Engaging the Gospel – Exaltation of the Holy Cross

Exaltation of the Holy Cross: Gospel – John 3:13-17

We could never heal our own brokenness, never restore our relationship with God, never attain the eternal blessedness of heaven, by our own devices.

So out of His great love for us, God took the initiative in a design that unfolded throughout salvation history. He sent His Son, Jesus, to become man, and brought about our redemption through the mystery of His Cross.

Jesus’ “redemptive passion was the very reason for His Incarnation,” and “the desire to embrace His Father’s plan of redeeming love inspired Jesus’ whole life” (Catechism paragraph 607).

“The sign of the Cross is a kind of synthesis of our faith,” as Benedict XVI explains:

for it tells how much God loves us; it tells us that there is a love in this world that is stronger than death, stronger than our weaknesses and sins. The power of love is stronger than the evil which threatens us…

Are we able to understand that in the Crucified One of Golgotha, our dignity as children of God, tarnished by sin, is restored to us? Let us turn our gaze towards Christ. It is He who will make us free to love as He loves us, and to build a reconciled world.

For on this Cross, Jesus took upon Himself the weight of all the sufferings and injustices of our humanity. He bore the humiliation and the discrimination, the torture suffered in many parts of the world by so many of our brothers and sisters for love of Christ.

Because the power of God transformed this cruel death into a means of life, we can rightly see the Cross as a sign of victory:

And the Church invites us proudly to lift up this glorious Cross so that the world can see the full extent of the love of the Crucified One for mankind, for every man and woman. She invites us to give thanks to God because from a tree which brought death, life has burst out anew.

Homily of September 14, 2008.

Question for reflection: How does it feel to know that God went to such great lengths to save me?

Uniting with Jesus’ Prayer

We should never feel alone or isolated in prayer: made God’s children in Baptism, we are conformed to Christ, and so caught up in the Son’s “filial prayer” to the Father.

Jesus’ prayer is described in the Gospels – His great love for the Father, absolute acceptance of His will, and heartfelt thanksgiving, poured out even before His request is granted.

Now enthroned at the Father’s right hand, Christ continues to pray unceasingly as our High Priest in heaven.

And because we are members of the Body of Christ, He actually prays within us!

St. Augustine captures this beautiful mystery:

He prays for us as our priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God. Therefore let us acknowledge our voice in Him and His in us.

–quoted in Catechism paragraph 2616.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2598-2606, 2746-51.

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 13:1-23

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 13:1-23

The Parable of the Sower

“Christianity is the religion of the ‘Word’ of God, not a written and mute word, but incarnate and living” (Catechism paragraph 108).

Jesus, the Eternal Word made flesh, describes this mystery in the Parable of the Sower.

“In the parables,” as Pope Benedict XVI has noted, “Jesus is not only the sower who scatters the seed of God’s word, but also the seed that falls into the earth in order to die and so to bear fruit,” through His Cross and Resurrection (Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, p. 191).

God’s word can take root and bear fruit in our lives, but only if we are open and receptive, and allow it to work within us.

Benedict commented upon this dynamic relationship in Verbum Domini:

Every man and woman appears as someone to whom the word speaks, challenges and calls to enter this dialogue of love through a free response.

Each of us is thus enabled by God to hear and respond to His word. We were created in the word and we live in the word; we cannot understand ourselves unless we are open to this dialogue.

 Verbum Domini, 22.

But at the same time,

The word of God also inevitably reveals the tragic possibility that human freedom can withdraw from this covenant dialogue with God for which we were created. The divine word also discloses the sin that lurks in the human heart.

Quite frequently in both the Old and in the New Testament, we find sin described as a refusal to hear the word, as a breaking of the covenant and thus as being closed to God who calls us to communion with Himself. Sacred Scripture shows how man’s sin is essentially disobedience and refusal to hear.

Verbum Domini, 26.

Question for reflection: How might I allow the Word to bear greater fruit in my life?

Engaging the Gospel – Most Holy Trinity

Most Holy Trinity: Gospel – John 3:16-18

The divine life revealed as a communion of love

“By sending His only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed His innermost secret: God Himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange” (Catechism paragraph 221).

“God is one, but not solitary” (254), for He is “one God in three Persons” (253), the Most Holy Trinity.

Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard of sense: He is Father not only in being Creator; He is eternally Father by His relationship to His only Son” (240), the Eternal Word, Who became flesh to redeem us (422-23).

The Holy Spirit has been described as the eternal Love between the Father and Son: “The Spirit is inseparable from them, in both the inner life of the Trinity and His gift of love for the world” (689).

Indeed, love is God’s “first gift, containing all others” (733), communicating to us “the very life of the Holy Trinity, which is to love as God loved us” (735).

Pope Benedict XVI has explored the meaning of this divine revelation in his encyclical God Is Love:

God “loves with a personal love” (9), as a “lover with all the passion of a true love.”

But this seeking-love is simultaneously a self-giving love, which leads directly to the “mystery of the Cross: so great is God’s love for man that by becoming man He follows him even into death” (10). “This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ…it is from there that our definition of love must begin” (12).

Question for reflection: How have I come to believe in God’s love for me?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 5:38-48

7th Sunday in Ordinary Time — Gospel: Matthew 5:38-48

Jesus continues to perfect the Law, revealing His divine authority

Today’s Gospel is a seamless continuation from last Sunday, with Jesus perfecting the Old Law in His teaching of the New Law. Beyond just instructing us in His Law, Jesus also embodied it, living it out perfectly to become a model for us.

“Jesus could say to His disciples not only and not merely, ‘Follow My law,’ but, ‘Follow Me, imitate Me, walk in the light which comes from Me,’” as Blessed John Paul II summarized.

Why must we do so? Because Jesus reveals Himself as God:

In the important passages of the Sermon on the Mount, the contraposition is repeated, ‘You have heard that it was said….But I say to you.’ This was not to abolish the divine law of the old covenant, but to indicate its perfect fulfillment…

He did so by claiming for Himself an authority identical with that of God the lawgiver. It can be said that in that expression repeated six times, ‘I say to you,’ there resounds the echo of God’s self-definition, which Jesus also attributes to Himself, ‘I Am.’

John Paul II also noted how this struck Jesus’ audience:

It is a witness to us that the people immediately recognized the difference between Christ’s teaching and that of the Israelite scribes, not only in manner but also in substance. The scribes based their teaching on the text of the Mosaic Law, of which they were the interpreters and glossators. Jesus did not at all follow the method of a teacher or commentator of the old law.

General Audience, October 14, 1987.

Question for reflection: What concrete steps might I take to act more charitably?

The Blessed Virgin Mary

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 484-511, 963-75:

  • The Blessed Virgin Mary was specially chosen by God to be the mother of Christ; conceived in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus took His human nature entirely from her.
  • To prepare Mary for her extraordinary role in salvation history, God filled her with extraordinary gifts and graces.
  • All of our teachings about Mary are intensely Christ-focused: everything we believe about the Blessed Mother flows from, and integrally connects with, what we believe about Christ.
  • Because Jesus is true God and true man in one Person, we honor Mary as the Mother of God – our Western rendering of the Greek Theotokos, or “God-bearer,” her title ratified by the Council of Ephesus in response to heresy in 431.
  • By a signal grace of God, Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin when she was conceived by her parents; for this reason, we hail her as the Immaculate Conception, who remained sinless for her entire life.
  • Yet Mary was still in fact redeemed by her Son; Christ’s grace was given to her in advance, unlike the rest of us, who receive redemption after we are stained by sin.
  • Because Mary was in a wholly unique way set apart for God, we hold the truth of her Perpetual Virginity; she fulfills the Old Testament imagery of the Ark of the Covenant, consecrated to God alone.
  • Being perfectly free from sin, Mary was able to give herself freely and unreservedly to accomplish God’s saving plan; even beyond consenting to become Jesus’ mother, she has continually devoted herself to His mission.
  • Because of her perfect union with Christ, Mary was taken up into heaven, body and soul, at the conclusion of her earthly life; we celebrate her Assumption as the prefiguration of our own resurrection at the end of time.
  • Mary is our mother too, as we all belong to the Body of Christ, and she actively intercedes for us before the throne of God.

Live Your Faith

Devotion to the Blessed Mother has an ancient pedigree in the Church.

The apostolic faith has never seen a rivalry between God and Mary, as if venerating her were somehow taking something away from God. It’s actually the opposite: we give greater glory to God by praising what He has accomplished in Mary.

Moreover, Jesus Himself gave us His mother from the Cross. Would it not grieve Him if we neglected her, and thereby failed to attain all of the graces He wants to give us through her?

The Person of Jesus Christ

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 422-83:

  • Jesus Christ is the very heart of the teaching of our faith; indeed, the ultimate purpose of catechesis is to lead us into communion with Him.
  • The defining characteristic of the Christian faith is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God who became man – the doctrine known as the “Incarnation.”
  • The Eternal Word of the Father took on flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary to reconcile us with God, save us from our sins, show forth God’s love, teach us to be holy, and raise us up to share in His own divine life.
  • The very name “Jesus” reveals His identity and redemptive mission, for its Hebrew form means “God saves.”
  • “Christ” is the title that describes His mission; deriving from the Greek translation of the Hebrew Messiah, the term refers to the One “anointed” by God to inaugurate His kingdom.
  • Jesus is anointed, or consecrated, by the Spirit as priest, prophet, and king; these offices are first glimpsed in the Old Testament, where they serve as precursors to their fulfillment in Christ.
  • Similarly, “son of God” is a title used in the Old Testament, but only in the sense of a sonship granted by adoption; Jesus is the Son of God in a radically different way, being His only Son by nature, and a divine Person Himself.
  • Jesus’ divinity is clearly recognized in the New Testament through the use of the divine title “Lord” – the same word that appears in the Old Testament as a substitution for God’s own name, YHWH; thus Jesus is God Himself.
  •  Jesus is fully God and fully man, not a little bit of both; He is one divine Person with two natures, the divine and the human, in perfect union; known as the hypostatic union, this doctrine was articulated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451 in response to heresy.
  • This truth has profound implications: Jesus has united Himself to us and truly entered into our experience of human life – growing up, having to eat and sleep, taking care of daily responsibilities – becoming like us in all things except sin.

Live Your Faith

Our personal encounter with Jesus is the essence of Christianity. If we are not on intimate terms with our Lord and Savior, we are missing the entire point.

It is our relationship with the Person of Jesus Christ that fuels our prayer, drives our hunger for the Eucharist, sparks our desire to please Him in all things, and fires our enthusiasm for sharing our faith with others.

Jesus wants to draw us closer; don’t keep Him waiting!