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?

Difficulties in Prayer: Feeling Unheard

Based upon Catechism paragraphs 2734-37:

How many times have we prayed for something, or someone, and felt that God did not hear us? Have we feared that God would not even listen to us, or that He has in some way abandoned us?

Such feelings may prompt us to stop praying altogether because it doesn’t “work.”

If we view prayer that way, then we aren’t praying to God in a loving relationship, but instead trying to use Him to get “results.”

Whenever we feel that our prayers are unheard, we must step back and remember Who God Is. Trusting that the Lord loves us beyond our wildest imagination, we know that He never ignores or abandons us. God hears us as a Father listens to His beloved children. As the infinitely good Father, He knows what is best for us.

But we, as His little ones, do not. We may believe with all our hearts that it would be right and good for the Lord to grant us our prayer, for ourselves or our loved ones. Yet in truth, we cannot understand the full implications of what we ask for, how our request may ultimately affect our earthly life or our eternal welfare.

When God appears silent, He is not rejecting us, but rather inviting us to greater trust in His will.

This is an opportunity for us to reflect and to grow in faith. Are we honestly seeking to do God’s will, or are we instead demanding that God do our will? Is our petition arising from a faulty desire or improper intention? Or is our prayer a true and sincere pursuit of the good?

God may not give us the “answer” we want, but He does answer us out of His tender mercy. We can please God greatly, and delight His Heart, if we trust in Him in spite of all the tensions and uncertainties we feel while waiting. God will bless us abundantly for our faithfulness in ways that we might not expect.

As the fourth-century theologian Evagrius Ponticus wrote, “Do not be troubled if you do not immediately receive from God what you ask Him; for He desires to do something even greater for you, while you cling to Him in prayer.”

Difficulties in Prayer: Lack of Faith

Based upon Catechism paragraph 2732.

A lack of faith is “the most common yet most hidden temptation” in our prayer, according to the Catechism, because it isn’t as straightforward as simple disbelief. Instead, lack of faith is something more insidious and subtle, which is why we may have trouble recognizing it for what it truly is.

Do we turn to God only as a “last resort,” after all else fails? That implies that we didn’t have the faith to go to Him right away in our distress, but thought that we, or others, could handle it.

On the other hand, we can be tempted to treat God as the cosmic Being Who caters to our wishes, and arranges everything just the way we’d like. In that case, our prayer devolves into telling God what we want Him to do for us. That’s not faith in God, but presumption.

While the Lord obviously wants us to ask Him for our needs, we must do so in the humble spirit of creatures who don’t really know what’s best for us, or for our eternal destiny. True faith means that we turn our needs over to the Lord in prayer, while submitting ourselves to His will, in an attitude of radical trust in His loving providence.

Sometimes a lack of faith creeps in when we try to pray, but remember other things that we have to do. At that moment, do we resolutely remain with the Lord, and put our other action-items aside for a more appropriate time? Or do we put the Lord aside?

If we’re jumping up to help someone in urgent need who depends upon us, we are serving the Lord in that person. But otherwise, if we’re just dropping prayer to do something that could wait, we’re effectively telling the Lord that He doesn’t take priority in our lives.

We may not say it, but our actions reflect that we are prioritizing something other than God. The Catechism describes this as “the moment of truth for the heart: what is its real love?”

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 4:35-41

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Mark 4:35-41

Jesus notes the lack of faith on the part of the disciples, who were terrified in the storm-tossed boat. We can identify with that feeling of being overwhelmed, without a tangible sense of God’s help and support.

“Faith in God the Father Almighty can be put to the test by the experience of evil and suffering. God can sometimes seem to be absent and incapable of stopping evil” (Catechism paragraph 272).

Yet we know that the Lord is in fact sustaining us by His gracious will at every moment. Whatever trials or tragedies we may endure, God is bearing us up in the midst of them. He still carries us through every breath, every beat of our hearts, and desires to bring us into eternal blessedness with Him in heaven. In the perspective of eternity, we will one day see how God has ordered everything to our spiritual good, even overcoming and transforming the evil that others commit against us.

“Only faith can embrace the mysterious ways of God’s almighty power” (273), and reveal to us that “in everything God works for good for those who love Him. The constant witness of the saints confirms this truth” (313).

As the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich wrote,

Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith…and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord showed in this time – that “all manner (of) thing shall be well.”

— quoted in 313.

Question for reflection: When have I felt that my faith was being tested?

Thanksgiving

The term “Eucharist” is derived from the Greek for “thanksgiving.” This form of prayer reaches its apex in the celebration of the Eucharist, in which we participate in Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, in a salvific work that encompasses the entire cosmos.

As the Catechism explains, “in the work of salvation, Christ sets creation free from sin and death to consecrate it anew and make it return to the Father, for His glory.”

Because Christ is the Head and we are the members of His Body, we too are integrally involved in this action. When we make our own offerings at Mass – of our time, resources, and most of all ourselves – all are taken up and absorbed into Jesus’ perfect sacrifice of thanksgiving.

But our thanksgiving is not limited to the Mass itself. Anything that we experience can become an occasion for thanksgiving. Although it is obviously easier to render thanks in happy circumstances, we should also learn to thank God even in our trials. St. Paul exhorts us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess 5:18).

By offering thanksgiving to God in the midst of difficulties, we grow in trust, knowing that the Lord is ordering all things for our eternal welfare. In this way we keep our earthly lives in the proper perspective of our ultimate destiny.

God did not have to create us at all, or share with us His own divine life. If we maintain a spirit of gratitude for God’s great works of creation, redemption, and sanctification – which we could never merit on our own – we can better shoulder the burdens of daily life.

For more, see Catechism paragraphs 2637-38.