’ case, however, the jury was told that it did not have to find specific intent, which is contrary to the new Supreme Court case law.

Also, the Supreme Court has now made it clear that for a pro-lifer to be found guilty of “extortion” under RICO, the pro-lifer must obtain property from an abortion provider. With regard to the defendants, there was no evidence that they had obtained any property from the abortion providers, yet the abortion providers were still awarded more than $11 million based on their RICO claims, which is contrary to the new Supreme Court case law.

Can Spokane Diocese survive bankruptcy?

SPOKANE, Wash. -- The bankruptcy filing of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane raises the prospect that some or all of the 82 parishes could be sold to pay victims of sexual abuse by priests.

It could also prompt Catholic schools to close; Catholic cemeteries to be sold and the bodies disinterred; and charities tied to the Catholic church to scale back their work.

That has outraged some Catholics who wonder why they must pay for the depredations of a few pedophile priests.
It looks like there are ominous clouds on the horizon as this case continues to move forward...

Another Example of Pure Evil...

Abortion Pill RU-486 on Essential Drug List of World Health Organization
LONDON, July 11, 2005 ( – The British Medical Journal reported Saturday that the World Health Organization (WHO) has approved the RU-486 chemical abortifacient as an “essential” medicine for inclusion in a list of medicines required to be available to physicians working in developing countries.

Arguing that the combination of mifepristone followed later by misoprostol is a safe alternative to surgical abortion in countries where abortion is often illegal, the WHO authorized inclusion of the drug as essential to combat what it terms back-alley “unsafe abortions.”

Vatican Document Forbidding Homosexuals to Priesthood Ready for Release says Vaticanologist

ROME, July 11, 2005 ( - One of the best known English-speaking Vatican reporters, John Allen, reports that the long-expected Vatican document calling attention to the fact that homosexual persons are not to be admitted to the priesthood is "now in the hands of Pope Benedict XVI". The document will come as no surprise to Vatican watchers since Rome has previously released two official documents barring homosexuals from the priesthood. As Allen puts it, with the new document, the teaching won't "change, but the level of authority and clarity" will, since the new document will be directly authorized by the Pope.
More at here.

Gospel for Tuesday, 15th Week in Ordinary Time

From: Matthew 11:20-24

Jesus Reproaches People for Their Unbelief

[20] Then He (Jesus) began to upbraid the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. [21] "Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. [22] But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. [23] And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to Heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. [24] But I tell that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you."

21-24. Chorazin and Bethsaida were thriving cities on the northern shore of the lake of Gennesaret, not very far from Capernaum. During His public ministry Jesus often preached in these cities and worked many miracles there; in Capernaum He revealed His teaching about the Blessed Eucharist (cf. John 6:51ff). Tyre, Sidon, Sodom and Gomorrah, the main cities of Phoenicia--all notorious for loose living--were classical examples of divine punishment (cf. Ezekiel 26-28; Isaiah 23).

Here Jesus is pointing out the ingratitude of people who could know Him but who refuse to change: on the day of Judgment (verses 22 and 24) they will have more explaining to do: "Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required" (Luke 12:48).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland.

Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

Monday, July 11, 2005

INSTRUMENTUM LABORIS, English version text

From the Introduction:
From the very beginning, the Church has drawn her life from the Eucharist. This Sacrament is the reason for her existence, the inexhaustible source of her holiness, the power of her unity, the bond of her communion, the source of her dynamism in preaching the Gospel, the principle of her evangelizing activity, the font of charity, the heart of human promotion and the anticipation of her glory in the Eternal Banquet at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (cf. Rev 19:7-9).

The Risen Lord is present in his Church in various ways, but he is present in a particularly unique way in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Through the words of consecration and the grace of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ for the praise and glory of God the Father. This inestimable gift and great mystery were realized at the Last Supper. With the express command of the Lord Jesus: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Lk 22:19), the Sacrament passes down to us through the Apostles and their successors. In this regard, St. Paul, in his account of the bread and cup of the New Covenant, writes: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you” (1 Cor 11:23). Sacred Tradition accounts for its faithful transmission from one generation to the next, down to the present day.

Under Divine Providence, the deposit of Eucharistic faith, despite various doctrinal and disciplinary controversies, has come to us in its original purity as a result of primarily two ecumenical councils: Trent (1545-1563) and Vatican II (1962-1965). Various individual popes have also made notable contributions to a better understanding of the mystery of the Eucharist, among them, Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, both of whom undertook the task of applying in the universal Church the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council. The pontificate of Pope John Paul II enriched the Catholic Church with important documents on the Sacrament of the Eucharist, such as The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia and the Apostolic Letter Mane nobiscum Domine. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has also shown his intention to continue the implementation of the Second Vatican Council and to follow faithfully the two-thousand-year-old tradition of the Church by stating in his first discourse, addressed through the College of Cardinals to the whole Church, that the Eucharist is the lasting centre and source of the Petrine service entrusted to him.

These documents provide a profound reflection on the Sacrament of the Eucharist which has important spiritual and pastoral implications. The question of great pastoral concern, episcopal responsibility and prophetic vision is to see how this rich patrimony of faith can be implemented in the Catholic Church, extended over five continents, in the initial years of the Third Millennium of Christianity and beyond.
Well worth taking the time to read...

The Holy See to the Rhythm of the Tango: The Pope's Spokesman in His Own Words

An exclusive interview with Joaquín Navarro-Valls. From doctor to journalist. Love. Chastity. A passion for dance. Opus Dei. And twenty-one years spent beside two popes.
by Sandro Magister

Leading Cardinal Redefines Church's View on Evolution

An influential cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, which has long been regarded as an ally of the theory of evolution, is now suggesting that belief in evolution as accepted by science today may be incompatible with Catholic faith.

Gospel for July 11, Memorial: St. Benedict, Abbot

From: Matthew 10:34-11:1

Jesus' Instructions to the Apostles (Continuation)

(Jesus said to His disciples) [34] "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. [35] For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; [36] and a man's foes will be those of his own household. [37] He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; [38] and he who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. [39] He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

[40] He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. [41] He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. [42] And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward."

The Mission of John the Baptist. Jesus' Reply

[1] And when Jesus had finished instructing His twelve disciples, He went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.


34-37. Our Lord has not come to bring a false and earthly peace--the sort of tranquility the self-seeking person yearns for; He wants us to struggle against our own passions and against sin and its effects. The sword He equips us with for this struggle is, in the words of Scripture, "the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:17), "lively and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).

The word of God in fact leads to these divisions mentioned here. It can lead, even within families, to those who embrace the faith being regarded as enemies by relatives who resist the word of truth. This is why our Lord goes on (verse 37) to say that nothing should come between Him and His disciple--not even father, mother, son or daughter: any and every obstacle (cf. Matthew 5:29-30) must be avoided.

Obviously these words of Jesus do not set up any opposition between the first and fourth commandments (love for God above all things and love for one's parents): He is simply indicating the order of priorities. We should love God with all our strength (cf. Matthew 22:37), and make a serious effort to be saints; and we should also love and respect--in theory and in practice--the parents God has given us; they have generously cooperated with the creative power of God in bringing us into the world and there is so much that we owe them. But love for our parents should not come before love of God; usually there is no reason why these two loves should clash, but if that should happen, we should be quite clear in our mind and in heart about what Jesus says here. He has in fact given us an example to follow on this point: "How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father's house?" (Luke 2:49)--His reply when, as a youth, Mary and Joseph found Him in the Temple of Jerusalem after a long search. This event in our Lord's life is a guideline for every Christian--parent or child. Children should learn from it that their affection for their parents should never come before their love for God, particularly when our Creator asks us to follow Him in a way which implies special self-giving on our part; parents should take the lesson that their children belong to God in the first place, and therefore He has a right to do with them what He wishes, even if this involves sacrifice, even heroic sacrifice. This teaching of our Lord asks us to be generous and to let God have His way. In fact, however, God never lets Himself be outdone in generosity. Jesus has promised a hundredfold gain, even in this life, and later on eternal life (cf. Matthew 19:29), to those who readily respond to His will.

38-39. The teaching contained in the preceding verses is summed up in these two succinct sentences. Following Christ, doing what He asks, means risking this present life to gain eternal life.

"People who are constantly concerned with themselves, who act above all for their own satisfaction, endanger their eternal salvation and cannot avoid being unhappy even in this life. Only if a person forgets himself and gives himself to God and to others, in marriage as well as in any other aspect of life, can he be happy on this earth, with a happiness that is a preparation for, and a foretaste of, the joy of Heaven" ([St] J. Escriva, "Christ Is Passing By", 24). Clearly, Christian life is based on self-denial: there is no Christianity without the Cross.

40. To encourage the Apostles and to persuade others to receive them, our Lord affirms that there is an intimate solidarity, or even a kind of identity, between Himself and His disciples. God in Christ, Christ in the Apostles: this is the bridge between Heaven and earth. (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

41-42. A prophet's mission is not essentially one of announcing future events; his main role is that of communicating the word of God (cf. Jeremiah 11:2; Isaiah 1:2). The righteous man, the just man, is he who obeys the Law of God and follows His paths (cf. Genesis 6:9; Isaiah 3:10). Here Jesus tells us that everyone who humbly listens to and welcomes prophets and righteous men, recognizing God in them, will receive the reward of a prophet and a righteous man. The very fact of generously receiving God's friends will gain one the reward that they obtain. Similarly, if we should see God in the least of His disciples (verse 42), even if they do not seem very important, they are important, because they are envoys of God and of His Son. That is why he who gives them a glass of cold water--an alms, or any small service--will receive a reward, for he has shown generosity to our Lord Himself (cf. Matthew 25:40).

1. In chapters 11 and 12 the Gospel records the obduracy of the Jewish leaders toward Jesus, despite hearing His teaching (chapter 5-7) and seeing the miracles which bear witness to the divine nature of His person and His doctrine (chapters 8 and 9).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland.

Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Gospel for Sunday, 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

From: Matthew 13:1-23

Parable of the Sower

[1] That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. [2] And great crowds gathered about Him, so that He got into a boat and sat there; and the whole crowd stood on the beach. [3] And He told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. [4] And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. [5] Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, [6] but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. [7] Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. [8] Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. [9] He who has ears, let him hear."

[10] Then the disciples came and said to Him (Jesus), "Why do You speak to them in parables?" [11] And He answered them, "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven, but to them it has not been given. [12] For to him who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. [13] This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. [14] With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: `You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. [15] For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.'

[16] But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. [17] Truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it."

[18] "Hear then the parable of the sower. [19] When any one hears the Word of the Kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. [20] As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the Word and immediately receives it with joy; [21] yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately he falls away. [22] As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the Word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the Word, and it proves unfruitful. [23] As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the Word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty."

3. Chapter 13 of St. Matthew includes as many as seven of Jesus' parables, which is the reason why it is usually called "the parable discourse" or the "parabolic discourse". Because of their similarity of content and setting these parables are often called the "Kingdom parables", and also the "parables of the Lake", because Jesus taught them on the shore of Lake Gennesaret. Jesus uses these elaborate comparisons (parables) to explain certain features of the Kingdom of God which He has come to establish (cf. Matthew 3:2)--its tiny, humble origins; its steady growth; its worldwide scope; its salvific force. God calls everyone to salvation but only those attain it who receive God's call with good dispositions and who do not change their attitude; the value of the spiritual benefits the Kingdom brings--so valuable that one should give up everything to obtain them; the fact that good and bad are all mixed together until the harvest time, or the time of God's judgment; the intimate connection between earthly and heavenly aspects of the Kingdom, until it reaches its point of full development at the end of time.

On Jesus' lips, parables are exceptionally effective. By using parables He keeps His listeners' attention, whether they are uneducated or not, and by means of the most ordinary things of daily life He sheds light on the deepest supernatural mysteries. He used the parable device in a masterly way; His parables are quite unique; they carry the seal of His personality; through them He has graphically shown us the riches of grace, the life of the Church, the demands of the faith and even the mystery of God's own inner life.

Jesus' teaching continues to provide every generation with light and guidance on moral conduct. By reading and reflecting on His parables one can savor the adorable humanity of the Savior, who showed such kindness to the people who crowded around to hear Him--and who shows the same readiness to listen to our prayers, despite our dullness, and to reply to our healthy curiosity when we try to make out His meaning.

3-8. Anyone who has visited the fertile plain to the west of the Lake of Gennesaret will appreciate Jesus' touching description in the parable of the sower. The plain is crisscrossed by paths; it is streaked with rocky ground, often with the rocks lying just beneath the surface, and with the courses of rivulets, dry for most of the year but still retaining some moisture. Here and there are clumps of large thorn bushes. When the agricultural worker sows seed in this mixed kind of land, he knows that some seed will fare better than others.

9. Jesus did not explain this parable there and then. It was quite usual for parables to be presented in the first instance as a kind of puzzle to gain the listener's attention, excite his curiosity and fix the parable in his memory. It may well be that Jesus wanted to allow his more interested listeners to identify themselves by coming back to hear Him again--as happened with His disciples. The rest--who listened out of idle curiosity or for too human reasons (to see Him work miracles)--would not benefit from hearing a more detailed and deeper explanation of the parable.

10-13. The kind of Kingdom Jesus was going to establish did not suit the Judaism of His time, largely because of the Jew's nationalistic, earthbound idea of the Messiah to come. In His preaching Jesus takes account of the different outlooks of His listeners, as can be seen in the attitudes described in the parable of the sower. If people were well disposed to Him, the enigmatic nature of the parable would stimulate their interest; and Jesus later did give His many disciples a fuller explanation of its meaning; but there was no point in doing this if people were not ready to listen.

Besides, parables--as indeed any type of comparison or analogy--are used to reveal or explain something which is not easy to understand, as was the case with the supernatural things Jesus was explaining. One has to shade one's eyes to see things if the sun is too bright; otherwise, one is blinded and sees nothing. Similarly, parables help to shade supernatural brightness to allow the listener to grasp meaning without being blinded by it.

These verses also raise a very interesting question: how can divine revelation and grace produce such widely differing responses in people? What is at work here is the mystery of divine grace--which is an unmerited gift--and of man's response to this grace. What Jesus says here underlines man's responsibility to be ready to accept God's grace and to respond to it. Jesus' reference to Isaiah (Matthew 13:14-15) is a prophecy of that hardness of heart which is a punishment meted out to those who resist grace.

These verses need to be interpreted in the light of three points: 1) Jesus Christ loved everyone, including people of His own home town: He gave His life in order to save all men; 2) the parable is a literary form designed to get ideas across clearly: its ultimate aim is to teach, not to mislead or obscure; 3) lack of appreciation for divine grace is something blameworthy, which does merit punishment; however, Jesus did not come directly to punish anyone, but rather to save everyone.

12. Jesus is addressing His disciples and explaining to them that, precisely because they have faith in Him and want to have a good grasp of His teaching, they will be given a deeper understanding of divine truths. But those who do not "follow Him" (cf. note on Matthew 4:18-22) will later lose interest in the things of God and will grow ever blinder: it is as if the little they have is being taken away from them.

This verse also helps us understand the meaning of the parable of the sower, a parable which gives a wonderful explanation of the supernatural economy of divine grace: God gives grace, and man freely responds to that grace. The result is that those who respond to grace generously receive additional grace and so grow steadily in grace and holiness; whereas those who reject God's gifts become closed up within themselves; through their selfishness and attachment to sin they eventually lose God's grace entirely. In this verse, then, our Lord gives a clear warning: with the full weight of His divine authority He exhorts us--without taking away our freedom--to act responsibly: the gifts God keeps sending us should yield fruit; we should make good use of the opportunities for Christian sanctification which are offered us in the course of our lives.

14-15. Only well-disposed people grasp the meaning of God's words. It is not enough just to hear them physically. In the course of Jesus' preaching the prophetic words of Isaiah come true once again.

However, we should not think that not wanting to hear or to understand was something exclusive to certain contemporaries of Jesus; each one of us is at times hard of hearing, hard-hearted and dull-minded in the presence of God's grace and saving word. Moreover, it is not enough to be familiar with the teaching of the Church: it is absolutely necessary to put the faith into practice, with all that that implies, morally and ascetically. Jesus was fixed to the wood of the Cross not only by nails and by the sins of certain Jews but also by our sins--sins committed centuries later but which afflicted the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ, who bore the burden of our sins. See the note on Mark 4:11-12.

16-17. In contrast with the closed attitude of many Jews who witnessed Jesus' life but did not believe in Him, the disciples are praised by our Lord for their docility to grace, their openness to recognizing Him as the Messiah and to accepting His teaching.

He calls His disciples blessed, happy. As He says, the prophets and just men and women of the Old Testament had for centuries lived in hope of enjoying one day the peace the future Messiah would bring, but they had died without experiencing this good fortune. Simeon, towards the end of his long life, was filled with joy on seeing the infant Jesus when He was presented in the temple: "He took Him up in his arms and blessed God and said, `Lord now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy word; for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation'" (Luke 2:28-30). During our Lord's public life, His disciples were fortunate enough to see and be on close terms with Him; later they would recall that incomparable gift, and one of them would begin his first letter in these words: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our own eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life; [...] that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us; and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing this that our [or: your] joy may be complete (1 John 1:1-4).

This exceptional good fortune was, obviously, not theirs but of special merit: God planned it; it was He who decided that the time had come for the Old Testament prophecies to be fulfilled. In any event, God gives every soul opportunities to meet Him: each of us has to be sensitive enough to grasp them and not let them pass. There were many men and women in Palestine who saw and heard the incarnate Son of God but did not have the spiritual sensitivity to see in Him what the Apostles and disciples saw.

19. He does not understand because he does not love--not because he is not clever enough: lack of love opens the door of the soul to the devil.
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland.

Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.