27Aug 27th August. Wednesday, Week 21

Saint Monica, widow

Monica of Hippo (331-387) was a 4th-century Christian from near Carthage (Tunisia) and the mother of Saint Augustine.  She is honoured for her Christian virtues, her patience with a straying husband, and a prayerful dedication to the conversion of her son, who later wrote extensively about her in his Confessions. Monica followed Augustine to Italy where she found Saint Ambrose in Milan and through him ultimately had the joy of seeing her wayward son convert to Christianity, after seventeen years of resistance. She died at Ostia, on her way back to Africa.

First Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-10, 16-18

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

Gospel: Matthew 23:27-32

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets. ‘ Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors.

Good Works and Faith as complementary

Our readings offer two complementary assessments of the value of our human activity. Paul stresses ordinary, daily work while the gospel condemns a hypocrytical kind of piety, an ideology based on scrupolous adherence to a code of laws. Paul’s church-work was unpaid, so he needed to was support himself by his handiwork as a tentmaker. Clearly he spent most of whatever he earned, and only a little was left over to share with the poor. Yet his religious message was to be received not as just one man’s opinion, “but as it truly is, the word of God at work within you who believe.” God must be “at work within you” before anyone can believe. Yet here external means help to enable people to recognize God at work. These external means preparing for faith are Paul’s daily work.

People who are willing to be thoroughly human have a better chance of being used by God than those who are always trying to seem sacred and different. Conscious sanctity carries the threat of pride and false superiority, which is destructive of healthy human relations. But Jesus’ attitude to the Pharisees was not so totally negative as might seem from today’s Gospel. His dining in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk 7:36ff) and his frequent public arguments with them suggests his openness to dialogue with them. Indeed his parables must have provoked the more open-minded Pharisees to reconsider whether their strictness towards others was truly the will of God. The most famous of all converted Pharisees was of course the great apostle to the Gentiles, our own Saint Paul of Tarsus.

We could reflect on the loving determination of Saint Monica, in praying and doing all she could to bring her son, Augustine, under the influence of Christ. There’s a useful commentary on her character at americancatholic.org.

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