26 February 2011

Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

First Reading, Isaiah 49:14-15
The eighteenth-century French Oratorian biblical scholar, Charles-François Houbigant, defined 'Zion' as the Jewish people; and this Reading is their cry to God for feeling abandoned by Him, but it is a cry that prophetically speaking points to their eventual conversion to Christ in great numbers. Our Lord proclaims: 'I will never forget you'. God Himself, in the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity demonstrated His solidarity with the Jewish people as He hung on the Cross and cried out: 'My God, My God, why have You foresaken Me'? (Saint Matthew 27:46).

Second Reading, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
William Hessels van Est was a sixteenth-century commentator on the Pauline epistles. His name most often appears under his Latin name: Estius. He has written that what Saint Paul meant by the 'mysteries of God' are the dogmas of faith revealed by the Almighty. Saint Jerome teaches us that Paul’s lack of concern for human judgment is meant to convey that Saint Paul will not be swayed by any judgment rendered by anyone in this life because he is not conscious of anything contrary to trustworthy stewardship of the mysteries of God. He is not conscious of anything that has taken his soul out of a state of grace. While this may sound a bit boastful, actually Saint Paul is instructing us by example -- and that example is: the true judgment will come in the last day and that Judge will be Almighty God Himself; and we are to live each day as if it were the last day, that is, always in a state of grace, not conscious of any mortal sins wounding our soul and separating us from God. This is not arrogance or boasting; otherwise, Saint Paul would have written that the last judgment for him is unnecessary. Again, commenting on this Reading, Estius wrote: 'If this privileged apostle was afraid to form any judgment of his own heart and thoughts, whether they were pure or not, but left the trial thereof to the day of judgment, the day of his death, how presumptuous are they, who dare to pronounce on their election and predestination'!

Gospel, Saint Matthew 6:24-34
If obsession for riches leads to hating God, can there be any more motive to serve God? What is the end result of chasing after what Saint Paul calls a corruptibilem coronam – corruptible crown (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:25)? Anxiety over life in the here and now has a way of pulling one’s heart and soul away from God. The treasures of this world are enticing and could deceive one into thinking that they are the answer to all of life’s problems – that is, what will ultimately lead to happiness. Any joy or comfort received from this life is all too fleeting because nothing in this life can last forever. In the American liturgy’s translation we read: 'Do not worry about your life' – the Latin text translates as: 'Be not solicitous for your life' and is understood to mean 'too solicitous' – in other words, 'don’t worry about your life too much'. The very essence of life on planet earth renders cause for concern. An Italian Jesuit Scripture scholar named Giovanni Stefano Menochio wrote these words in the seventeenth-century: 'Christ does not prohibit all care about temporal concerns, but only what hinders us from seeking the Kingdom of heaven in the first instance; or what makes us esteem more the things of this world, than those of the next'. Thus, living a worry-free life is virtually unattainable except perhaps for the supernaturally gifted soul immersed in constant prayer. Such a soul lived in our modern time – Saint Pio of Pietrelcina or as he is perhaps more affectionately referred to simply as Padre Pio. In fact, among the phrases that is said to have flowed from his lips is: 'Pray, hope, and don’t worry'. Another of the Church’s bible scholars, Father George Leo Haydock, wrote in the nineteenth-century: 'Why should the children of God fear want, when we behold the very birds of the air do not go without provision? Moreover, what possible good can this anxiety, this diffidence procure them? Almighty God gives life and growth, which you cannot do with all your solicitude, however intensely you think. Of how much greater consequence then is it to love and serve Him, and to live for Him alone'! Saint John Chrysostom adds: 'It is not without reason that men are in such great fear and distress, when they are so blind as to imagine that their happiness in this life is ruled by fate. But such as know that they are entirely governed by the will of God, know also that a store is laid up for them in His Hands'. And from Saint Thomas Aquinas are these words: 'He that delivers himself entirely into the Hands of God, may rest securely in both prosperity and adversity knowing that he is governed by a tender Father'. Our Saviour tells us that today has enough burdens of its own and worrying about tomorrow will only add to the load of today. Referring again to William Hessels van Est or Estius, the Pauline epistles’ commentator, he teaches us something about the great gift of faith – he wrote: 'It is the curse of the envious and wicked to be self-tormented, while they who live by faith, can always rejoice in hope, the true balm of every Christian's breast, the best friend of all in distress'.