Engaging the Gospel – Mark 10:35-45

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 10:35-45

“Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all”

The Christian imperative to serve others is expressed in the Vatican II document Apostolicam Actuositatem (Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity), which urges laypeople to “take up the renewal” of the world “as their own special obligation” (7).

The Council Fathers remind us that “charitable enterprises can and should reach out to all persons and all needs” —

Wherever there are people in need of food and drink, clothing, housing, medicine, employment, education; wherever men lack the facilities necessary for living a truly human life or are afflicted with serious distress or illness or suffer exile or imprisonment, there Christian charity should seek them out and find them, console them with great solicitude and help them with appropriate relief. This obligation is imposed above all upon every prosperous nation and person.

Apostolicam Actuositatem, 8.

But our inspiration for serving others isn’t just philanthrophy or humanitarianism, as noble as those ideals are.

Rather, we serve because we are conformed to Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who came down from heaven to redeem us as the Suffering Servant: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”

By giving of ourselves on behalf of others, we unite with Christ’s own self-emptying. The more we grow in union with Christ, the “greater” we become in holiness:

Since Christ, sent by the Father, is the source and origin of the whole apostolate of the Church, the success of the lay apostolate depends upon the laity’s living union with Christ…

— ibid., 4.

Question for reflection: How do I answer Jesus’ call to serve others?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Jesus inveighs against the Pharisees, who were so caught up in their own rules about external purification that they ignored the most important purification of all – the interior cleansing of the heart.

“The organ for seeing God is the heart,” Benedict XVI affirms:

The intellect alone is not enough…The heart – the wholeness of man – must be pure, interiorly open and free, in order for man to be able to see God…Purification of heart occurs as a consequence of following Christ, of becoming one with Him…The pure heart is the loving heart that enters into communion of service and obedience with Jesus Christ.

— Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, pp. 92-95.

The pure of heart are “attuned” to God in three primary ways: “charity; chastity or sexual rectitude; love of truth and orthodoxy of faith” (Catechism paragraph 2518).

Although we have received purifying grace in baptism, we must continue the “battle for purity,” struggling against the weakness of our flesh (2520).

“Purification of the heart demands prayer, the practice of chastity, purity of intention and of vision” (2532).

Purity of heart “enables us to see according to God, to accept others as neighbors; it lets us perceive the human body – ours and our neighbor’s – as a temple of the Holy Spirit” (2519).

Question for reflection: What can I do to strive for purity of heart?

Engaging the Gospel – Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year B): Gospel – John 15:9-17

“Jesus makes charity the new commandment” (Catechism paragraph 1823). “The Lord asks us to love as He does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ Himself” (1825).

In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), Benedict XVI explores Jesus’ call to love:

God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, He makes us see and experience His love, and since He has ‘loved us first,’ love can also blossom as a response within us.

Moreover, “love is not merely a sentiment,” but rather involves our will and intellect as well:

The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself.

…in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ…Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God Who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then, of a ‘commandment’ imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of a freely-bestowed experience of love from within, a love which by its very nature must then be shared with others.

Deus Caritas Est, 17-18.

And by living in accordance with this love, as Benedict explains, we find our joy:

God wants us to share in His own divine and eternal joy, and He helps us to see that the deepest meaning and value of our lives lie in being accepted, welcomed and loved by Him…God offers us an unconditional acceptance which enables us to say: ‘I am loved; I have a place in the world and in history; I am personally loved by God. If God accepts me and loves me and I am sure of this, then I know clearly and with certainty that it is a good thing that I am alive.’

…God wants us to be happy. That is why he gave us specific directions for the journey of life: the commandments. If we observe them, we will find the path to life and happiness. At first glance, they might seem to be a list of prohibitions and an obstacle to our freedom. But if we study them more closely, we see in the light of Christ’s message that the commandments are a set of essential and valuable rules leading to a happy life in accordance with God’s plan. How often, on the other hand, do we see that choosing to build our lives apart from God and His will brings disappointment, sadness and a sense of failure…

Christians are men and women who are truly happy because they know that they are not alone. They know that God is always holding them in His hands.

Message for World Youth Day 2012

Question for reflection: In what ways do I try to radiate God’s love and joy to others?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 22:34-40

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 22:34-40

Jesus distills the essence of the whole Law and Prophets – love of God and love of neighbor – by quoting verses from two different books of the Old Testament.

As Benedict XVI has commented,

The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence: ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might’ (6:4-5).

Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbor found in the Book of Leviticus: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (19:18).

Deus Caritas Est, 1.

Jesus thereby emphasizes that these two elements of love of God and neighbor are closely intertwined: “One cannot adore God without loving all men, His creatures. One cannot honor another person without blessing God his creator” (Catechism paragraph 2069).

By citing the Scriptures in this way, Jesus affirms that “the Old Testament retains its own intrinsic value as Revelation” (129).

Because the God-given Law served as a teacher “to lead His people towards Christ” (708), the Church has constantly proclaimed the unity of the Old and New Testaments (128).

“The Old Testament prepares for the New and the New Testament fulfills the Old; the two shed light on each other; both are the true Word of God” (140). That is why the Church “has retained certain elements of the worship of the Old Covenant” in our Mass, such as “reading the Old Testament” and “praying the Psalms” (1093).

Question for reflection: How does my daily life reflect love of God and neighbor?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 18:15-20

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 18:15-20

In Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us about the personal and communal dimensions of reconciliation.

The first has been described as fraternal correction – when we approach someone privately, in a spirit of charity, not with animus or resentment, in order to promote healing and for the spiritual good of the person who committed the fault.

“Fraternal correction is a work of mercy,” Benedict XVI reminds us:

None of us sees himself or his shortcomings clearly. It is therefore an act of love to complement one another, to help one another see each other better, and correct each other…to know the shortcomings that we ourselves do not want to see…

Of course, this great work of mercy, helping one another so that each of us can truly rediscover his own integrity and functionality as an instrument of God, demands great humility and love.

Only if it comes from a humble heart that does not rank itself above others, that does not consider itself better than others but only a humble instrument to offer reciprocal help; only if we feel this true and deep humility, if we feel that these words come from common love…can we help one another in this regard with a great act of love.

October 3, 2005

At the same time, sin is not just a private matter, because it is “an offense against God” that also “damages communion with the Church” (Catechism paragraph 1440).

Hence Jesus has provided a way for us to be reconciled in a deeper sense. By giving His apostles the power to forgive sins, He established the sacrament of Reconciliation through the Church (1444-45). This healing sacrament reconciles us first and foremost with God (1468), restores fraternal communion, and has a “revitalizing effect on the life of the Church” (1469).

Question for reflection: When have I benefited from charitable correction?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 14:13-21

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 14:13-21

Jesus’ miraculous feeding of more than 5,000 has an intensely Eucharistic dimension:

The miracles of the multiplication of the loaves, when the Lord says the blessing, breaks and distributes the loaves through His disciples to feed the multitude, prefigure the superabundance of this unique bread of His Eucharist.

–Catechism paragraph 1335.

Jesus performed this miracle so that the people could remain with Him and receive food for their bodies. Similarly, through the Lord’s miraculous gift of Himself in the Eucharist, we abide in His sacramental presence, and we are spiritually nourished by His very Body and Blood (1380, 1392).

Benedict XVI has reflected upon the meaning of these Eucharistic gestures in the context of the Last Supper:

The breaking of bread for all is in the first instance a function of the head of the family, who by this action in some sense represents God the Father, who gives us everything, through the earth’s bounty, that we need for life. It is also a gesture of hospitality…

God’s bountiful distribution of gifts takes on a radical quality when the Son communicates and distributes himself in the form of bread…In this sacrament we enjoy the hospitality of God, who gives himself to us…

Thus breaking bread and distributing it – the act of attending lovingly to those in need – is an intrinsic dimension of the Eucharist. Caritas, care for the other, is not an additional sector of Christianity alongside worship; rather, it is rooted in it and forms part of it.

–Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 2, p. 129.

Question for reflection: How does God’s generosity to me inspire me to be generous to others?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 5:17-37

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Gospel: Matthew 5:17-37

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus fulfills the Law by intensifying its moral standards.

He “insists on conversion of heart” (Catechism paragraph 2608), showing us that we are accountable not only for our actions, but for our thoughts and words as well. In this way Jesus raises the bar, so to speak, on the sin of anger (2262), on purity of thought (2336), sanctity of marriage (2382), reverence for God’s name (2153), and being truthful (2466).

“The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them: it reveals their entire divine and human truth. It does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure” (1968).

Hence the New Law, the Law of the Gospel, “becomes the interior law of charity” (1965), teaching us what we ought to do (1966).

As St. Augustine wrote, the Sermon on the Mount is “the perfect way of the Christian life,” containing “all the precepts needed to shape one’s life” (quoted in 1966).

For this reason, the Sermon on the Mount is one guide to an examination of conscience, especially to prepare for the sacrament of Reconciliation (1454).

Question for reflection: How carefully do I guard my thoughts and my words?

Virtues

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1803-45:

  • Virtue, the “habitual and firm disposition to do the good,” has been classified into two types: human virtues, which we acquire by our own effort, and theological virtues, which are infused by God.
  • Of the human virtues, four are particularly important – prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; these four are called the cardinal virtues, from the Latin cardo for “hinge,” because the other human virtues revolve around them.
  • Prudence is not political slipperiness or diplomatic discretion; rather, prudence directs the use of our reason so that we know the right thing to do, and how to accomplish it in the right way; thus dubbed the “charioteer of virtues,” it plays an invaluable role in the working of our conscience.
  • Justice is the constant, unswerving determination to give what is due to both God and neighbor; this justice toward God is known as the “virtue of religion,” while justice toward neighbor safeguards human rights and advances the common good.
  • Fortitude, or courage, instills in us the resolve to pursue the good despite difficulties or adversity; this virtue helps us to fight temptation, endure trials, and rise above our fear, to the point of suffering death for a just cause.
  • Temperance enables us to achieve the right balance in how we use or consume things; with our desires kept to an appropriate level, we will not overindulge our appetites for the goods of this life.
  • The theological virtues – faith, hope, and charity – are so called because they are irrevocably bound up in our relationship with God; as the underpinning of the Christian moral life, they also sustain our human virtues.
  • By the theological virtue of faith, we believe in God, and all of His revelation, and the teaching of the Church, because God is Truth; this is not simply a passive acquiescence, but involves a bold dedication to witness to the faith.
  • Hope is not a wishful optimism, or irrational naivete; instead, it is through this theological virtue that we desire heaven, and trust God – not ourselves – to bring us to eternal life by His grace, according to Christ’s promises.
  • Charity is not merely being nice: it means that we love God above everything else, and for love of Him, we love our neighbor; because this is the ultimate point of our existence, both now and for all time, Jesus made charity the new commandment, and it ranks as the greatest of all the virtues.

Live Your Faith

Our culture often scoffs at the idea of virtue, mocking it as hokey, and the opposite of all things hip and cool.

But that is a failure to grasp what virtue really is: virtue has its basis, both linguistically and philosophically, in the idea of excellence.

If we prize excellence in such fields as sports and entertainment, and hail the best performers as superstars, shouldn’t we also prize excellence in the art of living?

Virtuous people are the superstars of moral living. And unlike the ultra-competitive worlds of sports and entertainment, where only a few can make it, every one of us is called to be a superstar of moral living.