Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Knowing the Value of Little Things

“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
—Matthew 10:29-31

In 1618, a young Jesuit from Diest, Belgium, traveled on foot to Rome to study at the famous Roman College. John Berchmans was, in many ways, an unremarkable young religious. The son of a shoemaker, his life was like that of other children of the working classes, but John’s natural intelligence helped him stand out from his peers and he was given an opportunity to study, which ultimately led him to religious life and to preparations for the priesthood.


After distinguishing himself in philosophical studies, John was chosen by his superiors to take part in a public debate, but became ill before it had ended. As the young seminarian lay on his deathbed, he clasped his crucifix, his rosary, and the Jesuit Rule and said: “These are my three treasures; with these I shall gladly die.” The next day, August 13, 1621, he passed on to his eternal reward. He was canonized in 1888 and he is honored as the patron saint of altar servers.

St. John Berchman, S.J.
At the time of his death, John was only 22 years old and, in the estimation of the world, he didn’t really “do” anything. This is certainly true if we measure his life against the standards of our contemporary culture, which places so much value on grand statements and gestures and on constantly seeking the next “big thing.” John himself seems to recognize how “small” his life was when he remarked, “My penance is to lead an ordinary life.” But we can also glimpse his mature spirit as we hear him urging his fellow Jesuit students to “Prize the little things most of all.”

Knowing the value of “little things” is a beautiful and essential part of the Christian life.

Drawing from the 10th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, this Sunday’s Gospel offers seven verses that form part of a larger passage called the “Mission Discourse.” This chapter presents a variety of teachings loosely woven together as an extended lesson on how to live as disciples of Jesus. Here we are reminded that disciples have the special task of continuing the mission of Jesus in the world (vv. 5-15) and that disciples will experience suffering because of their commitment to Christ (vv. 6-25). Our text this Sunday expands these themes, but also reminds us disciples that our mission is to proclaim what God has done—and continues to do—with courage and conviction (vv. 26-27, 32-33).
In the middle of this passage is a simple reminder of how much God loves little things.
Although it’s easy to hear Jesus’ teachings about God’s care for sparrows and the hairs of our heads as a promise of protection and care, there is another meaning which offers a powerful lesson in discipleship.

When Jesus reminds his listeners that two sparrows can be purchased for a small coin, he was using an example that would have been immediately understood by the people of his time. The word he uses for “small coin” is assarion, which is a Roman copper coin that is worth about 1/16 of a denarius. Keep in mind that a denarius was basically a day’s wage in Jesus’ time. In other words, a denarius is what was necessary to keep a family alive for a day. An assarion would have been the equivalent of taking a denarius (coin) and breaking it into 16 tiny pieces. For one of those tiny slivers of metal, a family could buy not one, but two sparrows, the cheapest meat that could be bought at the market.

The assarion and the two sparrows were so insignificant that most people would have simply dismissed them, if they noticed them at all. And yet, Jesus reminds us that not even something so worthless in the mind of the world escapes God’s notice. The lesson for us is the same one that Saint John Berchmans learned in his own life: We need to value the little things—the small moments of grace, little opportunities for sacrifice, and passing opportunities for kindness—because God’s values them in a way that we can never imagine.
When have “little” things or events in your life held a deeper meaning or significance?
How do you express your commitment to follow Jesus in “little” ways?
We can be tempted to look for great signs and symbols of God’s grace in the world. How do you see God at work in your life in little ways?
Words of Wisdom: “As we all know, we it is in the little things that joy is best seen and shared: when by taking one small step, we make God’s mercy overflow in situation of desolation; when we decide to pick up the phone and arrange to see someone; when we patiently allow others to take up our time…”—Pope Francis, Homily for Chrism Mass 2017

This reflection was originally written for Aleteia.org and published on their website on June 24, 2017.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

My new book about Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

Although I've been neglecting my blog for the last several months (as I've been navigating several other writing commitments), I'm happy to be blogging again and I want to share with you this piece that was recently published by my friends at Aleteia.org about my newest book (published by Ignatius Press): Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J.: With an Undivided Heart.

The memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga is celebrated on June 21.


To order a copy of the book, click here.

To read the profile by Aleteia.org, click here.



Corpus Christi: The Mission That Lasts Until the End of Time

Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
—John 6:57

In 1928, Myles Connolly published a small novel entitled Mr. Blue, which tells the story of a young man who decides to live out the Christian Faith in a serious, transforming way. The book was intended to serve as a Christian response to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic work, The Great Gatsby. Blue lives a life of extremes, we might even say of excess, but it is a far cry from the extravagance of the “Roaring ‘20s.”

Mr. Blue has much to say to us about how faith in Christ can shape a life, transforming a person’s very existence into an act of eucharistia — an act of thanksgiving — that by its very nature draws others into communion.

In the novel, Blue tells the story about the kingdom of the Antichrist: the days of the “the ecstatic, passionate, beauty-loving, liberty-seeking people had, as was early predicted, come to a close. The sluggish frigid races had survived.” In the climax of Blue’s tale of a new world in which even laughter and curiosity had been forbidden by law, a priest, the last Christian, climbs the highest tower in a city of metal and, using Hosts made from wheat he has grown himself, offers the last Mass, fulfilling his promise to “bring God back to the earth.” As the government’s forces prepare to destroy the priest high atop the tower using planes and bombs, the priest began to repeat the words of Christ as the Last Super (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26):
One plane is now low over the roof of the tower, so low that the crew can make out the figure of the cross on the priest’s chasuble. A bomb is made ready…
And now the priest comes to the words that shall bring Christ to earth again. His head almost touches the altar: Hoc est enim corpus meum
The bomb did not drop. No. No. There was a burst of light beside which day itself is dusk. Then a trumpet peal, a single trumpet peal that shook the universe. The sun blew up like a bubble. The stars and planets vanished like sparks. The earth burst asunder… And through this unspeakably luminous new day, through the vault of the sky ribbed with lightning came Christ as he had come after the Resurrection.
This image of a lone priest standing atop a tower in a burned-out world from which even the most basic expressions of joy, fraternity, and human freedom had been banned is a powerful one. But, the power at work here isn’t in the revolutionary act of the priest but in the way we are reminded of the expansive power of the Eucharist.


This understanding of the Eucharist inspired Pope Saint John Paul II to write in words that seem to echo the vision of Mr. Blue: “Let us walk generously and courageously, seeking communion within our ecclesial community, and lovingly dedicated to humble and disinterested service to all, especially the neediest… On this journey Jesus goes before us, with the gift of himself to the point of sacrifice and offers himself to us as nourishment and support… break the bread of eternal life for everyone. A demanding and exalting task. A mission that lasts until the end of time” (Homily for Corpus Christi, 2001).

In the same way, in our sharing in the Eucharist is an act of communion and we are brought into the life of Christ and the Church, as we are brought out of ourselves. We are raised up into the expansiveness of the Eucharist in a way that transcends any personal acts of devotion because we are given a share in the life of God which is itself expansive, always self-giving, and always oriented to others. 

This year, as the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ coincides with the United States’ observance of Fathers Day, we are reminded of the many fathers, grandfathers, god- and foster-fathers, and those men with a father’s heart, who give so much of themselves to provide for the need of others. And we know that this kind of fatherly care doesn’t only mean providing food and shelter. Instead, to be a true “father” means nurturing the gift of life in one’s child in all ways: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This kind of fatherly love is all-encompassing and expansive. In its best moments, human fatherhood is ultimately a reflection of the Divine Fatherhood of the God who loved us into being, desires all the best for us, and gives us all that we need.

And our response?

We accept the gifts we have been given, the life we have been brought into by our act of communion, and we share that life with others.

Words of Wisdom: “To truly feed on Christ means to dwell deeply in him in a relationship that savors friendship and communion.” —Anthony Oelrich in Feeding on the Bread of Life: Preaching and Praying John 6

This reflection was originally written for www.aleteia.org and originally published on their website on June 17, 2017: https://aleteia.org/2017/06/17/the-mission-that-lasts-until-the-end-of-time/