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?

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Engaging the Gospel – Luke 7:11-17

10th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 7:11-17

Jesus’ raising of the widow’s son from death is a great miracle that illustrates His power over the natural order. But as St Augustine comments, it is also symbolic of the Lord’s raising us from spiritual death to new life through grace.

Pope Francis expands on this theme:

The mercy of Jesus is not only an emotion; it is a force which gives life that raises man! Today’s Gospel also tells us this in the episode of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17). With His disciples, Jesus arrives in Nain, a village in Galilee, right at the moment when a funeral is taking place. A boy, the only son of a widow, is being carried for burial. Jesus immediately fixes His gaze on the crying mother.

The Evangelist Luke says: “And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her” (v. 13). This “compassion” is God’s love for man, it is mercy, thus the attitude of God in contact with human misery, with our destitution, our suffering, our anguish. The biblical term “compassion” recalls a mother’s womb. The mother in fact reacts in a way all her own in confronting the pain of her children. It is in this way, according to Scripture, that God loves us.

What is the fruit of this love and mercy? It is life! Jesus says to the widow of Nain: “Do not weep” and then He calls the dead boy and awakes him as if from sleep (cf. vv. 13-15).

Let’s think about this, it’s beautiful: God’s mercy gives life to man, it raises him from the dead. Let us not forget that the Lord always watches over us with mercy; He always watches over us with mercy. Let us not be afraid of approaching Him! He has a merciful heart! If we show Him our inner wounds, our inner sins, He will always forgive us. It is pure mercy. Let us go to Jesus!

Angelus of June 9, 2013

Question for reflection: How have I experienced new life in Christ?

Engaging the Gospel – Third Sunday of Easter

3rd Sunday of Easter (Year C): Gospel – John 21:1-19

In a scene that calls to mind Peter’s previously denying Jesus three times, the Risen Christ asks Peter three times if he loves Him. Peter responds with three declarations of love, and each time, Christ charges him to care for His flock.

St John Paul II reflected on the meaning of this exchange in Ut Unum Sint, his encyclical letter On Commitment to Ecumenism:

It is just as though, against the backdrop of Peter’s human weakness, it were made fully evident that his particular ministry in the Church derives altogether from grace. It is as though the Master especially concerned Himself with Peter’s conversion as a way of preparing him for the task He was about to give him in His Church (91).

As the heir to the mission of Peter in the Church, which has been made fruitful by the blood of the Princes of the Apostles, the Bishop of Rome exercises a ministry originating in the manifold mercy of God. This mercy converts hearts and pours forth the power of grace where the disciple experiences the bitter taste of his personal weakness and helplessness (92).

Associating himself with Peter’s threefold profession of love, which corresponds to the earlier threefold denial, his Successor knows that he must be a sign of mercy. His is a ministry of mercy, born of an act of Christ’s own mercy (93).

Saint Augustine, after showing that Christ is ‘the one Shepherd, in Whose unity all are one,’ goes on to exhort: ‘May all shepherds thus be one in the one Shepherd; may they let the one voice of the Shepherd be heard; may the sheep hear this voice and follow their Shepherd, not this shepherd or that, but the only One; in Him may they all let one voice be heard and not a babble of voices…the voice free of all division, purified of all heresy, that the sheep hear.’

The mission of the Bishop of Rome within the College of all the Pastors consists precisely in ‘keeping watch’ (episkopein), like a sentinel, so that, through the efforts of the Pastors, the true voice of Christ the Shepherd may be heard in all the particular Churches…

This primacy is exercised on various levels, including vigilance over the handing down of the Word, the celebration of the Liturgy and the Sacraments, the Church’s mission, discipline and the Christian life…He has the duty to admonish, to caution and to declare at times that this or that opinion being circulated is irreconcilable with the unity of faith (94).

Question for reflection: When has the Lord given me an opportunity to make amends?

Engaging the Gospel – Fifth Sunday of Lent

5th Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – John 8:1-11

Benedict XVI has commented on this Gospel passage of the adulterous woman, in which human sinfulness and Divine Mercy “come face to face.” As the Pope Emeritus explained,

The pitiless accusers of the woman, citing the law of Moses, provoke Jesus – they call Him ‘Teacher’ (Didáskale) – asking Him whether it would be right to stone her. They were aware of His mercy and His love for sinners and were curious to see how He would manage in such a case which, according to Mosaic law, was crystal clear. But Jesus immediately took the side of the woman…‘Let him who is without sin among you (He uses the term anamártetos here, which is the only time it appears in the New Testament) be the first to throw a stone at her.’

…Augustine added that with these words, Jesus obliged the accusers to look into themselves, to examine themselves to see whether they too were sinners. Thus, ‘pierced through as if by a dart as big as a beam, one after another, they all withdrew.’

…When they had all left, the divine Teacher remained alone with the woman. St Augustine’s comment is concise and effective: ‘relicti sunt duo:  misera et Misericordia, the two were left alone, the wretched woman and Mercy.’…

Dear friends, from the Word of God we have just heard emerge practical instructions for our life. Jesus does not enter into a theoretical discussion with His interlocutors on this section of Mosaic Law; He is not concerned with winning an academic dispute about an interpretation of Mosaic Law, but His goal is to save a soul and reveal that salvation is only found in God’s love…only divine forgiveness and divine love received with an open and sincere heart give us the strength to resist evil and ‘to sin no more,’ to let ourselves be struck by God’s love so that it becomes our strength. Jesus’ attitude thus becomes a model to follow for every community, which is called to make love and forgiveness the vibrant heart of its life.

Homily of March 25, 2007.

Question for reflection: How has my acceptance of God’s mercy helped me to extend mercy to others?

Engaging the Gospel – Second Sunday of Advent

Second Sunday of Advent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 3:1-6

John the Baptist proclaims a baptism of repentance, and in so doing, prepares the way for the coming Messiah, Jesus.

“In John, the precursor, the Holy Spirit completes the work of making ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Catechism paragraph 718).

At the same time, with John, “the Holy Spirit begins the restoration to man of the divine likeness, prefiguring what He would achieve with and in Christ” (720):

The human heart is heavy and hardened. God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God Who makes our hearts return to Him….This same Spirit Who brings sin to light is also the Consoler Who gives the human heart grace for repentance and conversion (1432-33).

Benedict XVI elucidates today’s Gospel with the help of two sublime Church Fathers — Sts Ambrose and Augustine:

Tomorrow will be the liturgical Memorial of St Ambrose, the great Bishop of Milan. I take from him a comment on this Gospel text: “The Son of God,” he writes, “before gathering the Church together, acts first of all in His humble servant. Thus St Luke rightly says that the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness, because the Church was not born from people, but from the Word.”

Here then is the meaning: the Word of God is the subject that moves history, inspires the prophets, prepares the way for the Lord and convokes the Church. Jesus Himself is the divine Word Who was made flesh in Mary’s virginal womb: in Him God was fully revealed, He told us, and gave us His all, offering to us the precious gifts of His truth and mercy. St Ambrose then continues in his commentary: “Thus the Word came down so that the earth, which was previously a desert, might produce its fruit for us.”

Angelus of December 6, 2009.

St Augustine comments: “John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word Who was in the beginning (cf. Jn 1:1). John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word Who lives for ever. Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.”

Today it is up to us to listen to that voice so as to make room for Jesus, the Word Who saves us, and to welcome Him into our hearts.

Angelus of December 9, 2012.

Question for reflection: In what ways have I experienced a call to repentance?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48

Jesus warns us to avoid sin

“Before being against a law or a moral norm, sin is against God, against your brothers and sisters and against yourselves,” wrote St John Paul II, who described sin as our refusal

to let ourselves be loved by the true Love: the human being has in fact the terrible power to be an obstacle to God Who wills to give all that is good…

Today, unfortunately, the more people lose the sense of sin, the less they have recourse to the pardon of God. This is the cause of many of the problems and difficulties of our time.

Message for the 14th World Youth Day.

“Sin is an abuse of the freedom that God gives” us (Catechism 387), a “failure in genuine love for God and neighbor” that “wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity” (1849). Moreover, “sin creates a proclivity to sin” (1865).

As St Augustine wrote, we must not ignore the cumulative effects of even small sins: “A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession”(1863).

The Lord is always eager to welcome us in Reconciliation. JPII urged us to “approach trustfully the sacrament of Confession” and “receive with a grateful heart the absolution given by the priest…The Source of love regenerates and makes us capable of overcoming egoism and of loving again, with greater intensity” (op. cit.).

Question for reflection: What efforts do I make to overcome my habitual faults?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 9:30-37

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 9:30-37

This Gospel passage illustrates the problems engendered by selfish pride, as the disciples argue about who is greatest among them.

Pride can give rise to envy of another, which St. Augustine saw as “the diabolical sin” (Catechism 2539).

As St. Ambrose wrote, “Pride transformed angels into demons; humility makes human beings into saints.”

Jesus counsels the disciples to practice humility and self-giving: whoever wants to be first, should be the servant of all.

In this way we will achieve “victory,” but not “in triumphalistic terms,” Benedict XVI explains:

Christ suggests to us a very different road that does not pass through dominance and power. Christ speaks of a victory through suffering love, reciprocal service, help, new hope and practical comfort given to the lowliest, to the forgotten, to the outcast.

For all Christians the loftiest expression of this humble service is Jesus Christ Himself, the total gift that He makes of Himself, the victory of His love over death, on the cross, that shines in the light of Easter morning.

Only if we let ourselves be transformed by God, only if we undertake to convert our life and if the transformation is brought about in the form of conversion, can we share in this transforming ‘victory.’

General Audience of January 18, 2012.

Question for reflection: When is it most difficult to put aside my selfishness?