Engaging the Gospel – Luke 7:36-8:3

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 7:36-8:3

Today’s Gospel reveals the “divine tenderness to repentant sinners,” as Benedict XVI has commented:

All at once, an uninvited and unexpected guest entered from the back of the room: a well-known prostitute…She had heard [Jesus’] words of pardon and hope for all, even prostitutes; she was moved and stayed where she was in silence. She bathed Jesus’ feet with tears, wiped them dry with her hair, kissed them and anointed them with fragrant ointment.

By so doing, the sinner woman wanted to express her love for and gratitude to the Lord with gestures that were familiar to her, although they were censured by society. Amid the general embarrassment, it was Jesus Himself Who saved the situation.

Jesus essentially says to the scandalized Pharisee,

‘You see? This woman knows she is a sinner; yet prompted by love, she is asking for understanding and forgiveness. You, on the other hand, presume yourself to be righteous and are perhaps convinced that you have nothing serious for which to be forgiven.’

The message that shines out from this Gospel passage is eloquent: God forgives all to those who love much. Those who trust in themselves and in their own merits are, as it were, blinded by their ego and their heart is hardened in sin. Those, on the other hand, who recognize that they are weak and sinful entrust themselves to God and obtain from Him grace and forgiveness.

It is precisely this message that must be transmitted: what counts most is to make people understand that in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, whatever the sin committed, if it is humbly recognized and the person involved turns with trust to the priest-confessor, he or she never fails to experience the soothing joy of God’s forgiveness.

Address of March 7, 2008.

Question for reflection: When have I been deeply moved by experiencing the Lord’s forgiveness?

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?

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.

Prayer of Petition

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 2629-33:

Petition is a form of prayer in which we ask the Lord for what we need.

First and foremost is our need for forgiveness: because our relationship with God is the “one thing necessary,” we want to preserve it, protect it, and nurture it above all else. Each and every sin frays this relationship, and mortal sin ruptures it (which is why we seek an encounter with the Lord in the Sacrament of Reconciliation to heal and restore it).

When we realize that we have hurt God, and others, through our faults and failings, we are moved to ask for His mercy. Sometimes we can fall into the bad habit of taking sin lightly and treating forgiveness as a mere formality. While God is eager to forgive, He wants us to repent truly, and recognize sin for the evil that it is.

So important is it to ask for forgiveness, that the Catechism describes it as a “prerequisite for righteous and pure prayer.”

Another vital need for which we pray is the coming of the Kingdom, as Jesus taught us. This petition involves not only beseeching the Lord to bring salvation history to its culmination, but also asking that we may receive His help in striving toward, and cooperating with, the Kingdom’s coming.

Because “the seed and beginning of the Kingdom” on earth is the Church, our petition for the Kingdom also involves the building up, the flourishing, of the Church here in the world.

Of course, we have many other needs in our daily lives, and we are encouraged to bring these too – even the small ones – before the Lord in our prayers of petition: “Christ, who assumed all things in order to redeem all things, is glorified by what we ask the Father in His Name.”

This is especially helpful for family prayer time, when children may be invited to offer their own petitions.

Accompanying Jesus in the Desert

As disciples, we accompany Jesus in every phase of our lives, following Him wherever He takes us, and never wanting to be separated from Him. So when the Lord goes into the desert to fast and pray for 40 days, we go along with Him.

Far from just a sentimental kind of mimicry, this season of Lent is serious business for our spiritual health. It is a grace-filled opportunity for renewal, a spring cleaning of our souls, to make us ready for the great feast of Easter.

During Lent, we are called to examine our lives, repent, confess our sins, and do penance. As we ask the Lord to help us overcome our weaknesses, He asks us to do our part to strive for self-mastery.

The Church guides us through this process, encouraging us to follow the traditional practices of penance – fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. That is why one of the Church’s precepts is to observe the days of fasting and of abstinence from meat. This is not to be legalistic, but rather to help us join Jesus in His fast.

We give up some of our creature comforts, not merely to deprive ourselves, but to free us for something greater. Even tiny ways of self-denial help us to grow in freedom, strengthen us to be faithful in more serious matters, and enable us to climb higher spiritually.

As St. Peter of Alcantara said, “With a pampered and satiated body, the soul is not free to fly high.”

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 1:40-45

6th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:40-45

Christ graciously heals the leper, who then disobeys the Lord

The leper’s earnest prayer encourages us to pray with “filial boldness” for our needs (Catechism paragraph 2610).

But after Jesus graciously heals him, the leper fails to respond in kind, and disregards the Lord’s instruction to him. This prompts us to reflect upon how we receive the Lord’s gifts.

Are we truly “living in thanksgiving,” knowing that “everything we are and have comes from Him” (224), or do we thoughtlessly go our own way? Like the leper, we also have been healed, from the deadly spiritual sickness caused by our sins.

Jesus referred the leper to the Jewish priest: the Old Covenant priesthood prefigures the New Covenant priesthood, which Christ gave us as a gift to cleanse and shepherd us (1541).

Benedict XVI comments:

According to the ancient Jewish law…leprosy constituted a kind of religious and civil death, and its healing a kind of resurrection. It is possible to see leprosy as a symbol of sin, which is the true impurity of heart that can distance us from God.  It is not in fact the physical disease of leprosy that separates us from God as the ancient norms supposed but sin, spiritual and moral evil.

…The sins that we commit distance us from God and, if we do not humbly confess them, trusting in divine mercy, they will finally bring about the death of the soul…In the Sacrament of Penance, the Crucified and Risen Christ purifies us through His ministers with His infinite mercy, restores us to communion with the heavenly Father and with our brothers, and makes us a gift of His love, His joy and His peace.

Angelus of February 15, 2009

Question for reflection: How do I express my gratitude for God’s blessings?

Engaging the Gospel – Second Sunday of Advent

Second Sunday of Advent (Year B): Gospel – Mark 1:1-8

St. John the Baptist prepares the way of the Lord

“The coming of God’s Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries,” as the Catechism phrases it:

He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the ‘First Covenant.’ He announces Him through the mouths of the prophets who succeeded one another in Israel.

–Catechism paragraph 522.

This prophetic tradition culminates in St. John the Baptist, the last and greatest of the prophets, who serves as “the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare His way” (523).

We ourselves enter into “this ancient expectancy of the Messiah” during the season of Advent, which comes from the Latin term for “arrival.” We share “in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming,” and at the same time, renew our “ardent desire for His second coming” (524).

John the Baptist prepared the people by calling them to conversion. Because “sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it,” sin is “an offense against God” (1850).

To prepare ourselves for the Lord, we too must turn our hearts back to Him in repentance. Christ has given us the sacrament of Reconciliation (1442-46) for our benefit; let us grasp at the graces He offers to us.

Question for reflection: How am I preparing the way of the Lord during this season of Advent?