Engaging the Gospel – Luke 18:1-8

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 18:1-8

Today’s Gospel “is centered on one of the qualities of prayer: it is necessary to pray always without ceasing and with the patience of faith” (Catechism paragraph 2613).

Through the parable of the widow, whose sheer persistence wears down the dishonest judge, Jesus encourages us to keep praying, no matter what difficulties we have in prayer:

When we begin to pray, a thousand labors or cares thought to be urgent vie for priority; once again, it is the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love? (2732)

We tend to get distracted (2729), or lazy (2733), or even discouraged if we don’t get the results we want.

What is the image of God that motivates our prayer: an instrument to be used? Or the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? (2735)

In fact,

In the New Covenant, prayer is the living relationship of the children of God with their Father Who is good beyond measure, with His Son Jesus Christ and with the Holy Spirit…Thus the life of prayer is the habit of being in the presence of the thrice-holy God and in communion with Him (2565).

If we understand prayer in that light, and not only as a recitation of words, it is possible to pray always.

As St. Therese of Lisieux observed,

for me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven; it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy (quoted in 2558).

Question for reflection: In what ways have I witnessed the power of prayer?

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Engaging the Gospel – Luke 17:5-10

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 17:5-10

Today’s Gospel is marked by what appears to be an abrupt transition: from the well-known saying about the power of faith the size of a mustard seed, Jesus then goes on to describe how we are simply God’s servants, doing what we ought to do.

Hence Jesus’ dramatic imagery, of the mulberry tree being uprooted and planted into the sea, is put in context – not as a magic trick by which we cater to our own whims and compel God to comply, but as a symbol of what God can accomplish, if we have the faith to let Him work in our lives.

Jesus’ quick turn, from faith to serving God, also shows us that the two are inextricably linked.

Faith is not something that we develop by ourselves; rather, “faith is man’s response to God,” Who reaches out to us first (Catechism paragraph 26).

By revealing Himself, “God, from the fullness of His love, addresses men as His friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into His own company” (142). When we respond to this invitation with faith, we submit ourselves to God totally (143):

Believing in God, the only One, and loving Him with all our being, has enormous consequences for our whole life (222).

Because we “freely commit [our] entire self to God,” as believers, we also “seek to know and do God’s will…Living faith works through charity” (1814), which is why “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26).

Question for reflection: When have I asked God to increase my faith?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 14:25-33

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 14:25-33

Jesus challenges us with very difficult sayings – that anyone who doesn’t “hate” his own family and life, and renounce all of his possessions, can’t be His disciple.

Of course, Jesus isn’t literally telling us to hate, when His commandments call us to love. Rather, it is a manner of expression in Semitic languages like Jesus’ own Aramaic: Jesus is pointedly stating that to be true disciples, we must put God first, and prefer Him to everything, including family and possessions. We must not allow relationships, or things, to become obstacles that keep us from God.

Put another way, “Christ is the center of all Christian life. The bond with Him takes precedence over all other bonds, familial or social” (Catechism paragraph 1618).

As Benedict XVI has reflected,

If we listen to today’s Gospel, if we listen to what the Lord is saying to us, it frightens us…We would like to object: What are you saying, Lord?

But the Lord is revealing a profound truth:

Whoever wants to keep his life just for himself will lose it. Only by giving ourselves do we receive our life. In other words: only the one who loves discovers life.

And love always demands going out of oneself, it always demands leaving oneself. Anyone who looks just to himself, who wants the other only for himself, will lose both himself and the other. Without this profound losing of oneself, there is no life.

‘Whoever loses his life for my sake…’ says the Lord: a radical letting-go of our self is only possible if in the process we end up, not by falling into the void, but into the hands of Love eternal. Only the love of God, who loses Himself for us and gives Himself to us, makes it possible for us also to become free, to let go, and so truly to find life.

Homily of September 9, 2007.

Question for reflection: What is the most difficult thing that God has asked of me?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 12:49-53

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 12:49-53

Households will be divided

It’s tough to be a committed disciple when the entertainment culture and prevailing opinion are often antithetical to the truth of Christ. We may feel enormous pressure to go with the flow, or else risk losing friends and popularity.

This can lead to what spiritual writers have described as the sin of “human respect” – being so concerned with what other people think of us, that we lack courage to stand with the Lord. Fearing a loss of others’ esteem, we may end up compromising our beliefs and morals.

If we give in, we’re effectively becoming disciples of the world, not of Christ. If we commit to the Lord, we may experience difficulties in some personal relationships.

Jesus Himself prophesies such division in today’s Gospel. Some will not accept Him, and that will cause opposition to His disciples in every age.

“As soon as worldly people see that you wish to follow a devout life, they aim a thousand darts of mockery and even detraction at you” and accuse you of “hypocrisy, bigotry.”

Sound like something you’ve read or heard recently? Those words were written in the early 1600s by St Francis de Sales in his spiritual classic, Introduction to the Devout Life.

We can take heart from the fact that we are not alone in our trials. Disciples down through the course of history have been faced with the same kind of choice: do I follow God’s way, or the world’s way?

The saints chose wisely, and our brothers and sisters in heaven are ready, willing, and able to help us as we make our choices. Let us ask for their timely intercession, draw lessons from their lives, and consult their writings for guidance.

St Francis de Sales gives us sage advice:

These people [seeking to draw you away from the Lord] aren’t interested in your health or welfare.

Does anyone fail to see that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and well disposed to its own children but harsh and rigorous towards the children of God?

We can never please the world unless we lose ourselves together with it.

–Quotations from the Fourth Part of the Introduction, Chapter 1

Question for reflection: When have I stood with the Lord, even when it was unpopular?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 11:1-13

17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 11:1-13

“The meaning of prayer in Christ’s ministry” is emphasized throughout Luke’s Gospel (Catechism paragraph 2600), but especially in today’s passage.

Jesus encourages us to pray persistently and confidently to the Father, trusting that He will give us whatever is best for us.

“Prayer and Christian life are inseparable” (2745). We must not only believe in our faith, and celebrate it at Mass, but we must also “live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer” (2558).

“Prayer is the life of the new heart. It ought to animate us at every moment. But we tend to forget Him Who is our life and our all” (2697).

Hence the Church’s sacred Tradition helps us by setting out “certain rhythms of praying intended to nourish continual prayer” – i.e., “morning and evening prayer, grace before and after meals, the Liturgy of the Hours,” and of course Sunday Mass, along with the great feasts of the year (2698).

Even so, we often find it difficult to pray faithfully. “Against our dullness and laziness, the battle of prayer is that of humble, trusting, and persevering love” (2742).

Let us have recourse to the Holy Spirit, “the interior Master of Christian prayer…To be sure, there are as many paths of prayer as there are persons who pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all” (2672).

Question for reflection: How might I seek to deepen my prayer life?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 9:51-62

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 9:51-62

Today’s Gospel continues a theme from last Sunday – “the nobility and difficulty of the Christian vocation,” as St John Paul II described it:

Jesus calls us to follow Him personally. This call, it may be said, is at the very heart of the Gospel.

We think of all those calls of which the evangelists tell us. One of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, let me go first and bury my father.’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead.’ This is a drastic way of saying: leave everything, immediately, for Me.

JP II went on to put this scene in its proper perspective, guiding us to its meaning for our own lives. The specific way that we dedicate ourselves to following Christ is shaped by such factors as our state in life and our unique talents. The Lord doesn’t call all to serve “in an identical manner,” but all of us are called to the same spirit of radical commitment to Christ:

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Gospel request for heroic renunciations…commits everyone…to be ready in spirit to carry out what is required, should one be called upon to do so…The counsels therefore imply for everyone an interior detachment, a donation of self to Christ, without which there is no true evangelical spirit.

— General Audience of October 28, 1987.

It’s only natural to feel our inadequacy to respond to such a radical call. But we don’t have to rely on our own strength. The Lord in His mercy will help us, if we cooperate with His grace and take a single step toward Him.

Question for reflection: Do I keep putting off a resolution to follow the Lord more faithfully?

Engaging the Gospel – Luke 9:18-24

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Luke 9:18-24

St John Paul II expands upon the meaning of taking up our cross:

I invite you to reflect on the conditions that Jesus asked of those who wanted to be His disciples: ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’

Jesus is not a Messiah of triumph and power…He is the Messiah Who did not fit into any mould and Who came without fanfare, and Who cannot be ‘understood’ with the logic of success and power…

Love is the condition for following Him, but it is sacrifice that is the proof of that love…

If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and  follow Me.’  These words denote the radicality of a choice that does not allow for hesitation or second thoughts. It is a demanding requirement that unsettled even the disciples and that, throughout the ages, has held back many men and women from following Christ…

Yet they must be faced, because the path outlined by God for His Son is the path to be undertaken by the disciple who has decided to follow Jesus. There are not two paths, but only one: the one trodden by the Master. The disciple cannot invent a different way. To deny oneself is to give up one’s own plans that are often small and petty in order to accept God’s plan…

It is not suffering for its own sake that a Christian seeks, but love. When the cross is embraced it becomes a sign of love and of total self-giving…

With His invitation ‘follow me,’ Jesus not only says again to His disciples: take Me as your model, but also: share My life and My choices, and stake your life for love of God and for neighbor together with Me.

Message for World Youth Day 2001.

Question for reflection: How do I take up the cross in my own daily life?