Tag Archives: Jesus Christ

Guardian Angels

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We usually associate Guardian Angels with children. That’s what Jesus does in the gospel reading for their feast on October 2nd. You can’t get into heaven unless you become like little children whose “angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 18,1-5,10)

That’s the way artists, like the above, usually picture Guardian Angels– with children, protecting and guiding them as they go on their way in a dangerous world.

Yet, St. Bernard says that angels are with us all our lives because, whether we know it or not, we’re always children. “They are our guardians and trustees appointed and set over us by the Father. We are God’s children although it does not seem so, because we are still but small children under guardians and trustees, and for the present little better than slaves.”

However smart or independent or grown-up we are, we’re still little kids, and God, who knows we are always little kids gives us “loyal, prudent, powerful” protectors and guides. “They who keep us in all our ways cannot be overpowered or led astray, much less lead us astray.”

I was thinking of the “principle of subsidiarity” on the feastday of the Guardian Angels. God spreads  power around. I was also thinking that sometime ago I nearly hit a truck ahead of me but something suddenly stopped me. “Thanks.”

O God, in your infinite providence you deign to send your holy angels to be our guardians. Grant to us who pray to you

that we may be defended by them in this life

and rejoice with them in the next.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son.

The Passion of John the Baptist

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August 29th recalls the the death of John the Baptist. Mark’s gospel tells the gruesome story. King Herod ordered his death, prompted by Herodias. (Mark 6, 17-19) Because his death is like the Passion of Jesus the church calls it “The Passion of John the Baptist”.

Venerable Bede says that John’s death is like Jesus’ death because they both embraced the same values.  If John stayed silent about Herod’s conduct, he may have gained a few peaceful years of life, but he was more concerned with what God thought than what powerful people on earth thought.

“His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth?

He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life.

“But heaven notices– not the span of our lives, but how we live them, speaking the truth.” (Bede, Homily)

Wonderful line: It doesn’t matter how many years we live, but how we live them, “speaking the truth.”

For John that meant dying for the truth. What does it mean for us? It may not mean getting our heads chopped off, but we should expect some scars from the daily battle for God’s truth. ” May we fight hard for the confession of what you teach.” (Opening prayer)

Saint Augustine

Augustine baptism
Augustine’s Baptism, Gozzoli

August 28, Feast of St. Augustine

His feast comes the day after we honor his mother Monica, Augustine was changed by encountering the mystery of God. It was not his brilliant mind or human gifts that created the encounter; it was God’s grace, which we all look for.

Yet, look at the scene of his baptism, above. There’s Monica standing behind St. Ambrose. A mother’s prayers had something to do with it too.

Here’s Augustine himself on his conversion: “Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so.” 

And God became his Light.

“O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: ‘I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me’”.

The Light was Christ.

“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!,

Lo, you were within,

but I outside, seeking there for you,

and upon the shapely things you have made

I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.

You were with me, but I was not with you.

They held me back far from you,

those things which would have no being,

were they not in you.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;

you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;

you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;

I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;

you touched me, and I burned for your peace.” (Confessions)

Here’s a biography of Augustine by Pope Benedict XVI

Here’s a wealth of material on Augustine from Villanova University

Seed on Tough Ground

Why did Matthew put the parables of Jesus, which we’re reading these days at Mass, in the 13th chapter of his gospel instead at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry as Mark does, who puts them in the early chapters of his gospel? Might seem unimportant, but commentators think it helps understand them from a different perspective.

Way back in the 5th chapter of Matthew, Jesus called his disciples up a mountain and promised them a blessed life would come from following him. He taught a sublime message, and worked miracles to back up its truth. He then sent disciples out to proclaim his life-giving message ( chapter 10) , but tells them:   “Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”

They did what he told them, but found tough opposition, more than they expected. Jesus faced the same opposition,

Matthew’s gospel was written around 90 AD in Galilee when Galilee had changed from the time of Jesus.. After Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, Jews influenced by the Pharisees moved into Galilee in force seeking to rebuild Judaism. They strongly opposed the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.

Matthew’s gospel, reflecting the increasing tension between Christians and Jews in his day, presents Jesus’ parables, not only meant for the people of his time, but for the new situation in Galilee.

It’s a society increasingly hostile to Jesus of Nazareth. Still, the seed must be sown, however it’s received. And don’t give up on the tough ground, don’t judge it hopeless, don’t be judgmental about it, Matthew’s gospel insists:

“A sower went out to sow. some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.”

Some seed fell on good ground. Farming methods then involved throwing out the seed, however uncultivated the soil.

A lesson for us today? Seems so. .We’re like those who heard this parable originally and then, convinced it would be heard and understood and accepted, brought it to others.

The soil was unwelcoming then. Our soil seems unwelcoming now.. Still!

Don’t Look Down on Yourself?

Today’s the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, a bishop of Ravenna in Italy, who died around 450 AD. The prayer for his feast describes him as “an outstanding preacher of your Incarnate Word.”  You can see why in this excerpt from one of his sermons:

“Why do you look down on yourself who are so precious to God? Why think so little of yourself when you are so honored by him? Why do you ask how you were created, and don’t want to know why you were made?

“This entire visible universe is yours to dwell in.  It was for you that the light dispelled the overshadowing gloom; for you the night was regulated and the day was measured: for you the heavens were brightened with the brilliance of the sun, the moon and the stars. The earth was adorned with flowers, trees and fruit; lovely living things were created in the air, the fields, and the seas for you, lest you lose the joy of God’s creation in sad loneliness.

“And the Creator is still devising things that can add to your glory. He has made you in his image that you might make the invisible Creator present on earth; he has made you his legate, so that the vast empire of the world might have the Lord’s representative.

“Then in his mercy God assumed what he made in you; he wanted now to be truly manifest in men and women, to be revealed in them as in an image. Now he would be in reality what he was in symbol.”

God of Tents, Clouds and Fire

On their journey through the desert they set up a meeting tent:

“Whenever Moses went out to the tent, the people would all rise and stand at the entrance of their own tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down and stand at its entrance while the LORD spoke with Moses.
On seeing the column of cloud stand at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and worship at the entrance of their own tents. The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.”

The tent, the cloud, the pillar of fire were signs of God’s dynamic presence, a presence not fixed, but leading them to another place. The Exodus story is a story of God’s presence leading humanity on.

God leads them to a place they don’t know. God’s not a wall making them safe and settled; God’s on the move, and God moves them on.

In his book “The Mystery of the Temple” the theologian Yves Congar, OP, says we need these “long” Old Testament stories to remind us of the dynamic presence of a God of tents who is a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.

God is our guide, the only map we have, who moves each of us and all of history to a new stage. “We are always tempted to confine ourselves to what we see and touch, to be satisfied with this and to think that a preliminary achievement fulfills God’s promise, ” Congar writes.

“Abraham thought God’s promise was fulfilled in Ismael, Joshua thought it was the conquest of Canaan. Solomon thought it was in his immediate descendants…”but these promises were capable of more complete fulfillment which would only materialize after long periods of waiting and urgently needed purification. Only the prophets–and this, in fact, is their task–draw attention to the process of development from seminal promises and to the progress of the latter towards their accomplishment through successive stages of fulfillment continuously transcending one another.” (p 31-32)

We may think it’s the end, but it’s only a beginning.

Finally, God speaks most familiarly with Moses in the desert, a place of homelessness and unease, the Book of Exodus says: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.”

Will that be true for us too? Does God speak most familiarly with us when we’re in the desert, not sure where life is heading?

Martha Revisited

We listen to scholars who study the bible. Why not also to artists. Here’s  the 13th century Tuscan artist, Giovanni di Milano, looking into Luke’s gospel about  Jesus with Martha and Mary at Bethany.

The artist adds some delightful details of his own to Luke’s account. He’s let his imagination roam. The table’s set for four people. That would be Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

But, who are those others coming in the door?  Obviously, they’re Jesus’ disciples, led by Peter. One of them gestures towards Peter, as if saying, “He told us to come.”

Poor Martha in her apron holds up her hands, “What are we going to do?”

There will be no miracle, except the miracle of Martha’s hospitality.

More than four are going to be fed.

We need to read the gospels like this too.