Monday of week 11 in Ordinary Time

1 Kings 21:1-16; Psalm 5:2-3,5-7; Matthew 5:38-42

The prescription from the Law, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, was not as barbaric as it seems. Read in context (Exodus 21) then one can see that the Law being formulated then, was limiting revenge, rather than defining that revenge must be taken. For many offences in Ex 21, there might be an equal revenge entitlement, but the injured party and the defendant of the charge are given an alternative means of retribution - a fine.

Jesus extends this, and to simply quote that the Bible entitles you to revenge for an injury is to completely ignore the second part of today's Gospel: Jesus tells us not to seek out revenge.

How can we apply this teaching today? Well, our Penal code is designed to encourage a turning about on behalf of the defendant: yes some punishment might be deserved, but the nature of that punishment should encourage the reformation of character. Perhaps there is a good question to ask of your parliamentary candidates before you decide whom to vote for?

A Catholic understanding of criminal justice has three aims: retribution, rehabilitation and redemption.

Saturday of the Week Per Annum 10

I Kings 19.19-21; Psalm 15; Matthew 5.33-37

Elijah was succeeded as the prophet of Israel by Elisha, at God’s instruction. [I Kings 19.16] We are told almost nothing about Elijah’s ancestry or life prior to his short prophetic career.  But we learn that Elisha was the son of Shaphat, of the town of Abel Meholah in the Jordan Valley.  His family were evidently well-to-do as they owned twelve pair of oxen.  Elisha marked his obedience to God’s call by burning the yokes of the oxen he was ploughing with and then roasting the animals over the embers.  After this sumptuous banquet, shared with family and their hired hands, Elisha followed Elijah, becoming his servant.

Elisha ultimately managed to complete Elijah’s work by sending an assistant to anoint Jehu as King of Israel [II Kings 9.1-3], thus finally ending the tyranny of Ahab and Jezebel. [9.6-10] The blood of the prophets was avenged.  ‘Thus Jehu rid Israel of Baal.’ [10.28] Elisha died quietly [13.20], after 60 years as prophet in Israel, about the year 832 Before Christ. 

Friday of the Week Per Annum 10

I Kings 19.9,11-16; Psalm 26; Matthew 5.27-32

The Horeb to which Elijah journeyed was the mountain known as Sinai in the time of Moses, the place where God had revealed himself to his people [Exodus 19.9-25] and had given the Torah—the ‘teaching’—by which he had united himself to this people. [20.1-21]

Elijah had vindicated the claim of that God to be the only God of Israel. [20.2] But was there something in the zeal of this passionate prophet [cf James 5.17] that had burnt him out?  He fled Ahab’s domains and went to the southern kingdom of Judah in fear of his life.
[I Kings 19.3] But he also journeyed in search of his soul, journeyed to find renewal at the mountain of God. [19.8]

God revealed himself to Moses as I am. [Exodus 3.14] The four consonants (the tetragrammaton) of this mysterious name are not to be pronounced; the pious Jewish reader, to this day, substitutes ’the lord’ when he encounters them.  Numerous efforts have been made to form a pronounceable name from them.  But YHWH is perhaps just an onomatopoeia for the breath that animates all living things. [Genesis 2.7] ‘The sound of a gentle breeze’
[I Kings 19.12] Elijah describes it—and by that gentle rustling sound, the sound that had summoned Moses, Elijah found himself addressed, the disparate energies of his life harnessed for purposes beyond him and beyond his understanding.  Neither earthquake nor wind nor fire—not even the fire that had shown itself so dramatically on Mount Carmel—but the still, small voice of calm called and claimed Elijah and empowered him to speak God’s own word.

St Anthony of Padua

I Kings 18.41-46; Psalm 64; Matthew 5.20-26

Fernando Martins de Bulhões was born to a wealthy family in Lisbon in 1195.  At the age of 15 he was received into the Canons Regular of the Holy Cross.  In 1212 he asked to be transferred to the order’s motherhouse, in Coimbra, then the capital of Portugal.  There he encountered a group of Franciscans who had established a hermitage, and he was impressed by their simple faith and evangelical poverty; he asked to leave the Canons Regular and join them.  (The Franciscan Order had only been established in 1209.)  He took the new name of Anthony in honour of the 3rd-4th Century Egyptian saint often referred to as the Father of monasticism.  He set out for Morocco, but fell ill and set sail to return to Portugal.  His ship was blown off course and landed in Sicily.  Always in poor health, he travelled through Italy finally coming to settle in Bologna.  

Anthony was renowned for his profound scriptural and theological knowledge and for his rhetorical skill as a preacher.  Francis of Assisi put him in charge of the theological education of young friars.  In 1226 he was appointed Provincial Superior for northern Italy and chose Padua as his provincial headquarters.  He died in 1231 at the age of 35 at a woodland retreat house near Padua.  Less than a year later he was canonised, one of the most rapid canonisations in history.  Pope Pius XII declared him a Doctor (teacher) of the Church in 1946.

Wednesday in the Week Per Annum 10

I Kings 18.20-39; Ps 15; Matthew 5.17-19

King Ahab’s father had achieved domestic security for Israel by means of a marriage alliance with the Sidonians, and Ahab had married Jezebel, daughter of the King of Sidon and priestess of the cult of Baal, the Canaanite god responsible for rain, thunder, lightning and dew.   Jezebel had brought her native religion into Israel.  Elijah (whose name means ‘the Lord is God’) set his face against this syncretism, insisting that only the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob should be worshipped in Israel.

Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to a contest on Mount Carmel to establish which God held power in Israel. Dramatically, in the midst of a drought, he drenched a sacrificial bull with drums full of water and prayed that God would send fire from heaven to ignite the sacrifice.

Elijah’s triumph was capped by the appearance of rain. [I Kings 18.41-46] Elijah captured the priests of Baal—450 of them! [18.22]—and slaughtered them, in retaliation for Jezebel’s butchering of the prophets of the Lord. [18.4] Jezebel would shortly threaten Elijah’s own life. [19.2] Elijah’s prayer had succeeded powerfully. [James 5.16-18] But the battle for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob wasn’t yet won.  The hearts of Israel that had so readily apostatised had still to be won back to the Lord.

Saint Barnabas the Apostle

Acts 11.21-26; 13.1-3; Psalm 97; Matthew 5.13-16

Barnabas’ name means ‘son of consolation’ or ‘son of encouragement’, the ‘son of’ construction an idiom meaning ‘full of’.  He was a Cypriot Jew and a Levite [Acts 4.36], that is, a descendant of the family who had particular rights and duties in the Temple. (They were assistants to the priests, something like choirmen and servers.)  St Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, has no hesitation in titling him an apostle [14.14], though he was not one of the Twelve.

Barnabas introduced the newly-converted Saul (Paul) to the Twelve, and together they were sent to Antioch [13.3], the first of Paul’s missionary journeys, beginning from Barnabas’ native Cyprus. [13.4] After establishing the church at Antioch they attended the Council of Jerusalem (around the year 50) and argued for the legitimacy of the mission to the Gentiles. [15.12] After a quarrel between Barnabas and Paul, however, they separated and Barnabas returned to preach in Cyprus. [15.39] Barnabas is celebrated as the founder of the Cypriot Orthodox Church, and tradition holds that he was martyred at Salamis, Cyprus. 

Monday in the Week Per Annum 10

I Kings 17.1-6; Psalm 120; Matthew 5.1-12

The Old Testament can be capsulised as The Law and The Prophets. [cf Matthew 22.40] (A third section of the Old Testament, including the Psalter and wisdom books, is usually called “The Writings.”  The name Tanakh, an acronym formed from Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim, is a handy shorthand for these three divisions.)  Moses is the preeminent lawgiver [cf John 1.17] and Elijah the archetype of the prophets. 

Elijah is not a literary prophet (like Isaiah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel).  He is identified by the demonym Tishbite, probably meaning that he was born in the village of Tishbe in Gilead.  He prophesied in the 9th Century Before Christ in the northern kingdom of Israel. (The united kingdom of David and Solomon was divided during the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam.)

A prophet is a spokesman for God; as God himself is said to have declared, ‘I will put my words into his mouth.’ [Deuteronomy 18.18] Elijah enters public life with his proclamation of a three-year drought across Israel. God promises Elijah that he would survive the drought: ravens, usually birds of death, feeding on carrion, and ritually unclean [Leviticus 11.13-17], would become bringers of life, carrying bread and meat to him.  Ultimately, Elijah’s hunger and thirst for the righteous purpose of God would be satisfied as God restored life to his people.

Immaculate Heart of Mary

II Timothy 4.1-8; Psalm 70; Luke 2.41-51

Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary originated with St John Eudes (1601-80).  Whereas the Sacred Heart of Jesus shows the infinite love of God for humankind, Mary’s Immaculate Heart points to her interior life and presents us with a model for the love we return to God.   

Her heart is a ready heart [Psalm 107/108.1], a prepared heart, a whole (integrated) heart. [Psalm 118/119.2] ‘Before she conceived Christ in her womb,’ St Augustine of Hippo wrote, ‘she had already conceived him in her heart’.  

St Lorenzo Giustiniani (1381-1456) wrote: ‘Imitate her, O faithful soul.  Enter into the temple of your heart that you may be purified in spirit and cleansed of the pollution of your sins.’ We pray this day that a merciful God may make of us worthy temples of his glory, that like her our hearts may be made ready, may be made whole.  As she treasured the events of His holy life, storing them up for contemplation and pondering [Luke 2.19], so may we think devoutly on the life of God in our midst, hiding His word in our hearts. [Psalm 118/119.11]