Engaging the Gospel – Christ the King

Solemnity of Christ the King (Year C): Gospel – Luke 23:35-43

For the Solemnity of Christ the King, the final Sunday of the liturgical year, the Church presents us with a stark Gospel: Jesus on the Cross.

“The Cross is the paradoxical sign of His kingship,” Benedict XVI has reflected:

It is in the very offering of Himself in the sacrifice of expiation that Jesus becomes King of the universe…

But in what does this ‘power’ of Jesus Christ the King consist?…It is the divine power to give eternal life, to liberate from evil, to defeat the dominion of death. It is the power of Love that can draw good from evil, that can melt a hardened heart…

This Kingdom of Grace is never imposed and always respects our freedom….Every conscience, therefore, must make a choice. Who do I want to follow? God or the Evil One? The truth or falsehood?

November 22, 2009.

This choice is reflected in today’s Gospel, in which Jesus is reviled by some, but venerated by the “Good Thief.”

The Gospel dialogue reverberates to our own time, when the kingship of Christ is still subject to mockery and derision. Many in our culture commit the sin of blasphemy, “uttering against God – inwardly or outwardly – words of hatred, reproach, or defiance” (Catechism paragraph 2148).

As members of the Body of Christ, we are called to shape our world, and transform our culture, in the light of the Gospel (898-99, 2105), and thus advance the Kingdom.

Question for reflection: How do I respond when someone mocks the Lord?

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Engaging the Gospel – Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter: Gospel – John 10:1-10

Good Shepherd Sunday

While the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd is comforting, the Lord cautions us that the shepherd is not the only one who calls to the sheep – strangers, thieves, and robbers likewise call out to us, seeking to lure us away to our own harm.

How well do we recognize these voices, and distinguish them from the authentic voice of the Lord?

St. John Paul II has exhorted us to form our consciences according to the Lord’s truth, not according to the false ways of our contemporary culture:

Why do so many acquiesce in attitudes and behavior which offend human dignity and disfigure the image of God in us? …Is it because conscience itself is losing the ability to distinguish good from evil?

In a culture which holds that no universally valid truths are possible, nothing is absolute…Good comes to mean what is pleasing or useful at a particular moment. Evil means what contradicts our subjective wishes…

Do not give in to this widespread false morality…

Only by listening to the voice of God in your most intimate being, and by acting in accordance with its directions, will you reach the freedom you yearn for…

A re-birth of conscience must come from two sources: first, the effort to know objective truth with certainty, including the truth about God; and secondly, the light of faith in Jesus Christ, who alone has the words of Life…

Against all the forces of death, in spite of all the false teachers, Jesus Christ continues to offer humanity the only true and realistic hope. He is the world’s true Shepherd.

Address during Prayer Vigil, August 14, 1993.

Question for reflection: What “other voices” try to pull me away from the Lord’s fold?

Sin

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1846-76:

  • Sin is failing to love God and neighbor; by insisting on our own way, even in violation of what is right, we set ourselves against God and turn away from His love; as a result, sin offends God.
  • This disobedience, rooted in pride, is not just a matter of breaking a rule; it reveals an excessive attachment to ourselves, our will, our desires, that injures our spiritual health and our relationship with God, as well as with others.
  • Sin has levels of gravity, a fact confirmed by 1 John 5:16-17; mortal sin, as its name implies, is deadly to the soul and imperils our eternal salvation; venial sin is a lesser offense, but still to be avoided.
  • Sin qualifies as mortal only if it involves grave matter (i.e., actions covered by the Ten Commandments), full knowledge (being aware of its gravity) and deliberate consent (freely choosing the evil); through fulfilling all three conditions, one commits a mortal sin, and thereby loses God’s sanctifying grace.
  • Honest ignorance, compulsions of an exterior or interior nature, or emotions that overwhelm our reason can all reduce our culpability; but a hard-hearted pretense of claiming not to know just exacerbates our sin.
  • If any one of the aforementioned three elements is lacking, it is a venial sin; even when venial sins involve minor matters, they strike at our charity, stunt our spiritual life, and over time, cause us to grow apart from God.
  • As with a bad habit, sin becomes ingrained; the more venial sins we commit, the greater our tolerance for sin, until it becomes all too easy to slip into mortal sin; our conscience can also be impaired by habitual sin.
  • Certain sins have been described as “capital,” from the Latin caput for “head,” because they give rise to other sins; the seven capital sins are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth.
  • God is eager to forgive us all of our sins, however grave, and restore us in His sanctifying grace; but if we persistently refuse to repent, and want nothing to do with His friendship, we spurn His offer of eternal salvation; this is the sin against the Holy Spirit that cannot be forgiven – not on God’s part, but on ours.
  • Although sin is inherently a personal choice, we can incur responsibility for the sins of others if we approve and support them, or if we don’t try to prevent their evil; thus sins can worm their way into society and institutions, leading to “structures of sin” that ensnare more people into wrongdoing.

Live Your Faith

A lively awareness of sin doesn’t make us wallow in guilt and self-loathing, but instead keeps us grounded in reality, and inspires us to praise God for His limitless mercy toward us.

As a loving Father, God wants to keep us safe and protect us from anything that would hurt us. Unfortunately, like rebellious children, we sometimes view His law as an unreasonable curb on our desires.

But if we develop the spiritual sensitivity to see how damaging sin is, we understand why it’s vital to take responsibility for our failings and seek the sacrament of Reconciliation. Only by knowing ourselves as sinners can we realize our great need for redemption.

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.

Freedom and Conscience

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1691 through 1802:

  • Professing the truths of the faith, and receiving the sacraments, are only part of the Christian life; we must also put our beliefs into practice, and act upon sacramental grace, through our moral conduct; by striving to emulate Christ in our daily lives, we grow in friendship with Him.
  • Moral living enables us to flourish as human beings, and leads us to the true happiness – “beatitude” – that all desire; this universal thirst for happiness comes from God, Who alone can ultimately fulfill it, if we choose to follow His path.
  • God does not force Himself upon us, but instead wants us to choose Him out of our own free will; He gave us the dignity of being able to decide whether to pursue His way of life, for our own good, or to reject it, to our detriment.
  • Our freedom is just one way in which we are made in God’s image; through our gifts of intellect and will, we dictate our actions, and thereby incur responsibility for them; as morally free persons, we merit praise or blame for our choices.
  • Bad choices actually end up undermining our freedom; when we deliberately choose to do wrong, we abuse God’s gift of freedom and become attached to sin, to the point that it becomes a type of slavery; but when we use our freedom rightly in service of the good, we become more and more truly free.
  • We judge the morality of our acts by the object (what we do) and the intention (why we do it); a good intention never excuses an intrinsically wrong action, because the end doesn’t justify the means; at the same time, a bad intention can corrode an otherwise good action (e.g., performing a work just to brag about it).
  • The circumstances surrounding our acts can increase or diminish the degree of good, mitigate or aggravate the evil, and affect our level of responsibility; but circumstances cannot make an inherently wrong act right.
  • Our emotions are neither good nor evil in themselves, but our will can let them influence us to right or wrong acts.
  • Conscience is our innermost core where we judge the morality of our acts, while listening to God’s voice; we are called to heed the moral law inscribed in our hearts, and recognize how to apply it in concrete situations; after an honest and thorough examination, we have a sacrosanct right to abide by our conscience.
  • But following our conscience does not mean that we can willfully set aside God’s law and make up our own commandments; rather, our conscience must be well formed by the Word of God and the teaching of the Church.
  • Conscience can make erroneous judgments, possibly through ignorance of the right course, or more seriously, because of culpable negligence in seeking the truth, attitudes hardened by sin, lack of charity, or refusal to undergo conversion.

Live Your Faith

Freedom and conscience are watchwords in our culture, but do we actually understand the full depth of their meaning?

Freedom is not license, but the ability to choose the good. Conscience is not a loophole, but a gift to guide our moral decision-making. God’s law is not designed to oppress us, but to empower us to live the most fulfilled life.

Consider the importance of rules in a game or sport: the rules make it possible to enjoy the game, or else there would be anarchy, and no game at all. Even so, God’s law sets the guidelines to ensure the best experience on the playing field of life.