Bible Diary for August 28th-September 3rd

August 28th

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
St. Augustine

1st Reading: Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29:
My son, conduct your affairs with discretion and you will be loved by those who are acceptable to God. The greater you are, the more you should humble yourself and thus you will find favor with God. For great is the power of the Lord and it is the humble who give him glory. For the sufferings of the proud man there is no remedy, the roots of evil are implanted in him. The wise man reflects on proverbs. What the wise man desires is an attentive ear.

2nd Reading: Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a:
What you have come to, is nothing known to the senses: nor heat of a blazing fire, darkness and gloom and storms, blasts of trumpets or such a voice that the people pleaded, that no further word be spoken. But you came near to Mount Zion, to the City of the living God, to the heavenly Jerusalem, with its innumerable angels. You have come to the solemn feast, the assembly of the firstborn of God, whose names are written in heaven. There is God, Judge of all, with the spirits of the upright, brought to perfection. There is Jesus, the mediator of the new Covenant, with the sprinkled blood that cries out more effectively than Abel’s.

Gospel: Lk 14:1, 7-14:
One Sabbath Jesus had gone to eat a meal in the house of a leading Pharisee, and he was carefully watched. Jesus then told a parable to the guests, for he had noticed how they tried to take the places of honor. And he said, “When you are invited to a wedding party, do not choose the best seat. It may happen that someone more important than you has been invited; and your host, who invited both of you, will come and say to you, ‘Please give this person your place.’ What shame is yours when you take the lowest seat! Whenever you are invited, go rather to the lowest seat, so that your host may come and say to you, ‘Friend, you must come up higher.’

And this will be a great honor for you in the presence of all the other guests. For whoever makes himself out to be great will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Jesus also addressed the man who had invited him, and said, “When you give a lunch or a dinner, don’t invite your friends, or your brothers and relatives, or your wealthy neighbors. For surely they will also invite you in return, and you will be repaid. When you give a feast, invite instead the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Fortunate are you then, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the upright.”

One of the sweetest and purest joys we can ever experience is to perform an act of kindness to a perfect stranger whom we will most likely never see again. Or else it is to perform an act of kindness that no one will notice. It is then that we realize the truth of what Jesus taught: “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving” (Acts 20:35). The anonymity of such acts of kindness seems to add to the purity of the act and increases the joy felt in performing it. Unfortunately, the wisdom of this world teaches the opposite. It says: “Scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

A lot of so called “favors” done to others are carefully recorded down in one’s memory so that, when the need arises, one may “collect” favors as a pay-back. This is precisely the kind of calculation which Jesus discourages in today’s gospel reading, when he says: “Don’t invite your friends… for they will invite you in return.” Elsewhere Jesus says about almsgiving: “Do not let your left hand know what your right is doing” (Mt 6:3). When we give, let us give for the pure love of God. And God will repay us in his own good time. Let us ask for the virtue of disinterestedness, so that our left hand may not know what our right hand is doing. Let us be kind to a perfect stranger today and, if possible, let our act of kindness go unnoticed.

August 29th

Beheading of St. John the Baptist

1st Reading: 1 Cor 2:1-5 (or Jer 1:17-19):
When I came to reveal to you the mystery of God’s plan, I did not count on eloquence or on a show of learning. I was determined, not to know anything among you, but Jesus, the Messiah, and a crucified Messiah. I, myself, came; weak, fearful and trembling; my words, and preaching, were not brilliant, or clever to win listeners. It was, rather, a demonstration of spirit and power, so, that, your faith might be a matter, not of human wisdom, but of God’s power.

Gospel: Mk 6:17-29:
For this is what had happened: Herod had ordered John to be arrested; and had had him bound and put in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. Herod had married her; and John had told him, “It is not right for you to live with your brother’s wife.” So Herodias held a grudge against John and wanted to kill him; but she could not, because Herod respected John. He knew John to be an upright and holy man, and kept him safe. And he liked listening to him; although he became very disturbed whenever he heard him. Herodias had her chance on Herod’s birthday, when he gave a dinner for all the senior government officials, military chiefs, and the leaders of Galilee.

On that occasion, the daughter of Herodias came in and danced; and she delighted Herod and his guests. The king said to the girl, “Ask me for anything you want and I will give it to you.” And he went so far as to say with many oaths, “I will give you anything you ask, even half my kingdom.” She went out and said to her mother, “What shall I ask for?” The mother replied, “The head of John the Baptist.” The girl hurried to the king and made her request, “I want you to give me the head of John the Baptist, here and now, on a dish.” The king was very displeased, but he would not refuse in front of his guests because of his oaths. So he sent one of the bodyguards, with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded John in prison; then he brought the head on a dish and gave it to the girl. And the girl gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard of this, they came and took his body and buried it.

We are always impressed by science and scientists. After all, thanks to them we can enjoy such technical marvels as the cell-phone, the computer, the DVD, etc. We look in awe at a man like Einstein, “one of the most creative intellects in human history,” according to the Encyclopedia Britannica (III, 818). This man, who understood the complexities of our physical universe like no one else, was nevertheless an agnostic. He would have been unable to answer the three most basic questions that the Bible answers: “Where do we come from? Where are we destined to go? How do we get there?”

Einstein did not know the answers to these questions, answers that we learn at six years old from our catechism. That is what the apostle Paul is writing about when he describes his preaching. It was not clever or brilliant, steeped in human wisdom, designed to dazzle minds by means of intellectual pyrotechnics. No, it presented a man executed as a criminal on a cross—nothing to revolutionize theoretical physics. Yet, God’s power was saving us through that bleeding Son of his. For God’s ways are always infinitely more powerful than all our science and all our technology.

August 30th

1st Reading: 1 Cor 2:10b-16:
The Spirit probes everything, even the depth of God. Who, but his own spirit, knows the secrets of a person? Similarly, no one, but the Spirit of God, knows the secrets of God. We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God and, through him, we understand what God, in his goodness, has given us.

So we speak of this, not in terms inspired by human wisdom, but in a language taught by the Spirit, explaining a spiritual wisdom to spiritual persons. The one who remains on the psychological level does not understand the things of the Spirit. They are foolishness for him; and he does not understand, because they require a spiritual experience. On the other hand, the spiritual person judges everything, but no one judges him. Who has known the mind of God so as to teach him? But we have the mind of Christ.

Gospel: Lk 4:31-37:
Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town of Galilee, and began teaching the people at the Sabbath meetings. They were astonished at the way he taught them, for his word was spoken with authority. In the synagogue, there was a man possessed by an evil spirit, who shouted in a loud voice, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I recognize you: you are the Holy One of God.”

Then Jesus said to him sharply, “Be silent and leave this man!” The evil spirit then threw the man down in front of them, and came out of him without doing him harm. Amazement seized all these people, and they said to one another, “What does this mean? He commands the evil spirits with authority and power. He orders, and you see how they come out!” And news about Jesus spread throughout the surrounding area.

Some Christians, unduly influenced by rationalist thinking, tend to think that there are no demons and that, since at the time of Jesus people had no knowledge of psychopathology, the so-called “exorcisms” of Jesus were merely faith healings of mental disorders. But the following facts contradict this theory. First, Jesus and the evangelists usually describe a healing and an exorcism in completely different terms. Second, Jesus behaves very differently with a demoniac (he is harsh) and with a sick person (he is gentle). Third, a merely sick person is fully conscious and calm, and speaks respectfully to Jesus.

But a demoniac betrays a supernatural knowledge of Jesus’ real identity (as in today’s gospel reading) and often enough displays supernatural strength. Fourth, the demoniacs unanimously proclaim Jesus’ proximity to God, even though they appear in different places and have obviously no acquaintance with each other. But, if these demoniacs were merely insane people, how could they unanimously and correctly identify Jesus’ uniqueness? Fifth, how can we explain that all demoniacs behave violently in the presence of Jesus. If they had been mere lunatics, some would have reacted in one way, others in other ways. The conclusion is self-evident. The exorcisms of Jesus were real and they dealt with real demons.

August 31st

1st Reading: 1 Cor 3:1-9:
I could not, friends, speak to you as spiritual persons but as fleshly people, for you are still infants in Christ. I gave you milk, and not solid food, for you were not ready for it, and, up to now, you cannot receive it, for you are still of the flesh. As long as there is jealousy and strife, what can I say, but that you are at the level of the flesh, and behave like ordinary people. While one says: “I follow Paul,” and the other: “I follow Apollos,” what are you, but people still at a human level?

For what is Apollos? What is Paul? They are ministers; and through them, you believed, as it was given by the Lord, to each of them. I planted, Apollos watered the plant, but God made it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God, who makes the plant grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work to the same end, and the Lord will pay each, according to their work. We are fellow-workers with God, but you are God’s field and building.

Gospel: Lk 4:38-44:
Leaving the synagogue, Jesus went to the house of Simon. His mother-in-law was suffering from high fever, and they asked him to do something for her. Bending over her, he rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately, she got up and waited on them. At sunset, people suffering from many kinds of sickness were brought to Jesus. Laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Demons were driven out, howling as they departed from their victims, “You are the Son of God!”

He rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, for they knew he was the Messiah. Jesus left at daybreak and looked for a solitary place. People went out in search of him, and finding him, they tried to dissuade him from leaving. But he said, “I have to go to other towns, to announce the good news of the kingdom of God. That is what I was sent to do.” And Jesus continued to preach in the synagogues of Galilee.

When in 379 St. Jerome was ordained a priest at the urging of Bishop Paulinus of Antioch, he specified as a condition of his ordination that he would not be submitted to any pastoral obligation (v.g. service in a parish). In fact, it seems that he never celebrated Mass. Was he useless to the Church? No, for he produced an immense amount of commentaries on the Bible and especially a Latin translation of the Bible which was the official translation used by the Church for 15 centuries. He certainly served the Church well—but in his own way.

In today’s first reading Paul alludes to the different ways in which he and the great preacher and teacher Apollos worked for the Church: “I planted, Apollos watered.” We all have different talents and we should serve the cause of Christ according to our specific talent. Some Christians serve the sick in hospitals, some serve in the prison ministry, some serve in soup kitchens for the poor, some write books. Let us favor this rich variety of ministries instead of wanting everyone to fit in the same mold. God loves variety!

September 1st

1st Reading: 1 Cor 3:18-23:
Do not deceive yourselves. If anyone of you considers himself wise in the ways of the world, let him become a fool, so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s eyes. To this, Scripture says: God catches the wise in their own wisdom. It also says: The Lord knows the reasoning of the wise, that it is useless. Because of this, let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you; Paul, Apollos, Cephas—life, death, the present and the future. Everything is yours, and you, you belong to Christ, and Christ is of God.

Gospel: Lk 5:1-11:
One day, as Jesus stood by the Lake of Gennesaret, with a crowd gathered around him listening to the word of God, he caught sight of two boats, left at the water’s edge by fishermen, now washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to pull out a little from the shore. There he sat, and continued to teach the crowd. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon replied, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing. But if you say so, I will lower the nets.”

This they did, and caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. They signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They came, and they filled both boats almost to the point of sinking. Upon seeing this, Simon Peter fell at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and his companions were amazed at the catch they had made, and so were Simon’s partners, James and John, Zebedee’s sons. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. You will catch people from now on.” So they brought their boats to land and followed him, leaving everything.

In today’s first reading the apostle Paul makes a strange statement by saying: “Everything belongs to you… Everything is yours, and you, you belong to Christ, and Christ is of God.” Is everything in this world really mine? Well, God seemed to say so when he told Adam and Eve: “Fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish… the birds… all living things” (Gen 1:28). Even a divine institution like the Sabbath, Jesus tells us, is meant to serve our needs: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2:27).

The same is true for any law or institution or human invention. They all belong to us, while we belong to Christ. In what sense do we belong to Christ? In the sense that Christ redeemed us by his bloody death on the cross (1 P 1:18; Rev 5:9; Ti 2:14; etc.). That is why addictions—not just to drugs, but to anything: gambling, food, alcohol, video games, etc.—are so contrary to God’s will. Addicts do not belong to Christ anymore but instead belong to whatever they are addicted to. And that is indeed a tragedy. For we are made for Christ. Only in Christ can we find our true peace of heart and our true happiness.

September 2nd

1st Reading: 1 Cor 4:1-5:
Let everyone, then, see us as the servants of Christ, and stewards of the secret works of God. Being stewards, faithfulness shall be demanded of us; but I do not mind if you, or any human court, judges me. I do not even judge myself; my conscience, indeed, does not accuse me of anything, but that is not enough for me to be set right with God: the Lord is the one who judges me. Therefore, do not judge before the time, until the coming of the Lord. He will bring to light whatever was hidden in darkness, and will disclose the secret intentions of the hearts. Then, each one will receive praise from God.

Gospel: Lk 5:33-39:
Some people asked him, “The disciples of John fast often and say long prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why is it, that your disciples eat and drink?” Then Jesus said to them, “You can’t make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them. But later, the bridegroom will be taken from them; and they will fast in those days.” Jesus also told them this parable: “No one tears a piece from a new coat to put it on an old one; otherwise the new coat will be torn, and the piece taken from the new coat will not match the old coat. No one puts new wine into old wine skins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed as well. But new wine must be put into fresh skins. Yet, no one who has tasted old wine is eager to drink new wine, but says, ‘The old is good.’”

Many fervent Christians, in reading the Bible if we are to progress constantly (Eph 5:2; Ph 1:9, 25; Col 1:10; etc.) is in our journey Godward, dream of knowing exactly where they stand in their relationship with God. They would love to be able to measure their Christian performance, in some way they could—figuratively speaking— plot their location on a sort of spiritual chart or graph. Unfortunately, feelings cannot help here, because progressing Christians feel further from God as they experience the various nights of the soul.

Furthermore, wanting to know one’s spiritual state is a way of keeping one’s attention on oneself and thus of feeding our dear little ego. No, godly people all have one thing in common: they have completely lost interest in their spiritual progress. They are hypnotized by God and do not care for anything else. As Paul says in today’s first reading: “I do not even judge myself.” Three criteria should suffice to tell us if we are moving God-ward: an ever-diminishing concern for the self, an ever-increasing love of neighbor, and a state of habitual joy. In the end, the only thing that counts is to try to please God in all things.

September 3rd

St. Gregory the Great

1st Reading: 1 Cor 4:6b-15:
Learn by this example, not to believe yourselves superior by siding with one against the other. How, then, are you more than the others? What have you that you have not received? And if you received it, why are you proud, as if you did not receive it? So, then, you are already rich and satisfied, and feel like kings, without us! I wish you really were kings, so that we might enjoy the kingship with you! It seems to me, that God has placed us, the apostles, in the last place, as if condemned to death, and as spectacles for the whole world, for the angels as well as for mortals.

We are fools for Christ, while you show forth the wisdom of Christ. We are weak, you are strong. You are honored, while we are despised. Until now we hunger and thirst, we are poorly clothed and badly treated, while moving from place to place. We labor, working with our hands. People insult us and we bless them, they persecute us and we endure everything; they speak evil against us, and ours are works of peace. We have become like the scum of the earth, like the garbage of humankind until now. I do not write this to shame you, but to warn you, as very dear children. Because, even though you may have ten thousand guardians in the Christian life, you have only one father; and it was I who gave you life in Christ through the gospel.

Gospel: Lk 6:1-5:
One Sabbath Jesus was going through a field of grain, and his disciples began to pick heads of grain, crushing them in their hands for food. Some of the Pharisees asked them, “Why do you do what is forbidden on the Sabbath?” Then Jesus spoke up and asked them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his men were hungry? He entered the house of God, took and ate the bread of the offering, and even gave some to his men, though only priests are allowed to eat that bread.” And Jesus added, “The Son of Man is Lord and rules over the Sabbath.”

Some laws of God have to be obeyed in all circumstances and by all, because to break those laws would amount to commit what moral theologians call an “intrinsic evil.” Such evil, for example, would be ethnic cleansing (cf. GS 80), direct abortion (cf. GS 51), infanticide (cf. GS 51), murder, adultery, oppression of the poor, etc. But such absolute laws are rare. What we have are laws which admit of exceptions, depending on one’s circumstances. Today’s gospel reading gives two examples where breaking the law is acceptable when there is an urgent human need to satisfy, such as hunger.

Now, because it is sometimes permissible to break some laws (either of God, of the Church, of the State, etc.), some Christians are confused and never know when they can or cannot break a given law. One basic principle should guide them in this moral minefield. And it is this one: what is the purpose of this law? Once that is clearly answered, then they can act in consequence, trusting that the legislator, who could not foresee every possible contingency, would not want his law to become unreasonably burdensome. When this is the case, people can disregard that law with a peaceful conscience.