Monday in the 21st Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Memorial of Saint Monica
The True Interpreters of Scripture
Readings: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5, 8b-10; Psalms 149:1b-2, 3-4, 5-6a and 9b; Matthew 23:13-22
We find both praise and criticism in the readings today. The Thessalonians are congratulated for having shown their faith in action, for having worked for love and persevered through hope. The scribes and Pharisees, on the other hand, are sharply rebuked for being fools and blind! They mistakenly accept swearing by the gold but not by the Temple, swearing by the gift but not by the altar. And we may wonder whether we, in our turn, might attract praise or criticism. But in order to figure that out, we need to consider what it all means. What does it look like when faith is put in action, when work is done for love, and when perseverance is manifested through hope? What does it look like when people do not blindly misplace their trust?
The Pope’s latest book, Jesus of Nazareth, contains the following lines: The saints are the true interpreters of Holy Scripture. The meaning of a given passage of the Bible becomes most intelligible in those human beings who have been totally transfixed by it and have lived it out. Interpretation of Scripture can never be a purely academic affair, and it cannot be relegated to the purely historical. Scripture is full of potential for the future, a potential that can only be opened up when someone “lives through” and “suffers through” the sacred text.
If this is true, then we are fortunate to be celebrating the memorial of Saint Monica today. For in the story of her life, we see an inspiring image of what Christian faith, hope and love can look like. Monica’s story is one we know well. In particular, we know how she did not give up praying for her son, Augustine, throughout his troubled youth. We know how her unremitting prayer and inspiring example helped to win Augustine over to the faith. Monica persevered even when all her efforts seemed to be in vain – Augustine’s conversion was a very long time in coming. In this she showed that her trust was placed not so much on the gifts that humanity had to offer as much as it was on the altar of God’s providence. And her trust was not misplaced. We will celebrate the memorial of her son, the wise, eloquent and saintly bishop of Hippo, tomorrow.
But even as we look to Saint Monica to illuminate the scriptures for us today, it’s also important to remember that the communion of saints in which we profess our faith every Sunday includes not only those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. It also includes us – those who continue to struggle on in what often seems a valley of tears. We too are saints. We too are the people in whom the Lord takes delight.
How might today’s scripture be illustrated in our lives? How are we being called to "live through" and "suffer through" the sacred text today?