Engaging the Gospel – Third Sunday of Advent

(Year B) Gospel – John 1:6-8, 19-28

When cross-examined by the priests, Levites, and Pharisees, St. John the Baptist stands firm, declaring that he prepares the way of the Lord. His clear realization of his own identity as Christ’s forerunner, rooted firmly in God’s plan, is instructive for us.

Contrary to what the world tells us, our worth is not dependent on the opinions of others; rather, our true identity is bound up in God, our Creator and our ultimate end. We are each created by God, “in a plan of sheer goodness,” in order to “share in His own blessed life” (Catechism paragraph 1).

“It is in Christ,” the Eternal Son of the Father, that we are “created in the image and likeness of the Creator.” Although we have defaced this image through sin, “it is in Christ, Redeemer and Savior,” that our “original beauty” is restored and “ennobled by the grace of God” (1701).

It is this wondrous gift of Christ that we will celebrate in a heightened way at Christmas.

“The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God” (457), “so that thus we might know God’s love” (458), “to be our model of holiness” (459) and “to make us partakers of the divine nature” (460).

All human beings have “the dignity of a person, who is not just something, but someone.” We are each “called by grace to a covenant” with God, “to offer Him a response of faith and love that no other creature can give in [our] stead” (357).

Question for reflection: How do I define myself?

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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?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 22:1-14

28th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 22:1-14

The wedding feast in this parable symbolizes the kingdom of heaven, and at the same time, is evocative of the Church as the Bride of Christ.

“The theme of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church was prepared for by the prophets,” who expressed “God’s covenant with Israel in the image of exclusive and faithful married love” (Catechism paragraphs 796, 1611).

This “nuptial covenant between God and His people Israel had prepared the way for the new and everlasting covenant” in Christ (1612).

As St. John Paul II observes, “It is not difficult to see in this wedding feast a reference to the Eucharist: the sacrament of the new and eternal covenant, the sacrament of the marriage of Christ and humanity in the Church” (September 18, 1991).

We are all called personally; no one is excluded from God’s universal invitation. But Jesus reveals that we in turn must respond appropriately. We too must enter with a “wedding garment,” as we learn from the unprepared guest in the parable.

JP II explains:

…in Israel’s world, on the occasion of great banquets, the clothes to be worn were made available to the guests in the banquet hall. This fact makes the meaning of that detail in Jesus’ parable even clearer: the responsibility not only of the person who rejects the invitation, but also of those who claim to attend without fulfilling the necessary conditions for being worthy of the banquet.

This is the case of those who maintain and profess that they are followers of Christ and members of the Church, without obtaining the ‘wedding garment’ of grace…

We must embrace this “garment” offered to us by God:

The parable emphasizes the responsibility that every guest has, whatever his or her origin, regarding the ‘yes’ which must be given to the Lord Who calls, and regarding the acceptance of His law, the total response to the demands of the Christian vocation…

December 11, 1991.

Question for reflection: How have I experienced God’s invitation to draw near to Him?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 21:33-43

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 21:33-43

The first reading from Isaiah, and Jesus’ parable in the Gospel, both employ the imagery of a vineyard to illustrate a common theme: our failure to respond generously to God’s nurturing attention.

Just as the landowner makes every effort on behalf of his vineyard, symbolic of Israel, so does God continually lavish His gifts and graces upon us.

“God loved His people first,” establishing His covenant, and revealing His Commandments to seal our relationship with Him.

As a result, our “moral existence is a response to the Lord’s loving initiative” (Catechism paragraphs 2060-62), an honoring of our “fundamental duties” toward God and neighbor (2072).

But the wayward tenants in the Gospel refuse to meet their just obligations, despite the repeated calls of the landowner’s servants – the prophets – and even His own Son, Jesus. Their violent reaction is a foreshadowing of the Lord’s Passion and Death, which Jesus addresses directly to His listeners.

As Benedict XVI notes:

The audience knows he is saying to them: Just as the Prophets were abused and killed, so now you want to kill me: I’m talking about you and about me.

…But the Lord always speaks in the present and with an eye to the future. He is also speaking with us and about us.

If we open our eyes, isn’t what is said in the parable actually a description of our present world? Isn’t this precisely the logic of the modern age, of our age?

Let us declare that God is dead, then we ourselves will be God…At last we can do what we please. We get rid of God…

The “vineyard” belongs to us. What happens to man and the world next? We are already beginning to see it…

–Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 1, p. 257.

Question for reflection: How do I respond when challenged by a truth I may not want to hear?

God Thirsts for Us

Having completed the survey of the first three parts of the Catechism — the Profession of Faith (summarized here on the pages Faith Seeking Understanding and Truths of the Faith), the Celebration of the Christian Mystery (Liturgy and Sacraments), and Life in Christ — we now enter Part Four on Christian Prayer.

While we most often think of prayer as our addressing God, we can overlook the fact that it is God Who seeks us first. Even when we’re asking God for things, our prayer is actually a response to His stirring deep within us.

This amazing truth is reflected in the Gospel story of Jesus’ meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, where He asks her for water (John 4:5-26).

As the Catechism explains,

Jesus thirsts; His asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for Him.

— paragraph 2560.

Prayer is thus an intimate communion with God that takes place in our hearts, an expression of our covenant relationship with Him. We go within to meet the God Who ardently awaits us, our cries, our longings, our thanks and praise.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2558-67.

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 – Pentecost

Pentecost: Gospel – John 7:37-39 (Vigil); John 20:19-23

The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is a momentous event in salvation history.

The Old Testament prophets had proclaimed that the Spirit of the Lord “was not to remain uniquely the Messiah’s, but was to be communicated to the whole messianic people.” Christ fulfilled this promise “first on Easter Sunday and then more strikingly at Pentecost” (Catechism paragraph 1287).

That very date was significant to the Jewish people. Pentecost, meaning the “fiftieth” day after Passover, was the “feast of the Covenant which commemorated the Sinai event, when God, through Moses, proposed that Israel be His own possession among all peoples to be a sign of His holiness” (Pope Benedict XVI, May 11, 2008).

The descent of the Holy Spirit likewise came on the fiftieth day after Christ’s Resurrection, fulfilling His Passover (Catechism paragraph 731) and forming the Church as the People of God (751).

“The gift of the Spirit ushers in a new era…the age of the Church, during which Christ manifests, makes present, and communicates His work of salvation through the liturgy of His Church, until He comes” (1076).

“The Church is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (797), where we come to know Him “in the Scriptures He inspired; in the Tradition…in the Church’s Magisterium, which He assists; in the sacramental liturgy…in prayer…in the charisms and ministries…in the witness of saints” (688).

Question for reflection: How might I grow in devotion to the Holy Spirit?