19th Sunday Ordinary Time C

In Secret Offering Sacrifice

Despite long years of bondage in Egypt, the Israelites continued to worship as God had commanded them. As today’s first reading says, “In secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice and putting into effect with one accord the divine institution.”

How many times over the Christian centuries have persecuted Catholics offered in secret the holy sacrifice of the Mass, that indispensable source of their spiritual nourishment? They took that risk in France during the Anti-Christian French Revolution. They took that risk during the Mexican persecution of the 1920’s and 1930’s. They took that risk in the Nazi Concentration camps of World War II. Whenever there was a priest present among them, the faithful somehow managed to obtain a little bread and a little wine and “put into effect with one accord the divine institution.”

In 1945, shortly after the Allies liberated the prisoners of the infamous Nazi Camp at Dachau, an American chaplain, Fr. Daniel A. Lanning, visited the place and interviewed some of its Catholic former inmates. He later published an article in which he related what they had told him of their secret wartime Masses.

The prisoners had less trouble securing bread and wine than in getting a chalice and altarstone. One of the men handy with a knife whittled out a wooden chalice and fitted into its cup a small wine glass. Another picked up a flat stone on the grounds for the altar. In those days, however, church law said that an altar should have sealed into it the relics of the martyrs. One of the men carved a hollow into the surface of the stone, and another asked a guard to bring him some dust of some priests who had been cremated at the camp after Nazi experimental scientists had used them as “guinea pigs.” The priest victims might not have been canonized but they were surely martyrs; so the Catholics sealed their ashes into the makeshift altar.

How blest we are in America! Mass is available to us not in secret but in public; not on rare occasions but every Sunday and weekday. Perhaps we are even too fortunate. The persecuted appreciate like nobody else what an irreplaceable treasure is the Mass.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

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Q436: It is easy to talk about being a care-free servant like our gospel character. I wonder if that gospel servant had to look after aging grandparents as well as children!

If you do a computer search for the phrase “Sandwich Generation,” you will find over 1.5 million sites from which to choose. The term refers to a growing reality – many couples are discovering for the first time the concerns and the joys of “becoming sandwiched.” Suddenly my elderly parents (or grandparents) need home care, and a younger set of children or grandchildren also need my care. It is only natural to be concerned initially about a sudden change of events that produces this situation. When you are the family member with the happy chore of this double-duty, you know more than anyone the joy of self-giving and the concern that comes with added responsibilities – at both financial and energy levels.

Today’s gospel (Luke 12:32-48) speaks very simply to this reality, and to every kind of activity in life, whether family or career. We are called to do our assigned tasks as best we can, and also continue to be compassionate (becoming a neighbor to anyone in need, especially elderly parents). This is what the “gospel servant” is doing – all that is expected of him in his particular assigned function. When the Lord returns, he wants to find his servants “busy” – meaning, carrying out their assigned duties without grumbling, and without abusing anyone or anything, and having a special care for those in need.

Being “watchful” for the Master’s return is simply a matter of a loving daily routine. This includes regular daily prayer; growth in knowledge of spiritual and moral truths; a fundamental care for those in need (especially family members); and a hopeful expectation about the Master’s arrival. If we are not watchful – meaning, if we are lax in fulfilling our daily tasks and do not take precautions to know what is morally right and live accordingly, then the thief will find an easy entrance into our hearts and not only steal our real treasure (i.e., our authentic relationship with the indwelling Trinity), but leave behind a life in shambles.

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The battle and victory over the evil thief who would try to lead us away from our responsibilities becomes possible only through prayer (CCC #2849). The Holy Spirit constantly seeks to awaken us to “keep watch” – to do what we are called to do with tender love (ibid.).

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Q592: Aren’t the actions of the Master in the gospel rather strange?

In one sense this is indeed a rather strange gospel today (Luke 12:35-40). Let’s try and find a parallel today to make the imagery connect with our present age. Suppose our president were a single man. He gets married while in office, and then brings his new spouse home to the White House. When he arrives, will his servants be ready to greet him? If they are – this is the strange part – then the president will have them sit down at his fancy table, and he will serve dinner to them! Does scripture have things backwards?

Our story today is about two things: being ready for the Master’s return, and the lavish compassion and affection of the Master for his faithful servants. The image of a wedding banquet almost always relates to the coming of the Kingdom of God, and weddings are certainly a time of celebration, when we share in the love, joy and happiness of the bride and groom. So a lively metaphor is placed in front of us: God’s will is that all people live a transparent life of alert loving service, modeling themselves on none other than the Master.

Notice that the Master knocks on the door of his own home! Once again the imagery is so rich: Jesus will not force himself upon anyone. We must always be ready, listening for his knock, and invite him into our life in a meaningful way. His promised return, his second coming is not predictable; nevertheless our call is to be prepared at all times to greet him, and to have our house in order. If we do this, then the rewards are astonishing: we will be treated like VIP’s by the Master himself at the only banquet that counts!

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Pray for vigilance (CCC 2849), especially for the gift of final perseverance. In the meantime, our readiness program ought to include frequent use of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist!

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Where Your Treasure is, There Will Your Heart Be

Today’s readings deal with hope and responsibility.  Both the Book of wisdom and the Letter to the Hebrews teach us to put up with present discomfort and problems. We have learned from the past experience of faithful people in the past that God keeps his promise that all will be well in the future.  But sometimes we have stressed that lesson so exclusively that we have been accused of peddling the “opium of the people.  St. Luke seems to have anticipated that charge.  While he too urges us to remember the Lord’s future coming, he gives it a new twist: Be prepared. “The son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”  Future reward depends on how we have met our present responsibilities.  Like the stewards in the parable we have been given responsibilities, a job to do.  As stewards of the Lord Jesus we have the responsibility to do the Lord’s work: to heal, to comfort, to reconcile, to build up the kingdom of God.

This was the message stressed by Vatican II, reminding us that Christians need to be involved with the problems and challenges of this life, striving to make this world a little more like what the Creator had in mind.

Father, you have given us the task of building your creation in to a world of justice and love; bless the work we do; may it give you honor and praise.  Inspire us to value even the small things of life, and to meet the great things with generous courage so that we may enjoy the fullness of your kingdom in glory.

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