Engaging the Gospel – Fourth Sunday of Easter

4th Sunday of Easter (Year C): Gospel – John 10:27-30

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is called “Good Shepherd Sunday,” featuring a Gospel passage on this ancient theme.

Pope St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) considered what this means for us:

Turn now to consider how these words of Our Lord imply a test for yourselves also. Ask yourselves whether you belong to His flock, whether you know Him, whether the light of His truth shines in your minds…

Again [the Lord] says: My sheep hear My voice, and I know them; they follow Me, and I give them eternal life

So Our Lord’s sheep will finally reach their grazing ground where all who follow Him in simplicity of heart will feed on the green pastures of eternity. These pastures are the spiritual joys of heaven. There the elect look upon the face of God with unclouded vision and feast at the banquet of life for ever more.

Beloved brothers, let us set out for these pastures where we shall keep joyful festival with so many of our fellow citizens. May the thought of their happiness urge us on! Let us stir up our hearts, rekindle our faith, and long eagerly for what heaven has in store for us. To love thus is to be already on our way.

No matter what obstacles we encounter, we must not allow them to turn us aside from the joy of that heavenly feast.

— From a homily on the Gospels

Question for reflection: When has listening to Jesus filled me with a sense of peace?

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 – Fourth Sunday of Lent

4th Sunday of Lent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

The parable of the prodigal son isn’t just about the wayward lad, but is more revealing of the father who is “prodigal” — in the sense of extravagantly generous — in his merciful love:

The process of conversion and repentance was described by Jesus in the parable of the prodigal son, the center of which is the merciful father: the fascination of illusory freedom, the abandonment of the father’s house; the extreme misery in which the son finds himself after squandering his fortune; his deep humiliation at finding himself obliged to feed swine, and still worse, at wanting to feed on the husks the pigs ate; his reflection on all he has lost; his repentance and decision to declare himself guilty before his father; the journey back; the father’s generous welcome; the father’s joy – all these are characteristic of the process of conversion.

The beautiful robe, the ring, and the festive banquet are symbols of that new life – pure, worthy, and joyful – of anyone who returns to God and to the bosom of His family, which is the Church. Only the heart of Christ Who knows the depths of His Father’s love could reveal to us the abyss of His mercy in so simple and beautiful a way.

— paragraph 1439.

Question for reflection: What aspect of the prodigal son’s story strikes me most deeply?

Engaging the Gospel – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 1:39-45

Because the Virgin Mary had just conceived Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, her “visitation to Elizabeth thus became a visit from God to His people” (Catechism paragraph 717).

“Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as ‘the mother of my Lord’” (495).

We join in Elizabeth’s greeting whenever we say the “Hail Mary,” which includes key phrases from this Gospel passage:

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth is the first in the long succession of generations who have called Mary blessed….Mary is blessed among women because she believed in the fulfillment of the Lord’s word (2676).

Because she gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother of God and our mother (2677).

Because of Mary’s singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her (2682).

In this way we honor God, Who Himself has assigned her this mission in salvation history:

Mary’s role in the Church is inseparable from her union with Christ and flows directly from it (964).

What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ (487).

Question for reflection: How have I welcomed Mary in my own life?

Engaging the Gospel – First Sunday of Advent

First Sunday of Advent (Year C): Gospel – Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

As we begin Advent, today’s Gospel reminds us of a significant point about this liturgical season. We’re not only preparing to celebrate the birth of Our Lord at Christmas, but also preparing to meet Christ when He comes again.

Jesus emphasizes the upheavals that will take place in the last days, and warns us to “be vigilant at all times and pray” so that we may not be caught off guard.

The Catechism picks up the theme:

Before Christ’s second coming, the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the mystery of iniquity in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth (paragraph 675).

God’s triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgment after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world (677).

Then through His Son Jesus Christ He will pronounce the final word on all history. We shall know the ultimate meaning of the whole work of creation and of the entire economy of salvation and understand the marvelous ways by which His Providence led everything towards its final end (1040).

Question for reflection: How does my faith help me through troubling times?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 7:31-37

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 7:31-37

By healing the deaf man, Jesus signifies that He is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy in the first reading: He has come for our salvation, not only at a specific moment in history, but for us and our age as well.

This “life-giving presence of Christ, the physician of souls and bodies,” remains in the Church, particularly “through the sacraments and in an altogether special way through the Eucharist” (Catechism 1509).

As Benedict XVI observes,

There is not only a physical deafness which largely cuts people off from social life; there is also a ‘hardness of hearing’ where God is concerned, and this is something from which we particularly suffer in our own time. Put simply, we are no longer able to hear God — there are too many different frequencies filling our ears. What is said about God strikes us as pre-scientific, no longer suited to our age.

Along with this hardness of hearing or outright deafness where God is concerned, we naturally lose our ability to speak with Him and to Him. And so we end up losing a decisive capacity for perception. We risk losing our inner senses…

…‘Ephphatha’ — ‘Be opened.’ The Evangelist has preserved for us the original Aramaic word which Jesus spoke, and thus he brings us back to that very moment. What happened then was unique, but it does not belong to a distant past: Jesus continues to do the same thing anew, even today. At our Baptism He touched each of us and said ‘Ephphatha’ – ‘Be opened’ — thus enabling us to hear God’s voice and to be able to talk to Him…

But we do appeal to the freedom of men and women to open their hearts to God, to seek Him, to hear His voice. As we gather here, let us here ask the Lord with all our hearts to speak anew his ‘Ephphatha,’ to heal our hardness of hearing for God’s presence, activity and word, and to give us sight and hearing.

Homily of September 10, 2006.

Question for reflection: How have I experienced an opening up to God?

St John Paul II & St John Vianney on the Priesthood

With today’s memorial of St John Vianney, patron saint of priests, it’s an opportune time to reflect on the wondrous gift of the priesthood — and how much we as laity should support, encourage, and love our priests.

Known for his great sanctity and heroic dedication to the Sacrament of Confession as the Curé of Ars, St John Vianney turned the little French village into a great place of pilgrimage.

So it was at Ars that St John Paul II gave a retreat for priests, deacons, and seminarians in October 1986. His three meditations resonate with profound depth, offering a gift to all priests, especially those who may be in need of a tonic or morale boost in trying circumstances.

The English text can be found in Fr George Rutler’s The Curé d’Ars Today, Appendix 2, pp. 249-73 (the source for all of the quotations below)The full text is also available in French and Italian on the Vatican website.

Here are some excerpts:

People can speak of priesthood as of a profession or function, including the function of presiding over the Eucharistic assembly. But we are not reduced by this to functionaries. This is so first of all because we are marked in our very souls through ordination with a special character that configures us to Christ the Priest…we are ‘set apart,’ totally consecrated to the work of salvation…

You know the saying of the Curé d’Ars: ‘Oh, the priest is something great! If he knew it, he would die!’

…[T]he baptized need the ministerial priesthood. By means of it, in a privileged and tangible manner, the gift of the Divine Life received from Christ, the Head of all the Body, is communicated to them. The more Christian the people become…the more they feel the need of priests who are truly priests.

It was for their salvation that the Curé d’Ars wanted to be a priest: ‘To win souls for the Good God!’…And when he was tempted to run away from his heavy charge as parish priest, he came back, for the salvation of parishioners.

‘Grant me the conversion of my parish, and I am ready to suffer whatever you wish for the rest of my life.’

‘The priesthood,’ as Jean Marie Vianney also said, ‘is the love of the Heart of Christ.’

Let us note what his vicar-general said to the Curé d’Ars: ‘There is not much love of God in this parish: you will put it there.’

The Curé d’Ars said: ‘Do not be afraid of your burden. Our Lord carries it with you.’

After recounting the difficulties that priests experience in a number of aspects of ministry, as well as personally, JP II notes:

sometimes there is the sentiment of a great spiritual poverty or even humiliating weakness. We offer to God this fragility of our ‘earthen vessels.’ It is good for us to know that the Curé d’Ars too knew many trials…

How could we bring a remedy to the spiritual crisis of our time, unless we ourselves grasp the means of a profound and constant union with the Lord, Whose servants we are?

The priestly ministry, then, living in a state of union with God, is the daily place of our sanctification.

JPII concludes with thanksgiving, and an “urgent appeal” to priests:

…I give thanks to Jesus Christ for this unheard-of gift of the priesthood, that of the Curé d’Ars and that of all the priests of yesterday and today. They prolong the sacred ministry of Jesus Christ throughout the world.

To this word of thanks, I join an urgent appeal to all priests: whatever may be your interior or exterior difficulties, which the merciful Lord knows, remain faithful to your sublime vocation…In critical times, remember that no temptation to abandonment is fatal before the Lord Who has called you…

Let us always pray for our priests, and remember to include them as we offer up our daily crosses to the Lord. In addition to supporting our own parishes materially, we can also support priests in need through Opus Bono Sacerdotii.