Engaging the Gospel – Christ the King

Solemnity of Christ the King (Year C): Gospel – Luke 23:35-43

For the Solemnity of Christ the King, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church presents us with a stark Gospel: Jesus on the Cross.

“The Cross is the paradoxical sign of His kingship,” Benedict XVI has reflected:

It is in the very offering of Himself in the sacrifice of expiation that Jesus becomes King of the universe…

But in what does this ‘power’ of Jesus Christ the King consist?…It is the divine power to give eternal life, to liberate from evil, to defeat the dominion of death. It is the power of Love that can draw good from evil, that can melt a hardened heart…

This Kingdom of Grace is never imposed and always respects our freedom….Every conscience, therefore, must make a choice. Who do I want to follow? God or the Evil One? The truth or falsehood?

November 22, 2009.

This choice is reflected in today’s Gospel, in which Jesus is reviled by some, but venerated by the “Good Thief.”

The Gospel dialogue reverberates to our own time, when the kingship of Christ is still subject to mockery and derision. Many in our culture commit the sin of blasphemy, “uttering against God – inwardly or outwardly – words of hatred, reproach, or defiance” (Catechism paragraph 2148).

As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to shape our world, and transform our culture, in the light of the Gospel (898-99, 2105), and thus advance the Kingdom.

Question for reflection: How do I respond when someone mocks the Lord?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 21:5-19

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 21:5-19

While last Sunday’s Gospel focused on the resurrection at the end of time, today’s passage braces us for the wars, disasters, and persecutions that must be endured before the Lord comes again. But whatever suffering we experience, Jesus promises us that by our “perseverance” (sometimes translated as “endurance”), our lives (or “souls”) will be saved.

We should ask God for the gift of final perseverance. As St. Augustine (d. 430) observed in Admonition and Grace,

God willed that His saints should not…glory in their own strength, but in Himself, who gives them not only such assistance…but He also works in them the will to persevere….Aid, therefore, is brought to the weakness of the human will, so that it might be affected firmly and invincibly by divine grace (12, 38).

A current scholar of Augustine, Benedict XVI, has also spoken of the saint’s view of perseverance:

I return to St. Augustine: at first he was content with the grace of conversion; then he discovered the need for another grace, the grace of perseverance, one which we must ask the Lord for each day…

It seems to me that we must have trust in this gift of perseverance, but we must also pray to the Lord with tenacity, humility and patience to help and sustain us…and to accompany us day after day to the very end, even if our way must pass through dark valleys.

Address of February 17, 2007.

Question for reflection: When have I learned the value of perseverance?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 20:27-38

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 20:27-38

For centuries in the life of the Church, the month of November has been a time when we pray more intensely on behalf of the dead.

Following so closely from All Saints’ Day on November 1, and All Souls (the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed) on November 2, it is fitting that the Church offers us this Gospel passage today, in which Jesus affirms the resurrection of the dead.

The idea of the resurrection was not explicit in the early Jewish faith, which is why the Sadducees refused to believe in it: “God revealed the resurrection of the dead to His people progressively” (Catechism paragraph 992).

Christ was “raised with His own Body…but He did not return to an earthly life.” So will we “rise again with [our] own bodies which [we] now bear, but Christ will change our lowly body to be like His glorious Body” (999).

This has important implications for how we view the body – not as a disposable object, but as fundamental to the human person, in profound unity with the soul (362-65).

Death, brought into the world by sin, separates body and soul, but God will restore the unity of body and soul in the resurrection (997):

In expectation of that day, the believer’s body and soul already participate in the dignity of belonging to Christ. This dignity entails the demand that he should treat with respect his own body, but also the body of every other person, especially the suffering (1004).

Question for reflection: How does my belief in the coming resurrection affect the way I live now?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 19:1-10

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 19:1-10

Today’s Gospel, focusing on the dramatic repentance of Zacchaeus, reveals that an encounter with Jesus is a life-changing experience.

Benedict XVI has often emphasized this very theme of encountering Jesus:

We are only Christians if we encounter Christ…We too can encounter Christ in reading Sacred Scripture, in prayer, in the liturgical life of the Church. We can touch Christ’s Heart and feel Him touching ours. Only in this personal relationship with Christ, only in this encounter with the Risen One, do we truly become Christians.

September 3, 2008.

St John Paul II viewed Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus as a “biblical icon” that illustrates the sacrament of Reconciliation, “God’s arrival at a person’s home.” Just as Jesus’ look deeply affects Zacchaeus, “that same gaze looks upon each” one of us:

Mercy has already come to him as a gratuitous and overflowing gift…Beneath the loving gaze of Christ, the heart of Zacchaeus warms to love of neighbor…

The salvation which truly heals and restores, involves a genuine conversion to the demands of God’s love. If Zacchaeus had welcomed the Lord into his home without coming to an attitude of openness to love and reparation for the harm done, without a firm commitment to living a new life, he would not have received in the depths of his heart the forgiveness which the Lord had offered him with such concern.

Letter to Priests for Holy Thursday 2002.

Question for reflection: In what ways do I relate to Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 18:9-14

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 18:9-14

Jesus’ parable of the self-righteous Pharisee, contrasted with the contrite tax collector, prompts us to consider our own hearts: do we recognize our need for God’s mercy, or do we think we’re doing well just because we fulfill religious obligations? Do we tend to rationalize, and overlook, our faults?

As St John Paul II explained,

The tax collector might possibly have had some justification for the sins he committed, such as to diminish his responsibility. But his prayer does not dwell on such justifications, but rather on his own unworthiness before God’s infinite holiness: ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ The Pharisee, on the other hand, is self-justified, finding some excuse for each of his failings. Here we encounter two different attitudes of the moral conscience of man in every age.

The tax collector represents a ‘repentant’ conscience, fully aware of the frailty of its own nature and seeing in its own failings, whatever their subjective justifications, a confirmation of its need for redemption.

The Pharisee represents a ‘self-satisfied’ conscience, under the illusion that it is able to observe the law without the help of grace and convinced that it does not need mercy.

All people must take great care not to allow themselves to be tainted by the attitude of the Pharisee, which would seek to eliminate awareness of one’s own limits and of one’s own sin. In our own day this attitude is expressed particularly in the attempt to adapt the moral norm to one’s own capacities and personal interests, and even in the rejection of the very idea of a norm.

Accepting, on the other hand, the ‘disproportion’ between the law and human ability (that is, the capacity of the moral forces of man left to himself) kindles the desire for grace and prepares one to receive it.

Veritatis Splendor, 104-05

Question for reflection: What “blind spots” do I have regarding my own faults?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 18:1-8

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 18:1-8

Today’s Gospel “is centered on one of the qualities of prayer: it is necessary to pray always without ceasing and with the patience of faith” (Catechism paragraph 2613).

Through the parable of the widow, whose sheer persistence wears down the dishonest judge, Jesus encourages us to keep praying, no matter what difficulties we have in prayer:

When we begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love? (2732)

We tend to get distracted (2729), or lazy (2733), or even discouraged if we don’t get the results we want.

What is the image of God that motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? Or the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? (2735)

In fact,

In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father Who is good beyond measure, with His Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit…Thus the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with Him (2565).

If we understand prayer in that light, and not only as a recitation of words, it is possible to pray always.

As St. Therese of Lisieux observed,

for me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven; it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy (quoted in 2558).

Question for reflection: In what ways have I witnessed the power of prayer?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 17:11-19

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 17:11-19

The ten lepers’ crying out to Jesus to “have pity” on them is an example of a prayer of petition, when we ask God for help with any need:

By prayer of petition we express awareness of our relationship with God. We are creatures who are not our own beginning, not the masters of adversity, not our own last end.

— Catechism paragraph 2629

Jesus responds to their request by healing them. His gift not only restores their physical health, but also ends their isolation from society, reuniting them with their families and giving them back their lives. Despite the life-transforming nature of this gift, only one person returns to express his gratitude and glorify God, in a prayer of thanksgiving.

We too have been cleansed by Christ, but our healing is an even greater miracle of redemption: we have been “disfigured by sin and death,” yet Christ restores us in the “Father’s likeness” (705), brings us into the very life of the Holy Trinity (1997), and enables us to fulfill our “original vocation” of eternal life (518, 1998).

How can we give thanks for this awesome gift? Christ himself has instituted the perfect way – through the Eucharist, which literally means “thanksgiving.”

The Eucharist contains and expresses all forms of prayer: it is the pure offering of the whole Body of Christ to the glory of God’s name…it is the sacrifice of praise (2643).

Question for reflection: When have I been especially grateful to God?