Engaging the Gospel – Luke 16:1-13

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 16:1-13

Parable of the dishonest steward

Recent Gospel readings have featured recurring themes from St. Luke – the radical demands of discipleship as well as the superabundance of God’s mercy – and today’s reading highlights another recurring theme, the right use of our material goods.

The Gospel turns on the distinction between worldly riches, which are fleeting, and the true wealth of eternal life. Jesus calls worldly riches “dishonest wealth,” reminding us that it cannot ultimately satisfy.

As human beings, we are “created by God and for God,” so “only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (Catechism paragraph 27).

If we seek that happiness in money and possessions, we will be disillusioned. Worse still, if our lives are consumed by the pursuit of material things, we risk losing our only real treasure, our relationship with God – a choice summed up starkly in Jesus’ warning that we “cannot serve both God and mammon.”

To be open to receiving God’s gift of everlasting spiritual wealth, we must put our worldly goods to use in a spirit of generosity:

All Christians should be ready and eager to come to the help of the needy and of their neighbors in want. A Christian is a steward of the Lord’s goods (952).

The faithful also have the duty of providing for the material needs of the Church, each according to his abilities (2043).

Question for reflection: How have I learned that material things don’t really satisfy?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 15:1-32

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 15:1-32

St. Luke’s Gospel has been called the “Gospel of Mercy,” and today’s parables are especially illustrative of this theme.

As Benedict XVI has commented,

Above all, this Gospel text has the power of speaking to us of God, of enabling us to know His Face and, better still, His Heart. After Jesus has told us of the merciful Father, things are no longer as they were before.

We now know God; He is our Father who out of love created us to be free and endowed us with a conscience, Who suffers when we get lost and rejoices when we return.

Benedict explains that our relationship with God develops over time, much as the child-parent relationship does:

In these stages we can also identify moments along man’s journey in his relationship with God. There can be a phase that resembles childhood: religion prompted by need, by dependence.

As man grows up and becomes emancipated, he wants to liberate himself from this submission and become free and adult, able to organize himself and make his own decisions, even thinking he can do without God. Precisely this stage is delicate and can lead to atheism, yet even this frequently conceals the need to discover God’s true Face.

Fortunately for us, God never fails in His faithfulness, and even if we distance ourselves and get lost, He continues to follow us with His love, forgiving our errors and speaking to our conscience from within in order to call us back to Him…

Only by experiencing forgiveness, by recognizing one is loved with a freely given love – a love greater than our wretchedness but also than our own merit – do we at last enter into a truly filial and free relationship with God.

Angelus of March 14, 2010.

Let us respond to the Father’s merciful love by availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Question for reflection: How have I experienced being lost, and being found by God’s merciful love?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 14:25-33

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 14:25-33

Jesus challenges us with very difficult sayings – that anyone who doesn’t “hate” his own family and life, and renounce all of his possessions, can’t be His disciple.

Of course, Jesus isn’t literally telling us to hate, when His commandments call us to love. Rather, it is a manner of expression in Semitic languages like Jesus’ own Aramaic: Jesus is pointedly stating that to be true disciples, we must put God first, and prefer Him to everything, including family and possessions. We must not allow relationships, or things, to become obstacles that keep us from God.

Put another way, “Christ is the center of all Christian life. The bond with Him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social” (Catechism paragraph 1618).

As Benedict XVI has reflected,

If we listen to today’s Gospel, if we listen to what the Lord is saying to us, it frightens us…We would like to object: What are you saying, Lord?

But the Lord is revealing a profound truth:

Whoever wants to keep his life just for himself will lose it. Only by giving ourselves do we receive our life. In other words: only the one who loves discovers life.

And love always demands going out of oneself, it always demands leaving oneself. Anyone who looks just to himself, who wants the other only for himself, will lose both himself and the other. Without this profound losing of oneself, there is no life.

‘Whoever loses his life for my sake…’ says the Lord: a radical letting-go of our self is only possible if in the process we end up, not by falling into the void, but into the hands of Love eternal. Only the love of God, who loses Himself for us and gives Himself to us, makes it possible for us also to become free, to let go, and so truly to find life.

Homily of September 9, 2007.

Question for reflection: What is the most difficult thing that God has asked of me?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 14:1, 7-14

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 14:1, 7-14

Why is pride so harmful to the spiritual life? Pride is rooted in a lie, as though we’re the architects of our own existence, with no need for God.

Humility, on the other hand, is grounded in the truth of who we are. As creatures, we are constantly dependent upon God. As sin-prone human beings, we are incapable of saving our souls for eternal life. And as disciples of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are called to emulate His humility.

In today’s Gospel, set against the background of intense social competition at a banquet, Jesus takes the opportunity to instruct the guests on the virtue of humility. In essence, He counsels us to follow His example.

As God the Son, the Eternal Word of the Father, He humbled Himself to take up our humanity in order to redeem us. Just as He tells His host that he should invite the poor and outcast, so does Jesus invite us, who cannot possibly repay Him, to His eternal banquet.

In the words of Pope St. Gregory the Great (d. 604),

that He might bring us back to the way of life through humility, He deigned to exhibit in Himself what He teaches us…For to this end the only begotten Son of God took upon Himself the form of our weakness; to this end He endured…the reproaches of derision, the torments of suffering; that God in His humility might teach man not to be proud. How great, then, is the virtue of humility for the sake of teaching which alone He Who is great beyond compare became little even unto the suffering of death!

Book V, Letter 18.

Remembering that we are sinners, forever in God’s debt, helps us to develop a true sense of humility before God and neighbor – not to denigrate our gifts and accomplishments, but to know that they come from God, and to view ourselves in proper perspective.

Because humility enables us to recognize our dependence upon God, and to treat others charitably, it is essential for growth in the spiritual life.

Question for reflection: How might I cultivate the virtue of humility?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 13:22-30

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 13:22-30

Recent Gospels have emphasized that we should keep our eyes trained on the ultimate prize of eternal life.

After warning us about the perils of greed, and lack of vigilance, Jesus identifies another error to be avoided: presumption — when we take eternal life for granted, imagining that we can get by without making any effort to cooperate with God’s grace.

We are in danger of falling into presumption in two ways:

Either man presumes upon his own capacities (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or His mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit.

— Catechism paragraph 2092.

On the other hand, the flip side of presumption is the sin of despair, when a person

ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to His justice – for the Lord is faithful to His promises – and to His mercy (2091).

Instead of the pitfalls of presumption or despair, we are called to an authentic hope and trust in God’s merciful love, while striving to live in accordance with the Gospel, and repenting when we fall short. The virtue of hope is entirely different from the sin of presumption.

“Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing” — that we enjoy “the beatific vision of God” in eternity – but hope also involves the healthy “fear of offending God’s love” and of harming our relationship with Him through sin (2090).

Question for reflection: How do I guard against complacency in my spiritual life?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 12:49-53

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 12:49-53

Households will be divided

It’s tough to be a committed disciple when the entertainment culture and prevailing opinion are often antithetical to the truth of Christ. We may feel enormous pressure to go with the flow, or else risk losing friends and popularity.

This can lead to what spiritual writers have described as the sin of “human respect” – being so concerned with what other people think of us, that we lack courage to stand with the Lord. Fearing a loss of others’ esteem, we may end up compromising our beliefs and morals.

If we give in, we’re effectively becoming disciples of the world, not of Christ. If we commit to the Lord, we may experience difficulties in some personal relationships.

Jesus Himself prophesies such division in today’s Gospel. Some will not accept Him, and that will cause opposition to His disciples in every age.

“As soon as worldly people see that you wish to follow a devout life, they aim a thousand darts of mockery and even detraction at you” and accuse you of “hypocrisy, bigotry.”

Sound like something you’ve read or heard recently? Those words were written in the early 1600s by St Francis de Sales in his spiritual classic, Introduction to the Devout Life.

We can take heart from the fact that we are not alone in our trials. Disciples down through the course of history have been faced with the same kind of choice: do I follow God’s way, or the world’s way?

The saints chose wisely, and our brothers and sisters in heaven are ready, willing, and able to help us as we make our choices. Let us ask for their timely intercession, draw lessons from their lives, and consult their writings for guidance.

St Francis de Sales gives us sage advice:

These people [seeking to draw you away from the Lord] aren’t interested in your health or welfare.

Does anyone fail to see that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and well disposed to its own children but harsh and rigorous towards the children of God?

We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it.

–Quotations from the Fourth Part of the Introduction, Chapter 1

Question for reflection: When have I stood with the Lord, even when it was unpopular?