A terrific feature of “Magnificat” and “Give Us This Day,” both daily Catholic prayer booklets, is the reflection on the day’s readings. Here are three that particularly resonated with me from “Give Us This Day” in August.
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Saturday’s Gospel from Mark told of Herod ordering John the Baptist’s beheading. The daughter of Herod’s wife, Herodias, had mesmerized the king with her dancing and before a banquet filled with Galilee’s most important people, Herod promised the girl anything she chose. The Baptist’s head, she said. Although Herod feared John and did not want to have him killed, he feared more breaking his word before so many.
In his reflection, the Rev. Anthony Oelrich, a Minnesota pastor, noted the irony: Despite all of Herod’s wealth and power, the night’s “lavish food and excessive drinking, the bright lights and loud music, the feigned laughter and forced backslapping,” Herod remained, in his innermost self, as “trapped and miserable, lost and dark” as any weak and powerless man.
None of us are kings bent on murder, said Oelrich. Yet many of us, like Herod, do things we shouldn’t — not because we want to, but because we feel we have no choice. We, too, feel trapped, not by evil, exactly, but we are not “completely sold on Jesus’ self-giving way” either, he said.
Where and how, Oelrich asked us to consider, are we imprisoned, too? What do we fear losing?
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On Friday, the reflection came from Pope Francis’ general audience on Nov. 19, 2014. The subject: sanctity.
“Some think that sanctity is to close your eyes and to look like a holy icon. No!” said Francis. “Do I want to become a little better, a little more Christian? This is the path to holiness.”
Live with love and offer witness every day, said the pope. “Every state of life leads to holiness, always! In your home, on the street, at work, at church, in that moment and in your state of life, the path to sainthood has been opened.” Serve your brothers, he said. Serve your sisters.
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Earlier in August, Michael Casey, a Cistercian monk, wrote “Temptations of the Virtuous.” It’s a comeuppance to those who think themselves better than others, like the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew’s gospel who “like places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces and the salutation, Rabbi.”
“For most of us, being good is such a demanding task that we are rather pleased with ourselves when it happens,” wrote Casey. “And naturally, we want others to be aware of how well we have done.” But vanity and seeking approval are the special temptations of the “virtuous,” he said, like those who judge others’ sins while flaunting their own supposed righteousness. Remember, said Casey, that “virtue can be a wall between us and God.” The tax collector who admits his sins in Luke 18:9-14 goes home “justified.” But the showboating Pharisee does not.