February 22-27 weekday homilies

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Feb 22-27: Feb 22 Monday (Chair of St. Peter the Apostle): Mt 16:13-23: USCCB video reflections: http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/index.cfm By celebrating the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter, we honor the mission of teacher and pastor conferred by Christ on Peter and continued in an unbroken line of his successors down to the present Pope. We also celebrate today, the unity of the Church, founded upon the Apostle Peter, and we use this occasion to renew our submission to the Magisterium or teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, extended both to truths which are solemnly defined ex cathedra, and to all the acts of the ordinary Magisterium. Like the committee chair, this chair refers to the occupant, not the furniture. Its first occupant stumbled a bit, denying Jesus three times and hesitating to welcome Gentiles into the new Church. Some of its later occupants have also stumbled a bit, sometimes even failed scandalously. So, the feast reminds us that the Vicar of Christ needs the prayer support of all the Catholics. This feast also gives us the occasion to give thanks to God for the mission He entrusted to the Apostle Peter and his successors until the end of time.

It is also is the feast of a relic long reputed to be St. Peter’s actual throne or the Cathedra Petri. On the feast, 110 candles illumine the reliquary that contains it. This relic has been venerated by the faithful since the fourth century. Previously reserved in the Baptismal Chapel of what is referred to as the Old St Peter’s Basilica, built by the Emperor Constantine around 333AD, today it can be found encased in the bronze throne built by Bernini and enshrined in the apse of St Peter’s Basilica. The throne is supported by the statues of four Doctors of the Church:  two from the West, St Augustine and St Ambrose, and two from the East:  St John Chrysostom and St Athanasius, beneath the well-known stained-glass image depicting the Holy Spirit as a dove. In medieval liturgical custom, the Pope was enthroned on the relic for part of his coronation ceremony and used it as his liturgical throne in the Basilica on the feast. Ever since Bernini’s art work on it, it is considered as a reliquary. The last time the relic was exposed was in 1867 by Blessed Pius IX on the eighteenth centenary of the martyrdom of Ss. Peter and Paul. Kings of old sat on thrones and ruled. Peter’s chair is a symbol of his authority from Jesus to rule the Church. This feast reminds us that Jesus bestowed on Peter a special place among the Apostles. He was one of the three who were with Christ on special occasions, such as the Transfiguration of Christ and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was the only Apostle to whom Christ appeared on the first day after the Resurrection. Peter, in turn, often spoke on behalf of the Apostles. When Jesus asked the Apostles, “Whom do men say that the Son of Man is?”, Simon replied, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

And Jesus said, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood have not revealed it to you, but my Father Who is in heaven. And I say to you: That you are Peter [Cephas, a rock], and upon this rock [Cephas] I will build my Church [ekklesia], and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:13-20). In saying this, Jesus made St. Peter the head of the entire community of believers and placed the spiritual guidance of the faithful in St. Peter’s hands. A symbol of this authority is the “cathedra,” a bishop’s throne or chair in a cathedral. Peter delivered the first public sermon in Jerusalem on the Jewish feast of Pentecost and won a large number of converts. He also performed many miracles and defended the freedom of the Apostles to preach the Gospels. He preached in Jerusalem, Judaea, and as far north as Syria. He was arrested in Jerusalem under Herod Agrippa I, but miraculously escaped execution. He left Jerusalem and eventually went to Rome, where he preached during the last portion of his life. He was crucified there, head downwards, as he had desired to suffer, saying that he did not deserve to die as Christ had died. The date of St. Peter’s death is not clear. Historians estimate he was executed between the years 64 and 68. His remains now rest beneath the altar of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Fr. Tony (https://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/21

USCCB video reflections: http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/index.cfm ; ; https://catholic-daily-reflections.com/daily-reflections/

Feb 23 Tuesday (St. Polycarp, Bishop, Martyr): Mt 6: 7-15: 7 “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their 10many words. 8 “So do not be like them; for 11your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. 9 “12Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. 10 ’13Your kingdom come. 14Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 ’15Give us this day our daily bread. 12 ‘And 16forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 ‘And do not lead us into temptation, but 17deliver us from 18evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.’] 14 “19For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 “But 20if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. USCCB video reflections: http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/index.cfm ; ; https://catholic-daily-reflections.com/daily-reflections/

The context: In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs the crowd that they should not pray like the Gentiles, repeating empty phrases. He means that true prayer is not so much a matter of the number of words as of the frequency and the love with which the Christian turns towards God, raising his or her mind to God. So, Jesus teaches them a model prayer.  Jesus’ prayer, “Our Father,” consists of two parts. In the first part, we praise and worship God, addressing Him as our loving, caring, and providing Heavenly Father and promising Him that we will do His holy will in our lives, thus remaining in His kingdom. In the second part, we present our petitions before the Triune God. First, we ask God for our present needs (“give us this day our daily bread”), our past needs “forgive us our trespasses”(forgiveness of sins), and our future needs, “deliver us from evil” (protection against the tempter and his temptations). In this part, we also bring the Trinitarian God into our lives. We bring in: 1) God the Father, the Provider, by asking for daily bread; 2) God the Son, our Savior, by asking forgiveness for our sins; and 3) God the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete Who is our Guide, Advocate, Comforter and Illuminator, by asking for protection and deliverance from evil. Special stress on the spirit of forgiveness: We are told to ask for forgiveness from others for our offenses against them and to offer unconditional forgiveness to others for their offenses against us as a condition for receiving God’s forgiveness. Jesus further clarifies, “If you forgive others their wrongs, your Father in Heaven will also forgive yours. If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive you either” (Mt 6:14-15).

“For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory, now and forever. Amen.” The manuscripts of the Gospel of Matthew do not contain this phrase, nor do any of the Catholic translations. Martin Luther added this doxology to Our Father in his translation of Matthew’s Gospel, and the King James editions of the Bible keep it.  The doxology is actually taken from the Divine Liturgy or Catholic Mass.  Known as the final doxology, it takes up the first three petitions to our Father. By the final “Amen,” which means, “So be it”, we ratify what is contained in the prayer that God has taught us. Fr. Tony (https://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/21

Feb 24 Wednesday: Lk 11:29-32: 29 When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it seeks a sign, but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah became a sign to the men of Nineveh, so will the Son of man be to this generation. 31 The queen of the South will arise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will arise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. USCCB video reflections: http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/index.cfm ; ; https://catholic-daily-reflections.com/daily-reflections/

The context: Since there had been many false prophets and false messiahs in the past, and since their pride and prejudice did not permit them to see the Messiah in a carpenter-from-Nazareth-turned-wandering-preacher, the Jewish religious leaders demanded that Jesus show some “Messianic” signs and miracles taken from their list.  They would not accept that Jesus’ numerous miraculous healings were the Messianic signs foretold by the prophets.

Jesus’ negative response: Calling them an apostate generation who refused to believe in their own prophets and denied the hand of God in the miracles he worked, Jesus warned these religious leaders that they would be condemned on the Day of Judgment by the people of Nineveh and by the Queen of Sheba from the South.  This is one of the instances in which Jesus held up Gentiles as models of Faith and goodness (other examples: the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15, the centurion in Luke 7, the Good Samaritan story in Luke 10; etc.).  The pagan Ninevites heard the voice of the Lord God in the prophet Jonah, repented, and were spared. The Queen of Sheba recognized God’s Wisdom in King Solomon and traveled to Israel to receive more of it.  Nevertheless, Jesus gave the religious leaders challenging him, “the sign of Jonah.” It was the undeniable Messianic sign of his own Resurrection from the tomb on the third day after his death, just as Jonah had spent three days in the belly of the giant fish before finally going to Nineveh to accomplish the mission God had originally given him.

 Life messages: We need to recognize God-given signs in our lives: 1) Let us examine our conscience and see if we are able to see God’s presence in ourselves and in others, His hands behind the small and big events of our lives and His provident care in our lives. 2) Let us open our ears to hear God’s message given to us by others and by nature.  3) Let us read God’s message in the Bible and adjust our lives accordingly. 4) Let us try our best to be open to God and receptive to His Spirit through our active participation in the liturgy instead of looking for signs in weeping Madonnas, bleeding crucifixes and visionaries.  Fr. Tony (https://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/21

Feb 25 Thursday: Mt 7:7-12: 7 “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 12 So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets. USCCB video reflections: http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/index.cfm; https://catholic-daily-reflections.com/daily-reflections/

The context: In today’s Gospel, taken from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlines the conditions for fruitful and effective prayer.

  1. The first condition is trusting Faith and confidence in the goodness and promises of a loving Father. As a loving Father, God knows what to give, when to give, and how to give, irrespective of what we ask for. As One Who knows our past, present, and future, God knows what is best for us at any given time. He is a loving Father, and He will not give us evil things as the grudging and mocking gods in Greek stories did their worshippers. Jesus explains this with two examples. Even a bad parent would refuse to give a bread-shaped piece of limestone to his child asking for bread, or a stinging scorpion instead of a fish. So, all the experiences in our lives, including illnesses and tragedies, are permitted by a loving God with a definite purpose – to work in us for our ultimate good
  2. Persistence in prayer is the second condition Patient, trusting persistence reflects our dependence on, and trust in, God. That is why Jesus asks us to keep on asking, seeking and knocking.

Life messages: 1) We need to stop giving lame excuses for not praying, like a) we are too busy; b) we believe that prayer doesn’t do that much good, other than giving us psychological motivation to be better persons; c) a loving God should provide for us and protect us from the disasters of life, such as disease or accidents, without our asking Him; or d) prayer is boring.

2) We need to remember the fact that prayer is a conversation with God, that is, listening to God speaking to us through the Bible and talking to God in our personal, family and liturgical prayers.

3) We can’t have a close relationship with anyone, especially with God, without daily, persistent, and intimate conversation. Fr. Tony (https://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/21

Feb 26 Friday: Mt 5:20-26: 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 21 “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, `You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of  fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 USCCB video reflections: http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/index.cfm; https://catholic-daily-reflections.com/daily-reflections/

The context: For the Scribes and the Pharisees, the external fulfillment of the precepts of the Mosaic Law was the guarantee of a person’s salvation. In other words, a man saved himself through the external works of the Law.  Jesus rejects this view in today’s Gospel passage, taken from the Sermon on the Mount.  For Jesus, justification or sanctification is a grace, a free, strengthening gift from God. Man’s role is one of cooperating with that grace by being faithful to it, using it as God means it to be used. Jesus then outlines new moral standards for his disciples.

Control of anger: Anger is the rawest, strongest, and most destructive of human emotions. Describing three stages of anger and the punishment each deserves, Jesus advises his disciples not to get angry in such a way that they sin.

1)  Anger in the heart (“brief stage of insanity” Cicero): It has two forms: a) a sudden, blazing flame of anger which dies suddenly. b) a surge of anger which boils inside and lingers, so that the heart seeks revenge and refuses to forgive or forget. Jesus prescribes trial and punishment by the Village Court of Elders as its punishment.

2) Anger in speech: The use of words which are insulting (“raka“=“fool”), or damaging to the reputation (“moros” = a person of loose morals). Jesus says that such an angry (verbally abusive) person should be sent to the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religion’s Supreme Court, for trial and punishment.

3) Anger in action: Sudden outbursts of uncontrollable anger, which often result in physical assault or abuse. Jesus says that such anger deserves hellfire as its punishment. In short, Jesus teaches that long-lasting anger is bad, contemptuous speech or destroying someone’s reputation is worse and harming another physically is the worst.

Life messages: 1) Let us try to forgive, forget, and move toward reconciliation as soon as possible.  St. Paul advises us “Be angry (righteous anger), but do not sin” (Eph 4: 26).  2) When we keep anger in our mind, we are inviting physical illnesses, like hypertension, and mental illnesses, like depression. Let us relax and keep silence when we are angry and pray for God’s strength for self-control. Fr. Tony (https://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/21

Feb 27 Saturday: Mt 5:43-48: “You have heard that it was said, `You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. USCCB video reflections: http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/index.cfm; https://catholic-daily-reflections.com/daily-reflections/

The context: Today’s Gospel passage is perhaps the central and the most famous section of the Sermon on the Mount.  It gives us the Christian ethic of personal relationship: love one’s neighbors and forgive one’s enemies. Above all, it tells us that what makes Christians different is the grace with which they interact with others, treating them with loving kindness and mercy, especially when those others seemingly don’t deserve it. The Old Law never said to hate enemies, but that was the way some Jews understood it.  Jesus commands that we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us in order to demonstrate that we are children of a merciful Heavenly Father. From the cross, Jesus prayed for all of those who were crucifying him – which includes all fallen humankind, and so ourselves — saying, ‘Father forgive them; they know not what they do.’” (Lk 23:34). A Christian has no personal enemies.  If we only love our friends, we are no different from pagans or atheists.

We need to love our neighbors and our enemies, too: The Greek word used for loving enemies is not storge (affection or natural love towards family members), or philia = friendship (love of close friends), or eros (=romance) (passionate love between a young man and woman), but agápe =unconditional love which is the invincible benevolence, or good will, for another’s highest good. Since agápe, or unconditional love, is not natural, practicing it is possible only with God’s help. Agápe love is a choice more than a feeling. We choose to love, not because our enemies deserve our love, but because Jesus loves them so much that he died for them, and they, too, are the children of our God.  We have in the Acts of the Apostles the example of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who, like Jesus on the cross, prayed for those who were putting him to death.

Life Messages: We are to try to be perfect, to be like God:  1) We become perfect when we fulfill God’s purpose in creating us: with His help, to become God-like. 2) We become perfect when, with His ongoing help, we try to love as God loves, to forgive as God forgives and to show unconditional good will and universal benevolence as God does. Fr. Tony (https://frtonyshomilies.com/) L/21.